Upperseven, L’uomo Da Uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces/Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)‘We’ve got to weave through those infra-red beams; they set off the machine guns.’

Special agent Paul Finney foils a gold smuggling operation masterminded by the criminal Kobras, but the supervillain escapes to fight another day. Suspecting that he is involved with a covert Chinese operation in Africa, Finney teams up with a beautiful CIA agent to take him down once and for all.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is smooth operator Paul Hubschmid, fronting a surprisingly well-mounted co-production from studios in Italy and Germany (where were the Spaniards on this one?) Codenamed Upperseven, he’s knee-deep in the usual cocktail of guns, girls and low-level gadgets as he tangles with blonde iceman Kobras (Nando Gazzolo) and his bad girl sidekick Vivi Bach. There’s the usual tour around glamorous cities; this time the itinerary taking in Copenhagen, London, Basel, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rome, and a surprisingly explosive climax at Gazzolo’s secret base in Africa.

After an opening shootout at a burning factory, we find Hubschmid in London, getting his next set of orders and spending quality time with the beautiful Rosalba Neri. However, the talented Italian actress is woefully underused, her part seemingly existing almost solely to establish Hubschmid’s credentials in the bedroom department. She does get her guitar out and give us a song, but it’s hard to judge her musical abilities, as she’s obviously been dubbed by another actress. From there, our virile star moves onto American agent Karin Dor, who’s in town on her way to supervise a big money transfer in Switzerland. Hubschmid is happy to concentrate his working hours on tracking some stolen diamonds, but inevitably the cases are connected and Gazzolo’s hand is behind it all.

The film’s main gimmick is our hero’s use of masks. He makes them himself in a backroom in his flat, and they are so life-like they look almost like other members of the cast with their heads poking through holes in the furniture. In fact, they are the perfect disguise, even when they’ve been crumpled up and hidden in one of his socks for a few hours! Considering such items were such a major part of the arsenal of Peter Graves and his ‘Mission: Impossible’ crew, it’s interesting to note that this film was released almost a year before that TV show first aired.

Let’s consider the good stuff first. The film has more of a budget than many of its kind. This allows for some pyrotechnics at either end of the movie, a hidden underground base for Gazzolo and a refreshing lack of endless ‘tourist board’ footage crammed in to boost the running time. It’s good to see Dor getting in on some of the physical action too. Ok, so she’s not Buffy, the Vampire Slayer but she’s in the driving seat during a car chase, finishes one bad guy with a sharp knife throw and, briefly, handles herself well in a fight. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but it makes her more convincing as an agent than many of her female contemporaries.

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

🎵And you could have it all…My empire of dirt…🎶

Unfortunately, there a few negative aspects on show as well. To begin with, the plot is muddled and lacks focus, often feeling like a few second-hand ideas thrown roughly together. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and action, but it’s all a little undenuhelming and writer-director Alberto De Martino fails to endow proceedings with any real excitement or dynamism.

Although professional enough, none of the cast members invest their roles with any real energy or approach the creation of even a mildly compelling character. It’s simply hard for the audience to care about anything that happens to them. Hubschmid began acting in his native Germany in the late 1930s, and actually appeared in films sanctioned by the Nazi regime during World War Two. It may have been that which prompted him to try his luck in Hollywood in the late 1940s, although he maintained a screen presence in his homeland too. Stateside, he was renamed Paul Christian, and enjoyed a brief career as a leading man, appearing opposite Maureen O’Hara in ‘Bagdad’ (1949), in director Don Siegel’s ‘No Time For Flowers’ (1952), and as the heroic scientist in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953).

Dor met Bond for real in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), but her career stalled after appearing in the Hitchcock flop ‘Topaz’ (1969) and with Paul Naschy in monster train-wreck ‘Assignment Terror/Dracula Versus Frankenstein’ (1970). After a brief flirtation with television, she became a respected stage actress; still working almost up to her death in early 2017. Bach graduated to playing a Eurospy heroine in ‘Electra One’ (1967), and Neri went onto cult cinema greatness in a number of signature roles.

