Toomorrow (1970)

Toomorrow (1970)‘Hey, any of you cats mind a groove?’

A young student band scores a prestige gig at a pop music festival. It looks like their big break, but alien race the Alphoids also dig their fresh new sound, believing its tonal harmonics have the power to save their ailing civilisation…

Would be hep science fiction-comedy-musical from producers Don Kirshner and Harry Saltzman. Kirshner had been the main musical force behind the early success of ‘The Monkees’ but, when the band tried to exercise more creative control over their music (actually playing on their own records, for instance), the producer found himself looking for another job. But, not to worry, having turned the trick once, he could do so again, right? No problem. Except there was. Heaps of them.

Four students at the London College of Arts have formed a band. There’s Benny Thomas (Guitar and Vocals), Vic Cooper (Keyboards and Vocals), Karl Chambers (Drums) and a 22-year old fresh-faced, English-born Aussie singer called Olivia Newton-John (yes, folks, we all have to start somewhere). Cooper has invented a ‘tonaliser’, an electronic box of tricks which sounds like a synthesiser. Their impromptu jam sessions have pissed off the squares at the college (there’s a go-nowhere subplot about student activism) but have tickled the musical bones of blue-skinned hairless humanoids, the Alphoids.

Toomorrow (1970)

‘I know starring in a film as a roller-skating Greek muse probably sounds like a good idea, but you might want to give it a little more thought…’

What follows is supposed to be an ‘anything goes’ madcap adventure in the vein of something like ‘Help!’ (1965), but it just comes over as hopelessly contrived. Apparently, Kirshner wanted something more ‘grown up’ and rock-influenced than ‘The Monkees’ and there’s a far more conventional vibe here, with even a half-hearted nod to the sexual revolution provided by blonde bombshell Margaret Nolan, who went on to be a regular in the ‘Carry On’ series.

Unfortunately, the story has no depth, and the ‘wacky’ comedy hits a high point when the band change clothes in their car on the way to the gig. This sequence features some dreadful back projection and a vehicle painted with little flowers. More tellingly, Cooper’s ‘Tonaliser’ can’t disguise the fact that the band’s songs are sweet, sugary pop of the blandest kind. Some of the visuals on the alien spacecraft are appropriately psychedelic, but the SFX are very much of their time and don’t hold up very well today. There’s also a curious, throwaway subplot about Thomas fooling around with his sexy music teacher Tracey Crisp. They were both in their mid-20’s at the time of filming (although he looks older), so it’s not super creepy, but there is a scene where she refuses to help him break into the school building because she doesn’t want to lose her job. Whereas having it off with one of her students is obviously perfectly ok!

Surprisingly, the director here was Val Guest, a respected, veteran British filmmaker, who made the first two ‘Quatermass’ film adaptations for Hammer Studios, as well as ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (1957), ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ (1961) and ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ (1970). He has many other credits in the world of more mainstream cinema as well, but his presence here would put the icing of the cake of what turned out to be a very troubled production indeed.

The first problem was with producers Kirshner and Saltzman (famous for his work on the ‘James Bond’ franchise). Apparently, to say they did not get on is an understatement. Saltzman hired Guest to rewrite original scribe David Benedictus’ script without telling the author and neglected to tell Guest that he not done so. Kirshner left the project at some point and production dragged on for an unbelievable two years (while the finished film looks like it was knocked out in a few weeks). All the principals was on contract for the duration, and when it came time for everyone to get paid… surprise!… there wasn’t any money.

Toomorrow (1970)

‘Blimey! This is harder to understand than the end of that Tim Burton movie…’

After the film’s premiere, Guest filed an injunction demanding his salary, and the picture was pulled from the one London cinema where it was playing. Although it’s hard to imagine the film would have been a hit anyway, the legal machinations finished it off for good and original plans for another two features were shelved. The injunction remained in effect until Kirshner’s death in 2011.

So are there any positives to be taken from the final product? Well, the alien’s appearance and makeup is quite striking and veteran British TV star Roy Marsden is probably quite grateful that he’s unrecognisable underneath it. Not so actor Roy Dotrice who plays the Alphoid observer on Earth, but the moment he takes off his human mask and hangs it up is surprisingly creepy. With the exception of Newton-John, none of her bandmates went onto stardom, although Cooper toured the world as part of Tom Jones’ band in the 1970s, Thomas appeared on an episode of ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ and Chambers drummed for Gladys Knight and the Pips. Apparently, Newton-John found the experience of making this film so unpleasant that she needed serious persuasion to take the role of Sandy in ‘Grease’ (1978), which became a global phenomenon.

