Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)‘Has anyone dared feed your monster a little steel?’

While travelling home to Thebes, Hercules and his crew encounter a ship filled with pirates and put them to the sword. Their cargo of slaves are refugees from Troy, fleeing the city because every month a virgin must be sacrificed to a sea monster to appease the Gods…

At the end of the Italian muscleman cycle, director Albert Band decided to take the Hercules character onto the small screen with the assistance of producer Joseph E Levine, who had brought Steve Reeves to America with the original ‘Hercules’ (1957) and kicked off the whole craze in the first place. Together, they created this 50-minute pilot starring ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott in the title role. Unfortunately, the show didn’t sell, and the result went to cinema screens instead. Although that doesn’t sound promising, the film provides a surprisingly decent level of entertainment.

Sailing home to Thebes after various adventures, Scott and his companions encounter a pirate sharp, captained by Gordon Mitchell. A fairly well-choreographed fight scene follows, ending with Scott dumping Mitchell into a basket and flinging him overboard. Scott’s brothers In arms are led by ‘philosopher, scientist and sceptic Diogenes (Paul Stevens) and Ulysses, the son of the King of Thebes, played by Mart Hulswit. The easy banter between the three is one of the drama’s significant strengths and would have provided a solid base for a series if one had subsequently followed.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘Pah! Why does Scott get all the close-ups?’

When they take the refugees back home, the gang are disappointed to find their charges imprisoned when they reach the city. As King Petra (Steve Garrett) explains, they broke the law by leaving. Every month, the young maidens of Troy have to make themselves available for possible selection as monster fodder. Even Garrett’s niece, Diana (Diana Hyland) has to take part until she takes the throne in a couple of months. Of course, Scott vows to challenge the beast and end the curse, but intrigues at court threaten the attempt. The main problem is that Garrett is planning to hold onto the throne by ensuring Hyland is chosen at the next ceremony. Her lover, Leander (George Ardisson) is also jealous of the big man.

There’s enough plot here for a full-length feature and, at times, it does feel like this has been cut down from something much longer. This impression is heightened by actor Everett Sloane, who is fulfilling the role of VoiceOver Man here. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but the device is overused, and his commentary is often unnecessary. Still, there is a fair quantity of well-mounted action, and it’s evident that Band had a decent budget at his disposal. The monster FX are variable; in the water, the creature looks pretty ragged, but it fares far better on land. It may not stir from the one spot on the beach, but it’s an impressive size and has a good range of body movement otherwise. Scott’s interactions with it make for a decent climax, although you can’t help wondering why everyone else just stands by and watches the fight, rather than give the big man a helping hand.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘Keep your tentacles to yourself.’

The performances also help proceedings significantly, with Scott making for a fine Hercules. Physically, he looks the part, and he has a charm and screen presence that elevates him above most of the actors who have taken on the role. Stevens is the brains of the heroic trio and delivers his lines with a dry, cynical humour that provides a nice contrast to the youthful enthusiasm of the good-natured Hulswit. We also get Roger Browne as heroic soldier, Ortag, who unsuccessfully takes on the monster at the start of the story, and later helps to rescue Scott from the bottom of a metal pit. Ardisson also displays a lively presence in his underdeveloped role, although he can’t compete with pirate captain Mitchell who only gets about a minute of screen time.

Scott had first made his mark through military service before pursuing various careers after his honourable discharge: cowboy, fireman and salesman. He was spotted by Hollywood talent scouts while working as a lifeguard, and producer Sol Lesser cast him in the title role of ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955). Five films in the series followed before he moved to Italy where he was cast in Peplum films, taking on the roles of many of its’ significant strongmen including Maciste, Samson and Goliath, as well as Hercules. But, by the mid-1960s, the popularity of such characters was being eclipsed at the box office by more modern adventures, typically featuring guns, girls and gadgets. Scott briefly made the switch to the spy game, but, after a couple of outings as a ‘Bond On A Budget’, he retired in 1967.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘A little help, please…’

Ardisson and Browne shared a very similar initial career trajectory, both getting their starts in Peplum before transferring to the Eurospy arena. But, while Scott retired, both Ardisson and Browne went onto long careers throughout the 1970s and beyond. Ardisson is probably best remembered for his work with director Mario Bava, appearing as sidekick Theseus in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and the title role of ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961). Browne took the lead in cult favourite ‘Argoman The Fantastic Superman/The Fantastic Argoman’ (1967) and toplined half a dozen Eurospy pictures, most of which were better examples of the type, such as ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Operation Poker’ (1965).

