The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)‘Only animals and Americans get washed standing up.’

A rich old man dies, and the relatives gather at the family estate for the division of his fortune. However, most of them receive nothing; the bulk of the estate going to his niece due to a new will. Jealousies and bad feelings run high and then, inexplicably, the family butler is found stabbed to death in the greenhouse…

Knowing, black comedy Giallo from director Michele Lupo, who sends up the English Country House murder mystery with obvious delight and a little bit of style. Of course, the greedy relatives start dying off one by one after the will is read. Of course, everyone acts as suspicious as hell. Of course, the dim Scotland Yard copper blunders about without a clue and, of course, the solution is wonderfully convoluted and improbable.

The action begins on the golf course with heiress Barbara (Anna Moffo) trying to make a difficult shot out of a bunker. Sadly, she gets more than she bargained for when her swing uncovers the corpse of her cousin’s wife Pauline (Beryl Cunningham). But, never fear, the police are already on the spot as she’s not the first corpse to turn up in the previous 48 hours. Unfortunately, the forces of law and order are represented by arrogant, but dim, Superintendant Grey of Scotland Yard (Lance Percival) and bumbling local plod Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe (Gastone Moschin). From here, we flashback to the relatives arriving at the house, the reading of the will and the mysterious death of Peter, the butler (Ballard Berkeley).

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘You know our film’s got a really misleading poster, don’t you?’

Much to everyone’s surprise, the estate has ended up in the hands of naive Moffo, who acted as the old man’s housekeeper in his final years. There’s nothing for daughter Isabelle (Evelyn Stewart) because of her unpopular marriage to Anthony (Peter Baldwin). Also finishing out of the money are chronic gambler Ted (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), bitchy Aunt Gladys (Maria Fabri) and her stupid teenage son Georgie (Christopher Chattel). Numbers are made up by pompous Uncle Lawrence (Quinto Parmeggiani) and a mysterious, handsome stranger (Franco Borelli) who seems to have his eye on Stewart. When the bodies start piling up, it’s a real three-pipe problem for our hapless lawmen.

This is a deliberately familiar setup, of course, harkening right back to silent classic ‘The Cat and the Canary’ (1927) and making obvious reference to works of detective fiction, such as those of Agatha Christie. But writers Sergio Donati, Massimo Feli Satti and Fabio Pittoru choose a refreshingly satirical approach, focusing their attention on poking fun at tried and true English stereotypes. We get Chittel’s hopelessly repressed teenager, still a nasty little schoolboy at heart, even (very convincingly) faking his own suicide for a joke and then running for the hills when his leering approach to pretty parlourmaid Evelyn (Orchidea De Santis) ends with an offer of sex. Rossi Stuart is the typical English sportsman in tweed and flat cap, and Stewart is the English Rose with hidden passions.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘Can I go back to helping old ladies across the road and getting cats out of trees?’

Best of all, however, is the crimebusting team of Percival and Moschin. Sensibly, they are the focus of the story, and the interplay between the two actors really helps bring the film to life and is a constant source of wry amusement. Initially, the superior Percival is utterly dismissive of his country colleague and no wonder; Moschin seems little more than an amiable oaf, blundering his way through the case with one shame-faced apology after another. But when Percival’s obvious lack of investigative abilities comes to the fore, it’s Moschin who starts coming up with the required insights with the former reluctantly coming to rely on the latter’s brainpower. It may not be tremendously original dynamic, but the two actors play it to the hilt and display excellent chemistry.

As well as some of the cast members being British, the film was partially shot in England; specifically at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk. Imagine this reviewer’s delight when the opening shot of an Italian Giallo picture features the village sign of a place less than 25 miles from where he grew up! A surreal moment if ever there was one. Most of the cast were Italian, of course, but British audiences of a certain age will recognise Percival and Berkeley. The former was a comedian-actor who was almost a fixture on UK TV in the 1960s and 1970s, and Berkeley found everlasting fame at the age of 71 as the dotty Major on classic sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers.’

