‘Here’s that Black Mamba that you asked about.’
A man with mob connections returns to New York from forced exile in Europe when his brother is murdered. His investigations bring him into conflict with the local syndicate, and a key witness meets a bloody end. The trail leads to a businessman in Nairobi, and he heads for Kenya, accompanied by his brother’s widow…
Multi-national crime thriller with just enough of the necessary elements to qualify as a Giallo. Unfortunately, this Italian-Spanish-Swedish co-production from director Bitto Albertini turns out to be more memorable for its filming locations than anything else.
Johnny Garden (George Ardisson) is shot by a sniper rifle at the big game, leaving his wife Leslie (Erika Blanc) behind with a tangle of dubious business deals. Twin brother Tony (Aridsson, again) lives in Europe, forced out of the Big Apple by syndicate boss Humphrey (Luis Induni), who’s not pleased to see him when he returns. Investigating his brother’s death, Ardisson links up with Blanc and begins chasing down leads and witnesses. One of these is the frightened Louis Mortimer (Luciano Pigozzi), who hints at drug deals involving a Kenyan-based business partner named George MacGreaves (Alberto de Mendoza). Before he can spill the beans, though, his neck meets the sharp edge of a straight razor.
Ardisson and Blanc head for Nairobi to meet with the affable de Mendoza, who lives in a luxury villa outside the city. The couple is already struggling with their feelings for each other. An early flashback shows them as lovers before Tony left for Europe and his brother came into the picture. Ardisson’s resemblance to his brother attracts a woman named Clara (Janine Reynaud) when he visits a local casino. She promises him crucial information about the murder, but she’s killed while he showers after sleeping together. Forced to dispose of the body to avoid the authorities, Ardisson becomes more and more convinced of de Mendoza’s guilt. Events come to a head when the trio go on safari to hunt elephants.
This project must have looked like a potential winner at the concept stage. A murder mystery spanning three continents, a series of brutal slayings, a script co-authored by Giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi and an experienced cast with screen presence to spare. However, the final results are a disappointment. It would be tempting to point the finger at director Albertini, whose filmography is less than impressive, but it would have taken a master hand to wring something remarkable out of such a lacklustre enterprise.
The main culprit is the screenplay, which is curiously half-baked and lacking in detail. A good example is the business relationship between Johnny and MacGreaves. Apart from one vague, passing mention of drug trafficking by Pigozzi, the audience never finds out what has led to their fabulous wealth. Similarly, the reason for Ardisson’s exile from America and the antagonism of mob boss Induni is never explained. None of that is essential, of course, but some context would have helped inform the characters and their actions. However, the biggest problem is with the reveals and twists of the third act. It’s easy to see them coming, and they are as uninventive as they are predictable. Also, it’s hard to imagine how the aftermath of the endgame could have been explained to the authorities without incurring significant jail time! It would be nice to think that the talented Gastaldi had only a marginal association with the script.
The film does have a few points of interest, though, principally the unusual globetrotting element. Ardisson goes from Europe to America to Africa over the 95 minutes, perhaps prompting the actor to think he was back in one of his 1960s Eurospy roles where he buzzed around the glamorous cities of Europe as ‘James Bond on a Budget.’ At times, the production looks pretty determined to prove these multi-national credentials, with multiple shots of Ardisson walking the streets of New York and de Mendoza providing the leading couple with a quick tour of Nairobi when he picks them up from the airport.
Unfortunately, none of the characters gets any context or significant backstory. We’re never allowed any insight into Ardisson’s criminal past, although he’s clearly not phased by the necessity of dumping Reynaud’s body. The actor’s personal charisma is helpful, though, and he makes an excellent showing in the film’s best scene, an altercation with some of Induni’s goons in a New York bar. The fight choreography is solid, and Ardisson is convincingly capable.
The rest of the cast don’t get much of a look-in, with the women in particular short-changed. Even veteran scene-stealer Pigozzi only appears in a couple of brief, though effective, scenes. Underplaying his role as the number one suspect, de Mendoza makes a little more impact, despite his distracting resemblance to legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros! Credit should also go to Fernando Hilbeck, who plays an almost wordless role as the assassin. For once, we see the killer’s face up close and personal right from the beginning. It’s not a question of putting a face to the murders, but rather one of the killer’s motives and who he might be working for.
Albertini remained firmly rooted in the second division during his almost 20-year directing career. His greatest success was the adult film ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975), starring Laura Gemser and also shot in Nairobi. He began as a cinematographer post-World War Two, eventually working on international epics such as ‘David and Goliath’ (1960) and ‘The Corsican Brothers/I fratelli Corsi’ (1961) before making his debut as a director in 1967. One of his first projects was the no-budget comic book adventure of ‘Goldface, the Fantastic Superman/Goldface il fantastico Superman’ (1967) before he became involved with the heroic comedy capers of the ‘Three Supermen’ series, for which he delivered three entries. After his success with ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975) and a couple of sequels, he remained in the adult market for the unofficial sequel to Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Starcrash’ (1978), most commonly known as ‘Escape From Galaxy 3/Giochi erotici nella terza galassia’ (1981). Its mashup of what seems initially to be a space opera aimed at children with softcore porn can still raise eyebrows today.
A disappointing production that fails to realise its potential.