Missile X – The Neutron Bomb Incident/Teheran Incident/Cruise Missile (1979)

The years you spent at the embassy in America must have eroded your brain.’

A Russian missile test is disrupted by armed men, who massacre everyone and steal the weapon. In Teheran, an American agent is killed, and his replacement suspects that the death is linked to the peace conference about to take place nearby. Then his Russian counterpart reveals that he has trailed the stolen missile to the city. The two agents combine their forces to find the warhead…

Drab and lifeless multi-national spy shenanigans with listless direction, a dreary script and an over the hill cast wearily going through the motions. A West German-Italian-Spanish-American and Iranian co-production, primarily filmed in the latter country when it was on the brink of a real-life revolution. A fact that is immeasurably more interesting than anything that ended up on the screen for the paying audience.

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is American veteran Peter Graves as Alec Franklin, flying into Teheran to investigate the death of a colleague. Not only are the circumstances decidedly fishy, but there’s also a high-level world peace conference taking place less than 100 miles away. In the best tradition of Eurospy adventures of the long-gone 1960s, it’s a solo gig because why send in a crack team to deal with a potential threat to world security when you can entrust it to one guy in his early fifties with just a handgun for company? Yes, this is pretty much a gadget-free zone.

It’s not long before Graves hooks up with his Russian counterpart and old friend, Konstantine Senyonov (Michael Dante), who is looking for a cruise missile recently heisted from a test site near the Caspian Sea. As per usual in these kinds of doings, the main villain needlessly reveals himself by telling his minions to knock off Graves, but, of course, it doesn’t go well. His ruthless killers are entirely unprepared for our hero’s fighting moves which are about as slow, clumsy and awkward as his age might suggest. Cleaning up afterwards, Graves finds a poker chip from a casino owned by the Baron de Marchand (Curd Jurgens, fresh from his underwater lair in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)) and decides to check it out.

Rather than play the tables, Graves gets chatted up by Jurgens’ flirtatious girlfriend, Nina (Carmen Cervera) and also zeroes in on the establishment’s manager, Stetson (Robert Avard Miller), who seems to be on the outs with his boss. Meanwhile, in his backroom laboratory/secret headquarters, Jurgens has stashed both the missile and renegade Russian rocket man, Professor Nikolaeff (John Carradine, waiting patiently for his paycheck). Dante has brought comrade Galina (Karin Schubert) to deal with the missile once they find it, but the clock is ticking because Carradine needs less than 48 hours to get the warhead into position.

It’s hard to know where to start with a film that has so many issues. The setup isn’t without some potential, but the story develops into a tired old rigmarole of intrigue and half-baked action that has rarely been regurgitated with such an apparent lack of enthusiasm. One of the major problems is the casting of our leading man. Yes, Graves had led the IMF through more than 100 successful assignments on the original ‘Mission: Impossible’ TV show, but he looks far too old for this kind of role here. Roger Moore was a similar age when he finished playing Bond, but he was far better preserved than Graves, who looks almost a decade older than his actual age. This is a problem in the action scenes (such as they are) and in the bedroom when he spends some quality time with Cervera. There was less than 20 years between them in reality, but the age difference looks to be so much more.

There are much bigger problems, though. Director Leslie H Martinson was a veteran filmmaker who had racked up a long list of extensive television credits on many primetime series, often orientated towards action, including nine episodes of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in the early 1970s. He’d also helmed the occasional film, such as ‘PT 109’ (1963) and the movie version of ‘Batman’ (1966) from the Adam West TV show. He was an experienced director. However, almost every scene here is so devoid of pace, creativity and energy that it’s almost like watching scenes being acted out in early rehearsal rather than a finished film. Similarly, the flat editing leaves the gun battles and fight scenes dead on arrival, and the poor dubbing of the robotic supporting cast is almost comically wooden. Finally, Alberto Baldan Bembo’s score is so poorly integrated with what’s shown on the screen that it seems likely that it was written for another project entirely.

However, there may be some mitigating circumstances. The film reached West German screens in February of 1979 but wasn’t released stateside until December. This version credits legendary low-budget filmmaker Ted V Mikels as the ‘US producer’, and he also gets a story ‘adaptation’ credit. He’s probably most familiar to cult movie enthusiasts as the creator of ‘The Astro-Zombies’ series and other films such as ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1971) and ‘Blood Orgy of the She-Devils’ (1973). It’s impossible to know what post-production tweaks he may have made to the film, but it might explain some of its technical deficiencies.

A series of crippling strikes and protests paralyzed Iran for a few months before the Shah’s retreat into exile in January 1979 and the revolutionary fighting that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. There is no evidence of that kind of disruption in the finished film, so it’s likely that it was shot in the earlier part of 1978. We do hear a repeated radio broadcast – in English – concerning the Ayatollah’s activities in Paris, and there’s also a line of dialogue that mentions him by name. However, it is delivered by an actor with his back to the camera, and there’s an immediate cut away afterwards. Given that the Ayatollah didn’t move to Paris until November 1978, it’s likely that all these references were added in post-production. Perhaps they were part of Mikels’ ‘adaptation’ for the US market as he tried to give the film some air of topicality.

