Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon/Ercole contro i tiranni di Babilonia (1964)

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)‘I have heard tales of this legendary hero who is usually involved in superhuman undertakings far away.’

The rulers of Babylon are angry when the demi-god, Hercules continually disrupts their slaving expeditions. Although they don’t know it, they have unwittingly kidnapped the Queen of the Hellenes, and the muscleman is on a mission to liberate her from their evil clutches…

The 17th ‘official’ Hercules film that came out of Italy in the wake of the international success enjoyed by Steve Reeves in the title role. It was a loose, disconnected series of features with many different producers and several studios cashing in on the sudden craze. This time around the muscleman appears in the form of American actor Rock Stevens whose brief sojourn on the Tiber was to be followed by far greater success back in his homeland.

The ancient kingdom of Babylon is under the rule of a triumvirate; oldest brother, Assur (Tullio Altamura), bald warrior, Salmanassar (Livio Lorenzon) and their beautiful sister, Taneal (Helga Liné). Much in the manner of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, their dead father has left the kingdom to all three of them to rule together and, although they don’t agree on much, they do agree on one thing: the kingdom needs slaves and lots of them. So, they are less than pleased when news comes back that their hunting expeditions are being broken up by one man (Stevens). Incredulous, they send top warrior (and Liné’s bedwarmer) Behar (Franco Balducci) to deal with it. Unfortunately for him, Stevens easily defeats the raiding party using an assortment of paper-maché rocks and his paper-maché club.

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)

‘I am not over-compensating, ok?’

Meanwhile, our evil siblings get a state visit from Malik, King of Assyria (Mario Petri) who offers a fortune in gold for all their female slaves. Apparently, they are needed to repopulate his kingdom, but the trio doesn’t believe him. Liné gets him to her apartments for a private interview (not difficult, what guy wouldn’t?) and slips some truth serum into his wine. Then the secret’s out: Esperia, the Queen of the Hellenes (Anna Maria Polani) is doing slave duty below stairs, and he plans to force her into marriage so that he can add her kingdom to his own. Meanwhile, Stevens is on his way to Babylon (courtesy of a highly unlikely piece of business with a carrier pigeon), and everyone has cottoned on to his true identity as the legendary Hercules.

This is a rather feeble and generic Peplum adventure taken from the end of the cycle when Hercules and his heroic contemporaries had racked up over 50 big-screen adventures between them in the space of about seven years and, inevitably, the formula was wearing pretty thin. The main variation was the presence, or not, of any fantastical or mythological elements, and this comes down in the latter category, despite some half-hearted attempts to pay lip-service to the supernatural. Liné’s character is referred to as a sorceress, but it’s very half-hearted. All she really does is slip Petri that mickey and fool around with a ring at the climax, which seems to do precisely nothing.

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)

‘You never take me anywhere!’

Still, there are some things for the aficionados of the genre to enjoy. Our regal siblings spend as much time and effort trying to outwit each other as they do tackling the threat posed by Stevens. Their murderous plots and counterplots are reminiscent of the Roman court intrigues in Robert Graves classic novel ‘I, Claudius’ and, of course, George R R Martin’s much-later ‘Game of Thrones.’ This is the film’s most enjoyable aspect, although it does take the conflict pit of our hero’s hands somewhat. Stevens doesn’t really have to deal with the villains; in a world where almost everyone double-crosses everyone else, he can pretty much leave them all to get on with it!

There’s also a ‘tribute’ to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Spartacus’ (1960) when the nasty Lorenzon devises a way to identify the hidden Queen amongst the female slave population. He has all of them tied to stakes out in the sun and gives them no food or water. After a while, Polani can’t take what’s happening to her sisters in bondage and declares herself, only for all the others to make the same declaration. Rather than carry on with the torture, Lorenzon simply shrugs his shoulders, admits defeat and sends them all back to the slave quarters. On the debit side, a lot of the climactic footage is lifted from Robert Aldrich’s biblical epic ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) and other crowd footage was probably sourced from there, or other projects.

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)

‘I am Brian and so is my wife!’

After starting his career on television in the US, Stevens went to Italy and made a quartet of Peplum pictures, of which this was the first. Returning home, he reverted to his birth name of Peter Lupus for professional purposes. A regular gig as Willy Armitage on the iconic network show ‘Mission: Impossible’ followed. The show ran for seven seasons, and despite producers attempting to replace him midway through with Sam Elliott, he stayed with the show until it ended in 1973. Afterwards, he found getting work difficult but he did resurface as Nordberg on Leslie Neilsen’s much-loved (if quickly cancelled) comedy half-hour ‘Police Squad!’ Of course, when the show was resurrected as the ‘Naked Gun’ film franchise, his role was taken by O J Simpson.

Director Domenico Paolella was a journeyman in Italian cinema, like many his output slavishly following the trends of the time. After a start in documentary filmmaking, by the 1960s, he was delivering pirate movies and swashbucklers before moving into the Peplum arena with ‘Maciste contro lo sceicco/Maciste Against The Sheik’ (1962). Once that cycle had run its course, he moved into Eurospys with the hopelessly muddled ‘Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide’/‘Operation Atlantis’ (1965), made a couple of Spaghetti Westerns and ecclesiastical dramas which were, somewhat unfairly, marketed as part of the brief and rather bizarre ‘nunsploitation’ craze.

