23 November, 2007


Reg Park (1928-2007), the man, with his wife in a recent photo before his demise yesterday after a heroic battle with cancer.

When I looked at my email inbox Thanksgiving morning I noted the header on the first one: Reg Park (1928-2007) and I experienced that chill which always comes when one is faced with the reality of death. In this case, the death of a performer who has brought me hours of pleasure in his signature role of Hercules. The email was an official notice from the Park family that he had finally passed on after an extended bout with the illness. He was surrounded by his loved ones and numerous messages of good will. I was saddened even more by the fact that I had fallen out of touch with him, via his website, and hadn't made it a priority to send him a message of support in his final days. Life is precious and sometimes we wait too long or expect a man of out sized proportions to live forever.

Reg Park will be remembered as a legendary body builder, first winning the title of Mr. Universe in 1951, over another movie Hercules, Steve Reeves, who had won over him the year before. He would go on to inspire Arnold Schwarzenegger, who personally trained under him in his adopted homeland, S. Africa, in the 1960s, and many more aspiring athletes. He had built a thriving business as a lifter, personal trainer, poser, spa mogul by the 1960s as he moved his base from his UK homeland to South Africa. During that period he was called upon to appear in five Italian produced"sword and sandal" films.

Sfida dei giganti, La (1965) .... Hercules... aka Hercules the Avenger (USA)
Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi (1964) .... Ursus... aka Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (USA) ... aka Terror of the Kirghiz
Maciste nelle miniere di re Salomone (1964) .... Maciste... aka Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (USA: TV title) ... aka Samson in King Solomon's Mines (USA)
Ercole al centro della terra (1961) .... Hercules (Ercole)... aka Hercules at the Center of the Earth (International: English title: literal title) ... aka Hercules in the Center of the Earth (International: English title) ... aka Hercules in the Haunted World (USA) ... aka Hercules vs. the Vampires ... aka Sword and Sandal (Australia: TV title) ... aka The Vampires vs. Hercules ... aka With Hercules to the Center of the Earth
Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (1961) .... Ercole (Hercules)... aka Hercule à la conquête de l'Atlantide (France) ... aka Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK) ... aka Hercules and the Captive Women (USA) ... aka Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (International: English title) ... aka Hercules and the Haunted Women

Reg Park would become the incarnation of the mythic Hercules in three films, once (in the retitled HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL) involuntarily.
Vittorio Cottafavi's Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide was easily the finest of these projects due to the smooth fit Park made into the role: full of humor, goodwill and an appetite for fine dining (amidst a chaotic tavern brawl at the film's outset), he was to be the perfect Hercules, superhuman strength offset by a taste for la dolce vita on off hours. Steve Reeves always looked the part in his two Pietro Francesci directed late 1950's Hercules adventures, and their stateside success insured him a decade-long career in European costume epics, but there was something missing. His directors often noted the same feeling. Sergio Leone (1959's THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII) termed him a "robot." Sergio Corbucci (DUEL OF THE TITANS) wondered aloud about his actual strength, outside of his pumped-up physique. Whatever he brought to the role, humor was not his forte. Mark Forest was merely adequate in 1960's THE REVENGE OF HERCULES, known as GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON in the US. In any case, ...ATLANTIS, at least the original version, is well worth searching out for its impressive visual pyrotechnics, human and inhuman monsters, delirious fantasy atmosphere and Park's unique take on the role.
In his massive biography ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, author Tim Lucas offers evidence that Mario Bava was an uncredited special effects contributor to ...ATLANTIS and Bava would get the job of directing Park in his second best peplum, ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA (US title: HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD), a visual feast sometimes flawed by too much "comic" relief from a supporting actor who didn't have Park's brand of ironic wit.

Reg Park attempts to burst out of a deadly trap in Piero Regnoli's MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1964).
He was Ursus in Antonio Margheriti's 1964 URSUS, IL TERRORE DEI KHIRGISI, an imaginative blend of fantasy, peplum antics, werewolf horror and a spectral eroticism which enveloped the character of a seductive witch who transforms him into her bestial slave. Clean shaven and depicted as a conflicted titan, Park gives one of his most interesting performances here. Unfortunately, the film was retitled HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL for US showings and there is no acceptable R1 video version as of this writing.
He remained beardless and more one dimensionally heroic in Piero Regnoli's South African lensed MACISTE NELLE MINIERE DI RE SALOMONE, his offical goodbye to the genre and film acting. HERCULES, THE AVENGER, the 1965 composite of the superior ....ATLANTIS and ...HAUNTED WORLD would revive his Hercules scenes in an attempt to squeeze more money out of the played out franchise. One wishes for a complete [101m] R1 DVD presentation of HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS at some future date, without the US added Leon Selznick narration and with its original music track intact.
Reg walked away from it all and into body building immortality. Heroes never die....
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

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