Flashman (1967)

Flashman (1967)‘I’m afraid you’re wasting your bullets. They only tickle.’

Thieves murder a professor for his invisibility formula and use it to help them rob a bank. Unfortunately, a lot of their ill-gotten gains had already been replaced with counterfeit notes by a gang of beautiful women and, worse still, the chief teller is actually crime fighter Flashman in disguise.

Painfully uninspired cross between a caper movie and a superhero flick, which struggles throughout to find a focus for its rambling storyline. ls it Paolo Gozlino’s ‘Flashman’, a hero with a silly costume and not much else? ls it Claudie Lange’s girl gang, who cosy up to bank staff at work and swap out real currency with funny money right under their noses? Or is it lvano Staccioli’s cigarette floating in mid-air and chair cushions sinking under his invisible arse? Well, it’s all of these things, and none at all, really.

We open with a swinging montage of bright, primary colours and the camera zooming crazily in and out on tinted stills from the film. Girlie singers sing the name of the movie. Yeah, it’s the Sixties, baby! This Italian movie tries desperately to mine that ‘anything goes’ vibe but fails miserably to capture the spirit of the age with a pedestrian, laboured script which is little more than a scribble on a table napkin.

Our main man is Lord Burman, working undercover in his own banking to foil the counterfeiting ring, and then getting the blame for the more direct methods of the invisible bank robber and his pals. A quick exit is necessary through a convenient window, which leaves the guards flummoxed as he simply disappears! l guess it’s because he has a silly costume back in his closet at home. Also along for the ride is sister sidekick Ann Marie Williams, who contributes a series of silly outfits, outlandish makeup and little else. Flashman’s main squeeze is Micaela Pignatelli (from ‘Goldface, The Fantastic Superman’ (1967)!!), who ends up tied to the train tracks to the accompaniment of tiresome ‘comedy’ music (note the inverted commas).

Flashman (1967)

‘Something for the weekend, sir?’

No, the film doesn’t take itself very seriously, which is a bonus, so there is a fair bit of knock about humour, usually at the expense of ‘the man’, in the form of Police Inspector Baxter (Jack Ary). Sadly, it lacks, wit, style and any kind of madcap sensibility that might have provided some entertainment value. Instead, we have a succession of lifeless developments that really go nowhere, and painfully obvious pratfalls. ln the end, the film simply disintegrates into an extended climactic, chase sequence, which sorely tries the patience.

The only notable creative touch comes from director ????, who sometimes favours close-ups so huge that we can only see part of the actor’s faces. But I guess we have to be kind and assume that it’s some kind of aspect ratio issue, rather than a testament to the amount of strange substances consumed on set.

Enough material for an unfunny comedy sketch does not make for a good film.

Valley of the Dragons/Prehistoric Valley (1961)

Valley of the Dragons (1961)‘The whole thing fairly boggles the mind.’

An Irishman and a Frenchman meet to fight a duel, but are interrupted when a comet strikes the Earth and sweeps them away into space. Deciding to work together to survive, they are staggered to find they now live on a prehistoric world…

Dreary B-Picture from writer-director Edward Bernds that bares a far closer resemblance to ‘The Lost World’ of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than the Jules Verne novel ‘Off On A Comet’ on which it is allegedly based. Sadly, all the usual cliches are present and correct, including desperately unconvincing studio sets, monster stock footage and cave girls with perfect hair and teeth. Considering the brief 82 minute running time, the story drags from one padded scene to the next, providing no sparks of interest or creativity.

Our feuding heroes are Cesare Danova and Sean McClory, who are about to try and shoot each other over a woman when the world is hit by a large firework. Waking up after it’s all over, they find themselves in a strange world filled with potted plants and cardboard caves. A trip into the tunnels finds Danova attacked by a giant plastic spider, which looks remarkably similar to the prop featured in ‘World Without End’ (1956) which was also directed by the prolific Bernds. McClory saves the day and the two decide to forget their differences and team up. Later they are separated, but Danova ends up pitching woo with blonde cave girl Joan Staley from one tribe, and McClory makes goo-goo eyes with brunette Danielle De Metz from their hated rivals.

It’s fortunate for everyone that evolution has stopped on this comet, which is perfectly plausible if you examine the science (citation needed). This allows for an appearance by our old friends the fighting lizards from ‘One Million B.C.’ (1940); still going strong after over twenty years in the business, although forever typecast in monster roles. Their presence means that of course we get the smoking volcano which erupts barely a minute after making its initial appearance around the hour mark.

