Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)‘With this suit, I could swim through the centre of the sun.’

A notorious criminal mastermind steals 10 million dollars from under the noses of the police. The authorities escalate their campaign to apprehend him, forcing an underworld kingpin and his mob into taking action against the thief. Can the villain stay one step ahead of both the combined might of the forces of law and order and the criminal underworld?

Stylish and extravagant big-screen adaptation of the popular Italian comic book series from director Mario Bava. Unlike the maestro’s previous offerings, this was a big studio production with backing from well-known producer Dino De Laurentiis, big-name stars and shot on various locations, but mostly at his studio in Rome.

The film opens with the latest diversionary tactic employed by Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) to snare super heist merchant, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his lover and partner in crime Eva Kant (Marisa Mell). Instead of ten million dollars in banknotes, the cargo protected by a convey of motorcycle policemen is just blank paper. The real deal is going with him in an unmarked car with a much smaller escort. Law isn’t fooled, of course, and uses a smoke machine on a road bridge and a dockside crane to grab the swag. Piccoli is called in to face Minister of Finance Terry-Thomas but, after a humiliating press conference which Law and Mell disrupt with laughing gas, Piccoli gets special powers to end the Diabolik menace.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Squeezing local mobster, Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) by raiding on his clubs and businesses, the detective strikes a deal with the crimelord: hand over Diabolik and the pressure will be off. Meanwhile, Law pulls off another daring heist; snatching an emerald necklace and escaping via a rise with a catapult. But Celi kidnaps Mell and offers Law an ultimatum: the ten million dollars and the emerald necklace in exchange for her safe return. Law accepts the deal, but still has a few tricks up his sleeve when they meet for a showdown.

Diabolik was a character created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani whose instant popularity created a whole new sub-genre of Italian comics known as the ‘Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). In his original incarnation, Diabolik was a ruthless criminal genius, who let nothing stand in his way but, over time, and after legal actions by an outraged ‘moral majority’, the character softened into more of a hi-tech ‘Robin Hood’. Fumetti neri in general split into two distinct camps, those targeted more at a juvenile audience and those ‘prohibited to minors’ which emphasised more adult themes, including far higher levels of sex and violence.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

A project to adapt the character to film had begun several years earlier with Jean Sorel in the title role and Elsa Martinelli and his lover and partner in crime, Eva Kant. However, the project collapsed quickly, and it’s unclear if anything more was shot than publicity stills. De Laurentiis acquired the rights and brought Bava on board, intending the film would accompany his production of Roger Vadim’ ‘Barbarella’ (1968) into theatres. Law was under contract to appear in that film, but delays caused by working with the SFX allowed him to take on the role of Diabolik first.

Bava was happy with his casting but less so with Catherine Deneuve who De Laurentiis selected for the role of Eva. As it was, she only lasted a week into filming before Austrian actress Marisa Mell replaced her. By all accounts, this was because Deneuve refused to disrobe for the film’s most iconic scene, where Diabolik and Eva make love naked on a revolving bed covered in money. However, given her subsequent filmography and the fact that the final scene is not explicit, it may be that Bava was able to use the situation as a way to get her released.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


The finished film is a kaleidoscope of 1960s pop culture, with bright, eye-popping colours and a wonderful mixture of striking production design and Bava’s genius for optical effects. Rather than presenting the action in a static way to reflect its comic strip origins, Bava keeps his camera moving, deliver a fast-paced narrative decorated with stylistic flourishes which give the film a feel of hyper-reality. Bava achieved the apparent scale and complexity of Diabolik’s underground headquarters by combining the actors with Bava’s matte paintings. Other visuals were created by cutting pictures of buildings, aircraft and other items from magazines, posting them on to a sheet of strategically placed glass and then shooting the action through it. Although it sounds like a terrible idea, Bava makes it work.

There are some other noteworthy touches too. Bava uses animation to draw lines on a map, and for a photo-fit device used by the police to try and identify Eva. He also employs his usual trick of foregrounding objects to give depth to scenes, sometimes shooting through some that break the image into squares approximating the comic book panels, such as empty bookshelves and a bedstead.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

There’s a flamboyance and a real sense of freedom to the picture, fueled by a playful, liberated sexuality, displayed not by promiscuity, but the unfettered passion between Diabolik and Eva. It helps that Law and Mell have such sizzling chemistry and give note-perfect performances, sensibly resisting the temptation to play to the gallery. Celi is his usual, reliable self as boss of the criminal underworld and Piccoli underplays beautifully as our larcenous duo’s official nemesis. Thomas also provides a beautiful cameo as the government minister, begging the populace to pay their taxes voluntarily after Law and Mell blow up the tax office and destroy all the official records!

The cool 1960s vibe also gets a major assist from composer Ennio Morricone, who delivers a jazzy, uptempo score that’s an integral part of the film’s ambience. Sadly, the original tapes are no longer available, having been destroyed in a fire, and the only way to enjoy his work is to watch the film, although a re-recording from 2014 is available. Also on hand to deliver his expertise is artist Carlo Rambaldi who designed Diabolik’s iconic mask before going on to significant work in Hollywood, rewarded eventually with 3 Oscars, including one for ‘E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982).

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


The character of Diabolik has his roots in older fictional masterminds, such as Germany’s ‘Dr Mabuse’ and the French ‘Fantomas’. Like those characters, in the source material, he plays with notions of identity, using lifelike masks to take on the appearance of anyone he chooses. This idea was dropped from the film, leaving him more in common with later villains such as ‘Kriminal’. He was developed as a direct rival to Diabolik but arrived on the big screen first in the form of Glenn Saxson. In a sly tip of the hat, the bank manager who hands the ten million dollars over to Piccioli at the start of this film is played by Andrea Bosic, who served as Saxson’s official opponent in those earlier ‘Kriminal’ pictures.

There are some flaws in Bava’s film, though. The process shots and rear-projection are so hideous and poorly done that it’s tempting to believe that it was a deliberate choice, made by the director to contribute to the comic-book aesthetic. If so, then it’s one of the few visual missteps in his career. The script, credited to several writers, including Bava, is a little scrambled and untidy, but that may have been intentional too, as it does lift some sequences directly from the source material and contributes to the freewheeling atmosphere.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


Diabolik’s return to the big screen any time soon seems an unlikely proposition, even though the global audience today shares some of the feelings of the public who first elevated the character to its iconic status in Italy after the Second World War. Specifically, a distrust of authority figures who increasingly excuse graft and political corruption by using the loopholes in a legal system designed solely for their benefit. This growing cynicism would embrace a subversive character such as this, but any new iteration would need to walk a very fine line. After all, a lot of his actions would be interpreted by most as aspects of domestic terrorism, even though he has no political agenda or desire to enforce change on the system.

