Goliath Against The Giants/Goliath contro i giganti (1961)

‘It’s more difficult to understand a woman than to defeat an army.’

After a long campaign, Goliath and his army are looking forward to some peace, but instead they find out that their king has been muderered back home and a usurper is on the throne. A message concerning their return has already been despatched, so Goliath decides to try and outrun the courier by returning across the sea…

More muscleman adventures from Italy as US actor Brad Harris takes up the gauntlet from Steve Reeves, who had previously played the part in ‘Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari’ (1959). This adventure was directed by Guido Malatesta and scripted by Arpad DeRiso, Cesare Seccia and Gianfranco Parolini, who was soon to become a prolific director of genre cinema and, according to some sources, worked uncredited in that capacity here.

After a bloody five-year campaign, victorious general Goliath (Harris) heads back to his homeland Beyruth, but the fighting isn’t over yet. Bad news came hard on the heels of the fruits of conquest;
good King Augustes lays dead back home, and usurper Bokan (Fernando Rey) has seized the throne. This intelligence comes too late; Harris has already despatched a messenge back with news of their victory and imminent return. Realising this courier must be intercepted, he commandeers a ship, selects a crew and sets out via the swifter ocean route.

Unfortunately, nothing goes according to plan. First, the ship is becalmed, and then Harris has to deal with young stowaway Antheus (Franco Gasparri). Stopping in for freshwater supplies at a deserted island, they find Princess Elea (Gloria Milland) staked out on the ground. Harris takes her aboard, but is she friend or foe? She does try to kill him with a snake but soon finds the big man’s noble character and his muscles to be an irresistible combination. Later on, it turns out that she had been duped into the role of assassin by Rey and his scheming mistress Diamira (Carmen de Lirio), convinced that Harris was responsible for her father’s death.

The voyage gets progressively more perilous as they are battered by a typhoon and attacked by a giant sea lizard. Harris defeats the monster, but the ship, and nearly all the crew, are lost. Washed up on the shores of Beyruth, our heroes escape in the nick of time from a tribe of Amazon warriors and finally reach their destination. But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Harris’ fight card fills up with Rey’s royal guard, a gorliia in the dungeon, some unfriendly lions and an extra couple of giant lizards. What about the giants? After all, they are in the movie’s title. Well, they do turn up eventually, about six minutes from the end of the film. Unfrotunately, they are not exactly impressive, being played by half a dozen burly blokes in beards and animal skins. When Harris briefly fights with a few of them, it’s obvious they’re no taller than him.

As you may have gathered, the story here is nothing special, simply being the usual ragbag of Peplum cliches. However, there are so many of them that they give Malatesta’s film its most significant advantage: pace. There’s little let up in the action right from the get-go when the audience is thrown straihght into the final stages of the five-year war. The sword play may not be the best, but it’s enthusiastic and the battle scenes have a good sense of scale, thanks to the impressive sets and the sheer number of participants. Coming at the beginning of the muscleman cycle, the production values are still relatively high and this does grant the film a stamp of quality lacking in some of the later examples of the genre.

It also helps that Fernando Ray is terrific value as the despicable Bolkan, although he’s so flaky its hard to believe that he could hold onto a throne, let alone steal one in the first place. Of course, he’s stuffing the treasury by levying exorbitant taxes on an increasingly rebellious population and holding games in the arena where even the winner gets an arrow through the neck. Why did he order one of his flunkeys to kill this nameless gladiator? No reason, just a bit of fun. When will all these usurpers, Grand Viziers and dark princes learn to employ a sensible tax policy anyway? Stop at a level just before the populace gets angry enough to do something about it, and give them reasons to blame each other for their collective poverty. Race and colour are usually reliable ones. It’s Government 101, really.

Some of the more familar elements of the genre are all present and correct too. Slaves are turning a big wheel (although it is attached to somethiing for once!) The Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls continue their never-ending tour with an appearance at the royal court. Guards on the steps of the palace uncross their spears when someone approaches and then cross them again once the visitor has gone through. Harris just wanders up behind Rey on his throne at the arena and puts a blade to his throat.

