Human Cobras/L’uomo più velenoso del cobra (1971)

‘Here’s that Black Mamba that you asked about.’

A man with mob connections returns to New York from forced exile in Europe when his brother is murdered. His investigations bring him into conflict with the local syndicate, and a key witness meets a bloody end. The trail leads to a businessman in Nairobi, and he heads for Kenya, accompanied by his brother’s widow…

Multi-national crime thriller with just enough of the necessary elements to qualify as a Giallo. Unfortunately, this Italian-Spanish-Swedish co-production from director Bitto Albertini turns out to be more memorable for its filming locations than anything else.

Johnny Garden (George Ardisson) is shot by a sniper rifle at the big game, leaving his wife Leslie (Erika Blanc) behind with a tangle of dubious business deals. Twin brother Tony (Aridsson, again) lives in Europe, forced out of the Big Apple by syndicate boss Humphrey (Luis Induni), who’s not pleased to see him when he returns. Investigating his brother’s death, Ardisson links up with Blanc and begins chasing down leads and witnesses. One of these is the frightened Louis Mortimer (Luciano Pigozzi), who hints at drug deals involving a Kenyan-based business partner named George MacGreaves (Alberto de Mendoza). Before he can spill the beans, though, his neck meets the sharp edge of a straight razor.

Ardisson and Blanc head for Nairobi to meet with the affable de Mendoza, who lives in a luxury villa outside the city. The couple is already struggling with their feelings for each other. An early flashback shows them as lovers before Tony left for Europe and his brother came into the picture. Ardisson’s resemblance to his brother attracts a woman named Clara (Janine Reynaud) when he visits a local casino. She promises him crucial information about the murder, but she’s killed while he showers after sleeping together. Forced to dispose of the body to avoid the authorities, Ardisson becomes more and more convinced of de Mendoza’s guilt. Events come to a head when the trio go on safari to hunt elephants.

This project must have looked like a potential winner at the concept stage. A murder mystery spanning three continents, a series of brutal slayings, a script co-authored by Giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi and an experienced cast with screen presence to spare. However, the final results are a disappointment. It would be tempting to point the finger at director Albertini, whose filmography is less than impressive, but it would have taken a master hand to wring something remarkable out of such a lacklustre enterprise.

The main culprit is the screenplay, which is curiously half-baked and lacking in detail. A good example is the business relationship between Johnny and MacGreaves. Apart from one vague, passing mention of drug trafficking by Pigozzi, the audience never finds out what has led to their fabulous wealth. Similarly, the reason for Ardisson’s exile from America and the antagonism of mob boss Induni is never explained. None of that is essential, of course, but some context would have helped inform the characters and their actions. However, the biggest problem is with the reveals and twists of the third act. It’s easy to see them coming, and they are as uninventive as they are predictable. Also, it’s hard to imagine how the aftermath of the endgame could have been explained to the authorities without incurring significant jail time! It would be nice to think that the talented Gastaldi had only a marginal association with the script.

The film does have a few points of interest, though, principally the unusual globetrotting element. Ardisson goes from Europe to America to Africa over the 95 minutes, perhaps prompting the actor to think he was back in one of his 1960s Eurospy roles where he buzzed around the glamorous cities of Europe as ‘James Bond on a Budget.’ At times, the production looks pretty determined to prove these multi-national credentials, with multiple shots of Ardisson walking the streets of New York and de Mendoza providing the leading couple with a quick tour of Nairobi when he picks them up from the airport.

Unfortunately, none of the characters gets any context or significant backstory. We’re never allowed any insight into Ardisson’s criminal past, although he’s clearly not phased by the necessity of dumping Reynaud’s body. The actor’s personal charisma is helpful, though, and he makes an excellent showing in the film’s best scene, an altercation with some of Induni’s goons in a New York bar. The fight choreography is solid, and Ardisson is convincingly capable.

The rest of the cast don’t get much of a look-in, with the women in particular short-changed. Even veteran scene-stealer Pigozzi only appears in a couple of brief, though effective, scenes. Underplaying his role as the number one suspect, de Mendoza makes a little more impact, despite his distracting resemblance to legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros! Credit should also go to Fernando Hilbeck, who plays an almost wordless role as the assassin. For once, we see the killer’s face up close and personal right from the beginning. It’s not a question of putting a face to the murders, but rather one of the killer’s motives and who he might be working for.