Bava’s cut-price optical effects helped bring the film in for a cost of approximately $400,000 when it had originally been allocated a budget of $3 million. De Laurentiis offered him the chance to direct a sequel with the unused money, but Bava turned it down, unhappy with what he felt was interference from the studio during the filmmaking process. Perhaps the money would have been better used smoothing off some of the rougher edges of this film anyway.

A thoroughly enjoyable Sixties romp, tinged with psychedelia and filtered through the genius of Mario Bava.

Planet of the Vampires/Terrore nello spazio (1965)

Planet of the Vampires (1965)‘Apply neuro-vascular tension, suppress cortical areas X, Y Zee.’

Two spaceships answer a strange signal from the unexplored world of Aura and are forced down by sudden gravitational power. As soon as they make planetfall, crew members go berserk and attack each other with murderous intent. Surviving the madness, the Captain of the Argos and his team attempt to make repairs, reach their sister ship and find out what’s going on…

Highly influential science-fiction horror from Italian director Mario Bava, who has gained a significant cult following in recent years. Throughout his career, he worked mostly in lower budgeted genre pictures, so his talents went unacknowledged by the mainstream critics of the time, but his mastery of the visual image has led to a positive reappraisal of his impressive body of work.

Approaching the planet Aura, all looks to be going according to plan for twin spaceships the Argos and the Galliot. Then, without warning, communication between them is interrupted, and a rapidly increasing gravitational force seizes the Argos. Disaster looms but, fortunately, in the grand tradition of movie spaceship commanders, Captain Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan) manages to ‘switch to manual’ and bring the ship to ground safely. Almost as soon as his crew recover, however, they begin to attack each other in a psychotic frenzy. The seizure passes with his colleagues having no memories of their actions, leaving Sullivan with a pretty big mystery to solve.

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

‘Who goes there?’

Receiving a mayday from the Galliiot, they locate their sister ship but find the crew dead, apparently victims of the same strange madness that they experienced. They bury the dead on the planet’s surface but find the corpses they saw in the locked control room have mysteriously vanished. Another mystery is the damage to their own ship that prevents them from leaving. Sullivan assigns Wess (Ángel Aranda) to supervise repairs, but later finds the technician attempting to sabotage a vital piece of equipment. When questioned, Aranda remembers nothing about what he was trying to do. If that wasn’t enough, outside the ship, the dead astronauts of the Galliot are rising from their tombs.

What sets this film apart and has ensured its celebration as a cult favourite over the years is the rich visual quality and style that director Bava brings to the story. A master of optical FX, framing, colour and lighting, he is able to evoke a truly alien landscape with little more than a hyperactive fog machine and some fake rocks. It’s staggering that the production cost only around $200,000 and Sullivan, who also hated the script, was almost at a loss for words when he saw the quality of the finished film.

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

‘I’m ready for my closeup, Mr Romero.’

The model work by Carlo Rambaldi is somewhat less successful, though, and looks rather dated. However, the takeoff and landing sequences are still impressive when you consider they were accomplished using resources such as cotton wool, tissue paper and an aquarium. Bava’s skill with trick shots also comes to the fore with some of the ship interiors, although it does have to be acknowledged that no cinematic spacecraft will ever rival the Argos for the most wasted space on a flight deck.

The script, mostly written by Ib Melchoir was adapted from a short-story by Renato Pestriniero entitled ‘One Night of 21 Hours’ and, although the basic concept remained, significant changes were made from the source material. The central idea of alien possession of human bodies harkens back to Don Siegel’s masterful ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) and its source novel by Jack Finney. However, Pestriniero’s story does not depict the aliens as any kind of threat. Instead, once possessed, the human ego is suppressed, allowing the id to take control, in effect turning the hosts into joyful children with no purpose but to dance and play. Sensibly, this was dropped for the film with the Aurans being given a definite, and far more sinister, purpose.

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

‘I guess he had the eggs for breakfast.’

The electronic score by Gino Maranuzzi Jr takes a nod toward the electronic soundscapes of ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956) and helps to enhance the mood of dread evoked by Bava’s stunning visuals. The sequence where the dead rise from their shallow graves, tearing their way through their plastic shrouds is a perfect combination of Bava’s visual genius and Maranuzzi Jr’s minimalist approach. Also worthy of note are the black leather and high-collars of the crew’s uniforms designed by Gabriele Mayer. They are striking, unique and impossibly cool.

It’s not a perfect film by any means. Melchoir’s script makes almost no effort to give our principals any distinguishing personality traits beyond a half-hearted attempt to provide Sullivan with some moments of self-doubt. This shortfall would not be so noticeable if there were a little more going on with the story. Apparently, in earlier drafts of the script crew member Tiona (Evi Marandi) developed a telepathic link with the Aurans and that subplot might have gone some way to giving the drama the extra content that it needs. So there’s not a lot for the cast to work with, although Sullivan delivers a robust and authoritative performance that helps to ground the drama. The kind of on-screen chemistry necessary t to convey the inter-relationships and camaraderie of a tight-knit crew of characters may not have been possible because of language barriers. Sullivan was American, Marandi was Greek, Aranda was a Spaniard, leading lady Norma Bengell was Brazilian and the rest of the cast Italian, language barriers may have prevented the creation of

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

The temperatures with a little high for the time of year…

Production seems to have been a smooth affair, although it is curious that part-way through the picture the unidentified actor playing Commander Sallis of the Galliot is replaced in the role by Massimo Righi. This substitution does suggest that some reshoots may have been necessary. However, there is no record of this or any other such indicators in the finished film. There does seem to have been some issues with casting the lead female role, though. Studio starlet Susan Hart was apparently cast, but this seems to have caused some friction with AIP studio head Sam Arkoff, perhaps because she had just married his business partner James H Nicholson. Shooting began without an actress in the role before Bengell was eventually cast.

Many commentators have made hay with the similarities between the film and the Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979), and it’s fair to say that one influenced the other to some extent. One of the shots of the exterior of the downed Argos shows the ship to be a kissing cousin to the sinister space vehicle discovered by the crew of the ‘Nostromo’. More notably, when Sullivan and Bengell explore the wreck of an extraterrestrial craft on the surface of Aura, they find two giant, calcified, alien skeletons. These are not nearly as impressive as Scott’s ‘Space Jockey’ of course, but the similarity of their find is undeniable. The film’s downbeat, ironical climax was also faintly echoed almost two decades later by the ending of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982).

