Goliath Against The Giants/Goliath contro i giganti (1961)

‘It’s more difficult to understand a woman than to defeat an army.’

After a long campaign, Goliath and his army are looking forward to some peace, but instead they find out that their king has been muderered back home and a usurper is on the throne. A message concerning their return has already been despatched, so Goliath decides to try and outrun the courier by returning across the sea…

More muscleman adventures from Italy as US actor Brad Harris takes up the gauntlet from Steve Reeves, who had previously played the part in ‘Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari’ (1959). This adventure was directed by Guido Malatesta and scripted by Arpad DeRiso, Cesare Seccia and Gianfranco Parolini, who was soon to become a prolific director of genre cinema and, according to some sources, worked uncredited in that capacity here.

After a bloody five-year campaign, victorious general Goliath (Harris) heads back to his homeland Beyruth, but the fighting isn’t over yet. Bad news came hard on the heels of the fruits of conquest;
good King Augustes lays dead back home, and usurper Bokan (Fernando Rey) has seized the throne. This intelligence comes too late; Harris has already despatched a messenge back with news of their victory and imminent return. Realising this courier must be intercepted, he commandeers a ship, selects a crew and sets out via the swifter ocean route.

Unfortunately, nothing goes according to plan. First, the ship is becalmed, and then Harris has to deal with young stowaway Antheus (Franco Gasparri). Stopping in for freshwater supplies at a deserted island, they find Princess Elea (Gloria Milland) staked out on the ground. Harris takes her aboard, but is she friend or foe? She does try to kill him with a snake but soon finds the big man’s noble character and his muscles to be an irresistible combination. Later on, it turns out that she had been duped into the role of assassin by Rey and his scheming mistress Diamira (Carmen de Lirio), convinced that Harris was responsible for her father’s death.

The voyage gets progressively more perilous as they are battered by a typhoon and attacked by a giant sea lizard. Harris defeats the monster, but the ship, and nearly all the crew, are lost. Washed up on the shores of Beyruth, our heroes escape in the nick of time from a tribe of Amazon warriors and finally reach their destination. But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Harris’ fight card fills up with Rey’s royal guard, a gorliia in the dungeon, some unfriendly lions and an extra couple of giant lizards. What about the giants? After all, they are in the movie’s title. Well, they do turn up eventually, about six minutes from the end of the film. Unfrotunately, they are not exactly impressive, being played by half a dozen burly blokes in beards and animal skins. When Harris briefly fights with a few of them, it’s obvious they’re no taller than him.

As you may have gathered, the story here is nothing special, simply being the usual ragbag of Peplum cliches. However, there are so many of them that they give Malatesta’s film its most significant advantage: pace. There’s little let up in the action right from the get-go when the audience is thrown straihght into the final stages of the five-year war. The sword play may not be the best, but it’s enthusiastic and the battle scenes have a good sense of scale, thanks to the impressive sets and the sheer number of participants. Coming at the beginning of the muscleman cycle, the production values are still relatively high and this does grant the film a stamp of quality lacking in some of the later examples of the genre.

It also helps that Fernando Ray is terrific value as the despicable Bolkan, although he’s so flaky its hard to believe that he could hold onto a throne, let alone steal one in the first place. Of course, he’s stuffing the treasury by levying exorbitant taxes on an increasingly rebellious population and holding games in the arena where even the winner gets an arrow through the neck. Why did he order one of his flunkeys to kill this nameless gladiator? No reason, just a bit of fun. When will all these usurpers, Grand Viziers and dark princes learn to employ a sensible tax policy anyway? Stop at a level just before the populace gets angry enough to do something about it, and give them reasons to blame each other for their collective poverty. Race and colour are usually reliable ones. It’s Government 101, really.

Some of the more familar elements of the genre are all present and correct too. Slaves are turning a big wheel (although it is attached to somethiing for once!) The Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls continue their never-ending tour with an appearance at the royal court. Guards on the steps of the palace uncross their spears when someone approaches and then cross them again once the visitor has gone through. Harris just wanders up behind Rey on his throne at the arena and puts a blade to his throat.

One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its location work. There’s a beautiful sequence where our heroes walk across a desert and the valley of Janopah where the giants live is an impressive mixture of bleak crags and volcanic ash. The scenery is often spectacular, and the cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa helps evoke an ancient world, assisted by a stirring score from Carlo Innocenzi. Some of the monsters are somewhat immobile and don’t bear too close scrurtiny but director Malatesta sensibly doesn’t let his camera linger on them for more than a few seconds at a time.

Harris sports a short, blonde beard and a haircut with just a suggestion of an Elvis quiff. He is not very charasmatic here but still won the title roles in similar offerings ‘Samson’ (1961) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962). Later on, he often starred for Parolini, once the latter became a full-time director. The two collaborated most famously on the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy films, and, by that point, he was more assured in front of the camera. He was also a martial arts expert who often choreographed fight sequences and toted a six-gun as Spaghetti Western heroes Django and Sabata. None of these skills was probably required for his occasional appearances in the 1980s on US super soap ‘Dallas.’

Malatesta was a writer and a director who worked in various genres before latching onto the Peplum craze with this film. ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962), ‘Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste/Colossus and the Headhunters’ (1963) followed in short order. He also worked as a writer on ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963), which was inexplicably re-titled Slave Queen’ for the American market. Ventures into Eurospy territory came next with scripts for ‘Spies Strike Silently/Le spie uccidono in silenzio’ (1966) and ‘Operation Apocalyspe/Missione apocalisse’ (1966), and he returned to the director’s chair to deliver dreary, slow-burn caper ‘Mission Phantom/Come rubare un quintale di diamanti in Russia’ (1967). Two jungle adventures closed out the decade: ‘Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla’ (1968) and ‘Tarzana, the Wild Woman/Tarzana, sesso selvaggio’ (1969), both featuring the up and coming Femi Benussi in the title role.

A somewhat formulaic and familiar outing enlivened by a swift pace and a budget that allows for a solid level of spectacle.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l’ariete (1971)

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)‘Don’t bother to express your sympathy; poor Sofia was a living corpse.’

A handsome young teacher at a language school is brutally attacked and hospitalised on his way home from a New Year’s Eve celebration. The following month another party-goer is found strangled to death and thrown down the stairs in her home. A black leather glove is discovered next to both victims, leading the police to suspect the same culprit…

Smooth, professional Giallo from director Luigi Bazzoni with some fine technical credits and a standout performance from star Franco Nero. Under the influence of Dario Argento’s international smash ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970), the sub-genre was beginning to conform more closely to the template it’s recognised for today. Specifically, a serial killer with black gloves, a twisted plot lining up a series of suspects and the big reveal of the killer’s identity and motivations at the climax.