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)

‘This is the secret passage? No wonder, I was looking behind the bookcase.’

Liné should be a familiar face to fans of cult cinema, appearing in dozens of genre pictures in the 1960s and 70s, sometimes in roles unworthy of her abilities. At times, she was relegated to surprisingly minor roles, but, by her account, she accepted everything she was offered because she needed the money, even working as far afield as Mexico. She’s probably most recognisable to most from the title role of Amando de Ossorio’s ‘The Loreley’s Grasp/La garras de Lorelei’ (1972), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She starred in several of the better Eurospys including ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and ‘Special Agent Lady Chaplin’ (1966), the two films featuring super villain ‘Kriminal’, and in ‘Nightmare Castle’ (1965) with Barbara Steele. She also appeared in Gialli such as ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), made pictures with Euro-horror star Paul Naschy and even played opposite the Man in the Silver Mask in ‘Santo vs. Doctor Death/Santo contra el doctor Muerte’ (1973).

Despite some points of interest, this is a distinctly minor chapter in the adventures of Hercules, and probably only really for hardcore fans and completists.

The Vampires Night Orgy/La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)‘In no other place can you find a roast like this.’

A group of domestic staff on their way to a job get sidetracked when their bus driver dies of a heart attack. They stop for the night in a remote town that seems to be empty but find it fully occupied the next day. However, they soon become suspicious of their hosts and, when they go to leave, their bus won’t start…

Disappointing Euro-Horror that combines cannibalism and the undead to little effect. Despite an impressive location, complete with cemetery, there is little in the way of atmosphere, suspense or chills in the final results with a lot of the blame resting at the door of the jumbled, poorly developed script by writers Gabriel Moreno Burgos and Antonion Fos.

Travelling by coach to their new jobs somewhere or other, a team of domestic staff are somewhat inconvenienced when their driver drops dead at the wheel. Wrapping him up and putting him on the backseat, they contemplate their next move. During this process, Raquel (Charo Soriano) is happy for her young daughter (Sarita Gil) to play outside, so she’s not traumatised by what’s happened. On the roadside, Gil meets a young boy (Fernando E. Romero) who says nothing and suddenly disappears when it’s time to get back on the bus. The group travel on with Chauffeur, Ernesto (Gaspar ‘Indio’ González) driving, but decide to stop at a nearer town that’s off the grid, rather than pushing on to their destination.

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

‘I’ve been waiting for ages to get served too.’

Arriving at the old world mountain community of Tolnia, they find it apparently occupied, but empty of people, apart from Luis (Jack Taylor) who is just passing through. Romantic sparks fly immediately between him and ladies maid Alma (Dyanik Zurakowska), and they take rooms next to each other when the group decide to spend the night. This proximity is particularly handy for Taylor as it turns out there’s a spyhole in the back of his closet which he uses to perv on Zurakowska as she gets ready for bed. This doesn’t affect the plot in any way and provides no real insight into Taylor’s character (and, yes, he is our hero!), but it does provide an excuse from some casual nudity early in the film.

The next morning when they come down for breakfast, the tavern is jumping with a full complement of staff and customers. The explanation for their absence is entirely feasible: they were all at a funeral. I guess they take place in the middle of the night in this part of the world. Taylor and Zurakowska are introduced to the town Mayor (José Guardiola) who is only too keen to share the local cuisine. We have a pretty good idea what’s on the menu by now, and the grub doesn’t disappoint, particularly when Zurakowska finds a human finger on her plate at a later sitting.

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

‘It’s all right, you’ve just got something on your neck…’

However, Guardiola isn’t running the town; that role’s taken by the beautiful Countess (Helga Liné), whose family have been the local aristocrats for many centuries. She’s happy to invite our role call of victims up to the big house for a spot of tea and buns and takes a particular fancy to tutor Cesar (David Aller). She invites him to stay behind for some Shakespeare recitation which naturally ends up with the two of them between the sheets before Aller ends up on the pointy ends of Liné’s dentalwork. Meanwhile, back down in the village, the residents are closing in on their supper. Understandably, Taylor and Zurakowska decide to get the hell out of dodge.

Ok, where to begin? Well, from a technical point of view, the film is perfectly adequate. The cast is fine, and the location is impressive, even if director Leòn Klimovsky doesn’t manage to conjure much suspense or atmosphere from the town’s narrow streets or the bleak mountain slopes that surround it. The soundtrack’s composer is uncredited, which may mean that the musical selections were lifted from a library, which would go some way to explaining why the cues often feel inappropriate and distracting. But the biggest problem here is the story. Boy, does it raise a lot of questions.

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

‘Are we there yet?’

The concept of a ‘Vampire Brigadoon’ is not necessarily a bad one, but the film fails on its own terms due to a complete lack of logic and clarity. Are the entire population of the town supposed to be vampires, or are they merely cannibals serving Line’s undead queen? In both cases, why don’t they overwhelm our vastly outnumbered heroes as soon as they arrive? Why string them along? Is it because they like to play with their food? And if they are only cannibals, then aren’t they going to run out of food pretty quickly in a remote village with an infrequent tourist trade? After all, we see them cutting each other up so they can put something on the plate for the travellers at the tavern. Why would they do that? And who is the young boy supposed to be? Is he a ghost? Why does he try to protect the young girl, and what happens to him in the end? So many questions….

