The Five Days/Le cinque giornate (1973)

‘Even an idiot like you can have his say.’

A petty thief is freed from prison when the people of Milan take to the streets to overthrow the occupying forces of Austria. Unable to escape the resulting mayhem, confusion and violence, he roams the city with a young baker, seeking sanctuary or escape. At first, the situation does not seem all that serious, but events escalate quickly…

After his runaway success with his ‘animal’ trilogy of Giallo thrillers, young Italian director Dario Argento attempted to break away from dark horror with this historical comedy-drama. Set in the streets of Milan during the 1848 revolution, it’s a heady mix of comedy, tragedy and political commentary.

Cynical thief Cainazzo (Adriano Celentano) is one of the handful of odd men out in his communal prison cell. Most of the few dozen inmates have been incarcerated for engaging in acts of civil unrest against their Austrian overlords. Celentano, however, is taking the rap for a job that went south. Rumours of revolution are running rife, but it’s all the same to him; he’s only interested in looking after number one. However, when the prison walls are demolished by sudden cannon fire, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a powder. Once on the street, he determines to look for his ex-partner, Zampino (Glauco Onorato) but ends up saddled with naive young baker Romolo Marcelli (Enzo Cerusico) instead.

Amazed to discover that Onorato is now a hero and a leading light of the revolution, Celentano searches through the chaos, almost connecting with him several times. Meanwhile, he and Cerusico encounter various eccentrics and unusual situations. They meet the Countess (Marilù Tolo) and her entourage as they build a barricade in the street and, later on, they help a pregnant woman (Luisa De Santis) deliver her baby. They’re pressganged into the detachment of deranged revolutionary Baron Tranzunto (Sergio Graziani) and take part in the successful defence of Tolo’s barricade. Afterwards, the noblewoman entertains the survivors one by one in her bed-chamber after becoming sexually aroused by all the blood and violence.

Celentano and Cerusico eventually take refuge in the home of a young widow (Carla Tatò) whose husband was hung as a spy. It’s not long before she’s making love with Cerusico, her experience enhanced by Celentano reciting a list of different types of bread. After leaving the couple to it, Celentano finds himself invited to a public ‘banquet for the people’ only to discover that he’s expected to serve the wealthy guests rather than eat at their table. As the Austrians prepare a strategic withdrawal from the city, he finally links up with revolutionary hero Onorato, only to discover that all it’s not what it seems.

It’s fair to say that comedy doesn’t always cross national boundaries and Italian humour, in particular, leans heavily on the slapstick rather than the subtle. This quality is very evident in some of the early set pieces, such as when Cerusico is covered in flour when his bakery explodes, and Argento undercranks the camera to speed up the action in a way reminiscent of silent films. Some performances fit this approach, particularly Tolo’s hyperactive, sex-mad Countess, which is memorable if little more than a scene-stealing cameo. For the most part, the political satire is also a little heavy-handed, although there are a couple of very effective sequences. At one point, Celentano is alone in the street, carrying the revolutionary flag, utterly unaware that a silent mob has begun to follow him, assuming him to be a leader on his way to the fight. In reality, he’s only holding the colours to avoid getting shot as a spy.

At almost two hours long, the film feels like a series of vignettes for the longest time, with events loosely connected by the time and place but not a developing plot. The two protagonists lurching aimlessly from one new situation to the next robs the film of any fundamental structure, and, overall, it feels clumsy and directionless. This problem is exacerbated by the final act when actions suddenly begin to have consequences and events move to a very dark conclusion. It feels far too late in the day to introduce an actual plot, and striking the right balance between slapstick and tragedy is extremely difficult. The film would have benefited greatly from some heavy editing in the first half to alleviate this tonal clash.

Despite the shortcomings of the project, it’s worth mentioning that Argento still displays his skill as a filmmaker. There’s his usual good use of locations, and he mounts the later action scenes with a confident touch. The editing choices and camera movements serve the story by resisting the stylistic flourishes and innovations employed in his Giallo thrillers. It’s ironic, then, that the film’s most memorable moments occur when he does indulge himself with two slow-motion sequences. In the first, the Austrians gun down a young mother in the street while her young child runs away screaming; in the other, a man is shot in the back of the head in an extreme close-up. Unfortunately, the first half of the film was a knockabout comedy!

The film was a significant box office failure in his homeland, and Argento retreated into the world of the Giallo with ‘Deep Red/Profondo rosso’ (1975). He has concentrated on such material ever since and, to date, has not ventured into the commercial mainstream again. It’s interesting to speculate on what might have happened if the film had been a success. The world may have missed out on such incredible works as ‘Suspiria’ (1976), but, then again, his decline over the past couple of decades may not have been so significant if he’d diversified his subject matter and output to some extent.

An undoubted misfire but still of interest to fans of Argento’s work.

My Dear Killer/Mio caro assassino (1972)

‘Soon, they’ll have enough bodies to make up an Ice Hockey team.’

