A factory worker is found apparently dead under mysterious circumstances. Later on, his body comes back to life on the autopsy table, but now it’s under the control of a visiting alien intelligence…
Surprisingly amusing Italian science fiction satire from director Ugo Gregoretti, who examines the relationship between workers and management using the presence of an invading alien as both catalyst and commentator. It’s a familiar enough plot device now, of course; the unseen alien struggling to understand mankind’s bizarre foibles, conventions and habits, but it’s pretty original for the early 1960s.
It seems like factory worker Renato Salvatori was a pretty ordinary sort of a fellow; popular with work colleagues but a little shy and retiring, unable to engage in anything more than a mild flirtation with canteen cutie Rosemary Dexter. But after he’s found stretched out one morning apparently dead, things begin to get more than a little unusual. His body’s been taken over by intergalactic entity Omicron who is the vanguard of an alien invasion; his mission to report back to his masters with information on the human condition, society and government. Unfortunately, operating his new host proves a problem as he struggles to ‘wake up the centres of intelligence.’ This leaves him unable to speak, and somewhat hampers his investigations.
What follows is initially somewhat reminiscent of the late Robin Williams breakout TV show ‘Mork and Mindy’ with Salvatori struggling to adapt and understand everyday situations, but there’s a far darker undercurrent to proceedings here. The workers at his factory are on the verge of a bitter labour dispute with the management and neither side is prepared for Salvatori’s superhuman performance on the production line.
In fact, he proves so efficient that every foreman wants him on their work gang, but it’s not long before he’s not so popular. Workmates start to believe he’s a management stooge, planted there to break up their impeding strike, whereas the factory owners want to exploit his abilities so they can be replicated in the rest of their workforce. In a very smart parallel, Omicron is himself at loggerheads with his superiors. Mission control is represented by a disembodied voice that demands more and more intel and threatens him with disintegration if he leaves his post early. Apparently, he’d been punished for a similar transgression on a previous mission when he‘d been left trapped in a Martian body for 217 years!
This setup creates some very good opportunities for black comedic satire and, for the most part, director Ugo Gregoretti hit his targets well. Omicron reports that the only humans the invaders need to concern themselves with are the rich and powerful because no-one else matters. Omicron spends the night speed reading dozens of books including Dante’s Inferno and Last Year at Marienbad but only keeps a photo book of Brigitte Bardot. Omicron is the perfect consumer because he can smoke an entire cigarette in five seconds flat.
But the film is far from flawless. Omicron realises that he can return home early if his host body dies, so attempts to orchestrate his own demise in a way that seems accidental. This scenario has comic possibilities, but instead Gregoretti has him kidnap Dexter and plan to rape her after reading a newspaper story about a man who was killed for committing the same crime. Thankfully, this doesn’t really go anywhere but it strikes a false note nevertheless.
Elsewhere, Gregoretti’s script is smart and often funny, walking a tightrope of humour that is juvenile at times but also quite knowing and sophisticated. Helping bring his ideas to life is Salvatori, who gives an excellent, well-judged performance; the actor creating a character that seems pleasingly deranged at times but retains audience sympathy throughout. After all, Omicron may be an alien invader, but he’s just a working stiff like the rest of us. On the debit side, however, the climax is mishandled and far from satisfying. Given what’s gone before, it’s quite a disappointment.
Comedy sometimes struggles to cross international boundaries, but here’s an example which is witty, engaging and also has something to say. Quietly recommended.