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘I tell you, Officer, I was only doing 35…’

There are some other notables in the rest of the cast. Rossi Stuart studied at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York before launching into a more than 30-year career in the Italian film industry, often appearing as a leading man. Initially, he plugged away in small roles but had worked his way up to more substantial supporting parts by the time he appeared in Robert Aldrich’s ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) with Stewart Granger and Stanley Baker. Some work with maestro Mario Bava followed, notably the lead in ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966). There were also appearances as Commander Rod Jackson in two episodes of Antonio Margheriti’s quartet of science fiction pictures about space station Gamma One. Later notable projects included Gialli ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ (1971), ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat’ (1972) and ‘Death Smiles On A Murderer’ (1973). His career went into decline after that, but there were still appearances in poorly regarded horror ‘The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance’ (1975) and one of Alfonso Brescia woeful quartet of ‘Star Wars’ knock-offs ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Stewart got her first big break playing Persephone in Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and then had a supporting role in Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ (1963), appearing under the name of Ida Galli on both occasions. Bava also used her in ‘The Whip and the Body’ (1963) before she worked her way up to the female lead in Spaghetti Westerns. Her first notable Giallo was behind Carrol Baker and Jean Sorel in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), but it was only after this project that she became closely associated with the sub-genre. ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ (1971) was followed by ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (1971), ‘Murder Mansion’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice’ (1972) and ‘A White Dress for Marialé’ (1972) by which point she was often playing the lead. When the craze for the horror thrillers began to wane, she made several pictures in the organised crime genre, although there was still a late-career appearance in Lucio Fulci’s horror mystery ‘The Psychic’ (1977) to come. Although she made a handful of appearances afterwards, she effectively retired at the end of the 1970s.

A fun comedy Giallo that may not be a world-beater, but still delivers a thoroughly well-crafted and entertaining 90 minutes.

Knives of the Avenger/I coltelli del vendicatore (1966)

Knives of the Avenger (1966)‘We’ll string them up to dry like cod in the north wind.’

A tribal queen in hiding from the renegade who is trying to take her absent husband’s throne is saved from his men by a mysterious drifter. The stranger bonds with her son, but comes to learn that his own violent past is a part of her tragic story…

The European success of Richard Fleischer’s big-budget Hollywood production of ‘The Vikings’ (1958) prompted a cycle of similar Norse adventures from Italian cinema in the 1960s. However, by the time that Sider Films attempted to enter the fray, audience interest had waned, and their production collapsed through lack of funding just a couple of weeks into shooting. After several attempts to remount the picture, the producers engaged horror maestro Mario Bava to salvage the project.

Arald, King of the Marvar (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) has been away from the Northlands for three years on a voyage searching for food. In his absence, warlord Hagen (Fausto Tozzi) has returned after banishment and is attempting to take the throne. He intends to marry Stuart’s wife, Karin (Elissa Pichelli, billed variously as Lisa Wagner or just Lissa). She has fled, going into hiding with her young son, Moki (Luciano Pollentin) after being warned of imminent danger by sorceress Shula (an unidentified actress, possibly Gordana Miletic). One fine day, wanderer Helmut (Cameron Mitchell) comes riding by and saves Pichelli and her son from the attentions of two of Tozzi’s men. He decides to stick around, and the three make for a cosy family unit. It’s obvious Mitchell is smitten, but Pichelli reaffirms her loyalty to Stuart even though she’s not sure that he’s still alive.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

Family meals were always a bit awkward…

When Pichelli finally fills in Mitchell on her history, it’s a bit of a shocker. On the day she married Stuart (then a Prince), tribal loose cannon Tozzi murdered the family of rival chieftain, Ruric, not realising that the King (Amedeo Trilli) had just negotiated a lasting peace. A masked Ruric takes revenge by burning the tribe’s villages to the ground, raping Pichelli and having Trilli put to the sword. All this is bad news for Mitchell’s romantic intentions because he is Ruric, having spent the last few years trying to escape the memory of his crimes and, with Tozzi back in the neighbourhood too, a showdown is inevitable.

This was not the story of the film that began shooting with original director Leopolda Savona. When Bava came on board, probably keen to work again with his friend Micthell, he re-wrote the entire script, throwing out most of Savona’s footage and re-shooting about three-quarters of the film. All in six to seven days! Although this seems like a recipe for absolute disaster, this was Mario Bava, a man who had extensive experience salvaging other director’s projects, usually uncredited. It was just such an assignment, on ‘The Giant of Marathon’ (1959) with Steve Reeves, that led to Bava finally getting the opportunity to direct in his own right. So, although there are some issues with story continuity, it’s fair to say that most audience members would have no idea that this was such a troubled production.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

‘What was that you were saying about my haircut?’

What Bava fashioned was pretty much a Viking western, and many commentators have pointed out the general story similarities to George Stevens’ classic ‘Shane’ (1953), which was apparently one of Bava’s favourite pictures. Given the short time he had available to knock the story into shape, it’s not perhaps surprising that he would have modelled his outline on such a tried and trusted original. There’s even one scene where Mitchell rides into town accompanied by the strains of a Marcello Giombini score that has an echo of Ennio Morricone’s work on the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. What does he do when he gets there? Go straight to the tavern and get into trouble with the locals, of course!