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

‘I guess the orgy is off then…’

Sullivan was a Hollywood veteran who contributed fine work in many big studio productions, particularly in the Noir arena, and was a regular on Network TV in the 1970s. His credits include ‘And Now Tomorrow’ (1944), ‘Suspense’ (1946), ‘Payment On Demand’ (1951), Vincente Minnelli’s multiple-Oscar winner ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ (1952), ‘Loophole’ (1954), Samuel Fuller’s ‘Forty Guns’ (1957) and ‘A Gathering of Eagles’ (1963). He was also terrific as the title character of the unjustly neglected ‘The Gangster’ (1947). Bengell was an award-winning actress and singer in her native Brazil who achieved worldwide notoriety and the displeasure of the Catholic church for her full-frontal nude scenes in Ruy Guerra’s ‘The Unscrupulous Ones/Os Cafajestes’ (1962).

Model-maker Rambaldi went on to work with John Huston, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento before relocating to America and winning Oscars for his visual effects on ‘Alien’ (1979) and ‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982). Melchior is fondly remembered for screenwriting on science-fiction projects such as fan-favourite ‘Robinson Crusoe On Mars’ (1964), ‘Reptilicus (1961), ‘Journey to the Seventh Planet’ (1962), ‘The Time Travellers’ (1964) and ‘The Angry Red Planet’ (1959), also directing the last two. Roger Corman based his cult classic ‘Death Race 2000’ (1975) on a short story by Melchior. 

An important work in both the history of big-screen science-fiction and the career of director Mario Bava. An essential watch for lovers of cult cinema.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)‘Do you remember what that hairy ape said about a secret base?’

The polar ice caps start to melt at an alarming rate, causing global flooding. A weather station in the Himalayas is attacked by unknown forces and its crew all but wiped out. The Commander of Space Station Gamma and his right-hand man are recalled from their intergalactic posting to investigate and save the Earth…

This was the last in a loose series of four Italian space operas directed by Antonio Margheriti, under his usual pseudonym of Anthony Dawson. All featured the heroic activities of Space Station Gamma One and hit the big screen over six months, the first three being released over a few weeks in the summer of 1966! This tardy conclusion finds Jack Stuart (real name Giacomo Rossi Stuart) returning as the square-jawed Commander Rod Jackson from ‘War Between the Planets’ (1966) which was the third of the films. The first two had found the station under the command of Mike Halstead (Tony Russell), the last of which was the deliriously demented ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966). This time around, there’s a little more James Bond than Flash Gordon about Stuart, and the action is partially based on Earth, but the final act is all too familiar to fans of low-budget science-fiction of the time.

Things are looking grim in the Earth’s shiny space-age future. General Norton (Enzo Fiermonte), head of UDSC (United Democracies Space Command) is wearing his best frowny face. It never rains, but it pours. It’s not enough that the temperature of the planet is on the rise and the ice floes are melting. No, one of his weather stations in the Himalayas has been trashed as well. The culprit? Persons or monsters unknown. The scientific team have all been killed except for Lt Jim Harris (Renato Baldini) who is AWOL. Time to call in Jackson: Rod Jackson. Yes, there’s no one more qualified to go on an undercover mission than one of the most famous faces in the cosmos. And yes, he doesn’t bother with a false identity because everyone does know who he is.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘Cool threads, Daddio!’

Fiermonte sends him, along with Man Friday, Captain Pulasky (Goffredo ‘Freddy’ Unger) to the Himalayas. Their cover story is that they are mounting an expedition to hunt for the Abominable Snowman. At first, it seems unclear why they need to assume this fiction at all, after all, Baldini’s fiancee, Lisa (Ombretta Colli) is already on-site looking for her man so presumably what’s happened to the weather station is public knowledge. And how investigating this incident is supposed to help with figuring out why the world is on the brink of environmental collapse is also a bit puzzling. That is what Stuart and Unger are supposed to be looking into, after all.

But it turns out that our heroes have a right to be cautious. Their original plan was to scout the area of the weather station by helijet, but their vehicle explodes on the ground the night before their flight. This looks like the work of local guide Sharu (Wilbert Bradley) who seems to be a fully-paid up member of the school of cartoon villainy, grinning and smirking for all he’s worth behind their backs. Apparently, there’s no time to get them another vehicle (I guess UDSC are a bit short in their helijet pool?), so Stuart and Unger decide to tackle the slopes on foot. In a staggering development, after Stuart won’t let her come along, Colli puts on a parka and joins incognito as one of the bearers. In a further shocking development, the bearers all desert when they reach slopes that are ‘taboo’ (Stuart and Unger obviously being unfamiliar with the behaviour of natives on safari in jungle films of the 1930s and 1940s).

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘The plumage don’t enter into it. It just pooped down my back.’

Now, if this all doesn’t sound good, the first act of the film turns out to be quite fun. For a start, we get Fiermonte’s minions trying to contact Stuart, who is on leave from the space station. They try to track him down at various locations. Firstly, they ring a Countess who is playing crazy golf in her bikini(!), then at a martial arts dojo. In the end, they reach him at a country club where he is doing what all square-jawed, handsome playboys do in their spare time: getting beaten at draughts by a young kid (that’s ‘checkers’ to any Americans out there). This is all quite silly, of course, but seems to be setting the audience up for the kind of tongue-in-cheek romp akin to Russell’s insane visit to ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966). Unfortunately, it turns out that Stuart isn’t in for the same kind of trip.

Things start to drag a little when our heroes begin trekking across the snowy slopes. It’s plain the cast did go on location to mountains somewhere and, for once, this footage is well-matched with the studio work. Colli and Stuart inevitably end up kissing in his tent, but, instead of taking the usual 007 approach, Stuart acknowledges that she’s lonely and needed comfort, and takes things no further. What a gent! And that’s all the romance he gets, despite the obvious interest of sexy Lt Sanchez (Halina Zalewska) back on Gamma One. Eventually, the expedition is attacked by a group of green-furred yeti when they take shelter in a cave and, best of all, it turns out that they’re not our everyday Abominable Snowmen at all, they’re aliens!

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

The publicity photoshoot for ‘Lord of the Rings’ wasn’t a complete success.

Once they are captured, Earth’s new green furry overlord, Igrun (Furio Meniconi) gleefully explains everything in the best supervillain manner when he really doesn’t have to. These extra-terrestrials have evolved on an ice world and are looking for a new place to live, so they have decided to terraform our planet. I’m not sure how melting the ice caps would help in this respect? Perhaps they should have just hung around for 50 years and let global warming do that for them. Anyway, our heroes are banged up in a cell with the lost Baldini. Although the tiny room’s only feature is a very large wall cover over an air duct, it’s never occurred to the weather station commander to use it to try and escape but, no worries, Stuart is right on it. Yes, this is one of those movies where only the hero is allowed to come up with a plan, or have any ideas, even when they would be blindingly obvious to an 8-year old.