Graves wasn’t finished with the spy game, of course, returning as Jim Phelps to head up the small screen revival of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in 1988. He also turned down an appearance in the big-screen reboot with Tom Cruise when he discovered that Phelps would be revealed as a traitor. Sadly, Jurgens died in January 1982 from a heart attack and looks distinctly unwell here. He’s very red-faced at times, hobbles about on a stick, and some of his dialogue is a little hard to understand.

Carradine was on a bad movie roll, his previous big-screen excursions being ‘Doctor Dracula’ (1978), ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978) and ‘The Bees’ (1978), producer Roger Corman’s execrable cash-in on ‘The Swarm’ (1978). Some better projects followed in the early 1980’s such as ‘The Monster Club’ (1980) and ‘The House of Long Shadows’ (1983), but there was still time to fit in Jerry Warren’s hilariously atrocious ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).

An almost impossibly dull plod through over familiar territory, delivered by all concerned as if they already had one foot on the aeroplane home. Simply dreadful.

Murder In A Blue World/Una Gota de Sangre Para Morir Amando (1973)

Murder In A Blue World:Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)‘I can always be sure of myself with my new gold Panther underwear.’

In the near future, pioneering doctors are carrying out medical research to subdue agression in delinquents after a crimewave involving gangs of youths. Meanwhile, a serial killer is at work, targeting young men and leaving the police few clues…

Unsatisfying, unfocused social satire that was a French/Spanish co-production from writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia. Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) was obviously the principle inspiration/touchstone here, but whereas that film was a shocking examination of the nature of youth and violence, this film is likely to provoke yawns more than anything else.

Prize-winning nurse Anna (Sue Lyon) has a secret. She likes to take young men back to her big house, have sex and then perform a non-regulation heart operation with a scapel. Oblivious colleague Jean Sorel would like the first part of that experience, but she’s not interested and he’s busy curing teenage hoodlums with extreme electo-shock therapy anyway. Destined for the operating table in one way or another is Chris (son of Robert) Mitchum who has fallen out with his gang mates over some missing money.

Murder In A Blue World/Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)

‘Hang on a second…Jack’s just chased Danny into the maze…’

The film begins with some heavy-handed satire on advertising and consumerism, courtesy of some fake TV ads. Of course, there’s comic potential in that but the humour is broad and obvious. One of following scenes sees Mitchum’s gang pull a home invasion much in the manner of Malcolm McDowell’s Droogs in some other film I could mention and with pretty similar (if not so graphic) results. In case we miss the Kubrick reference, the family on the wrong end of it were about to sit down and watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) on their big screen TV. Subtle. 

Later on, we see Lyon don a series of disguises so she can hang around in hotel bars and pick up men in the finest 1970’s lounge suits. When she takes them home, she plays cassette tapes of Strauss waltzes (‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) – nudge, nudge, wink, wink) before she seduces them. In case it happens to have slipped your mind, Lyon was also Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ (1962) and to make sure you remember that, on a couple of occasions we see her reading Nabakov’s original novel and the book gets a nice big close up. Subtle.

Surprisingly, having said all that, there are a couple of moments of actual quality here. A shot of Lyon walking through a storm of leaves in a blood-spattered white dress is terrific, and there’s a wonderfully prescient auction scene. What’s on the block? Some of Alex Raymond’s original ‘Flash Gordon’ artwork from the 1930s! In a time when film merchandising had yet to create a collector’s marketplace, it’s a spot on prediuction. Unlinke the continued use of cassette tapes. 

Murder In A Blue World/Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)

‘Do you want my eyes wide shut or what?’

The main problem here, however, is the story; a real hodgepodge of ideas and plot threads. They do come together in the film’s final act but, by then, it’s far too little too late. The cast seem strangely detached from the material (perhaps that was intentional), but none of them are vaguely interesting or sympathetic so the audience has no reason to care. Just pity the unwitting audience member who thought they were getting the Kubrick film when this was marketed in some territories as ‘A Clockwork Terror’!

Given the right material, Lyon could deliver a fine performance. See that little Kubrick film and John Huston’s ‘Night of The Iguana’ (1964) if you need proof. However, she looks all at sea here. Sorel, a veteran of many a Giallo film, is merely smug and Mitchum so laidback that he’s almost horizontal. Fair enough, that worked for his Dad, but Mitchum Jr doesn’t have anything approaching that level of natural charisma. At least this was a step up from ‘Bigfoot’ (1970) though. But then again what isn’t? Mitchum twice ran for Congress; in 2012 and again in 2014. On both occasions, he was unsuccessful. Rumour has it that his poor record on Sasquatch rights was a significant factor.

Blunt, obvious satire which tries the patience more than the funny bone.

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.

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)‘Hey guys, I found a bangerine tree.’