Inevitably, given the circumstances of production, there are some problems with the narrative. We’re never entirely sure of when Pichelli learns of Mitchell’s true identity; in fact, we only know that she does because she calls him by his real name in passing during an unrelated conversation. There’s no big dramatic scene in which she learns the truth, and she seems remarkably forgiving to a man who raped her and whose soldiers killed her father. If it wasn’t for that one use of his name, you might reasonably assume from her behaviour that she never finds out. The similarity of Mitchell and Pollentin’s hair colour and style also makes it pretty clear that the boy is the result of that rape, but the issue is never directly addressed.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

‘Eyes on my face, creep!’

Bava also struggles to establish the geography of the world in terms of the proximity of the various locations. Whilst in the family hut, Micthell and Pichelli hear Pollentin’s cries for help, but it takes a horse ride for Mitchell to arrive at the beach and come to the lad’s rescue. Similarly, Pichelli has been told to go far away to avoid Tozzi but seems to have set up home surprisingly locally, given the time to takes some characters to get there from the town. Also, Tozzi appears to know where she is but, rather than go there himself until near the end of the picture, keeps sending various minions to get her, only to have them bested by Mitchell. It’s also notable that the locale doesn’t look much like the frozen Northlands, although the script does try to address this by having Mitchell complain about the cold and take the warmer robes of a man he has just killed because the winter months are just around the corner. It’s not very convincing, but at least an effort was made.

But there are some outstanding sequences. The first combat between Mitchell and Tozzi in a darkened tavern is a tour de force of lighting and camerawork with the protagonists facing off like wild west gunslingers before launching into an energetic mixture of fisticuffs and a wrestling match, punctuated by throwing knives. The climactic scenes in the ‘sacred caves’ are also beautifully shot with splashes of colour evoking both the Hades of Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and the early scenes of his previous Norse adventure ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961). The fact that Bava saves these slightly more esoteric touches for this final location is entirely appropriate. After all, these are the caves where the dead lie and supposedly speak through the local prophetess.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

The wedding photographer had been at the punch again…

These final sequences are surprisingly brief but, in a way, appropriate, as Tozzi never seems to be a very threatening villain, little more, in fact, than the local tavern bully. This is not due to Tozzi’s performance; it’s because we hear about all his dastardly crimes second hand, the audience seeing far more of Mitchell’s violent past. However, it’s that bloody backstory and subsequent search for redemption that give the character a depth that the actor exploits to the full with his engaging performance.

A fast-paced and enjoyable adventure with a stamp of quality provided by the visual flair of its director. Given the circumstances of its hurried production, it’s one of Bava’s most outstanding achievements, even if it’s not one of his finest films.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)‘Do you remember what that hairy ape said about a secret base?’

The polar ice caps start to melt at an alarming rate, causing global flooding. A weather station in the Himalayas is attacked by unknown forces and its crew all but wiped out. The Commander of Space Station Gamma and his right-hand man are recalled from their intergalactic posting to investigate and save the Earth…

This was the last in a loose series of four Italian space operas directed by Antonio Margheriti, under his usual pseudonym of Anthony Dawson. All featured the heroic activities of Space Station Gamma One and hit the big screen over six months, the first three being released over a few weeks in the summer of 1966! This tardy conclusion finds Jack Stuart (real name Giacomo Rossi Stuart) returning as the square-jawed Commander Rod Jackson from ‘War Between the Planets’ (1966) which was the third of the films. The first two had found the station under the command of Mike Halstead (Tony Russell), the last of which was the deliriously demented ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966). This time around, there’s a little more James Bond than Flash Gordon about Stuart, and the action is partially based on Earth, but the final act is all too familiar to fans of low-budget science-fiction of the time.

Things are looking grim in the Earth’s shiny space-age future. General Norton (Enzo Fiermonte), head of UDSC (United Democracies Space Command) is wearing his best frowny face. It never rains, but it pours. It’s not enough that the temperature of the planet is on the rise and the ice floes are melting. No, one of his weather stations in the Himalayas has been trashed as well. The culprit? Persons or monsters unknown. The scientific team have all been killed except for Lt Jim Harris (Renato Baldini) who is AWOL. Time to call in Jackson: Rod Jackson. Yes, there’s no one more qualified to go on an undercover mission than one of the most famous faces in the cosmos. And yes, he doesn’t bother with a false identity because everyone does know who he is.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘Cool threads, Daddio!’