It’s just another New Year’s Eve, and drunken journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is propping up the bar trying to catch the eye of ex-lover Helene Volta (Silvia Monti). Lovers Edouard Vermont (Edmund Purdom) and Isabel Lancia (Ira von Fürstenberg) wrestle each other across the dancefloor, and Doctor Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano) tries to ignore his invalid wife Sofia (Rossella Falk). Meanwhile, John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is headed for the vomit comet in the Gentleman’s facilities. And it gets worst for Bonuglia from there as he’s beaten with a length of pipe in an underpass on the long walk home, an attack interrupted by track driver Walter (Luciano Bertoli) who’s been racing the engine of underage prostitute Giulia (Agostina Belli) nearby.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘Half a gallon of whiskey is not a working expense…’

The police are no closer to finding the culprit a month later when Falk is murdered in her home, but link the cases due to the single black glove left at each scene. Nero begins to investigate the situation, using it partly as an excuse to spend time with old flame Monti. His initial enquiries reveal that brand new widower Romano is paying off Bertoli for unknown reasons and that Bonuglia was upset by the announcement of von Fürstenberg’s engagement to Purdom. It also turns out that Bertoli’s sister is none other than Nero’s sometime live-in girlfriend Lu (Pamela Tiffin). Worse still, after another suspicious death, Police Inspector Haller (Wolfgang Preiss) has the journalist pegged as his prime suspect.

This is a complex scenario with events focused on this small, intertwined group of acquaintances, and moving quickly throughout the film’s tight 91-minute running time. However, after the final reveal, audiences could be forgiven for concluding that most of these complications and blind alleys are little more than meaningless diversions. The core mystery is pretty simplistic, to say the least, and not particularly creative. In short, the plot is a little messy, and the killer’s motivations, such as they are, are thin and barely explored. Elements in the final act such as astrology and a young child in danger seem to have been almost thrown in at random with no foreshadowing, adding to the vaguely shambolic feeling.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘This Blade Runner sequel is bound to be great…’

But while the story may not be the best, the film scores very highly in many other departments. Director Bazzoni and award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro combine to create a highly atmospheric visual package, highlighted particularly during the climactic confrontation on an abandoned factory site. There’s another classy score from Ennio Morricone, and a selection of striking locations, including the overgrown wasteground beneath the road bridge where the killer stalks Belli. This is one of the film’s outstanding suspense scenes, only surpassed by the early sequence where the invalid Falk is trapped in her house, which Bazzoni turns into a real tour de force.

However, it’s the outstanding Nero who catches the eye, giving a performance of rare intensity and conviction. His drunken journalist is a man on the edge of disintegration, battling the bottle with a weary fatality that’s ever-present in his eyes and drawn features. His chemistry with Tiffin is also terrific, playful and caring for the most part, but with the potential to explode into sudden violence without warning. Again, it’s played just right, providing insight into his fractured state of mind without compromising his role on the side of the angels or overshadowing the mystery. It’s a balancing act and one that Nero seems to accomplish without effort.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘I’m sorry, this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship…’

Bazzoni had less than half a dozen feature credits in his short career. However, these included outstanding early Giallo ‘The Possessed’ (1965) (a co-directing credit with Franco Rossellini) and the potentially stunning ‘Footprints On The Moon’ (1975) a film fatally compromised by its dreadful twist ending. Storaro also worked on the latter before picking up Oscars for ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), ‘Reds’ (1981), ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) and ‘Dick Tracy’ (1990) as well as many other international awards. He has created a new 35mm film format with the intention of its adoption for both television and film as a universal aspect ratio and developed a series of custom colours gels for cinematographers that bears his name.

Nero was no newcomer to the Giallo, having appeared in early example ‘The Third Eye’ (1966) but was launched to international stardom of the back of his title turn as ‘Django’ (1966). He played Lancelot du Lac in Joshua Logan’s all-star musical ‘Camelot’ (1967), where he met wife-to-be, Vanessa Redgrave. He’s appeared in such diverse projects over the years as Luis Buñuel’s ‘Tristana’ (1970), ‘Enter the Ninja’ (1981) and ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990) with Bruce Willis. When working on this film, he flew to England and back on weekends to shoot his scenes for Otto Preminger’s ‘Saint Joan’ (1972). He has recently won several prestigious ‘Best Actor’ awards for his role in ‘La Danza Nera’ (2020).

Technically, a Giallo out of the top drawer, but all those qualities are somewhat undermined by a weak mystery and untidy story development.

The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)

‘Take it easy, bright eyes; you’re taxing your brain.’

A gold-digger decides to turn over a new leaf when a young suitor commits suicide after finding out she was only after his money. However, a new life takes cash, so she makes blackmail demands of four prominent citizens at a weekend house party. Unfortunately, one of the guests has murder in mind…

Dreary, implausible ‘old dark house’ mystery that can claim to be the world’s first multi-media entertainment project. The story was launched as a radio serial on NBC’s ‘Hollywood of the Air’ slot in Autumn 1932, and the show finished with the mystery unresolved. The audience was then invited to submit their own solutions, with prizes on offer for any used before the official answers arrived via this RKO feature film.

This unique approach to storytelling is explained at the film’s start, direct-to-camera, by NBC’s Graham McNamee. He also introduces our main characters. Jenny Wren (Karen Morley) is quite the girl about town, bestowing her favours on one rich man after another. Ultimately, however, she decides to quit the life after young Allen Herrick (Tim Douglas) throws himself off a cliff when she reveals her true nature.

But quitting takes money, so she blackmails bank manager Priam Ames (H B Warner) to set up a weekend party at an isolated ranch with some of his wealthy friends, who just happen to be some of her old boyfriends. These include senator-in-waiting Herbert Walcott (Robert McWade) and lumber merchant Will Jones (Gavin Gordon), who is about to marry into high society. To complicate matters, Warner’s young nephew, Frank (Matty Kemp), has fallen in love with Morley’s sister, the nieve and innocent, Esther (Anita Louise).

Early on, there are some warning signs that her scheme may not go quite to plan. For a start, Warner has invited the sinister Mr Vayne (Ivan F Simpson) along to the party, and the mysterious Mr Farnes Barnes (Ricardo Cortez) is also hanging around outside. So when Morley is suddenly menaced by a strange figure that resembles her dead lover, it’s no surprise it turns out to be the prelude to her murder. With the road washed out and a house filled with suspects, it’s Cortez who investigates the killing. He’s not a cop, by any means, but a pretty rough crew of comrades comes with him, so he has no difficulty assuming the necessary authority.