De Martino was a journeyman filmmaker at best, whose output slavishly followed popular trends. First, there were muscleman pictures in the early 1960s such as ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961) and ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963) before he jumped smartly onto the Spaghetti Western and Eurospy bandwagons. In the latter genre, he delivered ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) starring Sean’s brother Neil, and Ken Clark’s final outing as Agent 077 Dick Malloy in ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). His career M.O. carried on into the 1970s as he countered ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) with ‘L’anticristo’ (1974), ‘The Omen’ (1976) with ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and ‘Superman’ (1978) with ‘The Puma Man’ (1980), which remains one of the greatest bad movies ever made.

Curiously flat ‘Bond’ knock-off that’s better presented than most, but of little real interest.

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Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)‘Thinking of taking another nap in the radar box, Droppo?’

The children of the planet Mars have forgotten how to have fun and spend too much time watching TV broadcasts from Earth. The Martian King decides to kidnap Santa Claus to remedy the problem, but a renegade official disagrees with the plan…

Dreadful Yuletide science fiction comedy, which has gained a significant cult following in recent years, in part due to that amazing title, but mostly because of its staggering banality. Yes, it is a children’s film and yes, it was made on a very low budget, but those facts do little to excuse the finished product.

The story follows Bomar and Girmar (‘Boy Martian’ and ‘Girl Martian’) played by Charles Month and an 8-year old Pia Zadora.  They are binge-watching Earth TV, specifically an interview with Santa (John Call) from the North Pole. They are so invested, in fact, that they no longer sleep or eat properly, which concerns their father ‘King Martian’ Kimar (Leonard Hicks). This is actually a curious foreshadowing of society’s viewing habits today, but it’s the only thing remotely interesting in the vapid, lifeless script. After all, we’ve already sat through Zadora dragging her nails down the chalkboard with opening song ‘Hoo-ray For Sant-y Claus’…

Enlisting the help of Earth kids Billy and Betty (Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti), our naughty extra-terrestrials snatch Santa and get him back to Mars, successfully sidestepping Tom Cruise, H.G. Wells and NASA public relations staff. Once there, the big guy is tasked with turning out some toys and is given the dim, but well-meaning, Dropo (Bill McCutcheon) as his ‘comedy’ sidekick. All round bad egg Voldar (Vincent Beck) hasn’t got time for all this nonsense, though, and plans to sabotage the operation.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Robby the Robot’s Ketamine habit had really taken its toll…

But Voldar’s up against it, folks! You see, just being in the presence of Santa makes everyone ridiculously happy! Even cardboard box robot Torg no longer follows orders. And the Martians are soon convulsed with hysterical laughter at the old man’s wit. ‘What’s soft and round and you put it on a stick and toast it in a fire…and it’s green?’ The answer? A Martian-Mallow. You can see why it’s hopeless to oppose him, can’t you?

There are several other ‘delights’ on offer too. A man dressed up as a polar bear. McCutcheon’s hilarious idiot schtick as the ‘lovable’ Dropo. The US Airforce scrambling fighter jets (and a bomber?) to intercept the Martian spacecraft via the reliable old medium of lots of stock footage. A po-faced newsreader providing completely pointless commentary. The first ever appearance of Mrs Claus (Doris Rich) as a character on film. Endless talky scenes that don’t advance the ‘plot’ a centimetre. Oh, yes, and McCutcheon’s a riot as the hapless Dropo…oh, I already mentioned that, didn’t I?

The young Zadora went onto some level of notoriety in the entertainment world, particularly in America. After marrying a millionaire businessman, she got her first big break as a model in a national advertising campaign in the late 1970s. Never mind that her husband held a significant financial interest in the product concerned. From there it was a short step to the magic of Hollywood but headlining her first grown-up film in a cast that included Orson Welles and Stacy Keach was not a move commensurate with her acting experience. Despite (somewhat controversially) winning a Golden Globe as best ‘New Star’ for ‘Butterfly’ (1982), her performance was universally critically panned. She earned two Razzie awards that year, and more such ‘acclaim’ followed for next project ‘The Lonely Lady’ (1983). The award for ‘Worst Actress of the Century’ came her way at  the Razzies in 2000.