Unfortunately, it’s at this point that all the fun starts draining out of the film. Stuart and his gang take on Meniconi via some (very) conveniently available chemicals and a conflict that’s over far too quickly. The rest of the film centres on the search for the alien’s main base, which involves a lot of the Gamma One personnel staring at read-outs and scratching their heads. Even Stuart falls asleep at his desk, perhaps mirroring the reaction of most of the audience. The final wrap up is defiantly unspectacular but far worse is the fact that all this post-Himalayan ‘action’ has taken up almost the entire second half of the film. Or at least it seems that way.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘Is it quitting time yet? I’m dying for a pint.’

As well as delivering the ‘Gamma One’ quartet, director Margheriti also travelled to the stars with ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1961) and made early 1960s Euro-Horrors with both Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele, including Steele’s solo turn in the particularly notable ‘The Long hair of Death’ (1964). He also directed a couple of low-grade Eurospys, and the best screen muscleman, Reg Park in ‘Hercules, Prisoner of Evil’ (1964) (which actually featured him as ‘Ursus’, not Hercules!). Working in the Italian film industry at this point, inevitably he also helmed some Spaghetti Westerns and Giallo films, including ‘Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye’ (1973). But, of course, the zenith of his career was that wonderful stew of caveman, dinosaurs, aliens and robots that the world came to know as ‘Yor, the Hunter from the Future’ (1983).

Sadly, this film is one of his lesser efforts. Initially pleasing, but soon more than a little boring. Some fun concepts are wasted, which, if handled with more flair and creativity, could have made for an enjoyably cheesy experience.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l’invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)‘Who has thrown my soldier into the pit of slime?’

Out for a quiet afternoon stroll, Hercules saves an innocent young maiden from a rampaging lion. Local custom usually dictates that he can marry the girl in such circumstances, but she’s a Princess, and her father demands that he slay a dragon before he will consent to the match…

The twelfth entry in the Italian cycle featuring the legendary hero Hercules finds his labours handed to Dan Vadis, and producer-director duties given to cinematographer Alvaro Mancori billed as Al World. Although the heyday of the muscleman craze had obviously passed, the film still boasts decent production values and professional execution.

After carrying out some casual tree surgery, Vadis is wandering about the forest when he’s alerted to danger by the screams of the pretty young Teica (Spela Rozin). She’s nipped off for a quick skinny dip in a nearby river, only to find there’s a roaring lion on hand to break up the party. Quite why she’s so scared is a bit of a mystery (are lions good swimmers?), but Vadis weighs in anyway and strangles the beast to death with his bare hands. The action is quite neatly accomplished, although it does highlight the problem of Vadis’ hair colour. Sometimes it’s light and bleached; at other times it’s almost black. It was probably an attempt to match up with his fight double, but why not get the stuntman to change his hair? And the little blonde beard he sports was probably not the best idea.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘Take the first left past the temple and the second right past the Cyclops cave and you can’t miss it…’

Anyway, Vadis recuperates from his wounds in the local village and gets a visit from King Tedaeo (Ugo Sasso) and his entourage. Sasso explains the local custom and why Vadis doesn’t qualify as his son-in-law unless he takes care of that pesky dragon that’s been bringing down real estate values in the local neighbourhood. Vadis and Rozin are in love, of course, and the big man readily agrees. The original version of the film may have established a passage of time by this point, however, in the dubbed version it appears to be almost immediately afterwards. This makes the couple’s devotion to each other ridiculously sudden and unconvincing. To be fair, killing a lion with your bare hands and saving her life is quite probably a swift way to a young girl’s heart, but I can’t see it working for most men as a romantic technique.

So, after accepting the hand of Rozin as a bribe (you really do have to question Sasso’s parenting skills!), Vadis is off to see the local Prophetess (Olga Sobelli, billed as Sand Beanty!). She informs him where the dragon’s at, gives him a magic spear to kill it and mentions the powers of the beast’s tooth, which she wants for herself. Having already got the weapon, he blows her off and leaves with her curses ringing his ears. Vadis dispatches the beast and harvests the bicuspid in question, even though there is a distinct possibility that the creature is appearing courtesy of another film. After all, not many dragons have a golden fleece as part of their home furnishings.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘You must tell me the name of your hairdresser.’

But, as in most films of this kind, there’s more than one task on the hero’s job list. While he’s away killing the dragon, the village is raised to the ground by warlord Kebaol (Ken Clark), and Sasso and Rozin are taken to the kingdom of the evil Queen Etel (Carla Calò). Hooking up with sole survivor of the massacre, and cowardly comic relief, Barbar (Jon Simons), Vadis must journey there to save his beloved and bring about the end of Calò’s reign of terror.

Yes, this is just another reworking of very familiar story elements from films of this kind, but there are a few variations. Of course, there are a lot of slaves who need liberating, we see the ‘lost city’ dancing girls on their never-ending tour, and Calò has built her residence inside an active volcano (how did she get the necessary permits?).

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

The Javelin final had reached a crucial stage…

However, her only initial interest in our musclebound hero is having him torn apart by elephants in the arena (or in the throne room, actually; I guess it does double-duty). She does warm up to him after he saves her life though (guys, it always works!) but, just as predictably, he’s not interested. Why? Because she doesn’t ‘have eyes the colour of periwinkles’! (Kudos to the US dubbing crew for that one!). Everything ends in the predictable boiling cauldron of liquified strawberry jam (sorry, hot lava), but the audience is likely to experience more fun getting there than with most of the other entries in the series.

This certainly isn’t a very high-quality piece of storytelling, but it is more fun than a lot of its contemporaries. Vadis certainly looks the part and is decent in the action scenes, although he does look amiably bemused in a lot of the dialogue exchanges. I guess there could have been a language barrier with the Italian cast and crew? He signed on for ‘Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole’ (1964) nevertheless. The most interesting aspect of the story probably revolves around Simons’ comedy relief. Yes, he’s incredibly annoying in the early stages and remains clumsy and nervous throughout but, by the last act, he’s engaged with the action and performing an active part on the side of the angels. Not often the comic relief gets a character arc in any kind of film!

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘Blimey, I could just murder a pint right now…’

Vadis was of Greek descent; born in China under the name of Constantine Daniel Vafiadis. He’d served in the US Navy was a member of Mae West’s ‘Muscleman Revue’ in the late 1950s, before breaking into film with the assistance of fellow bodybuilder Gordon Mitchell. After the strongman films petered out, he transitioned into Spaghetti Westerns and later was a familiar face in small roles in some of Clint Eastwood’s big hits of the 1970s, including ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977), ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ (1978) and ‘Bronco Billy’ (1980). The work dried up after that, and he was found dead in his car in the desert in June 1987 after an accidental drug overdose.

