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.

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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.

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)‘The dark side of the moon has been photographed. Natural laws no longer apply.’

An escaping criminal is caught up in an experimental nuclear test in the desert. Somehow he survives and the effect of the explosion endows him with superhuman strength and invulnerability. Afterwards, he sets out to take revenge on the gangsters who framed him for murder…

Preposterous low-budget crime and science fiction mash up from veteran director Allan Dwan, delivering his final movie in a career that began with hundreds of short subjects back in 1913. It’s a curious choice as a project for him. For a start, he’d never tackled fantastical subject matter in his long career, and his previous few films had starred players such as Dana Andrews, Anne Bancroft and Ray Milland. Not huge stars by this point in their careers, but still significant Hollywood names. Compare them with the cast we have here; mostly television actors with just a smattering of big screen experience in supporting roles.

On the run from the big house, convicted killer Eddie Candell (Ron Randell) wanders into the wrong part of the desert right at the moment that Dr Meeker (Tudor Owens) is testing his latest invention; a bomb containing something called Element X. Randell is caught in the blast, but manages to quit the scene with apparently nothing more than a ruined suit. Unfortunately, he was too close to the tower that held the device and its metal is slowly fusing with his body. Yes, he’s literally becoming a ‘Man of Steel’ folks!

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Even the Most Dangerous Man Alive knew you had to respect the dress code.

From there, we get to the real meat and potatoes of the film’s plot. Randell was a leading mobster whose playboy lifestyle attracted far too much media attention for the liking of his colleagues in the syndicate. They framed him for murder by perjuring themselves in court and now he’s out for revenge. The only person he can trust is ex-girlfriend Elaine Stewart, but she’s already been targeted by cops Morris Ankrum and Gregg Palmer who are leading the manhunt to run him down.

The authorities’ task becomes especially urgent after the cops brace Owens in his curiously ‘open plan’ laboratory and he shows them some unconvincing examples of how the local flora and fauna has reacted to the blast. ‘The melon has absorbed the steel into its cell structure’, he informs them with a completely straight face. Apparently, all this makes Randell the ‘Most Dangerous Man Alive’. For some reason or other. But I’m more concerned as to how one crackpot scientist and a couple of faceless lab-coat assistants seem to have been allowed to stage an atomic bomb test on their own. Isn’t there some kind of Health & Safety law against that sort of thing?

All this is pretty standard b-movie stuff and actually bares a strange resemblance to Coleman Francis’ bad movie classic ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats’ (1961) but without the bizarre voiceover of that particular oddity. However, there are some factors here that elevate proceedings considerably. Firstly, there’s the cast. Performances are professional and well-delivered. Chief hoodlum Anthony Caruso (later to be a very familiar face due to many appearances on US network TV in the 1970s) is rather good as the villain of the piece and Debra Paget also scores as the good-time girl who betrayed Randell in court. In fact, there’s a pleasing level of professionalism all round.

Unfortunately, there are some significant problems. The most obvious is the story’s ridiculous premise. Slowly turning into a metal man seems to have very little effect on Randell at all, other than rendering him bulletproof and giving him the strength to crush small props. There are no physical signs of this supposed transformation, which gives the audience no reason to either empathise or be horrified by him. Also the action (such as it is) seems strangely disjointed at times, and significant events are spoken of but not shown. In one example Caruso tells his boys to grab Stewart once she’s shaken the cops, only to cut cold to the two of them in the back of his car in the very next scene.

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

The Most Dangerous Man Alive’s weapon of choice was a papier mache rock.

But, as often in the world of low-budget filmmaking, there is a practical reason for the movie’s shortcomings and a story to be told that’s probably far more interesting than the picture itself. The film was shot on location and in studios in Mexico and producer Benedict Bogeaus hired everyone involved on the understanding that they were making a 2-part pilot for a proposed television series. Why? So he could pay them all lower wages than if it was going to be a theatrical release.

But Bogeaus was rumbled when the unions realised they were making a feature film and he had to cough up the difference. Quite right too, of course. Except that meant that he had no money left to build the extra sets that the production required and that the shooting schedule had to be cut from five weeks to one! The fact that Dwan and his team delivered a finished article that was anything other than an absolute train wreck is a serious testament to their abilities and professionalism.