Overall, this is bland, anodyne entertainment that serves as a useful relic of its era and another example (as if one were needed) of why middle-aged men should never try to ‘get down with the kids.’ Oh, and the poster art is truly hideous.

 

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Death Laid An Egg/La Morte Ha Fatto L’Uovo (1968)

Death Laid An Egg (1968)‘Now we want to try to conceptualise the chicken as the principal actor in the drama of modern life.’

A couple who run a state of the art chicken farm are unhappily married and both obsessed with her pretty blonde cousin. The arrival of a handsome publicity agent proves to be the catalyst that prompts intrigue, plans and betrayals that lead to murder…

Curious early Giallo picture from director and co-writer Giulio Questi, which tends to polarise audience opinion. The story itself is not too unusual; from the moment we learn that wife Gina Lollobrigida is the one with the money and husband Jean-Louis Trintignant is without, then we know we’re on familiar territory. Add live-in cute cousin Ewa Aulin and handsome suit Jean Sobieski to the mix, and it’s obvious there’s some plotting, double crosses to come and murder in the wind. The relationship dynamics of the quartet shift as often as their suspicions of each other and the story is quite well developed. There’s a couple of clever twists along the way too, even if the final wrap-up is a bit of a non-event.

What set this one apart is the way Questi handles the material. For a start, there’s his directorial style. He frequently favours extreme close-ups of the actor’s faces, which can be more than a little distracting and can over-exaggerate the performances of his cast. At tines, there’s some truly manic editing too; an early sequence of Trintignant driving is cut together with roadside publicity hoardings at such a rate as to almost qualify as subliminal advertising. It’s hard to see what Questi was going for here, unless he was attempting to show Trintignant’s fracturing psyche but, if that was the case, there are subtler ways to get that across.

There’s also a definite undercurrent of sleaze to these proceedings. Trintignant is regularly consorting with prostitutes, despite his declared love for Aulin, and these secret visits always involve his trusty blade. When Lollobrigida finds out about his infidelities, the two women talk it over. Their solution? To visit some downtown bars so they can learn to ‘dress like whores’ with Aulin insisting on choosing Lollobrigida’s underwear for her afterwards. It’s more like two teenage girls playing dress up than a serious response to a marital crisis. Additionally, a lot of the action is accompanied by Bruno Maderna’s avant-garde soundtrack. This is not music so much as an exercise in dissonance, an experimental cacophony that distracts from the story rather than serving it.

Death Laid An Egg (1968)

‘I feel like chicken tonight…’

But all that really takes second place to something that sits front and centre throughout the movie. And what is that something? Well… it’s chickens. Lots and lots of chickens. lf it’s not endless shots of the birds pecking seed in their cages at the farm, then it’s a visual reference to eggs of some kind. In almost every scene.

There are also several sub-plots about the fowl creatures that go absolutely nowhere; Sobieski presents Trintignant with some publicity drawings of chickens dressed as men for a new ad campaign, the farm’s former workers gather silently outside the new automated facility and allegedly commit vandalism on the premises. We also have mad scientist Renato Romano conducting some vague experiments with radiation. These lead to the birth of quick-growing birds with no heads or wings, which a disgusted Trintignant destroys in a fairly unpleasant scene. What has any of this to do with the main plot? Not a lot, as far as I could make out.

Death Laid An Egg (1968)

‘There’s nobody here but us chickens…’

Furthermore your enjoyment of the film may well be affected by how you feel about animal welfare. Although there are no specific scenes of cruelty, this is still a long, long way from free-range chicken farming and the sight of the birds cooped in their small cages may be upsetting for some. And its also probably best not to dwell on what happens to Lollobrigida’s dog.

Is the adoption of these ruthless methods of egg production supposed to reflect the greed and moral vacuum shared by our main protagonists? Was Questi’s intention to highlight issues of animal cruelty in modern agricultural processes? Does the brief musical fanfare that accompanies the closing credit card confirm that it was all meant to be a black comedy anyway? Not a clue.