Elsewhere, most of the cast were minor Broadway performers and only McCutcheon ever achieved any significant level of screen recognition, appearing as Uncle Wally in episodes of TV’s ‘Sesame Street’ between 1985 to 1998. Director Nicholas Webster made an ill-advised return to the red planet four years later with the excruciating ‘Mission Mars’ (1968), a film so unutterably tedious that it should come with a government health warning attached. However, his career took an upward swing in the 1970s with gigs directing episodes of TV shows like ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Waltons’, and as occasional writer-producer and director of TV’s ‘In Search of…’ hosted by Leonard Nimoy. He followed up in the same vein with cryptid documentary ‘Manbeast! Myth or Monster?’ (1978).

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

‘Can’t you get on with it? The Merseyside derby’s on the box in a minute…’

The nature of what’s on display, together with Zadora’s reputation has led to the film’s growing reputation as a cult classic in recent decades. A remake was even planned in 1998 with Jim Carrey as Dropo, but it never appeared. However, there were various theatrical adaptations in 1993, 2006 and 2011, and a satirical novelisation of the story appeared in 2005.

So, here’s the obvious question; is it ‘so bad, it’s good’? The answer? Not really, no. It’s just too boring. A dull and dreary slog through a quicksand of cheapness and infantile banality. There aren’t even any bizarre quirks to alleviate the sheer monotony.

Is it the worst film ever made about Mars? No, actually, I don’t think so. Director Webster’s own ‘Mission Mars’ (1968) is a whole different level of ghastly. And don’t even get me started on ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964)!

Stargames/Star Games (1998)

Stargames (1998)‘Who wishes an audience with the court of the eternal laws of the universe?’

A young alien prince flees a mighty space warlord who threatens to destroy his people. Crashing in a forest location on Earth, he teams up with an unhappy teenager who has become separated from his parents after being chased by a bear near their camp.

Low-budget Science-Fiction space opera from veteran filmmaker Greydon Clark, whose three-decade directing career began in the Blaxploitation arena and ended here. He had hitched his wagon to the stars a couple of times before, most notably in the years of the science-fiction boom triggered by ‘Star Wars’ (1977). The best of these projects was ‘Without Warning’ (1980), which found Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Jack Palance fighting an alien hunter in the woods almost a decade before Arnold Schwarzenegger got acquainted with ‘The Predator’ (1987). Unfortunately, any career momentum he could have gained from this decent entry was sacrificed immediately by ‘The Return’ (1980), a nonsensical riff on ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977).

Here, he’s aiming squarely for the children’s market with this tale of castaway Prince Kirk (Travis Clark, the director’s youngest son), who escapes from a space battle being fought by his grandfather, King Fendel (Oscar nominee Tony Curtis). In the backwoods of Earth, he teams up with pouty teen Brian (Trevor Clark, the director’s other son) who’s lost after a close encounter of the ursine kind. Meanwhile, the authorities have formed a search party, accompanied by Brian’s mother and father (Jacqulin Cole and director Greydon Clark). In case you were wondering, Cole is billed here as Jacqulin Clark because she was the director’s wife and the mother of our two young stars.

Stargames (1998)

‘Where did it all go?’

So, yes, what we have here is 90 minutes spent in the cinematic company of the Clark family! And what have they to offer? Sadly, very little. This is obviously a micro-budgeted adventure, and little more than a vanity project. The film opens with scenes of Curtis walking around inside what is supposed to be a giant spaceship. He makes a lot of sweeping arm movements and delivers some of the worst dialogue this side of ‘The Manitou’ (1978).

Unfortunately, these SFX would have been laughable a quarter of a century earlier. On television. So It’s a relief when we get earth-side so quickly but things really don’t get any better from there. That’s because the film’s main issue isn’t the bargain basement FX or the terrible dialogue, it’s the casting. Neither Trevor or Travis had any previous acting credits (or subsequent ones), and their lack of experience is cruelly exposed when so much of the drama falls on their young shoulders. This is largely because of the severely under-developed script, by Clark Sr and regular collaborator David Reskin, that offers the audience little more than an extended hike in their company.

Stargames (1998)

The force was not strong with this one…

To be fair, all these issues were likely due to the limitations of resources at director Clark’s disposal, but it does make for a seriously dull experience. Travis does have a pet piece of rope(!) and an alien wristwatch that he uses to conjure jerky stop-motion dinosaurs out of thin air, but little else. Handy for dealing with pound-store stormtroopers, though. But the fact that the writers seemed to believe that the only adjective in a teenage boy’s vocabulary was ‘cool’ is not entirely helpful.

