Supermen Against The Orient/Crash! Che Botte…Strippo Strappo Stroppio (1973)

Supermen Against The Orient (1973)‘Don’t worry, I have a wonderful ointment made out of donkey fat.’

An incompetent FBI agent is sent to the Far East to investigate the disappearance of half a dozen of his colleagues. To solve the mystery, he must team up with two criminal ex-partners and members of a martial arts school in Hong Kong.

Curious hybrid of infantile comedy and chop socky action that formed part of a loose series of movies began by director Gianfranco Parolini with ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). The original starred Tony Kendall and Brad Harris from his ‘Kommissar X’ series, and was a cheerful amalgamation of Bond knock-off and caper film with nods to comic book and superhero genres. It was humorous without being an out and out comedy, an approach that was discarded when Parolini passed the baton to writer-director Bitto Albertini, the man behind the somewhat underwhelming ‘Goldface and The Fantastic Superman’ (1967).

So what’s new? Well, for a start, Kendall and Harris have been replaced by Robert Malcolm and Antonio Cantafora in the leads. And Kendall’s suave efficiency has apparently given way to complete incompetence. You see, according to the higher echelons at the bureau, Malcolm is a total disaster as an agent but always gets the job done (somehow?) So he’s hijacked from his wedding and packed off to Bangkok to begin this important mission. After ensuring he’s pointlessly strolled around plenty of nice-looking tourist board landmarks, he’s sent off to Hong Kong by mysterious femme fatale Shih Szu where he meets jovial crooks (and old friends) Cantafora and Sal Borgese. Borgese had replaced Aldo Canti from the original movie in the series as Canti’s film career was somewhat limited due to his links with organised crime, consequent time spent in jail and eventual murder in 1990. Borgese was actually the series’ only constant in front of the camera, having played a bit part in the original Parolini film.

The most interesting thing about the film are the circumstances of its production and how that influenced the finished product. This was an Italian-Hong Kong co-production, involving the world famous martial arts studio of the Shaw Brothers. They were looking to send their films overseas due to new censorship issues in local markets like Singapore. Similarly, Thailand had introduced a quota system to protect their local film industry, which probably explains the diversion to Bangkok. The result of this is that we get lots of tiresome knockabout comedy (the Italian element) periodically relieved by some well-choreographed scenes of hand to hand combat, particularly those involving local stars Lo Lieh and Lin Tung. Their climactic confrontation, although far too short, is quite easily the best sequence on offer. Szu was also a rising star in the genre so she gets to show off some of her moves, and that really is a young and unbilled Jackie Chan in one of the mass brawls…and he was involved in staging the fights.

Unfortunately, aside from the Kung Fu action, what we get is a truly painful trawl through lots and lots of dumb gags and painfully laboured attempts at humour. There’s a pointless and excruciating subplot about Cantafora and Borgese robbing the safe at the U.S. embassy (an idea actually lifted from the first film). What makes this much, much worse, is that this development means extended exposure to the comedy stylings of Jacques Dufilho as the American Consul, who mugs and flaps his way through proceedings as if begging the audience for laughs. The entire plot is sketchy at best, Albertni seemingly assembling random elements almost like he was putting together skits for a TV show.

Supermen Against The Orient (1973)

‘I thought there was only supposed to be 3 of us and, hang on, but aren’t you a girl?’

In the plus column, there’s possibly the most over-sung film theme of all time as Ernesto Brancucci squawks, growls and yelps through a demented number that almost defies description. There’s also a curious bit in a nightclub where traditional dancers wave their scarves on a dancefloor that looks strangely reminiscent of the one stalked by John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977) four years later.

Albertini was still on board with the series in the mid-1980s, and other entries include the trio heading back to the Wild West in a time machine! One curious note here; star Malcolm appeared in only three films; this one, ‘Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad’ (1973) and ‘Charity and the Strange Smell of Money’ (1973). He was the lead in all three, but has no other credits whatsoever. lt’s also highly likely that Robert Malcolm was an alias to help sell the film to U.S. distributors. I wonder who he really was?

Fast forward through the film and stop every once in a while for the martial arts action. And be sure to check out the theme song. If you dare.

Jaguar Lives! (1979)

Jaguar_Lives_(1979)‘Look, I’m sure you and your little bulldog didn’t just fly in to see the cows.’