There wasn’t a great deal of life left in the Italian muscleman genre by this point, but this is still an undemanding and vaguely enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)‘Put on your show in a place like Gorgonzola. They won’t mind the smell.’

Two washed-up fight promoters overhear a scientist talking about his time machine. Seeing a chance to clean up by betting on future sports events, they use the device, only to end up in Ancient Greece where they tangle with sorcery and legendary heroes…

Silly, knockabout comedy which may not quite qualify as an outright spoof of the muscleman craze ignited by Steve Reeves’ ‘Hercules’ (1958) but certainly takes some affectionate jabs at the genre. It’s a measure of how popular these pictures
had become in such a short time that the Italian public was obviously prepared to accept their legendary heroes getting the same treatment that Abbott and Costello dished out to the iconic Universal Monsters in the post-war years.

Things are not going well for wheeler-dealers Rusteghin (Raimondo Vianello) and Comendatore (Mario Carotenuto). Local investors are more than a little unimpressed by their latest venture: an evening of midget wrestling. Facing mounting debts, and some angry dwarfs, the hapless team seem out of ideas until they overhear a conversation in the street about a time machine. A little housebreaking later and they’re going ‘back to the future’ to check out next week’s race results. Unfortunately, the resulting trip plunges then into the dim and distant mythological past. Oh, and it also sends them a few hundred miles from Milan to Mycenae in Greece!

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

‘I’m not sure about the flux capacitor on this…’

Landing outside the Imperial Palace, they are immediately arrested and taken before King Eurysteus (Gino Buzzanca). This monarch is more concerned with marrying Princess Dejanira (the lovely Liana Orfei) than anything so inconvenient as ruling the kingdom and fancies his chance now that her boyfriend Hercules (Frank Gordon) is missing in action. The legendary strongman is off dealing with a pesky cyclops who has been ravaging the countryside and has kidnapped two bumbling fishermen (Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia) to be a light snack before lunch. Thinking that the time travellers are friends of the legendary hero, Buzzanca orders them thrown in the alligator pit, but Orfei rescues them in the nick of time.

After a failed escape, our less than dynamic duo are set to be human torches but win the King’s favour by curing his toothache and teaching his prim and proper dancing girls the Cha-Cha-Cha! (One of the film’s few amusing moments). The downside to their sudden success is that our merry monarch wants a champion who can defeat the returning Gordon and thinks that they can deliver one. After failing in their efforts to train the local talent, Vianello and Carotenuto go on the lam where they run into the sulky Maciste (Kirk Morris) who is trying fight off the unwelcome attentions of bumbling sorceress Circe (Bice Valori). Our heroes hatch a cunning plan to match the two strongmen against each other in the ring and regain their time machine during the fight but, predictably enough, things don’t go according to plan.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

Don’t get too excited, there’s less than five minutes of the film left…

This knockabout farce is a harmless enough experience, but the negative aspects on display do outweigh the positives by quite a wide margin. There just aren’t many laughs in Marcello Marchesi and Vittorio Metz’s predictable script with few surprises and little invention. The central conceit of a battle between the two legendary heroes is barely realised at all. Morris is almost wholly sidelined, which is ironic considering that he’d just played the role in to box office success in ‘Il trionfo di Maciste/The Triumph of Maciste’ (1961). More outings in the part followed for Morris over the next couple of years, as well as starring appearances as both Samson and Hercules in other projects!

The film’s only real energy and fun comes from Valori’s turn as the amorous (but incompetent) sorceress who has a serious complex about being shorter than her slave girls. There are occasional other amusing moments, such as Vianello and Carotenuto re-inventing the wheel (the Greeks having favoured a ‘square’ design) and the occasional cut to a ‘newscaster’ (Riccardo Paladini) who keeps us up to date with the hot stories in the empire. It’s is a pleasantly surreal touch, if a little out of place.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the tallest of them all?’

Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia went onto comedy superstardom as ‘Franco & Ciccio’ in their native Italy with the result that this film is often referred to as one of their comedy vehicles, but that’s not the case, despite their top billing when the film was reissued. This was only their fourth film together, and they are strictly supporting characters here, with their familiar schtick not quite perfected. In other words, Ciccio hadn’t watched quite enough Jerry Lewis movies yet. The duo went on to face off against Vincent Price in Mario Bava’s ‘Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs’ (1966) and a joint film career that stretched right the way until 1984 and eventually comprised over 100 features!

A weak attempt at mining comedy gold from the Italian muscleman genre that manages a couple of mildly amusing moments.

Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide/Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide/Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)‘The temples of your useless Gods will collapse, and Uranus will take possession of the skies.’

Strange rumours have reached the court of King Androcolo, and he determines to meet these unseen dangers head-on, outfitting an expedition to investigate. Unfortunately, the nobles of his court are more interested in claiming his throne than going along for the ride, so he’s forced to shanghai legendary muscleman, Hercules. Their quest takes them to the lost civilisation of Atlantis where its evil Queen is planning world conquest…

Good-natured muscleman picture that introduced probably the screen’s finest Hercules, British actor Reg Park. His natural screen charisma and physicality translated well into both a serious take on the character and one with a more light-hearted tone, such as this. Director Vittorio Cottafavi keeps things moving at a good clip and provides a smattering of outlandish elements on a sufficient budget to realise a satisfying mythological experience.

Proceedings open with Park intent on his lunch and a mug of ale in a crowded tavern. He’s taking it easy after catching up with errant son, Ilio (Luciano Marin), a dashing young blade whose thirst for adventure does not meet with parental approval. A brawl breaks out over a woman, and soon the entire pub is in an uproar with fists and furniture flying in some well-choreographed action. Park ignores it all, calling for more ale. No-one bothers him, of course, because he’s Hercules. It’s a bright, clever scene, establishing both the tone of the film and Park’s happy go lucky take on the Greek demi-god. This Hercules is quite content to let everyone else do the hard work, being more interested in the quiet life than anything else, something that involves catching a quick 40 winks whenever possible.

Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide/Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

‘You might pretend to pay some attention when I talk about my day at work.’

Once they get back to the court of King Androcolo (Ettore Manni), the drama continues in much the same vein. Manni wants to mount an expedition to investigate the rumours and omens of something sinister abroad in the land, but his Senators can’t be bothered. They’d much rather jockey for position when he’s gone and make no bones about letting him know! The satire isn’t particularly subtle, but it’s still amusing. Even Hercules doesn’t want to go, preferring to stay behind with wife Deianira (Luciana Angiolillo). However, Manni invites him to the Royal Suite for one last drink before his departure and Park wakes up on the boat. But he doesn’t let being kidnapped bother him; preferring to shrug his shoulders, grin and lie down again for another kip. Of course, it’s no surprise that son Marin has stowed away below decks with the help of dwarf Timoteo (Salvatore Furnari).

