Totò nella luna (1958)

‘Pod Creature, stop that! You are the most moronic creature we have ever created.’

Concerned about humankind’s first baby steps to the stars, aliens are working to sabotage experimental satellite launches from Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile, an aspiring young science fiction writer is found to have a substance in his blood that makes him the perfect astronaut and two FBI agents travel to Rome to recruit him…

Genial, knockabout comedy starring Italian National Institution and ‘Prince of Laughter’ Antonio Vincenzo Stefano Clemente. A man of many names but better known as Totò. This star vehicle finds him hopping aboard the 1950s science-fiction space wagon that began roaring across American cinema screens at the start of the decade.

Irascible magazine editor Pasquale Belafronte (Totò) has had his fill of the space craze. Not only do rockets disturb his sleep, he’s also bothered at work where dogsbody Achille Paoloni (Ugo Tognazzi) can’t stop talking about comic strips and his new science fiction novel. Worse still, this loser is the frontrunner for the hand of his beautiful daughter, Lidia (Sylva Koscina). Meanwhile, extra-terrestrials are regarding the Earth with worried eyes and are drawing their plans against us.

The aliens’ beef is the American space programme, which has already progressed as far as sending a chimp into orbit. So they send down Interplanetary Alpha 1 Annelid (played by a pair of disembodied, cartoon eyes) from the Anti-terrestrial Space Control Station to put the brakes on the boffins. Annelid accomplishes this by generating some wibbly-wobbly smoke rings that stream through the atmosphere. These send the US rockets hopelessly off course, and they have to be destroyed, leaving the scientists baffled.

It seems that the extra-terrestrials have the upper hand, but they’ve reckoned without Tognazzi. A casual medical examination reveals that he has Glumonium in his blood, apparently from being brought up with apes by his zookeeper father. For some reason, this makes him the only man who can go into space, and FBI agents contact him in Rome to offer him the job. Unfortunately, there’s a language barrier, and Tognazzi thinks they are offering to publish his novel.

Of course, this is all very silly, with the humour drawn in broad strokes and plot developments largely predictable. The script throws in enemy agents led by Bond Villain wannabe Von Braun (Luciano Salce), who believes Tognazzi’s novel contains a secret rocket formula, which he attempts to recreate with explosive results. He’s assisted in his dastardly schemes by blonde amazon, Tatitana (Sandra Milo), who comes complete with a femme fatale uniform of black dress, big hat, long opera gloves and cigarette holder. Although it’s never mentioned who they are working for, his preference for tall, furry hats is a bit of a giveaway.

A nice wrinkle is thrown in late when the aliens create duplicates of Totò and Tognazzi, but the resulting romantic and comedic misunderstandings are not exactly groundbreaking. Still, it’s good to see Tognazzi’s devotion to all the clichés of the sci-fi pulps, such as giant cockroaches and vile octopus monsters. There’s also an amusing foreshadowing of modern fanboy culture when he expresses his opinion on a newly published comic strip. ‘Everyone knows that the inhabitants of Mercury don’t have four eyes!’ he sneers in contempt. ‘They have 16 of them!’.

The film is firmly earthbound for much of its running time before finally going into orbit in the last fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, by that point, it has overstayed its welcome a little with an insufficient number of events and too many formulaic situations to consistently engage the funny bone. Euro-horror enthusiasts may be surprised to see director Lucio Fulci with a co-story credit, but he cut his teeth in mainstream Italian cinema over several decades before meeting up with the ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1978).

Totò was a national institution in Italy, appearing in almost 100 films from 1937 to 1968 when two more features were released after his death in April 1967 at the age of 69. Although primarily beloved as a comedian, he also found success in dramatic roles as a singer and songwriter, writer, and poet. Koscina was more famous as the girl on Steve Reeves’ arm in the first two wildly successful ‘Hercules’ films of the late 1950s but also had a long, five-decade career in which included appearances as the leading lady opposite Paul Newman in ‘The Secret War of Harry Frigg’ (1968), Rock Hudson in ‘The Hornet’s Nest’ (1970) and a prominent role in the Bulldog Drummond spy romp ‘Deadlier Than The Male’ (1967).