A group of four friends are forced to spend the night in a remote, isolated spot after escaping from a gang of thugs. During the dark hours, a UFO lands nearby, and the occupant asks the quartet for help in his fight against a tyrannical galactic overlord. Initially reluctant, they are persuaded when the alien prince offers them each their weight in gold…

Os Trapalhões were a four man Brazilian comedy group, whose name could most closely be translated as ‘The Bumbling Ones’ but was generally given as ‘The Tramps’ in the English language. They had a hit TV show that ran from the 1970s to 1993 in their native land, episodes apparently consisting of short sketches showcasing the kind of physical humour practiced by The Three Stooges. When ‘Star Wars’ (1977) became an instant, global phenomenon, it was an obvious target for parody and, by this point, the group already had four movies under their belts, including a comedy version of ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968).

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

🎵Dale a tu cuerpo alegria, Macarena
Hey Macarena!🎶

The film begins with a wacky five-minute carchase. It’s not the perfect way to introduce our heroic quartet, but it will have to do. There’s Renato Argao (the leader), Dede Santana (second-in- command), Mussum (a black man), and Zacarias (who wears a bad wig and speaks like a baby). That’s about as much character development as you get. The chase features repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down, all accompanied by lots of wacky noises on the soundtrack.

Hiding out in the woods, our zany quartet meet handsome alien Prince Flick (Pedro Aguinaga) who dresses like Luke Skywalker but gives off more of a Han Solo vibe, especially given his sidekick Bonzo; an incredibly tall man who wears a dog mask and speaks backwards. Aguinaga needs some help with defeating evil overlord Zuco (Carlos Kurt) who wears a costume and helmet that would get any self-respecting 20th Century Fox executive reaching for the nearest lawsuit. The dastardly villain has kidnapped the Princess Myrna (Maria Cristina Nunes) and is demanding that Aguinaga hand over half of this electronic brain gizmo so that he can rule the galaxy (or something). The Tramps spring heroically into action, especially when Aguinaga promises them fabulous riches in return.

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it home for ‘Life Day’ at this rate…

Making landfall on Aguinaga’s homeworld (some sand dunes that looks a bit like Tatooine), our heroes are immediately ambushed by some creatures that look a bit like Jawas. The resulting fight features lots of repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down. During one of the slowed down moments, we can clearly see that one of the aliens is wearing training shoes. Everything is accompanied by lots of wacky noises and disco music. The sequence last more than five minutes.

Afterwards our conquering heroes pair up with four alien space babes, who seem under the strange impression that these four middle-aged losers are kings from another planet. Naturally, it’s straight off to the nearest nightclub (not a cantina), where Aguinaga interrogates some guy in a back room and The Tramps commandeer the jukebox so they can throw some crucial shapes on the dancefloor with their new girlfriends. Yes, we get a full, unbroken three minutes of them grooving to some inane disco number with various extras standing around in joke-shop alien masks. But these extra-terrestrials don’t like disco (boooo!) and another fight breaks out. It features lots of repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down. All accompanied by lots of wacky noises. Who’d have thought it?

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

 ‘I find your lack of a lawsuit disturbing.’

Eventually, we get the big face-off between good and evil, i.e. the Tramps, Aguinaga, his dog faced buddy and the space babes vs. Kurt and his massive horde of about ten people. The inevitable fight breaks out. It features lots of repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down. And it’s accompanied by lots of wacky noises and disco music!

Argao got hold of a freeze ray in the nightclub car park earlier, and he uses it every 30 seconds or so when one of the good guys is in trouble and we need another hysterical gag. Also it gives him the chance to kick big bad Kurt in the butt. Over and over again. Every time he does, there’s a hilarious ’boing’ noise on the soundtrack. This sequence goes on for ten whole minutes! My friends, it’s a riot. I had to have surgery afterwards because my sides had split.

Hideously shot on videotape, this no budget monstrosity was apparently aimed at small children, even if some of the ‘jokes’ seem a little adult from time to time. Obviously, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but there’s really nothing that can excuse such a travesty of the cinematic art. Can it even be classed as a feature film? lt’s more like a series of amateurish, improvised skits held together by the barest whisper of filmmaking technique and SFX that look like they’ve been cobbled together on a workbench in someone’s back room. Individual scenes are padded to beyond ridiculous length; often featuring little spoken dialogue, static visuals and backdrops so crude they seem to have been designed with the sole purpose of making your eyes bleed.

It’s excruciating. Still, it is better than the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ I suppose.

Signals – A Space Adventure/Signale – Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)‘Twitting a little girl that is what you’re into.’

Approaching the orbit of Jupiter, spaceship Ikarus receives some strange signals, apparently originating from the gas giant and possibly indicating intelligent life. Moments later, the ship is hit by a swarm of meteorites, and contact with Earth is lost. A mission to investigate their fate is mounted and reaches the region almost a year later…

East German/Polish co-production directed by Gottfried Kolditz that was at least partially inspired by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968). Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic milestone didn’t spawn all that many imitators, simply because recreating its amazing visuals took a serious budget. Still, the Eastern Bloc had a long-running love affair with cerebral science-fiction, and the model work and SFX realised here are certainly acceptable for the era when the film was made, if not in the league of Kubrick’s masterpiece.