One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its location work. There’s a beautiful sequence where our heroes walk across a desert and the valley of Janopah where the giants live is an impressive mixture of bleak crags and volcanic ash. The scenery is often spectacular, and the cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa helps evoke an ancient world, assisted by a stirring score from Carlo Innocenzi. Some of the monsters are somewhat immobile and don’t bear too close scrurtiny but director Malatesta sensibly doesn’t let his camera linger on them for more than a few seconds at a time.

Harris sports a short, blonde beard and a haircut with just a suggestion of an Elvis quiff. He is not very charasmatic here but still won the title roles in similar offerings ‘Samson’ (1961) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962). Later on, he often starred for Parolini, once the latter became a full-time director. The two collaborated most famously on the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy films, and, by that point, he was more assured in front of the camera. He was also a martial arts expert who often choreographed fight sequences and toted a six-gun as Spaghetti Western heroes Django and Sabata. None of these skills was probably required for his occasional appearances in the 1980s on US super soap ‘Dallas.’

Malatesta was a writer and a director who worked in various genres before latching onto the Peplum craze with this film. ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962), ‘Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste/Colossus and the Headhunters’ (1963) followed in short order. He also worked as a writer on ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963), which was inexplicably re-titled Slave Queen’ for the American market. Ventures into Eurospy territory came next with scripts for ‘Spies Strike Silently/Le spie uccidono in silenzio’ (1966) and ‘Operation Apocalyspe/Missione apocalisse’ (1966), and he returned to the director’s chair to deliver dreary, slow-burn caper ‘Mission Phantom/Come rubare un quintale di diamanti in Russia’ (1967). Two jungle adventures closed out the decade: ‘Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla’ (1968) and ‘Tarzana, the Wild Woman/Tarzana, sesso selvaggio’ (1969), both featuring the up and coming Femi Benussi in the title role.

A somewhat formulaic and familiar outing enlivened by a swift pace and a budget that allows for a solid level of spectacle.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

The Fury of Hercules (1962)‘Without violence, power gives no satisfaction.’

Hercules arrives at the city of Arpad to find that his old friend, the King, has passed away. His daughter now rules but she has become fixated on building a high wall around the city. Her chief advisor has indulged this obsession and enslaved the populace to complete the project while he strengthens his grip on power…

The ninth in the loose cycle of muscleman films featuring the demi-god that came out of Italy in the late 1950s and early 60s, riding the coat-tails of the international success of ‘Hercules’ (1958) starring Steve Reeves. This time around US actor Brad Harris sports a nifty beard and toga in the title role and brings the requisite physical presence. However, the results are tired and predictable with director Gianfranco Parolini bringing nothing new to the party.

After being waylaid by apparent bandits on the road, Hercules (Harris) rides his chariot into Arpad to visit the King. He’s immediately confronted by a hostile captain of the guard who needs some form of identification. Luckily, a couple of utility bills and a driving licence are not required as the big man averts an accident at the walls nearby when a building block almost falls on the men working there. As a guest at the court of Queen Cnidia (Mara Berni), he soon realises that all is not well in the city. The real power behind the throne is the silver-tongued chief advisor, Menistus (Serge Gainsbourg) who has levied the usual unreasonable taxes on the populace to fill his own pockets. He’s also put any dissenting voices to work on the building site under the whip.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘Do you come here often?’

The state of the union doesn’t sit well with Harris, particularly when the innocent Mila (Irena Prosen) is accused of treason and condemned to death. Mitigation of the sentence is only possible if a champion appears at her execution and undergoes three dangerous trials on her behalf. This is the big man’s bread and butter, of course, and he’s lowered into a pit to face a sleepy lion, followed by a man in a gorilla suit, who gives Harris a surprising amount of bother. Finally, he defeats a gladiator above ground in front of an appreciative crowd. It transpires that Prosen is the daughter of the local rebel leader, Eridione (Carlo Tamberlani), and, of course, it’s not long before Harris is allied with their cause.

Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that this film hits all the expected targets with such dull and lifeless precision. After all, besides vehicles starring Hercules, there had already been about another dozen features with identikit musclemen such as Maciste, Goliath, Ursus and Samson. So it was inevitable that a formula would arise pretty quickly in such circumstances to keep up with the pace of production. Unfortunately, Parolini’s effort sticks so close to established conventions that the results are drained of any real interest.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘You want another take?’