Harmless, if somewhat lightweight, comedy vehicle that raises a smile or two.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)‘The ancients thought it was evil due to the amount of radioactive damage it precipitated at that time.’

Two archaeologists stumble across an underground cavern while exploring the ruins of a Mexican pyramid. It contains a shrine to the Mayan goddess Caltiki and seems to be a significant find, but only one of the scientists makes it back to camp and he is in shock. Their colleagues investigate and find that not everything in the caves is dead…

Low-budget Italian science-fiction horror film from director Riccardo Freda (billed here as Robert Hamton), but completed by cinematographer Mario Bava, who was shortly to gain international recognition as a director himself with ‘The Mask of Satan/Black Sunday’ (1960). Apparently, that was a project given to him because of his efforts at bringing this picture in, although I have heard the same thing said about the rescue act he performed on ‘The Giant of Marathon’ (1959) after director Jacques Tourneur left that production.

Things are not going well for archaeologist John Merivale. His latest expedition to the Mexican pyramids has had no luck in explaining the sudden migration of the Mayans from their homes in the southern lowlands in the postclassic period. What’s more, wife Didi Perego (billed as Didi Sullivan) is getting quite fed up; it’s not exactly her idea of a second honeymoon. Meanwhile supposed best friend, and serious player, Gérard Herter is bored with partner Daniela Rocca and has his sights on Perego. Then colleague Arturo Dominici staggers back into camp, half out of his mind and babbling something about Caltiki. Merivale mounts a rescue expedition to bring back Dominici’s missing partner but only finds his camera instead. This does provide everyone with the opportunity to watch what is probably horror’s first-ever ‘found footage’ but provides no real clues as to what’s going on.

Returning to the cavern, shit gets real when they wake up vengeful god Caltiki, who rises from the depths of an underground pool. Considering they’d worked out that the water was the reason their Geiger Counter had been doing cartwheels, sending one man down there in a diving suit does seem like an interesting decision. Especially when it turns out that the bottom is strewn with the skeletons of sacrificial victims, and they’re all decked out in priceless jewels! After all, we know no good’s going to come of robbing the dead, don’t we?

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

‘I’ve no idea, I’ll just consult my Mayan textbook.’

In a later twist, we find out that the Mayans knew all about radioactivity too! Now, I know they had a funky calendar and were advanced for their time, but I think that might be going a bit far. Herter gets infected by the beast before Merivale runs it over with a truck and it burns up in the resulting fireball. Unfortunately, back in civilisation, Herter goes all ‘Quatermass Xperiment’ (1955), and a visiting comet turns up at a very inconvenient time…

Freda and Bava were great friends who had worked together previously on Italy’s first post-war horror film ‘I Vampiri’ (1957). When Freda left the project because the producers withheld some of the promised budget, it was Bava who completed it, something he was to do on several other pictures in the next couple of years without receiving any screen credit. Apparently, this lack of recognition annoyed Freda, and he concocted a plan to help Bava on his way to be a director in his own right, something the great man was too shy to do himself. Freda took the directing job on this film fully intending to walk out and leave the suits at the Galatea Studio with no choice but to let Bava direct the rest of the picture. Whether this is true or not, Freda did quit and Bava did finish the film, although it’s not entirely clear how much of it each of them shot. It’s difficult to be sure as Freda was as much a visual stylist as Bava. Still, the general opinion is that most of the scenes involving the actors were Freda’s work and Bava handled the parts of the project that involved the SFX and, considering there are more than a hundred FX shots in the film, that is an awful lot of the finished product.

How are the SFX? Well, considering the vintage of the film and how little money was available, they’re pretty good. For a start, the film was shot just outside Rome, but the Mexican ruins are mighty convincing, especially considering they are images painted on sheets of glass that were placed in front of the camera. Similarly, the big telescope seen in the observatory is cut out of a magazine! Bava filmed the actors through a small hole in one side of the picture so they would appear in the same shot. Yes, that sounds awful, and it’s not incredibly convincing, but I’ve seen an awful lot worse and, as a budget solution, it’s hard to beat.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

‘God, I need a shower!’