There are also other problems with the script that display a distinct lack of care and attention. As the film opens, the fact that someone needs an entire team of new domestic staff would seem to be highly significant. Who is this mystery new employer and do they have sinister reasons for replacing their complete household? Well, don’t worry about it, because we never get to find out. It’s just an excuse to put some people on a bus so they can get lost in the mountains and become food for the undead. There’s no character development for any of these individuals either; we never find out the first thing about any of them. They are only defined by their jobs: the gardener, the teacher, the cook, the chauffeur, etc. etc.

The Vampires Night Orgy/La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

One moustache to rule them all.

There are several possible explanations for all these shortcomings. The most likely is that the film was rushed into production and begun without a finished script. It’s also possible that the film ran out of money during filming or that it was poorly edited for a Stateside release, although there are none of the telltale signs of those kinds of issues. The story progresses logically enough; it just fails to tie anything up in a satisfactory way, the oh, so predictable ‘twist ending’ providing no significant closure at all. Of course, it could also be down to this being two separate scripts that were smashed together, one involving a town of vampires, the other a town of cannibals. That possibility makes the most sense when watching the finished film.

Taylor was a stalwart of the Euro-Horror scene for many years with an impressive resume of credits in the field. He began his career in the Mexican film industry under the name Grek Martin before moving to Europe in the mid-1960s and landing the title role in excruciating Eurospy adventure ‘Agente Sigma 3 – Missione Goldwather’ (1967). But it was his role in Jess Franco’s ‘Succubus’ (1968) that turned the tide in his favour. More work with Franco followed including ‘Count Dracula’ (1970) with Christopher Lee, and ‘Female Vampire/La Comtesse Noir’ (1973). He also took one of the title roles opposite Paul Naschy in ‘Dr Jekyll vs the Werewolf’ (1972). Other projects include Javier Aguirre’s Giallo thriller ‘The Killer Is One of 13’ (1973), Amando de Ossorio’s ‘Blind Dead’ episode ‘The Ghost Galleon’ (1974), further films with Naschy and titles such as ‘Exorcismo’ (1975) and ‘Swedish Nympho Slaves’ (1977). He even graced more mainstream projects such as ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1981), Ridley Scott’s ‘1492: The Conquest of Paradise’ (1992) and ‘The Ninth Gate’ (1999) for director Roman Polanski.

Liné probably deserves the title of ‘the hardest working actress in Europe’ in the 1960s and 70s, appearing in almost too many cult titles to count. Although she could shine given the opportunity, her roles were often of the same kind of quality she gets in this film. There’s one dialogue scene when she chats with the travellers, one nude scene and a handful of others where she wanders around in fangs and old-age makeup. If her decision to take roles that were obviously beneath her abilities seems a little puzzling, then the explanation is simple. It was all about the paycheck. She was a single mother bringing up two children at the time, and she needed the money. She’s probably best remembered for her starring roles in the films featuring the evil mastermind ‘Kriminal’, and ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. She also took the title role in Armando de Ossorio’s ‘The Loreley’s Grasp’ (1972), even though, by her account, she did not enjoy that particular experience.

A weak and poorly developed Euro-Horror with a lot of story issues.

So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

Mister-X/Avenger X (1967)

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)‘A woman with a brain is like two women without one.’

Career criminal Mister-X is framed for the murder of a drug courier in Rome and sets out to catch the real culprits while staying one step ahead of the law. On the way, he discovers that his opponents are planning to flood the continent with a large amount of narcotics, courtesy of a foreign government…

The cultural impact of Sean Connery’s appearance on the big screen as Agent 007 is hard to underestimate. Within a couple of years, almost every square-jawed handsome leading man in Europe was running around the continent with a gun in one hand and a blonde in the other. But, as well as the more obvious cheap ‘Bond’ knock-offs, it helped to resurrect another movie archetype; the mysterious villain with the secret identity. But, this time, instead of simply fulfilling the role of the hero’s antagonist in American movie serials, European filmmakers put him front and centre as the main character.

This all began back in France in 1911 with master of disguise ‘Fantômas’ but really took off in the early 1960s due to Italian comic book character ‘Diabolik’ who was so successful that he birthed a whole sub-genre of the form called ’Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). These featured similar villains like Kriminal, Killing and Satanik, as well as lots of graphic sex and violence. The edgy content helped to make them hugely popular, but led to public outrage in some quarters and eventual legal proceedings! Anyway, it was probably no coincidence that the first Diabolik story hit newsstands in the same year that ‘Dr. No’ (1962) came out. One of the lesser examples of this merry band of master villains was gentleman thief Mister-X, created by Cesare Melloncelli and artist Giancarlo Tenenti in 1964. Like most of the others, a movie adaptation was inevitable.

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)

‘Do you know where we are? I can’t see a bloody thing…’

For a change, there’s a refreshing lack of back-story about Mister-X (Norman Clark: real name Pier Paolo Capponi). All we know is that he’s a notorious criminal, whose skill with the makeup box is such that no-one in authority knows his face. He’s apparently in a monogamous relationship with it-girl Gaia Germani and still on the radar of Inspector Rooux (Franco Fantasia), even though the policeman seems to have retired.