Yes, this is a fairly dull, unappealing and very minor science fiction picture that has mostly slipped through the cracks and been forgotten. However, given both the central premise and the circumstances surrounding its production, that very anonymity is an acknowledgement of movie making success in the presence of serious adversity.

Dwan and his production team neatly avoid a permanent place on bad movie lists everywhere. It might not be much of a movie, but you have to give them that!

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard/Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard:Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)‘But I had no idea Scotland Yard interrogates furniture these days…’

Masked mastermind Fantomas tries to blackmail the richest people in the world by threatening them with sudden death, in particular targeting a wealthy Scottish nobleman. The forces of law and order gather at the Laird’s ancestral castle with a plan to catch the supervillain and end his reign of terror for good…

The third and final part of the 1960s Fantomas trilogy from Gaumont Studios finds all the principals from the series back in front of the camera for regular director André Hunebelle. This is both good news and bad. The biggest joy, of course, is to see star Jean Marias wearing the striking Fantomas mask and also taking on hero duties as intrepid journalist Fandor. As ever he’s accompanied by the lively Mylene Demongeot and, although their partnership is somewhat side-lined this time, they still make for an appealing screen couple. Unfortunately, the bad news is far more serious. Louis de Funes returns as Commissar Juve along with sidekick Inspector Bertrand (Jacques Dynam). Worse still; their tedious comedy routine gets even more screen time than in the previous films.

After his failure to brainwash the world’s population in ‘Fantomas Unleashed’ (1965), our friendly neighbourhood megalomaniac has decided to raise a little nest egg before he gets around to ‘destroying the world.’ Allegedly, he’s braced all the world’s well-off with a simple proposition: pay him a ‘life tax’ or take a long sleep with the fishes. In practice, his scheme mostly seems to involve playing stupid, puerile pranks on policeman de Funes after everyone assembles at the remote castle in Scotland.

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard:Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)

‘Please tell me there are some good jokes on the next page of the script…’

Sure, he kills off lord of the manor Jean-Roger Caussimon and infiltrates a group of syndicate mobsters, but he spends a lot of time hanging corpses in de Funes’ bedroom, which mysteriously disappear when anyone else comes back to see them. It’s a strange plan, to be sure, and unfortunately means that we spend almost the entire second act of the film in the ‘hilarious’ company of de Funes and his second-hand Inspector Clouseau impression. At least his kilt doesn’t fall all the way down, I suppose.

Leaving aside the comedy, the film has a tired, padded feel to it anyway, which is not helped by the 104-minute running time. The story meanders through a number of pointless sequences, including a half-baked séance and an endless fox-hunt that mostly features de Funes looking for his horse. The Scottish locations are also unconvincing and it’s disappointing to find that our villain has abandoned his secret base on the slopes of a volcano to just skulk around the highlands for a bit and take the odd trip in his helicopter. His ambitions have also become strangely limited; for all his threats, it turns out that he’s just after some jewels. This may be more in tune with the original literary source, but doesn’t it seem to be a key element in taking over the world.

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard:Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)

‘Cheerio!’

Judging from the publicity material, de Funes was now the star of the series, even if that may be somewhat hard to credit for a modern audience. However, it was a fact that apparently led to Marias’ decision to hang up the Fantomas mask and pass on a planned fourth film. If that was the case, it’s a decision that was perfectly understandable.

Taken as a trilogy, the Fantomas films are a bit of a disappointment. There’s no doubt that talented people were involved in their creation on both sides of the camera, and there are some fine moments, particularly when Marias is on the screen in the title role. However, rather than embrace the pop culture explosion of the times to try and create something truly memorable, the films just fall back on stale, dated comedic tropes and conventions. And that’s never more obvious than in this final episode.

Rather a frustrating experience.

Fantomas Unleashed/Fantomas Strikes Back/Fantomas de Déchaine (1965)

Fantomas Unleashed (1965)‘I’m sure we’re surrounded by Martians.’