The monsters are heroically portrayed by rags covered in rotting cow innards. Mostly these were manipulated like hand puppets but, in scenes where full-size versions were required, unfortunate members of the crew were inside. You see, the film was shot in the height of summer and decomposing tripe doesn’t react all that well in such circumstances. The smell must have been unbelievable.

Not surprisingly, this also proved to be quite a challenge for the cast, especially Herter who had to get up close and personal with the creatures on more than one occasion. For the most part, though, the monsters move around Bava’s miniature sets, and these models are pretty effective. However, the late encounters with flame throwers and toy tanks are somewhat less impressive.

What does drag the film down is the human side of things. The marital discord between Merivale and Perego is severely underdeveloped, and there are too many talky scenes with little life or vitality. This film was Merivale’s only leading role, and he lacks the dash and charisma to make anything of it, although the script gives few of the cast anything to work with.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

‘It’s not one of your better culinary efforts, dear.’

The exception is Herter, who chews the scenery to great effect. His performance may not be subtle, but it’s what the story requires to keep the audience engaged. In an interesting side note, it was an open secret that actress Rocca was the mistress of the head of Galatea at the time. When his wife eventually found out, she withdrew her financial backing and the studio folded!

Rather pleasingly, Bava credits Elle Bi as his scientific advisor on the film. This was actually the first credit for the director’s teenage son, Lamberto, who went onto a long career as a director of horror films himself, notably ‘Demons’ (1985) and its sequel. Apparently, the friendship between Bava and Freda cooled as the years passed. Both became eager to credit the other with creative responsibility for this film. Whether this was because of the quality of the project is unrecorded.

A reasonably enjoyable science-fiction b-picture; elevated by some excellent technical work but somewhat hampered by a script and performances which never really come to life.

A Man Called Rage/Rage – Fuoco incrociato (1984)

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)‘But why don’t you send them? They were clever enough to find me and they only lost 20 to 30 men.’

Missiles fly and the cities of the world are destroyed. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, various groups battle for the little uranium that remains. An ex-soldier leads a ragtag team into the forbidden zone on one, last desperate mission to obtain a supply…

What James Bond 007 was to the European film industry in the 1960s, Max Rockatansky was in the 1980s. The global phenomenon that was ‘The Road Warrior’ (1981), or ‘Mad Max 2’ if you lived in my neck of the world, was such a box-office success that it birthed a whole sub-genre of the science-fiction film. It helped that this happened to coincide with the explosion of the VHS home video market, so your local high street rental store was almost instantly submerged by a wave of titles like ‘Exterminators of the Year 3000’ (1984), ‘2020: Texas Gladiators’ (1982), ‘Stryker’ (1983) and my own personal favourite ‘The New Barbarians’ (1982) (aka ‘Warriors of the Wasteland’). Some examples also took inspiration from John Carpenter’s classic ‘Escape From New York’ (1981), such as ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1982), its sequel and ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983). Most originated from ltaly, Spain and the Philippines, although some had investment from the U.S. and other territories.

In this production, we find star Bruno Minitti flexing his pecs, striking a pose and rocking a black, cut-off t-shirt for director Tonino Ricci. Again. Yes, the two had already covered much the same post-apocalyptic waste ground a year earlier with the rather underwhelming ‘Rush/Rush The Assassin’ (1983). This time around Minitti is the ex-soldier gone rogue and one-man executioner, Rage. It’s a completely different character from ‘Rush’ obviously, even if the film was marketed as ‘Rush 2’ in some territories. The story opens with him up against a full army squad, a lot of whom he kills before finally being captured. Surprisingly, he’s then offered a job; leading a trip into the forbidden land to link up with ‘Alpha Base’ whose broadcasts are being picked up on the radio.

But let’s stop right there. Just who are all these people exactly? Minitti’s employment opportunity comes courtesy of a white-haired old man in a wheelchair, who seems to be in charge of what’s left of the regular army and the government that remains. l suppose. The mission objective is not to obtain the usual suspects of water or petrol, but uranium. Why? Because without it, everyone will die. For some reason. Perhaps it’s a staple of the post-nuke diet, who knows? Anyway, Alpha Base have lots of it. Whoever they are. What exposition we do get comes via various nuggets of clunky dialogue, featuring such gems as: ‘We have to go through the radioactive zone; it’s still dangerous’ and ‘Here comes one of our travelling companions, Omar, the electronics wizard and munitions expert.’