Fiermonte sends him, along with Man Friday, Captain Pulasky (Goffredo ‘Freddy’ Unger) to the Himalayas. Their cover story is that they are mounting an expedition to hunt for the Abominable Snowman. At first, it seems unclear why they need to assume this fiction at all, after all, Baldini’s fiancee, Lisa (Ombretta Colli) is already on-site looking for her man so presumably what’s happened to the weather station is public knowledge. And how investigating this incident is supposed to help with figuring out why the world is on the brink of environmental collapse is also a bit puzzling. That is what Stuart and Unger are supposed to be looking into, after all.

But it turns out that our heroes have a right to be cautious. Their original plan was to scout the area of the weather station by helijet, but their vehicle explodes on the ground the night before their flight. This looks like the work of local guide Sharu (Wilbert Bradley) who seems to be a fully-paid up member of the school of cartoon villainy, grinning and smirking for all he’s worth behind their backs. Apparently, there’s no time to get them another vehicle (I guess UDSC are a bit short in their helijet pool?), so Stuart and Unger decide to tackle the slopes on foot. In a staggering development, after Stuart won’t let her come along, Colli puts on a parka and joins incognito as one of the bearers. In a further shocking development, the bearers all desert when they reach slopes that are ‘taboo’ (Stuart and Unger obviously being unfamiliar with the behaviour of natives on safari in jungle films of the 1930s and 1940s).

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘The plumage don’t enter into it. It just pooped down my back.’

Now, if this all doesn’t sound good, the first act of the film turns out to be quite fun. For a start, we get Fiermonte’s minions trying to contact Stuart, who is on leave from the space station. They try to track him down at various locations. Firstly, they ring a Countess who is playing crazy golf in her bikini(!), then at a martial arts dojo. In the end, they reach him at a country club where he is doing what all square-jawed, handsome playboys do in their spare time: getting beaten at draughts by a young kid (that’s ‘checkers’ to any Americans out there). This is all quite silly, of course, but seems to be setting the audience up for the kind of tongue-in-cheek romp akin to Russell’s insane visit to ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966). Unfortunately, it turns out that Stuart isn’t in for the same kind of trip.

Things start to drag a little when our heroes begin trekking across the snowy slopes. It’s plain the cast did go on location to mountains somewhere and, for once, this footage is well-matched with the studio work. Colli and Stuart inevitably end up kissing in his tent, but, instead of taking the usual 007 approach, Stuart acknowledges that she’s lonely and needed comfort, and takes things no further. What a gent! And that’s all the romance he gets, despite the obvious interest of sexy Lt Sanchez (Halina Zalewska) back on Gamma One. Eventually, the expedition is attacked by a group of green-furred yeti when they take shelter in a cave and, best of all, it turns out that they’re not our everyday Abominable Snowmen at all, they’re aliens!

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

The publicity photoshoot for ‘Lord of the Rings’ wasn’t a complete success.

Once they are captured, Earth’s new green furry overlord, Igrun (Furio Meniconi) gleefully explains everything in the best supervillain manner when he really doesn’t have to. These extra-terrestrials have evolved on an ice world and are looking for a new place to live, so they have decided to terraform our planet. I’m not sure how melting the ice caps would help in this respect? Perhaps they should have just hung around for 50 years and let global warming do that for them. Anyway, our heroes are banged up in a cell with the lost Baldini. Although the tiny room’s only feature is a very large wall cover over an air duct, it’s never occurred to the weather station commander to use it to try and escape but, no worries, Stuart is right on it. Yes, this is one of those movies where only the hero is allowed to come up with a plan, or have any ideas, even when they would be blindingly obvious to an 8-year old.

Unfortunately, it’s at this point that all the fun starts draining out of the film. Stuart and his gang take on Meniconi via some (very) conveniently available chemicals and a conflict that’s over far too quickly. The rest of the film centres on the search for the alien’s main base, which involves a lot of the Gamma One personnel staring at read-outs and scratching their heads. Even Stuart falls asleep at his desk, perhaps mirroring the reaction of most of the audience. The final wrap up is defiantly unspectacular but far worse is the fact that all this post-Himalayan ‘action’ has taken up almost the entire second half of the film. Or at least it seems that way.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘Is it quitting time yet? I’m dying for a pint.’