Starship Ikarus is an exploratory vessel, reaching the orbit of Jupiter on a mission of scientific discovery. The crew start picking up strange radio signals that seem to indicate an intelligent origin, but joy is short-lived as disaster strikes. The ship is attacked by that scourge of 1950s fictional astronauts: the deadly shower of meteorites. We see the damaged ship start to break apart, and, back on Earth, the vessel is presumed lost with all hands.

Senior astronaut Commander Veikko (Piotr Pawlowski) puts together a followup mission with the spaceship Laika. This seems to be a controversial enterprise for some reason, although we never really find out just why. The only obvious problem would seem to be his choice of crew. There’s veteran Gaston (Helmut Schreiber) who is approaching his 25th year in the space program (too old), and Pawel (Evgeniy Zharikov) who may be too emotionally involved because his irlfriend Krystina (Karin Ugowski) was on the Ikarus. Also along for the ride are genius radio man Konrad (Alfred Müller), new girl Juana (Irena Karel) and medical doctor Samira (Soheir El-Morshidy) among others.

Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

‘Should I fire the photon torpedoes, Captain?’

The film’s major problem is that none of these characters are remotely interesting. Sure, Schrieber is a little bit of a prankster who has a built a trashcan robot, Müller is a genius but vaguely unpopular, and Karel is the new girl, but that’s about it. The only mildly interesting character beat is when hotshot Terry (Gojko Mitic) fakes hesitation during an EVA to boost Zharijkov’s faltering confidence.

This lack of engaging characters becomes a serious problem because they only reach the scene of the Ikarus disaster with about a quarter of an hour of the film remaining, and director Kolditz has little offer in the way of philosophical insights along the way. As might be expected, there are also problems with director’s vision of our space-going future. The interior of both spaceships is massive, with apparently enough room for every member of the crew to have a cabin bigger than my current living space! The predicted technology on display also looks very dated when viewed from almost half a century later. Control panels favour large knobs rather than push buttons or keyboards, paper readouts are consulted, and the crew make notes in logbooks with what look suspiciously like ballpoint pens. Obviously, that can be forgiven to some extent, and Kolditz does have a good stab and recreating some of the zero-gravity shots from Kubrick’s masterpiece, but that’s not nearly enough to keep the audience engaged.

Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

🎵Oh what a feeling, to be Dancing on the Ceiling🎶

There’s also a rather strange sequence where the crew celebrate the anniversary of Schrieber’s quarter-century in space by showing him a short animated film that they’ve created about him. This wouldn’t be so odd if it weren’t happening with barely half an hour of the film remaining! Shouldn’t we be working our way towards some sort of a climax by now?

When we do reach the remains of the Ikarus, it appears that the meteorites have fused with the metal of the ship, rather than passing right through it. This might be scientifically possible for all I know, but it would have been nice to have some kind of explanation, even a spurious one. Again, some of the plot points in the later stages lack clarity, but that could have been down to the English subtitles on the print that I viewed.

Serious-minded 1970s science-fiction from the Eastern Bloc was always a cinema about ideas, rather than action, and it’s an approach to be applauded. Unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of them here, and that makes for a seriously dull experience.

The Laika takes 300 days to reach its destination and, by the time the credits rolled, I felt like I’d lived through every one.

Mister Superinvisible/L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile (1970)

Mister Superinvisible (1970)‘Each molecular combination can always be related to the intensity of the various components of its structure.’

Industrial spies target a research laboratory searching for the cure for the common cold, but the blame falls on a top biochemist when an experimental virus goes missing. He’s unable to refute the allegation until he accidentally consumes a potion sent to him by a colleague from Nepal and becomes invisible. With his newfound superpower, he sets out to track down the real culprits…

Is there a lamer science-fiction movie sub-genre than the ‘invisible man’ comedy? The darkly funny moments cooked up by Claude Rains and director James Whale for ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933) really should have been the beginning and the end of it. Unfortunately, many filmmakers have gone back to this (dry) well ever since. Here, our old friend Antonio Margheriti (as usual credited as Anthony M Dawson) tries his hand at the pump and comes up as empty as everyone else.

Work at the Geneva Research Institute is a hoot for Doctor Peter Denwell (Dean Jones). He’s brilliant but eccentric; driving an old 2CV and feeding his shaggy dog a plate of eggs and bacon at the breakfast table. Even wackier is colleague Ignazio Leone, who specialises in creating exploding eggs for some reason (obviously closely related to germ research). But, worse than all this wackiness, our hero is also socially awkward; completely tongue-tied when he tries to confess his feelings for beautiful colleague Irene (Ingeborg Schöner). She’s also in the sights of slimy corporate yes-man Harold (Gastone Moschin), so Jones needs to get a move on, or the rich oaf will beat him to the punch.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you.’