A surprisingly good little episode in the chronicles of its muscle-bound hero. A series never resulted, of course, and, although that’s not a tragedy, on this evidence, it certainly had the potential to be an entertaining show.

Agent 3S3: Passport To Hell (1965)

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)‘I have a grandmother who tears my friends’ limb from limb if they’re not descended from the Crusaders.’

Both the espionage establishment of the United States and their equivalents in the Eastern Bloc are concerned by the rise of a private spy organisation, led by a shadowy figure known only as Mr A. The Americans assign one of their top agents to infiltrate the group. His first step is to get to know the beautiful daughter of an ex-agent who is suspected to be involved…

The name’s Ross. Walter Ross. This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ grappling with girls, gadgets and guns in the exotic capitals of the world is Italian actor George Ardisson. His first point of call is Vienna, and his first job is to beat up some cheap thugs in a seedy bar. This muscular display brings him to the notice of bored little rich girl, Jasmine (Barbara Simons, known to her folks as Bruna Simionato), whose father happens to be Henry Dvorak, missing spy and our prime suspect.

A further not-so chance encounter a local casino gives him another opportunity to display his suavity and Simons agrees to a rendezvous at her artist’s studio. She doesn’t bother giving him the address, but that’s the least of his worries as enemy bigwig The Professor (Georges Rivière) already has him spotted. His agents contact Jasmine, convince her that Ardisson is after her father and their tryst becomes a trap. Our hero is on his game, though, and these minions are no match for his Bruce Lee moves. Via the important spy technique of lying his ass off, he also convinces Simons to head for Beirut together and locate her father.

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)

‘Here, let me get you a drink!’

This is a fairly standard Eurospy of the mid-1960s with more of a Cold War vibe than usual. Arddison’s range of gadgets is limited to a brooch and sunglasses combo that works as a bug, and a piece of paper that he waves over a drink to see if it’s poisoned or not. All the tech the villains have at their disposal are some sliding panels and close circuit TV, although Dragon Lady Jacky Vein (Seyna Seyn) does have this little gold box that fires poison darts.

Ardisson makes for a decent leading man, with more charisma than many other 007-wannabees, confirming his ‘Bond’ credentials by bedding a housewife who has sheltered him from Rivière’s thugs. He really should be getting on with the mission at this point as the clock is ticking, and the villains are still waiting for him outside when he’s finished, but a sixties secret agent’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, I suppose. Luckily, the bad guys have forgotten to bring their guns, so it doesn’t prove to be a serious problem.

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)

‘Sunbathing on company time again?’

Unfortunately, matters start to drag a lot towards the climax, and the absence of any significant stunt work and action does not help. There is a sequence where two large trucks try to turn our ‘young and muscular’ hero into a Volkswagon sandwich on a deserted country road, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Director Simon Stirling (Sergio Solima) doesn’t give the proceedings any dynamism and style, and the results are firmly flat and pretty anonymous.

Ardisson had a long career in cinema and often filled action roles, such films as ‘Morgan, the Pirate’ (1960), ‘Zorro At The Spanish Court’ (1962) and ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965). He worked twice with legendary director Mario Bava, taking second leads in Viking adventure ‘Erik The Conquerer’ (1961) and as Reg Park’s sidekick in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). There were also further outings in the espionage arena with ‘Operation Counterspy’ (1965) and a return as Walter Ross in ‘Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun’ (1966), again for director Solima. Other roles included Westerns, Giallo films, horror and a science fiction’ close encounter’ with ‘The Eyes Behind The Stars’ (1978).