A man is decapitated by the shore of a lake. It’s thought to have been an accident with the machinery operator responsible also dead, an apparent suicide. But the investigating detective is not convinced by this ready-made solution, and his enquiries reveal a link to an old, unsolved case of child kidnapping and murder…

Nicely convoluted Giallo mystery from director Tonino Valerii that mixes the serial killer madness with elements of the police procedural. Inspector George Hilton tries to unravel the contradictions of evidence, motive and circumstances with aid from a script by Roberto Leoni, Franco Bucceri and José Gutiérrez Maesso.

Visiting an early morning crime scene is never a pleasure for dedicated detective Inspector Luca Peretti (Hilton), and the latest one is even more gruesome than most. Ex-insurance investigator Umberto Paradisi (Francesco Di Federico) is discovered dead on a remote shoreline with his head torn off, seemingly in a bizarre accident involving the earth mover he had hired to dredge the lake. The operator has gone AWOL and turns up shortly afterwards, having hung himself in remorse. However, Hilton isn’t buying it and begins digging into Di Federico’s life. He gets a line on the man’s recent activities through his common-law wife, played by an almost unrecognisable Helga Liné in a red wig.

When Hilton discovers that Di Federico was the original insurance investigator on the famous kidnapping of Stefania Moroni (Lara Wendel) a year prior, his spider-sense starts a-tingling. Wendel was the young child of a very wealthy family who turned up dead after being snatched, along with her father Alessandro (Piero Lulli), who went to make the subsequent ransom payoff. The killer was never caught. His suspicions regarding a connection are confirmed when Liné is strangled (in a public post office!) He also discovers that her husband quit his job shortly after submitting his final report on the Moroni case to insurance company boss Corrado Gaipa. Then went on investigating on his own time.

The members of the Moroni household are immediately on Hilton’s list of primary suspects. There’s weak-willed brother Oliviero (Tullio Valli), who lost a hand saving Lulli’s life in the war, and his cold, hard-bitten wife, Carla Moroni (Mónica Randall). Friendly uncle Beniamino (Alfredo Mayo) paid the youngster a lot of attention and even chauffeur Jean-Pierre Clarain in Hilton’s cross-hairs. Also count in Wendel’s mother, Eleonora (Dana Ghia) and her brother Giorgio Canavese (William Berger). She might still be grief-stricken to the point of losing her grip on reality, but she was about to start divorce proceedings against Lulli at the time of the kidnapping, and the custody battle for Wendel was likely to be a bitter one. Outsiders in the culprit stakes are Wendel’s pretty teacher Paola Rossi (Patty Shepard) and lakeside junkman Mattia Guardapelle (Dante Maggio).

This is a primarily grounded and logical exercise in mystery from director Valerii that still finds the time to include some rather gory kills in its 100-minute runtime. Centre stage is Hilton, almost unrecognisable from his usual Giallo role of the handsome but suspicious stranger. The solid screenplay provides him with plenty of opportunities to juggle the seemingly random mixture of circumstance and evidence and assembly a coherent case, the audience never too far ahead or too far behind his conclusions. Of course, the unknown killer is also trying to cover their tracks, and the body count begins to rise. The murders include a surprisingly graphic sequence employing a circular saw, which flirts on the border of torture porn territory.

The film is not without its flaws, however. Although it’s important to show Hilton’s life beyond the workplace and the price he pays for dedication to the job, the brief scenes with unhappy wife Anna (Marilù Tolo) seem largely redundant. The fact that the killer is apparently watching them in bed together early on is never addressed again, and the talented Tolo exists, never to return. On reflection, the original police investigation must have been a little haphazard, too, given that the murdered Di Federico and, later on, Hilton make a far better job of things. The conclusion where Hilton gets all the suspects in the same room à la Agatha Christie also seems a little quaint and old-fashioned, although it’s undeniably suspenseful. Shame then that the wrap-up seems so hurried it almost comes across as an afterthought.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here, not least Hilton’s assured, convincing performance as the single-minded detective. Valerii directs without an eye for extravagant composition or stylistic flourishes, but his no-nonsense style suits the material, primarily focusing on the nuts and bolts of the investigative process. The story is logical, with only a few strands left hanging after the resolution. The most obvious is that a gang committed the original kidnapping, but the killing spree a year later is strictly a solo affair. There’s also an excellent acting turn from seven-year-old Wendel. It’s a brief and wordless performance, but who couldn’t fail to feel a vicarious sense of triumph when she finally succeeds in planting the clue that will catch her killer a year later?

Hilton was born Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara in Uruguay and began his acting career on radio. He arrived in Italy in 1963 via Argentina and got his big break in films as the lead of Vertunnio De Angelis’ swashbuckler ‘The Masked Man Against the Pirates/L’uomo mascherato contro i pirati’ (1964). Further roles followed, including Bond spoof ‘Two Mafiosi Against Goldginger/Due mafiosi contro Goldginger’ (1965) before stardom arrived courtesy of Lucio Fulci. A prominent role in the director’s Spaghetti Western ‘Massacre Time/Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro’ (1966). Other adventures out West followed, including ‘The Ruthless Four/Ognuno per sé’ (1968), where he appeared alongside Hollywood players Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland. That same year, he starred with one-time Oscar-nominee Carroll Baker in one of the first significant Giallo films, ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968). After that, he mostly switched between the two sub-genres, with some crime movies thrown in for good measure.