Things get even worse for our clumsy but loveable hero when Virus D is found to have been stolen during a live television broadcast. This new strain is a combination of all the cold germs known to mankind, and there’s bound to be tears before bedtime if it ‘falls into the wrong hands.’ Jones is blamed for the lax security in his lab and is facing the old heave-ho when his helpful lab monkey adds a little pep to his afternoon coffee.

The concoction turns out to be an invisibility potion sent from a colleague in Nepal. Hilarious hi-jinks follow, including a scene where Jones sabotages a restaurant date between Schöner and Moschin. Later on, he tracks down the missing virus to the Museum of Magic run by Mamma Spot (Amalia de Isaura). She happens to be Moschin’s mother, and he was the thief all the time! Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!

It’s quite obvious what the production was going for here: a family-friendly Disneyesque comedy. They even imported Dean Jones to star; as he’d done similar duty for the House of Mouse in ‘That Darn Cat!’ (1965), ‘The Ugly Dachshund’ (1966) and ‘Monkeys, Go Home!’ (1967). Most famously, he’d co-starred with Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in ‘The Love Bug’ (1968). To drive the point home, they even partner him with scene-stealing shaggy dog sidekick Dylan. And, to be fair, Jones’ likability is the film’s main asset, although there’s no denying that Schöner makes for an appealing heroine. Veteran character player Luciano Pigozzi also delivers his best silly Peter Lorre impression as one of the villains, and that’s mildly amusing. Once or twice.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

The costume party was not a success…

The real problem here is the script: a lazy, lifeless tramp through all the usual ‘invisible man’ comedy beats. Margheriti tries hard to inject some energy into some of the later scenes, but it amounts to little more than the cast turning up the volume on their line delivery and running about frantically.

The restaurant scene has some possibilities at tickling the funny bone but goes on way too long, and the SFX when Jones is partly visible are atrocious. Of course, the implications of Jones’ work being utilised as a superweapon aren’t addressed in any serious way, and neither is the animal experimentation going on in the labs. Just where is Leone getting hundreds and hundreds of eggs? A battery farm? I think we need to know.

Margheriti didn’t have much experience with comedy (at least not intentionally!), being more at home with serious, if sometimes outlandish, material. 1960s science-fiction epics like batshit crazy ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) and more conventional ‘War Between The Planets’ (1966) were followed by Giallo thrillers and ‘Killer Fish’ (1978) with Lee Majors, before he peaked with ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Pigozzi appeared in many of his films, and together the two carved out long careers in the twilit world of cult cinema.

All told, not a very entertaining experience. Jones and the cast do their best with what they have, but it’s precious little.

In The Dust of the Stars/lm Staub Der Sterne (1976)

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)‘Akala, l am going to blast the pilotron.’

After a six-year journey, a spaceship makes a crash landing on an alien world. The crew’s mission is to answer a distress call but the planet’s inhabitants deny making such a broadcast. This seems a little odd and tensions increase when the expedition discover that their emergency landing was no accident…

Science fiction from the Eastern Bloc in the 1970s is generally remembered for a cerebral approach that considered the psychological ramifications on humankind of future technological developments, and similar issues cut from the same cloth. So, it is rather unusual to find an East German space opera from the same period. But here it is; a band of heroic brothers (and sisters) travelling the universe and encountering a despotic ruler (the flamboyant Ekkehard Schall), his dastardly lieutenant Ronk (Milan Beli) and squads of their faceless guards and soldiers. There’s also a peaceful alien race, represented by Mikai Mereuta and Aurelia Dumitrescu, who are being forced to mine something or other in dark caverns at the point of a ray gun.

Commander Akala (Jana Brejchová) and her merry band from the planet Cyrno have travelled across the galaxy to Tem 4 on their mission of mercy, aided by comfortable couches and paper readouts from their onboard computers. After a narrow escape on landing, they are met by a slightly odd-looking truck and are taken to meet the bearded Beli. This conflab takes place in a highly impressive great hall where everyone gets their own comfortable couch (obviously, essential furniture in the silvery space future). Unfortunately, Beli and his flunkeys just find their visit highly amusing. Rather miffed that they’ve come all that way for nothing, Brejechová and co retire to their ship, but science officer Suko (Alftred Struwe) is more than a little suspicious of the locals.

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)

🎵 Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha 🎶

Aware that they need our heroes to leave on good terms (or further visitors may follow), Beli invites them to a party and this  provides the film’s highlight as it revealed that Tem 4 is actually Planet Glam Rock! Yes, it’s the super ’70s version of the future, where everyone wears sparkling silver, facepaint and very wide flares. And women do vaguely suggestive things with snakes.

Unfortunately, it’s back to the plot all too quickly, as Struwe goes on a secret reconnaissance mission, discovers that the real native population are working in the mines and the inevitable rebellion ensues. The only surprise is the fairly downbeat conclusion, although it’s hard to be that bothered by it, given that we’ve been given very little reason to have an emotional connection with any of our protagonists.