This is one of Curtis’ last roles, and it’s interesting to speculate just how he crossed paths with Greydon Clark, and why he agreed to do this. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t really looking after his career by this point (‘The Mummy Lives’ (1983) anyone?) but looking at what’s up on the screen, it’s hard to believe that he would have received significant financial compensation for the brief shift he puts in here. After all, the faceless villain is little more than a silly, disembodied voice, and not much of a final opponent for a man who once defeated ‘The Manitou’ (1978)!

A nice family souvenir for the Clark clan, but not of much interest to anyone else.

Master Minds (1949)

Master Minds (1949)‘There’s only one thing to do; better declare a mortuary and look for him at the dentist.’

A young New Yorker suddenly develops the ability to predict the future. Sensing a financial opportunity, his friends set him up as an act at a local fairground. His abilities attract press coverage but also bring him to the attention of an eccentric scientist, who is experimenting with mind swapping…

Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall got their big break as part of the gang of neighbourhood delinquents in William Wyler’s big hit ‘Dead End’ (1937) which also provided an early role for Humphrey Bogart. From there, they moved through a series of second feature comedies in various screen ‘gangs’ including the Dead End Kids, the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys (although Gorcey passed on them, handing the reins to his brother, David!) The boys also jumped from studio to studio (allegedly due to bad behaviour) and, although membership was via a revolving door, Gorcey and Hall remained fairly constant participants.

By the early 1950’s, they were working for legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman but, after a dispute over money (no surprise there!), Gorcey walked and took Hall with him. Together, they formed their own production company and, despite being in their late twenties by this time, carried on regardless as ‘The Bowery Boys’, releasing an incredible 48 pictures in just 13 years! Originally, the ‘boys’ contained several of players from previous groups, mostly notably Bobby Jordan. However, by the time this film rolled around, Gorcey and Hall were essentially a double act, here backed up by William Benedict, Bennie Bartlett and (inevitably) David Gorcey.

Hall is the hapless ’Satch’ who suddenly develops the power of foresight thanks to a bad toothache! ln what is probably the film’s only original idea, the boys feed him lots of candy to bring on his hypnotic trances. Unfortunately, in the crowd at a show one night is mad scientist Dr Druzik (Alan Napier) and his sidekick Otto (William Yetter). Napier is keeping a prehistoric man (Glenn Strange) in his spooky mansion and decides a mind transfer with Hall is just what the big lug needs. Essentially, this is a formulaic ‘old dark house’ mystery with a little bit of horror and science-fiction thrown in for good measure. The plot owes more than a slight debt to Universal Studios’ hit comedy ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948), especially as Strange appeared in that film as the Monster.

Actually, for the first twenty minutes or so, this is surprisingly entertaining for what it is. Gorcey’s spouts his trademark malapropisms, Hall is the willing clown, and the action moves at a fair clip. Unfortunately, after the gang reach Napier’s dusty old mansion, the film simply runs out of plot and resorts to lots of predictable genre clichés. The cast creep around in dark passageways, get hit over the head in cases of mistaken identity, and are constantly confused by Hall’s weird ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ like behaviour. The only real surprise is that no-one pops up in a gorilla costume! Perhaps Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan was busy that weekend.

There are compensations in the supporting cast, however. Napier was a distinguished British stage actor who had worked extensively with Orson Welles and found fame late in life as Adam West’s butler Alfred on the classic ‘Batman’ TV show. Here, he genuinely seems to be having fun as the mad doctor, although it could be that he was just acting, of course. Still, what a surgical team he has! Nurse Jane Adams had previous form passing the forceps for mad doctor Onslow Stevens in Universal’s ‘House of Dracula’ (1945) and Skelton Knaggs brought the chills to dozens of low-budget horror and mystery programmers with his unforgettable face and line delivery.

Master Minds (1949)

The new musical number needed some work…

Also slumming it after his Universal glory days is makeup genius Jack P Pierce, who uses a variation of his work on Lon Chaney Jr’s ‘Wolf Man’ to deliver Strange as the caveman. There’s more of a full-body vibe to his work this time around too; with Strange getting a good amount of hair on his naked torso. No doubt it was done on a small budget, but it’s still far more effective than you would expect in this kind of enterprise.