Notable Westerns included the leads in ‘Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin/C’è Sartana… vendi la pistola e comprati la bara!’ (1970) and ‘They Call Me Hallelujah /Testa t’ammazzo, croce… sei morto – Mi chiamano Alleluja’ (1971). Significant Gialli included Sergio Martino’s twin triumphs ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh’ (1971) and ‘All the Colors of the Darj/Tutti i colori del buio’ (1972). There were also ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris/Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?/What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?’ (1972), ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971) and Luigo Cozzi’s late entry ‘The Killer Must Kill Again/L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora’ (1975). Shortly after his death, he received the ‘Leone in Memoriam’ award at the Almeria Western Film Festival in 2019.

Not in the first rank of Giallo films, but certainly an accomplished and satisfying thriller.

Casse-tête chinois pour le judoka (1967)

‘A real masterstroke it was, procuring these two atomic bombs.’

A CIA pilot is kidnapped by a secret society which plans to use him to bomb population centres and bring about a Third World War. His best friend teams up with the flyer’s fiancé and a defector from the society to rescue him and thwart their evil plan…

Running around Asia as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is Frenchman Marc Briand in this obscure French-Italy-West Geman co-production that veers uneasily between spoof and more serious spy games. Although a sequel to ‘Le Judoka, Agent Secret’ (1966), the only point of connection between the two appears to be the presence of leading lady Marilù Tolo, albeit appearing in a different role.

Martial artist Marc Saint-Clair (Briand) has earned the name ‘La Judoka’ thanks to his multi-disciplined combat skills. After winning a kendo tournament, he gives his medal to best friend Clyde Garland (Paolo Tiller), a pilot who works for the CIA. When the flyer goes missing after a clandestine mission gone wrong, Briand sets out to find him, hampered by the agent’s reporter girlfriend, Jennifer Morgalee (Tolo).

Tiller is being held by the oriental secret society known as the Black Dragons, who work on behalf of a group of Nazis keen to create a new world order. Their method is to provoke a global holocaust by brainwashing the pilot to drop atomic bombs on major world cities (because I guess they don’t have anyone else who can fly a plane!) However, pretty nurse Sutchuen (Maria Minh) has fallen in love with the captive and decides to betray her paymasters.

Co-writer and director Maurice Labro’s film opens with credits rendered in bright and colourful comic strip panels, promising a light and carefree approach. The following Kendo tournament isn’t as breezy as expected, but it’s still presented on a pleasing scale, and our heroic trio’s subsequent car journey restores the faith with process work so awful that it seems to have been deliberate.

Unfortunately, things come to a screeching halt with Minh’s activities in Honk Kong harbour. Betrayed when she tries to obtain documentation to aid her escape from the sinister Black Dragon gang, she’s pursued by faceless thugs for what seems like an age. There’s no humour in this sequence whatsoever, and, at times, there’s so much local colour that the audience might be forgiven for thinking it had wandered into a travelogue.

This first act encapsulates the film’s main problem; a lack of consistency with its tone. At times it seems plain that it’s meant to be a spoof. The Black Dragon gang not only have their logo stamped on their walkie-takies, but they also fly a flag from the roof of their secret headquarters. The Nazi’s ultimate plan is foiled by Tolo and Minhh playing patriotic music over a loudspeaker system, which forces their soldiers to come to attention and salute.

However, it often seems that Tolo is the only one who knows it’s a comedy, perhaps because the vast majority of the weak gags are centred on her character’s over-the-top behaviour. She only has eyes for Briand, so she’s trying continuously to sleep with him, despite being engaged to Tiller and his being missing, presumed dead. Too soon? I’d say so. Of course, her wacky antics are supposed to be funny, but with no one else joining in, the character comes over as strident, overbearing and anything but ingratiating.

There’s little help elsewhere in the cast, either. Heinz Drache is rather colourless in the dual role of the villainous Von Strum, and Briand makes for rather a bland lead, although he is capable in the action scenes. The most memorable appearance comes courtesy of André René Roussimoff, who, in later years, became far better known in the American wrestling arena as André, the Giant. There’s not enough of a production budget for any memorable set pieces or stunts, and Labro brings little dynamism or style to his handling of the material.

‘La Judoka’ was a character created by one-time journalist and author Ernie Clerk. The hero appeared in a series of around 20 crime and espionage novels in which he travelled to exotic locations such as Africa and Mexico. Illustrated by Michel Gourdon, it doesn’t appear that his work was ever published outside French-speaking countries. The production of the first film adaptation was marred by the death of principal actor Patricia Viterbo, who drowned on her way to filming one day when the car driven by colleague Henri Garcin plunged into the River Seine.

Tolo had a long career in genre cinema and usually delivered surprisingly subtle performances in generally undistinguished productions such as Eurospy ‘Espionage In Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)’, funky Giallo ‘Trumpets of the Apocalypse/Murder By Music/Las Trompetas Del Apocalipsis (1969)’ and opposite muscleman Dan Vadis in ‘Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964). She also did far better comedy work than here in Mario Bava’s disappointing ‘Roy Colt & Winchester Jack’ (1970) and Dario Argento’s historical satire ‘The Five Days/Le cinque giornate’ (1973).

