N. P. Il Segreto (1971)

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)‘Now we’ll experiment by putting in some trash, but we could comfortably use human or animal excrement.’

An engineer has perfected a device that will automate all industries and eliminate the need for a human workforce. He is kidnapped, brainwashed and set free to wander the streets with no memories or identity…

Curious science-fiction piece from Italian writer-director Silvano Agosti that tells a story of seismic societal change. Unfortunately, it’s delivered in such a wilfully obscure and oblique manner as to leave any potential audience indifferent and frustrated.

Engineer N.P. (Francisco Rabal) heads up GIAR, the ‘Industrial Group of Reunited Enterprises’ and he declares an end to the world of work. His new machines will completely eliminate the need for manual labour. The workers will be freed from their toils and given a share of the incalculable profits that his new innovations will bring. His announcement means a round of TV interviews and meetings with very important people, including leaders of the priesthood. Unfortunately for Rabal, these prove to be thugs in disguise who kidnap and brainwash him, erasing all his memories.

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)

‘Putting a political agenda ahead of entertainment in a film? Don’t be ridiculous.’

Now it might reasonably be assumed that these villains are representatives of the captains of industry, who are desperate to retain the status quo. And that might be so, but we never find out. The film is not big on specifics. In another odd development, he’s left on his own and freed by a man in a raincoat. After some sleeping rough and dumpster diving, he is then recaptured (by the same people?) and forced to sign over all his work to them (apparently he can still remember his signature!)

While incarcerated, Rabal is declared a fatality in the plane crash that kills his children and their nanny. His wife Ingrid Thulin (‘Wild Strawberries’ (1957) and several other films by Ingmar Bergman) attends his funeral, which is the kind of big-budgeted affair generally reserved for heads of state. After that, his captors let the speechless Rabal go, and eventually, he gets taken in by Irene Papas (‘The Guns of Navarone’ (1960)) and her family in the poor part of town. His original reforms are pushed through, and they are all relocated to specially constructed housing zones where no-one has to work, and everyone lives on government handouts.

Ok, where to begin? The film is not big on dialogue and, although a lack of exposition can sometimes be refreshing, some information is required to keep an audience on board. For a start, how is Rabal’s perfect new society supposed to work on an economic level? All we see of his ‘machines’ and ‘process’ is some guff about recycling, and the only evidence we see of societal change is that Papas’ family move to a nicer neighbourhood and have nicer things. There are some scenes of mass street protests, but the point of these is never really explained, although Agosti probably should get credit for some fine guerilla filmmaking here. Sure, a few figures in the foreground of certain shots are holding up banners with messages relevant to the film but, given the massive scale of the crowds involved, these are highly likely to have been real political marches with a few members of the director’s crew photobombing the frame.

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)

‘You think so? Gregory Peck could kick your ass.’

There are also so much more basic storytelling issues. Rabal is supposed to be dead, so why would his captors release him back into the world? Why not just kill him for real? Ok, he doesn’t remember who he is, but isn’t someone going to recognise a world-famous man who has appeared regularly on TV and had a funeral attended by hundreds? Apparently not. Also, why do all that to him in the first place? His reforms come to pass anyway.

And now we come to the ending. This is a potential spoiler (and I say ‘potential’ because the climax is deliberately ambiguous), but if you don’t want my interpretation of what the ending may mean then best stop reading now.

The brief demonstration of Rabal’s process in the early part of the film focuses on a ‘Butterfiy’ device. This seems to be a method where organic material can be extracted from any kind of garbage and turned into food. It’s recycling to the ultimate; hell, one boffin even remarks that human and animal excrement can be used. So, taking ‘Soylent Green’ (1973) to another level, then? Soylent Brown, perhaps? If you’re at all familiar with the 1973 big-budget Hollywood movie starring Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson, then you’ll know where I’m going with this.

Having said that, it’s just a possible interpretation of the final scenes, and I can find no evidence that there was any litigation filed by the makers of this film with MGM over their far more famous production. Yes, that film was based on a novel (the superb ‘Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison) but the twist ending was not in the source material. In fact, by all accounts, Harrison hated it.