Although the story is predictable and generic, that would not be a dealbreaker if director Gottfried Kolditz delivered it with a sense of style and humour. Unfortunately, save for wonderfully over-the-top villainous turns from Schall and Beli, everything else is pedestrian at best. Our brave heroes are faceless ciphers and the action scenes are flat and lifeless. The only sequence with any real merit is when Brejchová first meets Schall in his den; a mirrored room with disembodied heads and yet more snakes. It’s vaguely unsettling and a glimpse of what the film could have been if a less conventional approach had been adopted.

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)

‘A secret agent on Mars? Sign me up. asshole!’

Kolditz, who also co-wrote, went on to direct science-fiction obscurity ‘The Thing In The Castle’ (1979). Brejchová was a Czech actress, who had already enjoyed plaudits earlier in her career but when on to her greatest success with comedy-drama ‘Beauty In Trouble’ (2006). She was also once married to muti-award winning director Milos Forman, who is best known for ‘Amadeus’ (1984) and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975).

It’s always tempting to draw a political parallel with films originating from the Eastern Bloc at this time in history, but this just appears to be an attempt at delivering a slice of popular entertainment, albeit lacking in the necessary swagger and fun. Not all of the story’s threads are neatly tied at the climax so it’s possible that a sequel was planned but it’s little surprise that one failed to appear.

Toomorrow (1970)

Toomorrow (1970)‘Hey, any of you cats mind a groove?’

A young student band scores a prestige gig at a pop music festival. It looks like their big break, but alien race the Alphoids also dig their fresh new sound, believing its tonal harmonics have the power to save their ailing civilisation…

Would be hep science fiction-comedy-musical from producers Don Kirshner and Harry Saltzman. Kirshner had been the main musical force behind the early success of ‘The Monkees’ but, when the band tried to exercise more creative control over their music (actually playing on their own records, for instance), the producer found himself looking for another job. But, not to worry, having turned the trick once, he could do so again, right? No problem. Except there was. Heaps of them.

Four students at the London College of Arts have formed a band. There’s Benny Thomas (Guitar and Vocals), Vic Cooper (Keyboards and Vocals), Karl Chambers (Drums) and a 22-year old fresh-faced, English-born Aussie singer called Olivia Newton-John (yes, folks, we all have to start somewhere). Cooper has invented a ‘tonaliser’, an electronic box of tricks which sounds like a synthesiser. Their impromptu jam sessions have pissed off the squares at the college (there’s a go-nowhere subplot about student activism) but have tickled the musical bones of blue-skinned hairless humanoids, the Alphoids.

Toomorrow (1970)

‘I know starring in a film as a roller-skating Greek muse probably sounds like a good idea, but you might want to give it a little more thought…’

What follows is supposed to be an ‘anything goes’ madcap adventure in the vein of something like ‘Help!’ (1965), but it just comes over as hopelessly contrived. Apparently, Kirshner wanted something more ‘grown up’ and rock-influenced than ‘The Monkees’ and there’s a far more conventional vibe here, with even a half-hearted nod to the sexual revolution provided by blonde bombshell Margaret Nolan, who went on to be a regular in the ‘Carry On’ series.

Unfortunately, the story has no depth, and the ‘wacky’ comedy hits a high point when the band change clothes in their car on the way to the gig. This sequence features some dreadful back projection and a vehicle painted with little flowers. More tellingly, Cooper’s ‘Tonaliser’ can’t disguise the fact that the band’s songs are sweet, sugary pop of the blandest kind. Some of the visuals on the alien spacecraft are appropriately psychedelic, but the SFX are very much of their time and don’t hold up very well today. There’s also a curious, throwaway subplot about Thomas fooling around with his sexy music teacher Tracey Crisp. They were both in their mid-20’s at the time of filming (although he looks older), so it’s not super creepy, but there is a scene where she refuses to help him break into the school building because she doesn’t want to lose her job. Whereas having it off with one of her students is obviously perfectly ok!

Surprisingly, the director here was Val Guest, a respected, veteran British filmmaker, who made the first two ‘Quatermass’ film adaptations for Hammer Studios, as well as ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (1957), ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ (1961) and ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ (1970). He has many other credits in the world of more mainstream cinema as well, but his presence here would put the icing of the cake of what turned out to be a very troubled production indeed.

The first problem was with producers Kirshner and Saltzman (famous for his work on the ‘James Bond’ franchise). Apparently, to say they did not get on is an understatement. Saltzman hired Guest to rewrite original scribe David Benedictus’ script without telling the author and neglected to tell Guest that he not done so. Kirshner left the project at some point and production dragged on for an unbelievable two years (while the finished film looks like it was knocked out in a few weeks). All the principals was on contract for the duration, and when it came time for everyone to get paid… surprise!… there wasn’t any money.