Very much a hit and miss affair, it brought La Judoka’s movie adventures to a swift close.

The Double/La controfigura (1971)

The sea is the colour of the sea, and the sky is the colour of the sky.’

A handsome man is shot in an underground parking garage. As he lies on the ground injured, his thoughts flashback to the events that brought him there. It all began on a beach holiday with his new, young wife…

More psychological drama than horror thriller, director Romolo Guerrieri delivers an unusual Giallo based on a novel of the same name by Libero Bigiaretti. A cast of familiar faces people the fractured narrative as Italian cinema takes another potshot at the empty, amoral lives of the idle rich.

Bleeding out on the concrete isn’t the way Giovanni (Jean Sorel) had planned to spend his day. Gunned down by the elderly Professor Bergamo (Antonio Pierfederici), his recent past starts flashing before his eyes. Where has he seen the old man before? His thoughts return to a beach in Morocco and time spent frolicking in the sand with his blonde wife, Lucia (Ewa Aulin). The couple only recently married, and the older Sorel is protective of his new bride, unhappy that she is interested in beach bum Eddie Kennan (Sergio Doria). It’s soon clear that Aulin isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but her seeming flirtatious nature is little more than youthful high spirits. However, the jealous Sorel can’t see it that way.

Meantime, there’s more trouble on the horizon for our not-so lovable hero. Despite an apparent talent for architecture and a good education, he’s preferred living off his family’s money to applying himself to the world of work. Unfortunately, economic conditions are putting the squeeze on the family business. His brother (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) suggests that he takes a more active role in affairs, but, of course, Sorel isn’t very interested.

His life begins unravelling further when thanks to his new mother-in-law, Nora (Lucia Bosè). No, it’s not the usual problem with parental disapproval, but more to do with the fact that he’d much rather sleep with her than her daughter. When Bosè joins them on their Moroccan retreat, his desire soon escalates into an obsession, especially when she starts spending time with beach boy Doria. It all culminates in a sexual assault, although Sorel finds himself unable to perform at the crucial moment. Yes, this is one screwed-up dude!

Some commentators have advanced the opinion that any movie made in Italy during the early 1970s that features murder is categorised as a Giallo film by default. There is some merit to this opinion, and it certainly could be advanced in this case. There is no mysterious killer whose flashing knife provides a quickly escalating body count or any element of ‘whodunnit’; director Guerrieri shows us the shooter in the opening scene. There is no ambiguity regarding the culprit, only his place in Sorel’s story and the motivation for his crimes.

Director Guerrieri presents this tale as a series of disjointed puzzle pieces, and it is to his credit that he keeps a firm hand on the narrative so it never becomes confusing. Particularly necessary when we’re seeing through the eyes of a storyteller whose memories are jumbled with the occasional fantasy. Ultimately, it’s more of a character study than a mystery, delving deep into the troubled mind of a fully committed narcissist. Giovanni is a man who sees the world, and everyone in it, only in terms directly related to himself and his desires. It’s has a similar feel to ‘A Rather Complicated Girl (1969), which also starred Sorel in the principal role.

The film’s major problem is its lack of plot and incident. How the puzzle pieces fall into place at the end has a pleasing irony, but it all takes place rather suddenly with little foreshadowing beyond that opening scene. The main character’s lack of backstory is also a problem. It’s perhaps understandable that Guerrieri wanted to avoid such familiar tropes as childhood trauma or repressed memories. However, there’s no suggestion of anything that has formed Sorel’s dysfunctional personality other than the ease of a life cushioned by inherited wealth, and that seems a little simplistic and shallow.

There’s also the criminal waste of supporting actors Silvano Tranquilli and Marilù Tolo, who play friends who join Sorel and Awlin on their summer break. Yes, it’s nice to see Tranquilli as something other than a cop, but the script gives neither actor any material to use. It’s a particular shame for Tolo, who still manages to demonstrate once again that she can communicate more with her eyes than many actors can do with pages of dialogue. The writing also does Awlin very few favours, saddling her with an underwritten ‘barbie doll’ role and, it’s a credit to her ability that she brings some nuance to it.

This is Sorel’s show, though, and Giallo’s favourite poster boy gives another assured turn. Equally assured in more sympathetic or more ambiguous roles, the handsome Frenchman has enjoyed a long screen career beginning in the late 1950s. He first teamed up with director Guerrieri on ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968), a film that proved very important in popularising the Giallo, as the casting of Hollywood star Caroll Baker helped sell it to lucrative American markets. Similar projects followed for the actor, including ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia’ (1970) and ‘In The Eye of the Hurricane/El Ojo del huracán’ (1971). He worked consistently through the decades since and became a familiar face on the French small screen in the 1980s and 1990s with frequent appearances in made for television films and mini-series.

A different type of Giallo with some good qualities that falls a little short in the story department.

Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (1970)

‘Son of a crippled crow, how did you get here?’

