Dec 10, 2012

An Old Steve Reeves Movie

20 years before Arnold Schwarzenegger personalized the bodybuilder, a decade before William Smith brought bodybuilding Western heroes out of the closet, Steve Reeves became an icon for gay and straight men -- but mostly in Italy, with his voice dubbed in by someone else.

Born in 1926 in Montana, Reeves developed a massive physique during the 1940s, when it was still considered a weird affectation.  After minor roles in U.S. movies and tv sitcoms -- and physique shots in Bob Mizner's pro-gay Physique Pictorial -- he moved to Italy, where the peplum or sword-and-sandal genre promoted Italian nationalism through man-mountains in togas who wandered around the ancient world, fighting oppressors.








Reeves' Hercules (1957) became a sensation, even after it was released in the U.S. in 1959, and spun Reeves into a sequel, Hercules Unchained (1959), as well as a Hercules fad in comics and on tv.

 Soon Reeves was playing every ancient hero the studio could dig up or invent, 15 in all: Goliath (not the Biblical Goliath), Glaucus (from The Last Days of Pompeii), Morgan the Pirate, The Thief of Baghdad, Agi Murad,  and Phidippides  (I've never heard of most of them, either).


The plots were similar: Hercules, or Goliath, or Agi Murad fights to help a civilization throw off the yoke of a tyrannical oppressor, gets captured and tortured, rejects the advances of an evil black-haired woman and rescues and marries a good blonde-haired woman.

His lines were dubbed in English in post-production, so no one heard his real voice except in two American movies, the bodybuilder-exploitation Athena and the police drama Jailbait.










There is minimal buddy-bonding, as in the original Hercules, where the demigod tags along with Jason and the Argonauts.  But both Hercules and Jason fall in love with women, and at the end of the movie they part.

In Romulus and Remus (Duel of the Titans, 1961), Romulus (Steve Reeves) and Remus (Gordon Scott) are raised as brothers, and fight the evil oppressors together.  But then one becomes good, and the other evil, and they must duel to the death.







Gay fans had to make do with Steve Reeves' superlative musculature, which was displayed extensively in every movie.

He retired in 1967 after an injury,  and devoted the next 33 years to promoting fitness and raising horses on his ranch in central California.  No information on whether he supported his gay fans, but since they were an integral part of his fame, one imagines that he enjoyed  the homage in The Rocky Horror Picture Show , where Dr. Frank-N-Furter tells Brad and Janet:

If you want something visual, that's not too abysmal,
We could take in an old Steve Reeves movie.