The Killer Is On The Phone/L’assassino… è al telefono (1972)

‘It’s something disgusting, poking about in a person’s soul.’

An actress collapses when seeing a strange man on a visit to England. When she regains consciousness, all memory of the last five years of her life has gone. The trauma seems linked to the death of an old lover and suppressed recollections of his murder…

Journeyman director Alberto de Martino returns to the Giallo for the third and final time, delivering his most atypical example of the Italian mystery thriller. British actress Anne Haywood takes the lead, with the most recognisable cast member being American Telly Savalas.

Stage star Eleanor Loraine (Heywood) arrives at Dover on the ferry as part of a promotional trip to England. On assignment at the port is jobbing assassin Ranko Drasovic (Savalas), who is waiting to provide a warm welcome to a high-ranking European diplomat about to sign an oil treaty. When the two lock eyes, Heywood hits the ground in a dead faint, and Savalas makes himself scarce. When Heywood wakes, she seems fine, blowing off the attention of medical staff and heading to her London home. Only the house is gone, and the men working on the road tell her it was demolished ages ago. She calls her sister Dorothy (Willeke von Ammelrooy) back home, wanting to talk to her lover Peter Vervoort (Roger Van Hool), only to discover that he died in a car accident five years earlier.

Back in Belgium, she’s put under the care of Dr Chandler (Antonio Guidi) while colleagues and associates fret and worry. She was in rehearsals with self-centred leading man Thomas Brown (Osvaldo Ruggieri) in a high-profile stage production of ‘Lady Godiva’, but now the opening is in doubt. The theatre is bankrolled by prominent industrialist Margaret Vervoort (Rossella Falk), but she’s only involved because the stage was the passion of her late brother Van Hool. Initially, Heywood seems to be recovering, but memories of the afternoon that Van Hool died keep bubbling to the surface. Soon she’s convinced that Savalas murdered him. Since their accidental encounter, the assassin has stayed close at hand, determined to eradicate all evidence of his old crime.

Amnesia is a hackneyed old plot device in big-screen thrillers, so it’s pleasing to report that De Martino’s film handles it better than most. The condition is still presented in a fairly simplistic manner, but at least there are no convenient Hollywood ‘bump on the head’ moments. It is odd, however, that it takes the results of an injection of sodium pentothal to prompt an accurate diagnosis from Dr Guidi when it’s pretty obvious what’s happened. Later on, he also suggests that someone may be threatening her life, but god only knows how he comes to that conclusion so early in the film.

The good news is that Heywood does an excellent job of conveying the bewilderment and self-doubt that the condition creates. For once, our protagonist has good reason not to call in the police; she’s afraid of what she might have done in the past and can’t recall. This dilemma is highlighted by a clever double twist about halfway through the second act when it suddenly appears that Heywood might not be the innocent victim of events after all. It’s also a neat way to highlight the unreliability of memory, a theme which could have been developed more fully with a more consistent screenplay.

Unfortunately, much of the script, by de Martino and four other writers, is a little vague on plot details, particularly regarding the events succeeding Van Hook’s murder five years earlier. Everyone believes he died in a car accident, but Heywood’s fractious memories suggest he was stabbed and that she was right there when it happened. It’s also heavily inferred that the assassin raped her afterwards, which begs a very obvious question: why didn’t he kill her if she was in his power? Why leave an eyewitness alive? Did she somehow escape from him or the car accident he successfully staged somehow to cover his crime? The film provides zero information on any of it or Heywood’s behaviour and mental condition in the aftermath of these traumatic events. Perhaps this was an intentional choice to heighten the ambiguity of events, but it feels a little haphazard and lazy instead.

Savalas’ participation is also somewhat disappointing. It’s not that he fails to convince as a professional hitman, more that he gets so little to do. For the most part, he remains almost a one-dimensional background character, although, of course, he gets to face off against the leading lady at the climax. These scenes are by far the film’s best, with the desperate Heywood using her knowledge of the working mechanics of the darkened theatre to fight back against the ruthless killer. The struggle culminates in a wonderfully ironic finish which de Martino delivers expertly, drawing out the final moments to an excruciatingly effective length.

Giallo fans focused on high body counts, and creative kills will most likely find the film disappointing, although anyone familiar with the director’s other efforts in the area should know what to expect. Both ‘The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit’ (1969) and ‘The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio’ (1972) leaned more toward crime than horror. Both were presented with an absence of stylistic extravagance, and his choice of soft focus and slow motion to convey Heywood’s flashbacks indicates that such flourishes were not one of his strengths. Instead, the emphasis is on suspense and mystery; although there are script issues, he delivers an efficient dose of both.

