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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

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

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

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

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

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘Do you come here often?’

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

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

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘You want another take?’

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

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

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

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

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

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

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

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

Supermen Against The Orient/Crash! Che Botte…Strippo Strappo Stroppio (1973)

Supermen Against The Orient (1973)‘Don’t worry, I have a wonderful ointment made out of donkey fat.’

An incompetent FBI agent is sent to the Far East to investigate the disappearance of half a dozen of his colleagues. To solve the mystery, he must team up with two criminal ex-partners and members of a martial arts school in Hong Kong.

Curious hybrid of infantile comedy and chop socky action that formed part of a loose series of movies began by director Gianfranco Parolini with ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). The original starred Tony Kendall and Brad Harris from his ‘Kommissar X’ series, and was a cheerful amalgamation of Bond knock-off and caper film with nods to comic book and superhero genres. It was humorous without being an out and out comedy, an approach that was discarded when Parolini passed the baton to writer-director Bitto Albertini, the man behind the somewhat underwhelming ‘Goldface and The Fantastic Superman’ (1967).

So what’s new? Well, for a start, Kendall and Harris have been replaced by Robert Malcolm and Antonio Cantafora in the leads. And Kendall’s suave efficiency has apparently given way to complete incompetence. You see, according to the higher echelons at the bureau, Malcolm is a total disaster as an agent but always gets the job done (somehow?) So he’s hijacked from his wedding and packed off to Bangkok to begin this important mission. After ensuring he’s pointlessly strolled around plenty of nice-looking tourist board landmarks, he’s sent off to Hong Kong by mysterious femme fatale Shih Szu where he meets jovial crooks (and old friends) Cantafora and Sal Borgese. Borgese had replaced Aldo Canti from the original movie in the series as Canti’s film career was somewhat limited due to his links with organised crime, consequent time spent in jail and eventual murder in 1990. Borgese was actually the series’ only constant in front of the camera, having played a bit part in the original Parolini film.

The most interesting thing about the film are the circumstances of its production and how that influenced the finished product. This was an Italian-Hong Kong co-production, involving the world famous martial arts studio of the Shaw Brothers. They were looking to send their films overseas due to new censorship issues in local markets like Singapore. Similarly, Thailand had introduced a quota system to protect their local film industry, which probably explains the diversion to Bangkok. The result of this is that we get lots of tiresome knockabout comedy (the Italian element) periodically relieved by some well-choreographed scenes of hand to hand combat, particularly those involving local stars Lo Lieh and Lin Tung. Their climactic confrontation, although far too short, is quite easily the best sequence on offer. Szu was also a rising star in the genre so she gets to show off some of her moves, and that really is a young and unbilled Jackie Chan in one of the mass brawls…and he was involved in staging the fights.

Unfortunately, aside from the Kung Fu action, what we get is a truly painful trawl through lots and lots of dumb gags and painfully laboured attempts at humour. There’s a pointless and excruciating subplot about Cantafora and Borgese robbing the safe at the U.S. embassy (an idea actually lifted from the first film). What makes this much, much worse, is that this development means extended exposure to the comedy stylings of Jacques Dufilho as the American Consul, who mugs and flaps his way through proceedings as if begging the audience for laughs. The entire plot is sketchy at best, Albertni seemingly assembling random elements almost like he was putting together skits for a TV show.

Supermen Against The Orient (1973)

‘I thought there was only supposed to be 3 of us and, hang on, but aren’t you a girl?’

In the plus column, there’s possibly the most over-sung film theme of all time as Ernesto Brancucci squawks, growls and yelps through a demented number that almost defies description. There’s also a curious bit in a nightclub where traditional dancers wave their scarves on a dancefloor that looks strangely reminiscent of the one stalked by John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977) four years later.

Albertini was still on board with the series in the mid-1980s, and other entries include the trio heading back to the Wild West in a time machine! One curious note here; star Malcolm appeared in only three films; this one, ‘Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad’ (1973) and ‘Charity and the Strange Smell of Money’ (1973). He was the lead in all three, but has no other credits whatsoever. lt’s also highly likely that Robert Malcolm was an alias to help sell the film to U.S. distributors. I wonder who he really was?

