The Mark of Satan/La marca de Satanás (1957)

‘A curious attraction to this disgusting axe, which makes me sometimes think that through it, the mind of its owner is still alive.’

A wealthy landowner keeps a large axe on display in his home for a year after the mysterious fire that killed his young wife. A year later, her sister is summoned to the house by their mother. At the same time, a family servant is found dead in the forest, and it seems that supernatural forces are beginning to close in on the family…

Muddled and rather messy follow-up to ‘The Headless Rider/El jinete sin Cabeza (1957) featuring the ongoing adventures of El jinete (‘The Horseman’). Here he’s called El charro, but he’s played again by Luis Aguilar wearing the same white duds and the same investigative technique, wearing a black hood, so he appears to be headless. Most of the cast return from the first film, albeit in different roles, and it also has the same director, Chano Urueta. A third instalment, ‘La Cabeza de Pancho Villa’ (1957), boasts much the same personnel, too, so all three films were likely made at the same time.

A masked killer carrying a large axe kills one woman and carries another away amid a raging house fire. The collapse of the building covers up the murder, although patriarch Don Ricardo (Guillermo Cramer) remains suspicious, even a year later. He calls in policeman Jacinto (Crox Alvador) for some necessary (if confused) exposition, especially regarding the large axe that he keeps on hand in a black box in the hacienda’s lounge. According to him, this is at the insistence of the mother of his dead wife Olga (América Martín). The older woman survived the fire but was scarred by the flames and always wears a heavy veil.

Meanwhile, pretty young Maria (Flor Silvestre) returns to town from boarding school at the same time as the dashing El charro (Aguilar). She’s Martin’s sister and has been summoned home by her mother on the anniversary of the family tragedy, along with the handsome Manuel (Jaime Fernández), who was Martin’s true love. Their arrival proves the catalyst for more strange happenings. Family retainer Herminio (Alberto Pedret) gets chopped up by an axe in the woods but returns as a zombie, Silvestre receives a midnight visit from her sister’s ghost, and the big axe gets out of its box and flies around under its own power.

All this proves a strange mish-mash of disparate story elements, which screenwriter Ramón Obón struggles to tie together at the climax. Some allowance can always be made for things being lost in translation, of course, but a lot of the resolution makes little sense. The way the various supernatural elements are explained away is particularly lame. This is very noticeable when considering the appearance of Martin’s ghost because, as it turns out, she’s not dead. No, this isn’t a spoiler. The opening scene of the film clearly shows her mother killed in the fire rather than her. She spends most of the rest of the time pretending to be her mother, although why is never clearly explained and why the film then chooses to deal with her ‘unmasking’ as a big reveal is an even greater mystery.

Still, being Mexican genre cinema of the period, there are some things for a modern audience to enjoy. Of course, it’s a bit of a musical too, with Martin and Silvestre getting one number each, but most of the singing falling to Aguilar. As in the previous film, his character is followed around by his own private mariachi band, who pop up at convenient moments when he fancies exercising his pipes. Not so good is the return of comedy sidekick Pascual (Pascual García Peña), whose general incompetence and intermittent deafness are obviously hilarious in the way that only a serious disability can be.

All the principals enjoyed long, successful careers in the Mexican film industry, amassing hundreds upon hundreds of credits between them. Silvestre was also one of the nation’s premier recording artists, beginning her singing career in 1943 and recording her final album in 2010. Screenwriter Ramón Obón penned many Mexican horrors, including the story of the picture that started the horror craze south of the border: ‘El vampiro’ (1957). His other credits include ‘The Black Pit of Sr, M’ (1959), ‘The Living Coffin’ (1959) and ‘El Mundo de Los vampiros’ (1961).

Director Urueta was already an established filmmaker when the horrors arrived in the late 1950s and contributed many interesting titles over the next couple of decades. The gothic trappings of ‘The Witch’s Mirror’ (1962), the ridiculous exploits of cult favourite ‘The Brainiac’ (1962) and several outings for wrestling superhero Blue Demon were the highlights. In later years, he revived his early acting career, appearing in minor roles in more than a dozen films, including Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969).

Inferior to the first film, this is not a particularly noteworthy entry into the annal of Mexican cult cinema, but it has its moments.

Totò nella luna (1958)

‘Pod Creature, stop that! You are the most moronic creature we have ever created.’

Concerned about humankind’s first baby steps to the stars, aliens are working to sabotage experimental satellite launches from Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile, an aspiring young science fiction writer is found to have a substance in his blood that makes him the perfect astronaut and two FBI agents travel to Rome to recruit him…

Genial, knockabout comedy starring Italian National Institution and ‘Prince of Laughter’ Antonio Vincenzo Stefano Clemente. A man of many names but better known as Totò. This star vehicle finds him hopping aboard the 1950s science-fiction space wagon that began roaring across American cinema screens at the start of the decade.

Irascible magazine editor Pasquale Belafronte (Totò) has had his fill of the space craze. Not only do rockets disturb his sleep, he’s also bothered at work where dogsbody Achille Paoloni (Ugo Tognazzi) can’t stop talking about comic strips and his new science fiction novel. Worse still, this loser is the frontrunner for the hand of his beautiful daughter, Lidia (Sylva Koscina). Meanwhile, extra-terrestrials are regarding the Earth with worried eyes and are drawing their plans against us.

The aliens’ beef is the American space programme, which has already progressed as far as sending a chimp into orbit. So they send down Interplanetary Alpha 1 Annelid (played by a pair of disembodied, cartoon eyes) from the Anti-terrestrial Space Control Station to put the brakes on the boffins. Annelid accomplishes this by generating some wibbly-wobbly smoke rings that stream through the atmosphere. These send the US rockets hopelessly off course, and they have to be destroyed, leaving the scientists baffled.

It seems that the extra-terrestrials have the upper hand, but they’ve reckoned without Tognazzi. A casual medical examination reveals that he has Glumonium in his blood, apparently from being brought up with apes by his zookeeper father. For some reason, this makes him the only man who can go into space, and FBI agents contact him in Rome to offer him the job. Unfortunately, there’s a language barrier, and Tognazzi thinks they are offering to publish his novel.

