Vulcan, Son of Jupiter (1962)
Today we have a nearly forgotten Italian sword-and-sandal flick, taking us back to the heady days of Greek mythology. Let me note first that the opening credits are full of Italians with fantastically manly names. So fantastically manly in fact, that now I want to change my own name. "Furio Meniconi", "Spartaco Antonucci", oh their parents must have dipped them in vats of pure awesome upon their births. I can only imagine if my name were Furio how easily I could punch an elephant while making love to a supermodel on a hang glider. I curse my own parents and their love of generic whitebread American names!
Anyway, our movie is an Olympian tale of godly love and human lust, of deceit and betrayal, of big hair and bigger boobs. As our story opens, the goddess Venus sneaks out of Olympus to go down to earth to make out with Adonis, a mere mortal obsessed with a girl far above his station in life.
Live the dream, buddy.
Venus is repeatedly said to be the "most beautiful woman in the universe", but I disagree. That title belongs to NBC's Today Show's host Ann Curry, who one day will be mine. My blossoming relationship with Miss Curry was unfortunately cut short recently by a silly, oh so silly, misunderstanding, and a mean ol' circuit court judge told me I'm not allowed to be within 100 feet of her anymore. That judge is a rude man, when I called to complain that my monitor bracelet was chafing my ankle, he hung up on me, I don't like him at all.
Venus, with some bits of Carly Simon.
Venus' actions have made Jupiter pissed, and when you piss off the Most High Supreme God of All, you are taking a big risk. He (and the other gods) know everything that happens as they have super-vision and can see everywhere on Earth from their perch on Olympus. Jupiter sends down an angry lightning bolt to both remind Venus where her place is and to scare the bejeezus out of Adonis. This scratch on the negative is the film's only "special effect", and I'm happy about that.
Jupiter gives you the palm.
Venus wisely pulls away from Adonis' clingy, co-dependent hands and hurries back up to Olympus. The gods and goddesses agree that she needs a husband to keep her straight. I'm unsure why they are so worried about Venus' lifestyle, it's not like it matters to them what the hu-mans think about her (or them). When you are a goddess you can be skanky, or rotten, or duplicitous, it's not like we can do anything about it. It's decided that one of Jupiter's sons (Mars or Vulcan) will marry Venus and get her to strap the apron on. Venus is neither concerned nor upset about the other gods meddling in her personal life, though it's odd that Venus' father Uranus is not involved in these discussions.
Talking about Venus.
Venus goes to schmooze Vulcan at his cave foundry, where he makes his swords and shields for the rich and famous (including one he says is for Achilles, which just throws our timeline all the shit out). Vulcan is a huge, burly, glistening man with a jawline beard and a Greek man-skirt. He's played by an Italian bodybuilder improbably billed as "Rod Flash" and when he smiles his teeth can give you snowblindness.
My, that's a big hammer. May I hold it?
Mars, the God of War, is pissed and goes to confront his brother Vulcan over Venus' loose-moralled ways. There's some harsh words, a few veiled insults, some chest puffing, and the two men get into a fight. Well, really more of a wrestling match in which it appears that both men are trying to grab the other by the crotch as much as possible. For being the "God of War", Mars wrestles like a thirteen-year old girl and gets owned by his older brother Vulcan, who surely then gives him Indian burns, wet-willies, and luggie nuggies once he's pinned down. When Jupiter takes Vulcan's side, Mars swears revenge upon his father.
Venus is a skankopotomus, so even after putting the moves on Vulcan, she chooses to flee down to Greece with Mars. Once out of range of Olympus' foggy magic, they become mere mortals. They go to Thrace in Eastern Greece to meet the Thracian King, a known enemy of Jupiter. Thrace was traditionally linked with Mars, as its founder was supposedly one of his sons (all these gods get around) and Mars himself tended to visit frequently when he was in a pouty mood.
Thracian King, a Hawkman from Flash Gordon?
Mars' written-on-a-cocktail napkin plan is to build a wooden siege tower to scale the heights of Mount Olympus to confront Jupiter on his own turf. While Olympus is often portrayed as a metaphysical concept more than an actual geographical location, in our movie it's the actual mountain of Olympus in Thessaly. The Thracian King thinks it's folly (duh) but he agrees to try. They plan on taking on Jupiter, the King of the Gods, who can see everything and throw lightning bolts, with earthly weapons, which is going to work out just fine. They do have these wicked four-horse chariots, though.
I want one.