As is evident from the title, there are hints of the supernatural running all through director J Walter Ruben’s picture, but the events and resolution of the mystery have their feet firmly on the ground. The spooky elements are rather crowbarred into the narrative, much in the same way as Cortez’s character. Is he supposed to be a private detective? The way he refers to himself makes him sound more like a minor criminal, and his reasons for being on-site and tackling the mystery are thin at best. If the story or characters were engaging, these contrivances could be forgiven, but the plot is mundane and the characters one-note. The cast members do their best, but most of them have very little to work with, although Morley makes the most of what she’s given.

One of the most notable aspects of the production is the presence of Max Steiner as head of the music department, which, in effect, means he chose the music for the film from the studio library. He’d been at RKO since 1929 but had found his time there largely unproductive. He was even in discussions about leaving to take alternative work in both Moscow and Peking. But, after intervention by producer David O Selznick, he stuck around and, after this assignment, landed the gig writing the music for ‘King Kong’ (1933), the film that made his name. In subsequent years, he became one of Hollywood’s most celebrated composers, winning three Oscars and scoring ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939), ‘Now, Voyager’ (1942), ‘Casablanca’ (1942), ‘Mildred Pierce’ (1945), ‘The Big Sleep’ (1946), and ‘White Heat’ (1949), among many others.

There is no evidence that legendary producer Selznick was directly involved with this film, aside from his ‘executive producer’ credit, although the multi-media concept smacks of his type of showmanship. The film was released in mid-October 1932, by which time Selxznick’s contract with the studio was about to expire, and he was considering an offer from his father-in-law to return to MGM to head up his own film unit. He was also a brand new father, with his first prestigious film project, ‘A Bill of Divorcement’ (1932), new in theatres on the last day of September. So it’s unlikely that he had all that much input into such a minor thriller. Still, it’s possible that the radio-movie tie-in and attendant publicity campaign was his idea.

Convoluted, unconvincing mystery, remarkable only for its unique presentation over two separate entertainment formats.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)‘Listen to me; your world is full of lunatics, from Rasputin to crazy operas.’

A senator is murdered, and the police catch a man fleeing the scene. An arrogant young journalist’s work helps secure his conviction, and he is sentenced to the death penalty. However, one the day of his execution, the reporter receives evidence that throws the man’s guilt into doubt…

Noir-ish Giallo thriller from director Alberto De Martino that tries to update the one style, without fully committing to the other. As a result, it’s partially successful and has its moments, but it doesn’t make for compulsive viewing, the final act piling on the action with a breakneck speed that severely harms its credibility.

Senator Robertson meets the end of a bullet on his doorstep and Mexican activist, Valdes (Giovanni Petrucci) is the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police can’t find the dead man’s missing briefcase, but the gun was ditched in a nearby bush, and Petrucci and the politician have a history. Hot-headed Sentinel reporter Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) gets the story for his paper, and sub-editor, John Hammond (Victor Buono) is impressed with his work, even if there’s no love lost between them.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Before this night is out, I shall revel in the sight of a big, crisp, polyunsaturated bat!’

The evidence to convict Petrucci is strong but circumstantial, the prosecution alleging that he passed the briefcase to a confederate in a car, who drove off in a panic. Sabato does the round of his contacts on the street and digs up naked model Anne Sachs (Barbara Bouchet) who, after initially refusing to help, places herself near the scene and witnessing the car just before the murder. Petrucci is convicted and sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

Returning home on the day of the execution from assignment in New York, Sabato discovers that new evidence has come to light and begins to believe that the condemned man is innocent, after all. But witnesses are nowhere to be found or are turning up dead, and there are only 12 hours to go before Petrucci’s rendezvous with the gas chamber. It’s a desperate chase for Sabato as he tries to get at the truth and catch the assassin.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘No, I’m not doing another ‘Star Trek’. Not if it means kissing Shatner again…’

The concept of the smart-talking, wise-ass reporter chasing down a killer is as old as talking pictures. Although we’re spared any of the tiresome comedic elements that usually came with such a character in the golden days of Hollywood, this is still the essential core of De Martino’s film. It’s been modernised with a grounding in the realms of the conspiracy thriller, but we’d be firmly in Film Noir territory if the action took place on the black and white canvas of downtown LA rather than the sunlit streets of New Mexico.

Several of the main protagonists are typical Noir archetypes, most notably Sabato as the self-serving newshound starting to grow a conscience and Bouchet as the femme fatale-love interest whose motives are open to question. Unfortunately, neither character is written with any more complexity, leaving both actors struggling to make much of an impression. The acting plaudits belong to Buono who, despite having his familiar voice dubbed, still manages to bring a sly, sardonic humour to his role, linking up with Sabato as an unofficial sidekick/partner in the slightly silly closing stages.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Stop looking at Babs, I was in this movie too!’

Buono was joined by two more notable US actors on the film, as De Martino manfully attempts to convince the audience that they’re watching an American movie. Keenan Wynn has a supporting role as the newspaper’s editor, mostly hiding behind thick glasses and a cigar (the dubbing really doesn’t help his performance) and Faith Domergue scores in a couple of scenes as the accused man’s wife. She’s almost unrecognisable from her roles in such midnight movie favourites as ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), ‘Cult of the Cobra’ (1955) and ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955). She’d had a similarly small role in Lucio Fulci’s stand-out Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and only made three more films before retiring in the mid-1970s.

One aspect of the film that remains curious is astrologer, Isaac Thetman (Corrado Gaipa). Sabato consults him on the case because he and the senator were connected. The two don’t hit it off, and Giapa predicts the reporter’s death, which will occur at the very moment of Petrucci’s execution. Apparently, that’s the sort of thing you can get in your horoscope because ‘astrology is akin to the occult!’ Really? Ok. Having said that the fortune teller’s presence does lead to the film’s most inventive moment when he inadvertently reveals a crucial clue by walking under a neon sign.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘It’s all about the bone structure, dahling!’