Of course, this is all very silly, with the humour drawn in broad strokes and plot developments largely predictable. The script throws in enemy agents led by Bond Villain wannabe Von Braun (Luciano Salce), who believes Tognazzi’s novel contains a secret rocket formula, which he attempts to recreate with explosive results. He’s assisted in his dastardly schemes by blonde amazon, Tatitana (Sandra Milo), who comes complete with a femme fatale uniform of black dress, big hat, long opera gloves and cigarette holder. Although it’s never mentioned who they are working for, his preference for tall, furry hats is a bit of a giveaway.

A nice wrinkle is thrown in late when the aliens create duplicates of Totò and Tognazzi, but the resulting romantic and comedic misunderstandings are not exactly groundbreaking. Still, it’s good to see Tognazzi’s devotion to all the clichés of the sci-fi pulps, such as giant cockroaches and vile octopus monsters. There’s also an amusing foreshadowing of modern fanboy culture when he expresses his opinion on a newly published comic strip. ‘Everyone knows that the inhabitants of Mercury don’t have four eyes!’ he sneers in contempt. ‘They have 16 of them!’.

The film is firmly earthbound for much of its running time before finally going into orbit in the last fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, by that point, it has overstayed its welcome a little with an insufficient number of events and too many formulaic situations to consistently engage the funny bone. Euro-horror enthusiasts may be surprised to see director Lucio Fulci with a co-story credit, but he cut his teeth in mainstream Italian cinema over several decades before meeting up with the ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1978).

Totò was a national institution in Italy, appearing in almost 100 films from 1937 to 1968 when two more features were released after his death in April 1967 at the age of 69. Although primarily beloved as a comedian, he also found success in dramatic roles as a singer and songwriter, writer, and poet. Koscina was more famous as the girl on Steve Reeves’ arm in the first two wildly successful ‘Hercules’ films of the late 1950s but also had a long, five-decade career in which included appearances as the leading lady opposite Paul Newman in ‘The Secret War of Harry Frigg’ (1968), Rock Hudson in ‘The Hornet’s Nest’ (1970) and a prominent role in the Bulldog Drummond spy romp ‘Deadlier Than The Male’ (1967).

Harmless, if somewhat lightweight, comedy vehicle that raises a smile or two.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)‘She looked up to him like he was St Peter with the voice of an ant.’

After the death of his father, a young man returns home from Switzerland. He begins to suspect that his demise was no accident and that his older brother may have killed him to assume control of the family business. But is the conspiracy just a product of his twisted imagination?

Slow burning, arthouse drama that also comes with an element of mystery. The film has been categorised as a Giallo by some, but that’s probably as much to do with its Italian origin and cast of performers as its actual content. It’s plain that director Salvatore Samperi, who also co-wrote with famous Italian novelist Dacia Maraini, had something else on his mind rather than just delivering a conventional thriller or whodunnit.

Prodigal son Enrico Merlo (Maurizio Degli Esposti) arrives home on a livestock truck bound for one of the slaughterhouses operated by his family’s business. Rather than enter the old homestead the conventional way, he goes in via a first-floor window and witnesses older brother and sister Cesare and Verde (Jean Sorel and Marilù Tolo) giving his father’s corpse a surreptitious injection of something. Naturally suspicions of such shenanigans, he touches base with private detective Pier Paolo Capponi, convinced that his father was murdered.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

‘Did she just fart?’

Sadly, Esposti investigations consist primarily of going to see deranged housekeeper Talia (Alexa Paizi) at the local asylum and right out accusing Sorel of the crime. He also spends a worrying amount of time listening to his dead mother’s voice on a tape recorder. Yes, he might be young, pale and interesting, but he’s also got some serious issues. The film’s most memorable scene finds him creating a shrine to his mother by hanging up her old clothes while playing one of those tapes. Tolo comes in, wordlessly puts on the clothes and then offers him her naked breast. Fortunately, they are interrupted before the situation develops any further. Yes, this is one peculiar family, with a history of mental instability and the phantom of incest ever hovering in the background.

Sorel tries to straighten out Esposti by getting him to lose his virginity with prostitute Gabriela (Bernadette Kell), but the teenager is not interested. Sorel is intimate with her already, of course, even though he’s engaged to marry the lovely Ottavia (Noris Fiorina) and is quite probably sleeping with Tolo as well. The nature of the family business is no coincidence, either. Dead animals are a recurring motif throughout the film, with the family’s idea of a fun afternoon out involves a rifle and a dead dog in the river. As you’ve probably gathered by now, any thriller or mystery elements are taking a back seat.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Her face was beginning to hurt…

The film does have its advocates, but this kind of project will always be an acquired taste. The cast makes no real effort to emote; Tolo remaining stone-faced throughout, and Sorel fading into the background. Given that both actors gave perfectly capable, and sometimes charismatic performances in other films, this seems to have a conscious artistic choice by director Samperi. What is he trying to say? Obvious the title’s a biblical reference, but, considering the way the story comes out, any comparison to the parable of the prodigal son must have been deliberately ironic. This notion is supported by Ennio Morricone’s score, which is often quite jaunty at times, especially considering the subject matter.

Perhaps what we have here is another critique of the idle rich, which were so common in Italian cinema of the time. It’s worth noting that the family’s successful business is down to the father’s hard work. Sorel already seems to be mismanaging its affairs, either through laziness or incompetence. More simply, of course, it might just be the story of one hell of a twisted family.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Nick Cave’s new album was a bit of a downer…

Samperi was active in the Italian film industry from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, almost always directing his own screenplays. Comedy romance ‘Malicious’ (1973) collected acting awards for some of its cast, and gay love story ‘Ernesto’ (1979) which told of love between an adult man and a young boy was highly controversial on release. Both Sorel and Tolo made several other, far more straightforward, Giallo pictures, with Sorel in appearing in some notable examples, including the Lucio Fulci films ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971). Esposti had a very brief career, comprising only four features, although these included Giulio Questi’s experimental horror drama ‘Arcana’ (1972).

Likely to divide audiences, this is a very strange entry in the Giallo sub-genre if it belongs there at all. There’s plenty to talk about, but that’s not always necessarily a good thing.

The Mysterious Airman (1928)

‘It is handled solely by remote control and, by its use, we can make it hot for Pilot X.’

A private airline utilises an experimental safety device, which is proving highly successful in adverse flying conditions. However, their flights are coming under renegade attack from a renegade band of pilots who seems to want to drive them out of business. Can it be that a rival airline is trying to obtain the device, or is something more sinister going on…?