Questi only had a short career behind the camera, his most notable other picture being ‘Django Kill!’ (1967) from the popular series of Westerns. Aulin starred as ‘Candy’ (1968) opposite Marlon Brando and had already appeared with Trintignant in ‘I Am What I Am’ (1967) another rather unusual stab at a Giallo film. She quit the business at the tender age of 23 and has kept out of the spotlight since. Lollobrigida, still looking fabulous in her forties, was coming to the end of a long career that included starring roles opposite David Niven, James Mason, Alec Guinness. Bob Hope, Rock Hudson, Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart.

Unusual, one-off thriller that’s baffling and irritating in equal measure, but maybe worth a watch for curiosity value alone.

 

African Treasure/Bomba and The African Treasure (1952)

African Treasure (1952)‘Talking drums? S.O.S? Jungle boys? You really expect me to swallow that eyewash?’

A deputy commissioner stationed in the jungle is pleasantly surprised to receive an unexpected visit from a white hunter, although the man’s lack of porters and supplies are somewhat curious. Meanwhile, a young woman searches for her father after he fails to return from a trip to the interior with two other white men. Looks like a case for Bomba, the Jungle Boy!

Yes, we’re back with Johnny Sheffield as he navigates his way around cheap studio sets and the Los Angeles County Arborteum and Botanical Garden, dodging villainous white men and scratchy stock footage. This was the 7th in the series, written and directed by movie serial veteran Ford Beebe and produced by Walter Mirisch. And, in case you hadn’t guessed, it’s business as usual for our young Tarzan wannabee and various other employees of the Monogram Studios.

Local official Deputy Barnes (Leonard Mudie) finds his attempt to enjoy a quiet breakfast scuppered by a naughty little monkey, who steals his napkin and trashes his table. If that’s not enough, it’s great white hunter Pat Gilroy (Lyle Talbot) suddenly arriving by canoe. Mudie is initially happy for the company, but is less keen when he reads the mail and finds out that his new house guest is actually escaped criminal Roy DeHaven. Rather helpfully, he’s wearing exactly the same clothing as in the ‘wanted’ poster, which aids his identification no end. But this villain’s a sharp cookie, and soon the two of them are heading into the jungle with Mudie at the point of a gun.

African Treasure (1952)

‘It’s ok Bomba, it’s only my hairdresser.’

Elsewhere, pretty young Laurette Luez is out for a stroll in the jungle with just one native guide, a sun dress and well-applied lipstick for company. She’s moves like she’d be more at home at Saks Fifth Avenue than in the untamed wilderness, but at least she brings some personality to her severely underwritten role.

Her father (Martin Garralaga) hasn’t returned after acting as guide to Arthur Space and Lane Bradford, which isn’t much of a surprise when we learn that Talbot is their boss. We never find out how, but they’ve discovered diamonds in some blue-clayey rock in Bronson Canyon, Griffith Park, Los Angeles – sorry, deep in the jungle – and they are forcing Garralaga and a team of kidnapped locals to work the claim.

There aren’t many points of interest in these proceedings, if any. Sheffield does get funky on the jungle drums, before switching to bongos later on (perhaps he was a prototype beatnik?) Then he gets mauled by a lion, but the application of a few, well-chosen leaves and he’s good to go. There isn’t as much mismatched library footage of African wildlife as you might expect, but there’s plenty of re-used shots from earlier in the series. Despite being the alleged mastermind of the criminal gang, Talbot doesn’t even arrive in time for the ‘big’ climax, and Sheffield  is saddled with Kimbbo the Chimp, an obvious attempt to priovide comic relief. Unfortunately, this ape ain’t no Cheetah and even lacks the comedy stylings of ‘Tamba, the Talented Chimp’ from Weismuller’s ‘Jungle Jim’ series.

African Treasure (1952)

‘I hope you’ve remembered the pooper scooper, dear.’

Mudie appeared as Barnes in all of the films after his introduction in ‘Elephant Stampede’ (1951), and usually gave the best performance. Luez appeared in classic Noir ‘DOA’ (1949), and top-lined strange cave girl ‘comedy’ ‘Prehistoric Women’ (1950). Talbot appeared in hundreds of ‘B’ movies over more than 50 years but is only really remembered for his fateful decision to take part in ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959).

Appearing uncredited as the mailman is the imposing Woody Strode (his second appearance in the series!) who got his big break in ‘Pork Chop Hill’ (1959) with Gregory Peck and went onto work with directors John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Raimi and John ‘Bud’ Cardos.

A very uneventful trip into the jungle that starts slowly, rounds up all the usual clichés and crawls to a spectacularly lacklustre climax.

