The Lost Tribe (1949)

The Lost Tribe (1949)‘The talking drums of your friends carry far, even to Dzamm.’

Jungle Jim rescues a mysterious princess from some hungry lions and two white men with guns. The hunters are part of a criminal group who are trying to pinpoint the location of the lost city where she lives. Having heard of Jim’s reputation, she has come to ask for his help… .

When MGM finally brought down the curtain on Johnny Weismuller’s almost 20 year run as the ‘King of the Jungle’, a step out of the Hollywood spotlight must have seemed likely. After all, an extraordinary athlete doesn’t necessarily make for an extraordinary actor. However, the big man had just divorced Wife no.3 and immediately married no.4, so, in all probability, there were bills to be paid. What was a poor boy to do? Simply nip behind a bush in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, swap the loincloth for a safari suit and — ta-da! —Tarzan became Jungle Jim.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘Not diamonds again! Haven’t you got anything else?

It shouldn’t have been that easy, of course. Jungle Jim began life as a comic strip created by Don Moore and Alex Raymond (the illustrator behind ‘Flash Gordon’). Jim was a hunter based in Southeast Asia, rather than Africa, had a native sidekick named Kolu and often tangled with femme fatale Lille DeVrille. Not surprisingly all that was binned for the Columbia series. Instead, Jim was simply a middle-aged Tarzan, saddled with pet crow Caw-Caw and adorable pooch Skipper, whose continual survival in the jungle was a greater mystery than anything the movies had to offer.

This time around, Weismuller is recruited by pretty Elena Verdugo to protect Dzamm, yet another of the seemingly endless number of ‘lost cities’ hidden in the depths of the African jungle. As per usual, this forgotten civilisation is simply dripping with fabulous diamonds and some dodgy types who rarely shave are after the baubles. The gang is led by Calhoun (Joseph Vitale) who runs the local trading post and Captain Rawlins (Ralph Dunn) whose ship lies offshore. What doesn’t help is that the son of the city’s Head Man, Chot (Paul Marion), has been breaking tribal law to visit the post because he has a thing for Calhoun’s niece, hard-bitten femme fatale Norina (Myrna Dell). What follows are the usual shenanigans for this type of picture, including exotic beasts appearing courtesy of reams of grainy stock footage, and a cast who speak almost entirely in that awkward language called plot exposition.

This was only the second film in the series produced by the legendary Sam Katzman, and that perhaps accounts for the fact that it’s a little better than most of the later entries. For a start, there’s a fair amount of action. Weismuller takes to the water quite often; fighting both an unconvincing crocodile to save Skipper the indestructible dog and a shark that appears courtesy of a no doubt reasonably priced film library. He also wrestles with a less than energetic lion, who seems rather more enthusiastic when our hero is replaced by his stunt double. Actually, that was a risky job; reportedly one of Weismuller’s stand-ins died when performing a clifftop dive on ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids‘ (1948).

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘No thanks, love, I’m already on wife number four…’

The big man also gets to flex his acting muscles when he resists Dell’s womanly wiles, but it’s fair to say they do appear to be a little out of condition. Dell falls for him anyway, tries to help him escape and ends up on the wrong end of her uncle’s knife instead. All this is rushed through in about five minutes flat and, given that the under-used Dell is second-billed, it seems likely that some scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

We also meet Simba the Gorilla (inevitably played by Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan in his own monkey suit), who brings some hairy buddies along for the surprisingly energetic, if rather ridiculous, climax. It was probably unconscious but these closing action scenes do provide a faint echo of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who introduced some very silly elements into his later ‘Tarzan’ books, and believe me, some of those were very silly indeed.