Twelve-episode independent movie serial from the last gasp days of silent cinema. Although the ‘talkies’ had taken the film world by storm when Al Jolson played ‘The Jazz Singer’ (1927), the industry remained sceptical about committing to their long-term future, and it was a couple of years before silent film production ceased. There were also technical and financial issues for smaller filmmaking outfits to overcome, such as the Weiss Brothers, the small studio behind this ‘super chapter play of the air’.

Baker Aircraft Inc. should be reaping the rewards of the latest invention from their boffin in residence, Professor James Joyce (Chris Allen). Instead, the innovation has brought owner Frank Baker (Walter Miller) a new slate of problems. The Aerometer might ensure a safe flight in any weather conditions, but that’s not much help when his planes are being constantly downed by the machine-gun fire of Pilot X and his flying minions. Giving up on police assistance (were they ever involved?), Miller vows to unmask the mysterious villain, whose face is always hidden behind his flying helmet.

The main suspect in all this criminal activity is William Craft (Robert Walker), owner of the rival Global Air Corporation. You see, Miller won’t let anyone else have use of his precious Aerometer, which brings up an interesting question. If the Aerometer is such a boon to aviation and pilot safety, doesn’t Miller have a moral obligation to share it with everyone? Rather than keep it for the exclusive use of his own airline? And isn’t someone in authority going to compel him to do so? The writers eventually realised that this was a bit of an issue, and after a few chapters, we find Miller scheduling a shipment of some working models to the government. In exchange, he gets official help from detective Dan Mullins (Alfred Hewston).

The serial follows the familiar pattern of the opposing forces tussling over various McGuffins; blueprints, for the most part, although Allen has also invented a flying torpedo, which makes for a good excuse for some minor explosions and a couple of cliffhangers. In fact, in a way, the Aerometer is the ultimate MacGuffin; not only do we never find out what it does or how it works, we never even get to see this fantastic device! Instead, we’re treated to various smart young men having conversations standing next to planes out on the field. All of them are dressed in flying togs, or Argyle sweaters with flat caps and sport neatly trimmed tiny moustaches. Meanwhile, Miller crashes so many aircraft it’s a wonder his airline hasn’t already gone out of business.

But there are some compensations here. For once, the female characters are pretty strong, and they participate in the action. Miller’s fiancee is Shirley Joyce (Eugenia Gilbert), who, of course, is the Professor’s lovely daughter, but she’s also a pilot in her own right. On more than one occasion, she takes off from the field to lend assistance and puts herself in mortal danger, and she’s fully aware of the risks. She’s far more active than the airline’s top pilot, Barry Madden (James Fitzgerald) or general manager Albert Orren (Eugene Burr). Walker’s better half is another aviatrix, Fawn Nesbit (Dorothy Talcott), who helps him primarily because she wants to use the Aerometer to mount a solo attempt to fly around the world.

One of the main plot threads is the true identity of the mysterious Pilot X, and screenwriter Harry P Crist gives us a whole gallery of possible candidates. As well as all the employees of Baker’s airline, there’s former mail pilot Henry Knight (Ray Childs) who owns the Aero Inn where all the pilots hang out. Then there’s the Joyce family butler, John Perkins (Arthur Morrison), who acts suspiciously in the way that only movie butlers ever could. Further muddying the waters is Maxamillion Kartof (Hamilton Morse), representative of the country of Sardonia, who is somehow involved. Unfortunately, all we know about him is that he has the best business card in history; all it has on it is his surname and the name of his country. Luckily for the forces of truth and justice, the outcome here is never really in doubt. Miller seems to be indestructible, emerging without a scratch from his numerous crashes and cracks up, although he does tear his suit jacket once, which must have been quite annoying.

The main issues from an entertainment point of view revolve around the formulaic plot and action. Obviously, this is an accusation that can be levelled at the majority of movie serials, and to some extent, it’s endemic to the form. The issue here is that a lot of the action takes place in the air, and the filmmakers don’t have the resources to realise them convincingly. Most of these sequences are a combination of long shots so extreme that the aircraft are merely blobs in the distant sky and close-ups of the actors in mock-up cockpits against a moving backdrop of washed-out clouds. Of course, allowances must be made for the vintage of the production, but these shortcomings and the repetitive nature of unfolding events make for a bit of a challenging watch.

Director Harry Revier toiled away in the independent arena for two decades and is remembered today for some rather notorious productions. ‘Child Bride’ (1938) was a drama focusing on older men marrying pre-teen girls in the Ozark Mountain region. Although presented as a condemnation of the practice, of course, it was just an excuse for some tasteless exploitation with 12-year old actress Shirley Mills skinny-dipping in the nude. The film ran into censorship problems in several American states but was financially very successful. Mills went onto a screen career that mainly featured uncredited roles, although in some notable productions such as ‘Shadow of A Doubt’ (1943) for Alfred Hitchcock. However, her greatest claim to fame was playing Ruthie Joad in John Ford’s classic ‘The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Revier’s other interesting productions included the outlandish serial ‘The Lost City (1935) and ‘Lash of the Penitents’ (1936). The latter focused on a fictional murder but apparently featured real-life scenes of monks performing acts of self-flagellation during ceremonies taking place in the desert. The story goes that Revier obtained this footage by filming these rituals in secret. However, the monks discovered his presence and opened fire, hitting him in the hand. The resulting injury eventually resulted in the amputation of two fingers. There’s no corroborating evidence for this story (and why would monks have guns?!), but it sure makes for a great anecdote.

A rather primitive movie serial that has some charm but struggles to overcome a repetitive and underdeveloped story.

The Purple Ball/The Lilac Ball/Lilovyy shar (1977)

‘Last time you said it was a ship, it was an egg.’

An exploratory spaceship encounters the ‘Black Wanderer’, a mythical alien craft said to wander the universe. They find her deserted but discover that the dead crew were intent on conquest. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, they hid a container holding a deadly virus somewhere on Earth, and it’s due to explode…

Curious mash-up of fantasy and science-fiction from the Soviet Union directed by Pavel Arsyonov. Based on a popular character from a series of children’s books by Kir Bulychyov, it’s in marked contrast to the usual Eastern Bloc sci-fi for the younger generation and was probably aimed more at the pre-teen audience than most examples.

