The Ace of Hearts (1921)

The Ace of Hearts (1921)‘Love is destruction! Take the woman who has corrupted you and go!’

A secret organisation of concerned citizens sits in judgement of prominent figures in the business world and their negative influence on society. When the latest tycoon who has been accused is declared irredeemable, an assassination is arranged. But when two members fall in love with the daughter of the society’s leader everything begins to unravel…

Unusual silent screen drama starring the legendary ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ Lon Chaney. For once, his skills at the makeup box are not required as this role is not one to add to his gallery of grotesques. Farralone is just an ordinary man (despite a dodgy hairstyle) engaged in an extraordinary business. By today’s standards, I guess the ‘star chamber’ run by old man Hardie Kirkland would be classed as a gang of vigilantes at best and urban terrorists at worst. They’ve set themselves up as judge, jury and executioners; removing the wealthy autocrats who are filling their own pockets at the expense of the common people.

Trouble starts to brew when Chaney and fellow member Forrest (John Bowers) both fall hopelessly in love with Kirkland’s beautiful daughter (Leatrice Joy). She’s no wallflower, fully aware of the organisation’s activities and backs her father to the hilt. Seemingly disinterested in the attentions of either of her eager suitors, she agrees to marry the one who shows himself fully committed to the cause by taking on an assassination. It so happens that there’s a magnate in the crosshairs when she makes her promise and the job falls to Bowers when he draws the Ace of Hearts. Yes, in a similar setup to Robert Louis Stevenson’s story ‘The Suicide Club’, work is allocated on the random turn of a playing card. Joy keeps her word, and the two spend a night of bliss while Chaney sits outside in the rain. However, by the morning, the young couple has found true love and their convictions are crumbling, setting the stage for a crisis of conscience and loyalty.

The Ace of Hearts (1921)

‘I don’t care what you say; you are not going to Burning Man.’

This is a surprisingly modern and thought-provoking tale, pleasingly free from the melodrama which tends to form the modern public’s perspective of silent cinema. There are some excellent character moments, particularly when Chaney pets a dog who shares his nightly vigil outside the young lovers apartment. It’s almost a throwaway gesture but reveals a more human side to his nature, and provides a subtle signpost to his redemption to come.

There’s also some excellent work in the restaurant scene where Bowers plans to plant the bomb which will eliminate the group’s latest target. His resolve is weakened not be any great moral epiphany, but by overhearing the simple talk of two young lovers discussing their mundane financial and family problems. An extended, and rather clumsy, alternative ending to the film was originally planned, but was vetoed by Sam Goldwyn, a rare instance of a studio head making a sound creative decision!

This was probably a difficult sell to an audience of the time. For a start, there’s almost no background information provided about the principal characters. Also, we’re not given any details of the group’s previous activities, although it does seem fair to assume that they’ve not just been sitting around playing cribbage. The original novel by Gouverneur Morris had them as a communist secret society, but the film sits on the fence politically by sidestepping all questions of ideology. All we learn about the group’s target is that he’s a rich man who has been investigated for months and must die because of unspecified crimes against society. No doubt such ambiguity was necessary in order to avoid any possible controversy and get the film released into theatres.

The Ace of Hearts (1921)

‘That’s the last time I’m going to that beauty salon…’

As you would expect, the performances are a touch histrionic at times, but still restrained in comparison to some contemporary examples. Chaney, in particular, is excellent as the conflicted Farralone, and his emotional swings and final redemption are never less than convincing. This film was another three-way pairing of the star with director Wallace Worsley and novelist Morris; the same team who had delivered hit crime thriller ‘The Penalty’ (1920).

Although this film is not quite as distinguished a production, it’s still a worthy entry in Chaney’s filmography. Worsley was also behind the megaphone for ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1923), the film that turned Chaney into a global superstar. Joy was a protege of world-famous director Cecil B DeMille and made a number of films with him, including a featured role in his epic version of ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1923).

Not a famous film in Chaney’s glittering career, and one that may not appeal to fans of his more grotesque creations, but a quietly effective picture in its own right.


Mister Superinvisible/L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile (1970)

Mister Superinvisible (1970)‘Each molecular combination can always be related to the intensity of the various components of its structure.’