Air Hawks (1935)

Air Hawks (1935)‘R is for Rabbit whose ears are quite long…’

A small independent aviation outfit takes on a well-established corporate airline in a contest to win a valuable mail contract. Unfortunately, the big boys decide to play dirty and employ the services of a brilliant but unscrupulous scientist whose latest invention is a ray that can knock planes out of the sky…

Plucky war veteran Ralph Bellamy goes toe-to-toe against the world of big business, armed with little more than his ingenuity, a stout heart and a team of his old air force buddies. Running a small airline is a risky venture, but he’s managed to build up quite a successful company, and he’s ready to step up to the next level. Unfortunately, he needs capital and bank manager Wyrley Birch thinks he should sell out to well-established rival Robert Middlemass. But Bellamy refuses and the fight for the valuable contract is on. Then Bellamy’s small fleet start to light up like roman candles on the 4th of July…

In times of the Great Depression, the notion of the little man ‘making good against all odds’ was all the rage in Hollywood. Understandably, it was what the public wanted to see, and tying that to the hot topic of aviation was pretty much a no-brainer. The way this picture differs from others of its kind is in the introduction of the fantastical element of a ‘death ray’. This was already a staple of early movie serials (as was the master villain with the secret identity, which we also get here) but, for the most part, these elements are presented here in a very matter of fact way by director Alfred S Rogell.

Air Hawks (1935)

‘…and this is how we will expose the vampire…’

The one exception to this more ‘grounded’ approach (sorry, I couldn’t resist) is an early scene where crooked casino owner Douglas Dumbrille introduces Middlemass to our renegade genius in his ‘Frankenstein’ lab beneath an abandoned lodge house. Rather brilliantly, he turns out to be played by Universal veteran character actor Edward Van Sloan, who staked Bela Lugosi in ‘Dracula’ (1931) and was one of Karloff’s first victims in the above referenced ‘Frankenstein’ (1931). Unfortunately, this film gives him very little to do.

Instead, it’s a predictable mixture of half-baked thrills and romance. Bellamy divides his screen time between singer Taia Birell (little realising that her boss Dumbrille is tied up with Middlemiss) and dealing with the consequences of the accidents that start to plague his airline. One of these involves flyer Pat Flaherty, whose fate is sealed not so much by Van Sloan’s death ray as the fact that early on we are introduced to his young wife and precocious little daughter. Other events also develop on entirely predictable lines, but it’s an efficient production and delivered at a brisk, even pace. However, some of the plane crashes do look very much like actual accident footage, something that would leave a bad taste in the mouth if included in a film today.

But probably the most remarkable aspect of the film today is the brief appearance of real life aviator Wiley Post, who plays himself and is third-billed. He was certainly no actor, but he was one of the most famous flyers of his day, breaking altitude, endurance and world speed records, as well as being partially responsible for the invention of the first high-altitude pressure suit. His achievements were all the more remarkable as he had no depth perception, having lost an eye in an oilfield accident before he became a pilot. Unfortunately, Post was no aeronautical engineer and his decision to modify his personal ride by adding wings and components from other planes proved a tragic mistake. Whilst on holiday in Alaska with humourist and film star Will Rogers, the two died instantly when Post’s nose-heavy plane crashed on take-off from a small lake. It was less than 2 months after this film debuted in movie houses.

Air Hawks (1935)

‘I said I wanted the extra sprinkles, you idiot…’

Of course, Bellamy went onto a very long career in the movies, but the same cannot be said of the other principals involved. Birell had been brought over from Romania as another ‘new Garbo’ but faded quickly into obscurity, despite a seemingly good command of English and a decent performance here. Director Rogell’s subsequent career included such unforgettable vehicles as ‘Butch Minds The Baby’ (1942), ‘Hats Off To Rhythm’ (1946) and ‘Northwest Stampede’ (1948).

It’s always good to see Van Sloan (even briefly), and this is a solid enough effort. But it offers nothing new and is stubbornly unremarkable.

Journey Beneath The Desert/L’Atlantide/Antinea, l’amonte Della Citta Sepolta (1961)

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)‘Yes, you love me…you filthy beast!’