Research ship the ‘Pegasus’ is minding its own business sailing among the stars under the command of its stern Commander Zelyonyj (‘Green’), played by Vyacheslav Baranov. He’s unhappy that the entire complement of his crew is off on their holidays, this being scientist Professor Seleznyov (Boris Shcherbakov) and his pre-teen daughter Alisia (‘Alice’) played by Natasha Guseva. He’s also not pleased that their farewell meal keeps getting interrupted by Guseva’s pet frog. She prattles on about how the amphibian is a Princess under an enchantment, but, not surprisingly, Baranov is a little sceptical of her story.

Dinner is further disrupted by the sighting of the legendary ghost ship, the ‘Black Wanderer’, of which many dark rumours have circulated for years. They board her after linking up with archaeologist Gromozeka (Vyacheslav Nevinnyy), who resembles the Cowardly Lion from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ only he has four arms and four hands, an effect achieved by having another actor squeezed into the costume behind him. It turns out that the ship’s crew is long dead, but Guseva finds the coloured ball of the title and brings it back on board the ‘Pegasus.’ Yes, they take a young child on to an unknown alien spacecraft and then let her wander off on her own! Stellar parenting right there.

Somehow Baranov manages to obtain a video of the last few minutes of the spaceships log and play it back for everyone because alien recording technology is completely compatible with their own. The tape shows humanoid slaves in robes performing a strange ritual with purple balls such as the one Guseva found. One of them is dropped by accident and breaks. A gas is released, and the entire population of the ship go mad and violently kill each other. These scenes aren’t graphic, but they are still so out of place in a film for young children that there’s the distinct possibility that they were lifted from another production.

Baranov then announces that he’s discovered that the aliens planted a similar device back on Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago, back in ‘the time of myths and legends.’ Again, how he knows this is a complete mystery. Oh, and it’s due to go off next Tuesday. Around tea time. They hurry back to Earth, but ground control won’t buy their story and instead have them chased (and captured) by a flying lampshade, with an examination by psychiatrists due to follow.

But, not to worry, Guseva has a plan! She’ll just pop into their time machine, go back to ‘the time of myths and legends’ and retrieve the gas bomb so it can be neutralised. This introduction of time travel technology comes completely out of nowhere, as does the fact that Guseva has been using it. After all, her father and the Commander didn’t buy into her talk of Frog Princesses and magic earlier. Still, they agree that she’s the best one to go (because ‘she has friends’ back there or something?), and she departs, along with Nevinnyy as her bodyguard.

Once in the time of myths and legends, she encounters many strange creatures. For a start, there’s a tree with a big ear and an eye, and a moth-eaten white dragon, who looks like he’s been on the world’s longest bender. Then, three bandits threaten to eat her; a Roc hatches from an egg and headbutts a spaceship, and a magician arrives on a carpet supported by wires. She also has a run-in with supernatural old crone Baba Yaga, who started her career in hundreds of Slavic folktales in the middle ages, but recently hit rock bottom as one of the villains in the ill-fated remake of ‘Hellboy’ (2019). All of this is a strange mixture of mythologies, to be sure; part Sinbad, part fairytale, part Wizard of Oz. All in a film whose first act was straight science-fiction! There’s nothing wrong with blending genres, of course, but it’s a tricky business, and the disconnect between the two aspects of the story here is a little jarring, to say the least.

In terms of the SFX, it’s a mixed bag. Viewed now, the model spacecraft and computer graphics look very dated. They are also don’t bear serious comparison with contemporary films and even television shows of the time. There’s a pleasing emphasis on practical effects, of course, with computer-generated images in their infancy, but the results are inconsistent at best. Some of the creature puppetry is charming in an innocent way, which was quite probably intentional. The Roc is cute, Baba Yaga’s house has a lovely fairytale design, and four hands are very useful when you want to demonstrate how to eat a carrot.

Unfortunately, the proceedings have no dramatic weight that might appeal to an adult audience, and the slow pace will probably defeat all but the youngest of their juvenile compatriots. Moreover, there’s a real sense of unconnected scenes and events following one after the other ‘just because’ rather than any logically developing story. Guseva’s various monstrous encounters often seem to be just an excuse to mark time before things finally wrap up in the last ten minutes.

Given how this picture plays, perhaps it’s not surprising to discover that Arsyonov’s next film (and his last) was ‘Volshebnik Izumrudnogo goroda’ (1994), which was based on a novel by Aleksandr Volkov and featured familiar characters from the Land of Oz. Volkov wrote around half a dozen such books, joining a long and ongoing tradition of literary works based on L Frank Baum’s original property. Nevinnyy, Shcherbakov and Viktor Pavlov, who plays one of the cannibals here, all returned to work with Arsyonov again.

Some marks for trying, but this is really a hodgepodge of different elements that don’t come together satisfactorily. Some of its technical aspects have not aged well either, but a short running time means it doesn’t overstay its welcome too much.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)‘These plans could revolutionise underwater breathing’

A beautiful woman is threatened with a knife on a lonely stretch of beach. However, instead of harming her, the stranger tells her that her husband is a murderer and leaves. Later on, she learns that one of her husband’s business associates has died under mysterious circumstances and the timing seems almost too convenient…

This Italian-Spanish Giallo was the directorial debut of Luciano Ercoli, who was better known in the industry as a producer. The project was born of necessity with a quickly delivered, commercial hit required to bail out the production comapny owned by Ercoli and his partner, Alberto Pugliese. The duo recruited screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who had the appropriate experience and, better still, a script already in development.

Highly-strung Minou (Dagmar Lassander) finds her world beginning to crumble after she’s approached on a nighttime beach by a mysterious motorcyclist (Simón Andreu). Despite being armed with a blade and using it to cut her dress open, he doesn’t force himself on her. Instead he accuses her husband Pierre (Pier Paolo Capponi) of murder and rides away. Later on, she discovers that one of her Capponi’s creditors has died at sea, in circumstances that could have been replicated in the new decompression chamber being developed at her husband’s company which makes diving equipment.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘No, I am not interested in unlimited free calls after six ‘o’ clock…’

Andreu contacts Lassander again, of course. By now, she’s struggling to bury her doubts about Capponi, especially when Andreu plays her an alleged recording of the murder over the phone. She’s seen the handsome young blackmailer in a pornographic photograph too, apparently bought in Copenhagen by her free-spirited friend, Dominique (the charismatic Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual pseudonym of Susan Scott). Lassander agrees to visit Andreu’s art studio to pay him off but it turns out that his demands are sexual rather than financial. The rough sex is not nearly as unpleasant as she expects, but the experience pushes her further into a reliance on pills and liquor and, when it turns out that Andreu has photographed their encounter, the strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a Gaillo where the emphasis is firmly placed on the ‘mystery’ element of the tale, rather than prsenting a procession of stytlised murders committed by an unknown killer. Instead, the audience is left to consider who is manipulating Lassander and what they hope to get out of it. Unusually for this type of film, she is not independently wealthy with Capponi reliant on her financial support, so the motive doesn’t seem to be money. Perhaps the conspiracy is the result of Lassander’s own neuroses; at one point she confesses to Navarro that Capponi has been her ‘husband, lover and father’ to her, a statement that raises a few red flags. And does she really need yet another drink?

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘These split ends definitely need a lot of work…’

It’s a credit to everyone involved in the film that, at no time, does it betray the cicrumstances of its hurried production. This is a smooth, efficient thriller with a decent level of intruigue and some cleverly ambiguous exchanges of dialogue. The resolution is a little underwhelming, however, and the audience may be left waiting for one last twist that never arrives. The performances are good, with a geat deal of the dramatic burden falling on Lassander’s shoulders. Victim roles can be a tightrope, characters can appear too passive and lose audience sympathy, but Lassander is never less than engaging as she struggles toward self-belief and positive action.

Terchnically, the most noteworthy scenes are the ones that take place in Andreu’s art studio. There are definite echoes of the work of horror maestro Mario Bava here, with lighting and gels used to create the splashes of bright colour often demonstrated in his films. This small set also features a selection of bizarre objet d’art, including statuettes, porcelain hands and wall masks, most memorably one fo the devil. These parts of the film are moody and atmosphere and the whole picture benefits from the classy cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa. His 30-year career included Eurospys like ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966), Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins’ (1968), Lucio Fulci’s classic Giallo ‘One on Top of the Other’ (1969) and Cushing-Lee’s elegant shocker ‘Horror Express’ (1972), as well as more than a hundred other credits.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘Paging Mr Bava….’

Ercoli’s previous experience in differing roles within the industry were obviously helpful in his first stint behind the megaphone. He’d briefly worked as assistant director in a quarter of pictures in the 1950s and, as a producer, he’d been responsible for comedy Giallo ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), comic book adventure ‘Fantômas’ (1964), a couple of episodes in the adventures of Spaghetti Western hero Ringo and Eurospy ‘OSS 117: Mission for a Killer’ (1965). Within a couple of years, he and actress Navarro had married and they went onto team up again with screenwriter Gastaldi on ‘Death Walks In High Heels’ (1971), ‘Cry Out In Terror’ (1972) and crime thriller ‘The Midnight Daredevil’ (1973). Ercoli retired from the business in the late 1970s after coming into a large inheritance but Navarro carried on, although career drifted more into the adult end of the exploitation market.

A brisk, efficient Giallo that is an engaging viewing experience, although it may not live too long in the memory.

G-Men vs The Black Dragon (1943)

G-Men vs The Black Dragon (1943)‘I arrive when the shootings over.’

A British secret agent flies into Los Angeles from the far east with vital intelligence about the Black Dragon Society, a Japanese espionage group. Avoiding an assassination attempt, the operative links up with an American Special Investigator and a Chinese agent to take down the group who have begun terrorist activities on US soil…

Full-blooded, helter-skelter thrills from the brutally efficient Serial Unit of Republic Studios. There’s an almost non-stop parade of fistfights, explosions and last breath escapes over 15 chapters as American agents take on nasty Japanese fifth columnists in their own backyard. It’s blatant wartime propaganda, of course, but perfectly understandable given the world situation at the time.

It’s not just another day at the office for Federal Agent Rex Bennett (Rod Cameron). His current assignment is to investigate the infamous Black Dragon Society and a sudden visit from British diplomat Sir John Cliché (Lawrence Grant) promises to be helpful. The old duffer comes complete with bowler and umbrella (in LA!) but also with something a little more critical; news that top British operative Vivian Marsh (Constance Worth) is arriving with some crucial intel. Cameron wastes no time in pooling resources with Worth and Chinese agent Chang Sing (Roland Got), especially when the British gal confirms that the Japanese mission Stateside is now in the hands of notorious superspy Oyama Haruchi (Nino Pipitone).

G-Men vs The Black Dragon (1943)

‘Don’t worry. you can knock it out of my hand in a couple of seconds…’

In the movie serial’s best traditions, our golden trio needs no additional resources when taking on the bad guys, but that’s ok because the sides are numerically well matched. Pipitone only has two regular lieutenants, Ranga (Noel Cravat) and Lugo (George J Lewis). Sure, there are other gang members, but none last more than an episode, coming and going at the whim of script convenience. This means that most episodes conclude with a bout of energetic fisticuffs, with Cameron and Got going up against Cravat and Lewis in various apartments, warehouses, factories and offices while deadly devices tick away in the background in a final countdown.

But let’s not forget Worth’s role in proceedings. She’s not the usual damsel in distress here. When Rex finds out that the British agent is a woman, he only shows mild surprise, and this non-issue is never verbally raised again. Yes, he does tell her to stay in the car a couple of times while he and Got go into dangerous situations, but she’s not just a passive bystander. She tracks down clues on her own, flies a plane, fakes a fatal car accident to evade pursuit, infiltrates the gang in disguise and wields a Tommy gun with an assurance so impressive that it suggests formal training. This was a surprising, if only occasional, development in movie serials of the 1940s, which perhaps reflected the more responsible roles that women adopted in the workplace while their men were fighting abroad.

G-Men vs The Black Dragon (1943)

‘Confucius, he say Mamma Mia!’

Having said that, this was the golden age of Hollywood when just a little makeup around the eyes could (un)convincingly transform a red-blooded, white caucasian into a sinister oriental. Pipitone was actually an Italian, and his accent wavers hilariously from his native land all the way to Scandanavia, stopping at many other European destinations in between. He may have been cast because of his ability to work with the production’s trained raven, who often sits on his shoulder. Somewhat bizarrely, the bird acts as the spymaster’s offscreen avian assassin, with special responsibility for dealing with those that fall through the trapdoor in front of his desk. This isn’t the only structural improvement to Pipitone’s headquarters, either. There are more secret panels, in situ spear-throwing machinery and oriental trappings and doo-dads galore. The whole place is a fitting tribute to their ability to smuggle anything past the US customs authorities.

Cameron was a big, bluff Canadian who is perhaps best remembered for his roles in Westerns, but he also featured in several cult items, such as ‘The Monster and the Girl’ (1941), ‘Escapement/The Electronic Monster’ (1958) and ‘The Jungle’ (1959). He also reprised his role as agent Rex Bennett in semi-sequel ‘Secret Service In Darkest Africa’ (1943), rooting out a top Nazi officer hiding undercover in Casablanca. That was another assignment for director Spencer Gordon Bennet, who co-helmed here with William Witney. Worth’s career never made it out of the 1940s, although she did manage a handful of minor roles in big studio ‘A’ pictures, such as ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ (1944) and ‘Deadline At Dawn’ (1946).

G-Men vs The Black Dragon (1943)

‘Are you eating properly, Mr Karloff?’

If you can keep in mind the circumstances and times in which this serial was produced and accept it on those terms, then you’re likely to have a fun experience. However, if you’re determined to view it from our more sophisticated and enlightened perspective, you might be best to stay away.

The Sentinel (1977)

‘Believe it or not, I attended a birthday party here last night for a cat.’

A successful young fashion model with a troubled past takes a new apartment to get some perspective on a possible future with her long-term boyfriend. It’s not long, however, before she’s disturbed by strange noises in the night, weird dreams and the attentions of her new neighbours, who exhibit some decidedly odd behaviour…

Satan was big box office in Hollywood in the 1970s, particularly when his activities were transposed to a modern, urban setting. The trend had begun with Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) and continued primarily through movies made for television in the early 1970s. Then came the box-office juggernaut that was ‘The Exorcist’ (1973). Three years later, ‘The Omen’ (1976) was another smash and this dance with the devil from British director Michael Winner’s followed hard on its heels.

Young and beautiful Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is the cover girl of her day, appearing in exclusive photoshoots from top fashion magazines and gracing prime time TV in shampoo commercials. On the surface, she’s living the American Dream, but a dark past contains a suicide attempt after breaking in on her elderly father cavorting with some naked prostitutes. Long term live-in boyfriend Michael (Chris Sarandon) wants marriage, but Raines needs some space to think things over. So she rents a big apartment in an exclusive building downtown and moves in. It looks like a steal, but when you’ve got a blind priest John Carradine staring out of the window of the flat on the top floor, it’s best to think twice before signing the lease agreement.

Things start going bump in the night pretty quickly, and that’s not all. Her neighbours are a rum bunch, to be sure. There’s the campy Burgess Meredith, who carries his cat around, and lesbian ballet fans Sylvia Miles and the wordless Beverley D’Angelo, who starts to masturbate in front of Raines as soon as Miles is out of the room. Later on, Meredith holds a birthday shindig for his cat, and Raines gets to meet some more of the residents, who act weird and start turning up in her dreams. When she complains to the local house agent about everything, she’s told that the building’s only other resident is Carradine. When she examines the other apartments with Sarandon, they are deserted and covered in dust.

Based on a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, this occult mystery struggles to find a consistent tone and engage the audience. The story is very much a slow burn, without a great deal of action or incident, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in Winner’s hands, the absence of tension and atmosphere is a serious problem. Raines and Sarandon have little chemistry together, and neither exhibits enough presence to overcome their underwritten characters. The script is credited as a collaboration between Konviotz and Winner, although Konvitz was unhappy with Winner’s involvement from the start and is not a fan of the finished film. It’s not hard to see why.

The main issue is Winner’s apparent determination to ‘gross out’ the audience. There is a memorable scene where Raines slices up what seems to be her dead father’s living corpse. It is quite shocking but comes so far out of left field and is so over the top that it’s borderline hilarious, which is obviously not the effect the director intended. However, it is worth pointing out that the film is over 40 years old. The contemporary audience was probably far more unfamiliar with such moments of sudden shock and gore than viewers today. Instead of carrying on along that line, however, the tale then seems to morph into a conspiracy thriller as Sarandon breaks into the offices of the local Catholic diocese, suspicious of their involvement with the building and a mysterious priest played by Arthur Kennedy. Then it’s on to the climax and the solution to the mystery, which is where things get very divisive.

In essence, the climax is just two of the characters shouting at each other in an attic, which is not very cinematic. Winner chose to deal with this problem by showing an army of demons rising from hell to surround the protagonists. Rather than employ practical makeup effects, the director decided to use real-life people with significant physical deformities. There was a precedent for this approach, of course, the most obvious example being Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ (1932). Jack Cardiff had also employed it for his dreadful mash-up of horror and science-fiction ‘The Mutations’ (1974). However, the crucial difference between the 1932 film and its 1970s counterparts is that Browning portrayed his unusual cast as human beings, giving them dialogue and characters. They were the centre of the drama. Winner in particular merely uses them as window dressing, inviting the audience to gawk at them and be horrified, much in the way of carnival sideshows of a bygone age. Yes, I’m sure everyone was paid for their participation and took part through choice, but it still leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Elsewhere, it’s an unusual case of ‘spot the famous face’ as the cast is stocked with stars of yesteryear and some whose day was yet to come. Apart from veterans Kennedy, Carradine and Miles, we get Ava Gardner renting out apartment space in New York, Jose Ferrer with a walk-on as one of Kennedy’s ecclesiastical colleagues and Martin Balsam in a pointless scene as an absent-minded academic. As well as D’Angelo, we get future stars Jeff Goldblum as a fashion photographer and Tom Berenger doing a bit of flat hunting and billed as ‘Man at the end.’ There’s also a combination of the two eras with veteran cop Eli Wallach partnered with a young Christopher Walken. The older detective is convinced that Sarandon had his wife pushed from a bridge, a potentially interesting subplot that is never really developed. Finally, there’s a curious ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ cameo from Richard Dreyfuss hanging out on a street corner, probably waiting for his next call from Steven Spielberg.