Mars leaves to go roust up some more soldiers and as soon as he's out of sight the Thracian King starts getting all sweaty and panty after Venus. Must be the pheromones, there aren't any other women in the entire camp, which is odd as what sort of king doesn't haul around a harem of beauteous babes with him wherever he goes? While his lusting is not a surprise as Venus spends most of her time lying around in overtly suggestive poses, her nether regions covered by flimsy silk, you still have to think that this is a bad idea for the king, as she arrived on the arm of the God of War. On a second re-watch, however, I caught a little sideways glance action when Venus first arrived at the camp, so maybe she and the king have a "history" (Venus is the sort to have multiple paramours).
I'd hit that.
Meanwhile, Vulcan gets exiled to earth himself in a confusing scene where he maybe gets stabbed by some other god and tossed down from Olympus for some offense. In my defense, all Italians look alike to me. Vulcan wakes up on a beach in far off Sicily, having apparently taken the western slope of Olympus down. He's found by a gaggle of bathing brunettes, nymphs who are the daughters of the Sea God Neptune. They are led by Aetna, who will be our film's secondary female lead from here on out.
Nymphs check out the flotsam.
Soon, they are ambushed and captured by Lizard Men, who are ugly, wrinkly dudes wearing bad lizard costumes with fake teeth. I'm unsure if these have any historical basis (if mythology can be considered historical), as a ten-second Google search (all I'm going to give it) turned up nothing. Vulcan and the ladies are taken to meet the Lizard King, who gloats to Vulcan how he can now exact revenge upon Jupiter for blighting them into lizard people by killing his son. When not wearing their lizard skins, these beasties look just like regular joes except with green face-paint.
While Vulcan just sorta sits there, powerless to escape his bonds (he's lost his god-powers, remember), it's the nymphs who get it together and plan to escape and alert their father Neptune. Their plan is to toss a comic relief dwarf into the sea to go get help. Seriously. There is a long, established, horrifying precedent for abusing amusing little people in Italian genre movies, one of the few places you can see such a thing without having to go to confession the next morning.
The Dwarf blows the conch horn.
The Dwarf is brought to Neptune's undersea court, which legend tells is somewhere offshore of Greece. While his court does feature a styling alabaster seashell throne stolen right out of The Little Mermaid, Neptune himself appears to be stoned. With his twitchy buggy eyes, stringy disheveled hair, urine soaked trousers, extreme paranoia, and dubious hygiene regimen, I'd guess Neptune has been tripping the 'shrooms lately. The Dwarf gets the message across, however, and Neptune pulls it together long enough to organize a raid on the Lizard Man camp with his fish soldiers.
"No, man, Neptune's not here."
Neptune's forces storm the Lizard Man camp, routing them easily and freeing the prisoners. Vulcan defeats the Lizard King in quick one-on-one combat, strangling him with a chain and the battle is over. I've watched a lot of peplum over the years and they all tend to overuse the "strangle kill" shot a lot. Sure, you can choke someone to death, happens all the time, but few people will just stand there and let someone choke them without kicking or flailing or head-butting or eye- gouging to break their grip. Survival instincts don't seem to be found in peplum.
Vulcan then swims to Neptune's undersea kingdom with Aetna and the freed nymphs, arriving to a hero's welcome (even though all he did was off one Lizard, and the Dwarf actually made the entire thing possible). While he's gone, the Thracians show up looking for slave labor and capture a bunch of Sicilians who were with the nymphs. They want Sicilians because they are supposedly the best construction workers in the known world and so they sailed all the way from Thrace to find some, though the Sicilians don't really seem any more technologically advanced to me (they live in caves and wear skins).
Back at Neptune's lounge we have a long extended scene of Aetna expressing her love and appreciation for Vulcan through interpretive dance. This is one of the most sexual dances I've seen in any movie (including the Holy Grail Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights) as Aetna writhes and moans her way through a routine that is probably illegal in most Southern states before finishing it up by appearing to have an orgasm on a bear skin rug at Vulcan's feet (I wish I was making that up).
Jesus Christ...I mean, god, put those away.
Mercury, Messenger of the Gods, shows up now with a note from Jupiter to Neptune. Mercury in this movie is portrayed as a thief and a braggart, as well as bi- curious, and speaks with an annoying lisp, and he needs a tan. Warned of Mars' rebellion, Neptune swears loyalty to Jupiter as Vulcan swears revenge on Mars. While Neptune offers "all my faith and good will", it's noticeable that he doesn't offer either to go to Olympus to help Jupiter, or to even send troops to aid in the defense.