This is an odd film. Events proceed in a very standard linear fashion, and it is always clear what is happening on screen, it just doesn’t make logical sense in the context of the wider story.

There are some interesting themes here, but there’s never any real opportunity to engage with the film.

Star Odyssey/Sette Uomini D’Oro Nello Spazio (1979)

Star Odyssey (1979)‘Sol 3 is better than I thought it was when I bought it.’

An alien slave trader wins the planet Earth at auction and launches an invasion in order to secure the raw materials of his business. The situation looks hopeless until a gang of swashbuckling mavericks with special skills step into the breach to try to save the day…

In the wake of the global explosion of ‘Star Wars’ (1977), many filmmakers rushed their own space operas into production in all corners of the world. Most of them only had one go at the genre, but some were markedly more enthusiastic. Take a bow, Alfonso Brescia. Under the name of Al Bradley, the Italian director delivered four such pictures in the space of a couple of years, five if you count ‘The Beast In Space’ (1980) (although we probably shouldn’t as it was a semi-porno.) Of course, he recycled the same sets, costumes and SFX, and even some of the same actors, most notably Yanti Somer, who was the female lead in most and appears here.

The last of Brescia’s quartet of space epics doesn’t waste any time in getting started (more on that later), with big bad Kess of Kol launching an immediate alien invasion that leaves the Earth at his mercy. The authorities simply can’t deal with him, even though his main weapons seem to be badly integrated library footage of big explosions and androids in silly blonde wigs prancing about in the woods. Mankind’s last, worst hope turns out to be freewheeling Professor Ennio Balbo and his ragtag bag of misfits who operate on both sides of the law (try not to yawn, Ladies and Gentlemen). These include dapper Gianni Garko, who sports black leather trousers and a nifty shirt with a glittery spider design. His hypnotic powers allow him to see through cards at the local casino (useful thing this hypnotism stuff!) and break scientists Chris Avram and Malisa Longo out of intergalactic prison (‘It’s a terrible bore being under the freeze ray for a warm-hearted girl’.)

Strangely enough when Garko’s well on his way to work the jailbreak via a cut-price Millennium Falcon, he finds himself right back at the card table in the casino, and the blonde he’d helped win earlier is still playing her numbers game across the room. Then we see Kess  of Kol buying the Earth at auction (which we kind of thought that he’d already done?!) So, what’s happening? Has the film a complex flashback structure? Or does it have a mind-bending timeline in the tradition of director Christopher Nolan? Um, probably neither. It’s far more likely that the editor simply got the reels of film mixed up and put some of the scenes together in the wrong order! l’m not even joking.

Star Odyssey (1979)

‘Don’t make it so…just don’t.’

Once we’ve passed this strange temporal anomaly, we’re treated to the scientists spending most of the running time trying to isolate something to counterattack the alien substance ‘lnderium’ (ln the end they call it ‘Anti-lnderium’ folks!) We also get ‘comedy’ (l use the term very loosely) provided by two bickering robots in love (the girl ‘bot has big eyelashes!) There’s also a pedal bin with flashing lights that stands in for R2D2.

After about an hour, our zeroes do finally manage to achieve something when they get their hands on some lnderium Swords (cough; lightsabers; cough). There are no big space battles, but we are treated to Norman (Roberto Dell’Acqua) taking part in the Android-Human World Championship where he squares off in the ring against an eight foot tall tin can called Hercules. And we also get uptight Nino Castelnuovo as Lt Oliver ‘Hollywood’ Carrera who has a ridiculously paint-on Errol Flynn moustache.

As 1970s Science Fiction goes, this is predictably dreadful stuff (which ‘Star Wars’ knock-offs weren’t?) but it’s actually worse than most due to its almost total lack of action and annoying ‘humorous’ elements. There’s a second (third?) hand feel to everything, and it’s no surprise that Brescia abandoned intergalactic exploration shortly afterward (if you forget the porno!) Unfortunately, he did return to the fantastical arena with dreadful ‘Ator The Invincible’ sword and sorcery fiasco ‘Iron Warrior’ (1987).

Rather brilliantly, in this film some of the supporting cast appear ‘in alphabetical order’ in the starting credits. It actually says that. Only it seems that a mighty strange alphabet was used. Because they don’t. Not even close.