As well as delivering the ‘Gamma One’ quartet, director Margheriti also travelled to the stars with ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1961) and made early 1960s Euro-Horrors with both Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele, including Steele’s solo turn in the particularly notable ‘The Long hair of Death’ (1964). He also directed a couple of low-grade Eurospys, and the best screen muscleman, Reg Park in ‘Hercules, Prisoner of Evil’ (1964) (which actually featured him as ‘Ursus’, not Hercules!). Working in the Italian film industry at this point, inevitably he also helmed some Spaghetti Westerns and Giallo films, including ‘Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye’ (1973). But, of course, the zenith of his career was that wonderful stew of caveman, dinosaurs, aliens and robots that the world came to know as ‘Yor, the Hunter from the Future’ (1983).

Sadly, this film is one of his lesser efforts. Initially pleasing, but soon more than a little boring. Some fun concepts are wasted, which, if handled with more flair and creativity, could have made for an enjoyably cheesy experience.

Macabre/Vjale AI Vacio/Journey To Emptiness/The Invisible Assassin/Shadow of Death (1969)

Macabre/Vjale AI Vacio/Journey To Emptiness/The Invisible Assassin/Shadow of Death (1969)‘In medicine, it is called a para-logic ultra-inhibition.’

An unhappily married woman is having an affair with her husband’s twin brother. Then a face from her past shows up with blackmail on his mind. Rather than pay up, the lovers decide to turn the situation to their advantage…

Serviceable, but ultimately fairly absurd, Giallo thriller from director Javier Seto who co-wrote the screenplay, and also has a partial credit for the original story. Initially, it’s an intriguing setup with many possibilities, but the finished film resembles nothing so much an extended television episode crafted for a suspense/mystery anthology show. Perhaps it would have been better presented in that format and length.

Young wife Denise (Teresa Gimpera) has a problem. She’s tired of small-town life with successful, but dull, businessman John (Larry Ward) and longs for glamour, excitement and the bright lights of Paris. An affair with John’s twin brother, Peter (Ward, again) isn’t really helping too much and the two long to be free of John’s control. Their plotting has come to little, however, until opportunity knocks in the form of Gert Muller (Giacomo Rossi Stuart). He’s an old flame from Gimpera’s murky past and demands money to keep quiet about what he knows. So, our two lovebirds put a long considered plan into action, taking advantage of both Peter’s job as a druggist working for John and the latter’s epileptic condition.

Inducing a seizure and keeping John under wraps for a couple of days, allows Peter to impersonate his brother. In that guise, he sleeps with his own occasional girlfriend Annie (Silvana Venturelli), and rendezvous with Rossi Stuart at the money drop as if by accident. Afterwards, he and Gimpera use a mixture of drugs, electro-shock therapy and re-enactments to convince John that it was he who did these things. Later on, when he comes out of his stupor, he comes to believe he has killed Rossi Stuart, and the scene is set for a long-term committal to an institution for the insane, leaving Peter to step into his brother’s financial shoes.

Macabre/Vjale AI Vacio/Journey To Emptiness/The Invisible Assassin/Shadow of Death (1969)

‘We are not singing ‘I Got You Babe’ again…’

Yes, the premise is a little hard to swallow. Apparently, Peter is au fait with brainwashing techniques because he saw them practised in Vietnam, but that does seem a little too pat as we’re given no further information on his experiences. Also, the final act finds credibility taking a powder as the story lurches across the thin line between the implausible and the unbelievable. The tight focus on the lead characters also gives events a very small-scale feel; sure, a couple of doctors are consulted, and the police hang around a bit, but they hardly get much of a look-in. On the bright side, Gimpera does make an excellent, cold as ice femme fatale, although Ward is merely adequate in his dual role.

Ward was an American actor who worked mostly in TV; initially in Westerns, including playing the lead on short-lived 1960s series The Dakotas’. As the decade progressed, he diversified, appearing on shows such as ‘Lost In Space’, ‘I-Spy’, ‘The Fugitive ‘, ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘The Time Tunnel’, ‘The Invaders’ and many more. In the late 1960s, he picked up a few roles in Italian films, mostly Westerns, before moving back into US TV in the 1970s. He also wrote and starred in poorly-regarded Pilipino horror ‘The Deathhead Virgin’ (1974). Gimpera was still active in 2016 after a long history of credits ranging from Jess Franco’s feeble Eurospy ‘Larry, the Inscrutable’ (1967) to a lead role in Victor Erice’s acclaimed arthouse picture ‘The Spirit of The Beehive’ (1973), a film which Guillermo Del Toro has acknowledged as a major influence on his work.