Heywood was a former beauty queen and stage actress who entered British films and television in the 1950s. She worked her way up to leading roles reasonably quickly, including the heroine of ‘Vengeance/The Brain’ (1962), the most satisfying film version of Curt Siodmak’s famous science fiction novel ‘Donovan’s Brain.’ Soon afterwards, she became known for projects tackling progressive themes, such as D H Lawrence’s ‘The Fox’ (1967), the transgender drama ‘I Want What I Want’ (1972), and the interracial love story ‘Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff’ (1979). The end of the decade also brought the starring role in Pier Carpi’s controversial and poorly received horror film ‘Ring of Darkness’ (1979). Beset by production and financial problems, the film boasted a cast including John Phillip Law, Irene Papas, Marisa Mell, Frank Finlay and Valentina Cortes, but is most likely remembered for the nude participation of Lara Wendell, who was significantly underage at the time.

Solid, professional Giallo with some good aspects, sold by a powerful central performance.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)‘Listen to me; your world is full of lunatics, from Rasputin to crazy operas.’

A senator is murdered, and the police catch a man fleeing the scene. An arrogant young journalist’s work helps secure his conviction, and he is sentenced to the death penalty. However, one the day of his execution, the reporter receives evidence that throws the man’s guilt into doubt…

Noir-ish Giallo thriller from director Alberto De Martino that tries to update the one style, without fully committing to the other. As a result, it’s partially successful and has its moments, but it doesn’t make for compulsive viewing, the final act piling on the action with a breakneck speed that severely harms its credibility.

Senator Robertson meets the end of a bullet on his doorstep and Mexican activist, Valdes (Giovanni Petrucci) is the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police can’t find the dead man’s missing briefcase, but the gun was ditched in a nearby bush, and Petrucci and the politician have a history. Hot-headed Sentinel reporter Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) gets the story for his paper, and sub-editor, John Hammond (Victor Buono) is impressed with his work, even if there’s no love lost between them.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Before this night is out, I shall revel in the sight of a big, crisp, polyunsaturated bat!’

The evidence to convict Petrucci is strong but circumstantial, the prosecution alleging that he passed the briefcase to a confederate in a car, who drove off in a panic. Sabato does the round of his contacts on the street and digs up naked model Anne Sachs (Barbara Bouchet) who, after initially refusing to help, places herself near the scene and witnessing the car just before the murder. Petrucci is convicted and sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

Returning home on the day of the execution from assignment in New York, Sabato discovers that new evidence has come to light and begins to believe that the condemned man is innocent, after all. But witnesses are nowhere to be found or are turning up dead, and there are only 12 hours to go before Petrucci’s rendezvous with the gas chamber. It’s a desperate chase for Sabato as he tries to get at the truth and catch the assassin.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘No, I’m not doing another ‘Star Trek’. Not if it means kissing Shatner again…’

The concept of the smart-talking, wise-ass reporter chasing down a killer is as old as talking pictures. Although we’re spared any of the tiresome comedic elements that usually came with such a character in the golden days of Hollywood, this is still the essential core of De Martino’s film. It’s been modernised with a grounding in the realms of the conspiracy thriller, but we’d be firmly in Film Noir territory if the action took place on the black and white canvas of downtown LA rather than the sunlit streets of New Mexico.

Several of the main protagonists are typical Noir archetypes, most notably Sabato as the self-serving newshound starting to grow a conscience and Bouchet as the femme fatale-love interest whose motives are open to question. Unfortunately, neither character is written with any more complexity, leaving both actors struggling to make much of an impression. The acting plaudits belong to Buono who, despite having his familiar voice dubbed, still manages to bring a sly, sardonic humour to his role, linking up with Sabato as an unofficial sidekick/partner in the slightly silly closing stages.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Stop looking at Babs, I was in this movie too!’

Buono was joined by two more notable US actors on the film, as De Martino manfully attempts to convince the audience that they’re watching an American movie. Keenan Wynn has a supporting role as the newspaper’s editor, mostly hiding behind thick glasses and a cigar (the dubbing really doesn’t help his performance) and Faith Domergue scores in a couple of scenes as the accused man’s wife. She’s almost unrecognisable from her roles in such midnight movie favourites as ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), ‘Cult of the Cobra’ (1955) and ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955). She’d had a similarly small role in Lucio Fulci’s stand-out Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and only made three more films before retiring in the mid-1970s.