Albertini remained firmly rooted in the second division during his almost 20-year directing career. His greatest success was the adult film ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975), starring Laura Gemser and also shot in Nairobi. He began as a cinematographer post-World War Two, eventually working on international epics such as ‘David and Goliath’ (1960) and ‘The Corsican Brothers/I fratelli Corsi’ (1961) before making his debut as a director in 1967. One of his first projects was the no-budget comic book adventure of ‘Goldface, the Fantastic Superman/Goldface il fantastico Superman’ (1967) before he became involved with the heroic comedy capers of the ‘Three Supermen’ series, for which he delivered three entries. After his success with ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975) and a couple of sequels, he remained in the adult market for the unofficial sequel to Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Starcrash’ (1978), most commonly known as ‘Escape From Galaxy 3/Giochi erotici nella terza galassia’ (1981). Its mashup of what seems initially to be a space opera aimed at children with softcore porn can still raise eyebrows today.

A disappointing production that fails to realise its potential.

Three Supermen In The Jungle/Supermen/Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Vergini Della Jungla? (1970)

Three Supermen In The Jungle:Supermen:Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Virgini Della Jungla? (1970)‘It all started last year when a stray cat wanted to marry him…’

A top FBI agent is interrupted outside the church when he’s about to be married. The Russians are close to getting their hands on a newly-discovered Uranium deposit deep in the African jungle, and he’s the only man who can stop them. But, before he can begin his mission, he must rescue his two ex-colleagues who are about to be executed in the Far East. Together, they are the ‘Three Fantastic Supermen’…

The third in a series of Italian comedy adventures that began with Gianfranco Parolini’s ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). That film starred Tony Kendall, Brad Harris and Aldo Canti as the title characters: a trio of heroes fighting crime in black capes and bulletproof scarlet body stockings. It was a cheerful cross between a James Bond knock-off, a comic book adventure and a caper movie, and provided a cocktail of mildly diverting, undemanding fun. A sequel ‘3 Supermen a Tokio’ (1968) followed, directed by Bitto Albertini and featuring a new principal cast. This film was the third in the series and saw Harris return from the first film, joining Sal Borgese, George Martin and director Albertini from the second instalment.

Brad Harris is not a happy man. About to tie the knot with his blonde girlfriend, he’s interrupted by men from the ministry, including boss man Colonel Treaps (Pedro Rodríguez de Quevedo). He insists that Harris is the only agent who can foil the Commie’s invasion of the dark continent, and appeals to his sense of duty. Eventually, Harris pretends to agree but plans to give him the slip, arranging to hook up with his bride later on, but the Colonel is too smart for him. Instead, he ends up kitted out like an Apollo astronaut and blasted off in a rocket (courtesy of some reasonably-priced local film library). It was 1970, so I guess moon rockets were the transport of choice.

Three Supermen In The Jungle:Supermen:Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Vergini Della Jungla? (1970)

‘It’s from my agent! He reckons he still might be able to get me out of the sequel.’

The first part of Harris’ mission is to rescue ex-teammates Borgese and Martin from the firing squad of a local desert chieftain. We never find out why they’ve been condemned to death, which should raise an early red flag when it comes to the scriptwriting department. Similarly, we never find out the source of animosity between Harris and his old friends, beyond the fact that he’s all about the mission, and they’d rather be scoring some easy cash. Having said all that, Harris does crash the firing party courtesy of an underground tunnelling machine which is a nice touch, if poorly realised.