Super villain Fantomas intends to snatch a famous scientist from a conference in Rome. Police Commissioner Juve rushes to stop him, unaware that journalist Fandor is already on the case, disguised as the boffin in question…

The success of Sean Connery’s turn as secret agent 007 had a serious knock-on effect on the European film industry. Sensing a possible box office bonanza, producers rushed out dozens of similar, formulaic projects, and the continent’s capital cities were soon overrun with guns, gadgets and beautiful girls. It also prompted French company Gaumont Films to resurrect mysterious criminal Fantomas and cast him in the role of a Bond villain. It was a pretty obvious fit; the character had been a big success on the silver screen in the silent days and all that was required was to upgrade his aims and objectives from fabulous jewel robberies to world domination. But this time there would be a crucial change of emphasis. Instead of serious drama, these would be played tongue-in-cheek.

The first of the series was ‘Fantomas’ (1964) and it proved to be a considerable success, so it was no surprise when the principal cast and crew returned barely a year later for this sequel. Jean Marias again takes on the dual role of the title character and his nemesis, investigative journalist Fandor. It was always an interesting choice to cast this way as the main weapon in the Fantomas arsenal is his mastery of disguise. Indeed, in the original series of novels by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, the plots often just seemed to be an excuse to put the principal characters in disguise for as many pages as possible! And, given that Fantomas was always a shadowy, anonymous figure (whose very existence is doubted by some), this blurring of identities was always a central aspect of the character. However, in these films, he is given his own clear identity, albeit that is Marias playing the role in a strange, green mask that gives him a weird and genuinely unsettling appearance.

Fantomas Unleashed (1965)

‘You mean I’m not remotely funny?’

Unfortunately, reuniting the cast also means we get more of Police Commissar Juve (Louis de Funes) and his hapless assistant Inspector Bertrand (Jacques Dynam). Yes, the film is not to be taken seriously, but De Funes and Dynam’s tiresome double act constantly derails proceedings just when they seem to be getting interesting. The jokes are obvious and often repetitive when a subtler approach to the humour would almost certainly have been far more effective.

On the plus side, the luminous Mylene Demongeot is back as photographer Héléne, and the easy chemistry between her and Marias helps us over some of the rougher spots. Another point in its favour is that director André Hunebelle keeps things moving at a good pace and has a good eye for shot composition. The cinematography by Raymond Pierre Lemoigne is excellent too.

Fantomas Unleashed (1965)

‘You mean this isn’t the set of Ali Baba & The 40 Thieves’?

All these virtues combine to make this film that rare cinema beast; a sequel that’s actually better than the original. Sure, the lack of budget is visible in places, particularly with the SFX in the climactic scenes with the flying car, but Fantomas gets a greater number of gadgets to play with and there’s much more of a story.

The plot is a cliché, of course, what with the kidnapped scientist and secret weapon, etc. but then it’s supposed to be a satire, after all, and the screenplay (by three separate writers) does exhibit a good level of invention at times.

A pleasant enough way to spend 90 minutes or so, particularly when the more obvious gags are kept offscreen. However, there’s a feeling that, with a different approach, this could have been so much more.

Santo Contra Los Zombies/The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)

Santo Contra Los Zombies:The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)‘I shot one of them right in the face. I saw the hole.’

A professor disappears on his way to deliver a manuscript to his publisher, which contains his research on zombies in Haiti. Meanwhile, a jewellery store is robbed
by three strange men who act like robots and seem to be bulletproof. The police are baffled and call in silver-masked wrestler Santo to assist with their investigations.

El Santo was Mexico’s most famous Luchador, a professional wrestler who became a national icon in his native land. He was a multi-titled champion whose fame led to appearances in many different types of media, including movies, comic books and an animated TV show.  Allegedly, he never removed his iconic mask, even in private company. This feature was the third in the series of his films that ran all the way from 1958 to 1982, and finds our masked hero already tangling with supernatural forces early in his picture career. Because it’s one of the initial entries, the formula is not as set in stone as it was quickly to become, and there are no older films to lift the plot from, but there are many elements familiar to anyone who has ever seen one of his pictures.