Industrial spies target a research laboratory searching for the cure for the common cold, but the blame falls on a top biochemist when an experimental virus goes missing. He’s unable to refute the allegation until he accidentally consumes a potion sent to him by a colleague from Nepal and becomes invisible. With his newfound superpower, he sets out to track down the real culprits…

Is there a lamer science-fiction movie sub-genre than the ‘invisible man’ comedy? The darkly funny moments cooked up by Claude Rains and director James Whale for ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933) really should have been the beginning and the end of it. Unfortunately, many filmmakers have gone back to this (dry) well ever since. Here, our old friend Antonio Margheriti (as usual credited as Anthony M Dawson) tries his hand at the pump and comes up as empty as everyone else.

Work at the Geneva Research Institute is a hoot for Doctor Peter Denwell (Dean Jones). He’s brilliant but eccentric; driving an old 2CV and feeding his shaggy dog a plate of eggs and bacon at the breakfast table. Even wackier is colleague Ignazio Leone, who specialises in creating exploding eggs for some reason (obviously closely related to germ research). But, worse than all this wackiness, our hero is also socially awkward; completely tongue-tied when he tries to confess his feelings for beautiful colleague Irene (Ingeborg Schöner). She’s also in the sights of slimy corporate yes-man Harold (Gastone Moschin), so Jones needs to get a move on, or the rich oaf will beat him to the punch.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you.’

Things get even worse for our clumsy but loveable hero when Virus D is found to have been stolen during a live television broadcast. This new strain is a combination of all the cold germs known to mankind, and there’s bound to be tears before bedtime if it ‘falls into the wrong hands.’ Jones is blamed for the lax security in his lab and is facing the old heave-ho when his helpful lab monkey adds a little pep to his afternoon coffee.

The concoction turns out to be an invisibility potion sent from a colleague in Nepal. Hilarious hi-jinks follow, including a scene where Jones sabotages a restaurant date between Schöner and Moschin. Later on, he tracks down the missing virus to the Museum of Magic run by Mamma Spot (Amalia de Isaura). She happens to be Moschin’s mother, and he was the thief all the time! Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!

It’s quite obvious what the production was going for here: a family-friendly Disneyesque comedy. They even imported Dean Jones to star; as he’d done similar duty for the House of Mouse in ‘That Darn Cat!’ (1965), ‘The Ugly Dachshund’ (1966) and ‘Monkeys, Go Home!’ (1967). Most famously, he’d co-starred with Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in ‘The Love Bug’ (1968). To drive the point home, they even partner him with scene-stealing shaggy dog sidekick Dylan. And, to be fair, Jones’ likability is the film’s main asset, although there’s no denying that Schöner makes for an appealing heroine. Veteran character player Luciano Pigozzi also delivers his best silly Peter Lorre impression as one of the villains, and that’s mildly amusing. Once or twice.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

The costume party was not a success…

The real problem here is the script: a lazy, lifeless tramp through all the usual ‘invisible man’ comedy beats. Margheriti tries hard to inject some energy into some of the later scenes, but it amounts to little more than the cast turning up the volume on their line delivery and running about frantically.

The restaurant scene has some possibilities at tickling the funny bone but goes on way too long, and the SFX when Jones is partly visible are atrocious. Of course, the implications of Jones’ work being utilised as a superweapon aren’t addressed in any serious way, and neither is the animal experimentation going on in the labs. Just where is Leone getting hundreds and hundreds of eggs? A battery farm? I think we need to know.

Margheriti didn’t have much experience with comedy (at least not intentionally!), being more at home with serious, if sometimes outlandish, material. 1960s science-fiction epics like batshit crazy ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) and more conventional ‘War Between The Planets’ (1966) were followed by Giallo thrillers and ‘Killer Fish’ (1978) with Lee Majors, before he peaked with ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Pigozzi appeared in many of his films, and together the two carved out long careers in the twilit world of cult cinema.

All told, not a very entertaining experience. Jones and the cast do their best with what they have, but it’s precious little.

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969) 

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)‘You’ve got an unusual bellybutton; just like the Botticelli Venus.’