A bandit becomes disillusioned with the criminal life and leaves his band of outlaws to go straight. He takes a job as Sheriff in a remote town but soon becomes involved in a desperate race for buried treasure. A race that soon involves his former colleagues and a villainous priest…

Although rightly celebrated now as a master of the macabre, Italian film director Mario Bava worked in other genres, and we find him here tackling a Spaghetti Western with a healthy dash of comedy. It was his third trip out West, although his previous two outings had been fashioned far more after the classic Hollywood template.

Handsome outlaw Roy Colt (Brett Halsey) is fed up with the hand to mouth existence of the outlaw life. After a friendly dust-up with his main partner, Winchester Jack (Charles Southwood), he quits his crew, heading for a respectable life and a steadier income. Riding into a nearby town, he saves old man Samuel (Giorgio Gargiullo) from the attentions of a gunman in the local saloon and is offered the tin star. However, Gargiullo was targeted because he has a map showing the location of buried treasure in the desert, and law enforcement suddenly starts to look like a poor career choice.

Meanwhile, Southwood and his boys liberate Native American squaw Manila (Marilù Tolo) from two bounty hunters taking her back to town to face the music after killing a man. Southwood’s motivations aren’t selfless, of course, but the canny Tolo has both money and matrimony on her mind. An attempted stagecoach robbery brings Halsey and Southwood together again, and they join forces to find Gargiullo’s treasure. Unfortunately, its existence isn’t a secret, and local kingpin, The Reverend (Teodoro Corrà), has his own plans for the booty.

All those familiar with Bava’s work as a filmmaker are probably aware that comedy was not the director’s forte. Science-fiction spoof ‘Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs’ (1966) is almost universally regarded as his poorest film, and sex-comedy ‘Four Times That Night’ (1971) is not well-regarded either. On the plus side, his technical skills and compositional flair are fully present and correct. Under the Maestro’s careful eye, the landscape is ravishing, and the scenes shot in the early morning desert have such a forceful quality that it’s almost possible to feel the cold air and the dirt beneath the actor’s feet. Furthermore, he uses his celebrated optical trickery to place some tall rocky formations on the skyline towards the end of the film, evoking a feeling of Monument Valley, the most famous of Hollywood’s Old West locations.

Unfortunately, beauty of composition, shot selection and graceful camera moves are not the primary requisites for delivering laughter. The director was saddled with a script by Mario Di Nardo, who had also penned Bava’s previous project ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970). By all accounts, it was a serious drama but, once again, to say that Bava did not like Di Nardo’s work was an understatement. Rather than follow the screenplay, he added jokes and encouraged the cast to improvise. What eventually reached the screen was largely a shapeless, rambling tale that struggles to focus or achieve a consistent comedic tone.

The villainous Corrà embraces these funnies with some enthusiasm, but the rest of the cast doesn’t share his broad approach, so there’s a significant tonal clash every time he appears. Tolo handles the material to the best advantage of the other principals, even if the Rome-born actress could only pass for Native American in some weird, alternate universe. Halsey looks the part but brings little else to the table, and Southwood’s lack of charisma probably explains why he only had a short screen career.

Perhaps wisely, Bava never ventured into the West again, although his two other stabs at the genre, ‘The Road To Fort Alamo’ (1964) and ‘Savage Gringo’ (1966), are far more coherent and effective. It seems fair to suggest that the decision to throw out the original script at the last minute and aim for the funny bone was not helpful. Improvised comedy can be funny, of course, but it isn’t easy to pull off in the context of a full-length feature film. Several of the cast had already worked with Bava, which may have helped create an on-set atmosphere that encouraged the director’s decision.

Halsey was an American whose screen career initially began at Universal in the early 1950s when he was signed as a contract player. By the end of the decade, he’d graduated to featured roles in b-movies such as ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959) and ‘The Atomic Submarine’ (1959), as well as regular guest slots on Network TV shows. Relocation to Europe in the early 1960s led to initial roles in sword and sandal pictures and historical dramas before he diversified into other genres, including the Spaghetti Western and Eurospy. After starring in Bava’s ‘Four Times That Night’ (1971), he returned to the United States and did a great deal of television work. He also had a significant role in Luigi Cozzi’s trash fire Euro-Horror ‘The Black Cat’ (1989) and made a supporting appearance in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).

Like so many Italian actors of the period, Tolo’s credits reflect the popular trends of the local industry, her career beginning in Peplum subjects like ‘Maciste, gladiatore di Sparta’ (1964) and ‘Messalina vs The Son of Hercules/L’ultimo gladiatore’ (1964). Once Bond eclipsed the Muscleman as the screen hero of choice, she graduated to the Eurospy arena, running around the glamorous capitals of Europe in vehicles like ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965) and ‘Judoka-Secret Agent’ (1966). Inevitably, she appeared in some Spaghetti Westerns and a handful of Giallo films, such as ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972). Outside of genre cinema, there were roles in more prestigious, mainstream projects including Vittorio de Sica’s ‘Marriage Italian Style/Matrimonio all’italiana’ (1964), Luchino Visconti’s segment of ‘The Witches’ (1967) and she featured significantly in Edward Dmytryk’s ‘Bluebeard’ (1972) which starred Richard Burton. She retired from the screen in 1985.