Unfortunately, these early scenes turn out to be the highlights of the film by far. Once our heroic trio make it to Africa and run across the obligatory lost tribe of white-skinned lovelies in fur bikinis, the story grinds to a halt and ends up as little more than an apparent rip-off of ‘Carry On Up The Jungle’ (1970), although this film actually arrived in cinemas a few weeks earlier. Yes, the tribe’s queen (Femi Benossi) falls in love with Harris. Yes, Borgese ends up in a large cooking pot, courtesy of the local cannibals. Yes, there’s a joke involving a rubber crocodile. Yes, the cannibals play musical instruments made from human bones while the girls do a vaguely suggestive dance, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

‘Ooh-err, Missus, look a the coconuts on that…fnarr…fnarr…’

Of course, it’s both sexist and racist, but these elements are more of a reflection of the lazy thinking of the time that the film was made, rather than elements delivered with any malicious intent. What’s arguably even worse is how predictable, weary and plain boring it all is. Not only are all the jokes telegraphed well in advance, but they are so old that they probably need to be carbon dated to establish their origin.

The film plays very much like they wasn’t any finished shooting script and the cast had to improv various loosely-connected gags and scenes in order to drag the film bodily toward the 90 minute finishing line. It’s only Borgese’s athletic efforts at slapstick that prevent the onset of audience coma and it’s a close-run thing. Harris in particular tries hard, but there’s simply no-life in such a threadbare script and his impersonation of an oriental in the film’s closing scenes might have kept him awake in later years.

The series carried on for another two films, minus Harris who must have thought better of it. Borgese and Albertini were still on board for ‘Supermen Against The Orient’ (1973) (a distinct improvement on this) and Borgese and a returning Martin reunited with a new director for ‘Three Supermen In The West’ (1973), which saw the trio back in the Old West, courtesy of a time machine. Albertini also gave the world strange ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip off ‘Escape From Galaxy 3’ (1981) which was a mixture of kiddie-friendly sci-fi and soft-core porn. That was a more interesting film than this one, if not necessarily for the right reasons.

A painful slog. Not recommended.

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.

Goldface, The Fantastic Superman (Goldface il Fantastico Superman) (1967)

Goldface_The_Fantastic_Superman_(1967)‘Goldface, what you suggest is madness! But I guess sometimes madness pays off…’

Mysterious supervillain Cobra starts bombing factories as part of a huge blackmail scheme. Industrial leaders agree to pay his ransom but, luckily for them, wrestling star Goldface has become involved. Cobra plans to rub out our masked hero but finds that he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

The Italians have a long association with comic book culture, so the notion of masked heroes and villains was not new to them. The international success of their ‘Sword and Sandal’ epics had put the national film industry on the world map, but their popularity was waning by the mid-1960s, and, when the Adam West ‘Batman’ TV show went global in 1966, producers were quick to jump on the bandwagon with characters like ‘SuperArgo’, ’Argoman’ and ‘Goldface.’

Goldface (Espartico Santoni) is a champion wrestler like SuperArgo (and masked Mexican legend El Santo before them), balancing a life fighting crime with his grappling exploits and being a top scientist (or something?) His weapons are…mostly fisticuffs. His hi-tech transport is…a normal motorbike. His go-to gadgets are…well, he uses a telephone quite well. Yes, I’m afraid this is all rather cheap and cheerful, with our masked hero making do with his natty costume, peanut-chewing sidekick Lothar, and…well that’s about it really.

The Cobra (Hugo Pimentel) is planning world domination (somehow or other), but needs plenty of cash to do it and so begins his reign of terror and blackmail, aided by statuesque blonde Evi Marandi, who’d had a prominent role in Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965). The Cobra’s various tiresome plots and schemes include holding pretty Micaela Pignatelli at his island base (of which we see two rooms and some minions in a tower), as well as eliminating our caped hero with extreme prejudice. Unfortunately for him, Goldface and the forces of law and order storm the island in a truly Bond-like finale (on a slightly smaller scale!), and his men are a bit rubbish in a fight. Actually, despite the obvious limitations of overacting stuntmen and actors who don’t know how to make a prop gun look real, this is the best sequence in the film.


‘If you’re going undercover, may I make a suggestion?’

Goldface infiltrates the secret base by simply waiting around in the bushes to overhear the password – ‘The Cobra is Everything’. He then mutters it to a couple of sentries and he’s in (told you The Cobra’s men were rubbish). Later on, when faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the guards in front of Pignatelli’s prison, he simply walks up to them in costume and starts hitting them. As you can probably tell, it’s all top quality stuff. Proceedings climax with some poorly matched helicopter stock footage.