The film begins with about two and a half minutes of footage from one of El Santo’s actual wrestling matches before we get to the credits, and we stay in the square ring afterwards, although the subsequent match is obviously staged for the film. The crowd carry on roaring, but we no longer see them, and the ring is shot from a low-angle to brilliantly disguise the fact that there’s now only a couple of dozen people watching. One of these dedicated fans is detective Jaimie Fernandez, who is dragged away from the action by colleagues Dagoberto Rodriguez and lrma Serrano. After the film is 10 minutes old.

A trio of strange men have robbed a local jewellery store, wearing tunics and tights that make them look as if they’ve wandered in from a medieval costume flick or possibly an old Hollywood serial. In related news, police Lieutenant Armando Silvestre is also dealing with the disappearance of Professor Sandoval (or is it ‘Rutherford? The subtitles disagree!) on behalf of distraught daughter Gloria (Lorena Velazquez). Could all these shenanigans have something to do with a mysterious, hooded villain lurking in a Batcave nearby? Silvestre asks Santo to help, which provides our title character with his first and only line of dialogue so far. At this point, there’s 25 minutes on the clock.

Santo Contra Los Zombies:The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)

‘Just pop round to the shops and get me a pint of milk, would you?’

Fernandez and Velazquez go to see Santo wrestle (his third contest if you’re counting!) We assume this is so they can discuss her father’s disappearance, but they leave without speaking to him (why did they go in the first place?) Cut to a dancer being eyeballed by some shady types at a nightclub. Detectives Rodriguez and Serrano turn up to question the club owner (and notorious fence) about the stolen jewellery, which sounds like a promising line of enquiry, but doesn’t pan out as we never see him again.

Our villain wears a hood, even when he’s alone in his Batcave with his (rather small) zombie army, although it doesn’t really matter as the entire audience has probably figured out his identity within the first few scenes of the film. Remaining disguised does turn out to be a wise move, though, as it seems that Santo has managed to place a hidden TV camera in his lair as well as in Silvestre’s office. Technology cuts both ways, though, as the villain has apparent access to all the hi-def CCTV cameras that line the streets of Mexico City! What amazing cable packages were on sale in Mexico in the early 1960s! But, hang on, where is Santo? lsn’t this supposed to be his film? Oh, there he is, getting his first significant scene with dialogue with 40 minutes of the film gone. Not bad, considering the entire feature runs just over twice that length!

As the film progresses, the story develops in a number of silly and cheerfully illogical ways. The zombies attempt to kidnap Serrano (why?) and the villain ‘beams’ them out when Santo turns up like they are the ‘away team’ on an episode of ‘Star Trek’. Having failed with that baffling tactic (just what was he trying to achieve?), our hooded menace zombifies the wrestler due to take on our silver-masked hero in an upcoming title fight. This is done with a huge syringe containing various bubbling liquids and a lot of electrical ‘Frankenstein’ noise going on in the background. What’s actually making this racket is anybody’s guess!

Santo Contra Los Zombies:The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)

‘I told you to get those Health & Safety concerns addressed!’

Luckily, Santo foils this plan by yanking on the wrestlers belt so that smoke comes out of his trunks during the match and he falls down (really dead this time). The villain counters by kidnapping Velazquez because she’s trying to decode some of her father’s notes, although how he knows she’s doing that is as much as mystery as how everyone just turns up at his secret lair for the finale. Perhaps they all had the same excellent cable provider!

None of this is to be taken remotely seriously, of course, but it is interesting how little actual acting the script requires of its star. Beyond the action in the ring, pretty much all he does is take part in some of the ponderous fight scenes and deliver a few lines of explanatory dialogue at the close, although these are very telling. Apparently, the villain’s complex motivation was ‘wealth and power’ and justice will always triumph in the end. How the maniac managed to raise the dead, reverse the signs of decomposition, what the Professor had to do with it and just what the fiend’s long-term objectives were anyway are questions that director Benito Alazraki obviously didn’t believe were worth our time.