Toomorrow (1970)

‘Blimey! This is harder to understand than the end of that Tim Burton movie…’

After the film’s premiere, Guest filed an injunction demanding his salary, and the picture was pulled from the one London cinema where it was playing. Although it’s hard to imagine the film would have been a hit anyway, the legal machinations finished it off for good and original plans for another two features were shelved. The injunction remained in effect until Kirshner’s death in 2011.

So are there any positives to be taken from the final product? Well, the alien’s appearance and makeup is quite striking and veteran British TV star Roy Marsden is probably quite grateful that he’s unrecognisable underneath it. Not so actor Roy Dotrice who plays the Alphoid observer on Earth, but the moment he takes off his human mask and hangs it up is surprisingly creepy. With the exception of Newton-John, none of her bandmates went onto stardom, although Cooper toured the world as part of Tom Jones’ band in the 1970s, Thomas appeared on an episode of ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ and Chambers drummed for Gladys Knight and the Pips. Apparently, Newton-John found the experience of making this film so unpleasant that she needed serious persuasion to take the role of Sandy in ‘Grease’ (1978), which became a global phenomenon.

Overall, this is bland, anodyne entertainment that serves as a useful relic of its era and another example (as if one were needed) of why middle-aged men should never try to ‘get down with the kids.’ Oh, and the poster art is truly hideous.

 

Wizards (1977)

Wizards (1977)‘This has been the biggest bummer of a trip.’

Millions of years after the nuclear holocaust, the world has been reclaimed by the fairies and the other true ancestors of man. Science and technology have been outlawed in favour of magic, but a warlord aims to unleash ancient weapons of war in a mad bid for conquest…

Ground breaking animator Ralph Bakshi came to public notice with his controversial feature ‘Fritz the Cat’ (1973), which was based on the work of notorious satirist Robert Crumb. Its mixture of sex, drug use and revolutionary politics was a far cry from the family friendly ‘Disney-esque’ cartoons which had dominated the medium for more than 50 years. Bakshi’s film became a huge hit and is still the most successful independently produced animated feature of all time. Further releases, such as ‘Heavy Traffic’ (1973) also did well at the box-office before the maverick animator turned to his attention to the world of fantasy and science-fiction.

Taking obvious inspiration from the works of J R R Tolkien, what we have here at its core is the familiar notion of a quest. Our good guys are led by wizard Avatar, who pits himself against his evil brother, Blackwolf. This villain has recruited an army of mutants from the Dark Land of Scorch and whipped them into a frenzied fighting force using his ‘dream machine.’ This technological remnant of the old world turns out to be nothing more than a film projector that shows footage of Hitler and the Nuremburg rallies. These seem sufficient to ensure victory in battle, so Avatar sets out to destroy the machine, along with Elinor, the Queen of the Fairies, fighting elf Weehawk and reformed assassin Necron 99.

Wizards (1977)

🎵Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style…Gangham style🎶

Viewed today, this is a rather flawed project, with some of its oddities almost certainly caused by budgetary issues. The narrative rambles and jumps and the pacing is odd to say the least. Some incidents are told at a length that suggests they are taking place in a film a good deal longer than its 80 minutes, while others are rushed through by VoiceOver Woman and are accompanied by still frames of the action.

Additionally, the battle scenes are rendered by taking clips from live-action features, such as Eisenstein’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (1938) and animating the footage using the rotoscoping process. Some of this is both technically and visually impressive, but it does create a patchwork feel that, at times, makes the film seem half-finished and more than a little jumbled.

There are also a surprising amount of ‘adult’ themes on show, considering this was supposed to be targeted towards a family audience. For a start, the Nazi-symbolism is front and centre; Blackwolf sits on a throne in the middle of a large swastika, one of his minions tears pieces from an animal’s corpse marked with the Star of David, and the Hitler films play at some length. There’s also a trio of animated mutant prostitutes, Queen Elinor is semi-naked throughout, and there’s some religious satire with two monks smacking themselves in naked places with planks of wood. Subsequently, Bakshi stated that the film did have a political agenda as he was concerned about the rise of fascism, which is all very laudable, of course. But it’s not exactly the Little Mermaid, is it?

George Lucas was a big fan of Bakshi’s work and provided some technical resources to help get the film finished when 20th Century Fox refused to increase the budget. He also gave Mark Hamill the day off from ‘Star Wars’ (1977) for a brief appearance, ironically providing the actor with a start in voice work, a medium that became a major source of employment for him later in his career. There was another crossover too; money restrictions that meant Bakshi could only afford to animate the creatures his heroes ride with two legs instead of four. Apparently, this gave Lucas the inspiration to create the Tauntaun that Hamill rides on the ice world Hoth in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980).

Wizards (1977)

Avatar’s cuckoo clock had a serious case of halitosis…

Technically, the film holds up well all these years later. The sound design is good and the backgrounds show real imagination and flair, even if the main characters are not rendered with the levels of detail that current audiences have come to expect. The story does feel seriously underdeveloped, though, with the second act particularly weak. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Bakshi had far more of his world to show us, and more of this tale to tell. The animator tackled Tolkien for real with his next project; an ambitious feature adaptation of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ (1978).