De Martino collaborated on the screenplay here as he did on all his films, including quite a few cult titles, although these were not always of the best quality. These included cheesy Peplum ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963), above-the-fold Eurospy ‘Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere’ (1965), undistinguished Giallo ‘The Insatiables’ (1969), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and, best of all, the hilariously ridiculous adventures of ‘The Pumaman’ (1980). Sabato made the usual range of Spaghetti Westerns and crime pictures and starred in Umberto Lenzi’s Giallo ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) and Alfonso Brescia’s dreary ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Apart from the wonderful Buono, whose best days were already behind him, the real success story here is Czech actor Bouchet. After starting in bit parts for major Hollywood studios and appearing on episodes of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Star Trek’, she returned to Europe to build a meaningful career via Gialli such as ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula’ (1971), ‘Amuck’ (1972) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (1972). She regularly worked for the rest of the decade before her career began to slow down in the mid-1980s. In recent years, she has returned more often to the big screen, including a part in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ (2006), and is still active in the Italian industry as of 2020.

A rather tepid thriller which takes too much time to get going and then tries too hard to make up for it in the last half-hour.

Ringo, It’s Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo’ (1970)

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)‘Guess there are just too many things I don’t understand.’

After his brother goes missing in a remote small town, a notorious gunman rides in looking for him. He soon finds out that the missing man had hired out to protect a local rancher and his daughter. There’s been a string of mysterious deaths in the area, and the cattle baron believes that he will be next…

Bizarre cross-pollination of the Spaghetti Western and the Giallo with an added helping of witchcraft thrown into the mix for good measure. If mixing such disparate elements sounds like an intriguing concept, sadly the finished film is a chaotic, incoherent mess, its shortcomings the result of significant production problems.

Gunslinger Mike Wood (Mickey Hargitay) is a man with a price on his head. He’s wanted for murder, bank robbery and stealing a horse. South of Tuscon, he finds work at the ranch of Don Alonso (Omero Gargano). The cattleman needs protection; people in and around the local town have been dropping like flies, foaming at the mouth as they die. No-one can explain it, and everyone is running scared. Hargitay agrees to help, influenced by his growing romance with Gargano’s daughter, Pilar (Lucia Bomez). One morning, when he wakes, he finds a strange clay doll in his room.

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)

‘Just seeing if the production could afford any bullets…’

Sheriff Sam Carroll (Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia) arrives on Hargitay’s heels but discovers that the gunman has disappeared without a trace. All he can track down is the gunslinger’s younger brother, Ringo (Jean-Louis) who is also following the family trade. The two reluctantly join forces to find out what has happened to Hargitay and explain the strange and deadly plague that has stricken the town.

Examining the finished film, it’s easy to conclude that this was likely a troubled production in more ways than one. The problem we do know about involves the participation of Hargitay. The film had not been shooting long before he abruptly quit to return to the States. His son Zoltan had been seriously injured by a lion during a photo-opp with his wife, Jayne Mansfield. He did not return, leaving director Mario Pinzauti with about only 20 minutes of footage. Eventually, this ended up forming the film’s first act, accompanied by some fruitless attempts to provide plot coherence by our old friend, VoiceOver Man.

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)

‘It’s ok, Jayne doesn’t need to know…’

Casting Jean-Louis as Hargitay’s brother allowed production to continue, but the finished results have all the earmarks of a film that ran out of money. For a start, the director still had access to the rest of the cast, the locations and the sets. Given that, why not reshoot the Hargitay scenes with Jean-Louis instead? Obviously, in the final film, Hargitay just abruptly disappears, and this is only resolved by a passing reference to his probable death. It’s incredibly clumsy and could have easily been avoided if reshoots had been possible. On the other hand, maybe he had some marquee value in Europe, and the producers wanted his name to stay attached. 

But that’s the least of the film’s issues. The narrative is all over the place, skipping from one scene to the next with no sense of natural story development. Jean-Louis meets with Gargano at his ranch in an early scene and asks him about the family coat of arms on the hacienda wall. The camera lingers on it for almost ten seconds. Obviously, it’s going to be important to the story. No, it’s never mentioned again. Similarly, in a later scene, the cattleman promises to come clean and explain everything that’s going on. This explanation? His wife went mad, sees ‘visions’ and ‘some people have died.’ That’s it. That’s everything. Later on, he makes the same promise and, again, doesn’t tell anyone anything. In addition, production values are very low with only a limited number of interiors, including a threadbare saloon that has no windows and is always shot from the same side. 

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)

‘If you buy enough drinks, maybe I’ll be able to make a downpayment on the other two walls of this tavern…’

The highlight of the picture is probably a scene in the ranch-house between Jean-Louis and Bomez. The first time he met her was five minutes before when he’d shot a man (I don’t know who!) attempting to climb in her bedroom window. She screamed, and he leapt in with his trusty six-gun to save her. Now she’s come to his room to thank him. They speak for a minute, with Gomez following her father’s lead and providing gloriously vague and non-specific explanations about everything. Another woman screams somewhere close by. ‘Don’t worry, it’s just my mother, she’s mentally sick,’ says Bomez, providing the obvious cue for the couple to start kissing and have sex. Was that the actor’s original dialogue? Somehow, I doubt it. The scene where Jean-Louis and Gargano meet for the first time is also noteworthy. Jean-Louis’ side of the conversation takes place in perfect daylight, but Gargano seems to be speaking at night!

Some obvious conclusions can be drawn here. Firstly, the filmmakers had to use every scrap of footage that they had, whether it informed the story or not. Also, attempting to impose some kind of a plot on these mismatched bits and pieces probably involved assembling scenes in a different order from what was initially intended and dubbing on dialogue not in the original script. This contention is further supported by the facts that the finished feature runs only a scant 73 minutes, with opening credits delivered over a black screen, and a release date five years after the beginning of principal photography.

‘If I understood the script, I’d tell you exactly what was going on…’

Writer-director Pinzauti did not go on to a long career in the Italian film business, but he did co-direct well-regarded Spaghetti Western ‘Let’s Go and Kill Sartana’ (1971). He also delivered unofficial addition to the ‘Emanuelle’ adult film series ‘Emmanuelle Bianca e Nera/Passion Plantation’ (1976). In the same spirit, it’s worth mentioning that this film has nothing to do with the two popular ‘Ringo’ Spaghetti Westerns directed by Duccio Tessari. This film was simply an attempt to cash in on their success.

Given the mixture of genres, there might have been an interesting story to be told here, but production difficulties condemned the finished product to an abysmal fate.

The Killings At Outpost Zeta (1983)

‘As the situation develops on Zeta, we will adapt our behaviour to meet the situation.’

The authorities on Earth are keen to start the complete colonisation of a remote planet after the original survey team have been resident there for two years. However, communication with them is suddenly lost. Two rescue missions vanish, so a crack team of scientists and military personnel is assembled to investigate…

Low budget science-fiction and horror mash-up from the early days of video home rental. The co-producer-director team of Allan Sandler and Robert Emenegger also originated the story concept and followed it with more than half a dozen similar pictures over the next two years.