One aspect of the film that remains curious is astrologer, Isaac Thetman (Corrado Gaipa). Sabato consults him on the case because he and the senator were connected. The two don’t hit it off, and Giapa predicts the reporter’s death, which will occur at the very moment of Petrucci’s execution. Apparently, that’s the sort of thing you can get in your horoscope because ‘astrology is akin to the occult!’ Really? Ok. Having said that the fortune teller’s presence does lead to the film’s most inventive moment when he inadvertently reveals a crucial clue by walking under a neon sign.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘It’s all about the bone structure, dahling!’

De Martino collaborated on the screenplay here as he did on all his films, including quite a few cult titles, although these were not always of the best quality. These included cheesy Peplum ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963), above-the-fold Eurospy ‘Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere’ (1965), undistinguished Giallo ‘The Insatiables’ (1969), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and, best of all, the hilariously ridiculous adventures of ‘The Pumaman’ (1980). Sabato made the usual range of Spaghetti Westerns and crime pictures and starred in Umberto Lenzi’s Giallo ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) and Alfonso Brescia’s dreary ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Apart from the wonderful Buono, whose best days were already behind him, the real success story here is Czech actor Bouchet. After starting in bit parts for major Hollywood studios and appearing on episodes of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Star Trek’, she returned to Europe to build a meaningful career via Gialli such as ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula’ (1971), ‘Amuck’ (1972) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (1972). She regularly worked for the rest of the decade before her career began to slow down in the mid-1980s. In recent years, she has returned more often to the big screen, including a part in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ (2006), and is still active in the Italian industry as of 2020.

A rather tepid thriller which takes too much time to get going and then tries too hard to make up for it in the last half-hour.

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit (1969)

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)‘A humble person like me gets very confused in front of a goddess.’

On his first night in Los Angeles, a young Italian reporter is beaten up in his hotel room by two men. They are looking for an old friend of his who has become the public face of a multi-national chemical company since arriving in America. When the friend subsequently dies in a car wreck, the reporter does not believe it was an accident and begins to investigate…

Borderline Giallo thriller that resembles more of a Film Noir at times, with lone wolf Robert Hoffman investigating a pool of suspects in his late friend’s death and stirring up a hornet’s nest in the process. Director and co-writer Alberto De Martino was more experienced in Westerns, and war pictures and his debut in this new arena is sadly nothing to write home about.

Handsome journalist Paolo (Hoffman) arrives in L.A. following old friend Giulio (Roger Fritz) who has made quite a splash Stateside, becoming a media celebrity as the spokesman for Chemical International. On his first night, he’s beaten up by two goons in his hotel room. They are looking for Fritz and push the unfortunate reporter’s face into a pool of his own vomit. Not long afterwards, Fritz is burned to a crisp when his car goes off-road. Hoffman investigates with the help of his editor (John Ireland) and soon finds out that Fritz was on the outs with his corporate sponsors. As he pieces together the details of his late friend’s life, all the managing directors seem to have a motive for wanting Fritz out of the way.

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)

‘What do you mean this film isn’t in 3-D?’

From this basic setup, De Martino chooses to provide two main story threads; Hoffman’s investigation on the one hand and extended flashbacks to Fritz’s life in America on the other. We learn that Fritz was a union activist back in Italy with a wife Luisa (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and daughter back home. However, Fritz was soon corrupted by his American success, enjoying sexual relations with company boss Victoria Brighton (Dorothy Malone), her promiscuous daughter Gloria (Romina Power) and executive secretary Mary (Luciana Paluzzi). These frequent flashbacks are introduced in a ‘puzzle-piece’ type structure, but amount to little beyond showing Fritz’s moral deterioration in the wake of his sudden success.

Meanwhile, Hoffman wanders about from place to place and suspect to suspect; clashing with gay executive Frank Donovan (Frank Wolff) and beating up his goons, one of whom gets his face shoved into a cat litter tray as payback for the vomit incident earlier in the film. He also attends an endless hippie orgy with Power and flirts with the unhappy Malone. Fritz’s diary goes missing, and a dubious tip-off ends with Ireland getting fatally sideswiped by a speeding car. It all ends with an utterly unsurprising revelation and a moral lesson that comes over as simplistic and trite. The weak resolution could have been forgiven if the film was an exciting and fun ride, but those are two qualities that are entirely lacking.

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)

‘You couldn’t pick up my laundry, could you?’