Fast forward through the film and stop every once in a while for the martial arts action. And be sure to check out the theme song. If you dare.

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (1977)

Yeti Giant of the 20th Century (1977)‘They’re having lunch with that Yeti.’

A rich industrialist bankrolls an expedition to the frozen wilds of Canada, where they discover a giant yeti frozen in the pack ice. Thawing it out, they put it in a glass box hanging from a helicopter, and bring it back to life. It forms a bond with the tycoon’s grandchildren, but goes on the rampage when they are threatened by rival business interests…

Dino Di Laurentiis’ remake of ‘King Kong’ (1976) was always going to sell tickets, irrespective of the quality of the finished film. The visionary producer was one of the first to realise the potential of the ‘summer blockbuster’ after Steven Spielberg had cleaned up with ‘Jaws’ (1975) a year earlier. To that end, he mounted a publicity and merchandising campaign that was unparalleled for its time, and the hype ensured box office success. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed in other parts of the world, and several filmmakers were quick to ‘pay tribute’ with such similarly themed projects as ‘The Mighty Peking Man’ (1977) from Hong Kong, ‘A*P*E*’ (1976) from South Korea and the ‘comic’ antics of ‘Queen Kong’ (1976) from the UK.

Veteran Italian director Gianfranco Parolini was also quick to rise to the challenge, delivering this effort tied in with the legend of the Abominable Snowman, and persuading old mate Tony Kendall from their ‘Kommissar X’ series to take part. Parolini (under his usual Frank Kramer alias) opens his tale with disgruntled Professor John Stacy being approached by friend and filthy rich capitalist pig Edoardo Faieta with a proposition to mount an expedition to the frozen wastes. The script, which is cheerfully vague throughout, never mentions why or what they might be looking for, but it doesn’t matter as Stacy refuses outright. Only in the next scene he is supervising a gang of flame throwing goons who are toasting a pair of giant hairy feet sticking out of a block of ice. Nice cut, Mr Editor.

This is the giant yeti, of course, who was apparently discovered by Faieta’s young nephew Herbie (Jim Sullivan) in a scene that we don’t get to see. Looking on are his teenage sister (Antonella lnterlenghi) and mysterious, suave and ruggedly handsome company executive Kendall. When old hairy wakes up, he’s naturally a bit unimpressed, what with hanging in a big box from the bottom of a strange, noisy flying machine. The poor guy doesn’t have a lot of cultural reference points, having been frozen millions of years ago in the Himalayas before floating to Canada, thanks to the disintegrating ice floes, which we saw as stock footage beneath the opening credits in a different aspect ratio from the rest of the film.

Yeti Giant of the 20th Century (1977)

Yowsah!

Anyhow, Old Hairy gets all ‘touchy-feely’ once he meets the kids and their dog Lassie. It’s good news for the audience too as he finally stops screaming like a bargain basement Godzilla. Stacy reasons this sudden friendship is because they’re all wearing furry coats (including Lassie). Bravo, Professor! Pick up a Nobel Prize on your way out.

Unfortunately, Faieta exploits the creature’s fame via his new clothing line and various other bits of tat, including ‘Yeti Petrol’. This doesn’t go down well with his business competitors, especially as he rapidly corners the market in tacky t-shirts and monster-themed motor fuel products. So various goons attempt to sabotage the Yeti’s visit to Toronto; framing him for murder and being rather unpleasant to the kids once they tumble to what’s going down. Old Hairy takes exception to this, of course, and much mayhem follows…

Not surprisingly, this is a pretty wretched project. The Yeti is realised by dressing bearded actor Mimmo Crao in an all over furry body suit, and getting him to clamber over a few unconvincing model skyscrapers. Most of the time, though, he’s simply badly superimposed onto other footage, usually not colour corrected. Interactions with other members of the cast are limited to his big, furry hand, and lots of the crowd footage looks sourced from a film library. It’s nice to see Kendall in a different kind of role, but he seems to be just phoning it in, along with the rest of the cast. The only exceptions are Crao and lnterlenghi, who at least seem to be trying (although a little too hard in Crao’s case).