It’s also not a shock when their crew of slaves and prisoners mutiny and try to steal the boat. No problem, the big man yanks them back by the anchor chain and these miscreants are abandoned on the desolate shore. Rather short-handed as a result (especially considering Park can’t be bothered to help!), our heroic quartet run into the inevitable storm (the weather was often dodgy in mythological times). Afterwards, Park finds himself shipwrecked alone on the shore of a rocky island. Alone? Well, not quite.

Park’s potential ‘Girl Friday’ is young brunette Ismene (Laura Efrikian), but she’s been partially absorbed into a wall and is waiting for her ‘wedding’ to the monster Proteus. The tardy bridegroom is the local representative of malevolent god, Uranus, who is worshipped by the occupants of the lost empire of Atlantis, which, rather conveniently, is located a mere stone’s throw across the water tank. Proteus can ‘appear in many forms’ such as an old man, a lion, and a snake but, best of all, the man-sized rubber lizard that Park grapples. It’s the silliest moment in the film by far, but quite charming in its way.

Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide/Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

‘You know, you look really silly in that get-up.’

But if Park was thinking about getting romantic with the pretty Efrikian, then he’s going to have a serious ‘mother-in-law’ problem. You see, when they get to Atlantis, he discovers that she’s the daughter of Queen Antinea (US actress Fay Spain) and, what’s more, she was sent to die on the island by the Royal Command. If this seems hard to understand, then it’s because Spain has a hidden agenda. Apparently, if Efrikian outlives her, then Atlantis will fall! It says so in ‘The Prophecy’ after all. Just what is it about prophecies in these kinds of films? Why does everyone always believe them? Oh, yeah, it’s because they always come true. Without fail.

Of course, things go awry for Spain because she falls for Park, instead of sticking to her game plan. Obviously, she didn’t know that all evil Queens fall in love with Hercules when they meet him. They don’t get a choice about it. Similarly, he believes all her lame excuses and explanations, right up to taking a drink of the drugged wine that she gives him before bedtime. But then, with a nice comic touch, we discover that he’s not been fooled by her at all. He’s been playing his own game all along.

Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide/Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Reg’s audition for ‘Dawn of the Dead’ was a lock-in.

Without doubt, this was the best Hercules film to date. Park has a natural, friendly charisma, the script (credited to 6 different writers, including the director) plays a little with the familiar cliches and the use of impressive natural scenery and lots of extras conveys high stakes and a real sense of scale. There’s also some excellent production design from Franco Lolli, including Spain’s massive throne room that comes complete with a hidden acid bath. It’s also good to see that entertainment at Spain’s court comes courtesy of the usual troop of dancing girls, no doubt part way through their endless tour of the world’s lost civilisations.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this production made it into theatres barely three months after George Pal’s big-budget Hollywood tentpole ‘Atlantis, the Lost Continent’ (1961) took its first bow. However, whereas, Pal’s film feels stiff and awkward, this Italian creation is far breezier, laid-back and all-around enjoyable. A bit like Park’s iteration of Hercules. He was an ex-Leeds United footballer, who became a champion bodybuilder and, in later life, was a mentor and inspiration for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide/Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

‘Is that called the Christmas Tree Formation?’

Cottafavi had already directed previous entry in the series, the hilariously bad ‘Goliath and The Dragon/La vendetta di Ercole/The Vendetta of Hercules’ (1961) and went onto a long career behind the camera on Italian television. Spain also did an enormous amount of TV, appearing as a guest star on numerous hit Network shows like ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Night Gallery’, ‘The Fugitive’, Rawhide’ and ‘Ben Casey.’ She occasionally took time out to do low-budget noirs and dramas such as ‘Dragstrip Girl’ (1957), ‘The Beat Generation’ (1959)‘Flight to Fury’ (1964) (opposite a fresh-faced Jack Nicholson!) and Rita Hayworth’s penultimate film, William Grefé’s somewhat notorious ‘The Naked Zoo’ (1970). She even had a small role in ‘The Godfather, Part II’ (1974). In later life, Efrikian became a regular on Italian TV soap opera ‘Ricominciare’ and, as of 2019, is still gainfully employed in the business.

Thoroughly enjoyable mythological antics that stand tall above the other movies in the cycle, with the notable exception of Park’s next outing in the role: Mario Bava’s captivating ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1962).

Omicron (1963)

Omicron (1963)‘They receive images through balls of jelly and through a single crater make noises and feed.’

A factory worker is found apparently dead under mysterious circumstances. Later on, his body comes back to life on the autopsy table, but now it’s under the control of a visiting alien intelligence…

Surprisingly amusing Italian science fiction satire from director Ugo Gregoretti, who examines the relationship between workers and management using the presence of an invading alien as both catalyst and commentator. It’s a familiar enough plot device now, of course; the unseen alien struggling to understand mankind’s bizarre foibles, conventions and habits, but it’s pretty original for the early 1960s.

It seems like factory worker Renato Salvatori was a pretty ordinary sort of a fellow; popular with work colleagues but a little shy and retiring, unable to engage in anything more than a mild flirtation with canteen cutie Rosemary Dexter. But after he’s found stretched out one morning apparently dead, things begin to get more than a little unusual. His body’s been taken over by intergalactic entity Omicron who is the vanguard of an alien invasion; his mission to report back to his masters with information on the human condition, society and government. Unfortunately, operating his new host proves a problem as he struggles to ‘wake up the centres of intelligence.’ This leaves him unable to speak, and somewhat hampers his investigations.

Omicron (1963)

Omicron’s taste in literature was a little questionable…

What follows is initially somewhat reminiscent of the late Robin Williams breakout TV show ‘Mork and Mindy’ with Salvatori struggling to adapt and understand everyday situations, but there’s a far darker undercurrent to proceedings here. The workers at his factory are on the verge of a bitter labour dispute with the management and neither side is prepared for Salvatori’s superhuman performance on the production line

In fact, he proves so efficient that every foreman wants him on their work gang, but it’s not long before he’s not so popular. Workmates start to believe he’s a management stooge, planted there to break up their impeding strike, whereas the factory owners want to exploit his abilities so they can be replicated in the rest of their workforce. In a very smart parallel, Omicron is himself at loggerheads with his superiors. Mission control is represented by a disembodied voice that demands more and more intel and threatens him with disintegration if he leaves his post early. Apparently, he’d been punished for a similar transgression on a previous mission when he‘d been left trapped in a Martian body for 217 years!