A millionaire’s widow takes an isolated villa in the country after her husband’s death to settle her nerves. One day a handsome young man’s car breaks down outside her gate, and she invites him in to use the phone. They strike up a friendship, which quickly tums physical, but is it all as innocent as it seems?

Late 1960s Giallo picture from journeyman director Umberto Lenzi featuring American star Carroll Baker, who had already appeared in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968) and would go on to make half a dozen such thrillers on the continent in the first half of the 1970s. Here, she’s joined by handsome Lou Castel and quirky Collette Descombes in a three-handed psychodrama that mixes drugs, sex and murder.

After her filthy rich husband expires in a car accident, high society widow Baker
wants out of the limelight and relocates to Italy, dodging paparazzi on the way. A
quiet life dabbling with oil paints seems the way to go and lawyer Tino Carraro fixes her up with a beautiful house in a beautiful spot. She looks all set, but her nerves have taken a beating by recent events, and she’s self-medicating with alcohol and pills. Enter Castel; a roguish, fly-by-night sort of a chappie, who fetches up at her front door after a spot of car trouble. He’s dreadfully forward in a devil-may-care kind of a way, but she’s having none of it, playing the outraged lady of the manor to the hilt. At least to begin with. But it’s not too long before he’s a permanent houseguest, and the two are fooling around in the shower. He seems to be just what Baker needs, but trouble in paradise isn’t long in coming; this time in the form of Castel’s fun-loving sister Eva (Descombes).

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)

The last pint was always a mistake…

From there, the trio begins what seems to be an extended holiday; throwing crucial shapes at a hipster hangout, drinking to all hours, playing the record player really, really loud, and generally living it large. Of course, Baker and Castel are having lots of sex too, but she’s still self-medicating, with the suspiciously enthusiastic support of Descombes.

One morning after involves waking up in bed subsequent to an apparent threesome, and it’s not long afterwards that the fun takes a far more sinister tum. Verbal abuse becomes physical, and Baker is on the wrong end of a series of increasingly sadistic mind games. These include repeatedly spinning a 1960s pop record at ear-splitting volume; one listen of which would probably be enough to send any self-respecting music fan round the twist anyway.

Baker appears naked for her tussles with Castel, and, although the nudity is not exploitative by today’s standards, a ‘name’ Hollywood actress appearing in the altogether probably raised some eyebrows at the time. But, if Baker’s decision to
relocate to Europe and tackle such material seems a little strange, then the
explanation is remarkably simple. She was broke, and there was no work available back home. That was principally due to her soon to be ex-husband, director Jack Garfein. His activities might have been overlooked if Baker was still a box office draw, but the disastrous ‘Harlow’ (1965) had pretty much taken care of that.

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)

‘Just a small one…’

There are two principal problems with the film, which both fix it firmly in the era when it was made and doom it to a kind of watchable mediocrity. The major issue is the story. More plot is badly needed, especially during the glacial second act, where the evil actions of Castel and Descombes lack any real invention and become swiftly repetitive.

There are some twists in the tale, and, although these aren’t bad, they do arrive all at once. It’s also very late on in proceedings by then, so these developments don’t lead anywhere. Instead, they just come across as a handful of cheap tricks thrown in at the last minute to try and convince the audience that the film is a lot cleverer and more accomplished than it really is.

This shortfall in the script department may have had a knock-on effect on director Lenzi, who favours a lot of zooms, swift pans and large close-ups of the faces of his cast. This last stylistic tendency proves unfortunate as it tends to exaggerate the performances at times. This kind of approach was in vogue at the time, but there’s a suspicion here that the director may have lacked faith in the project and was trying too hard to keep his audience interested.

Lenzi and Baker went back to the well almost immediately with ‘So Sweet. ..So Perverse’ (1969) and reunited again for further adventures in Giallo with ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Knife of Ice’'(1972). Baker immortalised her own story in the excellent autobiography ‘Baby Doll’ and exhibited such a natural talent for writing that you wish she’d turned her hand to fiction.

A fair time passer but a little weak in the script department.