Verdugo was of Spanish extraction and spent most of her career playing dancers and various exotic types in b-pictures, mostly for Universal, the highlight being when she shot Lon Chaney Jr with a silver bullet in ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944). But the studio wouldn’t sign her to a permanent contact because of her refusal to diet, and she appeared almost exclusively in black wigs as she was a natural blonde. Stardom finally arrived for her a couple of decades later courtesy of the small screen, as nurse to Robert Young on long-running hit ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ The role saw her nominated for two Emmys and a golden globe. The show also provided actor James Brolin with his first big break.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘The Lost City of Dzamm? Yeah, I’ve heard of it…’

Of course, this is little more than a cheap, formulaic b-picture, but for once the lost city actually looks a decent size (well, bigger than the usual couple of huts anyway) and there a decent number of folks in the marketplace too. Sure, a lot of the usual clichés are present, in particular the 5 minute opening narration over stock footage by actor Holmes Herbert, who explains what a jungle is for those who don’t know. ‘The mischievous monkey avoids the cunning crocodile’ he intones solemnly, probably trying hard to stifle a yawn.

The series carried on until 1958, with another 14 films. Or 11 if you want to be pedantic. Katzmann actually lost the rights to use the character’s name at the end, which was probably something to do with his notorious reluctance to open his wallet. As a consequence, in the last 3 films, Weismuller simply played a character called Johnny Weismuller instead. It’s unlikely that anyone really noticed.

Caw-Caw and Skipper were supplemented in later entries by chimpanzee Tamba (then Kimba) and eventually vanished from the films completely. Perhaps something finally ate Skipper! He was always living on borrowed time…

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The Noah (1975)

The Noah (1975)‘I don’t tell you how to powder your nose, you don’t tell me how to build a field latrine.’

An American soldier near retirement is washed up on the shores of an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. He is the sole survivor of the nuclear war which has brought about the end of the world. As time passes, he builds up an elaborate fantasy world to cope with the severe loneliness…

Although ostensibly a science fiction film, writer-director Daniel Bourla has a broader agenda in mind here. The story opens with leading man Robert Strauss adrift on the ocean in a dinghy and rapidly making landfall on an island whose only inhabitants are an abandoned Chinese outpost and some scattered military equipment from both sides of the unseen conflict. There’s even a working radio, but it’s as worthless as the rusting jeeps and guns; there’s no-one left to call. In the beginning, Strauss keeps up a routine of flag-raising, patrolling the beach, taking inventory, personal grooming and early morning callisthenics, but it isn’t long before his routine starts to break down…

The first sign we get that Strauss is not coping is the appearance of ‘Friday’ (voiced by an offscreen Geoffrey Holder), an imaginary friend named after Robinson Crusoe’s native companion. Things are fine for a while, until ‘Friday’ complains of loneliness and Strauss creates ‘Friday-Anne’ (voiced by Sally Kirkland). Unfortunately, Strauss quickly becomes jealous of their relationship, and he throws them out of the hut which he has made their home. His next invention is a young boy and, when Strauss realises that the lad needs an education, he starts teaching a whole class of children. When they don’t do as he says, he lays down some rules, and this is where the audience gets its first strong indication of what filmmaker Bourla is going for here.

The Noah (1975)

The water hazard at the 12th was a bit of a problem…

The rules that Strauss delivers are written on two chalkboards, one held in either hand while he stands on top of a pile of junk with his loose robe and beard flapping in the wind. Yes, any resemblance to Charlton Heston in ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956) is entirely co-incidental.

At that point, it becomes fairly evident that ‘Friday’ and ‘Friday-Anne’ were Adam and Eve, who are expelled from the hut (Paradise) after they taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge (have sex). The religious analogy should have been obvious before really, what with the quotation from Genesis: 6 at the start of the film. The final act finds Strauss wandering about in a storm (which turns out to be acid rain) while the soundtrack attempts to encapsulate the entire political and military history of the 20th Century. We get recordings of famous speeches by real-life world leaders, offset by children’s voices and songs, including one by Joan Baez. Unfortunately, the sequence lasts over 20 minutes and could most charitably be described as interminable.