This setup creates some very good opportunities for black comedic satire and, for the most part, director Ugo Gregoretti hit his targets well. Omicron reports that the only humans the invaders need to concern themselves with are the rich and powerful because no-one else matters. Omicron spends the night speed reading dozens of books including Dante’s Inferno and Last Year at Marienbad but only keeps a photo book of Brigitte Bardot. Omicron is the perfect consumer because he can smoke an entire cigarette in five seconds flat.

Omicron (1963)

The choice of the new James  Bond was likely to be controversial…

But the film is far from flawless. Omicron realises that he can return home early if his host body dies, so attempts to orchestrate his own demise in a way that seems accidental. This scenario has comic possibilities, but instead Gregoretti has him kidnap Dexter and plan to rape her after reading a newspaper story about a man who was killed for committing the same crime. Thankfully, this doesn’t really go anywhere but it strikes a false note nevertheless.

Elsewhere, Gregoretti’s script is smart and often funny, walking a tightrope of humour that is juvenile at times but also quite knowing and sophisticated. Helping bring his ideas to life is Salvatori, who gives an excellent, well-judged performance; the actor creating a character that seems pleasingly deranged at times but retains audience sympathy throughout. After all, Omicron may be an alien invader, but he’s just a working stiff like the rest of us. On the debit side, however, the climax is mishandled and far from satisfying. Given what’s gone before, it’s quite a disappointment.

Comedy sometimes struggles to cross international boundaries, but here’s an example which is witty, engaging and also has something to say. Quietly recommended. 

The Flying Saucer/Il Disco Volante (1964)

Il Disco Volante (1964)‘Our province is nice and full of oxygen and stop with those ugly things coming from Rome.’

A small town in the rural area of Treviso is experiencing mysterious power blackouts, and residents are reporting UFO sightings and close encounters with Martians. The local Police Sergeant doesn’t believe a word of it, but, after the media descends on the community, he is tasked with getting to the bottom of things…

Mildly amusing satirical ltalian comedy, which is not just a showcase for the talents of comedian Alberto Sordi, but a vanity project of sorts. The film was shot exclusively in his hometown and many of the crowd scenes seem to be populated with the real residents just going about their usual business. Sordi plays Police Sergeant Vincenzo Berruti, a stolid, unimaginative plodder who has no time for all these extraterrestrial shenanigans. However, by the end of the film, his investigations have brought him up close and personal with the spacecraft in question and its Martian crew. In one of the film’s best jokes, he accepts all this with the same lack of emotional reaction that he displays in his earlier disbelief.

Proceedings begin with the media’s invasion of the town, but there’s little evidence to back up their wild proclamations of first contact. Sure, there have been power outages and strange circles in crop fields, but eyewitnesses seem less than credible. A young child is more concerned with finding an excuse to escape the punishment promised by her father than providing accurate testimony of what she claims to have seen. A middle-aged housewife comes over as more sexually frustrated than reliable, what with her talk of a naked, well-endowed alien who she’s happy to confirm was definitely the male of whatever species he happens to belong to.

Il Disco Volante (1964)

‘Who’s on First?’

But it soon becomes obvious that these space-suited beings are the real deal. One of them even pops round to take a spot of tea with widowed farmer Silvana Mangano and her brood of unruly kids. This charming domestic scene is observed by the local priest (Sordi, again), but no-takes him seriously due to his close relationship with the products of the local vineyard.

Mangano then ‘sells’ the Martian to local aristocrat Count Crosara (Sordi, yet again), but her brand new furs and motor car are confiscated by Sordi (as the Police Sergeant this time). By this point, he’s hot on the trail after convincing testimony from an accountant (and yes, he’s played by Sordi as well!) who has been carrying out regular inspections of barn interiors with the Mayor’s glamorous wife (Monica Vitti).

As the film progresses, it becomes pretty clear that the science fiction element is merely a plot device to allow Sordi to poke fun at various small town archetypes: the drunken priest, the self-serving Mayor, his young sexpot wife, the slow-witted policeman, and the vaguely mad posh people who live in the big house on the hill. This means that there is very little plot development as such, and the aliens do nothing more than wander about a bit and get mistaken for revellers in fancy dress at the local carnival. Beyond being identified as Martians, we never find out anything about them or what they want.

There’s also a very odd sequence where Sordi (playing the accountant this time) is subjected to electroshock therapy after being committed to the local asylum. Now, a patient receiving ECT (it’s now known as electro-convulsive therapy) is not really my idea of comedy gold and director Tinto Brass drags the sequence out with some fairly nightmarish visuals. Perhaps it just goes to prove that comedy and good taste do have national boundaries!

Il Disco Volante (1964)

‘No idea who these two weirdos are, but look at me! I’m in a movie!’

Sordi was a top-flight star in Italy for many years, and enjoyed international recognition; winning a Golden Globe for ‘Il Diavolo’ (1963) and appearing prominently in the multi-starring ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965)’ along with Terry-Thomas, James Fox, Robert Morley and Gert Fröbe.

Vitti was thrust onto the global stage as ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966) opposite Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde by director Joseph Losey, but remained in continental Europe after the film flopped. She was already a star there after appearing in several projects for famous director Michaelangelo Antonioni. Brass is still renowned for his many excursions into erotica, but ironically is still most famous for the notorious ‘Caligula’ (1979), even though the film was taken out of his hands and had the hard core content inserted afterwards by producer Bob Guccione.

A decent light comedy with a satirical slant that would have benefited greatly from more attention to its overall story development.

Mister-X/Avenger X (1967)

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)‘A woman with a brain is like two women without one.’

Career criminal Mister-X is framed for the murder of a drug courier in Rome and sets out to catch the real culprits while staying one step ahead of the law. On the way, he discovers that his opponents are planning to flood the continent with a large amount of narcotics, courtesy of a foreign government…

The cultural impact of Sean Connery’s appearance on the big screen as Agent 007 is hard to underestimate. Within a couple of years, almost every square-jawed handsome leading man in Europe was running around the continent with a gun in one hand and a blonde in the other. But, as well as the more obvious cheap ‘Bond’ knock-offs, it helped to resurrect another movie archetype; the mysterious villain with the secret identity. But, this time, instead of simply fulfilling the role of the hero’s antagonist in American movie serials, European filmmakers put him front and centre as the main character.