Commander Craig (Paul Comi) is not a happy man. The top brass is pushing for colonisation of the inhospitable but strategically important planet Zeta. The problem is that he’s lost contact with the pathfinder team preparing the way, and the two subsequent missions sent to find out why have also disappeared. So it’s time to put together a team of ‘the best of the best’ headed up by Commander Clark Young (Gordon De Vol). The scientific part of the team comprises ‘genius-level’ biologist Carol Sisko (Hildy Brooks), engineer Paul Gerry (James A Watson Jr), medical officer Linda Sands (Jacqueline Ray). Riding shotgun is security chief Sigmund Stewart (Stan Wojno) and his wingman, Gore Stadt (Jackson Brostwick).

Our heroes jet off into the great beyond and, considering the era and budgetary constraints, the SFX and miniatures are surprisingly acceptable. However, we run into our first problem when the crew reach Zeta. It arrives in the form of a signal beacon they discover in orbit. Not only do they take it intact onto their flight deck with no apparent decontamination protocols, both Watson Jr and Brostwick touch the ‘strange substance’ inside the canister to see what it might be, and no one bats an eyelash. As it happens, this doesn’t have any consequences, but it’s a fair indication of the quality of the film to come.

Once on the planet, things rapidly begin to deteriorate, both for the crew and the audience. José Louis Mignone’s cinematography does give the barren landscape an otherworldly quality, but any virtues imparted by this are offset by our heroes less than convincing attire. You can just about forgive the cheap, scarlet and white spacesuits, but the moon boots and motorcycle helmets take a fair bit more suspension of disbelief. Yes, Peter Dawson’s script does establish that the atmosphere of Zeta is not lethal, just toxic ‘like smog’, but it’s still a bit of a reach to accept this piece of headgear as interplanetary issue, even when worn with a thick neck scarf!

Before planetfall, the aggressive Wojno has laid down some pretty strict ground rules, including no going out at night and always staying in pairs. But, of course, everyone ignores these rules throughout the film, with Brooks proving her’ genius level’ intelligence by being the first to wander off alone with a torch to become monster munch. Because, yes, if you hadn’t guessed it already, the film is broadly following the template of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979). Wojno is the next one to get up close and personal with one of the creatures, who ‘melt’ their victims leaving just their empty space suits behind. How nice of them to bear the film’s SFX budget in mind!

There are other obvious parallels with Scott’s classic shocker. Firstly, there’s the ongoing attempt at crew camaraderie. This mainly consists of getting each other coffee. On the one hand, it’s good to see the humble coffee mug taking its rightful place on our journeys to the stars, but it does suggest that the whole alien thing might just part of a massed caffeine-induced hallucination. Better still, though, are the scenes where De Vol and Ray delve endlessly into the station’s archives. This involves leafing through dozens of spiral-bound reports. Handwritten reports. I guess even the invention of the typewriter had passed Zeta by.

These lengthy research scenes serve a couple of purposes, the most important of which is to pad out the running time. When you’re trying to make any kind of feature-length film without much money, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll need to include a lot of chat. Dialogue scenes are inexpensive to shoot. The key is to make these scenes significant in terms of plot development, and the filmmakers do try that here, with more information on the monsters divulged as time passes. The problem is that none of it provides an escalation of the threat they pose or a sense of raising the stakes. The creatures began their killing spree immediately after the team land, so the audience is already in possession of all it needs to know. So the film bogs down completely under the weight of all this unnecessary exposition instead. When the climactic scenes finally arrive, it’s all much too little too late.

Sandler and Emenegger began their career as documentary filmmakers, most notably with ‘UFOs: Past, Present and Future’ (1974), narrated by ‘Twilight Zone’ creator, Rod Serling. Researching that project meant contacting the military authorities, and Emenegger claimed that he was given a tour of Holloman Air Force Base. There he was shown a location where ‘officials conferred with extraterrestrials’ on a regular basis.

His fictional projects with Sandler often included appearances by some well-known actors whose best years were arguably behind them. Cameron Mitchell starred in ‘Captive’ (1980), ‘Warp Speed’ (1981) and ‘The Perfect Woman’ (1981) and Adam West was in front of the camera for ‘Warp Speed’ (1981) and ‘Time Warp’ (1981). The latter also featured Kirk Alyn, who played the title role in the movie serial ‘Superman’ (1948). They also managed to secure the services of b-movie legend Marie Windsor for ‘The Perfect Woman’ (1987). She’s best remembered for cult items such as ‘The Jungle’ (1952), ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1954), ‘Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy’ (1955), ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1957), ‘The Day Mars Invaded Earth’ (1962) and ‘Chamber of Horrors’ (1966). She also turned up in Tobe Hopper’s famous TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’ (1979) and ran up an extensive list of other small-screen credits.

A slow plod through familiar territory, obviously restricted by resources but showing little creativity and few ideas.

A Journey To The Beginning of Time/Cesta do praveku (1955)

‘I mean, it wouldn’t sound good if it was called bumpy head or bubble nose or whatever.’

Four young boys embark on a strange trip back through the epochs of prehistory when they find an underground river in a secret cave. Their journey becomes a mixture of a grand adventure and a struggle for survival when their boat is wrecked by an unseen creature…

Unusual children’s film featuring the groundbreaking FX work of director Karel Zeman. He’d already made his mark in the Czechoslovakian movie industry with a series of short films, but this was his first attempt at a project of feature-length. Here, he combines model work, animation and stop motion techniques to create a prehistoric world that’s quite an achievement, given the vintage of the project.

Young boy Petr (Josef Lukás) is reading his logbook, reviewing the fantastic adventure he enjoyed over the summer with friends, Toník (Petr Herrman), Jenda (Zdenek Hustak) and Jirka (Vladimír Bejval). When the latter unearthed a fossilised trilobite, the others promised to show him a living specimen. So the quartet embarked in a rowboat down an underground river in a hidden cave. There’s no lead up to any of this action; we’re not told where the children are, how they found the cave, or how it can take them back into prehistory. When the film was released in America, a new opening sequence was shot with four young lookalike actors visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York and then rowing out on Central Park Lake, where they find the cave.

Once they emerge from the other end of the cave, our intrepid quartet finds themselves trying to row through the pack ice of the Ice Age, but expedition leader Lukás is confident it will disperse, much to the relief of the impatient Bejval. Here it becomes clear that the river is a way back through the geological ages of the planet, rather than a doorway to one specific time in Earth’s past. Lukás even has a map folded up in his precious notebook.