Peligro…! Mujeres en acción/Danger Girls (1969)

Peligro...! Mujeres en acción:Danger Girls (1969)‘A frogwoman is heading towards the mouth of the bay.’

A sinister criminal organisation are planning to blow up an oil refinery in Ecuador, plunging the country into chaos and disrupting the entire region. A special agent is sent to foil the scheme, but little does he know, the villains have put an even more diabolical plan in motion…

Julio Alemán returns as Alex Dinamo; this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ in a direct sequel to ‘SOS Conspiracion Bikini’ (1967). A Mexican ‘Eurospy’ picture? Well, yes, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Guns, girls and gadgets? Well, yes again, if you leave out the gadgets. More like Blondes, Bikinis and Bad Guys, really. But if that sounds a bit negative, at least the film does lives up to its English Language title, making a serious effort to show that the female of the species is at least as deadly as the male. 

The fight against the evil SOS organisation goes on! This time around they’re under the leadership of cold-hearted Solva (Elizabeth Campbell). Her major strategy seems to be sending frogmen to plant explosives at a major coastal oil installation in Latin America. In reality, however, she’s got something far more villainous in mind; releasing a deadly virus into the water supply of any country she chooses. The germ’s been engineered by her new pet scientist, who arrives at Miami Airport inside a coffin. Luckily, the free world has Servicio International to protect and save: an international espionage network on the side of the angels, featuring super spy Alemán and some rather attractive co-workers.

Peligro...! Mujeres en acción:Danger Girls (1969)

‘What have you done with my bikini?’

As you might imagine, this is pretty formulaic stuff; the ‘Bond; template had become a global phenomenon and inspired more super spy knock-offs than there were minions in jumpsuits waving prop guns around. Deviation from that was not to be considered. The first film in this short series had leaned more toward the comedic, mostly centring on Alemán’s eye for the ladies, but this sequel is played almost totally straight.

Alemán is no longer saddled with a jealous girlfriend, although he does seem close to colleague Alma Delia Fuentes (‘Island of The Dinosaurs’ (1967), ‘Blue Demon: Destructor of Spies’ (1968)). Are they in a relationship? It’s not really clear because writer-director René Cardona Jr doesn’t establish the identities of any of his characters beyond generic ‘good guy/bad guy’ labels. In fact, there are so many anonymous cast members running about knocking each other off that the killings have no dramatic impact whatsoever and often seem meaningless in terms of the plot. 

One of the film’s main problems is that it plays out over a running time that approaches two hours and, without big action scenes, stunts or a compelling storyline, it is hard for an audience to stay engaged. There’s also a suspicion that this may have been filmed as two TV episodes. The oil refinery thread is resolved around the halfway mark with a very protracted shootout on a beach. Both Alemán and Funetes are wounded in the exchanges but, of course, they aren’t badly hurt. If there’s one thing the movies have taught us, it’s that a bullet in the shoulder is a mere scratch, which can be easily overcome by wearing your arm in a sling for a couple of minutes. But it’s only after these scenes that the virus storyline begins in earnest, giving the film the definite feel of a game of two halves. 

Peligro...! Mujeres en acción:Danger Girls (1969)

‘Is it time for lunch yet? I’m getting cold.’

There is plenty of gunfire though, with quite the troop of young ladies running around the glamorous hot spots of San Juan, Guayaquil and Miami firing off automatic weapons without due care and attention. This might surprise an audience in a film this old, but Mexican cinema was never shy of letting the girls get their hands dirty. Witness the wonderful ‘Wrestling Women’ of the early 1960s (one of whom was played by Campbell) and their tussles with gangsters, mad scientists and the ancient Aztec undead.

But, before you start applauding the film’s feminist credentials it’s worth pointing out that few of the girls get any sort of character to play (let alone develop) and for the vast majority of the running time, they’re all dressed in bikinis. This includes agent Barbara Angely who runs about on a beach for simply ages trying to put on her scuba gear while being shot at from a low-flying aircraft. Rather typically, the sequence becomes yet another reminder for the necessity of training your minions properly. They can’t hit her despite multiple fly-bys and the obvious difficulties she has hauling the heavy equipment down to the sea. Of course, once she’s eventually beneath the waves, we get the obligatory slow-moving undersea battle featuring frogmen with spear guns and stock footage sharks. Did anyone really find the underwater sequences in ‘Thunderball’ (1965) that exciting?

