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.
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 he 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 costume, he’s apparently 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.
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.