As the ice breaks up, Bejval’s spots a woolly mammoth grazing on the shore nearby. This is the first appearance of one of Zeman’s creatures and a mighty impressive animal it is, the smooth flow of its movements even surpassing those of Ray Harryhausen’s more familiar menagerie. It must be acknowledged, however, that these movements are far more limited in comparison. There’s a switch to full animation when actual locomotion is required, although it’s still artfully delivered.

The boys’ next discovery is a caveman’s hideout, complete with jawbone weapon and wall paintings, although the occupant is nowhere to be found. From there, our explorers meet a whole series of creatures, more familiar ones at first such as flamingos, giraffes and elephants, before the river takes them back to more monstrous times. There, they find themselves ringside at a fight between a T Rex and a Stegosaurus (makes a change from a Triceratops, I suppose). Unfortunately, despite its armour, the herbivore comes off badly and expires soon afterwards. The event gives our heroes their one chance of a close encounter with a dinosaur, and they examine and clamber over the corpse in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

However, it’s around this point that some of the film’s shortcomings start to become apparent. The relationships between the characters are never clearly established, and no mention is made of their home lives or parents. We’re never even told if any of them are related to each other, although you might assume that to be the case, given that Bejval is a few years younger than the other three. There’s also Lukás constantly identifying all the flora and fauna they encounter and writing everything in his logbook.

Eventually, the inescapable conclusion is that this film is intended to be educational as much as entertaining. There’s a distinct possibility that it was designed as a learning tool, perhaps even to be shown in schools. This would explain why nothing in the story is ever explained, and the plot, such as it is, dissolves into a series of encounters with various prehistoric creatures. These have little dramatic weight because there is no developing plot. The destruction of the quartet’s boat suggests that things are hotting up, but, ultimately, the event has no significant consequences.

Of course, it is the SFX that merit attention and admiration today. Most of the dinosaurs were modelled after the paintings and drawings of celebrated Czech artist Zdenek Burian, and Zeman’s skill brings them to life in a way that was remarkable for the time. He presents us with an impressive Trachadon, a Brontosaurus, a Styracosaurus and a group of Pteradons and some of the composite shots where they share the frame with our young heroes are very well done. Those which feature a model of our rowing quartet have stood the test of time somewhat less persuasively, though.

Within a few years, Zeman had created the outstanding feature ‘The Fabulous World of Jules Verne/The Deadly Invention’ (1958), which boasts a seamless mix of live-action and animation. It still holds up superbly over half a century later and has been unjustly neglected. Later projects included ‘The Outrageous Baron Munchausen/Baron Prásil’ (1962) and a return to his Verne obsession with the somewhat less dramatically satisfying ‘On The Comet/Na komete’ (1970). Unfortunately, although acknowledged by professionals in the animation field, he is not well-known to the general public, an oversight that ought to be remedied.

Squarely aimed at children with a thirst for knowledge, Zeman’s first feature may fall short in its dramatic respects, but it’s still a fine showcase for his skills as an SFX artist, model maker and animator.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)‘Only animals and Americans get washed standing up.’

A rich old man dies, and the relatives gather at the family estate for the division of his fortune. However, most of them receive nothing; the bulk of the estate going to his niece due to a new will. Jealousies and bad feelings run high and then, inexplicably, the family butler is found stabbed to death in the greenhouse…

Knowing, black comedy Giallo from director Michele Lupo, who sends up the English Country House murder mystery with obvious delight and a little bit of style. Of course, the greedy relatives start dying off one by one after the will is read. Of course, everyone acts as suspicious as hell. Of course, the dim Scotland Yard copper blunders about without a clue and, of course, the solution is wonderfully convoluted and improbable.

The action begins on the golf course with heiress Barbara (Anna Moffo) trying to make a difficult shot out of a bunker. Sadly, she gets more than she bargained for when her swing uncovers the corpse of her cousin’s wife Pauline (Beryl Cunningham). But, never fear, the police are already on the spot as she’s not the first corpse to turn up in the previous 48 hours. Unfortunately, the forces of law and order are represented by arrogant, but dim, Superintendant Grey of Scotland Yard (Lance Percival) and bumbling local plod Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe (Gastone Moschin). From here, we flashback to the relatives arriving at the house, the reading of the will and the mysterious death of Peter, the butler (Ballard Berkeley).

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘You know our film’s got a really misleading poster, don’t you?’

Much to everyone’s surprise, the estate has ended up in the hands of naive Moffo, who acted as the old man’s housekeeper in his final years. There’s nothing for daughter Isabelle (Evelyn Stewart) because of her unpopular marriage to Anthony (Peter Baldwin). Also finishing out of the money are chronic gambler Ted (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), bitchy Aunt Gladys (Maria Fabri) and her stupid teenage son Georgie (Christopher Chattel). Numbers are made up by pompous Uncle Lawrence (Quinto Parmeggiani) and a mysterious, handsome stranger (Franco Borelli) who seems to have his eye on Stewart. When the bodies start piling up, it’s a real three-pipe problem for our hapless lawmen.

This is a deliberately familiar setup, of course, harkening right back to silent classic ‘The Cat and the Canary’ (1927) and making obvious reference to works of detective fiction, such as those of Agatha Christie. But writers Sergio Donati, Massimo Feli Satti and Fabio Pittoru choose a refreshingly satirical approach, focusing their attention on poking fun at tried and true English stereotypes. We get Chittel’s hopelessly repressed teenager, still a nasty little schoolboy at heart, even (very convincingly) faking his own suicide for a joke and then running for the hills when his leering approach to pretty parlourmaid Evelyn (Orchidea De Santis) ends with an offer of sex. Rossi Stuart is the typical English sportsman in tweed and flat cap, and Stewart is the English Rose with hidden passions.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘Can I go back to helping old ladies across the road and getting cats out of trees?’

Best of all, however, is the crimebusting team of Percival and Moschin. Sensibly, they are the focus of the story, and the interplay between the two actors really helps bring the film to life and is a constant source of wry amusement. Initially, the superior Percival is utterly dismissive of his country colleague and no wonder; Moschin seems little more than an amiable oaf, blundering his way through the case with one shame-faced apology after another. But when Percival’s obvious lack of investigative abilities comes to the fore, it’s Moschin who starts coming up with the required insights with the former reluctantly coming to rely on the latter’s brainpower. It may not be tremendously original dynamic, but the two actors play it to the hilt and display excellent chemistry.