This is pedestrian stuff at best, which also throws in some brief footage of Japanese prehistoric bird ‘Rodan’ (1957), as well as Staley frolicking with Danova underwater in an animal skin bikini. The Italian leading man hit the big time within a couple of years, landing a major role in notorious Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor epic ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) and his subsequent career also included a role in Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). After that, he made guest star appearances on countless US Network TV shows, such as ‘Cannon’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Gemini Man’, ‘Hart to Hart’ and ‘Fantasy Island.’ McClory fared less well but did appear in director John Huston’s final film ‘The Dead’ (1987).

Valley of the Dragons (1961)

‘Why do you suppose we never get to do comedy?’

Bernds was a journeyman director on the lower rungs of the Hollywood ladder and was responsible for over a hundred pictures. This included camp classic ‘Queen of Outer Space’ (1958) with Zsa Zsa Gabor, which he refused to watch in subsequent years because it reminded him of working with the actress. There was also ‘The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters’ (1954), the halfway decent ‘World Without End’ (1956) and horror sequel ‘The Return of the Fly’ (1959) which also featured the lovely De Metz.

Amazingly, Bernds was actually nominated for an Oscar for his 1955 comedy ‘High Society’ (1955)! Unfortunately, the Academy had meant to honour the Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly musical of the same name!

No chance of this ‘epic’ winning any awards…

The Devil’s Man/Devilman Story (1967)

The Devil's Man/Devilman Story (1967)‘You are only as beautiful as I am ugly. Señorita, you want some chestnuts?’

A brilliant brain surgeon is kidnapped shortly after he arrives in Rome with his daughter. An American journalist agrees to work with her to track him down, but their investigations lead them into danger in the uncharted African desert.

It’s always a little tricky evaluating films made on foreign shores (Italy, in this case) that have been ‘adapted’ for release in US and UK markets. This one was quite probably pretty bad in the first place, but the attentions of an ‘overenthusiastic’ editor certainly don’t do it any favours, and leave us drowning in a sea of incoherence. The picture opens with a very brief pre-credit sequence of a man escaping from some kind of secret base guarded by desert tribesman. He isn’t properly introduced, and never appears again, although we do find out who he was supposed to be. But that’s an ongoing problem here; character identities are never probably established, and several of them don’t even get names, despite featuring quite prominently.

There is also some confusion as to the featured cast. According to the imdb, our brain surgeon is played by Giovanni Cianfriglia who, as Ken Wood, appeared as masked crimefighter Superargo in a couple of films around the same time. Cianfriglia filled out that superhero suit quite impressively with his athletic physique and muscular development. He was most definitely not a small, grey haired man approaching his sixties! Simiarly, imdb credits Euro-babe Diana Lorys as ‘Yasmin’ but, unless our friend with the ready scissors excised her role completely, she doesn’t appear either. So what gives? Well, it appears that the problem’s arisen because this film shares a lot of the same players as ‘Superargo and the Faceless Giants’ (1968). Both movies star Guy Madison (more familiar from US Westerns!), heroine Luisa Baratto and suppprting actor Valentino Macchi. Also both were directed by Paolo Bianchini (Paul Maxwell for US audiences). So, Cianfraglia and Lorys, who appeared in the ‘Superargo’ film, have ended up credited here as well.

Back at the story, once the opening credits have rolled, we join Professor Whatsisname (played by someone or other) and daughter Baratto (Liz Barrett for US audiences) as they disembark at Rome’s main airport. It’s a strange sequence. The Professor checks in with a passport that looks like a comic book, people wander aimlessly about the terminal for five minutes, a lounge lizard croons on the soundtrack and the camera tilts at some truly alarming ‘dutch’ angles. I guess it was supposed to be ‘style’ but it looks more like the camera operator had a few too many at lunchtime. There’s no other sequence quite like it in the film.

Once they’ve arrived at the hotel, the Prof is off for some scientific meeting, leaving Baratto to wander aimlessly about the streets of Rome for five minutes, being offered chestnuts by some ugly bloke and such like total irrelevancies. Eventually, she goes to see her father and finds him gone and his colleague murdered. Up pops reporter Guy Madison who stops her calling the police (they never get called) and persuades her to investigate her father’s disappearance with him as he’s found clues in the lab referring to ‘Dorothy’ and the initials ‘K.B.’ She goes along with this, despite never having met him before or knowing who he is. They catch a taxi outside, which he stops suddenly a few minutes later so he can go and meet ‘Dorothy’ on a bridge. She’s just there. Somehow. She doesn’t know ‘K.B.’ but the initials are on her key ring! Cut to Madison talking with some bloke. We gather this is supposed to be ‘K.B.’ He never appears in the film again. Neither does Dorothy. Who were they exactly again? Now, all this total incoherence begs an obvious question. If you have to edit a film down to 82 minutes from a longer cut, why would you reatin the lengthy scenes at the airport and Barrato being offered chestnuts and instead bin vital exposition scenes that might actually have helped the plot make some kind of sense? It’s a mystery that will probably never been solved.