Macabre/Vjale AI Vacio/Journey To Emptiness/The Invisible Assassin/Shadow of Death (1969)

‘For that fashion sense, you deserve to die…’

Rossi Stuart’s time on the big screen began with biblical epics, sword and sandal films and Westerns before he appeared opposite Vincent Price in ‘The Last Man On Earth’ (1964). Work with horror maestro Mario Bava followed in ‘Knives of the Avenger’ (1966) and ‘Kill, Baby… Kill’ (1966) before Eurospy ‘The Big Blackout’ (1966), and a couple of appearances as heroic Commander Rod Jackson in space operas directed by Antonio Margheriti. The next decade brought a number of other Giallo outings, including ‘The Weekend Murders’ (1970) and ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat’ (1972). However, by the end of the decade, he had been demoted to material such as Alfonso Brescia’s dire ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip-off ‘War of the Robots’ (1977). He remained active until the late 1980s and died in 1994.

A middling Giallo thriller that provides an acceptable level of entertainment but requires some serious suspension of disbelief in the final stages. And as for what a couple of the film’s English titles are supposed to mean…well, your guess is as good as mine.

Il Planeta Errante/War Between the Planets (1966)

Il-Planeta Errante (1966)‘Your’e an a-ok officer except for one thing – you never learned how to take orders.’

Space Station Gamma 1 is the Earth’s last hope for survival as it investigates the cause of the extreme weather conditions that are devastating the planet. The station’s crew detect a strange object in nearby space and set out to investigate…

Completely humourless Italian space opera from the directorial hands of Antonio Margheriti (better known to English-speaking audiences as Anthony M Dawson). After a co-directorial credit, Margheriti began his long career in the film industry with a similar property to this: ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1960) which also featured a heroic space station crew as man’s last, best hope. Margheriti had initially left the genre alone after that, specialising in ‘sword and sandal’ melodramas but returned in 1966 with a vengeance, delivering a loose quartet of science fiction ‘epics’ that were all centred around the activities of Space Station Gamma 1.

This film was a followup to ‘La Morte Viene Dal Planeta Aytin’ (‘Snow Devils/Devil Men from Space) (1966) and main man Giacomo Rossi Stuart returned as square-jawed Commander Rod Jackson. Also returning were heroines Ombretta Colli and Halina Zalewska, although, somewhat curiously, Colli  now appears to be playing Zakewska’s character from the first film! Something lost in translation on stateside distribution perhaps. Enzo Fiermonte also features again as big cheese General Norton, and other supporting actors reappear.

So what’s the film like? Well, it’s pretty tedious. We open with a news report of the chaos on Earth, although it looks suspiciously like stock footage of real life disasters, and a lot of it is in black and white. Scientists and military types meet in small offices (no ‘big table’ conference for them!) to sort it all out, and decide it’s a gravitational anomaly somewhere in space. Rossi Stuart and his crew get the gig, and track down the problem to an invading planetoid with psychedelic lighting. Rossi Stuart is in love with Communications cutie Lieutenant Colli but is engaged to civilian Zalewska, who also happens to be the General’s daughter. She arrives on the station right in the middle of the mission (really!?) so she can scowl at our lovebirds and make a bitchy remark or two. Yes, that’s all she does!

Anyway, there’s some aggro between Rossi Stuart and his rebellious second in command (yawn!), everyone speaks in meaningless military terminology (‘We have an immediate five-seven with full priority!’) and it all ends up with a predictable life or death, self-sacrificing mission on the planetoid. In fact, it all bares more than a passing resemblance to Michael Bay’s bloated bore-athon ‘Armageddon’ (1998), except without the ‘edgy’ MTV rock and endless shots of the fluttering stars and stripes.

Il Planeta Errante (1966)

Let’s go to work!

As far as I can tell, this was only picked up for US release after ‘Star Wars’ (1977) when an English dub track was added and the film retitled. Although the running time is barely 80 minutes, it appears that little was cut. However, Voiceover Man makes frequent intrusions to provide a very serious running commentary, presumably in case we’re not sure what is happening.

Production information on the Gamma 1 quartet is hard to find and the films don’t seem to follow any noticeable story arc. Leading man duties for the other two films were assumed by US actor Tony Russel, which included the gloriously silly and far more entertaining ‘I Criminali Della Galassia/Wild Wild Planet’ (1966).

This, on the other hand, is a dull, dreary space opera without an original thought in its head.