Bava’s technical skills shine as usual, but the resulting film is a patchy, unsatisfying comedy-Western.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)‘She looked up to him like he was St Peter with the voice of an ant.’

After the death of his father, a young man returns home from Switzerland. He begins to suspect that his demise was no accident and that his older brother may have killed him to assume control of the family business. But is the conspiracy just a product of his twisted imagination?

Slow burning, arthouse drama that also comes with an element of mystery. The film has been categorised as a Giallo by some, but that’s probably as much to do with its Italian origin and cast of performers as its actual content. It’s plain that director Salvatore Samperi, who also co-wrote with famous Italian novelist Dacia Maraini, had something else on his mind rather than just delivering a conventional thriller or whodunnit.

Prodigal son Enrico Merlo (Maurizio Degli Esposti) arrives home on a livestock truck bound for one of the slaughterhouses operated by his family’s business. Rather than enter the old homestead the conventional way, he goes in via a first-floor window and witnesses older brother and sister Cesare and Verde (Jean Sorel and Marilù Tolo) giving his father’s corpse a surreptitious injection of something. Naturally suspicions of such shenanigans, he touches base with private detective Pier Paolo Capponi, convinced that his father was murdered.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

‘Did she just fart?’

Sadly, Esposti investigations consist primarily of going to see deranged housekeeper Talia (Alexa Paizi) at the local asylum and right out accusing Sorel of the crime. He also spends a worrying amount of time listening to his dead mother’s voice on a tape recorder. Yes, he might be young, pale and interesting, but he’s also got some serious issues. The film’s most memorable scene finds him creating a shrine to his mother by hanging up her old clothes while playing one of those tapes. Tolo comes in, wordlessly puts on the clothes and then offers him her naked breast. Fortunately, they are interrupted before the situation develops any further. Yes, this is one peculiar family, with a history of mental instability and the phantom of incest ever hovering in the background.

Sorel tries to straighten out Esposti by getting him to lose his virginity with prostitute Gabriela (Bernadette Kell), but the teenager is not interested. Sorel is intimate with her already, of course, even though he’s engaged to marry the lovely Ottavia (Noris Fiorina) and is quite probably sleeping with Tolo as well. The nature of the family business is no coincidence, either. Dead animals are a recurring motif throughout the film, with the family’s idea of a fun afternoon out involves a rifle and a dead dog in the river. As you’ve probably gathered by now, any thriller or mystery elements are taking a back seat.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Her face was beginning to hurt…

The film does have its advocates, but this kind of project will always be an acquired taste. The cast makes no real effort to emote; Tolo remaining stone-faced throughout, and Sorel fading into the background. Given that both actors gave perfectly capable, and sometimes charismatic performances in other films, this seems to have a conscious artistic choice by director Samperi. What is he trying to say? Obvious the title’s a biblical reference, but, considering the way the story comes out, any comparison to the parable of the prodigal son must have been deliberately ironic. This notion is supported by Ennio Morricone’s score, which is often quite jaunty at times, especially considering the subject matter.

Perhaps what we have here is another critique of the idle rich, which were so common in Italian cinema of the time. It’s worth noting that the family’s successful business is down to the father’s hard work. Sorel already seems to be mismanaging its affairs, either through laziness or incompetence. More simply, of course, it might just be the story of one hell of a twisted family.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Nick Cave’s new album was a bit of a downer…

Samperi was active in the Italian film industry from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, almost always directing his own screenplays. Comedy romance ‘Malicious’ (1973) collected acting awards for some of its cast, and gay love story ‘Ernesto’ (1979) which told of love between an adult man and a young boy was highly controversial on release. Both Sorel and Tolo made several other, far more straightforward, Giallo pictures, with Sorel in appearing in some notable examples, including the Lucio Fulci films ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971). Esposti had a very brief career, comprising only four features, although these included Giulio Questi’s experimental horror drama ‘Arcana’ (1972).

Likely to divide audiences, this is a very strange entry in the Giallo sub-genre if it belongs there at all. There’s plenty to talk about, but that’s not always necessarily a good thing.

Espionage In Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)‘Every time I drink Martinis, I want to be a mermaid.’

An elderly scientist has developed an effective countermeasure to a new deadly weapon possessed by both the United States and Russia. He agrees to pass to his secret to the Americans, but an enemy agent has infiltrated their organisation, and he is assassinated. However, this is a blunder by the Russians as the formula is in code. When a top American agent arrives, the race is on to find the key to the cypher…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is clean-cut American Brett Halsey, making a beeline for the usual mid-1960s mash-up of girls, guns and a couple of low-budget gadgets. This Spanish-French and Italian co-production was directed by Federico Aicardi and Tulio Demichili, with the latter on script duties with five other writers, including infamous Eurotrash filmmaker Jess Franco.

Isn’t it always the way? Secret agent 077 George Farrell (Halsey) is just about to grapple with latest flame Irán Eory when the powers that be call on the telephone, asking him to save the world. Again. He puts the meet off until the next day, but his masters know him only too well; almost immediately there’s a knock on the door and, just an hour or so later, he’s on his way to Lisbon. His mission is to contact renegade scientist, Professor Von Kelster (Rafael Bardem), but the old boy is hiding out at a top-secret location (his estranged wife’s art studio!)