After his partner is killed on a mission, Jonathan Cross retires as a secret agent. When a series of high level assassinations occur in the Middle East, he’s persuaded to return because it appears that the culprit may have been responsible for the death of his friend…

After ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973) star Bruce Lee became a global phenomenon, there were plenty of attempts to launch real-life martial artists as the successor to the late superstar. Joe Lewis was one; a man who Lee himself considered ‘the Greatest Karate Fighter of all time’ and one of only 5 men to defeat Chuck Norris in competition. Unfortunately, the only acting experience he had was a bit part in Matt Helm flick ‘The Wrecking Crew’ (1968) over a decade earlier, and his lack of experience was cruelly exposed in his first starring vehicle.

Obviously, the film was intended as a rival to the Bond franchise with Lewis as an agent who could use his fists and feet to deadly effect, rather than a Walther PPK. The concept is certainly a decent one, but is scuppered not only by Lewis’ lack of presence, but by a weak script and indifferent direction. The plot meanders confusingly, often seeming to be just an excuse to send Lewis from one exotic location to another and to meet one guest star after another. These guest stars never appear in any scenes together, which is not a good sign. Also the final revelation of the villain’s secret identity should come as a surprise to no one.

It’s the impressive role of guest stars that is likely to be the reason anyone seeks this film out now. It’s probably no coincidence that these provide several links to the Bond franchise. First up, Lewis’ handler is Mrs Ringo Starr – the lovely Barbara Bach from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977), and, later on, he runs into Bond villains Donald Pleasance from ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), Christopher Lee from ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (1974) and Joseph Wiseman from ‘Dr. No’ (1962), making his final film appearance.

Jaguar Lives (1979)

‘I’ll come with you so long as I don’t have to wear a shirt.’

Elsewhere he tangles with 1960s ‘It Girl’ Capucine and Western icon Woody Strode. Also present is film director John Huston, whose ill-judged acting career included Euro-bombs like ‘Tentacles’ (1977) and demented ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) knock off ‘The Visitor’ (1978). None of these famous names makes much of an impression, with the notable exception of Pleasance, who has fun as the unhinged dictator of a banana republic.

The action and combat sequences could have saved the film, of course, but there’s little stunt work and the fight choreography is predictable and flat. Given Lewis’ lack of star quality, the combination of all these negative factors makes for an unsatisfying experience. Perhaps the most memorable moment is the climactic face-off on the battlements of an old castle. Not because there’s anything remarkable about the sequence itself; just that it was the middle of the night a few seconds earlier.

The final scene hints at sequels but it was no surprise when they failed to appear.

Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975)

Cleopatra_Jones_and_the_Casino_of_Gold_(1975)‘Oh, wow, man; this place is becoming a trip.’

Super sexy secret agent Cleopatra Jones swaps the mean streets of L.A. for the mean streets of Hong Kong, when one of her friends goes missing on a job. In no time at all, she’s heading up a mission to take down a mysterious drug dealing kingpin and her gambling empire.

Superior sequel to the original Blaxploitation hit ‘Cleopatra Jones’ (1973), which sees everything ramped up to a higher level, thanks to an international co-production between the American backers and legendary Hong Jong film producer Run Run Shaw. Ex-model Tamara Dobson returns in the title role, but she still hasn’t quite got the natural delivery of a born actress. She does have some nifty moves though (even if stunt doubles take over from time to time) and looks fab in a series of outlandish outfits, rocking a fox fur and shotgun combination, although where the weapon is concealed at one stage is a bit of a mystery. She assisted by the returning Johnson Brothers, martial artists played by Caro Kenyatta and the always entertaining Albert Popwell. Norman Fell also scores high as ‘the man from the ministry’, trying to reign in Dobson when he’s perfectly aware that she’s a bad mammajamma who gets the job done when no one else can.

The decent budget gives the film a greater stamp of quality than its predecessor, and the full-on last 20 minutes is one seriously ridiculous action set piece after another. But where the film really scores is in the casting of Stella Stevens as the Cleo’s nemesis. She’s better remembered these days for playing ditzy blondes in pictures like Jerry Lewis’ ‘The Nutty Professor’ (1963), Elvis flick ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ (1962) and Matt Helm spy spoof ‘The Silencers’ (1966). In later years she carved out a respectable TV career with guests slots on such wallpaper shows as ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Hart to Hart’, ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Highway to Heaven’. But, in between, she’d won great reviews as the female lead of Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Ballad of Cable Hogue’ (1970) and here she’s an absolute revelation, in a way striking as much of a blow for Women’s Liberation as Dobson does on the right side of the law.