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)

‘Are you going to introduce me as your wife or your daughter?’

Rivière was a Frenchman whose film career began in 1948 and featured an early appearance in ‘El Vampiro Negro’ (1953) which was a remake of the Fritz Lang’s classic ‘M’ (1931). Credits in science fiction pictures like ‘Mistress of the World’ (1960) and ‘Journey Beneath the Desert’ (1961) followed by horrors such as ‘Castle of Blood’ (1964) with Barbara Steele. Seyn didn’t make too many films but worked extensively in the Eurospy genre, taking roles in ‘Oh! Those Most Secret Agents’ (1964), ‘Agente segreto 777 – Operazione Mistero’ (1965), ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’ (1966), ‘The Big Blackout’ (1966) and ‘OSS 117 Murder for Sale’ (1968).

A tolerable spy game that passes the time but lacks the more outlandish aspects that can make the genre enjoyable.

Erik The Conqueror/Gli Invasori/Fury of the Vikings (1961)

Erik The Conqueror (1961)‘It’s fate. All our moves are predestined.’

Sent by the King to broker a peace treaty with the invading Viking hordes, an English nobleman instead springs a deadly trap. As the Norseman are massacred, the two young sons of the Viking king are separated. Twenty years later, when hostilities resume, the grown-up boys find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict, neither having any knowledge of the other’s true identity…

The success of Richard Fleischer’s ‘The Vikings’ (1958) starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis kicked off a mini-craze of Italian pictures featuring the exploits of the Norsemen which lasted through most of the 1960s. At first glance, it might seem strange to find director Mario Bava contributing, but the horror maestro only had two official solo pictures to his name before production began, and he regularly worked in more mainstream genres throughout his career.

The occupying Viking army is driven from English shores after being betrayed by the duplicitous Sir Rutford (Andrea Checchi). Not only is King Harald (Folco Lulli) killed in the battle, but his two young sons are separated, Erik left behind when the Norsemen flee with his brother, Eron. English King Lotar (Franco Ressel) applauds the result, but not Checchi’s treacherous methods and exiles him from the kingdom. This proclamation proves to be a tactical error when Ressel gets an immediate arrow through the neck, courtesy of Checchi’s right-hand man, who is able to shift the blame to a dying Norseman. Wandering the battlefield at sundown, the grieving Queen Alice (Françoise Christophe) finds the infant Erik and decides to bring him up as the son she can never have.

Erik The Conqueror (1961)

‘You can’t scare me – I’ve faced off against the Man-eater of Hydra and the Supersonic Man!’

Two decades later, the Vikings are spoiling for a return match and set out in their longships for English shores. Their forces are led by the grown-up Eron (a blonde Cameron Mitchell), and he’s got a greater motivation than simple revenge. Vestal Virgin Daya (Ellen Kessler) and he are in love, but she’s consecrated to Odin and the only way he can free her from her vows is to become a King and take her as his wife. Mitchell meets the English navy head-on, little knowing that they are led by his brother Erik (George Ardisson) who now goes by the name of Lord Helford. Meanwhile, back at the palace, the slimy Checchi is still trying to get his hands on the throne by marrying the reluctant Christophe.

This is a film intended purely as a commercial, Saturday night crowd-pleaser. The narrative drives from one story beat to the next with a remorseless energy, and Bava delivers frequent bursts of well-mounted action. The film even opens in the middle of the initial battle and only stops to take a breath afterwards to establish the necessary plot points and the characters that inhabit the drama. Motivations aren’t complicated, the adventure is highly traditional and the themes of brotherhood and duty are familiar enough. It has the spirit of the old swashbucklers of classic Hollywood, although it lacks the humorous sparkle that many of those pictures possessed.

Erik The Conqueror (1961)

‘Remind me; am I supposed to be the Evil Twin or is it you?’