There’s little creativity or invention in this ‘by-the-numbers’ Bond. After all, SOS stands for ‘Secret Organisational Service’. Still, you don’t see all that many movies where the most significant part of the budget was probably spent on swimwear. 

Three Supermen In The Jungle/Supermen/Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Vergini Della Jungla? (1970)

Three Supermen In The Jungle:Supermen:Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Virgini Della Jungla? (1970)‘It all started last year when a stray cat wanted to marry him…’

A top FBI agent is interrupted outside the church when he’s about to be married. The Russians are close to getting their hands on a newly-discovered Uranium deposit deep in the African jungle, and he’s the only man who can stop them. But, before he can begin his mission, he must rescue his two ex-colleagues who are about to be executed in the Far East. Together, they are the ‘Three Fantastic Supermen’…

The third in a series of Italian comedy adventures that began with Gianfranco Parolini’s ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). That film starred Tony Kendall, Brad Harris and Aldo Canti as the title characters: a trio of heroes fighting crime in black capes and bulletproof scarlet body stockings. It was a cheerful cross between a James Bond knock-off, a comic book adventure and a caper movie, and provided a cocktail of mildly diverting, undemanding fun. A sequel ‘3 Supermen a Tokio’ (1968) followed, directed by Bitto Albertini and featuring a new principal cast. This film was the third in the series and saw Harris return from the first film, joining Sal Borgese, George Martin and director Albertini from the second instalment.

Brad Harris is not a happy man. About to tie the knot with his blonde girlfriend, he’s interrupted by men from the ministry, including boss man Colonel Treaps (Pedro Rodríguez de Quevedo). He insists that Harris is the only agent who can foil the Commie’s invasion of the dark continent, and appeals to his sense of duty. Eventually, Harris pretends to agree but plans to give him the slip, arranging to hook up with his bride later on, but the Colonel is too smart for him. Instead, he ends up kitted out like an Apollo astronaut and blasted off in a rocket (courtesy of some reasonably-priced local film library). It was 1970, so I guess moon rockets were the transport of choice.

Three Supermen In The Jungle:Supermen:Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Vergini Della Jungla? (1970)

‘It’s from my agent! He reckons he still might be able to get me out of the sequel.’

The first part of Harris’ mission is to rescue ex-teammates Borgese and Martin from the firing squad of a local desert chieftain. We never find out why they’ve been condemned to death, which should raise an early red flag when it comes to the scriptwriting department. Similarly, we never find out the source of animosity between Harris and his old friends, beyond the fact that he’s all about the mission, and they’d rather be scoring some easy cash. Having said all that, Harris does crash the firing party courtesy of an underground tunnelling machine which is a nice touch, if poorly realised.

Unfortunately, these early scenes turn out to be the highlights of the film by far. Once our heroic trio make it to Africa and run across the obligatory lost tribe of white-skinned lovelies in fur bikinis, the story grinds to a halt and ends up as little more than an apparent rip-off of ‘Carry On Up The Jungle’ (1970), although this film actually arrived in cinemas a few weeks earlier. Yes, the tribe’s queen (Femi Benossi) falls in love with Harris. Yes, Borgese ends up in a large cooking pot, courtesy of the local cannibals. Yes, there’s a joke involving a rubber crocodile. Yes, the cannibals play musical instruments made from human bones while the girls do a vaguely suggestive dance, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

‘Ooh-err, Missus, look a the coconuts on that…fnarr…fnarr…’

Of course, it’s both sexist and racist, but these elements are more of a reflection of the lazy thinking of the time that the film was made, rather than elements delivered with any malicious intent. What’s arguably even worse is how predictable, weary and plain boring it all is. Not only are all the jokes telegraphed well in advance, but they are so old that they probably need to be carbon dated to establish their origin.