There are no mythological elements either, so all that remains are just the usual story beats. Queen Berni falls hard for Harris and/or his muscles, but he fancies handmaiden Daria (Luisella Boni, billed as Brigitte Corey) instead. She’s Tamberlani’s daughter, of course, which gives the big man a personal stake in the rebellion. The ‘in-court entertainment’ is provided by the usual troupe of dancing girls in gauzy costumes, although, on this occasion, they are played by the Zagreb Opera Ballet! Arpad’s unlikely to become a recurring list on their tour itinerary, though, what with their act ending with an assassination attempt. There’s also a scene where Harris turns back a herd of rampaging elephants in the best Johnny Weismuller tradition. Umgawa, indeed.

Harris shines brightest in the action and combat scenes, appearing appropriately daring and heroic as he cuts a swathe through Gainsbourg’s men. These include Sergio Ciani, who went onto play Hercules several times himself, under the name of Alan Steel. The climactic battle scene outside the palace is staged on a reasonably large scale; it’s just a shame that the film itself is so lacking in any personality. There is an effort made to show the rebel group as a happy, loving community as a contrast to the selfish, dour city dwellers, but it’s half-baked at best. Also, the attempts to interest us in the fates of various side characters come over as feeble when there’s been insufficient effort to establish their characters in the first place.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘Those dancing girls can sure do the Mashed Potato.’

This was Harris’ sole appearance as the legendary demi-god, but he had already flexed his muscles in the title role of the suspiciously similar ‘Samson’ (1961). He re-teamed with director Parolini for the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy series opposite Tony Kendall and with both actor and director as one of ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). Those later roles provided him with far more opportunity as an actor, and he was able to bring a lighter touch to them, mostly as a foil for Kendall. They also allowed him to show off his martial arts skills in fight scenes that he often choreographed himself. Over two decades later, he appeared briefly in Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Hercules’ (1983) starring Lou Ferrigno. On the face of it, this might appear to be a clever cameo, but it was probably just as much a matter of convenience as anything else. Both actors had gone straight into that production from ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) in which Harris had a far more substantial role.

‘Sulk all you like, I’m not doing that record with you!’

And, yes, that is French singer-songwriter and hitmaker Serge Gainsbourg, the man behind the controversial hit ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’ which he released in 1969 as a duet with Jane Birkin. Although principally known as a musical artist outside his native country, he also had an acting career, one of his earliest roles being an appearance with Harris in ‘Samson’ (1961). Later credits were appropriately eclectic, considering his roles in multiple aspects of cultural media. There was unusual superhero satire ‘Mr Freedom’ (1968), a part in Jerry Lewis’ still unseen ‘The Day the Clown Cried’ (1972), and a role as a police inspector in Antonio Margheriti’s offbeat Giallo ‘Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye’ (1973), which reunited him with Birkin.

An uninvolving, desperately unoriginal Peplum which develops on well-travelled lines, but does deliver its action sequences efficiently enough.

Hercules (1983)

Hercules (1983)‘lt spits cosmic rays of deadly fire! Do you know what that means?’

Zeus bestows superhuman strength and intelligence on the infant Hercules. When he reaches manhood, he finds himself being used as a pawn in the power games of the goddess Hera and her mortal follower, King Minos, who ordered his parents slain when he was still a child…

An enjoyable retelling of the legend of Heracles (Hercules to you and me) directed by Italian Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates). Television’s ‘Incredible Hulk’, Lou Ferrigno takes the title role, and the movie was a product of Cannon Films, who were owned by cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They invested heavily in the home video market of the 1980s, and the shelves of many a high street rental store were packed with tapes of their often less than stellar productions.

This film begins (as all films should) with the creation of the universe, which was apparently caused by pieces of Pandora’s exploding jar. The gods have taken up residence on the moon (roomier than Mount Olympus, I guess) where Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli) holds court with the scheming Hera (Rossana Podestà) and goody-two-shoes Athena (the wide-eyed Delia Boccardo). By ‘holding court’ I mean they stand around and talk about the fate of humanity. Apparently, the race is facing its ‘hour of decision’ between good and evil, and Boccardo is concerned that the struggle is an uneven one. At her suggestion, Cassinelli attempts to redress the balance by bestowing an infant prince with the power of light which will give him a body ‘forged in the furnace of a thousand suns’ when he grows up.

Hercules (1983)

‘Blimey! Look at the Glutinous Maximus on that!’

And it’s not a moment too soon! A few seconds later, the youngster’s royal parents are butchered in a palace coup by the forces of the evil Minos (William Berger) and his sexy daughter Adriana (Sybil Danning). Thanks to a loyal servant, the child escapes the bloodshed but is cast adrift in an open boat. Cassinelli lends a helping hand (literally, thanks to some ropey SFX) and that doesn’t sit well with Podestà. She uses her animated finger lightning to set a sea creature on the child, but he tears it apart (with his strangely adult hands!)

Fast forward via an hourglass spinning in space and the little brat has grown into the massively muscular Hercules (Ferrigno) while Berger has somehow aligned himself with Podestà. Ferrigno knows nothing of his past, but Berger is fully clued up and summons Daedalus (Eva Robins) from Chaos (which is somewhere beyond time and space apparently) to help out. I’ve no idea who she is, but she certainly rocks a golden headpiece with bat-wing ears. Robins probably should have had a word with the wardrobe department about the rest of her ensemble, though. Anyway, she sends stop motion mechanical toys after Ferrigno which grow to giant size in Earth’s atmosphere (because of …science), and one of them kills his adoptive mother before he can chuck a pole at it.

Hercules (1983)

‘Does my bum look big in this?’

Searching for answers, Ferrigno enters a contest of strength to select a champion for King Augeias (third-billed Brad Harris in a one-scene cameo). The prize? To escort the lovely Princess Cassiopeia (Ingrid Anderson) to Athens. Of course, Ferrigno wins and completes a couple of tasks, or labours if you will, along the way. Just as predictably, Ferrigno and Anderson spar for a couple of minutes and then fall in love. But Ferrigno is betrayed by royal lackey Dorcon (Yehuda Efroni) and thrown into the sea wrapped in chains. When he breaks free, he runs into sorceress Circe (Mirella D’Angelo) whose youth and beauty he inadvertently revives by providing her with ten drops of his blood. In return, she answers a lot of his questions, and the two set out to defeat Berger and his minions via the gates of hell and Atlantis.

Yes, this is the sort of movie that barely stops to take a breath, Cozzi throwing everything at the screen that his limited budget can muster without any trace of apology. Atlantis appears courtesy of terrible model work that’s tinted bright green, a mechanical Hyrda shoots scarlet laser bolts from its eyes, and Ferrigno and D’Angelo visit Hades by walking across a rainbow. Almost everything that happens is accompanied by an endless selection of wacky electronic sound effects, and Cozzi’s script is full of frequently laughable dialogue with characters making important declarations and pompous speeches. Our old friend, Voiceover Man, tries his best to give proceedings some gravitas, but his constant repetition of things that the audience already knows isn’t really the best way to go about it.

Not surprisingly, the story isn’t all that accurate to the original mythology. There’s no mention of Hercules’ killing his sons or his inclination to general murder and mayhem. The legend as we know it today is an assembly of bits and pieces from several different sources, so, if you want to give the movie a break, I guess you could say it was written in the same spirit!

Hercules (1983)

‘I thought I told you to cancel our Netflix subscription.’

The chief joy here are the villains, of course, and Berger in particular, who plays everything with a knowing twinkle in his eye. His King Minos is laughably vague and idiotic, building a city on a live volcano and forcing the legendary phoenix to make its nest inside. A sound piece of town planning, I must say, although probably in contravention of several applicable health and safety regulations. Still, he does offer the bird a virgin bride from time to time to keep it happy. The underemployed Danning is also delightfully wicked and deserves props for managing to remain inside her costume for the entire run time when a wardrobe malfunction looks imminent at any moment. And Ferrigno? Well, his physique is certainly very impressive and, if his acting isn’t in the same league, he shows an easy charisma at times which could have been developed if he’d been given more opportunities. Sadly, such possibilities were limited due to a speech impediment resulting from his impaired hearing, meaning that he’s dubbed by a voice actor here.

If Harris’ appearance seems odd in its brevity, then this film was shot back-to-back with ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) where he also appeared with Ferrigno. Director Cozzi is chiefly remembered for triumphantly silly ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘Starcrash’ (1978) starring Caroline Munro, a young David Hasselhoff and Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. Cozzi began his career with bizarre science-fiction piece ‘Tunnel Under The World’ (1969), and further projects included Giallo ‘L’ assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora’ (1975) and tatty ‘Alien’ (1979) copycat ‘Contamination’ (1980). Most infamously, he was involved with the hideous, colourised version of ‘Godzilla’ (1954), which was released in 1977.

Hercules (1983)

‘Have you ever seen a Valkyrie go down?’

Podestà first came to prominence in the title role of Robert Wise’s ‘Helen of Troy’ (1955), which also starred Stanley Baker and Brigitte Bardot. Working steadily until the mid-1960s, she finally hit paydirt with popular caper ‘Seven Golden Men’ (1965) and its sequel. Stardom (on the continent, at least) must have been within her grasp after those performances, but she only appeared sporadically afterwards. Danning has long been a cult cinema favourite. Her career began in Europe with sex comedies before she started getting supporting roles in bigger-budgeted Hollywood films like Richard Lester’s star-studded ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973), and the hilariously inept ‘The Concorde… Airport ‘79 (1979).  A prominent role in Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) proved pivotal and she went onto alternate between guest slots on hit Network TV shows and exploitation titles like ‘Chained Heat’ (1983), ‘Reform School Girls (1986) and ‘Young Lady Chatterley II’ (1985) with Adam West. She also starred in the title role of ‘Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch’ (1985), a film which almost has to be seen to be believed. 

If you’re looking for high-quality entertainment, then this is not the place to look, although it’s only fair to point out that Pino Donnagio’s rousing orchestral soundtrack belongs in a far better film. However, there is much to enjoy here; from the cheerfully ridiculous moment when Ferrigno flies a chariot through space to the scene-stealing Berger who plans to eliminate the gods for ‘Science! For the sake of science!’

Apparently, Cozzi and the producers originally intended the film to be far more adult in content, but Ferrigno violently objected after reading the script, insisting on a more family-friendly approach. It’s interesting to speculate on what Cozzi’s original vision for the project was like, especially considering the sheer number of beautiful women in the picture!

1980s video store cheese at its finest.

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.

Kill, Panther, Kill! / Kommissar X – Die Blaue Panther (1968)

Kill Panther Kill (1968)‘Confucius say: He who has cheese for brains doesn’t think.’

A career criminal escapes custody so he can meet with his brother and reclaim the proceeds of a big jewellery heist. Police Captain Tom Rowland is on the case, but his old friend, and sometime rival, Joe Walker has been employed by an insurance company to recover the gems…

The fifth in the seven-film ‘Kommissar X’ series finds main man Tony Kendall doing the usual: running around the glamorous capital cities of Europe as ‘Bond on a Budget’ juggling the usual guns, gadgets and girls. Only it doesn’t. The last of the secret agent trappings departed with previous entry ‘Death Trip’ (1967) and, from this film onwards, it was strictly criminals targeting a profit motive, rather than world domination. Yes, spies were ‘out’ and international crime thrillers were ‘in.’ And, instead of Paris, Rome and London, the action is centred on Calgary and Montreal.

Unfortunately, without those Eurospy quirks or outlandish touches, the script is the definition of safe and predictable, and the finished item is more than a little mundane. All round bad egg Franco Fantasia stages a breakout that leaves his guards dead, and joins up with the other two members of his old gang, the smooth but nasty Siegfried Rauch, and the slightly wacky Gianfranco Parolini (who also directed under his usual alias of Frank Kramer). The swag was left with Fantasia’s twin brother (Fantasia, again) and a quick identity swap becomes necessary after the straight arrow refuses to co-operate. Rowland (Brad Harris) already has the hots for the twin’s wife (Erika Blanc), while Kendall is busy getting flirty with the man’s secretary (Corny Collins).

And so the stage is set for the usual round of double crosses, a bit of gunplay and some underwhelming fisticuffs. As per usual with this series, the storytelling is a little sloppy in places, but things hang together in a neater fashion than in some of the other entries. Kendall and Harris conveniently run across the members of a martial arts school, which provides an opportunity for Harris to show some of his moves and pepper the soundtrack with some of the most over-the-top punching sounds ever heard outside of a Kung Fu film. Oh, and the Panther of the title is actually a little blue statue, so there’s little chance of it actually hurting anyone unless someone drops it on their foot.

Rauch began his career in his native Germany and had already appeared in the third film in the series, ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966). He went onto major supporting turns in big Hollywood productions such as ‘Patton’ (1969), ‘Le Mans’ (1971) with Steve McQueen, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1976) and ‘Escape to Athena’ (1979). As of 2017, he’s still working regularly on Germany television at the age of 85. Blanc took the lead in Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby, Kill’ (1966), the title of which may have inspired the rather inaccurate name this project received on its U.S. release.

Kill Panther Kill (1968)

Brad Harris (1933-2017)

Unfortunately, whilst researching this post, l discovered that Harris passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 84. His daughter, Sabrina Calley, carries on the family tradition in the costume and wardrobe department, working on big hits like ‘Maleficent’ (2014)‘Salt’ (2010), and as set costumer on ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2017) with Hugh Jackman.

This film marks the point where the series moved from the Eurospy arena to the international crime thriller. The results are stubbornly unremarkable, but the series carried on for two more films anyway.

Not the worst of the ‘Kommissar X’ films, but probably the dullest.

The Three Fantastic Supermen/The Fantastic Three (1967)

‘Watch out! One of the three Supermen is following in a Yellow Cab!’

Two thieves who rob high-profile targets wearing special bulletproof costumes are joined by a third member for their latest heist. Their plan to rob a foreign embassy of millions of dollars goes off without a hitch, until they realise that their new colleague has his own agenda…

Cheerful 1960’s comedy-adventure that combines elements of the Superhero genre, James Bond and the caper movie. Producer-Director Gianfranco Parolini (hiding under his usual alias of Frank Kramer) had previously teamed actors Tony Kendall and Brad Harris in decent Bond knock-off ‘Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill’ (1966). That movie launched them in the successful ‘Kommissar X’ spy film series, which ran until 1971, but, in the meantime, Parolini put the performers together again here.

Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) is the leader of this criminal enterprise, always ready with a knowing smirk, smart chat for the ladies, and a useful pair of fists. Sidekick Aldo Canti is an acrobat who can’t speak but giggles hysterically throughout, in what is a somewhat puzzling artistic choice. Their schemes are backed by boffin Carlo Tamberlani, who has invented their bulletproof suits (and capes!), a self-driving car and a ‘Universal Reproducer’ (of which more later). He also has a pretty young niece, of course, played by Bettina Busch, which gives rise to all sorts of kidnapping possibilities for chief bad guy Jochen Brockmann and his gorgeous sidekick Sabine Sun. Kendall also runs a spy school for beautiful women, and may be an English nobleman working for British Intelligence (although, like a lot of plot points, that isn’t exactly clear).

When our heroic duo become a trio for their latest blag, they’re joined by American Brad Harris. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s an FBI Agent and he’s after their swag because he suspects it to be counterfeit (and a little bit radioactive). That’s because it’s been created by Tamberlani’s ‘Reproducer’ which has ‘fallen into the wrong hands’ as these great inventions always do. The villainous Brockmann doesn’t want to stop at such petty larceny though, conscripting Tamberlani (through the unexpected medium of kidnapping his pretty niece) to modify his device to create copies of people. Yes, he needs zombie soldiers for his army so he can conquer the world!

This is all supremely silly, of course, and the film proceeds at the sort of helter-skelter pace designed to both maximise the entertainment value and paper over the gaps in the screenplay, which is sometimes more than a little incoherent as well as deliberately ridiculous. Unfortunately, Parolini doesn’t have the sort of budget necessary to achieve the swashbuckling style he’s aiming for, with both fight choreography and action set pieces lacking in execution and thrills, although there is some decent stunt driving.

Three Fantastic Supermen (1967)

Audiences thought the ‘Dance Off’ was too close to call…

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the presence of Canti. Most of his acrobatic feats are performed in a mask, so it could have been a stunt double, but it does seem he had at least some gymnastic ability. Why is this a surprise? Well, apparently, Canti was a real-life criminal with ties to the Mafia. ln fact, he was a full-time resident of the local prison during production but was allowed out during the day to film his scenes!

Two sequels followed; ‘3 Supermen in Tokio’ (1968) and ‘Supermen’ (1970). Kendall didn’t appear in either, but Harris showed up for the last of the short series. Unsurprisingly, Canti was a no-show on both occasions too, his role being taken by Sal Borgese, who turns up here as an FBI Agent with a bazooka!

Good, undemanding fun if you can look at the other way and forgive the technical deficiencies.

A001: Operazione Giamaica/Our Man In Jamaica (1965)

A001: Operazione Giamaica/Our Man In Jamaica (1965)‘I’ll get a load of nerve gas and spray it from my plane.’

A secret agent is sent to the West Indies after a colleague goes missing investigating the local trade in gun smuggling. When he arrives, he becomes entangled in a conspiracy involving a mysterious supervillain with some very sketchy plans to destroy America…

Dull and dreary Eurospy with U.S. actor Larry Pennell as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ running around in an adventure so underwhelming that it barely deserves the name. Guns? Yes, there are some. They actually get fired on occasion. Girls? Margitta Scherr and Barbara Valentin look pretty enough, but both struggle to leave much of an impression. Gadgets? Well, Pennell has this recording apparatus which has both a transmitter, which he hides on a cargo ship, and a receiver. His boss hands this over as if it’s the most wonderful and innovative piece of new spy kit ever, which is perhaps the most puzzling plot development in the entire film.

It’s fairly obvious that we’re not exactly in for a thrill-ride from the get go. Pennell’s Agent 001 (copyright alert!) is licensed to fly, so he solos to Jamaica in a private plane. When he arrives, ground control put him in a holding pattern for absolutely no reason at all. Why? It’s a lame excuse to crowbar in the usual, aerial ‘Tourist Board’ footage and let him buzz some bikini-clad babes on a yacht. Later, he wears a bright yellow shirt at a night-time stakeout (he gets spotted!) and takes a couple of minutes to find a clue hidden under a desk blotter, when the kidnapped heroine did everything but draw him a map to it in the previous scene.

About the only bright spark here is the presence of Brad Harris playing the local police inspector who teams with Pennell. It’s basically the same role the actor played opposite Tony Kendall in the ‘Kommissar X’ series of films, although without the humour. But at least he brings some physicality and a little personality to the proceedings. To make things even worse, the dialogue in the U.S. cut could practically qualify as a dictionary definition of the word ‘generic.’

A001: Operazione Giamaica/Our Man In Jamaica (1965)

‘Of course, I’m going to wear this to the stakeout tonight. What could possibly go wrong?’

Before acting, Pennell was a professional baseball player with the Boston Braves. His acting career didn’t feature many lead roles, but a long history of supporting turns in films like ‘Bubba Ho Tep’ (2002), ‘Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn’ (1983), ‘The Space Children’ (1958) and many network TV shows. He even had a bit in Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’ at the end of his career. Unfortunately, he displays so little screen presence here that the scenes where he and Harris appear together only demonstrate the fact that Harris should have been cast in the lead.

Apparently, some of the action scenes were cut for the French release. I can only think it was because there was a danger that they would send the audience to sleep.

A Eurospy best saved for a wet afternoon in February.

Kommissar X Jagt Die Roten Tiger/The Tiger Gang/FBI: Operation Pakistan (1971)

KommissarX‘Take this and knit yourself a new car.’

Joe Walker is called in by a family in Pakistan to investigate a mysterious tiger attack, which has left a prominent man dead. At the same time, his old partner Captain Rowland is brought in by the authorities to investigate the local dope trade which may be run by an exiled Mafia kingpin.

By the time of this, the seventh and final entry, the ‘Kommissar X’ series had moved a long way from its origins as a ‘Bond on a Budget’ franchise, and had firmly entered the arena of the straightforward crime drama. There are no spies or gadgets here, although we do get some guns, and a couple of girls for star Tony Kendall to smarm over in the best ‘Bond’ tradition.

The formula was well established by now; Kendall and police captain Brad Harris would fetch up in an exotic locale for different reasons, and then reluctantly combine to take on a local secret society involved in organised crime. The main villain was always a mysterious figure to be unmasked at the climax, and the gang would have a name with an animal motif based on a dangerous piece of local wildlife; a serpent, a panther, etc. Here we get the Red Tiger gang, whose main area of activity is smuggling drugs across the border into Pakistan. ln the film’s only nod to creativity, their mules of choice are actually goats!