As well as some of the cast members being British, the film was partially shot in England; specifically at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk. Imagine this reviewer’s delight when the opening shot of an Italian Giallo picture features the village sign of a place less than 25 miles from where he grew up! A surreal moment if ever there was one. Most of the cast were Italian, of course, but British audiences of a certain age will recognise Percival and Berkeley. The former was a comedian-actor who was almost a fixture on UK TV in the 1960s and 1970s, and Berkeley found everlasting fame at the age of 71 as the dotty Major on classic sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers.’

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘I tell you, Officer, I was only doing 35…’

There are some other notables in the rest of the cast. Rossi Stuart studied at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York before launching into a more than 30-year career in the Italian film industry, often appearing as a leading man. Initially, he plugged away in small roles but had worked his way up to more substantial supporting parts by the time he appeared in Robert Aldrich’s ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) with Stewart Granger and Stanley Baker. Some work with maestro Mario Bava followed, notably the lead in ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966). There were also appearances as Commander Rod Jackson in two episodes of Antonio Margheriti’s quartet of science fiction pictures about space station Gamma One. Later notable projects included Gialli ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ (1971), ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat’ (1972) and ‘Death Smiles On A Murderer’ (1973). His career went into decline after that, but there were still appearances in poorly regarded horror ‘The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance’ (1975) and one of Alfonso Brescia woeful quartet of ‘Star Wars’ knock-offs ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Stewart got her first big break playing Persephone in Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and then had a supporting role in Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ (1963), appearing under the name of Ida Galli on both occasions. Bava also used her in ‘The Whip and the Body’ (1963) before she worked her way up to the female lead in Spaghetti Westerns. Her first notable Giallo was behind Carrol Baker and Jean Sorel in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), but it was only after this project that she became closely associated with the sub-genre. ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ (1971) was followed by ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (1971), ‘Murder Mansion’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice’ (1972) and ‘A White Dress for Marialé’ (1972) by which point she was often playing the lead. When the craze for the horror thrillers began to wane, she made several pictures in the organised crime genre, although there was still a late-career appearance in Lucio Fulci’s horror mystery ‘The Psychic’ (1977) to come. Although she made a handful of appearances afterwards, she effectively retired at the end of the 1970s.

A fun comedy Giallo that may not be a world-beater, but still delivers a thoroughly well-crafted and entertaining 90 minutes.

Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari/Terror of the Barbarians (1959)

‘Leave that woman alone, you swine!’

After his hometown is sacked by Barbarians and his father killed, a young warrior vows vengeance and forms a small band of rebels to defend his homeland. When the Barbarians establish a fort in the area, the fight escalates, but things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the fort’s commander and both the lovers struggle with divided loyalties…

More sword and sandal action from Italy with U.S. actor Steve Reeves following up his star-making turn in ‘Hercules’ (1958) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959). Writer and producer Emimmo Salvi teams up with director Carlo Campogalliani to deliver the usual mixture of feats of strength, combat and adventure in a film that never strays too far from the ‘Hercules’ template, although there’s not a whiff of magic or mythology.

The Barbarian hordes led by King Alboino (Bruce Cabot) have swept across the land, looting and plundering without check for generations. Their latest target proves to be the hometown of woodcutter Emiliano (Reeves), who is off in the forest when the hordes descend. By the time he gets back, his father is dead, skewered by shaven-headed, pony-tailed Igor (Livio Lorenzon). Reeves bands the survivors into a guerilla group, who hide out in the hills, although he prefers to hassle the Barbarian troops solo, wearing an animal mask. These successful skirmishes earn him the name ‘Goliath’ and prompt the return of Lorenzon from Cabot’s court and the building of a stockade, commanded by Delfo (Andrea Checchi).

Out in the woods one day, Reeves helps a beautiful woman who has fallen from her horse. The two fall in love, of course, even though he’d probably rather be fighting and chopping wood. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that this dark-eyed beauty is Landa (Chelo Alonso), Checchi’s wild and spirited daughter. Worse is to follow when it’s revealed that Lorenzon plans to kill Checchi and grab both his command and Alonso for himself. So it’s time for Reeves to flex his muscles and ride to the rescue.

This is a very standard Peplum adventure that hits the expected beats and targets with predictable results. The plot is such a formulaic assembly of tried and trusted adventure tropes that nothing is ever in doubt, and each event and plot development is entirely predictable. There’s even a hopelessly contrived sequence where Reeves has to perform some feats of strength (labours, if you will) to avoid execution at Barbarian hands and go free.

Of course, the success or failure of such an enterprise falls heavily on the shoulders of the combat and action choreography and, here, it’s hardly inspirational. Some of the climactic battle footage is even speeded up in a desperate effort to infuse it with some level of excitement and, although there is a pleasing scale lend by the good number of extras, it still comes off as a little flat and under-rehearsed. The film did have budgetary issues, running out of funds entirely at one point. It was only the purchase of the U.S. distribution rights by American International Pictures that allowed production to continue.

The film does have some good points, though, principally thanks to some of the main cast. Alonso was a Cuban actress whose striking, exotic looks saw her take the title role in ‘Queen of the Tartars’ (1960) and play opposite Mark Forest in ‘Son of Samson/Maciste nella valle dei Re’ (1960), again for director Campogalliani. She also had a small role in Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (1966). Her performance here as the untamed warrior princess is the best thing about the film. It’s particularly welcome in her scenes with Reeves, who fails to bring a great deal of personal charisma to the screen.

She also performs a couple of sexy dance routines, one around upturned swords, that both help to establish her character and most probably provided some enticing clips for the film’s trailer. Unfortunately for Checchi, her fierce performance was not just a good acting job. In one scene, he slaps her, and, unable to contain herself, the actress slapped him right back. Apparently, she blew several takes that way and had to have her hands tied together! When the cameras stopped rolling, the first thing she did was go over to him and return his latest favour.

Similarly, Lorenzon is an imposing figure and scowls and snarls his way through his villainous role with some relish. He’s ably supported in his black-hearted schemes by Svevo (Arturo Dominici), more familiar now from his work with director Mario Bava in ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959) and ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960). He also appeared in several other muscleman pictures, including another run-in with ‘Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus/Golia alla conquista di Bagdad’ (1965).