Take my word for it; the whole thing’s best avoided.

Morel’s Invention (1974)

Morel's Invention (1974)‘Why don’t we talk about the construction of the tennis court?’

A shipwreck survivor washes up on a rocky, barren island. The only sign of habitation is a group of strange buildings, which appear to have been abandoned years earlier. Later on, he sees couples dancing to an old gramophone on the edge of a cliff, but when he approaches one of the group, she simply ignores him.

Unusual Italian science fiction project directed by Emidio Greco and based on a novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. From the very beginning, the film refuses to pander to the audience, providing no information to pinpoint the story location, time period, or the identity and circumstances of main protagonist Giulio Brogi. lt’s an approach that’s quite refreshing in an era where films often open with lots of exposition, provided either via captions or a narrative voiceover. Here, not a word of dialogue is spoken in the first half hour of this film, and it’s a tribute to Greco’s talent as a director that he keeps the audiences invested in our castaway’s plight.

Part of the credit for this has to go down to the ‘look’ of the film and its technical accomplishments. The Maltese location is quite striking and its timeless quality is emphasised by the superbly crisp photography of Silvano lppoliti, whose long career involved projects for directors such as Riccardo Freda, Sergio Corbucci and Tinto Brass, including the notorious ‘Caligula’ (1979). Whether the buildings were constructed specifically for the purpose of the film or already existed is unclear, but they are certainly impressive and credit should also be given to Amedeo Fago for the production design of the interiors.

As the film progresses, Brogi becomes more and more bewildered, the island’s occupants seeming to be a weekend party who dress in 1920s fashions, look right through him, and carry on the same conversations over and over again. They even dance to their gramophone in the middle of a rainstorm. All the while, he is falling for the beautiful Anna Karina, who also seems to be the target of their host, the steely Morel (John Steiner).

After some time and no further story progression, the audience can be forgiven for suspecting that nothing is going to be resolved and what they are witnessing is an exercise in pretension, which will need intellectual film critics to explain. But this is not the case. The answer to the mystery does come, and it is surprising and quite original. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really leave the story with many places to go afterwards.

Morel's Invention (1974)

The Ritz had gone downhill since his last visit…

Greco was undoubtedly aiming for a very slow burn and, while the film has a strange fascination, it doesn’t really have enough story for its 110 minute length, and some judicious tightening would have helped. The lack of information about our leading man (we don’t even find out his name) and a low key performance from Brogi makes emotional connection with him a little difficult, and that’s crucial considering the film’s last act.

Karina was famous as a muse for 1960s ‘new wave’ film director Jean-Luc Goddard, appearing in ‘Alphaville’ (1965), ‘Bande à Part’ (1964) and several of his other films. Steiner was an English actor based in Italy and has an incredibly diverse filmography, credits including the afore-mentioned ‘Caligula’ (1979), horror maestro Mario Bava’s last film ‘Shock’ (1978), Dario Argento’s ‘Tenebrae’ (1982), and many ‘direct to video’ projects in the early 1980s. He also stole the show as the over the top villain in the wonderfully ridiculous ‘Sinbad of the Seven Seas’ (1989) with ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.

An intriguing setup and some memorable images make this one well worth seeking out. However, the slow pace means it’s certainly not for everyone.

Tentacles (1977)

Tentacles (1977)‘All octopi, large or small, have a sense of foresight.’

A seaside community is rocked when a series of mutilated corpses wash up inland. A local journalist believes the mysterious deaths are connected to the ocean floor activities of a local tycoon.

Patchwork Italian riff on ‘Jaws’ (1975), that’s shows all the signs of being stapled together from footage shot at different times when various cast members were available. But what a cast it is! Holding everything together is film director John Huston as a local journalist in a kaftan, along with Hollywood legends Henry Fonda and Shelley Winters. Support comes from well-respected players and familiar faces Claude Akins and Bo Hopkins.

Huston apparently regarded his acting career as ‘a bit of a lark’, but was presumably not to averse to a good payday to help fund his own projects. A year after this, he donned a safari suit for the truly barmy ‘Close Encounters’ rip-off ‘The Visitor’ (1978) (catch it if you can!) Fonda has only a handful of scenes here and the only member of the cast he interacts with is Cesare Danova. Winters plays Huston’s sister and has a couple of young kids in tow. The sprogs want to take part in the local yachting regatta (I wonder where that part of the plot is going?)