Mercury is happy.
Before Vulcan leaves, Aetna has a tender personal moment with him, who for reasons unknown (but probably involving the relative size differences between Vulcan's pectorals and those of every other man in the Mediterranean basin) has instantly fallen in love with him. She is jealous of Venus, though he doesn't want her, and she decides to follow him to Greece because love is blind and we desperately need several scenes of her running with her boobs bouncing pornographically (this is an Italian movie, you know). [Editor Pam: Wait a minute, Vulcan was supposed to be so ugly that his mother Juno threw him off Mt. Olympus and crippled one of his legs in the process. This is a fake Vulcan! And what's the matter with Jupiter, letting an imposter fool him? Some god he is!]
Aetna and the Dwarf from a bit later, the most mismatched couple in history.
Vulcan meets up with the Dwarf, he's the sole survivor of the Sicilian band that was captured by the Thracians. Vulcan needs a guide to Thrace (huh?), so the Dwarf reluctantly teams up with him. Vulcan doesn't have time to argue so he just picks the little guy up by his belt and carries him like a shopping bag! Oiy, only in Italy! Later they find a big horse for Vulcan and an adorable miniature Shetland pony for the Dwarf and off they go. Of course, they left out the 500 miles of Mediterranean Ocean they have to cross to get to Thrace (all the way over by modern day Turkey).
Go ahead, try that in 2009...
Aetna is left behind, she can't keep up with the horses, and is thus alone when ambushed in a canyon by uncouth and unshaven savages. Hearing her cries, Vulcan returns and saves her in a badly choreographed fight with the savages. Watch as the stuntmen basically throw themselves to the ground at Vulcan's feet, they don't even try and fight back. The Dwarf comically jumps on their chests when they are down and smacks them in the butt with a club, and that's funny in any language.
Meanwhile, Mars returns to Thrace with the slaves, who have decided that they aren't going to cooperate. The Thracian King vigorously whips the slaves to show them who's boss, and then later cages and starves them, but they're just not going to work out. Mars is pissed at the slaves, but he'd be even more pissed if he knew that Venus and Thracian King were rockin' the van while he was gone. An old blind seer (every king has one on staff) sees Vulcan coming for Mars. The seer also notes that Aetna is attached to his hip, which makes golddigger Venus madly jealous, though she's excited about the menfolk fighting over her.
Vulcan reaches Thrace (comically squabbling with both the uppity Dwarf and the surprisingly bitchy Aetna along the way), and they find some high ground to encamp. Aetna is captured by a Thracian patrol when Vulcan and the Dwarf go to reconnoiter, putting up zero fight in keeping with 1960's movie tradition. Vulcan, typical of leading men in movies, completely changes his original plan to take out Mars first to mount a rescue mission to save the fair and bouncy Aetna. Meanwhile, the Goddess of Discord, working from distant Olympus as an ally of Vulcan, sows the seeds of jealousy within Venus, getting her all riled up about Aetna's love for Vulcan and totally throwing her off her game. Psychological warfare at its best, Sun Tzu would be proud.
Fur boas were all the rage in Greece.
Back on Mount Olympus there's some office politics going on. The God of the Underworld, Pluto, has his own designs on Jupiter's throne (separate from Mars') and he and Jupiter get into a screaming match over something insignificant. Witness here some truly epic overacting by American ex-pat Gordon Mitchell as Pluto, his every line is spat out with the sort of wild-eyed, vein-popping, roid-rage vehemence usually reserved for fame-humping reality show contestants. In the end, Pluto gets his richly deserved comeuppance.
Pluto, with hair like the Matterhorn.
As Aetna is about to be sacrificed to the gods (huh?), Vulcan is freeing the Sicilians and looking for a spat. The Thracian soldiers draw iron and a brutal slugfest ensues. The Sicilians are excellent fighters, despite having no helmets or body armor, though losses on both sides are heavy. The Thracian King is killed with a spear to the chest (the only time when stage blood is seen) and the tide turns against the Thracians (though they never attempt any sort of organized defense of the camp and can't defeat half-starved slaves, which makes me wonder how they thought they would be able to take on Jupiter).
The Dwarf frees Aetna and she and Venus get into a wicked chickfight, spanking each other with whips and then engaging in some hair pulling to the accompaniment of squeals and grunts. There's even some accidental boob grabbing. I am appalled by this amoral behavior and I have to turn off the movie and read scripture for an hour before I have the strength to turn it back on to finish this review.
