So Bad It’s Good: Hercules in New York (1969)

Hercules in New York (1969)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arnold Stang, Ernest Graves
Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman
Plot: Hercules (Schwarzenegger) has grown tired and ‘bored’ of living in Olympus and travels to earth, despite Zeus’ protests. Upon arriving in New York, Hercules befriends a pretzel salesman named Pretzie (Arnold Stang) and embarks on a bodybuilding career, whilst struggling to fit in with his fellow earthlings.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Hercules in New York Movie
‘Hercules in New York’ VHS/DVD Cover

Everyone knows who Arnold Schwarzenegger is. The former Mr Universe and Mr Olympia, turned actor, then governor of California, is a man that despite all his flaws you just cannot help but love. Despite the Austrian-born actor’s painfully bad acting, his legendary status in Hollywood has been solidified by producing some iconic on-screen characters, such as Conan and the Terminator, along with many other loveable characters throughout the 80s and 90s. From a young age Arnold always wanted to be an actor and in 1969, he landed his first acting role, one many are not familiar with, Hercules in New York.

Hercules in New York is a notoriously bad film, but it is still loved by those who watch it without taking it too seriously. There’s just something to admire about films that have a low production value and are unintentionally funny. Classed as a ‘fantasy family film’, it’s hard to imagine what was truly intended for the film. There’s no real subtext, the plot is very consistent with the title: Hercules the legendary demigod of Greek mythology, gets bored and decides to defy his father and visits New York; who can blame him right? While on Earth, the clash in culture and language causes Hercules to get himself in a number of clumsy and harrowing situations, which ultimately leads him to believe his father was right and that he should never leave home. Does this then put it on par with the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) in terms of its message? Probably not. This is just a film that was made simply for the sake of making a film.

Hercules in New York’s extremely low budget is evident from the start to the end. In the opening scene, where we see Hercules in Olympus, the clear sound of traffic and car horns can be heard throughout – it was filmed in central park. Even so, you’re probably not likely to hear it first time because, like myself, you will probably be too absorbed in the rich dialogue of the film to notice. It’s hard to imagine an exchange between a legendary god and demigod going along the lines of:

Zeus: You’re trying my patience Hercules!
Hercules: You are trying mine!

But when you witness it, it makes it all the more entertaining.

Surprisingly, the acting in the film (with the exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger) isn’t too bad all things considered. The film’s biggest crime in that sense is the occasional bit of overacting here and there. Now, if you thought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting today was bad enough, his performance throughout Hercules in New York is something else, and that’s if you get the luxury of seeing the non-dubbed version of the film which is riddled with out-of-sync audio and Arnold’s extremely thick Austrian accent, which is a treat to listen to. Arnold speaks most of his lines as if he is literally reading them straight off the script, which combined with the sheer ridiculous and laughable writing makes it an unmissable watch. A line such as “I can hear my talk, I cannot watch it” is bad enough on its own, but said in a clumsy Austrian accent with next to no effort makes it worse, yet saves it from total disaster at the same time.

Overall, the film is filled with ridiculous scenes – one of the highlights of the film is when Hercules starts a fight with an escaped grizzly bear in central park but for the sake of this feature we’ll call it a bear and not the worst bear costume in cinematic history. It’s so painfully hilarious that it makes you wonder how the director ever thought to approve it for the final take, but any film that has a scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger wrestling a guy in a bear suit in the middle of central park deserves to be recognised.

In conclusion, this is a great film to watch if you’re feeling down and need a few laughs, just be sure to watch the non-dubbed version to see it in all its glory. You know when people talk about how Walt Disney’s ideas were rejected from multiple film studios before he made it? I think one day people will say Arnold Schwarzenegger once starred in Hercules in New York. With that in mind, that hasn’t stopped the actor from trying to erase the film from his filmography, claiming it to be his biggest regret in his acting career and when you watch it, it’s not hard to understand why, but when watching it, just keep in mind that this man went on to be a US state governor.

Why not check out part 1 of the ‘So Bad It’s Good Series’ – a piece on The Room (2003) – here.

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