The Noah (1975)

The new Supply Teacher had strayed a little from the agreed curriculum…

And that’s the real problem here; Bourla chooses to deliver a cut of 105 minutes and, with only Strauss on screen the entire time, it’s tough for an audience to really stay invested and remain on board. The film was shot in 1968 in Puerto Rico but didn’t get a release until seven years later and then only briefly. It’s a shame for Strauss, who after a long career as a supporting actor, really delivers an excellent performance.

And that’s not surprising when you consider the actor’s pedigree. He’d appeared twice for Billy Wilder; in ‘Stalag 17’ (1953) (for which he was Oscar-nominated) and with Marilyn Monroe in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955). He also appeared in Elvis vehicles ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ (1962) and ‘Frankie and Johnny’ (1966) and TV gigs included ‘The Monkees’,  ‘Get Smart’, ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ He also had an occasional recurring role on popular sitcom ‘Bewitched.’ This film marked his final appearance, as he died of a stroke shortly after its release.

It’s surprising to learn that this could have been a far more prestigious production if Bourla had chosen to go in that direction. Both Lee Marvin and  Zero Mostel were suggested for the lead and one producer made a definite offer of Jack Lemmon! But not surprisingly, that deal stipulated a colour film, and Bourla was set on black and white. If that seems an odd choice in the late 1960s, it may have been because he feared that the beautiful location would distract the audience from the story. His principal reason for rejecting Lemmon was his star status.

After its very brief outing at cinemas, the film was almost forgotten until it turned up on an obscure US TV channel many years later. Actually, it’s interesting to note the strong similarities the film shares with Darren Aronofsky’s controversial ‘Mother!’ (2017) which sharply divided audiences, and gave me the most boring two hours of my entire cinema life. Thematically, they are almost identical, and lawsuits have been started for less…

Sporadically interesting and with a strong central performance, but a film that desperately needs to lose a good 20 to 25 minutes of its’ running time.

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)‘Shut up. Bring me the papers on unidentified objects.’

When out for a ride on his motorcycle, Zovek finds the bodies of two policeman which later disappear. Masked wrestler Blue Demon is visited by an airline pilot who reports an encounter with a UFO. An archaeologist and his beautiful daughter make a strange discovery in a remote location…

Given that this is a production of the Mexican film industry of the early 1970s, it’s no surprise to find the family name of Rene Cardona all over it. On this occasion, both father and son were involved with Senior in the director’s chair and Junior listed as a producer. It’s also no surprise that the results look cheap, tatty and are hopelessly inept. But, just this once, let’s cut the filmmakers some slack because there’s more going on her than at first appears, and the story behind the film’s creation is somewhat more interesting than the film itself.

Zovek was a TV star in Mexico, famed for his incredible physique, super strength and athletic abilities. On one live 8 hour broadcast, he did 17,800 sit-ups without stopping, the last 200 hoisting his secretary into the air over his head at the same time. He was also a highly accomplished swimmer, martial artist and escapologist, whose feats were said to rival those of Houdini. Not surprisingly, the local film industry soon came calling and signed him to a 9-picture deal, casting him as himself in his own starring vehicle, ‘El lncreible Profesor Zovek’ (1972). His exploits soon came to the attention of TV executives in Japan and he was booked to appear on one of their biggest prime-time shows about a week after wrapping this, his second film. lt could have been his first step on the road to international stardom, but sadly we will never know.

Archaeologist Raul Ramirez and daughter Christa Linder (‘The Incredible Invasion’ (1969) with Boris Karloff, two ‘Kommissar X’ films and ‘Night of A Thousand Cats’ (1972)!) are busy examining artefacts in the vicinity of a remote ranch when the owner mentions some strange cave paintings in a ravine only accessible by helicopter. When the duo investigate, the artwork looks more like some red paint randomly daubed on to a rock but apparently it’s all highly significant so they call in Zovek for a second opinion. You see, as well as all his other accomplishments, he’s a mystic with unrivalled expert knowledge on ancient civilisations, and he can practice a little bit of mind control when required which is always handy! Anyway, these scribbles are Tibetan in origin and feature the four elements, or they should but ‘air’ is an absentee and that’s very bad news for mankind (for some reason or other). Meanwhile, back at camp, the dead attack after rising from a local churchyard and Zovek and Linder spend the rest of the film on the run from these carnivorous ghouls…