We never get any details of his past brushes with the law so we have no opportunity to form an early opinion as to his moral code and likely behaviour. One thing we find out early, though; he won’t play the patsy for anyone. Oh, and out of costume, he’s a world champion professional golfer! Making the mistake of trying to put Cappponi in the frame is international businessman (and drug dealing kingpin) Armando Calvo, whose busy hatching a once in a lifetime deal with mobsters Umberto Raho (apparently British) and Renato Baldini (apparently American).

What follows is a series of half-baked action set pieces with a smattering of gadgets, a fair amount of gun play and little in the way of fight choreography or stunt work. lt’s a pity as the film opens with a pretty good credit sequence featuring lots of colourful comic book panels, which raise expectations for a fast-paced, stylish thriller with a cool 1960s vibe. Sadly, it appears director Donald Murray (real name Piero Vivarelli) had only limited resources at his disposal, and we’re left with a rather flat and uninvolving adventure that often appears to be little more than a standard crime picture with a comic book character attached. Vivarelli had better luck-with the more inventive ‘Satanik’ (1968), but that project still suffered from some of the same shortcomings.

With a distinct lack of action, we’re thrown back on the cast to provide what entertainment there is and they do a decent job. Capponi is not over-blessed with screen presence, but it’s nice to see him injecting the character with a pleasingly ruthless edge to counterbalance the general smarm offensive. Germani rocks a series of funky 60’s outfits (there’s one hat in particular which is an absolute triumph!) and provides a similar blend of cuteness with a good left hook.

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)

Can’t you hurry ? I’ve got another dozen films to be in before the end of the year.’

Appearing in the rather thankless role of Calvo’s main squeeze is the statuesque Helga Liné, who makes the most of what she’s given to work with here, even though it’s precious little. She was probably the hardest working actor in Europe in the 1960s and early 1970s, running up an impressive list of credits, which include the similar ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and its sequel, Spaghetti Westerns, Eurospys, Giallo thrillers and several horror pictures with the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Paul Naschy and Barbara Steele.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t helped by a seriously careless English dub track. The dialogue is exceptionally banal, zero effort is made to match it to the actor’s mouth movements and Raho’s gangster sounds as if he comes from a strange place located somewhere vaguely between the Scottish Highlands and the banks of the Emerald Isle.

An adequate time passer if you’re interested in the genre, but it’s probably best to keep your expectations fairly low.

Password: Uccidete Agente Gordon/Kill Agent Gordon (1966)

Password Uccidete Agente Gordon (1966)‘You’re very sweet and one day I want you to meet my twin brother.’

The Western intelligence community suspects that a mysterious criminal organisation are supplying the VietCong with illegal weapons. When an agent investigating in Paris is killed, a top spy is sent to take his place and bust the gun smuggling operation wide open…

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is American actor Roger Browne (again!), top lining this Italian-Spanish co-production directed by EuroSpy veteran Sergio Grieco under his usual alias of ‘Terence Hathaway’ (brilliantly misspelled in the credits as ’Therence’!) But let’s ignore the first two elements of the usual Eurospy formula of Guns, Gadgets and Girls and go straight to the main attractions: Roslba Neri and Helga Liné. Both actresses had bags of experience in the genre and, together with Browne, constitute what could almost be regarded as a EuroSpy dream team! And with a safe, experienced pair of hands behind the camera, this just has to be good, right? Um…no.

Browne arrives in Paris where he’s kidnapped from a taxi at gunpoint before he’s had a chance to even check in at his hotel. Fast work by the enemies of democracy you might think! But no, it turns out that it’s just his boss who wants to brief him on the mission (this agency seems to have a peculiar idea of ‘covert operations’!) ln no time, Browne has identified his ex-colleague’s important contact, played by Neri. She’s part of some kind of cabaret act that are referred to throughout the film as a Ballet company! Their dance instructor has ‘generic villain’ tattooed on his forehead and some business ensues involving a vital microfilm (or something?)

Password Uccidete Agente Gordon (1966)

Q Division always came up with the most sophisticated new spy gadgets…

Then is off to Tripoli for the next stop on the dance tour, and Browne tags along as it seems to be the thing to do (for some reason). There he teams up with Russian agent Liné and both are kidnapped and tortured after running around quite a bit. The villains attempt to double cross each other, a suitcase explodes, people actually fire guns at each other (eventually!), and there’s a final twist that will only surprise someone who has nodded off a couple of times during the film (most people, probably).

But the main problem here is the plot. It’s completely underdeveloped, and often seems to be little more than a series of excuses to get Browne from one punch up to the next. These are quite energetic, if not particularly convincing, the realism not assisted by the intermittent introduction of a fairly obvious stunt double. And far be it from me to question the presence of the always luminous Neri, but her dance moves seem to consist of just teasing her hair and strutting about for a few seconds. That’s not really ballet, love. Actually, her role is rather brief, although there is a scene where Browne ties her up and tickles her with a feather (for purposes of information gathering, of course). Liné is wasted even worse than Neri, with almost her entire contribution to proceedings being to lend her car to one of Browne’s colleagues! The two actresses never share a scene, which may have been down to the logistics of filming, but is a crying shame (or even ‘Kriminal’ if you will). Rather brilliantly, the villains favour the old Hollywood cowboy method of shooting; one handed, hold the gun low and don’t bother to aim properly. Surprisingly enough, they never manage to hit anything. It really highlights some serious shortcomings in our villain’s recruitment policy and henchman training program.