Winner is poorly regarded as a filmmaker in his homeland of the United Kingdom. This critical and popular backlash was rooted in the seemingly endless run of sequels to his original hit ‘Death Wish’ (1974), although, of course, such a practice would not raise much of an eyebrow in these more franchise-friendly times. Later on, however, when the film offers began to dry up, he re-invented himself as a food critic, parlaying that into a career as a television personality. Unfortunately, his personal charms failed to win over the public, who disliked him thoroughly, something probably accentuated by his frequent appearances in tv commercials for an insurance company.

The director died in 2013, and his name has come up during recent revelations about the mistreatment of women in the film industry. By all accounts, Raines, in particular, clashed with him frequently during the production, as did several other cast and crew members. In addition, Konvitz has been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with Winner and the whole experience of making the film.

All of which commentary tends to colour opinion on the man’s films, but it does have to be acknowledged when in possession of a decent script; he could deliver an acceptable end product. However, those examples tend to reside in the earlier part of his career when perhaps he possessed less creative control over the process.

An acceptable 1970s horror experience if you can disregard its flaws.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)‘I’ll take you so you can finish your wonderful story about the protozoans on the way.’

An unhappily married diplomat has dreams about killing his domineering wife. He can put up with finding out that she is having an affair with a family friend, but when she gets rid of his beloved aquarium, he is pushed dangerously close to the edge…

Sly, black comedy Giallo that features a low body count, but compensates with a subtle and witty script loaded with irony. The sub-genre hadn’t yet cleaved too closely to the ‘whodunnit’ serial killer format, and there was still room for an unexpected outing such as this, which should please those aficionados prepared to entertain something a little different.

Diplomat Clive (George (Giorgio) Ardisson) finds it hard to sleep. His dreams are filled with just one thing: killing his rich wife, Diana (Françoise Prévost). Theirs has been a marriage of convenience: his aristocratic status and her money, but now he’s had enough. She dictates his every move outside the office; even down to the clothes that he wears, so when he receives an anonymous note that she’s having an affair with neurologist Franz Adler (Eduardo Fajardo), he can’t be more pleased. His joy is short-lived, however, when he’s told in no uncertain terms that a scandalous divorce will ruin his career.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

The latest sequel in the Piranha franchise decided to go in a different direction…

Things get even worse for our henpecked hubby when Prévost has his beloved tropical fish tank removed, and it’s occupants flushed away down in a sink in the greenhouse. A lover he can accept, but not the death of little Nemo and his buddies. She’s got to go! Luckily, he has the dirt on Fajardo, who worked as a medical doctor under the Nazis in the Second World War, so a little blackmail as all that’s needed to get the deed done. Ardisson collects the two suitcases containing the evidence, and flies to Tangier, meaning to dispose of the corpse in the acid vats of the tannery that Prévost owns. It’s from there that his scheme, and psyche, begin to unravel as circumstances combine time and again to upset his plans.

The success, or not, of a project like this principally hangs on two elements: the script and our leading man. Fortunately, screenwriter Antonio Fos delivers a wry and intelligent plot, leading the audience astray with some imagination and skill. Even twists that the audience sees coming sometimes develop in different ways than expected. Director Alfonso Brescia lets events play out without trying to impose any distracting stylisation or attempts to reflect the pop culture of the time.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

‘Am I supposed to be able to see right through to the other side?’

None of it would work, however, if it weren’t for a superb performance by Ardisson, who is on screen almost throughout. At first, he’s almost robotic, beaten into a blank slate by Prévost’s constant verbal barrage. However, we’re already familiar with the nearly psychotic glee he demonstrates in his murderous dreams, one of which introduces the action. From there, he’s alternately, nervous, charming, distraught and then desperate and paranoid as it seems everything, and everyone is conspiring against him. Early on, he’s sitting on the plane to Tangier when the flight attendant announces that one of the passenger suitcases has been opened by mistake and quotes the number on the claim check. For a heart-stopping second, Ardisson thinks it’s one of his bags before he realises that he’s reading his number upside-down. It’s a wonderfully inventive moment and the first of several suspenseful sequences that have a faint echo of Hitchcock’s dry sense of fatalism. This is one of the reasons the film works; we start to want Ardisson to get away with it; not because of his wife’s obnoxious behaviour, but because the poor guy just can’t catch a break!

It’s a terrific showcase for Ardisson, who had begun his career in the sword and sandal arena in the late 1950s, first registering significant in work for director Mario Bava: the title role in ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961) and, as Theseus, in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). After the Peplum’s popularity waned, he transferred to playing James Bond wannabees in Eurospys ‘Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell’ (1965) and ‘Operation Counterspy’ (1965), and played leads in Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘May God Forgive You… But I Won’t’ (1968) and ‘Django Defies Sartana’ (1970) opposite Tony Kendall. He was very much an action star, so finding him playing totally against type, and doing it so well, is an added bonus for those familiar with his work.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

‘You can’t get down from the table until you finish it all.’

Elsewhere the rest of the cast also deliver, particularly the women. Prévost’s character may be one-dimensional, but she plays it to the hilt. Yes, it is exaggerated, but it’s undeniably funny when she strictly timetables her adulterous trysts with Fajardo. There’s also a brief, but surprisingly affecting performance from uncredited singer Enriqueta Serrano as a middle-aged woman Ardisson is obliged to seduce and additional good work from Orchidea de Santis playing fashion model Elena Saunders. It’s another of the quiet ironies built into the script that, despite the signs that she’s sending, Ardisson is entirely disinterested in this beautiful woman until he finds out that she shares his obsession with tropical fish!

If you’re familiar with director Brescia’s other work, you’ll likely be surprised at the quality of the finished film. To an English-speaking audience, he’s probably most familiar as Al Bradley, the bane under which he delivered a quartet of woeful ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip-off’s, the last of which, ‘The Beast In Space’ (1980) would more accurately be described as a porno. Before that, he worked in many different genres, including Peplum, Westerns, Crime thrillers, comedies, sex movies, war dramas and family films. He also directed a pair of poorly-regarded Gialli ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park’ (1972) and ‘Murder In A Blue Light/Omicidio a luci blu’ (1992).

A change of pace for the Giallo but worth seeking out if your taste runs to the blackest of comedy.