The Devil's Man/Devilman Story (1967)

‘Didn’t you think I was good as Superargo?’

Anyway, the trail leads to the African desert, where they have absolutely no trouble in getting a line on this ‘secret base’ and the ‘Devil Man’ who rules the local region. On the way they are suddenly attacked by a huge tribe of desert nomads who look like they’ve arrived from another movie entirely and, given that less than a half a dozen share the frame with our heroic couple, they probably have.

Then it’s off to the base where our ‘Phantom of the Opera’ villain has recruited the Prof to help transfer an electronic brain into his head (or something like that). On his staff is veteran Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, who is always good value, and is fondly remembered from other such ‘guilty pleasures’ as ‘Lycanthropus (Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory’) (1961) and ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Anyway, Madison throws punches at guards, fires a gun, the desert tribesmen attack (at least I think it’s them, it’s all a bit dark!), and everything blows up. In fact, it all blows up so violently that either the SFX team had some dynamite they had to use up or explosion footage from other films was on sale that week (probably the latter).

This was probably not a good film in any version, but the US cut is quite the trainwreck. Highly recommended.

Zeta One (1969)

Zeta One (1969)‘lt’s a simple enough process, though I doubt if I could explain it to you.’

A secret agent recounts the story of his latest mission; an adventure involving an alien queen, her hypnotised army of kidnapped Earth women and a sinister aristocrat who has vowed to defeat them by any means necessary.

Terrible British science fiction sex comedy from Tigon Studios starring James Robertson Justice, Charles Hawtrey and Robin Hawdon. The latter is special agent James Word (l suppose his word is his Bond, or something?) who, returning home, unexpectedly finds a sexy blonde (Yutte Stensgarrd) in his apartment. Rather than being in the shower (as per usual with spy flicks from the 1960s) she’s in the kitchen instead; tidying up and cooking coq-au-vin (yes, there are some jokes about that). She’s only too ready to fall for his charms, of course, but seems more interested in hearing about his latest escapade than getting between the sheets. Both things happen (after an interminable game of strip poker), and most of the rest of the film is made up of this extended flashback. Anyone familiar with bad movies will be hearing alarm bells ringing already. The scene lasts almost 20 minutes; a fifth of the films entire running time!

Yes, what we have here is obviously a ‘troubled’ production. The history of it may be lost but it’s easy to take a guess at what probably happened. About 50 minutes of footage was shot with the main cast and then the money ran out. Our alien queen is Zeta (Dawn Addams) who is seen only in her retro-headquarters interacting with some of her minions and the kidnapped Wendy Lingham. Adams is from the planet Angiva which (in case you hadn’t noticed) is an anagram of ‘Vagina’. Robertson-Justice and Hawtrey are seen mostly in a manor house and the surrounding grounds and, although both have a scene with Lingham, they never meet with Addams. Hawdon only interacts with Stensgaard and another blonde, Anna Gaël, who plays one of Zeta’s agents. Gaël does have a scene with Robertson-Justice and Hawtrey but they never actually share the frame. It’s patchwork filmmaking at its finest, courtesy of producer Tony Tenser and director Michael Cort.

Not surprisingly, the film can’t overcome these difficulties and, even if it had been completed as intended, it’s hard to believe it would have been anything but dreadful. The humour is inane, the script weak and, although the presence of lots of bare-breasted lovelies may have attracted a certain crowd, it’s not one noted for its love of quality filmmaking. Tenser and the Tigon Studio had enjoyed commercial and critical success with the brilliant ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968) starring Vincent Price, and went onto the highly regarded rural horror ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’ (1970). It’s unclear if the success of that first film convinced Addams and Robertson-Justice to get involved here. It may have been that their footage was actually older, and that it was a couple of years before Hawdon, Stensgaard and Gael were brought on board to bring things up to (barely) feature length.

Zeta One (1969)

‘You mean, there’s actually a script?!’

What we do know is that Robertson-Justice was ‘deeply ashamed’ of appearing in this production, although whether it was the large amount of nakedness on display or the quality of the film that bothered him is unrecorded. Hawtrey, who has almost nothing to do, had previous in the British science fiction arena with his appearance in hilariously inept ‘The Terrornauts’ (1967) and quickly returned to the ‘Carry On’ series after this.