In terms of the plot, Bava’s film plays much like a reworking of ‘The Vikings’ (1958). The action is centred on opposing brothers who don’t know each other, and individual scenes are clearly inspired by sequences from Fleischer’s original hit. The breakneck pace may have been an attempt to cover some of the story’s shortcomings and implausibilities. When Ardisson is washed up on the shores of the ‘Land of the Vikings’ after his navy is defeated, we can just about swallow it because the film doesn’t tell us where the sea battle takes place. But when it turns out that Mitchell’s stronghold is only a stone’s throw from the beach where he wakes, suspension of disbelief becomes a little harder. This becomes even more challenging when the first person to find him is Rama (Alice Kessler) who happens to be the twin of Mitchell’s paramour. Of course, the two instantly fall in love, and Ardisson mutters something about fate and predestination. But it sounds more like he’s making a sheepish apology on behalf of the screenwriters.

But what most cult film fans are here for is Bava, of course. So how is the great man’s first Viking epic? Well, it’s a lot of fun, and his fingerprints are all over it. Some of the most striking scenes recall moments from his previous films. We join the Vikings passing judgement on an unnamed couple who have transgressed holy law. A warrior and a Vestal Virgin have been caught giving in to temptation. The lovers are bound in barbed wire, there are close-ups of skulls, and they get the same kind of treatment that Barbara Steele and Arturo Dominici received in the opening scenes of ‘Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan’ (1960). These Norsemen spend a lot of time underground, and their home turf is a Technicolor Hades of fluorescent greens and splashes of purple which can’t help but provoke memories of Reg Park’s trip to the Underworld in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). That’s even the great tree of the Hesperides at the back of their throne room! In short, it’s gothic at times and with a beauty that’s always ravishing.

Erik The Conqueror (1961)

‘I think we should all dress up as trees. They won’t be expecting that.’

This is never more evident than in the scene where Christophe finds the child Erik on the beach. The sky boils with heavy cloud and the sun has almost set on the far horizon. It’s sheer visual poetry. There’s also the climactic scene where Ardisson goes to rescue Ellen Kessler from the clutches of Checchi. He has her chained to a wall and facing a deadly spider that’s due to escape its cage when the final grains of sand run through an hourglass. The shot compositions look like they belong in a film made for millions – dollars rather than lira. The sea battle is also of note as the only time the ocean makes an appearance is in long shot; up close it’s all actors on sets, but the combination of fog, camera movement and water splashes creates a stylish and acceptable illusion. The sequence wasn’t without its drawbacks, though; the fog proved somewhat toxic forcing Bava off the set. This may have contributed to his six-month break from film after the picture wrapped, although the director also reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown around this time.

There’s further evidence of Bava’s technical wizardry with the SFX. The climactic confrontation between the brothers takes place in front of Christophe’s royal castle, which is heroically played by a photograph that Bava cut out of a copy of National Geographic magazine. That sounds like the worst effect imaginable, but the fact is that it looks more realistic than much of the CGI in current films. Bava simply mounted the picture as part of a glass matte shot, and put a waving flag on top of the hill in the distance. Lining the image up with the landscape and shooting through the glass, it appears that the castle is sitting on the hill with the flag waving from the top of the battlements. Like all the best SFX, it’s not something you even notice when watching the film. It’s only afterwards when you find out how Bava achieved the effect, that the shot becomes so incredibly impressive.

Erik The Conqueror (1961)

‘Careful; you’ll have someone’s eye out with that.’

Bava tends to get all his plaudits for his work behind the camera. After all, visual miracles were his main area of expertise. However, that does tend to overshadow his work with actors. The Kessel Twins were a German musical act who had become all the rage in the cabarets of Paris and, although they had previous film experience, they were still primarily stage performers. Here, they make credible Vestal Virgins even if their presence would have been quite a headscratcher to real-life Vikings, being as they were Priestesses who served the goddess Vesta in Ancient Rome.

Our two leading men both display a natural physicality and charisma, Ardisson having played second lead Theseus in ‘Hercules and the Haunted World’ (1961). Mitchell went on to appear twice more for Bava, his vacation in Europe in the 1960s partly down to alimony and the IRS. He returned to the US in the last years of the decade to become a TV star on Western ‘The High Chapparal’ but returned to Europe afterwards, although the quality of the films he made was often lacking. Sadly, both Ardisson and Mitchell have passed on, but the Kessel Twins are still going strong, performing on German television as recently as 2016.