And no wonder the boffin is worried. He possesses the only means to nullify this unnamed secret weapon which transmits ‘electronic waves at a velocity more than the speed of light.’ The vibrations it creates can blind people too! Sounds nasty. Oh, and don’t worry, about how the Professor calculated his formula or how he found out about the weapon in the first place or anything else really, because the movie never bothers us with such irrelevant information.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘I’m sorry, ladies, but my dance card is already full.’

So Bardem has hidden his formula within the musical notations in two books with a 4-letter cypher key needed to decode them. It’s a wise move because the Ruskies have already infiltrated the US spy network, thanks to double-agent Robert Scott (Daniel Ceccaldi). Bardem’s contact has been killed and replaced by beautiful assassin, Olga (Jeanne Valérie). She finishes off the boffin with her purse gun when he realises that she’s an imposter because she can’t read music. Halsey arrives on the scene after the fact but picks up the cypher key, thanks to some invisible writing on a mirror.

A replacement for the American side arrives in the shape of dark beauty Marilù Tolo, but rather than reveal they are colleagues, Halsey proceeds to flirt with her in that charming 1960s way that borders on sexual harassment. She’s a rookie, chosen for this vital assignment because she can read music and go undercover as a singer in a local club. Didn’t the entire US spy network have someone with more experience who could read music as well? Given that the Russians had to use Valérie whose lack of ability in this area blew her cover and, ultimately, costs them the mission, it would seem that this skill is a rare commodity in the world of espionage. Perhaps most spies are just tone-deaf.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘Have you got the latest Van der Graaf Generator LP recording?’

Of course, it’s up to Halsey to obtain the secret with Tolo’s assistance. They bond after disposing of the body of a dead foreign agent from her hotel room, and he does eventually reveal they are working together. I’m not sure when exactly, and why he didn’t tell her in the first place, but I guess those revelations may have been cut from the print that I viewed, which does seem to have lost approximately seven minutes from its original running time at some point over the years since. Even so, the first significant action arrives just over an hour into the film. That’s way too late for an audience to wait in an enterprise such as this. Although for cult movies fans, there’s always the early glimpse of Erika Blanc, appearing here as ‘Girl in Bikini’ under her initial screen name of Erica Bianchi.

In terms of gadgets, we are restricted to some non-standard surveillance equipment. Halsey has an electronic bug hidden in a remote-controlled bluebottle (geddit?), but it’s deployed only briefly. It may have been intended to use it far more, but it’s so poorly realised that probably the filmmakers didn’t care to linger on such a shoddy example of the FX technician’s art. Elsewhere, there’s a mysterious man in a suit, who identifies only as ‘Skylark’, who watches proceedings via a TV in a suitcase while sitting in hotel lobbies and cafés. It’s one of those magic ‘see all’ movie TVs that doesn’t need a camera at the other end to transmit pictures, although he spends just as much time perving on scantily-dressed women in their hotel rooms as he does following the main action. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the climactic gun battle in a deserted monastery. It’s an excellent location and the drama is well-staged, but it’s taken a very long time to get to that point, and a good percentage of the audience may not have stayed the course.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘Are you looking at me, Daddio?’

Halsey had begun his screen career in small roles, sometimes uncredited, which included an appearance in Gill-Man sequel ‘Revenge of the Creature’ (1955). By the end of the decade, he’d worked his way up to be a featured supporting player in low-budget movies such as ‘The Cry-Baby Killer’ (1958) which marked the debut of a certain Jack Nicholson. Just a year later, the busy young actor took the lead in teen-drama ‘Speed Crazy’ (1959) and appeared with Vincent Price in the title role of ‘The Return of the Fly’ (1959). Bigger budgets meant smaller parts, so he turned his gaze to Europe and the lead in Italian-French swashbuckler ‘The Seventh Sword/Le sette spade del vendicator’ (1962). Many leading European roles followed, including appearing twice for horror maestro Mario Bava in two of the director’s lighter, more mainstream efforts: ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) and ‘Four Times That Night’ (1971). After that, he moved back to the United States where he became a regular face on network television right up to the mid-1990s, appearing on ‘The Bionic Woman’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘Knight Rider’, and several times on ‘Fantasy Island’ among many others.

A rather slow-moving Eurospy without the dynamism or outlandish flourishes that mark out the best of the genre.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)‘In all my life, I have never witnessed a more frightening spectacle.’

As he lays dying, a murdered king charges two of his subjects to find his old friend, Hercules. The kingdom and his daughter are now at the mercy of his unscrupulous nephew, and there is no-one else he trusts to safeguard their future. The legendary hero comes running, but he finds himself pitted against black magic and a group of mythical golden giants…

Dan Vadis returns after ‘Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l’invincibile (1964) to flex his considerable muscle and battle the forces of darkness for director Alberto de Martino and cinematographer-producer Pier Ludovico Pavoni. Pleasingly, the film retains the mythological aspects employed in Vadis’ first outing, and this helps make the viewing experience more enjoyable than some of the other films in the unofficial series.