Stensgaard and the statuesque Valerie Leon went onto be Hammer heroines in ‘Lust For A Vampire’ (1971) and ‘Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb’ (1971) respectively. The only thing of note in this film is the appearance of a bad-tempered elevator, whose vocal complaints might be said (at a stretch) to foreshadow the talking appliances of ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’, among many others.

If you think this film might be good for a bit of harmless titillation (a-ha ha ha!), then you can pretty much forget it. The only stiffness you’ll get from this is the kind that comes with boredom. But that’s enough bad puns about sex. If you want to know why the British film industry fell into the doldrums in the 1970s then you’d be hard pressed to find a better answer than this.

How To Make A Doll (1968)

How To Make A Doll (1968)‘All my life I wished l could have a bunny of my own. Even a stuffed one became important.’

A nerdy college professor has spent his whole life with his head buried in books and taken no interest in women. When he decides to get involved, he has no appropriate social skills, and is forced to team up with an old research scientist to create robots to satisfy his dating needs. But the experiment is too successful and he gets more than he bargained for!

Science Fiction sex comedy from cult director Herschell Gordon Lewis! Yes, the king of splatter takes a break from disembowelling and dismemberment to try his hand at this lightweight soufflé of blondes, slapstick and general buffoonery. He was never happy with the finished product, blaming the lack of budget, but he really should have been pointing the finger at the laugh-free script and a story so slight it almost disappears entirely. Unfortunately, it hangs around for 80 minutes instead.

Our hero is Robert Wood, an actor with only one other credit; Lewis’ excruciating biker flick ‘She-Devils On Wheels’ (1968). He mugs shamelessly as the naive academic, delivering a performance lurching wildly between overdone social awkwardness and overdone lechery. His partner in crime is mechanical genius Jim Vance, who, rather than stick around to enjoy the ample charms of the half dozen girls created by his machine, prefers to merge with his computer instead (shades of Johnny Depp in ‘Transcendence’ (2015)!) and live vicariously through Wood’s memories which he downloads every night via a hairdryer contraption.

How To Make A Doll (1968)

Scientific research could be very tiring.

Not surprisingly, this is all pretty sexist stuff. The robot women step out of the machine already dressed in bikinis, and have no personalities at all. ‘Real’ heroine Bobbi West is little better, even if she is required to actually deliver the odd line of dialogue. I know this is a lightweight piece of fluff filmed almost half a century ago, but it was the late 1960s, a time of radical attitudes and forward thinking. Little of that on display here.

A lot worse than the dodgy views on gender, is the sheer boredom of the piece. The sound mix is so atrocious that it’s pretty obvious there was no budget for looping dialogue in post-production, and most of the action is confined to one, almost empty set. The acting is terrible across the board with Wood narrowly winning the contest for the most aggravating performance. The humour is dreadfully laboured with Vance’s machine producing an endless series of ‘wacky’ noises in lieu of any actual jokes or humorous developments. It all makes for a truly painful audience experience, likely to induce comas or serious medical complications even in the hardiest of bad movie fans.

If you’re a Lewis completist, then, of course, you’ll have to track this down and watch it. If you do, let me know and I will pray for you.

Quite frankly, one of the worst films I have ever seen.

The Diabolical Dr Z / Miss Muerte (1965)

The_Diabolical_Dr_Z_(1966)‘Your magnificent nails make deadly weapons.’

A convicted murderer escapes on the eve of his hanging, but becomes the experimental subject of neurologist Dr Zimmer. When the mad medico’s theories are ridiculed at a conference of his peers, he has a seizure and dies, but his daughter is only too willing to carry on his dubious work…

There’s a twisted mixture of mutilation, sadism and murder in this black and white French/Spanish co-production from cult director Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco. It’s cut from the same cloth as his early hits ‘The Awful Dr Orloff’ (1961) and ‘The Secret of Dr Orloff’ (1964). The three films are not directly related (despite the titles!) but share a lot in terms of both plot and theme.

For a start, we have the scientist who ‘meddles in things that man must leave alone’, on this occasion the blind Dr Zimmer, portrayed by Antonio Jiménez Escribano. He’s trying to isolate ‘good’ and ‘evil’ impulses in the brain, with many of the same aims as another famous researcher, the late unlamented Dr Henry Jekyll. Of course, Zimmer is a genius too, but, just as predictably, his methods alarm the conservative medical establishment led by Howard Vernon (already a regular in Franco’s pictures). When Zimmer pops his clogs, daughter Irina (the striking Mabel Karr) vows to get even with Vernon, as well as jeering ‘experts’ Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui and Cris Heurta. It’s hardly an original plot, and was allegedly based on a novel by co-screenwriter David Khune (actually Franco himself). Indeed, the director liked the basic storyline so much that he recycled it almost note for note in one of his best regarded pictures ‘She Killed In Ecstasy’ (1971).