The one bright spark here is the performance of Malone. She’s terrific as the middle-aged fashionista still vulnerable and looking for love, but hardened and cynical from life experience. If only the film has been centred on her, things could have been very different. Unfortunately, her screen time is limited, and we’re left in the presence of the robotic Hoffman, who is about as charismatic as wallpaper paste. Elsewhere, Ireland and Paluzzi are wasted in nothing roles and Power’s hippie chick is trying way too hard to be cute. Yes, De Martino is trying to show us the cold, superficial world of wealth and success, but the audience needs to retain some sympathy and engagement with at least one of the protagonists. It also doesn’t help that the film asks us to invest in a half-baked romance between Hoffman and Paluzzi when the two performers stare at each other like they’re looking at yesterday’s furniture.

The film has also dated a little, what with Bruno Nicolai’s overdone score and De Martino’s over-busy camera. The director was already credited with peplum adventures like ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961)Perseus Against The Monsters’ (1963) and Hercules vs The Giant Warriors/Il trionfo di Ercole’ (1964). He also tried his hand at Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospys such as Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces’ (1966) and Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). There was Exorcist rip-off L’anticristo/The Antichrist’ (1974), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) (with Kirk Douglas!) and, best of all, bad movie classic ‘The Pumaman’ (1980).

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)

The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis reunion wasn’t working out…’

It seems that every film made in Italy in the late 60s featuring a little nudity, imported American stars and a mystery plot is considered a Giallo film by some. This example is a marginal case, indeed, coming over as more of a conspiracy thriller, but without the thrills. Or much of a conspiracy. At times, it seems little more than an extended Network TV episode or a pilot show.

If you are a Giallo completist then, by all means, check this out. But don’t expect very much.

Upper seven, L’uomo Da Uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces/Man of A Thousand Masks (1966)

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)‘We’ve got to weave through those infra-red beams; they set off the machine guns.’

Special agent Paul Finney foils a gold smuggling operation masterminded by the criminal Kobras, but the supervillain escapes to fight another day. Suspecting that he is involved with a covert Chinese operation in Africa, Finney teams up with a beautiful CIA agent to take him down once and for all.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is smooth operator Paul Hubschmid, fronting a surprisingly well-mounted co-production from studios in Italy and Germany (where were the Spaniards on this one?) Codenamed Upperseven, he’s knee-deep in the usual cocktail of guns, girls and low-level gadgets as he tangles with blonde iceman Kobras (Nando Gazzolo) and his bad girl sidekick Vivi Bach. There’s the usual tour around glamorous cities; this time the itinerary taking in Copenhagen, London, Basel, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rome, and a surprisingly explosive climax at Gazzolo’s secret base in Africa.

After an opening shootout at a burning factory, we find Hubschmid in London, getting his next set of orders and spending quality time with the beautiful Rosalba Neri. However, the talented Italian actress is woefully underused, her part seemingly existing almost solely to establish Hubschmid’s credentials in the bedroom department. She does get her guitar out and give us a song, but it’s hard to judge her musical abilities, as she’s obviously been dubbed by another actress. From there, our virile star moves onto American agent Karin Dor, who’s in town on her way to supervise a big money transfer in Switzerland. Hubschmid is happy to concentrate his working hours on tracking some stolen diamonds, but inevitably the cases are connected and Gazzolo’s hand is behind it all.

The film’s main gimmick is our hero’s use of masks. He makes them himself in a backroom in his flat, and they are so life-like they look almost like other members of the cast with their heads poking through holes in the furniture. In fact, they are the perfect disguise, even when they’ve been crumpled up and hidden in one of his socks for a few hours! Considering such items were such a major part of the arsenal of Peter Graves and his ‘Mission: Impossible’ crew, it’s interesting to note that this film was released almost a year before that TV show first aired.

Let’s consider the good stuff first. The film has more of a budget than many of its kind. This allows for some pyrotechnics at either end of the movie, a hidden underground base for Gazzolo and a refreshing lack of endless ‘tourist board’ footage crammed in to boost the running time. It’s good to see Dor getting in on some of the physical action too. Ok, so she’s not Buffy, the Vampire Slayer but she’s in the driving seat during a car chase, finishes one bad guy with a sharp knife throw and, briefly, handles herself well in a fight. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but it makes her more convincing as an agent than many of her female contemporaries.