Cleo hadn’t quite got the hang of ‘dress down Friday’…

It’s not just her imperious presence as the ice-cold hearted dragon lady, she’s simply terrific with a sword in the combat scenes too. It’s quite obvious that she’s doing almost all her own stunt work, and that allows director Charles (‘Chuck’) Bail a greater freedom with the camera in those scenes that he would have enjoyed with a stunt double. Whether her proficiency with the blade was one of the reasons she was cast, or whether she picked it up on set is unrecorded, but she’s absolutely stunning.

Perhaps such physical ability might not seem so remarkable these days, when actors spend months in training before a big action role, but, given the era when this film was made, it’s seriously unlikely that Stevens enjoyed that kind of luxury. Although if you need to train in fighting techniques, obviously the Hong Kong film industry is a good place to start!

Unfortunately, the script tends to let things down, and robs the picture of any real personality. At one point a car chase takes the familiar route through a fruit stand in the middle of the street, and this is emblematic of the general lack of originality on display. It was probably this, along with some slow pacing, that derailed it at the big office, and nuked the idea of a third in the series.

A good looking, solid, entertaining ride, but somehow there’s a sense that it could have been so much more.

Death Dimension (1978)

Death_Dimension_(1978)‘There’s a very funny smell in the air and all the stink’s coming from the Pig.’

A brilliant scientist experimenting with weather control has invented a ‘freeze bomb’ but realises his work is going to be used for evil purposes by The Pig. His assistant’s goes on the run with the secret and a top cop who specialises in martial arts is given the job of bringing her in.

Jim Kelly was International Middleweight Karate Champion in 1971 as well as being a tennis pro. In 1973, he appeared in a leading role in Bruce Lee’s classic final film ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973) and his own movie career was launched. Kelly played ‘Black Belt Jones’ (1974) in a series of films and he was heavily featured in several other ‘Blaxploitation’ flicks of the time. And it’s not hard to see why. As well as bringing his formidable physical skills to the table, Kelly had an easy, laid back charisma on screen (even if he was never required to do much acting) and he often outshone better known performers, who were often taking a paycheque on their way down the Hollywood food chain.

Here, Kelly reunited with low end filmmaker Al Adamson (‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970)), having worked with him before on ‘Black Samurai’ (1976). Even though the two films are very similar, it still must have seemed like the big time to Adamson. He had a budget (of sorts), stars (kind of) and a killer screenplay with non-stop thrills and action (well, not really). Actually, it’s just 90 minutes of relentless, grinding mediocrity as one pointless action scene follows another and the plot goes nowhere.

But what about the star-studded supporting cast? We get George ‘Bond’ Lazenby as Kelly’s boss and Terry Moore, the girl who originally starred opposite ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949). We also have Hollywood veteran Aldo Ray (‘We’re No Angels (1955), ‘The Naked and the Dead’ (1958)) giving it his best shot in a nothing role as a foreign buyer interested in the ‘freeze bomb’. But, best of all, the villainous Pig is portrayed by Harold ‘Odd Job’ Sakata (that’s how he’s billed, folks!) Unfortunately, it turns out that he was far more adept with a bowler hat than a line of dialogue.


‘For the last time, kelly, I’ve never come across the guy in the bowler hat before. You’re thinking of that other fellow…talk to him…’

Although the Professor’s assistant (not his daughter for once) makes a feisty heroine, nearly all the other female characters are faceless prostitutes, save for Kelly’s girlfriend and even she gets a tasteless nude scene. So proceedings are not exactly enlightened, although Kelly does seem to be genuinely broken up about what happens to his squeeze. Well, for about ten seconds anyway, until someone takes a shot at him in the hospital car park and then we’re off again into another aimless action scene with no consequences.

But it’s the martial arts stuff we’ve come for, right? And here Kelly delivers (particularly with the nunchucks), although the combat is staged with little imagination. Our hero is backed up by Myron Bruce Lee (that’s how he’s billed, folks!) who drifts in and out of the film, as if he just turned up for an afternoon’s shooting. As per usual, everyone is incapable of covering someone else with a gun and the idea that the portly Sakata can outdistance Kelly in a footrace and stand up against him in a fight is plainly ridiculous.

And just what does the title mean? Your guess is as good as mine…