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)

‘God, what a poser…’

But we’re not here for a complex plot or involving characters, are we? Which is a good job, considering what’s up on the screen. No, what we’re here for is lots of exciting car chases, stunts, and explosions! And do we get them? Well…no, not really. The problem with these knock-off films is simple. They were rushed out to cash in on a current trend and filmed on the cheap.

So there’s lots of long scenes of driving through deserts, stuntmen leaping off rocks (mostly in quarries), bloodless battles with prop guns and badly choreographed fisticuffs. The staging of all this is very unspectacular and proceedings are completely bereft of any of the odd stylistic and wardrobe choices that made many of its contemporaries such ridiculous fun. Which all helps to explain why it’s such an obscure example of this sub-genre.

Still, there are some things to enjoy for aficionados of cult movies. For a start, there’s Minitti’s character. He single-handedly takes out almost a whole army squad in the opening sequence (the best part of the film) and swaggers about like a real badass. When he’s asked to head up the main operation into the badlands, he angrily refuses, reminding his captors that he and his squad were refused entry to their shelter when the bombs began to fall (a sequence we never get to see, surprise, surprise). Perhaps he can explain how he’s managed to survive on the outside for so long since then? ‘lt’s a long story’ he says. And that’s all we get.

So why does he suddenly agree to take the job? Because everyone puts on their best puppy dog eyes when he refuses! Yes, that seems to be the only reason, although he’s obviously keen to nail striking heroine Taida Urruzola as soon as possible. Rather brilliantly, she changes from army fatigues into a very brief crop top and short shorts for the main action, although she does get to keep them on, which is quite a miracle, considering the vintage of the production and its target audience. And she’s not shy about shooting bad guys and beating up a bunch of would-be rapists, so that’s kind of sweet.

Getting in the way of Minitti and his merry band is Slash (Stelio Candelli) and his bunch of generic goons, who cheerfully provide the necessary cannon fodder for the action scenes. He’s pissed at Minitti because of a double cross involving maps of the forbidden zone (which no-one ever looks at anyway and the audience never even get to see!), although they apparently have some unfinished business of some kind from some time or other in the past. Or something. But he’s no match for one-man army Minetti anyway, who’s not only an indestructible killing machine, but also a great leader and brilliant strategist. Apparently. The evidence for this does seem a little thin, however, when his group run out of water about five minutes after entering the wasteland. Given the importance of the mission, it’s also a bit of a head scratcher as to why it comprises just one jeep and half a dozen personnel. Perhaps it’s because Minitti killed the rest of their forces in the first five minutes of the film. Not to worry about that mass slaughter, though…no-one else seems remotely bothered!

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)

The Famous Five hadn’t grown up quite as Enid Blyton had hoped…

This is typical exploitation movie-making on the cheapest and most basic level. Knock out a half-baked script based on a popular box-office hit of the day, grab a dozen working actors, a film crew and some army surplus and head out into the desert for a week or so’s filming. You won’t win any awards but you’ll get a movie in the can and everyone will get paid. Probably.

This is one of the dullest and most generic of trips into the nuclear wasteland of the 1980s, but there is one scene in particular that deserves a mention. Reaching Alpha Base, our heroes don’t find any uranium but they do find a pile of books and educational aids containing ‘the history of civilisation; engineering, the principles of electronics…’ and ‘the science of construction, elements of philosophy, the whole of human culture, technology and science.’

‘With this, the world can be reconstructed quickly!’ exclaims Minetti in triumph.

As he brandishes a battered old VHS Videotape.

Ah, the 1980s… Where did you go?