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

Mexican Zombies wouid not conform to stereotyping…

This was obviously originally intended as a Mexican version of George A Romero’s landmark horror ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). Similarly, the undead insurgency is largely left unexplained (apart from that prophecy doo-dah!) and, instead of the usual, formulaic happy ending, things finish on a far more ambiguous note. Only something went badly wrong during filming, specifically the events of 10th March 1972.

Details are a little sketchy but what’s clear is that, when filming a sequence with the helicopter, Zovek plunged 200 feet to his death. There is a very brief and poorly executed scene late in the finished film where his character fights a zombie clinging onto the outside of the helicopter. It may have been this sequence that was being filmed at the time of the accident, as it looks highly likely that a double was used in the final version.

Left with a little over three-quarters of an hour’s worth of footage, Cardona Senior and Cardona Junior were in trouble. So they called on old friend and famous luchador Blue Demon. He was already a film veteran by then, with 17 pictures to his credit, three fighting alongside the legendary El Santo. New scenes were shot with the blue man and scattered throughout the film to bring it up to (barely) feature length at 78 minutes. And there was another new addition: aliens. Yes, taking inspiration from Edward D Wood Jr’s bad movie classic ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959), the dead have now been resurrected by extra-terrestrials, represented by a smoking globe thingy, conveniently sitting next to an electricity pylon. VoiceOver Man also lends his solemn tones to the proceedings; over a montage of space shots at the start of the film (the usual malarkey about millions of planets and the overwhelming likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the Solar System) and over sunsets at the end (the usual warning that Man must mend his ways or something vague but rather unpleasant may occur).

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

‘No jury in the world would convict me if I killed you right now.’

How do the new sequences fit with the old? They don’t. For a start, the lighting is completely different and Blue Demon only fights about half a dozen zombies, one of which looks more like a werewolf! At least Zovek tangles with a decent number of them, even if they have minimal makeup FX, and are just a couple of dozen extras wearing tatty clothes wandering about a bit with their arms outstretched. Mind you, a couple do drive cars and one of them briefly flies the helicopter, which is pretty impressive considering.

Of course, our two stars never appear together; their only interaction being Blue Demon failing to reach Zovek on the radio. And l am a bit confused about two other things. First off, what is Blue Demon’s job exactly? He has an office, some staff, and paperwork on UFO sightings. He also gets reports on disappearing corpses. I guess he was just working on ‘The X-Files’ long before Fox Mulder made the scene. But the far more important question is much harder to answer: why didn’t he put a choke hold on his idiotic ‘comedy’ sidekick? Or feed him to the zombies? I don’t think anyone would have minded. In fact, I think everyone would have been quite grateful.

Of course, this is a bad film. lt would be a surprise, given its origin and the talent involved, if it were anything else. But, just this once, we have to give it a pass. The fates were against it. Sure, no doubt it would have still been quite poor if it had been completed as intended and, yes, it would have been more respectful simply to abandon the project entirely. But this is the world of low-budget filmmaking, folks, and if Ed Wood could make a movie out of a couple of minutes of silent footage of Bela Lugosi, then Cardona and Son can’t be regarded too harshly for stitching together this effort.

Even though you can see the joins from several miles away.

Luana/Luana, The Female Tarzan/Luana Le Figlia Foresta Vergine (1968)

Luana (1968)‘George, don’t come any closer! I lost my clothes!’