Although the adventures of fellow Italian wrestling crime-fighter SuperArgo weren’t exactly compelling, they were still much more fun than this; a tatty, dull affair bereft of any invention or interest. The inescapable conclusion is that this was knocked out quickly as a cheap cash-in on a current trend. In a lot of ways it resembles one of the old Republic movie serials; masked hero, mysterious supervillain, and plenty of (unconvincing) fisticuffs.

Only without the entertainment factor.


Escape from Galaxy 3 (1981)

Escape from Galaxy 3 (1981)‘The Hydrogen Booster Units are already at 600 Mega-Degrees!’

The peaceful kingdom of Exsilon is targeted by galactic villain Oriclon. The King refuses to surrender and sends Princess Belle Star to summon help in the care of hot-shot pilot Lithan. The fugitives escape but Oriclon gives chase, losing them in the vicinity of a strange and beautiful blue planet.

A cheap Italian space opera that turn out to be something else entirely. Things start predictably enough with our peaceful heroes coming under threat from ‘Lord of the Dark Night’ Don Powell.  All we see of Exsilon is a control room, manned by their King (wearing his crown), daughter Sherry Buchanan and hunky pilot Fausto Di Bello. We know our heroes are in trouble early on as Powell has golden glitter in his beard as well as squadrons of model spacecraft at his command. His colourful ‘court-jester’ space costume is truly something to behold, making him officially the coolest badass of all time.

There’s almost no exposition (King good/Gold Beard bad), it’s just straight into the action with lots of colourful rays, electronic squeaks and ‘big’explosions. Buchanan and Di Bello speed off into the cosmic sunset and we’re treated to whole bunch of dialogue to make the writers of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ proud. We get ‘Equidistant Conic Time Jets’, the ‘Omega Unit’, the ‘Magnetic Generator’, the ‘Cosmic Radar’, ‘Mega-Rays’, ‘Vapour Rockets’ and the ‘Mega-Metric Teleprobe.’ All no doubt based on sound scientific principles.

The early pace is unremitting but things come to a shuddering halt once the fugitives take refuge on our world. The planet’s been ravaged by an atomic war in the distant past but Mother Earth has made a successful comeback. This new Eden is populated by pretty young men and women in short togas. There are some misunderstandings before our hero and heroine are introduced to ‘This Earth thing we call kissing’ and a dummy flies up a cliff (makes a change). Then Buchanan goes skinny dipping, discovers sex and the movie takes a complete left turn. Yes, after 40 minutes (count ‘em!) of a cheap and cheesy ‘Star Wars’ rip-off we’re in soft core adult territory. It’s totally bizarre and begs the obvious question: just who in hell was this movie’s target audience?

Escape from Galaxy 3 (1981)

Suddenly, no one was interested ion the table football tournament.

From then, on our principals can’t keep their hands off each other (or anyone else for that matter!) as the local population introduce them to the joys of getting bladdered, eating chicken legs, jealousy, hand clapping and formation disco dancing (yes, really!) These developments aren’t exactly unwelcome (Buchanan is a very beautiful woman after all) but are rather ridiculous and a more than a tad boring. Di Bello is not really keen on all this sexy stuff at first but Buchanan soon sorts him out!

20 minutes from time, someone remembers this is supposed to be a ‘Star Wars’ movie and Oriclon pops up again to get us back on topic. But all this naughtiness has given our hero the power to shoot blue rays from his eyes, as a lot of sex obviously does (citation needed). The film ends with some repeated footage from earlier on; presumably the production ran out of money or everyone was too busy having sex to bother with a decent climax – pun intended.

Buchanan also appeared in ‘Zombie Holocaust’ (1980) and had previous experience in the adult movie world. Villain Powell wrote songs for ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975) (I bet they were badass) and almost all the SFX footage is recycled from ‘Star Crash’ (1979). In fact, the film was called ‘Star Crash 2’ in many territories.

Who were the intended audience for all these shenanigans, courtesy of director Bitto Albertini? It’s open to debate. Perhaps there was a ‘harder’ cut of the movie for the porno market but, if so, what’s with the first half of kiddie Science Fiction? Perhaps Italian males with certain hobbies have a lot of patience. Perhaps they like plastic spaceships. Who knows?