The billing here is ‘Leo Gorcey & The Bowery Boys’, leaving little doubt as to who was in charge of things. As well as brother David, we also get their father, Bernard Gorcey, who makes an extended appearance and gets plenty of screen time. The series as a whole might have lasted even longer if Bernard hadn’t passed away in a car accident in 1955. Apparently, Leo took it very badly indeed, hit the bottle with a vengeance and left the series shortly afterward. Hall stayed with it for the last half-dozen or so films, but things wrapped up with ‘In The Money’ (1958).

A painless way to spend an hour or so, and classic horror aficionados will get some pleasure out of the supporting cast and seeing another off Pierce’s classic monster makeups.

The Murder Clinic/La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)‘Watch out, Robert! I’d be a difficult corpse.’

In the 1870s, a young nurse takes a new job at a private psychiatric clinic in the countryside. lt’s not long before she realises that the rambling old building holds a mysterious secret, and that the handsome doctor in charge may be involved with murder…

Much like Film Noir, it can be quite a challenge to provide an exact definition of the Italian Giallo sub-genre. Sure, there are some common touchstones; the hooded/masked killer whose identity is revealed at the climax, the beautiful women meeting graphic and bloody ends in the grip of his black gloved hands or at a slash from his wicked blade, and the psychological motivation behind his actions that often involve a flashback to a traumatic past or a perverse sexual hang-up. On the technical side, they usually mix sumptuous colour photography with striking interiors, props and set dressing. However, the plots don’t always stand up to close scrutiny and the casts were not usually required to portray a lot in the way of character development.

But the original definition of the phrase was somewhat broader. ‘Giallo’ is simply the Italian word for yellow and, in this instance, refers to a series of cheap paperbacks released nationally from 1929 by the Mondadori publishing company. They were such a hit with the public that many other houses joined in, mimicking the predominantly yellow cover designs. The Giallo was born. But if you’re getting excited about an obscure, radical and advanced branch of European literature, then l’m afraid you’re in for a big disappointment. These were not original works by forgotten authors, but simply re-prints of famous titles by American and British writers such as Raymond Chandler, Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie! So, originally, the term ‘Giallo’ simply meant a ‘murder-mystery’ and this early example of the type still has a foot in that camp, although it is leaning towards the later films that we associate with the sub-genre today.

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

She wasn’t going to bed until he’d killed that spider in the corner of the ceiling…

The story begins with pretty young blonde Mary (Barbara Wilson) taking a new job as a nurse at the remote psychiatric clinic run by Dr Vance (William Berger) and his wife (Mary Young). Although once seemingly destined for big things, a mysterious event in the past has condemned him to rural obscurity. Unsurprisingly, it’s a spooky old place and it’s not long before our young heroine is surrounded by strange events.

A hooded figure prowls the dark corridors, a mute patient checks out overnight (in more ways than one!) and there are heavy footsteps coming from the upper floors where only the doctor is allowed to go. Things get even more involved with the arrival of bad girl Giselle (Francoise Prévost), who tells an unlikely tale of getting lost in the woods after a coach accident. Matters quickly escalate into murder but just who is responsible and why?

Despite some solid and even mildly impressive aspects, this proves to be a somewhat half-baked concoction from director Elio Scardamaglia (hiding under the more American-friendly name of Michael Hamilton). On the positive side, we have the usual impressive interior locations, which were a distinct feature of European cinema at the time. Although underwhelming from the outside (a different location perhaps?), the clinic’s rambling maze of passages and chambers make a fine backdrop to the action. There’s also excellent cinematography from Marcello Masciocchi, whose muted colour palette may not possess the lush tones and shadings of a Mario Bava production but still helps to create a few memorable images.

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

‘Don’t be a cad, Roger! Not until we’re married…’

Unfortunately, the film has problems, and these can mostly be laid at the door of the underdeveloped script by Ernesto Gastaldi. The story may just about hang together, but not all that much happens over the course of the 90 minutes, and the cast are often left simply creeping or running around the old house to little obvious purpose.