La Bestia Nello Spazio/The Beast In Space (1980)

La Bestia Nello Spazio (1980)‘Strange…l feel a torpor inside me’

A military spaceship crew set out for a remote planet in search of a valuable mineral. However, a rival expedition is also looking for the element for purely commercial reasons and are determined to secure it at all costs. When the two teams make landfall, they soon find they have more to worry about than just each other, as strange forces living there have their own sinister agenda…

Alfonso Brescia was an Italian journeyman film director whose low budget output typically bore the name of ‘Al Bradley’ when released in the United States. He’s best remembered now for a series of generic ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-offs in the late 1970s, often featuring the same cast members, usually actress Yanti Somer and sometimes John Richardson, who had played second fiddle to Raquel Welch and a pterodactyl in Hammer’s ‘One Million B.C.’ (1966). Titles like ‘The War of the Robots’ (1978), ‘War of the Planets’ (1977) and ‘Battle of the Stars’ (1978) initially provided some useful box office but, by 1980, the market was over saturated and the law of diminishing returns was setting in. However, Brescia wasn’t ready to give up yet. After all, he had all those standing sets of rocket interiors, spaceship models, and silver uniforms with skull caps. All that was needed was a fresh, new ingredient to breathe new life into the space opera, and Brescia knew just what was required. Sex.

The film opens in a bar, or, more accurately, an empty set dressed with some comfortable seating and glittery curtains. Suave Larry Madison (Vaseli Karis), Captain of the Space Fleet, hooks up with blonde Sondra Richardson (Sirpa Lane) but matters are complicated by merchant Juan Cardosa (Venantino Venantini) who boasts of discovering rare metal Anatalium. A quick bout of fisticuffs later and Karis and Lane are busy gettin’ it on under glowing red lights. It’s a lengthy sequence with full frontal nudity (her, at least) and I guess it looked good in the trailer to a certain demographic. A few twists of the story later and it’s all aboard the U.S.S. Fizzing Firework for a trip to the distant planet of Lorigon in search of the Anatalium, which is apparently great for making ‘neutron weapons.’

Karis is in command of the Firework, of course, and is surprised to find that Lane is his new navigator, when he thought she was just a casual pickup over a glass of Uranus Milk, who told him about her recurring nightmares of a strange planet and being interfered with in the woods by a large, hairy bloke. The crew recite lots of meaningless ‘technical’ dialogue, such as ‘Alpha Angle 37 degrees, Alpha Angle’s Tangent 12’, ‘Main nozzle normal’ and ‘Insert Gyro-Stabiliser’ before our heroes reach ‘unexplored-space’ a mere minute and a half after take-off. A little while later, Karis prepares to blast two unknown spacecraft to atoms, solely on the basis that they are faster than the Fizzing Firework, but gets blasted instead. The Firework goes into a deadly spin, which is brilliantly conveyed by rotating the camera 360 degrees and having the actors pull stupid faces. But their drift coincides with Lorigon‘s axis (or something) so Karis chances his arm with some daring ‘technical’ commands that the crew keep insisting will result in their total destruction. They don’t, of course, because he’s the Captain and so brilliant at everything.

After planetfall, our intrepid crew wander about for ages, exchanging lots of banal dialogue. At first, their trusty Antalium Detector takes them through caves, then some woods, and, eventually, the corridors of a huge castle. Of course, all this is exactly what Lane saw in her nightmares, apart from the copulating horses which make all the female members of the crew touch themselves suggestively. This middle third of the film drags terribly, and it’s a little difficult to work out who were the intended audience. There’s been very little ‘action’ of any sort and, if it was aimed at the ‘adult’ market, then they would have been bored stiff, rather than anything else.

La Bestia Nello Spazio (1980)

Swivel on it!

It turns out the planet is run by the ‘mighty and unstoppable will of the great Zacor’, an ancient computer damaged centuries ago. This exposition is supplied by the planet’s ‘owner’ an 800 year old man called Onaph who, surprise surprise, is the big, hairy chap out of Lane’s nightmares.

Most of Brescia’s science fiction output consisted of cheap, generic ‘Star Wars’ (1977) replicas, so at least this film breaks that mould. Unfortunately, it’s a deadly dull offering with no fresh ideas whatsoever, other than to go full porno about 20 minutes from the end!