L’Inhumaine/The Inhuman Woman (1924)

‘Your humanity leaves me cold. Only superior beings interest me.’

A famous singer plays with the affections of the notable men of the day, remaining aloof, despite many offers of love and marriage. Her latest admirer is a handsome young engineer, and when she rejects him, he declares his intention to commit suicide…

This highly unusual French silent picture was a showcase for the groundbreaking techniques of director Marcel L’Herbier. It’s a fascinating glimpse into an early filmmaking artist at work, even if the story aspects of the finished work can’t match his vision.

As famous for her exclusive parties as her vocal prowess, world-famous chanteuse Claire Lescott (Georgette Leblanc) is the target of many of the most famous men in the world. However, she seems content to rebuff their advances with a smile. The latest gathering at her mansion includes business tycoon Frank Mahler (Fred Kellerman), the Maharajah of Nopur (Philppe Heriat), radical philosopher Kranine the Apostle (Leonid Walter de Malte) and several other famous men from the world of science and politics.

And what a party it is! Dinner is served at a table floating in the middle of her lounge’s indoor pool, which comes complete with ducks! The servants wear identical uniforms and papier-mâché heads, complete with grinning lips and narrow eyes, and Leblanc holds court in a spectacular creation of veils and feathers. However, there’s an empty seat at the table, thanks to the late arrival of handsome young engineer/scientist Einar Norsen (Jaque Catelain). It turns out he’s just as keen on Leblanc as all the other guys, and he throws himself at her as soon as he gets the opportunity, even though this tactic hasn’t worked for anyone else. Leblanc meets his advances with the same amused ridicule with which she greets every other proposal, although it’s clear from her body language that she’s more interested in him than her other suitors.

Distraught at her refusal, Catelain declares his intention to take his own life and storms out. Shortly afterwards, his wrecked car is found at the bottom of a cliff, and it seems he has made good his threat. Leblanc is grief-stricken at the young man’s death. Tormented by guilt, she visits the mausoleum where his recovered body is resting. But it’s then that she finds out things aren’t always what they seem.

The latter days of European silent cinema are rightly celebrated for their technical accomplishments and artistic virtuosity, and here we have another fine example. The first hint we get that this is something different is there in the opening scenes in Leblanc’s mansion. The massive interior was a set designed by painter and sculptor Fernand Leger and helps give the film a very different look, which is strangely reminiscent of the pop art production design of the 1960s, yet still retaining its own unique identity. This mixture of Art Deco and Cubism means that the square is a recurrent design motif throughout the film, with buildings comprised of blocks and lines cut straight and true. Later on, some curves and circles intrude with the devices housed in Catelain’s laboratory, but there’s still a strong sense of mechanics and efficiency. This is a world fashioned by man into the shapes that he has chosen.

This extravagance is matched by the daring of L’Herbier’s filmmaking choices. Early on, we see a miniature of Leblanc’s house from a distance. It’s not particularly convincing, but the model work looks far better when we see a car approaching. When the vehicle stops and someone gets out, the shot seems animated, and, again, it’s pretty impressive. But then the lackeys standing like statues at the front door begin to move, and we realise that the scene is actually live-action. It’s a seamless transition that makes the viewer question the judgements he made about the previous shots in the sequence.

L’Herbier also chooses to shoot the entertainers at the party in a radically different way. When they perform a fire-eating act, he has the camera looking down on them from way overhead, probably the studio rafters, which, again, reinforces the sheer scale of Leblanc’s home. He’s also very precise in his use of colour tinting. We see Leblanc and Catelain conversing in an indoor garden seemingly populated by giant paper flowers, and all the scenes that take place here are tinted green. Similarly, the brief sequences featuring radical philosopher de Malte and his acolytes are rendered in scarlet. The director also employs surprisingly fast cutting for a film of the period, which helps a good deal with the pacing. Unfortunately, this is necessary, given the slight nature of the story and the film’s two-hour length.

And it’s that story which proves to be the film’s major weakness. It’s simply insufficient to sustain a film of this length, and, whereas there are always technical aspects to admire, the film fails to make any real emotional impact. The romance between Leblanc and Catelain fails to resonate because they are broadly unsympathetic characters, driven by selfish desires and self-absorption, rather than more relatable qualities. Leblanc is also decked out in a series of wild, bohemian outfits and incredible hairstyles, which might be interesting visually, but doesn’t help with the emotional grounding of the story. The film isn’t particularly good at establishing the nature of their relationship either. She’s invited him along to her party, and he already seems madly in love with her before he arrives. But have they ever met before? Any shared history, however brief, is never mentioned.

Things do improve when the film (finally) enters the science fiction arena in the third act. Here we get an extended look at Carelain’s laboratory, which, of course, he fails to keep up to applicable Health and Safety standards in the grand tradition of movie scientists ever since. The purpose of his inventions are somewhat vague at times, too, with even the man himself admitting that he doesn’t know what his latest device will do, despite its production of ‘a force of unexpected effects.’ However, he does hijack listening devices worldwide so everyone can listen to Leblanc sing, which is a strange foreshadowing of live streaming via the Internet today. The fact that he and Leblanc can watch the reactions of listeners sitting around in their homes is a little less believable, though.

But, outside of our main couple, some of the broader themes are certainly of interest. This is a film that enthusiastically embraces the machine age to come, a very forward-looking point of view at a time when mechanical innovation was typically viewed with suspicion. But it also seems to suggest that technology has a transformative and humanising effect on individual people. It’s an interesting notion, but one that seems hopelessly naive and simplistic, given developments in social media over recent years.

L’Herbier came to film during military service with auxiliary units during the First World War. His first significant production was the propaganda piece ‘Rose-France’ (1918) which was notable for its innovative camera techniques. This led to a six-picture deal with Gaumont, but the studio was often unhappy with his experimental tendencies and his handling of budgets. By 1924, L’Herbier had formed his own company to ensure a level of artistic freedom, but the venture had foundered by the end of the silent era. This was despite some commercial and critical acclaim for the films that resulted. Nevertheless, the director adapted well to the talkies and continued making films until the 1950s, and with some success. However, it appears those projects were often guided by commercial considerations rather than artistic ones.

If the story fails to engage, the settings and techniques should. They combine to deliver a highly individual and captivating viewing experience.