Erik The Conqueror (1961)

‘I’m telling you; this stuff will give you hair as blonde as mine.’

The film was a big hit in Italy, but failed to find foreign distribution until two years later when it appeared in the UK as ‘Fury of the Vikings’. A US release followed, although ten minutes of the film was cut. Bava returned to the Land of the Norse with ‘Knives of the Avenger’ (1965) which again starred Mitchell.

A thoroughly enjoyable historical romp with more than a little touch of class.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)‘Perhaps he is in his room far underground, which even a servant is not allowed to enter.’

Hercules returns home from his labours to claim a princess for his bride. However, he finds that she has been bewitched and the kingdom under threat from dark forces. The throne has been assumed by her uncle, who explains that he must travel to Hades to obtain a cure for her and undo the curse that afflicts the land…

Despite being a fairly terrible film, ‘Hercules’ (1957) had been a world-wide smash and kick-started a whole wave of Italian muscleman movies that were dubbed and shown in American theatres over the next decade. Some stuck pretty near to the formula of the first film; a grab-bag of mythological bits and pieces glued together by tatty SFX, terrible dubbing and a lead actor with the charisma of a fence post. Others just left out the mythology entirely and kept everything else. But there’s always one exception to the rule. In this case: ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961).

Director Mario Bava was a cinematographer and visual stylist, who had worked previously in the ‘sword and sandal’ genre and was coming off his first solo directorial gig; gothic horror classic ‘Black Sunday’ (1960) with Barbara Steele. He also had a family connection to the character and the story: his father, Eugenio, had worked on the design of Guido Brignone’s ‘Maciste In Hell’ (1925), the silent classic that featured the original Italian ‘Hercules’ character taking a trip to the land of the dead. Itno surprise, then, that Bava gets a joint story and screenplay credit with three other writers. Also taking further duty as his own cinematographer, this gave Bava considerable creative control of the film, and he was able to tailor it to his particular strengths and sensibilities.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

‘What kind of party did you say this was?’

Hercules (Reg Park) and Theseus (George Ardisson) are enjoying a little rest and relaxation after running their latest errand for the Gods. For Ardisson this means a tumble in an outdoor hayloft with dark-haired beauty Jocasta (Ely Drago), but Park isn’t playing around; he’s on his way back to home to wed the gorgeous Princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo). But all is not well in the kingdom. Without warning, they are attacked by a group of assassins. Park shrugs them off by throwing a wagon at them, and they run for the hills when they realise how they’re messing with. This opening scene helps to establish two important things. Firstly, there’s a healthy dose of humour in the film, something often lacking in the big man’s exploits on the big screen. Secondly, that Park’s default method of solving a problem is to throw something big at it. A wagon here, but it’s usually a rock.

When Park reaches the city, he finds that his old friend the King has passed away, but Ruffo has not assumed the throne. That position is in the hands of her uncle, Lico (Christopher Lee). He’s reluctantly assumed the responsibility because she is confused and bewildered, seemingly bewitched. Lee convinces Park that the only way he can sort things out is travel to the underworld and obtain a magic stone which will undo the spell. Unfortunately, the big lummox falls for it, even though the audience knows only too well that Lee is the bad guy here. After all, we saw him in his underground lair earlier when he summoned Ruffo from where she had been sleeping in what looks suspiciously like a coffin! She rises as if on a hinge in what was almost certainly a nod to Max Schreck’s appearance in the hold of the ship in F W Murnau’s iconic ‘Nosferatu’ (1922).