Over twenty years after the disappearance of a scientist in an uncharted jungle region, his daughter mounts an expedition to investigate. The safari immediately runs into a series of strange misfortunes and its steps are dogged by a mysterious figure…

It’s a little surprising to find that the jungle movie was still thriving in Europe in the late 1960s. Even though the genre had its heyday in the 1930s, and its roots go back to the silent days, there was apparently still a market for this Italian-West Germany co-production. Perhaps the small screen success of Ron Ely’s ‘Tarzan’ show had something to do with it. Anyway, this example provided proof, if it were needed, that nothing had really changed since the days when Johnny Weismuller was swinging through the trees on an MGM sound stage and mucking about in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, 301 N. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, California, USA.

So are all the time-worn clichés present and correct? Pretty much. Kicking off the story is beautiful Evi Marandi, who has come to the dark continent to investigate the mysterious plane crash that apparently killed her father twenty years before. By all accounts, he’d been on the verge of some great scientific discovery or other. Accompanying her is the egghead’s old partner, who isn’t in favour of her harebrained scheme at all (nothing suspicious about him then!) Marandi entrusts her expedition to local guide Glenn Saxson who is still ruggedly handsome but has seen better days due to a close association with the bottle (no idea what’s going to happen when he and Marandi spend time together…not a clue…)

Luana (1968)

‘So, Cheetah, are you going to give me Ron Ely’s phone number or not…?’

So…lost expedition…sinister plane crash…the actors staring offscreen at various pieces of mismatched wild animal library footage…the local bearers desert as they always do (why even bother to hire them in the first place?)…a raging storm only blows some trees about and not others…and Saxson fights to the death with one of the villains by having an arm-wrestling contest with attendant scorpions.

Perhaps the oddest thing here is the role of our title character. To call Mei Chen Chalais a female Tarzan is pushing it more than a little bit. She’s so slight and petite that it looks like a stiff breeze could blow her away, and the idea that her mere appearance causes the local natives to run for the hills is pretty ridiculous. How has she survived on her own in the jungle for over 20 years? Search me.
To the film’s credit, at least it doesn’t look like she spends all her time at the local beauty parlour with all the other jungle girls of cinema, but she’s still pretty well turned out with a touch of eye makeup and lipstick, and her hair always hangs down in just the right way to cover her naked breasts. But the strangest thing is how little she does. Most of the time she just hides in the trees and watches the expedition, although she does intervene to pluck a big hairy spider off a sleeping Marandi just before it walks onto her naked back (for which the actress was undoubtedly grateful, if not the oblivious character).

Saxson once filled Franco Nero’s shoes as the iconic gunslinger in ‘Django Shoots First’ (1966) and also appeared as the suave super crook ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and in sequel ‘The Mark of Kriminal’ (1967). Marandi took a trip to the ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965) for director Mario Bava, starred in Eurpospy ‘From the Orient With Fury’ (1965) and went up against bargain basement superhero ‘Goldface, the Fantastic Superman’ (1967). Chalais only did half a dozen pictures, including fractured spy thriller ‘The Blonde from Peking’ (1967) with Hollywood legend Edward G. Robinson.

When the film received a belated U.S. release in 1972, writer Alan Dean Foster was hired to pen a novelisation for Ballantine Books. Unfortunately, the script was in Italian and Foster didn’t know the language. A screening of the film didn’t help either; there was no English dub at that point and no subtitles. So, Foster just made up a new story based on the U.S. poster. Whatever he came up with, it was probably more interesting than what was happening on the screen!

I don’t know if there are ‘Jungle Movie Completists’ out there, but, if so, then this one’s for you. No-one else need apply.

Slaughter Hotel/La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (1971)

Slaughter Hotel (1971)‘It’s just that your desire to make love is obsessive compulsive. Go and take a shower.’

A masked figure stalks the halls of a private hospital for wealthy young women with emotional problems. Making use of medieval weapons, he begins a killing spree by decapitating a nurse out in the grounds…

Softcore giallo from writer-director Fernando Di Leo, who was obviously far more interested in the former elements of his tale than the latter. The story takes place in an isolated, old manor house which is now home to Professor Osterman (John Karlsen), assistant Doctor Clay (Klaus Kinski), and their small team of orderlies and nurses. The clinic caters to patients with psychological problems, on condition that they are rich young women who look great with their clothes off.