But all these doings prompt an important question. ls this even a EuroSpy film at all? Ok, so we do have a semi-mysterious villain. What is his plan for world domination? He doesn’t seem to have one. ls there a secret base that explodes when you shoot out a control panel? Err…no. ls there a super- scientific weapon ‘that must not fall into the wrong hands’? Nope. But there is lots of ‘Tourist Board’ footage showcasing the local colour of the glamorous locations, right? No. Any action set pieces or notable stunt work? Not really. Gadgets! There must be gadgets? Um…there’s a wristwatch that explodes, does that count? Are there any outlandish trappings at all? No. Well, to be fair, Liné is tied to a table at the climax and some sparks fly about. So there is that.

Password Uccidete Agente Gordon (1966)

The rehearsals for ‘Swan Lake’ were going particularly well…

Grieco began his directing career with costume and muscleman features, before jumping on the Bond bandwagon with ‘Agente 007: Missione Bloody Mary’ (1965) (also with Liné) and ‘From The Orient With Fury’ (1965), before following up with this effort, and the underwhelming ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966) (with Liné again!). He also reteamed with Browne for gloriously cheesy superhero flick ‘Argoman, The Fantastic Superman/Incident ln Paris’ (1967) for which the world must always be truly grateful.

Browne himself had already done the EuroSpy thing for real on several occasions; partnering up with Liné for ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and with Neri for Umberto Lenzi’s ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965). As you may have gathered, Liné appeared in a truly heroic amount of films, especially in the 1970s, and, although her credits include a lot of comedies, notable cult films include ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and its sequel, ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, ‘The Vampire’s Night Orgy’ (1973), ‘Vengeance of the Mummy’ (1973) with Paul Naschy, and ‘The Lorelei’s Grasp’ (1973) for ‘Blind Dead’ director Amando de Ossorio. She also found the time to star opposite legendary silver-masked Mexican wrestler El Santo in ‘Santo Contra el Doctor Muerte’ (1973)!

Neri is perhaps best remembered as the rather naughty ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1971) and was unlucky enough to star in Jess Franco’s hopeless ‘The Castle of Fu Manchu’ (1969) with Christopher Lee. Actually, the actress worked in lots of different genres; principally Westerns and comedies, although more horror roles followed in the 1970s after her turn as the Baron’s daughter. Usually, in films where there appeared to be a limited budget for clothes.

If I’ve seemed to focus a little too much on the career history of our three principal actors, it’s mainly to emphasise what a missed opportunity we have here. All in all, this film is more of an international spy thriller than anything else; too vaguely silly to bear the stamp of Cold War realism but far too mundane to even be called a James Bond knock-off.

And a complete waste of everyone’s time.

La Venganza De La Momia/The Mummy’s Revenge/Vengeance of the Mummy (1975)

The Mummy's Revenge (1975)‘That’s absurd, unbelievable! A mummy can’t come back to life!’

Tyrannical Pharaoh Amenhoptep is given poison to induce paralysis, then mummified and buried alive. Thousands of years later, at the beginning of the 20th Century, an expedition uncovers his tomb and take his sarcophagus to London. But the Mummy is stolen and soon afterwards, young women begin to disappear…

Euro-horror star Paul Naschy played all the classic ‘Universal’ monsters in his time (allegedly all of them in the woeful ‘Assignment Terror’ (1970)) but he was most famous for werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, who he played in an unconnected series of films over several decades. Here he’s a quadruple threat; playing the original Egyptian despot in flashback, the title monster, and a murderous modern day acolyte. And he also wrote the screenplay.

The film opens in Ancient Egypt and follows most of the usual beats associated with these sorts of goings on. Pharaoh Amenhoptep and favourite concubine Amarna (Rina Ottolina) spend the long, pleasant days by the Nile whipping beautiful virgins, slashing their throats and drinking their blood. Why? Well, it may be something to do with a search for immortality but you get the feeling that really it’s probably just because they can. Unfortunately, for our golden couple, his nibs should have been paying more attention to his kingly business and the latest military defeat on foreign shores pushes high priest Am-Sha to drastic action. Amarna is stabbed to death and her partner in crime ends up entombed alive with his name wiped from the history books.

This is all familiar ground, of course, and, rather unfortunately, it’s not well presented. This is supposed to be the court of the ruler of two kingdoms, a living god, but it looks far too much like a small set dressed with some gauzy curtains. Even the dividing wall doesn’t go up to the ceiling. The Pharaoh should probably have been torturing his architect and interior designers, rather than bothering with young girls! On the plus side, this is the only time that the film betrays a significant lack of budget.