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

🎵 Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter…🎶

Park and Ardisson depart on their journey, getting saddled with comedy relief Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) on the way. Before they can enter Hades, though, they need to grab the golden apple of the Hesperides and tangle with the rock monster, Procrustes. And this is where Bava’s imagination and visual mastery really take over. Working with production designer Franco Lolli, he conjures up a striking vision of the underworld with a painter’s eye for detail and blending colour. Also, there’s a real sense of solidity to the sets which helps the atmosphere no end and is such a welcome change from the smooth fakery of CGI. Sure, some of the SFX have dated poorly (particularly the rock monster!) but, on the other hand, scenes where the dead rise from their tombs and battle Park are still striking and impressive today.

It’s all the more remarkable when you discover the budgetary constraints that Bava was working under. The palace set was a small stage with the director creating a sense of scale with just four pillars that he regularly moved around and sometimes resprayed. Occasionally, he was able to add a fifth with camera trickery! Similarly, one door stands in for every entrance that you see, Bava shooting with multiple angles and setups to create the illusion of a vast complex of rooms and chambers. Unless it’s pointed out, you would never notice. Bava also manages to evoke a sense of dread with these gloomy interiors that a lesser director would probably have neglected.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

‘Yo, she-bitch! Let’s go! ‘

On the other side of the scale is the story, which is nothing special and bears some evidence of late rewrites and revisions. While in the underworld, Ardisson falls in love with the goddess Persephone (Meiazotide in the original Italian cut). She’s played by Evelyn Stewart, billed under her real name of Ida Galli, and it’s interesting to speculate whether her character was a late addition to the film, or whether the part originally had far more screentime. As it is, her presence in certain scenes (or lack of it) doesn’t quite dovetail with the rest of the story’s events. But it’s a minor quibble when you consider the many delicious nods to Lee’s ‘Dracula’ persona. In one memorable moment, his face appears reflected in a pool of blood on the floor; in another, he leans over the unconscious Ruffo and directly into the camera. It’s a lot of fun to see the vampire iconography in a mythological setting and, of course, Lee is as charismatic as ever. Unfortunately, and despite reports to the contrary, he was not invited back to loop any of his dialogue so we are left with voice actors delivering his lines and, although they do a decent job, they can’t compete with his imperious tones.

The film was released in alternate versions in different territories, although the changes were not as significant as made to some of Bava’s other projects, such as ‘Black Sunday’ (1960) and ‘Black Sabbath’ (1960). The UK version was almost identical to the Italian version, although it was released under the title ‘Hercules In the Centre of the Earth’. Stateside, a corny and over-explanatory prologue was added featuring VoiceOver Woman and some repeated footage of the masked Oracle Medea (Gaia Germani) who appears later on. Thankfully, no other significant changes were made. Curiously, cult movie legend Rosalba Neri is credited with appearing in the film, although you’d be hard pressed to spot her! She certainly isn’t playing Helene, Ruffo’s companion, as is often credited. Apparently, in her early career, Neri sometimes sent one of her cousins along to fulfil her contracted acting obligations, so that may have been the case here!

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

‘Ta-Da!’

This was Park’s second outing as the Greek Demi-god after ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide’ (1961) and it’s interesting to note the changes that Bava chose to make to the character. It’s almost as if this acts as a kind of prequel. In the earlier film, the big man was already married to the Princess Deianira (played by a different actress), and the two had an impetuous young man for a son. The character was also far more laidback and a little world-weary in his attitudes. Bava’s version is more of a young blade; quick to arms and action, although retaining the good-natured charisma that made Park probably the screen’s finest Hercules. Off the screen, he was a natural athlete and sportsman who, in later years, became a mentor to the young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ruffo had already played the Princess Deianira in an earlier version of the legend; the hopeless (but hilarious) ‘La vendetta di Ercole/Goliath and the Dragon’ (1960) with Mark Forest. She also went onto appear in another bad movie gem, the space opera trash fire of ‘2+5: Missione Hydra’ (1968). Ardisson signed on with Bava again for Viking adventure ‘Erik The Conquerer’ (1961). Patched-up horror ‘Katarsis’ (1963) with Lee followed, before a leading role in the far more effective chiller ‘The Long Hair of Death’ (1964). He returned to the mythological arena in the TV film ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965) and went onto grace several Eurospy and Giallo films as well as ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) cash-in ‘The Eyes Behind the Stars’ (1978).