A commercial helicopter flying over the desert is warned off when they fly too near to an atomic testing ground that is preparing a detonation. The weather turns bad, forcing the crew to land. After saving the life of a wandering tribesman, they are kidnapped and taken to the fabulous lost kingdom of Atlantis…

If you count GW Pabst’s multi-language versions from 1932 as just the one film, then this is the fourth screen adaptation of Pierre Benoit’s unbearably stodgy 1919 novel about the lost kingdom of Atlantis turning up in the Sahara Desert. Some effort was made to update this undeniably old-fashioned adventure for a contemporary audience; the nuclear threat, the machine guns, helicopter and radio equipment, etc. but the main events of the story remained unchanged and, at times, the developments are just as painfully melodramatic as in the earlier versions of the tale.

Caught in a storm and forced down on a dangerous ledge, pilot John (Georges Riviere), mining engineer Robert (James Westmoreland) and the intense Pierre (Jean-Louis Trintignant) save drowning tribesman Tamal (Amedeo Nazarri) from raging flood waters. What they don’t know is that he’s the regent/head man of what remains of Atlantis and isn’t best pleased when Westmoreland finds a valuable metal in the rocks of their cave. One quick fist fight later and our three musketeers are banged up in the lost kingdom and seemingly at the mercy of the beautiful Queen Antinea (Haya Harareet).

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)

Dress down Fridays were quite informal…

Atlantis is all flowing robes, flaming torches and ritualistic snake dancing, of course, and it’s not long before Westmoreland and Harareet are declaring their undying passion on various soft furnishings and Nazarri is getting hot under the collar about it.

Complications arise when Riviére breaks jail and this development drives a wedge between our two love birds, with Westmoreland ending up as one of the slaves in the underground mine. (l assume they are mining for the metal he discovered earlier, but it’s never specified, and what they use it for is anybody’s guess). Other romantic tomfoolery involves Trintignant and slave girl Zinah (Giulia Rubini) who seemingly falls in love with him just because he tells her she has a nice name. Must have been something in the desert air!

This take on the story does have some interesting aspects; it’s strongly suggested that the occupants of the city are not the direct descendants of Atlantis at all, but a nomadic tribe who have resurrected the old civilisation and its culture in the ruins. More significantly, that Antinea is a young woman who has been groomed by Nazarri as a goddess; a role she no longer wants. But there are problems with that conceit.

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)

The auditions for ‘Atlantis Got Talent’ were quite brutal…

When one of our three musketeers is killed by palace guard captain Gian Maria Volonte, she has the body embalmed in gold and enshrined in a temple filled with lots of other corpses. In the book (and previous films), this is the tomb of the immortal queen’s discarded lovers. If that’s the case here, then all I can say it’s that, given her age, she’s been a very busy girl! Actually, the script never gets a proper handle on her character at all; her motivations and actions making very little sense from scene to scene.

This does have the look of a troubled production. Scenes in the underground caverns are mounted on quite a large scale, particular with the inevitable slave rebellion inspired by Westmoreland’s arrival. Extras throw spears and fire machine guns, guards leap off high things and dynamite goes boom when required. But if this seems expensive, then some of the matte paintings and the model helicopter certainly do not.

In addition, the film’s final act seems hopelessly rushed, so much so that the impression is that some scenes are missing or were simply never filmed. Trintingant’s obsession with Harareet arrives very suddenly and is never properly developed, so that his (off screen) actions at the climax are baffling and have no credibility whatsoever. The fact that he suddenly becomes the film’s hero at this point as well is almost laughable. Although he does discover that radioactive fallout respects a ‘safety perimeter’ so there is that.

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)

‘Ok, which one of you had baked beans for tea?’

Perhaps this sense of an unfinished project is down to the change of director in mid-production. Frank Borzage was a Hollywood veteran with a number of notable films under his belt, such as ‘Liliom’ (1930), ‘A Farewell To Arms’ (1932) and ‘History ls Made At Night’ (1937). Unfortunately, he fell seriously ill during filming and had to step aside.

His replacement was Edgar G Ulmer, a filmmaker who now has the far better reputation, thanks to a number of notable low-budget cult triumphs: ‘Bluebeard’ (1944) with John Carradine, Noir drama ‘Detour’ (1945) and spooky alien invasion drama ‘The Man From Planet X’ (1950). He also directed the Karloff-Lugosi classic ‘The Black Cat’ (1934) before a love affair with the wife of a close relative of the studio head derailed his career at Universal.

lf the melodramatic source material seems a strange fit for the early 1960s, then the fact that George Pal’s big budget Hollywood production ‘Atlantis, The Lost Continent’ (1961) debuted on most European screens on almost the same day might go some way to explain its existence. However, this film did not reach the UK until 1964 and did not debut in the US until three years after that, which is a pretty good indicator of its quality.