But what a strange institution it is! Far be it from me to criticise the practices of a seasoned medical professional like Karlsen, but, for a start, he seems to have a slightly cavalier attitude towards health and safety. Rather unusually, one corridor boasts an actual real life iron maiden, this torture device being secured by a chain that looks inadequate to protect a tricycle. What’s it doing there? I have no idea. It is a creepy old house, I suppose. But I have to flag him for another minor code infraction because close by is an open display cabinet filled with medieval weapons! There’s a big sword, a dagger, a crossbow, a mace and a noose. The last item is a slight concern as the patients are allowed to roam freely and we’re told at least a couple of them have attempted suicide in the past.

Slaughter Hotel (1971)

The auditions for ‘Men In Black 4’ were not progressing as planned…

And then there’s the good Professor’s clinical practices. He doesn’t seem to have any. The only medical advice he offers throughout the entire film is to tell nymphomaniac Rosalba Neri to go take a shower! Predictably her issues are the only ones we find out anything about; all the other women have cheerfully vague problems, such as Margaret Lee’s overwrought nerves, and Gloria Desideri’s occasional homicidal urges.

Di Leo admitted than he did zero research into mental health issues or institutions before he penned his script, and it really shows. Because that’s not what we’re here for, is it? We’re here for naked babes in deadly peril! Both Lee and Neri are drop dead gorgeous and we see a lot of both of them; everything in Neri’s case, although a double may have been used for some shots. I’m certainly not complaining, but they get to do very little else, and it is frustrating to see two such talented actresses being exploited like this, although hopefully they understood the nature of the project when they signed on and were decently paid. We also get perky redhead Monica Strebel as a naughty nurse with a very ‘hands on’ approach to black patient Jane Garret (in her only film). They’re about to indulge in some distinctly unprofessional activity when they stop to dance to the radio in Garret’s room. For about five minutes. At this point, there’s not a lot of the movie left. Shouldn’t we be building up to some kind of a climax (pun intended)?

There are a few killings along the way in all this, of course, but there’s no creativity to the staging or execution and no real effort is made to bring the audience into the mystery. Two policeman turn up in the last quarter of an hour and, instead of waiting for the reinforcements that are on the way so the clinic can be thoroughly searched, they set Lee up as bait for the killer! She’s happy to agree to this ludicrous plan, probably because it finally gives her something to do and, considering she’s second billed in the cast, it’s about time. But even this is a seriously damp squib with the killer initially revealed to have a serious, legitimate motive, as in most giallos, but then just going on a demented rampage with the mace! Lucky, one of our lawmen has that gun with an inexhaustible supply of bullets, which is always handy in such situations.

Slaughter Hotel (1971)

The croquet match was about to get interesting…

Di Leo began his film career in westerns as an uncredited contributor to the script of Sergio Leone’s classic ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964). He was involved with several of the spaghetti westerns that followed, including ‘Django’ (1966), and he wrote ‘Navajo Joe’ (1966), an early vehicle for Burt Reynolds. His career as a director was somewhat less distinguished and, if this example of his work is anything to go by, that’s no surprise.

The plotting is lazy, the musical soundtrack distracting, and the cast get nothing to work with at all. Kinski just hangs around looking vaguely odd and suspicious (pretty much his default setting!) and a lot of the supporting cast seem flat and disinterested. Even the usually excellent Lee seems unable to drum up much enthusiasm for once (and no wonder!) Only Neri seems to be really giving it her best, but her role is barely two-dimensional, and she can’t have been under any illusions as to the reasons that she’d been cast.

It’s quite an achievement to waste such a beautiful and talented cast so completely, but Di Leo takes up that challenge and succeeds effortlessly. For fans of the leading ladies only.

Agent X-77 Orders To Kill/Baraka Sur X-13 (1966)

Agent X-77 Orders To Kill (1966)‘I was probing to assess his resistance capacity.’

