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Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste
Maciste, or Machiste (pronounced ma-CHEES-tay) is one of the oldest recurring characters in modern motion pictures. He cuts a heroic figure throughout the history of the cinema of Italy, even if the movies that feature him are unlikely to win many awards.

The origin of the name is a bit of a mystery. There was no Maciste in Greek mythology or history. The word machiste, however, means "macho man" or "male chauvinist" in French.

Maciste made his debut in the 1914 Italian silent movie classic Cabiria, and as such may be one of the longest running cinema characters, anywhere. His cinematic record beats Tarzan, who had his début in print when Maciste first appeared on the screen. By the total number of motion pictures, he runs a close second. The silent film was a story about a slave who was involved in the rescue of a princess from an evil Carthaginian king, and was based very loosely on Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert and had a plot and screnplay by Gabriele d'Annunzio.

Maciste's debut pretty much set the tone for his later adventures. Typical plots involve tyrannical rulers who practice vile magical rituals or worship evil gods. Typically, the young lady who is the love interest runs afoul of the evil ruler. Maciste is a super-strong guy who must rescue her. There is often a rightful king out there somewhere who wants to overthrow the evil usurper. There is an obligatory hooch dancing scene. There is often an evil queen who has carnal designs on the hero.

These films, then, could be set in settings from Mongolia to Peru, from Egypt to the Roman Empire. His life story, or his origin in ancient Carthage, did not prevent him from appearing in any setting from classical antiquity or modern times.

As a character, Maciste had two distinct moments in the spotlight. The first was in the Italian silent movie period, in which the original Maciste from Cabiria, the muscular actor Bartolomeo Pagano, starred in a series of at least fifteen sequels over the period from 1915 through 1926.

The character was revived in the 1960s. In 1959, Steve Reeves' Hercules, an Italian production, created a minor boom in Italian dramas featuring American bodybuilders in vaguely mythological or classical historical subjects. The actual mythology was frequently pied to make up the improbable plots. Maciste was a frequently recurring hero in these films. This sword and sandal fad continued for about seven years, until the new fad for spaghetti Westerns took over the attention of the Italian cinema industry.

If you've watched any of these films, you've probably seen a Maciste picture, even if the title character in the English version was not Maciste. When these films were imported into the USA and dubbed in English, usually badly, the hero was often changed to Hercules, Samson, Goliath, Atlas, or Colossus, because the name of Maciste was not widely recognised in the USA.

The biggest source of Maciste films from the second cycle in the USA was the Sons of Hercules, a film series which was later made into a syndicated TV show. Best remembered for its stirring title song --- hear it once and it will never get out of your head --- films originally featuring Machiste were dubbed into a variety of Sons of Hercules pictures, with stock narration at the opening relating each character to Hercules.

One of the first films to appear in the second series was Il Trionfo de Maciste, Englished as Triumph of the Son of Hercules. Other Maciste films available in English are Terror of Rome v. the Son of Hercules, Beast of Babylon v. the Son of Hercules, and The Son of Hercules v. Venus. Many of these films are available from Sinister Cinema.

In the 1970s, Machiste was introduced to another American audience by being made a recurring character (under that spelling) in DC Comics' Warlord sword and sorcery comic.

What makes Maciste interesting and useful as a character is that in the movies he has no continuity from one film to the next. He is variously the son of Hercules, and the son of Samson. His tales are a series of random adventures that do not relate, one to another. Mythology became a mish-mash in his films, even more than on Xena: Warrior Princess. Free from back-story, Maciste is a perfect drop-in hero for whatever story you choose to tell.

On the other hand, some have made Maciste out to be a somewhat darker figure. The character is the enslaved embodiment of physical strength and vitality; as he travels to exotic locations, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, he does battle against Oriental decadence and barbarism, as particularly embodied in the cult of Moloch that figured in the plot of Cabiria. Some have seen in the adventures of Maciste an ominous parallel to the rise of Benito Mussolini, of Italian Fascism, and of Italian military adventurism in Ethiopia in the days preceding World War II. Some have even suggested that Mussolini's public speaking style, parodied by Jack Oakie in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, was imitated from Pagano's mugging in the silent Maciste films.

His 1960s adventures, by contrast, are enjoyed mostly by devotees of camp, and cannot sustain such a dark interpretation. Several have been subjected to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

Table of contents
1 List of Maciste films:

List of Maciste films:

The following partial list will give you a feel for the variety of Machiste material and settings, and its fate when dubbed into English. This list is of the recent films.

The silent era:

Silent Maciste films starring Bartolomeo Pagano include:

The sword and sandal era:

Maciste films from the 1960s sword and sandal revival include: