The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971)

‘And I was afraid I’d have to do without any bratwurst.’

A neglected diplomat’s wife returns to Vienna with her husband during a series of unsolved murders of young women. She takes a lover but gets a phone call threatening to expose the affair. She suspects the culprit maybe her old boyfriend with who she had a violent sexual relationship…

High-quality Italian-Spanish Giallo thriller that launched the career of director Sergio Martino and took leading lady Edwige Fenech to the next level. Previously Martino had delivered a little regarded Spaghetti Western and a trio of documentaries, and Fenech was best known for her beauty rather than her acting chops. She had primarily appeared in sexy comedies, although she’d made an undeniable impression in supporting roles in Giallo pictures ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970).

Returning to Vienna, diplomat Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) is immediately rushed from the airport into a top-level meeting, leaving bored young wife Julie (Fenech) to go home in a taxi. On the way, she has a vivid flashback to her affair with the handsome but sadistic Jean (Ivan Rassimov). It’s a striking scene and the first sign that the audience is in for something special. It’s almost operatic in the way it combines slow motion, dissonant music and sexual violence as the two wrestle on the ground during a rainstorm.

‘Go away, my flashbacks are far more interesting than you…’

With hubby almost permanently absent at work, there’s little for Fenech to do now she’s back home but hang out with cynical, liberated BFF Carol (Conchita Airoldi). Apart from the usual round of shopping and afternoon tea, this involves attending a vaguely naughty party with the smart set where girls wear paper dresses and tear them off during a catfight. Here, she meets Airoldi’s cousin, the ruggedly handsome George Corro (George Hilton) who’s in town to claim an unexpected inheritance that he’s sharing with Airoldi. Fenech attempts to resist his charms, but Hilton is persistent, and self-restraint is not her forte. Unfortunately, Rassimov is still in town and sending her flowers, although his intentions could hardly be described as romantic. Meanwhile, young women are being brutally murdered with a razor by an unknown killer.

After her first night with Hilton, Fenech gets an anonymous phone call demanding money in exchange for silence about the affair. She suspects Rassimov is behind it and confesses all to her best friend. Airoldi goes in her place to deliver the blackmail payoff in a public park at sunset, but she is attacked with a razor and murdered. Fenech suspects Rassimov is the serial killer, of course, but the police find he has an unshakeable alibi. As events twist and turn, Fenech starts to believe she is marked for death.

‘A blackmail payoff? No problem, afterwards we can talk about men some more.’

An excellent mystery coupled with some beautiful visuals, an unflagging pace and good performances make for one of the finest examples of the Giallo sub-genre. Director Martino handles the material with flair and style, and the screenplay by old hand Ernesto Gastaldi is tight and well-disciplined. In terms of credibility, the complex plot takes one twist too many at the end, but it makes for a satisfying resolution. It’s also been such a highly enjoyable journey to get there that it hardly matters. The dubbing in the English language version is not great, and the viewing experience improved significantly by watching the subtitled original.

The film was a watershed moment for Fenech as an actress and a tricky assignment. After all, our weak-willed heroine takes almost no positive action throughout, even on her own behalf; perfectly happy to abdicate responsibility for her actions and let Airoldi deliver the blackmail payoff, even though it’s likely to be a dangerous task with a mad killer on the loose. She also needs constant validation from her relationships with men, and usually in a physical sense. There’s little attempt to address her character’s psychology or analyse her sexual needs, particularly concerning her violent relationship with Rassimov. This is showcased in another memorable flashback where the couple has sex in a blood-soaked bed filled with glass fragments from a broken wine bottle.

‘And they told me there was a wardrobe budget this time…’

It’s a challenging task to keep an audience onside with such a passive, flawed character, and it’s a testament to Fenech’s increasing skill as an actress that she remains sympathetic throughout. The poise and personality she displays is a marked improvement on her showing in previous roles. It proved a stepping stone to a remarkable cult film career that included starring roles in several notable Giallo films. She worked with Martino again on ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key’ (1972). Other examples were ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972) and ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ (1975). She also continued to appear in many sex comedies throughout the 1970s and early 1980s and eventually began a second career as a highly successful producer for Italian television.

The male members of the cast also deliver strong turns here, with all three principals displaying an economy of performance and quiet charisma that serves their characters and the story. Airoldi also makes something out of the ‘best friend’ who keeps her undies in the fridge; world-weary and carefree on the one hand, but also practical and loyal at heart. The scene where she is stalked at the payoff rendezvous is one of the film’s highlights; a tense and unsettling sequence where Martino’s camera deftly captures the isolation and vulnerability of the victim as she walks through the public grounds of Vienna’s famous Schönbrunn Palace.

‘Just because he forgot our anniversary last week….’

After the Giallo craze subsided, Martino carved out a long career in Italian cinema. He teamed with Fenech again for some of her sexy comedies, as well as delivering such cult titles as the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1978), Dr Moreau knock-off ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and that glorious slab of sci-fi cheese ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). Like Fenech, Hilton became primarily associated with the Giallo, appearing with her again in ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972). He also appeared in Martino’s ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), Tonino Valerii ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), and Luigi Cozzi’s ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975).

As a side-note, if the spelling of the title character’s name seems a little odd, then it was allegedly because a woman approached producer Luciano Martino and asked that it be changed to spare her embarrassment! If this seems a little far-fetched, it isn’t easy to come up with an alternative explanation.

A highly accomplished, entertaining Giallo delivered by a fine cast and a talented director who displays a fine visual sensibility and storytelling prowess. Highly recommended.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)‘Should we take bets on who dies first? The dead person wins.’

A weekend party on a private island turns deadly when the guests are murdered one by one. The motive would seem to revolve around the secret formula that several of the party want to buy, but it appears that someone will stop at nothing to obtain it, even murder…

Somewhat nonsensical but beautifully crafted Giallo from horror maestro Mario Bava. It was another last-minute call to save a troubled production for the director, who delivers on the assignment thanks to his technical expertise and filmmaking genius. Earlier involvement, however, would undoubtedly have made for an even better result.

Multi-millionaire industrialist George Stark (Teodoro Corrà) is determined to buy the secret formula for a new revolutionary manufacturing resin from scientist Professor Farrell (William Berger). The boffin has just lost his business partner in a lab accident, so some rest and relaxation on Stark’s private island seem to be in order. Berger brings along wife Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg) but the weekend party isn’t just a foursome with Stark’s marriage partner, artist Jill (Edith Meloni). Also present are Nick and Marie Chaney (Maurice Poli and Edwige Fenech) and Jack and Peggy Davidson (Howard Ross and Helena Ronee). Poli and Ross are also business tycoons interested in Berger’s new process, and the three have arranged to join forces to buy it from him. The list of potential suspects and victims is rounded out by houseboy Jacques (Mauro Bosco) and game warden’s daughter, Isabel (Ely Galleani).

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

The business triumvirate delivers their pitch to Berger, but he proclaims that he has no interest in money and quietly burns his notes. Fenech is busy enjoying the services of the hired help, while Meloni and von Fürstenberg try to keep their hands off each other, with the latter also the target of the amorous Poli. In short, if you’re looking for a murder motive other than financial, it’s probably best to assume that all the eight principals are likely spending quality time with each other in whatever combinations they fancy. And murder is afoot when Bosco turns up dead on the motorboat where he’d arranged another tryst with Fenech and later on, after the vessel disappears, as food for the crabs on the beach. Cut off from the mainland; one killing follows another, and the walk-in freezer starts to fill up with dead bodies.

Ultimately, the film is a triumph of technique over content. Bava’s visual sensibilities combined with the eye-catching sets, location, soundtrack and performances elevate a relatively poor screenplay to a level of entertainment the material does not merit. The director conjures beautiful images in both the studio and on location, the lighting, colours and framing of shots inside the beach house being particularly effective. The sets of Giulia Mafia and the production design of Giuseppe Aldrovandi allow Bava the space to position his actors, props and furniture into beautiful and striking compositions. The look is very much of its era, but it’s tasteful and economical. Less accomplished filmmakers of the period tended to overload their sets with pop art, objet d’art and clashing colours in a self-conscious effort to appear modern and relevant, but Bava and his team knew that less is more.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Conversely, Pietro Ulimiani delivers a score that delights in confounding expectations. Rather than supply music to create suspense, the composer favours a bizarre stew of electronic melodies, jaunty tunes and occasional flourishes of rock music to counterpoint the action on the screen. It’s a very bold choice, but it makes sense. These are not characters the audience is supposed to invest in emotionally; they are shallow, greedy and selfish. So an element of gleeful comedy in their imminent departure from the action is entirely appropriate.

The location filming was done on the beach at Tor Calendar, south of Anzio and featured in many of Bava’s films. He uses it brilliantly here, the camera prowling around the rocky shore, shooting through plants to suggest potential victims under surveillance, and showcasing some beautiful shots of the beach house on the cliff and the pier running out into the sea. Neither house nor jetty existed, of course; Bava painted the structures on a sheet of glass, lined it up in front of the camera and shot through it, creating an almost perfect illusion.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

There are also some terrific set-pieces. Two men fight, knocking over a sculpture constructed from transparent, plastic spheres of different sizes. These balls bounce and tumble down a spiral staircase and across a tiled floor before falling into a bloodstained bubble bath containing a new victim. As the corpses pile up, they are hung up in polythene bags in the walk in-freezer beside sides of beef, apparently one of Bava’s ideas. There’s the almost wordless opening sequence where he introduces the entire cast of characters, not by telling us who they are, but by establishing something far more important: we’re not going to like any of them.

Unfortunately, Mario di Nardo’s slapdash script and the hurried production undermine a lot of Bava’s excellent work. The director turned the project down initially as he hated the screenplay, mainly because it was a thinly-disguised rehash of Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians.’ Ironically, Christie was one of the authors published in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s in the wave of popular, cheap paperbacks that gave rise to the term ‘Giallo’ in the first place, so, in a way, she was an appropriate choice for adaptation. But Bava was not interested, and only agreed to consider the project if he was paid upfront. The producers went elsewhere, but their eventual choice pulled out at the eleventh hour, and they went back to Bava with a cheque. He accepted, even though the film was already cast and ready to begin shooting the following Monday morning; just two days away. As a result, Bava had no opportunity to rewrite the script or make any other significant changes.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

At least that’s the way that Bava told it. Whether his account is entirely accurate is open to debate. He was known to exaggerate somewhat in interviews and always claimed that this was his worst picture. It’s clear that the production did come together very quickly, but not so fast that he couldn’t get previous collaborators Aldrovandi and cameraman Antonio Rinaldi on board. He was also able to achieve some remarkable optical effects with his matte paintings. Perhaps he could have got all this in place over a weekend, or even during production; the man was undoubtedly a genius, so anything is possible. One change he was able to make was to the end of the picture. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details of di Nardo’s original conclusion, but Bava’s coda is unsatisfying at best.

So, what is wrong with the script? Simply put, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. For a start, there’s the setup. Industrialist Corrà invites Berger to the island getaway so he can get his hands on the secret formula. The businessman’s relationships with Poli and Ross are never clearly established, but the trio makes an initial combined offer of $1 million each. Poli attempts to double-cross his partners almost immediately by offering $6 million for the exclusive rights in secret, and Ross also wants the formula for himself. It’s clear that the three men know each other well, and, later on, Corrà is unsurprised by their treachery. Which begs a very obvious question: why invite them along in the first place?!

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Sadly, that’s just the beginning of the script’s unsuccessful struggle with logic and clarity. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, we do seem to have more than one killer on our hands, but, if we do, then they seem to be acting independently of each other, which is amazingly convenient. Also, commentators reviewing the film have fingered different characters as the killer, or killers! It’s not because the film is deliberately ambiguous or clever, it just not well-written. The first killing is a complete mystery; whoever might be responsible. The only explanation provided is that everyone has to die to eliminate all potential witness, but it’s a pretty weak justification.

The most plausible explanation is that Bava was not interested in the plot’s mechanics but was more focused on the visual presentation. He had rewritten scripts during filming before, so it’s possible that he did the same here and the story just got away from him. But he can’t have disliked di Nardo’s work too much; he was the sole credited screenwriter on Bava’s next film; the comedy-western ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970). Of course, too much time has passed to allow definitive answers to these kinds of questions, but it’s fun to speculate. Another interesting point is that very few characters die on-screen, and then almost bloodlessly. The discovery of each corpse is memorable, though; be they crab food washed up on the shore, tied to a tree in their underwear or shot in the forehead mid-conversation on a balcony.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

What helps to keep the audience on board with the story and its contradictions is the cast’s performances. There are no real stand-outs but a solid ensemble, even if the characters are little more than roughly-sketched stereotypes. Von Fürstenberg was a real-life Italian princess who had married into Spanish royalty at just 15 years of age, divorced five years later and began her acting career in 1967. She starred in unusual Eurospy ‘Matchless’ (1967), caper movie ‘The Vatican Affair/A qualsiasi Prezzo’ (1968) with Walter Pigeon and Klaus Kinski, and was under-used in notable Giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971). Galleani was also born to the purple; the daughter of an Italian Count, she acted under several different names, most notably in Lucio Fulci’s trippy Giallo ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971).

Sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy an example of a director displaying his creativity, invention and skill. Just don’t try and work out exactly what’s going on. You might hurt yourself.

Top Sensation (1969)

Top Sensation (1969)‘You can’t think, you don’t have the equipment for that.’

A rich businesswoman with a son who has the mind of a child takes him for a trip on her private yacht. She has employed two beautiful women to join them in the hope that if they can awaken his sexual desires, he will become a normal adult. But when they run aground on the coast of a remote island, events take a very dark turn…

Sleazy Giallo drama that combines plenty of sea and sun with an unapologetic obsession with sex. Writer-director Ottavio Alessi’s film may be taking the usual potshots at the lifestyles of the international jet set, but it’s fair to say that he seems just as interested in the considerable charms of his, often naked, leading ladies.

What is business tycoon Mudy (Maud Belleroche) to do with her ‘problem’ child, Tony (Ruggero Miti)? At his age, he should be a man, but he still acts like a child, playing with toys and refusing to speak. Even the expensive clinics in Switzerland have failed to cure him. Belleroche’s latest scheme involves taking him for a trip on her private yacht. Along for the ride are two of her employees; ruthless husband and wife Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri) who are both only too happy to warm Belleroche’s bed as and when required.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘It’s ok, I saw it on a YouTube tutorial.’

The grand plan was to have Neri seduce Miti, thus making him a man and curing all his problems. It seems unlikely that this is approved clinical procedure, but it doesn’t matter because he has refused her advances anyway (he certainly does have issues!) Hired prostitute Ulla (Edwige Fenech) has also struck out, and the quartet is at a loss to know what to do next. It’s a particularly trying situation for Neri and Bonuglia as they are ‘on the promise’ of an ‘oil concession’ from Belleroche if they can succeed.

Just when all seems lost, the yacht runs aground on a sandbank. Bonuglia was supposed to be steering, but he wasn’t looking where he was going because he and Fenech were too busy having sex on the cabin floor. And, yes, there’s no need to worry about the complexities of the group’s interpersonal relationships. Apart from Miti, everyone is having sex with everyone else, and most probably in all the combinations that you can imagine.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘What do you mean, you want to talk about your motivation?’

While they are stranded, Miti makes his escape to the bleak island off the port bow and meets lonely young goatherd Beba (Eva Thulin). The others should be in hot pursuit, but Neri takes the opportunity to shoot some goats with her rifle instead (no reason, really, just a bit of harmless fun) and Belleroche has to offer to pay off disgruntled farmer Andro (Salvatore Puntillo). Meanwhile, Fenech is having intimate relations with one of the goats while Bonuglia takes some photographs of their romantic tryst. It’s hard to see why the British Board of Film Classification refused to give the film a certificate for 36 years, isn’t it?

When they finally catch up with Muti, they find him talking with the innocent Thulin and seemingly interested in her. Forming a new strategy, they invite her back to the boat where the clueless Fenech and Neri give her a ‘glamorous’ makeover, completely missing the point of why Muti was attracted to her in the first place. However, the session does provide an excuse to trap the young girl into a lesbian threesome, and that was far more important. However, there is another problem. Thulin is Puntillo’s child bride, so Neri and Fenech must provide a distraction when he comes on board. Drink proves the answer rather than sex as they can’t have it off with him obviously; he’s loud, sweaty and belongs to the lower orders. Meantime, Thulin and Muti get the chance to spend some quality time below decks.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘These split ends are a disgrace.’

It’s not hard to see why this film has quite the reputation in certain circles. It’s not pornographic by any means, but it certainly pushes the envelope, with our central foursome taking almost every opportunity to indulge their physical desires. And no, Fenech’s intimate liaison with the goat is not shown explicitly, although the naked actress and the animal seem to get fairly friendly! (I can’t help but wonder if she spent the rest of her life getting asked about that scene at respectable parties).

The subtext of the amoral rich living with no regard to societal or behavioural limits isn’t exactly subtle, and Alessi’s lingering camerawork somewhat undercuts any attempt on his part to take the moral high ground. On the one hand, he seems to be asking the audience to condemn these characters but, at the same time, revel in their excesses. But, before you dismiss the entire thing as tasteless exploitation, it’s worth noting that Neri has gone on record in recent years to praise the collaborative process on location. In fact, Alessi was so impressed with her suggestions, that he insisted she received an ‘Assistant Director’ credit.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘I know he’s your husband but he’s a bit of a dick.’

And this is a drama where the women are very much in charge. Maybe Thulin and Fenech are a little passive, but it’s Belleroche and Neri who lead the action and call the shots. The handsome but dim Bonuglia just takes orders, and Puntillo is portrayed as an ineffectual and stupid drunk. Of course, Muti remains the loose cannon on the male side of the equation with his limits never defined and the history of his ‘troubles’ left mostly ambiguous. It’s this uncertainty that provides the story’s element of suspense, although those expecting a more traditional Giallo are likely to find this a little half-hearted.

Alessi was primarily a writer who worked in both comedy and drama and was one of a half a dozen scribes who contributed to the Peter Ustinov family fantasy ‘The Man Who Wagged His Tail’ (1957). He also worked on the historical drama ‘The Mongols’ (1961), a US-Italian co-production which starred Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg and on the screenplay for jokey Eurospy ‘Dick Smart 2.007’ (1967). His only other assignment in the canvas chair was as writer-director of uneven Giallo comedy ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), a showcase for the Italian comedy legend of the same name.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘All ahead full.’

Listing Neri and Fenech’s genre credits would take a whole separate post, but, suffice to say, both women appeared in numerous Gialli, sex comedies and horrors throughout the 1970s and Neri’s career went back to the Peplum craze of the early 1960s. Bonuglia virtually reprised his role here in ‘Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine’ (1969) and later played the male lead in notable Giallo ‘The Perfume of the Lady In Black/Il Profumo della signora in nero’ (1974). Despite a decent showing in this, her screen debut, Thulin’s career never went anywhere, and this is Belleroche’s only screen credit. Her participation is a bit of a puzzle as she was already an award-winning, best selling novelist!

A different kind of Giallo that’s a little short on darkness until the final act but has a good pace and delivers a decent level of entertainment. And admirers of its leading ladies will need no other reason to check it out.

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)‘There are no Diamonds here, only this jungle of Doom! We’re going to rot like worms!’

A shady Asian businessman finances an expedition into the unexplored heart of Borneo after he receives reports of vast diamond deposits in the region. The party find their mettle and loyalties severely tested on the journey and, when they find that the stories are true, it creates a whole different set of problems…

Jungle movies were all in the rage in the early days of cinema, principally because many exotic regions of the world were still unmapped and their floral and fauna mostly unknown. Animals such as lions and elephants had been appearing in touring circuses since the 19th Century and had proved massively popular, but in the days before mass media, that was the only one way the public was likely to see them. The big-screen afforded them far greater access, and the mystery of their native lands gave filmmakers a virtually blank canvas which they could populate with lost cities, fabulous treasures and colourful natives.

By the end of the 1960s, of course, things were a little different. Television had brought the jungle right into people’s living rooms, and there had been hundreds of films where brave adventurers braved crocodile-infested rivers, wrestled with doped-up big cats and pointed offscreen at library footage of native ceremonies. The genre wasn’t just tired; it was in its death throes. Final extinction was delayed by the surprising popularity of NBC’s ‘Tarzan’ TV show starring Ron Ely, but that was cancelled in 1968. Of course, no less a director than Steven Spielberg was to revive its spirit over a decade later with his Indiana Jones series, but the jungle movie in its traditional form wasn’t coming back. There have been several attempts to revive Edgar Rice Burroughs’ famous Ape-Man since, of course, but they have not been successful, although that might have something to do with the woeful quality of those efforts.

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)

‘Please tell me some more about the history of Jungle Films…

So, where does that leave this Italian production, directed by Guido Malatesta under the name of James Reed? Well, the set up is what you’d expect. Rumours of priceless diamonds in the unexplored interior of Borneo have put dollar signs in the eyes of a dodgy businessman, Mr Wong. He has assembled a crack team of explorers to check it out, led by the handsome, square-jawed, two-fisted Clint Loman (Roger Browne). Other recruits from the pool of reliable old cliches are geologist Professor Dawdon (Tulio Altamura), his sexy blonde secretary Nancy (Ivy Holzer), young eager beaver Alain (Umberto Ceriani), medico Doctor Schwarz (Andrea Aureli) and a couple of other examples of wild animal fodder. We also get introduced to Pierre Moro (Ivano Staccioli) who might as well be wearing a t-shirt saying ‘untrustworthy creep.’ He even starts leering at Holzer at the first meeting, although it’s clear that she already only has eyes for Browne. At least we are spared the bullshit conversation about taking a woman on such a dangerous expedition, though. So, there is that.

It is pleasing to see that they waste no time in getting into the jungle and that the film proudly upholds some of the old traditions of this kind of picture when they do. The cast stare offscreen at lots of things that aren’t there, a stuffed tiger proves deadly for ‘jungle expert’ Hans Müller (Ivan Basta), and there’s lots and lots of stock footage of crocodiles. Holzer undresses in her tent with a light behind her and needs to be rescued by Browne from various beasties at unsurprisingly regular intervals. The expedition is warned of the presence of headhunters by two natives in a passing canoe who are kindly appearing courtesy of a local reasonably-priced film library.

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)

Always bring a machine gun to a spear fight.

Up until around the halfway point, this is all feeble, formulaic stuff. No-one is likely to be remotely convinced that the production set foot anywhere near a real jungle as the footage of the actors and the real-life locations is very poorly matched. The characters and performances are lifeless and bland. The attempt to stoke up a conflict between Browne and Staccioli over Holzer is half-baked and inevitable from the first few moments of the film after the opening credits have rolled.

But things only get worse as the film progresses. Inevitably, the expedition finds a lost tribe deep in the jungle, roughly in the region where the diamonds are supposed to be (what a surprise). This mismatched racial group (all Asiatic origins are welcome) communicates with our heroes via Samoa (Edwige Fenech), a beautiful, white girl left with them as a child after the death of her father. She looks like she wouldn’t last five minutes in a real jungle, but has perfect hair and makeup, so that’s ok. I often wonder who it was that thought to open a beauty salon in the jungle? Sound business plan, given all the lost jungle girls and savage tribal queens in need of a regular appointments. It’s not long before Browne and Fenech are knocking boots, of course, to the odd accompaniment of rippling footage of flowers. Well, I suppose it was the late Sixties.

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)

🎵 In the jungle…the mighty jungle… 🎶

In another riveting romantic development, young Ceriani starts making time with dusky tribal girl Yasmin (the very Italian Femi Benussi). I guess she was abandoned at birth by another explorer? Browne also discovers that their panning the river for diamonds isn’t working because the natives already have an extensive collection in their temple. Obviously, they are sacred stones (yawn!), and this conflict of interest culminates in a bloodless gun battle where the same extras are killed over and over again. This wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t already met a similar fate as headhunters earlier in the picture. Holzer isn’t allowed to use a firearm in the fight, by the way, but she’s very good at handing the men spare ammunition. And, no, the natives don’t have guns, just spears, so the heroes just cut them all down in cold blood.

Yes, here we come to the film’s main problem. Our so-called heroes are actually the villains. They barge their way into an unspoilt land, try to steal its riches and ruthlessly kill any of the indigenous people who have the nerve to object. Their only motivation is greed. Pure and simple. And if you think that leading man Browne is any different you’d be wrong. He only sleeps with Fenech to find out where the jewels are and even insists that she accompany him back to civilisation afterwards. She’s conflicted about going, but hey, she doesn’t really get a choice because he’s a man, so that’s ok. The only real distinction between Browne’s behaviour and that of the slimy Staccioli is that the latter attempts to double-cross everyone (yawn!) and Browne remains vaguely loyal to the rest of his dubious crew. So, I guess that makes him the hero, then.

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)

‘Don’t worry, I expect the clothing budget on your subsequent films will be a lot higher…’

Even the title is misleading. If you’re expecting to see Fenech swinging through the trees in a skimpy outfit, you’re going to be severely disappointed. She doesn’t talk to the animals, fight with them and moves around like she’s keen not to break a nail. It was only her second film so perhaps her failure to convince in the role should be put down to inexperience. The native village looks like it’s located in a field in somewhere like Oxfordshire and, in the end, none of our main characters is remotely sorry for anything that they’ve done. Rather they’re just slightly miffed at how everything was so damned inconvenient.

American Browne was a familiar face to Italian audiences, having graduated from the Peplum arena to running around the capitals of Europe as the best ‘Bond On A Budget’ in the mid-1960s. He also took the title role of ‘The Fantastic Argoman/Incident In Paris’ (1967), which is one of the most enjoyable cult movies of its time. Both Fenech and Benussi went onto cult status over the next few years. Fenech appeared as leading lady in many notable titles, such as horror maestro Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970) and other Giallo pictures like ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971), ‘All The Colors of the Dark’ (1972), ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key’ (1972). She’s just as well known for many sex comedies, most of which don’t seem to have had too much in the way of a wardrobe budget.

Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla (1968)

‘I’m bored. Can’t we needlessly shoot someone?’

Benussi followed a similar career path, working with Bava on ‘Hatchet For The Honeymoon’ (1969) before spending the next few years between the sheets on projects such as ‘Homo Eroticus’ (1971), ‘Decameron’s Jolly Kittens’ (1972), ‘Tales of Erotica’ (1972) and ‘Poppea… una prostituta al servizio dell’impero’ (1972) (do you really need that translated!?). Giallo ‘Strip Nude For Your Killer’ (1975) gave her a more significant role (even if she was playing second fiddle to Fenech) and she took the lead in ‘The Bloodsucker Leads The Dance’ (1975).

Many of the cast worked again with writer-director Malatesta, especially Altamura and Aureli who joined him on multiple projects. He returned to the jungle a year later with ‘Tarzana, the Wild Woman’ (1969) promoting Benussi to the role of savage queen opposite Ken Clark and Beryl Cunningham. But the bedrock of his career was the Peplum pictures of the early 1960s; titles like ‘Goliath Against the Giants’ (1961), ‘Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962) and ‘Revolt of the Barbarians/La rivolta dei barbari’ (1964). He was still working at the time of his early death in 1970.

A tired and predictable jungle adventure with a somewhat dubious moral centre.