Fast forward to the Victorian era, and old bandage face is dug up by archaeologist Jack Taylor and his wife Maria Silva. They take him back to the Royal Natural History Museum where the exhibit is put in the care of crusty old professor Eduardo Calvo. He’s a widow but has a beautiful daughter, again played by Ottolina, which clearly signposts where the story intends to go. Sinister foreign antiquarian Assad Bey (Naschy, again) steals the Mummy and brings it back to life, assisted by his lover Helga Liné, and a reign of terror begins.

The main problems with the film are two-fold. Firstly, it isn’t very original. The script is by Jacinto Molina (Naschy, of course!) and it’s just a stew of very familiar elements in an unremarkable blend. The only remotely interesting touch is that the Mummy isn’t a mechanical tool of murder, but the one giving the orders. After all, he was a Pharaoh in better days, rather than just a renegade priest. He’s also a lot more nimble than Lon Chaney Jr when avoiding the London Bobbies, although his makeup isn’t particularly impressive. The other problem is the colourless supporting cast who struggle with underwritten roles, and fail to draw any emotional investment from an audience. On the positive side, there is some effective shooting on the dark London streets and some of the interior locations are very impressive.

The Mummy's Revenge (1975)

‘Tell me what you’ve done with my ceiling or else!’

Spanish horrors were profitable in the 1970’s and Naschy milked it for all it was worth, starring in a string of features, tangling with vampires, witchcraft, zombies, psychos and aliens. Most of the other players here (Ottolina apart) appeared in many of these vehicles, the frequency of their credits making them almost appear like a theatrical stock company!

The beautiful Liné (completely wasted here) was striking in the title role of Amando De Ossorio’s ‘Las Garras De Lorelei’ (1973) and kicked ass in the gloriously lunatic ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Taylor was an American, whose film career began in Mexico opposite wrestling superhero Neutron in pictures like ‘Neutron Contra El Dr Caronte’ (1963). In Spain he starred as ‘Agente Sigma 3’ (1967), in possibly the most boring James Bond ripoff ever made, but, by the mid-1970’s, he’d carved out a solid career as a mainstay of Spanish exploitation cinema, working many times with director Jess Franco, including opposite Christopher Lee as ‘Count Dracula’ (1970). He also worked with Amando De Ossoro a couple of times, notably on the director’s third ‘Blind Dead’ picture ‘The Ghost Galleon’ (1974). All a long way from his debut on an episode of the Jack Benny TV show in 1953, that also featured a young Marilyn Monroe!

This isn’t the worst example of 1970’s Spanish horror, nor is it the worst ‘Mummy’ movie you’ll ever see, but it is a rather unremarkable example of both. Perhaps the most memorable moment is when two of the characters discuss the situation on the banks of the Thames., and a motorised barge chugs cheerfully through the shot behind them. Now, I’m no expert on water-based transport, but I’d hazard a guess that it wasn’t going up and down the river in the days of the horse and carriage!

The Loreley’s Grasp/Las Garras De Lorelei (1973)

The Loreley's Grasp (1973)‘These pieces are anatomical. I get them from the hospital to carry out my experiments.’

A small town by the Rhine in Germany becomes the scene of a series of horrific murders. Fearing for their charges, the headmistress of a local finishing school for girls hires a hunter to kill the wild beast that everyone believes is responsible. However, he’s happier spending time with the strange, green-eyed woman who he meets down by the lake…

Rather messy, unsatisfying Euro-Horror from Spanish director Amando De Ossorio, who enjoyed his greatest success as creator of the ‘Blind Dead’ series. Those stylish horrors featured the murderous exploits of a band of Knight Templars coming back from beyond the grave in glorious slow motion. Here, he takes a crack at the myth of the Lorelei (spellings vary), a female beast who tore the hearts out of sailors and bossed a crew of sirens on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly, despite popular belief, the tale isn’t really a myth at all, having its origins in a ballad composed by Clemens Brentano as recently as 1801 and popularised by a Heinrich Heine poem just over twenty years later. So the character actually has no origin in folklore at all but that didn’t stop De Ossorio trying to tie it in with the epic tale of Siegfried, the legendary dragon-slayer.

At first, things develop along fairly predictable lines. A young bride-to-be is slaughtered when a strange creature smashes its way into her bedroom the night before the wedding. The killing is pretty gory as the victim has her heart torn out, and De Ossorio doesn’t skimp on the claret. As a result, hunter Tony Kendall gets the gig of guarding the local girl’s school, an appointment that doesn’t meet with the approval of uptight teacher Sylvia Tortosa. Just for once it would be nice to see a film where the roguish charmer and the stunning ice-maiden don’t end up making goo-goo eyes at each other before the final credits roll but, predictably enough, this isn’t it.

The course of true love doesn’t run smooth, though, as Kendall starts a thing with the mysterious Helga Liné, who favours a skimpy dark-green bikini with tassels and hanging around in damp places. Although we suspect this relationship is not going to end in a church wedding and Sunday morning trips to the garden centre. De Ossorio’s script also throws in a scientist researching cellular mutation, a torch bearing mob who give up after a couple of minutes, a blind violinist who seems to know more than he’s telling (he doesn’t), and the Lorelei getting all gnarly and eating hearts during a cycle of seven full moons (is she a werewolf then?)

‘Wanna go for a swim, babe?’