There is some enjoyment to be had from the repetition of tired, old space-faring clichés, I suppose, but the story develops so slowly that most audience members will understand exactly what Onaph means when, at one point, he insists that ‘time has no meaning here.’

No classic in any genre.

The Planets Against Us (1961)

Planets_Against_Us_(1961)‘Only in her jade eyes is there a world as mysterious as the one I see in yours.’

A private plane crash in the Sahara desert leaves no survivors. Surprisingly, one passenger keeps turning up at major disasters just before they happen…

Rather dull and poorly developed Italian science fiction, with aliens resurrecting handsome corpse Michel Lemoine to be the spearhead of their invasion force. It’s a concept that saw better service in Gerry Anderson’s puppet TV extravaganza ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ later on in the decade. But these aliens aren’t just retaliating, they’ve used up all the resources on their home world and consider Earth a good prospect for relocation. Despite the mess we’ve made of it. A bit of a fixer-upper really, but I guess that’s why they’re trying to get it on the cheap.

The main action (such as it is) involves serious men in grey suits trying to track down Lemon as he attends ritzy parties, sort of flirts with a scientist’s beautiful daughter, and then goes back to the apartment of a beautiful artist instead. Although what that has to do with his mission is anybody’s guess. Proceedings drag and events turn the picture into a dull police procedural with a vague science-fiction twist.


Alien Cyborg Elvis

Actually, Lemon is a bit of a let-down with the babes, what with being a cyborg and his serious radiation issues. Yes, once the gloves are off, his touch is quite thrilling but not really in the way that leads to long-term relationships. The climax of the film boasts shoddy SFX and some curious business with a couple of children, but the ‘direct to camera’ warning to the audience is quite amusing.

In its original form, it doesn’t look like the finished project had much going for it. Some of the process shots are as bad as anything in a 1940s serial, and central performances fail to spark any serious audience involvement. But proceedings probably did make more sense in the original version than in the American release. This is dubbed with clumsy dialogue that is often laughable, and has been cut to ribbons by a particularly zealous editor, who looks like he executed his duties when on a particularly heavy caffeine binge.

A lacklustre enterprise then; generally forgotten and perhaps best left that way.

Goldface, The Fantastic Superman (Goldface il Fantastico Superman) (1967)

Goldface_The_Fantastic_Superman_(1967)‘Goldface, what you suggest is madness! But I guess sometimes madness pays off…’

Mysterious supervillain Cobra starts bombing factories as part of a huge blackmail scheme. Industrial leaders agree to pay his ransom but, luckily for them, wrestling star Goldface has become involved. Cobra plans to rub out our masked hero but finds that he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

The Italians have a long association with comic book culture, so the notion of masked heroes and villains was not new to them. The international success of their ‘Sword and Sandal’ epics had put the national film industry on the world map, but their popularity was waning by the mid-1960s, and, when the Adam West ‘Batman’ TV show went global in 1966, producers were quick to jump on the bandwagon with characters like ‘SuperArgo’, ’Argoman’ and ‘Goldface.’

Goldface (Espartico Santoni) is a champion wrestler like SuperArgo (and masked Mexican legend El Santo before them), balancing a life fighting crime with his grappling exploits and being a top scientist (or something?) His weapons are…mostly fisticuffs. His hi-tech transport is…a normal motorbike. His go-to gadgets are…well, he uses a telephone quite well. Yes, I’m afraid this is all rather cheap and cheerful, with our masked hero making do with his natty costume, peanut-chewing sidekick Lothar, and…well that’s about it really.

The Cobra (Hugo Pimentel) is planning world domination (somehow or other), but needs plenty of cash to do it and so begins his reign of terror and blackmail, aided by statuesque blonde Evi Marandi, who’d had a prominent role in Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965). The Cobra’s various tiresome plots and schemes include holding pretty Micaela Pignatelli at his island base (of which we see two rooms and some minions in a tower), as well as eliminating our caped hero with extreme prejudice. Unfortunately for him, Goldface and the forces of law and order storm the island in a truly Bond-like finale (on a slightly smaller scale!), and his men are a bit rubbish in a fight. Actually, despite the obvious limitations of overacting stuntmen and actors who don’t know how to make a prop gun look real, this is the best sequence in the film.