Enemy agents attempt to steal a top scientist’s research and then assassinate him by sabotaging a commercial airliner. The plane crashes but the Professor survives, and various espionage operatives clash in their efforts to acquire his secrets, including French Secret Service man Agent X-77…

Rather dreary, run of the mill Eurospy shenanigans, with the only noticeable twist being the involvement of a French film company in its production, along with the inevitable collaboration of Italian and Spanish studios. The Gallic influence means this week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is actor Gérard Barry, who demonstrates the necessary charm and the usual ability to shot someone dead from a great distance without aiming his gun properly. Having said that, there is an effort to ground his adventures in a more realistic way that many of his contemporaries, although the lack of big sets, stunt work, gadgets and set pieces may have been as much to do with budget limitations as anything else.

The lack of production resource is pretty obvious from our opening sequence. The plane disaster is rendered through the tremendously convincing medium of two characters hearing a distant explosion and when Barry, posing as an accident investigator, visits the crash site all we see is the disordered interior of the passenger cabin and a few extras playing dead. Much of the subsequent action is centred on the hospital where the Professor is admitted and a series of less than stellar plot developments that seem merely designed to pad the run time to feature length.

These include the introduction of our faceless villains, their tacked-on plan to blow up a factory that’s supposed to be producing the Professor’s invention (whatever it is!), and Barry’s romance of sassy nurse Sylva Koscina, who falls for him after just one date at a restaurant cum-nightclub that bares an unfortunate resemblance to a poorly dressed film set. He also spends a good deal of time driving around in his little red car, constantly accompanied by a jangly zither on the soundtrack. Now that musical accompaniment worked magnificently in ‘The Third Man’ (1949) but here it’s just annoying. Extremely annoying. Especially when it plays over lengthy shots of tape reels spinning on the kind of computer that used to take six hours to add two and two.

Barry’s performance is from the Sean Connery school of Bond. He may smile and romance the ladies a little, but he’s all business really and is pleasingly cold blooded on a couple of occasions, particularly when he gasses a fellow agent who has switched sides for love. But action is at a serious premium here, with just a few bouts of unconvincing fisticuffs, a bit of gun play, some decent stunt driving and a couple of explosions. The plot is cheerfully vague throughout and simply disintegrates into some running about and the attempts of various agents to kill each other. Exactly what the Professor has invented is never really made clear. If it is some kind of amazing, brand new rocket fuel, then how come this anonymous factory outside Trieste is already making it? The script simply doesn’t bother with such trivial exposition.

Agent X-77 Orders To Kill (1966)

The audience were less than thrilled with the in-flight movie…

Directing duties here were appropriately split between Italian Silvio Siano and Frenchman Maurice Cloche, who it could be argued made a loose Eurospy trilogy with ‘Agent FX18’ (1964) starring Ken Clark and ‘Le Vicomte Regie Jes Comptes’ (1967) with former ‘Sinbad’, Kerwin Matthews.

Barry was a hero of French adventure films at the time, and later had a major role in ‘Open Your Eyes’ (1997), which was remade (poorly) in the U.S. as ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001) with Tom Cruise. Koscina is best remembered as Steve Reeves’ better half in cheesy Italian muscleman epics ‘Hercules’ (1957) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959) but had a significant career in more respectable cinema, appearing in Georges Franju’s ‘Judex’ (1963) and ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ (1965) for Ferderico Fellini. Also in the cast is Gérard Tichy, who was the title villain in ‘Superargo Vs. Diabolicus’ (1966) but also appeared in big budget productions like ‘Dr Zhivago’ (1965) and ‘King of Kings’ (1961), as well as Mario Bava’s impressive horror ‘Hatchet For The Honeymoon’ (1970).

There were certainly worse pretenders to 007 crown, but that market was seriously oversaturated by the mid-1960s and, without any remarkable elements, it’s inevitable that this example simply got lost in the shuffle.