In the midst of the bigger general melee, Vulcan and Mars get it on with pointy sticks, war clubs, and kicks to the tenders. Right before Vulcan is about to kill his brother, Jupiter puts an end to it with a booming voice from the sky. Everyone stops to look with awe, as apparently the Gods don't come around much.
Mars has his angry eyes.
Mars and Venus make a run for it ("God of War", my ass), but not for long as they are magically taken back up to Olympus and punished by Jupiter, who is now totally juiced on his own power and glory. As a reward for his loyalty, Vulcan will remain on Earth with his new lover Aetna, for "so long as I wish it". Considering Vulcan is mortal down here, you wonder how Vulcan felt about this.
Now that the movie is over, I have to wonder about why the ancient stories of Greek mythology still excite and titillate us to no end. Maybe it's because we Americans (I assume you are American, do other nations even have the internet?) have no mythology of our own to speak of. Plymouth Rock? Washington's cherry tree? Willie Mays' catch at the wall? Darth Vader? What is our mythology? Because we are such a relatively young nation, we don't share a common ancestral background like Greece or India, and I think in a way were are jealous. Well, I assume the Native Americans have their own mythologies, but even they were never unified in any sense within what we now call "America", instead remaining until the end as regional powers with distinct and separate cultural heritages and attendant mythologies.
I suppose in our thoroughly modern way we have turned to the bygone Greeks for many movie ideas, co-opting and adapting those rich fables and histories to our particular tastes. In a way, all stories of the Gods upon high Olympus are essentially like soap operas, conveying near-universal themes of human nature that make for excellent theater. In the case of our story of Vulcan and Venus and Mars, a twentieth century filmmaker would surely be able to find something that would appeal to a modern American audience with a few tweaks and a couple of passes with a grinder.
Note: To all Hollywood agents, notice is hereby given for my permission to steal this pitch. Just make the royalty checks out to "Nathan Decker".
He would surely have to move the setting from Greece to somewhere more familiar, say the concrete canyons of New York City. Ensconced in their penthouses on the Upper East Side, the Gods are isolated from the "real world", lost in their own little sphere of acidic gossip, constant backstabbing, and prescription drug habits. Below them is the real world of Brooklyn, Jersey and Queens, viewed through the fog of pot smoke.
As our story opens, trust fund baby Venus sneaks out of her Central Park West building to go across the East River to Brooklyn to make out with Adonis, a mere mortal shop boy at Whole Foods. Venus is every spoiled rich girl on television. She's Heidi Montag, she's Serena van der Woodsen, she's Ivanka Trump, she's Eva Gabor, she's every pampered high-society girl that ever strutted down the streets of Manhattan in Ferragamo pumps. Her father Jupiter is Donald Trump, he's William Buffet, he's Gordon Gekko, a too-rich man who is more protective of his image than his daughter's virtue and tends to parent through angry phone calls and his terrified Guatemalan maid. Worried about her daddy taking away her BMW, Venus runs back to Manhattan where the other hoity toitys decide her nuptials.
Vulcan would be a beret-wearing artist, maybe a sculptor, all artsy moody and tortured by his own misunderstood genius. His brother Mars would need to be his polar opposite, maybe some Yale frat boy with his Izod sweater tied around his neck.
Venus and Mars would turn off their Blackberries, send their limo driver home, and skip town and go across the river into Jersey to plot against Jupiter. Maybe they are planning some sort of hostile takeover of Jupiter's investment company, or maybe they'll go to the feds and turn state's evidence on his dicey offshore accounts.
Meanwhile, Vulcan gets locked out of his penthouse and wakes up on the beach at Coney Island where he's ambushed by ethnic types, gangsters surely, maybe even Irishmen. Here he meets Aetna, the spunky Puerto Rican waitress down at Rubio's Pizza who seems like she's hitting on Vulcan, but maybe she's just looking for tips. Their love is instantaneous.
The two rival sides form gangs made up of equal parts Gap-wearing townies, lacrosse players from NYU, and ironic indie rock hipsters, and march down to Central Park to fight it out. The two gangs could get into some sort of West Side Story- style dance fight to some techno beat, maybe Channing Tatum could show up and flex a lot. Just when it gets hairy, Jupiter shows up in his Mercedes and breaks it up.
In the end, Mars loses his trust fund and his rent-controlled penthouse and has to go on welfare, Venus gets crabs and has to go to the free clinic, and Vulcan learns a valuable lesson about judging people based on their tax returns. Blockbuster!
The End (again).
Written in December 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...