The film plays very much like they wasn’t any finished shooting script and the cast had to improv various loosely-connected gags and scenes in order to drag the film bodily toward the 90 minute finishing line. It’s only Borgese’s athletic efforts at slapstick that prevent the onset of audience coma and it’s a close-run thing. Harris in particular tries hard, but there’s simply no-life in such a threadbare script and his impersonation of an oriental in the film’s closing scenes might have kept him awake in later years.

The series carried on for another two films, minus Harris who must have thought better of it. Borgese and Albertini were still on board for ‘Supermen Against The Orient’ (1973) (a distinct improvement on this) and Borgese and a returning Martin reunited with a new director for ‘Three Supermen In The West’ (1973), which saw the trio back in the Old West, courtesy of a time machine. Albertini also gave the world strange ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip off ‘Escape From Galaxy 3’ (1981) which was a mixture of kiddie-friendly sci-fi and soft-core porn. That was a more interesting film than this one, if not necessarily for the right reasons.

A painful slog. Not recommended.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude… si muore (1968)

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)‘I have to look for some worms for my darlings.’

A young woman is strangled in her bathtub, and her body shipped to an exclusive girls’ school in a trunk. Shortly afterwards, one of the students is sceretly murdered and, while the search for her goes on, the killer is already lining up the next target…

Early Giallo thriller from Italian director Antonio Margheriti (credited as usual as ‘Anthony Dawson’) that leans far more heavily toward the murder-mystery aspect of the sub-genre. This approach differs from the later incarnation, which featured far more graphic violence and nudity and paved the way for the American slasher horrors of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yes, the setup is classic exploitation: a private girls finishing school with a ready-made roster of eye-candy and potential victims. However, the emphasis is on the story and guessing the killer’s identity, rather than the more sensational elements of the situation.

It’s vacation time at the St. Hilda’s School for Girls, but, unfortunately, not all the students have left for the holidays. You see, it’s tough being a daughter of privilege; parents are often too busy making millions to bother with you. So, spring break involves lounging around by the pool in the beautiful Italian countryside, playing a spot of tennis if you want and contemplating the contents of your large checking account. But there’s a summer romance in the air for pretty young redhead Lucille (Eleanora Brown), and it’s getting a little bit serious. Unfortunately, the object of her affection is handsome Richard Barrett (Mark Damon), and he happens to be the school’s riding instructor. Headmistress Miss Transfield (Vivian Stapleton) and new teacher Ms Clay (Ludmilla Lvova) are not likely to approve of this extra-curricular activity. After all, it’s not likely to stay under wraps for long with kookie gossip-monger Jill (Sally Smith) prowling the campus looking for excitement.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)

‘But I thought I was going to meet James Bond. Why else would I be in the shower?’

However, there’s far more serious intrigue afoot with the sudden disappearance of classmate Betty Ann (Caterina Trentini). This development brings the forces of law and order, represented here by veteran British character actor Michael Rennie and his assistant Franco de Rosa.

The investigation proceeds quickly, with suspicion falling first on resident gardener/handyman/peeping tom Luciano Pigozzi. After him, it’s the suddenly absent Damon, eccentric Professor André (Aldo De Carellis) and skin-diving instructor Di Brazzi (Giovanni Di Benedetto). It’s worth mentioning here that this school has a somewhat unique curriculum: skin-diving, tennis, horse riding and fencing. Maybe all finishing schools are like that; I wouldn’t know. Back at the plot, the clues and killings pile up and Margheriti does a good job of lining up all the suspects. When we get to the final reveal, it may not be all that original, but at least it makes sense. All the threads are securely tied, even if how the killer expected to get away with it is another mystery entirely! Once the murderous scheme is concluded, it wouldn’t be remotely difficult for any detective to put the pieces together.

This is a decent thriller, delivered with consummate professionalism in all departments. Fans of better known Giallo pictures are likely to be disappointed by the (very) discreet nudity and the almost bloodless kills, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Horror maestro Mario Bava was involved with the genesis of the project, originally titled ‘Cry Nightmare’, and it’s interesting to speculate how his visual genius might have shot these locations. Still, director Margheriti was a capable, if not always inspired, hand on the tiller.