Yeti Giant of the 20th Century (1977)

‘What? The Yeti’s fallen down the well again?’

The film wasn’t a career boost for anyone. Crao never acted again, and it was a decade before Parolini made another movie. Kendall and Stacy never recaptured their 1960s glory days, when Stacy had a role in ‘The Agony and The Ecstasy’ (1965) with Charlton Heston, and Kendall ran around glamorous European capitals with Parolini and a bevy of gorgeous girls, pretending to be James Bond.

Sixteen year old lnterlenghi was making her debut here, and hers was a brief career, remarkable only for a major supporting role in Lucio Fulci’s notorious splatterfest ‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980).

Of course, if you love bad movies, this is well a worth a watch, but it’s one of those films where the laugh-out loud moments decline rapidly due to the endless repetition of the same faults. On the bright side, at least the young Herbie does get a slow-motion ‘lovers’ reunion with a blood-splattered Lassie at the climax.

And ‘The Yeti Song’ is performed by ‘The Yetians’. So there is that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kill Panther Kill (1968)

Brad Harris (1933-2017)

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

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

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

The Three Fantastic Supermen/The Fantastic Three (1967)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Fantastic Supermen (1967)

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

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

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

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

Death Trip (1967)

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

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

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

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

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

Death Trip (1967)

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

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

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

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

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)‘There’s a frightening monster there! I’ve heard how it breathes fire and big trees the size of houses are crushed by it. That’s why they call it Death Lake.’ 

A U.S. Police Captain is dragged into a local murder when visiting Singapore on assignment. Washington sends special agent Joe Walker to the scene and the two team up again to fight the bad guys.

Th third in the Eurospy ‘Kommissar X’ series moves a step away from straight James Bond knock off territory to embrace Martial Arts, probably at the prompting of co-star Brad Harris, who worked on the fight choreography for the series. So the film abandons much of the gadget play/super villain trappings for a crime story where our heroes take on the ‘Three Yellow Cats’, a local syndicate, whose aim is more plain old extortion than world domination. However, there is a definite nod to ‘Dr. No’ (1962) in some later scenes set in a ‘haunted’ swamp. The inclusion of Karate (the gang’s weapon of choice) is unusual and a little ahead of its time. It makes for the film’s standout scene; the climactic face-off between Harris and the gang’s chief assassin in a crumbling mountain temple. Sadly, this is immediately followed by ‘dummy falling off a cliff’ which is not quite so impressive.

And that’s about your lot really. This is drab, dreary stuff, so clumsily plotted that it never achieves any internal logical or real audience engagement. The story rambles lazily from one barely connected scene to another with characters being almost randomly introduced and then discarded as quickly. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the script was written ‘on the fly’ when the filmmakers arrived on location and saw what they had to work with. Story exposition is poorly delivered and dialogue is often clumsy, as if it were taken from an early draft.

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Kendall and Harris investigate another important clue…

The Singapore locations are different, which is nice, but that’s not much compensation for the general untidiness on display. Kendall is reliably smug in the lead and still tugs his right ear lobe a lot (I guess it was a character trait) and Harris is his usual stoic self. The two shared some screen chemistry but efforts at playing them as a light comedy duo here have little impact.

There were four more films in the series, but given the dip in quality here, it’s quite frightening to consider what the later entries might be like.

So Darling, So Deadly (1967)

So Darling So Deadly (1966)‘Alright, let’s stop talking about bananas.’

A secret agent and a police captain travel to Singapore at the request of a brilliant scientist. Surprisingly, the boffin has invented a device that ‘could be deadly in the wrong hands’ and international bad guys are after it.