The Oubliette (1914)

The Oubliette (1914)‘Sirrah, lead me to whence come these lamentations.’

A poet sets out to walk to Paris along with a friend, but blows all their money on the way to help out an elderly couple who are being evicted from their home. To restore their fortunes, the duo rob two monks on the road, but are arrested soon afterwards in a local tavern.

This was the third 30 minute silent picture following the adventures of real-life 15th Century French poet François Villon. Although historical details are understandably a little sketchy, Villon seems to have been a habitual criminal, and was actually condemned to death in 1463 after getting into a street fight whilst on bail for another offence. He had already published his most famous poetical work by then (‘Le Testament’ in 1461), and whether this helped his case or not, his sentence was commuted to banishment after which he vanishes from the pages of history. Still, he does seem a somewhat dubious figure to cast as a hero in a series of pictures, although I guess the passage of time has probably leant a romantic slant to his exploits, even if he was convicted of killing a priest in 1455 (being pardoned later on by the King!)

The film opens with Villon (Murdock McQuarrie) taking an exuberant leave of his friends to hit the road with brilliantly named sidekick Colin (Chester Whitney). Unfortunately, exuberant is probably the kindest way to describe McQuarrie’s acting technique which resembles someone guiding a plane down onto an airport runway. After smoking crack. He calms down enough to bail out the old man and his wife who are being thrown out on the street, but then assaults a pair of holy men and their donkey, assisted by the redundant Colin. If this seems a strange occurrence to appear in a film of this vintage then this was before the Production Code really got started (censorship in other words) and it’s fair to say that monks in the middle ages were more concerned with gaining a stranglehold on the local economy and levying heavy taxes, rather than bothering themselves with anything as unproductive as matters of a spiritual nature.

Later on, our caped crusaders get pinched by the rozzers but our leading man escapes, leaving Colin to his fate on the gallows (Villon is such a hero, isn’t he?!) But he does intervene on behalf of heroine Pauline Bush (I guess she’s prettier than Colin). She’s been kidnapped on the road by a dastardly villain whose plans for her probably include something other than a candlelit dinner for two and an evening watching Netflix. And this is why the film is of interest to us now (bet you were wondering, weren’t you?!) You see, this damn bounder is played by none other than silent screen legend Lon Chaney in one of his earliest surviving films. His screen time is disappointingly brief, and director Charles Giblyn obviously didn’t believe in close ups so we can’t really judge if he’d done anything special with his makeup for the role either. However, we do see him fight with a sword and fall from a first floor balcony onto a table, a stunt which he carried out himself. Although it’s not one of the most daring you’ll ever see, given the era and the likely absence of any health and safety procedures, it was probably quite dangerous.

The Oubliette (1914)

Devo were pleased with the results of their latest video shoot.

A print of this film was only discovered in 1983 (by a couple rebuilding their porch!), giving hope that other Chaney lost films might be rediscovered, in particular ‘London After Midnight’ (1927), the last copy of which was supposedly destroyed in the great MGM studio fire of 1967. Unfortunately, this picture is no showcase for his great talent, being a stilted, rather dull melodrama, not assisted by the performance of our leading man or any notable talent behind the camera.

Director Giblyn delivered over 100 silent pictures from the canvas seat, but immediately returned to the acting profession when sound pictures arrived in the late 1920s. A string of unbilled character parts followed in films like ‘The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu’ (1929), ‘The Bad Sister’ (1931) (with Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis in early roles) and ‘Sons of the Desert’ (1933) with Laurel & Hardy. Leading lady Bush played in an unbelievable 248 pictures from 1910 to 1917, although you’ve probably already guessed that nearly all of them were shorts, rather than features.

This is one for Chaney completists only. Oh, and if you were wondering what on earth an ‘Oubliette’ is, then wonder no more. lt’s a dungeon only accessible by a trapdoor in the ceiling. Presumably this relates to the cell where McQuarrie is imprisoned toward the end of the picture. Which he leaves through a hole in the wall.