Margheriti has a long and extraordinarily variable filmography, including science-fiction: ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1960)‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) (a personal favourite of mine), toga pictures like ‘The Fall of Rome’ (1963), horrors such as the under-rated ‘The Long Hair of Death’ (1965), Eurospy flicks ‘Lightning Bolt’ (1966) and ‘Killers Are Challenged’ (1966), and a couple of Hercules pictures, including ‘Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi’ (1964). He also tackled Vietnam-based action films, crime dramas, Westerns, a rom-com, a driving movie with Joey Travolta, some Indiana Jones rip-offs, a knock-off of ‘The Abyss’ (1989) without a budget, and finished off his career making films starring ex-undisputed World Middleweight Boxing Champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He also co-directed Andy Warhol’s notorious ‘Flesh For Frankenstein’ (1973) and was solo in the canvas seat for the epic ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983), which still awaits recognition as one of the greatest films of all time.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)

‘They only released us in black & white in Germany? In 1968?!’

Margheriti might have been a directorial ‘gun for hire’, following whatever trend was out there, but, if you want a crash course in the history of cult cinema, you could do worse than check out his filmography; he pretty much did it all. The same can also be said for veteran character actor Pigozzi, who plays the tree-hugging janitor here. He often worked for Margheriti and has many other interesting, and sometimes bizarre, credits to his name, such as ‘Devilman Story’ (1967).

The strongest element of this project, though, turns out to be a nice surprise, both in the writing and performance. It’s the character of Jill, played by Sally Smith. At first, she seems like the irritating comedy-relief; bitching about the other girls, playing inane pranks and generaly getting on the nerves of everyone involved, including the audience. But when Rennie arrives, she develops a crush on him (despite the significant age difference). This could have been allowed to become creepy, but instead both actors pull it off with quiet wit and natural charm. Smith begins her own investigation to help out, and, by the end of the film has emerged as the heroine, showing smarts and bravery in equal measure. It’s an excellent, well-judged turn by Smith that makes you wish the movie had been centred on her character, rather than spending so much time with Brown and Damon. They aren’t weak in the acting department, but their roles are not as well-developed and interesting.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)

‘You mean, I’m the best thing in this movie?’

Smith didn’t have an extensive screen career, mostly playing on British TV before this, including an episode of ‘The Avengers’. She appeared in only one more film before taking a break of over 20 years, but this new phase included only a few scattered credits at the end of the 1980s and the start of the 90s.

Brown had a major supporting role in director Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Two Women’ (1960), which starred Jean-Paul Belmondo and an Oscar-winning Sophia Loren. This film seemed to be her final role as she retired from the business at the age of 30. However, a couple of producer’s credits in the last couple of years have been followed by a part in ‘Un Amore Così Grande’ (2018); a film released half a century after this one. Now that is one hell of a career break! Interesting that both leading women pretty much quite the business after this film. Perhaps filming was not a happy experience.

American Damon began his career on TV but soon graduated to leads in small movies, including the surprise smash hit ‘House of Usher’ (1960) with Vincent Price. After his career stateside failed to take off, he tried his luck in Europe, appearing mostly in Spaghetti Westerns, but also landing the lead in the Eurospy picture ‘Agente segreto 777 – Operazione Mistero’ (1965). Moving into the producer’s chair later in the following decade, he quickly racked up a diverse list of credits including big hits ‘The NeverEnding Story’ (1984)‘Clan of The Cave Bear’ (1986)‘9½ Weeks’ (1986)‘Short Circuit’ (1986) and cult favourite ‘The Lost Boys’ (1987). Subsequent decades found him involved in less notable projects such as ‘Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time’ (1991)‘The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo’ (1997) and the execrable ‘Feardotcom’ (2002). But he bounced back with ‘Monster’ (2003) which featured an Oscar-winning Charlize Theron and has half a dozen future projects lined up at the time of writing.

A thoroughly professional, efficient thriller that’s not likely to be a favourite of those who enjoy the more extreme examples of the Giallo experience.

The Emperor and the Golem/Cisaruv Pekar A Peharuv Cisar (1952)

The Emperor and The Golem (1952)‘Nobody has yet thought to make gold with plums.’