In puzzling developments, Kendall is the reincarnation of Siegfried (I think!) and a trio of sirens wrestle for his affections. The mayor admits they should ‘probably start an investigation’ after his town suffers the fourth brutal murder in as many days. Where are the police? I have no idea. Still, we can leave it all to Kendall who rocks a white suit, rifle and motorbike combo, following up with a bare chest and blue & white striped flared trousers that he stole from a fairground.

The girls at the school show some skin at the swimming pool, fawn over Kendall, and form an orderly queue to be the next victim while poor Liné freezes her bits off attempting to exhibit grace and poise gallivanting about half naked and barefoot on a muddy lakeshore. Toward the climax, the Lorelei (Loreley?) talks about spending eternity with Kendall in Valhalla (perish the thought!) but, hang on, isn’t that Norse mythology anyway? Finally, everything comes to a rather soggy and abrupt conclusion, courtesy of everyone wanting to get back inside in a hurry where it’s nice and warm.

It’s fair to say that De Ossorio’s strengths were in his visual style, rather than his scripts, but even that seems to have deserted him here. There are a few good shot compositions (particularly the landscape down by the lake) but, most of the film betrays little of his talent in that regard. Together with the hopelessly muddled storyline, there’s more than a little flavour of a project hurried into production before everything was ready. The tale had been tackled on the big screen before (a 1927 German silent) and it has potential, but sadly this is little more than a mash-up of old horror tropes and half-formed ideas.

The Loreley's Grasp (1973)

‘You do remember my ‘safe word’ right?’

De Ossorio returned to his ‘Blind Dead’ series, the second of which ‘Return of the Evil Dead’ (1973) also starred Kendall in the lead. In fact, several of the cast appear in both films and, as locations in and around Madrid are another common factor, it’s quite possible that the two projects were shot back to back. If so, it’s pretty obvious where De Ossorio’s heart lay (and even the attentions of the Lorelei couldn’t change his mind!)

Arguably, Kendall and Liné both left their best days behind them in the previous decade; Kendall as James Bond wannabe ‘Kommissar X’ and Liné in other Eurospy projects and two films featuring supervillain ‘Kriminal’. Having said that, the German-born actress remained very active in Spanish film and television until 2006. Although less regularly employed, it’s pleasing to report that Tortosa is still working, and is currently attached to a forthcoming project starring Alexander Siddig; familiar to ‘Star Trek’ fans for his regular role on ‘Deep Space Nine.’ And who can forget that she took a ride on the stylish ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and a wildly overacting Telly Savalas?

Not a terrible film by any means, but one that squanders a potentially interesting idea and delivers instead an occasionally entertaining but rather generic experience.

Operazione Poker (1965)

Operazione Poker (1965) ‘With your foolhardy actions, you have signed your own death warrant!’

A secret agent is sent on a mission to ensure the safe arrival of a high-ranking Vietnamese official in central Europe. Other agents involved earlier on have started to disappear, and suspicions are forming in the highest circles that the mission is compromised…

The name’s Glenn. Glenn Foster. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is Roger Browne (yet again!) who visits various glitzy European capitals in search of an AWOL diplomat who has some important documents about something or other. Gadgets? A tracking device he puts on a dog. Guns? Yes, the bullets fly from time to time, particularly around the barrels at a Tuborg Brewery in an extended bout of deadly product placement. Girls? The lovely Helga Liné from the ’Kriminal’ films.

Actually, to be completely fair, there is another gizmo that you can wear as a tie-pin which gives you x-ray vision via a pair of contact lenses but, rather than belonging to Browne’s cache of spy equipment, it’s being used by a playboy to cheat at cards. Browne does get to use it later on, however, when he spies on his girlfriend in bed, thus reinforcing his macho/creepy credentials.

Operazione Poker (1965)

‘No, I don’t want to hold for the Retentions Team…’

Browne’s mission takes him to the usual Tourist Board destinations: Geneva, Vienna, Casablanca, Copenhagen, Paris and Malaga as the weary plot grinds on, throwing up its entirely predictable twists and turns.

 

Browne, who starred in the rather brilliant ‘The Fantastic Argoman/Incident in Paris’ (1967) is an acceptable enough leading man, but the film itself charts waters so familiar it might almost be the dictionary definition of ‘formulaic’. There’s some card play that echoes Daniel Craig’s celebrity poker movie ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) and a car that splits in half at the touch of a button, thereby ejecting unwelcome backseat drivers.

Director Osvaldo Civirani also provided the story for this less-than-thrilling escapade, and remained active in the European film industry for another decade with his final product of note being the subtly titled ‘Voodoo Sexy’ (1975). Browne’s career toddled on until the early 1980s. Despite being American, he appeared almost exclusively in Italian cinema.

An anonymous example of the Eurospy genre.

ll Marchio Di Kriminal/The Mark of Kriminal (1968)

Il_Marchio_Di_Kriminal_(1968)‘Why don’t you take off that stupid costume?’