Berger only has a tiny handful of patients and we get zero insight into any of their problems or the treatment he provides. They include a man who sleeps a lot, another who is prone to bouts of violence (could he be the killer?) and an old woman who cuddles a stuffed cat (probably not a viable suspect). Also, Prévost may not have wanted to go ‘to the coast’ with her mysterious coachman but it hardly seems sufficient reason to knock him unconscious and watch as he’s trampled to death by horses. Why does she do it? The movie never tells us or explains who she is, and the inevitable conclusion is that she there as another pretty face and to pad the running time. There’s also a rather ridiculous ‘love story’ sub-plot which comes almost completely out of left field and is never remotely convincing. The rather slapdash approach is a bit of a surprise, given that scriptwriter Gastaldi was fast becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for this sort of thing, and had provided both direction and screenplay for the far superior ‘Libido’ (1965).

Modern fans of the Giallo are also likely to be disappointed by the obvious absence of two of the sub-genre’s most obvious fundamentals. Despite being carried out with a straight razor, the kills are almost bloodless, and there really aren’t that many of them. Similarly, the fairer members of the cast get to keep their clothes on, which is quite a change in this type of endeavour. These choices probably reflect notions of morality and the censorship that was in place on the continent at the time, but it does make things seem rather tame by today’s standards.

A project with some merit but let down by a weak and uninspired script that gives the cast little to work with, and short changes its potential audience.

The Murderous Corpse/Le Mort Qui Tue (1913)

The Murderous Corpse (1913)‘The following morning at the Anthropometry Department.’

After his last minute escape from the forces of law and order, criminal genius Fantômas resumes his nefarious schemes, framing a young painter for murder. The innocent man later commits suicide in police custody but his body disappears and his fingerprints keep turning up at subsequent crime scenes…

Louie Feuillade’s third silent film about Gallic super-criminal Fantômas (Réné Navarro) finds our anti-hero up to his neck in the usual shenanigans of fabulous jewellery robberies, impenetrable disguises and secret identities. I do wonder how on earth he had the time to set up all these other obviously very well-established personalities though! Perhaps it was a simple matter of murdering the original people and replacing them without anyone noticing? We never find out for sure.

At least on this occasion, he gets 90 minutes to put his plans into action as opposed to the much shorter length of the previous films. They both clocked in around the hour mark and often seemed a little like edited highlights of the source material. The more familiar feature length allows for a more faithful adaptation of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s third novel and a better presentation all round. There’s also a different character dynamic as Navarro’s nemesis Inspector Juve (Edmund Bréon) is missing, presumed dead, after the explosive climax of the last film. Instead, investigations are in the hands of his grieving friend, handsome reporter Jules Fandor (Georges Melchior). He may only be a journalist but he seems to have as much official clout in police matters as a member of the regular force, even though he acts alone. Also returning is Princess Sonia Davidoff (Jane Faber) whose gems get lifted again with a tell-tale fingerprint left behind on her neck. The robbery occurs ‘off screen’ in the novel but Feuillade makes the decision to show it, consequently sacrificing the mystery of Navarro’s last disguise well in advance of the climax.

Another curious decision is to feature the anthropometric department of the Sureté, headed up by legendary, real-life criminologist Alphonse Bertillon (Armand Dutertre). He invented what was called the ‘Bertillon System’; a series of five measurements that, combined with a photograph, supposedly provided a unique physical profile for any individual. It was in wide use by law enforcement agencies all over the world by the 1880s and was even preferred as a means of identification to fingerprints! Unfortunately, a widely-publicised 1903 American case involving two unrelated criminals with an almost identical appearance and measurements shook faith in his work. Further problems followed when his handwriting analysis in the infamous Dreyfus trial was completely discredited. So it’s a little strange to see Feuillade still going to bat for him all these years later, even if he was largely responsible for some of the important first steps in the world of forensic criminology. If nothing else, he did invent the mugshot!

The Murderous Corpse (1913)

He could never concentrate when someone was looking over his shoulder…

It is pleasing to see Navarro at his old tricks again, even if his ambitions never extend beyond mere financial gain and his plans never approach the complexity of greater masterminds such as Dr Mabuse. His criminal organisation is also far more limited in size and scope, and its member utilise nothing more sophisticated than guns, fists and the motor car. There are a few more outlandish touches, such as the method for leaving a dead man’s fingerprints at a crime scene, but these are little more than passing details.

Well-executed example of silent filmmaking and a significant step toward the feature film format as we know it today. The entire 5-film series has been lovingly restored and made available on a double DVD set from Artificial Eye and it is recommended if you’re interested in cinema history and the evolution of the crime genre.