Life in the imperial court has turned the ageing Holy Roman Emperor into a wilful, capricious old man-child, completely out of touch with the day to day lives of his subjects. An endless parade of lackeys and hangers-on indulge his every whim, the latest of which is the recovery of the mystical clay statue known as the Golem…

Remaking unsuccessful films is not a popular practice in the movie industry, particularly in Hollywood, where endless reboots and reimaginings of proven franchises hold far more appeal to studio executives. European film-makers are somewhat more creative and flexible, though, and this handsome Czechoslovak remake of Julien Duvuvier’s flawed ‘Le Golem’ (1936) clocks in at considerably over 2 hours, speaking to a serious intent and a considerable budget. The surprising length resulted in the film originally being presented in two parts to facilitate an intermission.

The action begins in the Prague ghetto with the palace guard breaking down doors in search of the legendary Golem. It’s acquisition is the latest obsession of pig-headed potentate Jan Werich, who has surrounded himself with a huge entourage of buxom ladies, sycophants and yes men, which include sly Chamberlain Lang (Bohuns Záhorský in a surprisingly modern looking pair of spectacles) and idiotic captain of the guard Russworm (Zdenek Stepànek). They are two members of a small group who are obviously the real power behind the throne, and their self-interested machinations and scheming make for some fine satire; all the more biting because its a recognisable reflection of the political manoeuvrings and glimpses behind the scenes that we get of every government of every nation and era.

The Emperor and The Golem (1952)

Sunbathing never agreed with the Golem.

Werich has also has a lively interest in the occult, hence his interest in the Golem, and has a whole army of alchemists, soothsayers and magicians. The latter group comes to include visiting conjurer Jirí Plachý and his alleged female homunculus Sireal (Natasa Gollová). The ‘Central Kitchen of Imperial Alchemists’ are completely hopeless as they try making gold from fruit, and creating an elixir of youth which turns out to be a very good floor polish and early superglue.

But what drives the film, particularly in the second half, is big-hearted local baker Matej (played by Werich again) who firstly finds himself imprisoned in the castle dungeon and, by a series of comic contrivances, then sitting on the throne in the Emperor’s place. Yes, we get all the usual comic tropes around ‘mistaken identity’ but they are delivered here with wit and elegance, and provide more fuel for the satirical fire. Of course, Werich the baker is a much better ruler than Werich the Emperor, immediately seeing right through all the toadies and lackeys, and throwing open the bursting grain houses so the starving population can have bread. He also has little time for the scheming Countess Strada (Marie Vásová), preferring to lavish his romantic intentions on magician Plachý’s reluctant stooge Gollová.

This really is how a remake should be done; concentrating on the strong points of the original and jettisoning the weaker aspects, of which there were many in Duvivier’s 1936 film. Sensibly, the dashing antique dealer and his affair with the Countess Strada is completely absent, and heroic duties are assumed by Werich’s baker in one half of his excellent performance. This allows for a far more comic tone with the romance, and, together with the satirical aspects, makes for a far more entertaining and well-paced package, which never loses its audience over the considerable running time.

The Emperor and The Golem (1952)

“God, I wish someone would hurry up and invent the TV.’

The technical aspects are also very good, with fluid direction from Martin Fric, sumptuous photography by Jan Stallich and impressive sets and costuming. But what about the Golem? Well, yes, again he is a little peripheral to the story, but he’s far better realised than in Duvivier’s original. This time he’s a 20-foot tall model with glowing eyes that breathes fire. His lack of mobility puts the mockers any kind of significant rampage, but I’d still venture the opinion that he’s more impressive than just putting a tall actor in a silly suit. 

The few commentators familiar with the film seem to regard it as a lost classic and, although I wouldn’t go that far, it’s certainly a highly enjoyable watch. Background information on the production isn’t easy to come by, but it’s a safe bet than Werich was the main creative force behind it, despite his lack of previous film credits. Not only does he play the dual roles of the emperor and the baker, he also had a hand in the script and replacing original director Jirí Krejcík. Apparently, the two clashed frequently in the first few days of the shoot, and Krejcík departed in haste, along with a couple of members of the original cast. 

Not easy to find, but well worth seeking out.