A strangely disjointed experience which has possibilities but suffers from a muddled script and poor execution in general.

The Lion Hunters/Bomba and The Lion Hunters (1951)

The Lion Hunters (1951)‘It has been many moons since their friend Bomba has visited their village.’

After finding a lion dying of its wounds, Bomba the Jungle Boy tracks the culprit to a white man’s safari. The expedition has government permits to capture lions and sell them to zoos, but their lead hunter’s overenthusiastic approach threatens the entire undertaking and the lives of the whole group…

Johnny Sheffield almost never made it out of the jungle during his 16-year film career. Being chosen by Johnny Weismuller to be ‘Boy’ to the big man’s ‘Tarzan’ must have seemed like a huge break at the time, but so closely associated with the role did he become that when he was let go by RKO after ‘Tarzan and The Huntress’ (1947), his only subsequent big screen outings were 12 appearances as ‘Bomba, the Jungle Boy’. This low-budget series from the cut-price Monogram Studios was produced by Walter Mirisch and (almost entirely) written and directed by movie serial veteran Ford Beebe.

ln this fifth episode in the series, it’s business as usual for Sheffield, as he spends about 70 minutes wandering around some desperately unconvincing studio sets and the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens. Early scenes find him playing with a young lion cub, but he doesn’t get too close to Mama (mainly because she’s appearing courtesy of a local, reasonable priced film library). There’s useless (and unnecessary) rear projection, a comedy chimpanzee and a pretty face to rescue in the form of Ann Todd. Her father (Morris Ankrum) has financed the safari in question, but he’s unable to stand up to hunter Marty Martin (Douglas Kennedy), whose ‘bring ’em back alive’ attitude is causing trouble in paradise.

This is a formulaic, predictable, bottom of the bill programmer that displays almost zero creativity and imagination. It’s professionally made, given the budgetary constraints, and Sheffield seems a little more engaged than in some episodes of the series. This could be because he has more dialogue, which includes his firest use of Weismuller’s trademark ‘Umgawa’; essential vocab when having a chat with the wildlife of the dark continent. It’s nice to think this was Sheffield’s affectionate tribute to his former mentor, rather than just Beebe’s lazy scriptwriting. To the film’s credit, the native characters (although side-lined) are treated with some respect, although l strongly suspect that their ‘language’ was made up on the spot.

The Lion Hunters (1951)

‘Well, mark my words, this is the last time I’m doing this kind of movie…’

Ankrum is a cult movie staple; taking supporting roles in an impressive number of projects: ‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers’ (1956), ‘The Giant Claw’ (1957), ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), ‘Flight To Mars’ (1951), ‘Half Human’ (1958), ‘The Zombies of Mora-Tau’ (1957), ‘Curse of the Faceless Man’ (1958), ‘How To Make A Monster’ (1958), ‘Invaders From Mars’ (1953), ‘Kronos’ (1957), ‘The Beginning of the End’ (1957) and many others.

This was Todd’s last film after an indifferent career, but she got the last laugh, making over 100 appearances on popular TV sitcom ‘Trouble with Father’ before quitting the business and taking up teaching musical history. Also appearing here is a young Woody Strode (billed as ‘Woodrow’), the first time his name appears anywhere in a film’s credits. His impressive presence and physique graced four films by director John Ford, including in the title role of ‘Sergeant Rutledge’ (1960), the same year he squared off in the arena against Kirk Douglas’ ‘Spartacus’ (1960) for director Stanley Kubrick.

Anonymous time filler with no real points of interest whatsoever.

Mistress Of The World/Herrin Der Welt/Les Mystéres D’Angkor (1960)

Mistress Of The World (1960)‘He was an inscrutable oriental and she is the prettiest little mathematician you ever saw.’

A Swedish scientist is carrying out advanced experiments using a new, untapped energy source, but intelligence agencies are concerned about the loyalties of his assistant. Shortly after a test ends in disaster, the pair disappear and a top agent is assigned to track them down…

Multi-national science fiction thriller that’s a surprising precursor to the Eurospy craze of the 1960s and the adventures of a certain agent 007. This story setup was to become very familiar over the following decade. Yes, there’s a brilliant boffin (elderly Gino Cervi) and guess what? He’s invented a super weapon that ‘must not fall into the wrong hands’. The fact that he gets kidnapped, along with assistant Lin-Chor (Sabu), is about as surprising as the fact that he also has a beautiful daughter (American actress Martha Hyer).