A visual feast from a master filmmaker that has a few hokey aspects when viewed today, but otherwise remains a remarkably entertaining experience and a classic of its kind.

(This is a revised and expanded version of a post originally published on 15th January, 2015)

 

 

Date For A Murder/Omicidio Per Appuntamento (1967)

Date For A Murder/Omicidio Per Appuntamento (1967)‘Do you mind? We’re frugging here!’

An American detective runs into an old friend he hasn’t seen for ages when on holiday in Italy. They arrange to meet in Rome, but the friend never shows. The detective begins to investigate, but soon finds his life in extreme danger…

In the original sense of the word a ’Giallo’ was simply a murder-mystery and this film from writer-director Mino Guerrini qualifies for that broad label, if not for the more specific definition of the term that we tend to use today. There’s no masked killer on the loose settling his personal issues with a large kitchen implement, although the criminal mastermind responsible for the machinations of the plot does have a secret identity, and is hidden under bandages for the climax.

Our leading man is Vince (George Ardisson) who’s at a bit of a loose end when he runs across former best bud Walter Dempsey (Hans Von Borsody) in a small Italian town. This is quite the coincidence, especially considering that Von Borsody is off to Rome to get married to a girl that he also hasn’t seen in nearly as long! The two arrange a rendezvous but, of course, Von Borsody drops off the map and soon Ardisson is being beaten unconscious and thrown off the cliff in an empty car. This brings him to the attention of local plod Commissioner Giunta (Gunther Stoll) and the two are eventually forced into an uneasy alliance as the plot thickens with more killings, stolen chemical formulas and a mysterious man in a wheelchair.

This is a passable thriller, but it has dated poorly. The late 1960’s marked a more experimental time in cinema with conventional techniques jettisoned in favour of new approaches, but that was not always a good thing. Here it seems probable that Guerrini was getting his first chance to shoot with a hand-held camera. Of course, that can work well within action scenes, but it’s delivered rather crudely here and there is so much of it that it’s sometimes hard to follow what’s happening. Likewise, the excitement of a potentially excellent rooftop chase is somewhat diluted by extreme ‘dutch’ camera angles. There are also some very big facial close-ups that would have looked far more at home in Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy than they do here. Add to those elements some over-excited quick cutting and all this ‘technique’ becomes seriously distracting.

A stronger script could have helped overcome those difficulties, of course, but Guerrini and co-author Fernando di Leo have little interesting to offer in that department, and what they do have is unconvincing at best. After a while, it seems that civilian Ardisson and policeman Stoll have become official partners working the case, something that strains credibility and can happen only in the movies. There’s also a pointless sub-plot concerning Ardisson babysitting poor little rich girl Fidelia (Halina Zalewska) which never feeds into the main story at all, other to provide some limp romantic interest and the necessary eye-candy. On the bright side, Zalewska does get to strut her stuff in a series of funky wigs, including a truly ridiculous style that bares a strange resemblance to Mickey Mouse’s ears!

Date For A Murder/Omicidio Per Appuntamento (1967)

‘I see you!’

Ardisson had starred in a couple of Eurospy films as Agent 3S3, which gave rise to this film being marketed as ‘Agent 3S3 Setzt Alles Auf Eine’ in Germany. Other credits include Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1962) and ‘The Long Hair of Death’ (1964) with Barbara Steele. Later, he faced off in Spaghetti Western ‘Django Sfida Sartana’ (1970) opposite Tony Kendall.

Zalewska had a small role in Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ (1963) and had more substantial parts to play in Eurospy ‘Agente Secreto 777: Invitio Ad Uccidere’ (1966) and ‘An Angel For Satan’ (1966), again with Steele. Guerrini had already delivered underwhelming thriller ‘The Third Eye’ (1966) and co-writer Di Leo went on to direct the rather poor ‘Slaughter Hotel’ (1971) before finding his groove with mobster movies in the wake of ‘The Godfather’ (1972).

A very middling crime thriller, partially sunk by a convoluted plot and distracting stylistic choices.