‘If you’re going undercover, may I make a suggestion?’

Goldface infiltrates the secret base by simply waiting around in the bushes to overhear the password – ‘The Cobra is Everything’. He then mutters it to a couple of sentries and he’s in (told you The Cobra’s men were rubbish). Later on, when faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the guards in front of Pignatelli’s prison, he simply walks up to them in costume and starts hitting them. As you can probably tell, it’s all top quality stuff. Proceedings climax with some poorly matched helicopter stock footage.

Although the adventures of fellow Italian wrestling crime-fighter SuperArgo weren’t exactly compelling, they were still much more fun than this; a tatty, dull affair bereft of any invention or interest. The inescapable conclusion is that this was knocked out quickly as a cheap cash-in on a current trend. In a lot of ways it resembles one of the old Republic movie serials; masked hero, mysterious supervillain, and plenty of (unconvincing) fisticuffs.

Only without the entertainment factor.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola (1913)

Saturnino_Ferandola_(1913)Farandola against Fileas-Fogg!

Saturnino Farandola is shipwrecked on a desert island as a baby and raised by a group of monkeys. When he grows to maturity, he is rescued by a ship, and becomes a naval officer. Some serious globetrotting and wild adventures follow.

ltalian silent comedy, which riffs heavily on Jules Verne’s ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ (1873) and throws in a dash of Science Fiction at the end. Based on a novel with an even longer title by Albert Robida, it’s pretty obvious from the start that we’re not to take all this very seriously. The monkeys who nurture our hero through his formative years are obviously actors in black body stockings with stuck-on tails and holes cut for eyes, nose and mouth.

After that, in a random, scattershot approach, the film crams in a bewildering succession of exotic and melodramatic situations; which include a search for the source of the Nile, an attack by pirates, an army of women (quite funny, apparently), an escape in barrels that apes ‘The Hobbit’, casual racial stereotyping (not too offensive), and a battle fought by troops wearing diving helmets.

There are some underwater sequences, featuring a giant whale, and these are pure Georges Méliès. Ironic, given that the French master had made his last ever film, ‘Conquest of the Pole’ (1912), barely a year earlier, and was now financially ruined. Intriguingly, in this film it looks as if there are real fish swimming in the foreground of the shots in the aquatic sequences, probably meaning they were filmed through a glass tank. This may be the first instance of that particular special effect.


The party had got a little out of hand…

Director Marcel Perez also stars, and his tall tale is entertaining enough, if a little unevenly paced. The Science Fiction element arrives at the end, with a battle fought by protagonists in hot air balloons. Most of the unfriendly fire comes courtesy of hand-held revolvers, although one cannon has actually been mounted on the top of a balloon. Aerial warfare was strictly fantasy at the time; with planes in World War I initially intended for reconnaissance only, but obviously that was soon to change.

Bearing in mind the age of this film, it’s a mildly entertaining experience, but the satire and silly comedy make for little emotional involvement with our hero and his gal, who lurch from one ridiculous scenario to another. At the end of the film, one of the monkeys sits back in a rocking chair and enjoys a quiet cigar. Job done.

Assignment: Outer Space (1960)

Assignment_Outer_Space_(1960)‘Every baptism has its mystery, even out here in space.’

A reporter is sent to get a story on the men and women exploring deep space in the 21st Century. At first it all seems routine enough but he gets more than he bargained for when a crash landing on the planet Mars puts the Earth in the path of certain destruction.

Italian Science Fiction drama filmed for both the international and domestic markets. Brilliantly named star Rick Van Nutter (Felix Leiter in ‘Thunderball’ (1965)) plays reporter Ray Peterson; sent spacewards in a model rocket to cover the investigation of ‘fluctuating radiation in Galaxy M12’. Leaving the model, he goes floating off to space station Zulu Xtra 34 with no means of propulsion or safety line. He arrives ok but is not welcome. His mixture of arrogance and idealism bringing him into immediate conflict with the hard nosed Commander.