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

🎵And you could have it all…My empire of dirt…🎶

Unfortunately, there a few negative aspects on show as well. To begin with, the plot is muddled and lacks focus, often feeling like a few second-hand ideas thrown roughly together. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and action, but it’s all a little undenuhelming and writer-director Alberto De Martino fails to endow proceedings with any real excitement or dynamism.

Although professional enough, none of the cast members invest their roles with any real energy or approach the creation of even a mildly compelling character. It’s simply hard for the audience to care about anything that happens to them. Hubschmid began acting in his native Germany in the late 1930s, and actually appeared in films sanctioned by the Nazi regime during World War Two. It may have been that which prompted him to try his luck in Hollywood in the late 1940s, although he maintained a screen presence in his homeland too. Stateside, he was renamed Paul Christian, and enjoyed a brief career as a leading man, appearing opposite Maureen O’Hara in ‘Bagdad’ (1949), in director Don Siegel’s ‘No Time For Flowers’ (1952), and as the heroic scientist in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953).

Dor met Bond for real in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), but her career stalled after appearing in the Hitchcock flop ‘Topaz’ (1969) and with Paul Naschy in monster train-wreck ‘Assignment Terror/Dracula Versus Frankenstein’ (1970). After a brief flirtation with television, she became a respected stage actress; still working almost up to her death in early 2017. Bach graduated to playing a Eurospy heroine in ‘Electra One’ (1967), and Neri went onto cult cinema greatness in a number of signature roles.

De Martino was a journeyman filmmaker at best, whose output slavishly followed popular trends. First, there were muscleman pictures in the early 1960s such as ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961) and ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963) before he jumped smartly onto the Spaghetti Western and Eurospy bandwagons. In the latter genre, he delivered ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) starring Sean’s brother Neil, and Ken Clark’s final outing as Agent 077 Dick Malloy in ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). His career M.O. carried on into the 1970s as he countered ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) with ‘L’anticristo’ (1974), ‘The Omen’ (1976) with ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and ‘Superman’ (1978) with ‘The Pumaman’ (1980), which remains one of the greatest bad movies ever made.

Curiously flat ‘Bond’ knock-off that’s better presented than most, but of little real interest.

Perseus Against The Monsters/Perseo L’lnvincibile/The Medusa Against The Sons of Hercules (1963)

Perseus Against The Monsters (1964)‘This claptrap has made you lose your head.’

Prince Alcaeus of Seriphus attempts to open trade routes closed by the hostile forces of Argos. Unfortunately, his party are decimated by a sea monster and the survivors are turned to stone by the legendary Medusa. His father attempts to forge an alliance between the warring kingdoms by offering his beautiful daughter Andromeda in marriage but the girl has other ideas, and just who is that handsome, square-jawed stranger on the beach?

More Greek Mythological tomfoolery, courtesy of the Italian/Spanish film industry, who roll out yet another ‘peplum’ in the wake of muscleman Steve Reeves’ star turn as ‘Hercules’ (1958). Yes, it’s the usual mixture of swords, sandals and togas, courtesy of director Alberto de Martino, who cheerfully throws in a couple of rubber monsters to keep things moving right along. The story is based on the same legends that gave rise to FX maestro Ray Harryhausen’s swan song ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1980), and the recent inferior remake, although this time out there’s no Kraken, which is a shame, or a ‘cute’ mechanical owl, which isn’t.

We join heroic Perseus (American actor Richard Harrison) just hanging at the beach, spearing fish, waxing his board and shooting the curl. Ok, maybe not; but it doesn’t look like teaching archery to a beautiful, but mysterious, woman is gainful employment either, especially as she’s probably a goddess (we never find out). But our beach bums’ days in the sun are numbered when evil Prince Galenore (Leo Anchéraz) turns up and spears his pet deer. It all kicks off, but the beautiful Andromeda (Anna Ranalli) plays peacemaker, proposing a contest between the two with herself as the prize. As it happens (and completely unexpectedly), Perseus turns out to be the long lost true king of Argos, although no one knows it (apart from the audience).

After the obligatory archery match, wrestling match and posing contest, Harrison is declared the winner, but he declines Ranalli’s hand due to the political situation. Instead he accepts a job as chief guard at the palace (for some reason). A quick snip of an over-enthusiastic editor’s scissors later and he and Ranalli are desperately in lurve (of course) and the dastardly Anchéraz is stroking his beard and hatching a kidnap plot. From there, it doesn’t take a genius to see exactly what’s going to happen next, what will happen after that, and then after that.