After escaping from prison in Istanbul, super crook Kriminal has re-established himself in London as head of a care home, whose heavily insured residents have a habit of dying. A chance reveals that a fortune worth millions is buried on an archaeological site in the Lebanon, but a map showing its exact location has been split into four pieces and hidden in identical statuettes of Buddha…

It’s business as usual for the skeleton-suited master villain as he becomes embroiled in a plot that owes a heavy debt to the Sherlock Holmes tale ‘The Six Napoleons’ and pretty much every ‘hidden treasure’ tale since. Most of the principals return from the original ‘Kriminal’ (1966) with handsome Glenn Saxson thinking on his feet to stay one step ahead of nemesis Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic), now head of Scotland Yard. On his way, Saxson beds the usual quota of beautiful women, and removes anyone who stands between him and his objective; in this case two ‘lost’ old masters by Rembrandt and Goya. Helga Liné also returns as our leading lady, playing a completely different part from the first film, although her character is much the same. There’s the usual whistle stop tour around continental Europe too; although credit must be given to the location manager who came up with some very impressive ruins in the Lebanon to be used for the film’s climax.

The sleek, expensive look of the film is also assisted by the excellent crisp colour photography by Emilio Foriscot and Angelo Lotti. What is lacking, as in the first outing, is any sense of a real personality; to either proceedings in general, or our leading man in particular. Saxson isn’t bad in the role by any means, but a bit of charisma would have gone a long way, although perhaps it was a conscious decision to ‘play down’ any emotional traits, given the amoral nature of the character.

Il Marchio Di Kriminal (1968)

‘Hi Honey, I’m home.’

Saxson’s only other role of note was as western anti-hero Django in 1966 but, after a few parts in minor films, his career fizzled out in the mid-1970s. Director Fernando Cerchio specialised in ancient Egyptian epics, including ‘Nefertite, regina del Nilo/Queen of the Nile’ (1961), which starred Vincent Price as the villain.

There were lots of masked supervillains coming out of Italy in the 1960s; so many in fact that it’s difficult to pinpoint who came first, although the origins of all lay in the country’s popular comic book culture. Kriminal made it onto film twice, which was more than most, although a leading character whose main claim to fame was the faintly ridiculous notion of committing crimes while disguised as a skeleton probably didn’t help his longevity on the silver screen.

Worth a look if your expectations are not too high.

Kriminal (1966)

Kriminal_(1966)‘As a woman, I do not have the habit of accepting diamonds, Mr. Boss…’

International master thief Kriminal is about to meet the hangman’s noose in London after stealing the Crown Jewels. lnstead, the Inspector in charge of the case arranges a dramatic escape, in the hope that the villain will take him to the stolen crown. But Kriminal outwits him and flees to the continent…

There is a long tradition of masked super villains in Italian comic books and Kriminal was one of the most popular. Created by artist Magnus and Max Bunker, he was amoral, ruthless, and brilliant. He also dressed in a stylish one-piece skeleton suit, was quick with a gun, and even quicker with the ladies. Given the global success of James Bond, and the myriad of copycat agents running around continental Europe in the mid-1960s, it was probably inevitable that Kriminal would get in on the act, copying the popular formula of ‘girls, gadgets and guns’ but with an emphasis on crime, rather than espionage.

We begin with Kriminal escaping the gallows thanks to the intervention of Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic), who is soon looking for new job opportunities when the mastermind slips through his fingers. Fortunately, Kriminal returns the stolen crown by parcel post anyway, presumably having only stolen it for a bit of a lark. It’s is an excellent opening, exhibiting a sense of playful fun and quirkiness that promises for an entertaining ride. On the continent, Kriminal gets involved with a pair of beautiful twins, both played by Helga Liné, and a plan to relieve the rich husband of one of them of his stash of diamonds.

Unfortunately, despite a series of ongoing plot twists, the tale is never very gripping and rather humourless, the potential of the main character never realised. Our blonde, chiselled hero is Glenn Saxson, a Dutch born actor who made few features; his only other notable turn being as Django in ‘He Who Shoots First/Django Sparo Per Primo (1966). There’s a suspicion that it may have been his good looks that got him these roles, rather than any great acting ability. He’s not exactly bad, but brings little personality or star quality to the table, and that’s rather a drawback when he’s so heavily featured. Thankfully, Liné is certainly pleasant to look at, and Bosic provides a halfway decent foil as the perennially frustrated policeman, chasing Kriminal halfway across Europe only to be regularly outwitted.

Kriminal (1966)

‘How many rounds of toast would you like for breakfast, dear?’

Double cross piles up on double cross, there’s real diamonds, fake diamonds, disfigurement, disguises, and even an unpleasant type of aftershave that comes out of a spray can, but it all fails to ignite, making for a very middling film that doesn’t linger long in the memory. The signature skeleton suit gets only a brief workout, although it is hard to establish credibility for it as a disguise, given that it’s almost exclusively used at night. It’s not exactly great camouflage.

Copyright law was not strictly enforced in mainland Europe back in the 1960s, so there were similar characters taking on Interpol in both comic books and on film during the period; ‘Diabolik’ for example. So many were there, in fact, that there are different schools of thought as to who came first, and who was a copycat! An obvious rip off of ‘Kriminal’ was Turkish super fiend ‘Kilink’ who never appeared without his skeleton suit, and appeared in a series of movies all the way into the 1970s. They were cheap, cheerful productions, and very, very silly, but had a sense of style and humour that would have helped ‘Kriminal’ no end.

A sequel ‘The Mark of Kriminal’ (1968) followed.