This all began back in France in 1911 with master of disguise ‘Fantômas’ but really took off in the early 1960s due to Italian comic book character ‘Diabolik’ who was so successful that he birthed a whole sub-genre of the form called ’Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). These featured similar villains like Kriminal, Killing and Satanik, as well as lots of graphic sex and violence. The edgy content helped to make them hugely popular, but led to public outrage in some quarters and eventual legal proceedings! Anyway, it was probably no coincidence that the first Diabolik story hit newsstands in the same year that ‘Dr. No’ (1962) came out. One of the lesser examples of this merry band of master villains was gentleman thief Mister-X, created by Cesare Melloncelli and artist Giancarlo Tenenti in 1964. Like most of the others, a movie adaptation was inevitable.

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)

‘Do you know where we are? I can’t see a bloody thing…’

For a change, there’s a refreshing lack of back-story about Mister-X (Norman Clark: real name Pier Paolo Capponi). All we know is that he’s a notorious criminal, whose skill with the makeup box is such that no-one in authority knows his face. He’s apparently in a monogamous relationship with it-girl Gaia Germani and still on the radar of Inspector Rooux (Franco Fantasia), even though the policeman seems to have retired.

We never get any details of his past brushes with the law so we have no opportunity to form an early opinion as to his moral code and likely behaviour. One thing we find out early, though; he won’t play the patsy for anyone. Oh, and out of costume, he’s a world champion professional golfer! Making the mistake of trying to put Cappponi in the frame is international businessman (and drug dealing kingpin) Armando Calvo, whose busy hatching a once in a lifetime deal with mobsters Umberto Raho (apparently British) and Renato Baldini (apparently American).

What follows is a series of half-baked action set pieces with a smattering of gadgets, a fair amount of gun play and little in the way of fight choreography or stunt work. lt’s a pity as the film opens with a pretty good credit sequence featuring lots of colourful comic book panels, which raise expectations for a fast-paced, stylish thriller with a cool 1960s vibe. Sadly, it appears director Donald Murray (real name Piero Vivarelli) had only limited resources at his disposal, and we’re left with a rather flat and uninvolving adventure that often appears to be little more than a standard crime picture with a comic book character attached. Vivarelli had better luck-with the more inventive ‘Satanik’ (1968), but that project still suffered from some of the same shortcomings.

With a distinct lack of action, we’re thrown back on the cast to provide what entertainment there is and they do a decent job. Capponi is not over-blessed with screen presence, but it’s nice to see him injecting the character with a pleasingly ruthless edge to counterbalance the general smarm offensive. Germani rocks a series of funky 60’s outfits (there’s one hat in particular which is an absolute triumph!) and provides a similar blend of cuteness with a good left hook.

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)

Can’t you hurry ? I’ve got another dozen films to be in before the end of the year.’

Appearing in the rather thankless role of Calvo’s main squeeze is the statuesque Helga Liné, who makes the most of what she’s given to work with here, even though it’s precious little. She was probably the hardest working actor in Europe in the 1960s and early 1970s, running up an impressive list of credits, which include the similar ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and its sequel, Spaghetti Westerns, Eurospys, Giallo thrillers and several horror pictures with the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Paul Naschy and Barbara Steele.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t helped by a seriously careless English dub track. The dialogue is exceptionally banal, zero effort is made to match it to the actor’s mouth movements and Raho’s gangster sounds as if he comes from a strange place located somewhere vaguely between the Scottish Highlands and the banks of the Emerald Isle.

An adequate time passer if you’re interested in the genre, but it’s probably best to keep your expectations fairly low.

James Tont – Operazione D.U.O. (1966)

James Tont - Operazione D.U.O. (1966)‘We in the intelligence service always keep some tungsten dentures handy.’

James Tont survives three attempts on his life while giving a speech at the world’s first convention of secret agents, but is tripped on the stairs by a little girl. Recuperating from his injuries at a private clinic, he competes with a mysterious tycoon for the affections of a beautiful nurse, but their struggle is to take on global consequences…

We’re back in the company of Lando Buzzanca again as the Italian comic actor runs around the glamorous capitals of Europe as this week’s ‘Tont On A Budget.’ This is a sequel to domestic hit ‘James Tont – Operazione U.N.O.’ (1965) and opens with our smarmy hero at the espionage conference, encountering Mata Hari’s duplicitous elderly sister and various other shady types. Apparently, he’s the keynote speaker and delivers a robust defence of the technological advances in spy craft which are threatening to leave the more old-fashioned agents behind. That’s potentially quite an interesting story idea, but this certainly isn’t the film to explore it.

Instead, Buzzanca fetches up at a private clinic in Geneva where his broken leg seems to heal instantly, thanks to the bedside manner of Nurse Clarissa (Claudia Lange). Unfortunately, he has a rival in elderly billionaire Magnus Spring (Loris Gizzi, playing a different role from super villain ’Goldsinger’ in the first movie). Part of Tont’s treatment includes a bath in radioactive water(!), but it’s the temperature that kills him when someone messes with the dials on the control panel. His demise prompts world-wide headlines and a televised funeral, which rather proves that he wasn’t much of a ‘secret’ agent, after all.

James Tont - Operazione D.U.O. (1966)

Tont always remembered to put the seat down…

In a shocking twist, our hero is not dead! It was just a ruse to fool the mysterious super villain (now who could that be?) Apparently, he’s recruited a gang of ruthless Beatniks to swipe various nuclear gewgaws for some reason or other, so Buzzanca puts on a stupid hairpiece, gets hip and goes undercover as cool cat Bingo Kowlaski.

At groovy hangout ‘The Blue Dolphin’, he performs a far out song about how much he hates the sky, and this gives him enough kudos to be invited into the criminal gang! He also links up with beautiful, but sadly misguided, Helene (France Anglade). From there, it’s a simple matter of being reduced to the size of a sheet of paper, getting smuggled into Cape Kennedy as dehydrated food, stealing a rocket from the launch pad and trying to foil a plot to send the dome of St Peter’s in Rome into space and steal the Vatican’s treasure.

If all these madcap antics and wild story ideas sound quite appealing, then it’s truly a staggering achievement to the filmmakers abilities that the film drags so much. Sure, there’s a submersible disguised as a giant turtle, Buzzanca makes it into space more than a decade before that other fellow in ‘Moonraker’ (1979) and Gizzi wiles away the time playing a board game based on the exploits of another, certain secret agent (he loses!) But the jokes are forced and predictable, the action half-baked and Buzzanca doesn’t have the necessary charm to put things across.

Bruno Corbucci was in the director’s chair on his own for this effort, and at least it seems there was a little budget available this time. The production made it to London at least, although there’s a suspicion of some ‘guerrilla filming’ going on with some of the ‘tourist board’ crowd scenes. But the most remarkable fact connected with the film is that 8 writers worked on it! Perhaps this goes some way to explain all the different story elements, but does prompt a much more fundamental question. Couldn’t any of them have come up with some decent jokes?

James Tont did not return for any further adventures.