This poorly dubbed space drama is an attempt at a serious story sunk by weak special effects and some less than original plotting. The obligatory wandering meteorite makes its inevitable appearance, causing a space accident that is an inept mixture of tight facial close-ups and more poor model work. Our hero meets the female member of the crew as she tends plants in the hydroponic garden but, just as we’re about to groan about a ‘woman’s place’, we discover that she’s actually the station’s navigator. On the other hand, a mention of Christmas Day brings a fanfare of festive trumpets on the less than subtle music track. Dramatically, it’s a little on the dull side but acceptable if you’re in a forgiving mood.

The director was Antonio Margheriti, who normally hid under the more stateside friendly name of Anthony M Dawson (although it was Antony Daisies here!). This turned out to be his first step on a decades long path of cult cinema, which found him delivering intergalactic adventures such as ‘Battle of The Worlds’ (1961) (with Hollywood star Claude Rains!), and a loose trio of films about the adventures of Space Station Gamma 1, which include the borderline-insanity of ‘Wild Wild Planet’ (1966). There were also some horror projects starring Barbara Steele, most memorably ‘The Long Hair of Death (1965) and cult movie classic ‘Yor, Then Hunter From The Future’ (1983).

'I've told you before about having beans for breakfast.'

‘I’ve told you before about having beans for breakfast.’

However, the film does have one great virtue that sets it apart from other movies of the era. This is space exploration depicted as a job. Instead of shiny surfaces, spacecraft interiors are mechanistic and functional and the uniforms are zippered overalls rather than silver foil suits. This crew is made up of working stiffs simply doing a job; focused, emotionless, even robotic. There is no humour in their interactions with each other because they know that one lapse in concentration can be fatal.

So, although there is little in the way of the camaraderie to be found in the ‘Nostromo’ from ‘Alien’ (1979), the attitudes and look on display do pre-date aspects of that Ridley Scott’s classic.

But, yeah, they do communicate with Earth via a teletype machine. And when the spacecraft crashes on Mars, we do see a glimpse of what looks suspiciously like a building and the rear end of a car behind the explosion. Oh, well, you can’t have everything…

Buy ‘Assignment:Outer Space’ here

The Day The Sky Exploded (1958)

The Day The Sky Exploded (1958)‘Your attempts at childish frivolity are rather disturbing’

The first man into space has to bail in orbit but leaves his atomic motor still blazing a trail across the galaxy with disastrous consequences for the world. Some scientists frown a lot and try to deal.

Suiting its theme of multinational co-operation in space exploration, this Italian-French co-production boasted a cast from all over the world – Swiss, Brazilian, Argentinian and Germans as well as Italians and French. It also had future Euro-horror icon Mario Bava as Director of Photography (incorrectly billed in the American credits as ‘Mario Baja’). 

The plot foreshadows ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Deep Impact’ etc and also provides an early template for the disaster movie that became so familiar to audiences in the 1970s. The action centres on the launch site of ‘Camp Shark’ and the group of scientists behind man’s ill-fated first steps into space. It’s nice to see a decent number of staff in Mission Control for a change but they’re a fairly boring bunch. Our astronaut has marriage problems and there’s a tepid romance between the handsome staff Romeo and the iceberg mathematician.  Standard disaster movie stuff.

When things go pear shaped, we’re treated to lots of boffins huddled over shadowy screens, rotating radar dishes, pylons, observatories and endless jets taking off. Animals flee the coastal regions and mass evacuations are the order of the day. It’s just such a shame that it’s all mismatched stock footage really. 

Why was there never anything good on telly on a Saturday night?

Why was there never anything good on telly on a Saturday night?

Back at Cape Shark, the astronaut comes up with a superb plan to avert disaster (so obvious a 5 year old could have thought of it) but it’s almost scuppered by the fact that no-one else in the world can do the math. Scientists stroke their beards and mutter grave things like: ‘Maybe there are boundaries we are not supposed to cross…’ 

It was 4 years before this was dubbed and picked up for a stateside release. Can’t think why.

And it seems to me that there’s a slight flaw in our hero’s brilliant plan. Just what could it be? Oh, yeah… total global radiation poisoning… thought there was something.