Karr’s methods here involve killing a blonde hitchhiker (Ana Castor) in order to fake her own death (somewhat unconvincingly), getting her face burned in the process (somewhat pointlessly) and then using nightclub dancer Estella Blain to carry out the assassinations using her long, poison-tipped fingernails. Anyone with a knowledge of Franco’s work will see plenty of familiar elements; in some ways the film serves as a template for many of his later productions. Blain’s nightclub act as ‘Miss Death’ involves dressing in a black body stocking and writhing about on stage with a tailor’s dummy, characters are restrained before being penetrated by needles and other devices, and there’s some implied lesbianism in Karr’s relations with both Blain and Castor. The fact that it’s only implied probably had far more to do with the censors of the time than anything else, given Franco’s comments regarding the restrictions on his films of the period. Yes, it’s not hard to tell what Franco liked!

The_Diabolical_Dr_Z_(1966)

‘Just a little lower…to the right a bit…yes, that’s it!’

Considered as a horror thriller, rather than a window on the director’s psyche, this is far better assembled than a lot of his subsequent projects, with decent production values and good black and white cinematography from Alejandro Ulloa. The photography in particular makes for some excellent sequences set in narrow, mist-filled backstreets and helps to convey a sense of credibility which perhaps the hokey and formulaic ‘revenge’ plot doesn’t really deserve.

Still, the story is well-paced and Karr delivers the sort of performance which allows the audience to overlook the less than interesting work of her fellow cast members. The script gives Dr Orloff an early namecheck, which is a nice touch, but the scene where two detectives discuss the professional details of their murder case in front of a man who logic dictates would be a major suspect, can’t help but raise the eyebrows and a smile.

Pretty standard mid-1960s Euro-Horror that nevertheless has some interesting aspects and is certainly essential for fans of Franco’s work.

The Andromeda Nebula (1967)

The Andromeda Nebula (1967)‘Not only heard, but also saw in the last news, the solemn deed of conveyance of the matters.’

An exploratory interplanetary mission is caught in the attraction of an ‘Iron Star’ and has insufficient fuel to effect an escape, leaving the astronauts stranded. Back on Earth, senior scientists and public officials wait for news of the mission.

Slow paced and talky Russian science fiction based on a novel by Ivan Efremov, who also adapted his work for the screen here. The results are curious, although a little on the dull side. For a start, the audience is thrown straight into the story, with no context for the future society we see portrayed, or even a basic explanation of what is going on. Although this is quite refreshing in a time when films tend to provide over-exposition as a standard, it does mean that some incidents are rather baffling. What is ‘The Ring’ they keep talking about? What are those signals coming from Satellite 57, and why did they consist of lots of dancing girls shown in brightly coloured silhouettes? Search me.

The main thrust of the story concerns our interplanetary pioneers. They’re rather a glum bunch, especially when they find out that capture by the ‘Iron Star’ probably means hanging around 25 years for a rescue mission to arrive from Earth. Unfortunately, the lack of any kind of setup to the action doesn’t assist with audience investment in their problems.

However, we do get an emotional focus with pretty, young astro-navigator Tatyana Voloshina and her love for crusty commander Nikolai Kryukov. He doesn’t seem to reciprocate, but we suspect he’s weakening. The discovery of a derelict spaceship on a nearby planet offers hope, but the rock isn’t unoccupied, and the residents are not particularly friendly. Back on Earth, we get some underdeveloped romantic complications concerning a couple of the officials (Sergei Stolyarov and Vija Artmane), and some bloke who wants to ‘collapse time.’

The Andromeda Nebula (1967)

Even in the future,  the opening ceremony of the Olympics was still boring…

One of the main issues with the film is that the two disparate halves never come together. The film runs less than 80 minutes, but several important threads of the plot are left dangling after the final credits. The explanation for all this is quite simple. This was the first of an intended series of films based on Efremov’s work, but the rest were never made after its poor reception. It’s a pity, because it would have been interesting to see how the story was going to develop. Seeking out the novel is probably the only way to get any closure.

There are some pleasing aspects, nevertheless. The difficulties caused by the immense distances involved in interstellar travel are a recurrent theme, and that’s unusual. Obviously, it’s usually ignored in fiction because of the dramatic problems it creates. There are also some halfway decent visuals and practical effects, and the interior of the spacecraft is fairly credible for a change, even if it does have a pool!

As a whole, the film is not particularly satisfying, but it feels wrong to regard it too harshly. That would be like judging a book after only reading the first half.