Cervi’s fallen into the hands of Mrs Latour (Micheline Presly – beautiful but deadly), who will sell his (cheerfully vague) invention to the highest bidder with the help of the traitorous Dr Brandes (Wolfgang Priess – a bit of a whiner if I’m honest). Top agent Peter Lundstrom (Carlos Thompson – all business, but a bit suave with it) is assigned to get him back and guarantee the safety of the free world. He is helped by a veritable army of international espionage operatives, though, which makes a nice change from the future being placed in the hands of one maverick agent!

Mistress Of The World (1960)

‘We were looking for my  lost contact lens. Honestly.’ 

From then on, it’s the itinerary of glamorous cities, exotic locations, some tepid gun play and a couple of car chases which end with one vehicle taking a predictable header off a convenient cliffside. But, of course, all this is happening before Connery’s ‘Bond’ arrived in ‘Dr No’ (1962) and the formula became so overworked and commonplace. But, if all these elements sound very familiar, the way they are handled by veteran director William Dieterle does not anticipate the template that the success of Bond created.

Instead, this is a very grounded tale, with more of a ‘cold war thriller’ type vibe than anything else. Even the climactic scenes at the Buddhist temple in the jungle are dealt with in a very matter of fact and realistic way, without any outlandish flourishes or touches of humour. This visually striking location actually makes for the most impressive element of the film but its impressive architecture, and the resident monks, are merely a backdrop for the climactic action, rather than fully integrated with it.

Perhaps in order to heighten this more realistic approach, we are treated to a significant (and completely unnecessary) contribution from our old friend, Voiceover Man. He can barely shut up in the film’s early stages, even speaking over characters exchanging dialogue! ls it really vital for the audience to know the names and nationalities of all the 20 or so security chiefs attending the conference about the missing men? Sure, a couple of them do have a part to play later on, but most of them we never see again. He even tells us who sends the car to meet Thompson and Hyer at the airport when they arrive in Nice, what hotel they are booking into and under what names they are registering. Things that could have been shown if the audience really needed to know about them (which they don’t).

And that’s the major flaw of this French-Italian-West German co-production. It makes such an effort to present a serious and realistic thriller that all the life is sucked out of it. Things do pick up in the last 20 minutes or so when Thompson and Hyer are stranded in the jungle on the way to the temple; facing lethal snakes and quicksand, but it’s far too little too later in a film that lasts two hours. The script was co-authored by Jo Eisinger, whose best-known credits are for the Film Noir classics ‘Gilda’ (1946) and ‘Night and The City’ (1950), but there’s little of the drive of those projects evident in his work here.

Mistress Of The World (1960)

‘I thought it was the pretty girl who always did the snake dance…’

Hyer was Oscar nominated around the time this film was in production; getting the nod for her supporting role in Vincente Minnelli’s ‘Some Came Running’ (1959). Unfortunately, it was not a springboard to leading lady status and she remained as a second string in subsequent Hollywood productions. Presly’s film career has lasted for more than three quarters of a century; from her first part in 1937 to a role in Sophie Marceau rom-com ‘The Missionaries’ (2014) when she was in her nineties.

But the most interesting name here is director Dieterle, who began as an actor in his native Germany in the silent era, even appearing in a major supporting role in F W Murnau’s expressionist classic ‘Faust’ (1926). By then he had started directing, and it was in this capacity that he hit pay dirt with his very first Hollywood project ‘The Last Flight’ (1931). With no desire to return home due to the rise of nationalism and the Nazi party, he went to work in earnest, delivering another 20 films by 1935, including projects with Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and many other marquee names of the era. He was Oscar nominated for ‘The Life of Emile Zola’ (1938) and was behind the megaphone for classics like ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1939) with Charles Laughton and ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’ (1941). Unfortunately, in the paranoia of 1950’s Hollywood, his old film ‘Blockade’ (1938) was regarded as ‘suspect’ and, although he was never officially blacklisted as a communist sympathiser, no-one would offer him work and the State Department made it difficult for him to travel abroad. lnevitably, he returned to Europe permanently and made another dozen or so features (most for Television) before retiring in the mid-1960s.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this film; it’s professionally shot, and competently performed and produced. lt’s just not very interesting.