The Secret of The Telegian (1960)

The Secret of the Telegian (1960)‘Objects can be transmitted; sent through space, and all the world’s scientists firmly believe this is one of the greatest mysteries ever demonstrated by the advanced yogis in India.’

At the end of the Second World War, a small troop of Japanese soldiers are taking one of their top scientists to safety when they discover that he’s carrying a fortune in gold, as well as all his research materials. Not surprisingly, the boffin is never heard from again. Fifteen years later, the soldiers begin dying one by one…

Science-fiction murder-mystery that initially looks intriguing, before descending into a familiar, well-trodden formula. The action starts with a mysterious killing in the ‘cave of horrors’ at a low-rent amusement park. Witnesses seem confused by events, and the police aren’t much better off. Enter the local newspaper’s science correspondent Kôji Tsuruta, who teams up with policemen Yoshio Tsuchiya and Akihiko Hirata to try and crack the case. Tsuruta and Tsuchiya are old college buddies, which seems to give the journalist some kind of unofficial detective status, which turns out to be a good job, because….science!

Yes, our heroes go off to see old Professor Cliché to get the lowdown on the missing scientist and what he was working on. Turns out that it was matter transmission, which is all perfectly plausible ‘as space travel was thought improbable only a few years ago’ etc. etc. Although this old egghead does seem to believe that all the scientists in the world believe in telepathy, so he may not be the most reliable source of information. Anyway, Tsuruta is a bit distracted because he’s balancing his new police ‘duties’ with an awkward romance with pretty salesgirl Yumi Shirakawa. She works for a company that sell ‘cooling units’ and she’s had a visit from a very strange customer. Our intrepid hero suddenly realises that this is connected with the case, because…science!

From here, we’re treated to a mildly engaging mix of thrills and action, but with few surprises. Despite the central hook of murder using matter transmission, we’re firmly back in well-explored territory; specifically that of H G Wells’ Invisible Man. Only without the floating cigarette and the sinking seat cushions. He first arrived in Japanese cinema in ‘The Invisible Man Appears’ (1949), a film which is generally regarded as the nation’s first foray into science fiction. Similar projects played with the concept over the next decade, such as ‘Invisible Avenger’ (1954) and ‘Invisible Man Vs Human Fly’ (1957). However, this project returned to the concept’s roots; the madman using his unusual abilities  for criminal purposes. The drama is played completely straight, which is refreshing, but it’s not exactly original.

The Secret of the Telegian (1960)

HIs new tanning booth needed work…

The director was Jun Fukuda, cutting his teeth in the world of fantastical film before chumming up with our scaly old pal Godzilla in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was in the canvas seat for several of the Big G’s rumbles; including ‘Ebirah Terror of the Deep’ (Godzilla vs The Sea Monster) (1964), ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), ‘Godzilla vs Gaigan’ (1972) and ‘Godzilla vs Megalon’ (1973). He also delivered science fiction spies in ‘ESPY’ (1974) and worldwide apocalypse in ‘Virus’ (1979).

Several of the cast also had links to the giant lizard; Tsuchiya appeared in ‘lnvasion of the Astro-Monster/Monster X’ (1965), ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), ‘Destroy All Monsters’ (1968) and even ‘Godzilla vs King Ghidorah’ (1991) almost a quarter of a century later. Hirata was also a regular player, with roles in the original ‘Godzilla’ (1954), ‘Ghidorah, the 3-Headed Monster’ (1964) and several others in the series. Shirakawa, on the other hand, does seem to have avoided such shenanigans, instead going up against ‘The Mysterians’ (1967), another slice of everyday Japanese life from Toho Studios.

If this film has a problem, it’s that some things have been lost in translation. One of the main characters seems to have been brought back from the dead somehow (it’s never explained) and it looks like he hasn’t aged a day in 15 years. And what is a Telegian anyway? The English dialogue never even mentions the word, let alone explains it. I guess it’s supposed to be a term that describes the main villain and his special powers.

This isn’t a bad film. The SFX are dated in some aspects, and the story gives up its secrets too early, but it’s a decent way to spend 90 minutes if you’re not too critical.

On the other hand, does the smoking volcano always have to erupt at the end of the movie?