It’s also good to see Cabot, who is best remembered these days as Fay Wray’s non-hairy boyfriend in the classic ‘King Kong’ (1933) and graduated to a long list of character parts in the later phase of his career. A supporting gig with John Wayne in ‘Angel and the Badman’ (1946) led to a life-long friendship and roles in many of the Duke’s later pictures, including ‘The War Wagon’ (1967), ‘The Green Berets’ (1968), ‘Chisum’ (1970) and ‘Big Jake’ (1971). His final role was as casino manager Albert R Saxby in the James Bond adventure ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971).

A mildly entertaining slice of muscle man heroics, enlivened by a stronger than usual supporting cast, but there’s little to make it stand out from the crowd.

Missile X – The Neutron Bomb Incident/Teheran Incident/Cruise Missile (1979)

The years you spent at the embassy in America must have eroded your brain.’

A Russian missile test is disrupted by armed men, who massacre everyone and steal the weapon. In Teheran, an American agent is killed, and his replacement suspects that the death is linked to the peace conference about to take place nearby. Then his Russian counterpart reveals that he has trailed the stolen missile to the city. The two agents combine their forces to find the warhead…

Drab and lifeless multi-national spy shenanigans with listless direction, a dreary script and an over the hill cast wearily going through the motions. A West German-Italian-Spanish-American and Iranian co-production, primarily filmed in the latter country when it was on the brink of a real-life revolution. A fact that is immeasurably more interesting than anything that ended up on the screen for the paying audience.

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is American veteran Peter Graves as Alec Franklin, flying into Teheran to investigate the death of a colleague. Not only are the circumstances decidedly fishy, but there’s also a high-level world peace conference taking place less than 100 miles away. In the best tradition of Eurospy adventures of the long-gone 1960s, it’s a solo gig because why send in a crack team to deal with a potential threat to world security when you can entrust it to one guy in his early fifties with just a handgun for company? Yes, this is pretty much a gadget-free zone.

It’s not long before Graves hooks up with his Russian counterpart and old friend, Konstantine Senyonov (Michael Dante), who is looking for a cruise missile recently heisted from a test site near the Caspian Sea. As per usual in these kinds of doings, the main villain needlessly reveals himself by telling his minions to knock off Graves, but, of course, it doesn’t go well. His ruthless killers are entirely unprepared for our hero’s fighting moves which are about as slow, clumsy and awkward as his age might suggest. Cleaning up afterwards, Graves finds a poker chip from a casino owned by the Baron de Marchand (Curd Jurgens, fresh from his underwater lair in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)) and decides to check it out.

Rather than play the tables, Graves gets chatted up by Jurgens’ flirtatious girlfriend, Nina (Carmen Cervera) and also zeroes in on the establishment’s manager, Stetson (Robert Avard Miller), who seems to be on the outs with his boss. Meanwhile, in his backroom laboratory/secret headquarters, Jurgens has stashed both the missile and renegade Russian rocket man, Professor Nikolaeff (John Carradine, waiting patiently for his paycheck). Dante has brought comrade Galina (Karin Schubert) to deal with the missile once they find it, but the clock is ticking because Carradine needs less than 48 hours to get the warhead into position.

It’s hard to know where to start with a film that has so many issues. The setup isn’t without some potential, but the story develops into a tired old rigmarole of intrigue and half-baked action that has rarely been regurgitated with such an apparent lack of enthusiasm. One of the major problems is the casting of our leading man. Yes, Graves had led the IMF through more than 100 successful assignments on the original ‘Mission: Impossible’ TV show, but he looks far too old for this kind of role here. Roger Moore was a similar age when he finished playing Bond, but he was far better preserved than Graves, who looks almost a decade older than his actual age. This is a problem in the action scenes (such as they are) and in the bedroom when he spends some quality time with Cervera. There was less than 20 years between them in reality, but the age difference looks to be so much more.

There are much bigger problems, though. Director Leslie H Martinson was a veteran filmmaker who had racked up a long list of extensive television credits on many primetime series, often orientated towards action, including nine episodes of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in the early 1970s. He’d also helmed the occasional film, such as ‘PT 109’ (1963) and the movie version of ‘Batman’ (1966) from the Adam West TV show. He was an experienced director. However, almost every scene here is so devoid of pace, creativity and energy that it’s almost like watching scenes being acted out in early rehearsal rather than a finished film. Similarly, the flat editing leaves the gun battles and fight scenes dead on arrival, and the poor dubbing of the robotic supporting cast is almost comically wooden. Finally, Alberto Baldan Bembo’s score is so poorly integrated with what’s shown on the screen that it seems likely that it was written for another project entirely.

However, there may be some mitigating circumstances. The film reached West German screens in February of 1979 but wasn’t released stateside until December. This version credits legendary low-budget filmmaker Ted V Mikels as the ‘US producer’, and he also gets a story ‘adaptation’ credit. He’s probably most familiar to cult movie enthusiasts as the creator of ‘The Astro-Zombies’ series and other films such as ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1971) and ‘Blood Orgy of the She-Devils’ (1973). It’s impossible to know what post-production tweaks he may have made to the film, but it might explain some of its technical deficiencies.

A series of crippling strikes and protests paralyzed Iran for a few months before the Shah’s retreat into exile in January 1979 and the revolutionary fighting that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. There is no evidence of that kind of disruption in the finished film, so it’s likely that it was shot in the earlier part of 1978. We do hear a repeated radio broadcast – in English – concerning the Ayatollah’s activities in Paris, and there’s also a line of dialogue that mentions him by name. However, it is delivered by an actor with his back to the camera, and there’s an immediate cut away afterwards. Given that the Ayatollah didn’t move to Paris until November 1978, it’s likely that all these references were added in post-production. Perhaps they were part of Mikels’ ‘adaptation’ for the US market as he tried to give the film some air of topicality.

Graves wasn’t finished with the spy game, of course, returning as Jim Phelps to head up the small screen revival of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in 1988. He also turned down an appearance in the big-screen reboot with Tom Cruise when he discovered that Phelps would be revealed as a traitor. Sadly, Jurgens died in January 1982 from a heart attack and looks distinctly unwell here. He’s very red-faced at times, hobbles about on a stick, and some of his dialogue is a little hard to understand.

Carradine was on a bad movie roll, his previous big-screen excursions being ‘Doctor Dracula’ (1978), ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978) and ‘The Bees’ (1978), producer Roger Corman’s execrable cash-in on ‘The Swarm’ (1978). Some better projects followed in the early 1980’s such as ‘The Monster Club’ (1980) and ‘The House of Long Shadows’ (1983), but there was still time to fit in Jerry Warren’s hilariously atrocious ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).

An almost impossibly dull plod through over familiar territory, delivered by all concerned as if they already had one foot on the aeroplane home. Simply dreadful.