To be fair, the set-up’s not all that bad with Huston and Akins putting on their serious detective faces when a toddler disappears from a baby carriage by the water. The incident’s swiftly followed by some eviscerated bodies washing up on the shoreline and a couple of divers coming to a soggy end. Fonda is the local businessman whose company are digging some kind of an undersea tunnel, but we never see it or find out why they’re doing it! Unfortunately, his deputy Danova has been ‘experimenting with frequencies beyond the legal limit’ (whatever that means!) and that’s pissed off a local giant squid who likes to make the acquaintance of anyone using a radio. Fonda and Huston do chat on the phone, although they were obviously filmed separately. Having all this heavyweight talent on board does give the film a certain credibility (all it has), and our starry players just about escape with their dignity intact.

Where the film really falls apart is after about an hour when old Squiddly takes an interest in the local regatta. He cuts through the water towards the sailboats like a shark’s fin(!), there are some shaky zooms of people pulling silly faces and boats start falling over. After a while, I realised that our tentacular friend was supposed to be attacking them. There are frequent cuts to Winters on the dockside during this sequence; first suffering through the lamest stand-up comic since the guy from ‘The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies’ (1963) and then trying desperately to contact her two charges by radio. Winters is actually trying to give a performance here; even when surrounded by ineptitude at almost every other level. Squiddly’s performance, however, is somewhat limited by the fact that all we see is a small plastic model of the top of his head.

Tentacles (1977)

The synchronised swimming event was a disappointment.

And then almost everyone vanishes! Huston, Fonda and Winters are out and it’s Bo Hopkins all the way for the last 30 or so interminable minutes. Hopkins is an oceanographer and diver, whose recent bout with ‘the bends’ provides the film’s equivalent to Roy Schieder’s fear of water in ‘Jaws’ (1975). Anyway, he goes after old Squiddly without a big enough boat but with his pet killer whales as wing men!  His motivational monologue to them is undoubtedly the film’s highlight; Hopkins squeezing out the lines as if there’s an off-screen gun to his head.

It all ends in murky, aquatic nonsense with the blaring musical soundtrack trying to lend significance and weight to scenes that look like they were filmed in a dirty fish tank. Worse was to follow for both Fonda and Winters the following year when they encountered ‘Bees! Millions of Bees!’ in Irwin Allen’s epic ‘The Swarm’ (1978). Now there’s a real disaster movie.

The War of the Robots (1977)

The_War_of_The_Robots_(1977)‘Yes, I understand. Thanks to this electronic translator.’

Alien robots kidnap a famous scientist and his assistant, who are on the verge of creating artificial life. The Earth Security Forces send a brave captain and his crew in pursuit but when they catch up with the miscreants on a remote planet, they find that things aren’t quite what they seem.

George Lucas is to blame for a lot of things. Not just those dreadful prequels but also the slew of cheap ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock offs that emerged from continental Europe hot on the heels of his global success. Director Alfonso Brescia made 5 of them and proved that, although the concept had travelled, the technical expertise definitely had not.

Laydeez and gentlemen, the Human Lightbulb!

Laydeez and gentlemen, the Human Lightbulb!

Brescia’s 5 space operas were mostly interchangeable (apart from the one that was a porno!); Yanti Somer turned up in most of them, the spaceships are toys, the plots dull, the dubbing dreadful, there’s lots of over-explanatory dialogue, the girls wear black skullcaps or silly blonde wigs, there are low rent lightsabers, lots of running around in underground tunnels and underwhelming space battles that look like bad arcade games from the 1980s.

Apart from that, they’re great. This one isn’t even particularly coherent, with characters reveals having no credibility, either plot or performance wise. Yes, something may have been lost when the movie was translated into English but it’s hard to see exactly what that might have been.

This is simply a dire and cheap rip-off, a mechanical exercise in cashing in on the Science Fiction boom of the late 1970s.

Buy ‘The War of The Robots’ here. I would.