It is interesting to see Velazquez playing the helpless heroine here, rather than throwing a mean right hook as one of the ‘Wrestling Women’ or doing a song and dance in hilarious monster-comedy-horror-science fiction-musical ‘Ship of Monsters’ (1965). Although she’d amassed over 30 career credits by this point, she had only been in the industry for six years, so perhaps her talents were still unrecognised. She is the only cast member who delivers any kind of performance, though, and her next assignment proved to be ‘Santo Vs. The Vampire Women’ (1962), a film that shares quite a few of the same cast members as this one and gave her a much juicier role as the Vampire Queen. Rather brilliantly, as of 2019, she is still working with a couple of projects awaiting completion and release.

Classic 1930s and 1940s Hollywood cast a long shadow over the Mexican film industry of the 1960s, producing an odd cocktail of the Universal monsters and Saturday morning serials, filtered through a unique, ‘anything goes’ sensibility. If you’ve ever seen one of Santo’s films, you’ll pretty much know what to expect here: goofy monsters, nonsensical plot, low production values and lots and lots of wrestling.

Fantomas/Fantômas (1964)

Fantomas (1964)Men Hunt Him Down…Women Look Him up!’

A tremendous jewel robbery is carried out by a thief disguised as a member of the English aristocracy. The press put the blame on a mysterious criminal named Fantômas and an ambitious journalist gets a scoop by creating a fictional interview with the villain, but the real Fantômas is not impressed by his article…

The character of super villain and master of disguise, Fantômas was brought to life in a series of books by French authors Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain in 1911. Their work was such a runaway success that a series of five silent films followed, and there would probably have been more if not for the outbreak of the First World War. Amazingly, Gaumont Studios still held the rights to the character over half a century later and launched a new trilogy of films, bringing him firmly into the swinging 60s, via a technicolor world of secret agents, gadgets and beautiful girls.

Jean Marias is Fandor, an investigative journalist who senses a career opportunity when news of the jewel robbery breaks and Police Commissioner Juve (Louis de Funes) goes on TV to rubbish the notion of a master thief in their midst. With help from his photographer girlfriend Héléne (Mylene Demongeot), Marias creates some ‘fake news’ that gets the whole town talking and the real Fantômas (Marias, again) rather ticked off. It’s not long before the reporter finds himself in the villain’s hi-tech, underground lair with Demongeot trapped in a weird, trippy room next door that seems to be half real and half illusion.

At this point, it looks like we’re in for a real treat. Marias looks great as Fantômas in a bald, smooth-faced mask with devil ears, and his entry is accompanied by a little Lon Chaney on the pipe organ. The actor also creates a genuinely unsettling presence, hinting at his less than honourable intentions towards Demongeot with delicious glee. Unfortunately, the reporter manages to flag this up with jealous Lady Beltham (Marie-Hélene Arnaud), and she arranges for our heroic couple to escape. The character of Lady Beltham as the lover and partner in crime of Fantômas was integral to the novels but it’s peripheral here, and she never appears in the trilogy again. It may have been that there was an intention to develop a relationship between Fantômas and the Demongeot character, but, if so, it was never pursued.

But, more importantly, this is the moment where the film begins to slide seriously downhill. Within a short time, Fantômas is on the run and being pursued by Marias (as Fandor) and Demongeot, as well as de Funes and the forces of law and order. ln his flight, he utilises five different types of transport, which is a neat idea, but the chase is shot without any real dynamism or invention and soon begins to drag. As the film closes in on a finish, we realise that there is simply no story left and the audience is thrown back on the comic mugging of de Funes and some underwhelming action. Although it does have to be acknowledged that Marias obviously did his own stunts, including a leap from a moving train, which looks a fair way beyond the call of duty. The problem is that no real momentum is built, and the climax is almost non-existent.

It’s appropriate for the era when the film was made that director André Hunebelle ditches the serious approach of the character’s early days and aims for a more light-hearted, freewheeling approach, and it’s not the worst artistic decision ever made. However, it has done much to encourage the trilogy’s somewhat mixed reputation. This film does hit a fair balance between humour and action, but more of the latter would certainly have helped. Marias is excellent in both roles and it’s an interesting casting decision, perhaps prompted by the fact that the character’s true identity is never really established in the source material.

A decent slice of 1960s fun that runs out of steam around the end of the second act and never recovers. Marias is very good, but you just can’t help wishing he was in a much better film.