Perseus Against The Monsters (1964)

From the Prop Store It Came…

One thing you have to give the film is pace. There’s precious little time spent on our mooning lovebirds (hooray!) and a lot more on the action, although not much of it actually involves the monsters. Probably the best part of the film is the Medusa’s valley, populated the men she has turned to stone, but De Martino fails to make much of its creepy possibilities.

The Medusa herself looks like the long-lost cousin of Tabanga, the walking tree that starred in ‘From Hell lt Came’ (1957) and Harrison’s final tussle with it is seriously lame. The sea dragon is a much better example of practical FX, but it’s simply not very mobile and its’ high kill count pushes credibility beyond breaking point. Especially when it looks like it needs half a dozen prop guys to move it to its next target. So what we’re left with is an awful lot of sword fights. These are enthusiastically performed, but they’re not particularly well executed and some are even speeded up a little at the climax.

This was Ranalli’s only lead in a career of just half a dozen films, but Harrison soldiered on for years, relocating to Hong Kong in the 1980s to play Master Gordon in a seemingly endless series of low-budget action fkicks with titles like ‘Ninja Force’ (1988) and ‘Ninja Operation 6: Champion On Fire’ (1986). De Martino gave the world the iconic ‘Puma Man’ (1980), which is simply one of the best worst films ever made. He was also responsible for James Bond rip-off ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) which featured Sean’s brother Neil, Exorcist rip off ‘L’Antichristo’ (1974) and Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) which starred Kirk Douglas!  Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi had a long career in Italian cinema, both as writer and director, and delivered some interesting examples of the Giallo film as well as working with legendary director Sergio Leone and collaborating (uncredited) on cult science fiction satire ‘The Tenth Victim’ (1965).

Most movies in this genre that got released stateside gained a ‘Sons of Hercules’ tag, and this one was no exception, becoming ‘The Medusa Against The Sons of Hercules’ (1963). Of course, the result was the usual testament to really awful dubbing but did boast the excellent ‘Sons of Hercules’ theme song, which is worth a couple of dollars of anyone’s money!

Flat and rather perfunctory nonsense, enlivened every now and then by its silly monsters.

OK Connery/Operation Kid Brother (1967)

OK Connery“Twin vibrators inserted!”

Europe’s counter espionage organisation recruit the brother of their top agent to foil a dastardly plot by a criminal organisation to control the world’s gold reserves.

Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil plays himself as a surgeon with hypnotic powers and a bum-fluff beard in this half baked Italian James Bond ripoff from 1967.

Along for the ride are the lovely Dianela Bianchi (From Russia with Love), Adolfo Celi (Thunderball) and Anthony Dawson (the original Blofeld). They all play basically the same roles as they did in the Bond movies. And in charge of the counter espionage outfit? Bernard Lee (‘M’) and Lois Maxwell (‘Miss Moneypenny’)! Actually Maxwell probably had a ball – she gets in on the action more than once and displays some serious machine gun skills. More exciting than making the tea, filing reports and indulging in lame sexual innuendo any day!

Apparently Sean wasn’t tremendously impressed by the whole business and Neil never went on to a stellar acting career. He was actually a plasterer by trade and went back to that afterwards, only surfacing for a couple of tabloid baiting drink driving convictions in the early 00’s. How was he in his only starring role? Well…’ok’ for want of a better word. He looked remarkably like his brother and handles the action competently enough but the family presence and charisma are completely missing. The same charge can safely be levelled at the work of director Alberto De Martino, who was far more astute at cashing-in on popular movie trends than making interesting films. Having said that, his ‘Superman’ (1978) rip-off, ‘The Puma Man’ (1980) should be celebrated by lovers of bad film everywhere.

OK Connery (1967)

Neil failed the audition for Robin Hood as well.

This film is a typical 1960s euro-pudding, featuring lots of beautiful women, bad dubbing and glamorous locations. It is tongue in cheek but not really a spoof, despite some ‘knowing’ dialogue nods to Bond. It’s quite possible these were added in the English dub later on anyway. There is one rather strange sequence where the villains’ gang of lovelies ambush a military convoy. To start with, they’re dressed as can-can girls, but then they strip down to pussycat costumes. For absolutely no reason at all. But such welcome lunacy is sadly absent elsewhere, and it’s pretty much Eurospy business as usual, even with the somewhat unusual presence of a Scottish archery team!

There’s nothing desperately wrong with the enterprise if you place it in the context of its time, and don’t take it too seriously, but a wittier script and a stronger central performance would really have helped.

Apparently the producer offered Neil’s services to the Bond people when Sean quit the role. They declined.