Agent Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) and Captain Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) return in the second ‘Kommissar X’ spy caper/light-hearted Bond rip-off. The formula is pretty much unchanged since ‘Kiss Kiss… Kill Kill’ (1966) as two attempts are made to kill our heroes between the time they get off the plane and register at their hotel. More attacks follow before they even find out what it’s all about! The scientist has the obligatory beautiful daughter and the screenplay trots out all the other usual clichés without apology.

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‘If you’re ‘The Golden Dragon’ why have you got a red bag on your head?’

Our villain is the Golden Dragon, a man who hides his obvious secret identity by wearing a red bag on his head. One of his main associates in the usual ‘white man in an Asian role.’ Kendall is too smug in the lead as before but, then again, we’re not seriously invested in the characters. This is pure escapist nonsense and not supposed to be anything more.  The budget doesn’t stretch to any big set pieces as such, but there is plenty of gunplay and the pace is quick enough that you can forgive the predictable plotting and lack of any original flourishes.

In the funniest scene, Harris cuts a mean rug at a hotel party before someone is killed with a dart gun poking out through a pair of curtains. How do assassins take aim in those circumstances? I’ve always wondered. Harris also choreographs all the action, mostly fistfights, and these are a cut above similar work of the period. Also, the explosive climax is surprisingly well realised. On the debit side, the jazzy soundtrack is too intrusive and a potentially great scene with Kendall trapped in a cage and menaced by falling blades is poorly executed.

This is a typical entry in the EuroSpy cycle of the 1960s. Although it avoids the worst aspects of the genre, it fails to achieve anything more than that.

Kiss Kiss… Kill Kill (1966)

Kiss Kiss... Kill Kill (1966)‘As for you, Mr Walker, you’re going to regret sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong really. It’ll be a pleasure watching you die…’

Secret agent Jo Walker and his police captain buddy Tom become involved in the mysterious murders of three businessmen, seemingly by a gang of beautiful women. It all turns out to be about a hidden cache of gold bullion.

The first of the ‘Kommissar X’ series of Eurospy movies of the mid-1960s. The film sets its stall out straight from the opening as handsome secret agent Tony Kendall speeds around picturesque mountain roads in his flash car while a lusty woman warbles a sub-Bond theme on the soundtrack. Some of the requisite fisticuffs follow but it turns out just to be a training exercise; the supposed bad guy is actually a police captain and Kendall’s unofficial sidekick, played by Brad Harris. Meanwhile, some top international businessmen are blown up in various ways.

Acceptable but fairly tepid spy games with the requisite number of guns, gadgets  and girls (most in silly wigs for some reason). Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) shrugs and smirks his way through the film, finding secret panels, unmasking the super villain and getting women to change sides just by using a smart suit and a smile. The film verges on a spoof but never quite takes the step into outright comedy. It’s all dreadful ’60s and dreadfully sexist, of course, although it’s pretty much impossible to ignore the charms of such beautiful women as Christa Linder.

Kiss Kiss... Kill Kill (1966)

The silliest wig contest had reached a crucial stage.

The businessmen have hidden the gold on a secret island and then contaminated it with radioactivity. One of them has decided he wants it all for himself, so he knocks off his partners and kidnaps a brilliant nuclear physicist to decontaminate it (why contaminate it in the first place you might ask). It’s never explained but then the film is badly dubbed so that plot point may have got lost along the way.

Of course, there’s an underground base and it actually looks quite impressive. Unfortunately, as per usual, you only have to throw one switch for it all to blow up. There is a notable absence of large action set pieces and stunt work, but, all in all, the film delivers an acceptable level of entertainment, provided you’re not expecting too much.

The adventures of Kendall and Harris didn’t end here. They returned for 6 more films, most with director Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer). He also wrote most of them and performed the same function on some of the ‘Sabata’ spaghetti western series, most often with Lee Van Cleef but once with Yul Brynner. Apparently, later films in the series do not follow the ‘Bond’ template so closely but few of them seem to be readily available.