Other familiar elements of the series are present and correct; the plot is muddled and choppy, there is some unspectacular gunplay, and a lot of local colour crowbarred in on behalf of the appropriate national tourist board. Some of the hand to hand combat is actually speeded up a little in the later stages here, although it’s unclear as to whether this is for comedic purposes or because it was so unexciting at normal speed. Even Kendall and Harris seem flat and lifeless, and their banter is half hearted at best. The villains also must have been tired, taking 25 minutes to make an attempt on the lives of our heroes, instead of the usual five or ten, although they do get points for originality as they try it with an exploding barrel.

The_Tiger_Gang_(1971)

If I upgrade my mobile now, I win half of Antarcita? That’s amazing!

The film wears out its welcome long before the credit roll, and, given that the first 6 films were made in a four year period ending in 1969, it does seem to be very much an afterthought. The only real surprise is that the director was Harald Reinl, who was the men behind the second wave of Dr. Mabuse films that came out of Germany in the early 1960s. Given the thematic similarities, it probably seemed that he was a good fit for this picture, but that certainly isn’t reflected in the final release.

At best a routine crime drama of little interest. A somewhat ignoble conclusion to a series that was entertaining on occasion if not regarded too critically.

Death Trip (1967)

Death Trip (1967)‘Welcome to the headquarters of the Green Hounds, Captain Rowland!’

A New York City police captain is delivering a canister of specially doctored LSD to allied forces in Turkey for safe keeping. Meanwhile, his erstwhile colleague Joe Walker is also in town, and has the local drug kingpins in his sights.

The fourth movie in the ’Kommissar X’ series sees the franchise leaving its ‘Bond on a Budget‘ origins behind, and making a definite move from the ’Eurospy’ genre to the ‘Euro-crime’ arena. It must have seemed a smart decision after tatty 3rd entry ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966), and the gamble paid off, giving the adventures of suave Tony Kendall and sidekick Brad Harris a much needed shot in the arm. Sure, things eventually deteriorated to a rotten finish with ’Kommissar X Jagt Die Roten Tiger/The Tiger Gang/FBI: Operation Pakistan (1971), but that was still to come and, in the meantime, this film is certainly the best in the series since opener ‘Kiss Kiss Kill Kill’ (1965).

There are several reasons for the higher level of quality, although it’s certainly not the script, which is hopelessly muddled in the early stages, as per usual. Nor is it theme song ‘I Love You, Joe Walker’ which had already overstayed its welcome by the previous film. Neither is it the science, which informs us this new strain of deadly LSD will put a whole city to sleep when introduced into the local water supply.

What raises this above many contemporary entries of a similar stamp is the action sequences. The fight choreography is endlessly inventive and quite witty, although obviously far removed from reality. This is the only real echo of the franchise’s more fantastic beginnings, but it really works, helping to provide a nice balance of humour and thrills.

Death Trip (1967)

‘I’m sorry I don’t know where the soap is…’

Local colour is also allowed to play its part without looking like a mini-advert for the local tourist board, and the location manager deserves huge credit for finding places for the company to shoot that are both visually interesting, and inform the action. Indeed, the climactic scenes and stunts in ‘The Valley of a Thousand Hills’ are simply the best work of the entire series by quite some margin.

Female lead Olga Schberovà seems to be cosying up to Harris rather than Kendall, which is a bit of a surprise, until you realise that she and Harris actually married in real life shortly afterwards. Schberovà enjoyed a brief spell of fame in the late 1960s as the first international star from Czechoslovakia, which even led to her appearance (as Olinka Berova) in the title role of Hammer’s ‘The Vengeance of She’ (1968). Unfortunately, Ursula Andress was an impossible act to follow, and the film was generally panned. It was a shame it killed her overseas career, as she’d certainly displayed some talent with comedy in the Czech Science Fiction gem ‘Who Wants To Kill Jessie?’ (1966).

Director Rudolf Zehetgruber is helped out by series regular Gianfranco Parolini (uncredited), and together they deliver a fast paced, undemanding and fun ride. It’s not a triumph by any means (and the U.S. dub track doesn’t help) but, amongst the sea of mediocre Euro-pudding of the 1960s, it certainly sits above the fold.