Although not wholly successful as an example of storytelling, the film was a financial success and has developed a cult following in subsequent years. lt’s also an important milestone in the history of the medium, sharing some of the same DNA as the ‘Japanimation’ movement which eventually led to anime. Bakshi was still talking about a sequel as recently as 2015.

Worth catching, but probably only if you’re a fan of animation.

The Cremators (1972)

The Cremators (1972)‘The sand dunes, like vast creeping monsters, kept travelling around.’

A scientist discovers some strange, glowing rocks in a tidal pool by a lake. The stones attract a huge fireball that incinerates a postman. Could these strange events be linked to a meteorite that fell into the lake three hundred years earlier?

Ultra-low budget science fiction stinker from writer-producer-director Harry Essex, which displays the tell-tale signs of significant financial and production difficulties. The film is very choppy and disjointed indeed, and there’s even voiceover in a couple of places that seems designed to cover an absence of synchronised sound. There’s also a worrying amount of stock footage sprinkled all through its scant 72-minute running time. This includes a lot of star patterns, breaking waves, a hammerhead shark, birds, algae, sailing boats and repeated shots of what looks like the top of a lighthouse. After a while, I realised it was where the lead character was supposed to be living. Probably. I think.

This main man is scientist lane Thorne (Marvin Howard), who spends his time taking notes on the local ecology lakeside. His discovery of a handful of strange stones doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time but posting a sample off to colleague Dr Seppel (Eric Allison) has some unfortunate consequences for the mail carrier. Specifically, a close encounter with a huge fireball that turns him into barbecue. ln other developments, Mason, the hippie (Mason Caulfield) interrupts his full~time job of running around on the beach like a crazy man (hey, he’s a hippie, after all) to bring Howard a dying cat. A quick dissection turns up another couple of these mysterious stones.

So, what’s going on? Well, we already know from the opening sequence that a strange fireball splashed down into the lake a long while ago. Why it’s on the move now is something Howard and Allison struggle to discover while working in his laboratory (heroically played by a large, cluttered table in a room somewhere). Much to Howard’s frustration, local law enforcement and the relevant authorities feel that the outbreak of mysterious deaths is down to lightning strikes but at least he gets to start a (rather sudden) romance with coastguard’s daughter Maria De Aragon.

The Cremators (1972)

‘It’s behind you!’

All of these developments provide the audience with just one thing; a lot of talk. Often this takes place in rooms so poorly-lit that the principal’s faces are wrapped in shadows and, on one occasion, in complete darkness! There are very few transitions between scenes (Essex often just cuts to stock footage) so we are left with conversations that seem unfinished and the quality of the light often changes in the blink of an eye.

Yes, these problems are obviously down to an almost complete lack of budget, but that still doesn’t make the results any more palatable. This is little more than bits and piece welded together with library footage and an over-excited musical soundtrack that desperately tries to convince the audience that something is happening. By far, the best aspect is the SFX. Sure, they aren’t great and are limited to the giant fireball and the glowing stones, but they are of a far higher quality than the rest of what’s on offer. And we do get a hilarious scene where scientist Allison tries to stop the fireball by shooting his rifle at it! Why on earth does he think this will have any chance of working? Because…science, I guess!

This was all based on a story called ‘The Dune Roller’ by Judy Ditky (writing as Julian C May) and had already been filmed. In fact, the earlier version is better in almost every department, apart from the SFX. This is quite a commentary on the quality of Essex’s version as the original was an episode of TV anthology show ‘Tales of Tomorrow’ and was broadcast live in 1952! In Essex’s defence, however, the slight story works far better as a 25-minute presentation.

Essex had a slightly odd Hollywood career. He was primarily a screenwriter, responsible for the original story of Lon Chaney Jr electric-shocker ‘Man Made Monster’ (1941) before working on a number of hard-boiled crime pictures in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including the excellent ‘Kansas City Confidential’ (1952). He’s best remembered, though, as the screenwriter of two cult science-fiction pictures: ‘It Came From Outer Space’ (1953) and ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’ (1954). He also directed a couple of times in the 1950s, delivering the first ever screen appearance of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in a decent adaptation of ‘l, The Jury’ (1952) but, by the 1960s, he had drifted into television and did not direct again until ‘Octaman’ (1971). That film was truly woeful, but it did mark the first work of legendary FX technician, Rick Baker.

The Cremators (1972)

‘George who?’

Allison appeared in lots of small roles over many years; sometimes in notable titles such as ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ (1969). De Aragon’s credits are limited to a dozen films, but she did appear as one of the low-budget ‘Wonder Women’ (1973) and wore the Greedo makeup and costume for some pick-up shots for ‘Star Wars’ (1977)!

This is painful stuff. Of course, allowances must be made for the obvious lack of any kind of reasonable budget, but it’s still a truly abysmal viewing experience. Just try to get through it in one sitting. I dare you.