The story begins in the thick of the action. Soldiers loyal to the King’s nephew, Milo (Pierre Cressoy) are busy raising a village to the ground, but their fun is short-lived when the monarch himself makes the scene. King Pandeone (Gaetano Quartararo) is not amused by Cressoy’s antics and exiles him from the kingdom, only to find himself at the business end of a spear, courtesy of a nod from his brother’s son. With his dying breath, Quartararo charges villager Erlone (Jacques Stany) to fetch Hercules. Stany finds Vadis on the banks of the Hellespont where he’s building a temple to Hera. The big man is happy to answer the villager’s call for help; after all, it doesn’t look like he’s getting very far with his construction project.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

‘These Olympic exhibition events just keep getting weirder…’

Meanwhile, like all naughty little boys, Cressoy has gone to ‘fess up to mum, Pasiphae, played by Moira Orfei. However, as she lives in a cave and is a mistress of the Black Arts, she’s not inclined to be too harsh on the poor lad. Instead, she helps him out with a present; a sacred knife that can summon the Seven Sons of Juno’s sister. These guys may not be sparkling conversationalists but they are handy in a scrap and are certainly trendsetters with their bald heads and all-over gold paint jobs. But first Cressoy has to keep up appearances, so he organises a tournament where the kingdom’s mightiest warriors can compete for the hand of the late King’s daughter, the Princess Ate (Marilù Tolo).

Things start well for Cressoy, with his lieutenant Gordio (Howard Ross) making the early running, but then he’s challenged by arrogant visiting Prince Abdur (Pietro Capanna). The two face-off and fight in a pretty unique chariot vs horse match-up within the small arena. This proves to be the most exciting sequence in the picture, and the action is still impressive by today’s standards. It’s especially remarkable, given that it’s clear that the two actors are doing the vast majority of the stunt work. Sure, doubles may have been employed for the long shots, but there’s little doubt that it’s Capanna and Ross who are displaying considerable skills of driving and horsemanship. It looks genuinely dangerous when you bear in mind that the health and safety precautions were probably somewhat less than stringent.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

🎵 Purple Haze in my brain… 

Despite this exciting exhibition, the mourning Tolo looks like she’d rather be anywhere else, but then Vadis turns up to fight the winner. A few words from our silver-tongued slab of muscle and she suddenly perks right up, particularly when he saves her life from an attack by deadly rubber spikes during their joint lap of honour. The subsequent drama revolves around possession of the sacred knife and the ability to unleash the golden giants. Naturally, Vadis goes up against them a couple of times, and the actor had to do his own stunts as there was apparently no-one large enough to double for him! Thankfully, he acquits himself very well, and the fights are surprisingly well designed and executed. Vadis also seems far more comfortable with dialogue than in his previous appearance in the role, and the clean-shaven face was a wise grooming choice.

The English dub seems typically confused about whether this is the Roman or Greek incarnation of the mythical muscleman; one minute he’s hanging out at the Hellespont (Greek), the next he’s the son of Jove (Roman). It also refers more than once to the seven golden warriors, although there only seems to be six of them. It’s fair to speculate that the film may have had a lower budget than previous entries in the series. The sets are on a smaller scale, and there are fewer extras to populate them. Still, director de Martino keeps things moving at a brisk pace and delivers a reasonable level of action and adventure.

The attempts to cure her insomnia were getting a little out of hand…

Unlike many of his type, Vadis managed a reasonable roll of credits after the craze for muscles had passed. Regular appearances in Spaghetti Westerns led to a supporting role in ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973) and further Clint Eastwood projects such as ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977) and ‘Any Which Way You Can’ (1980), among others. He even featured on an episode of hit network TV show ‘Starsky and Hutch.’ Most of Tolo’s first leading roles were in ‘sword and sandal’ flicks, possibly because of her passing resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor who starred in ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) around that time. More than Vadis, however, she went onto a varied and prolific film career. She took the female leads in Eurospy pictures ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965), ‘To Skin A Spy/Avec la peau des autres’ (1966) and ‘The Big Blackout’ (1966) and followed those with Giallo films such as ‘Trumpets of the Apocalypse/Murder By Music’ (1969), ‘Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast it’ (1970), and ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972). She also worked on one of horror maestro Mario Bava’s excursions into the Old West – ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) – and with Richard Burton on ‘Bluebeard’ (1972). She also starred in many other Italian movies of the period before retiring in the mid-1980s.

A slight cut above the usual muscleman antics and the last of the Italian Hercules cycle of any real quality.

Trumpets of the Apocalypse/Murder By Music/Las Trompetas Del Apocalipsis (1969)

Trumpets of the Apocalypse:Murder By Music:Las Trompetas Del Apocalipsis (1969)‘You’re not hep, man! The music there is psychedelic.’

A sailor returns to London to see his sister but finds out that she is dead; an apparent suicide. Unconvinced by the official explanation, he teams up with her best friend to investigate and finds a strange link to a music professor who died in exactly the same way…

Loud, in your face, late 1960s Spanish Giallo murder-mystery set in swinging London and, man, it’s a stone-cold groove! There are cool cats with scenes to make and choice birds with vibes to dig. Yes, you’ll flip your wig over director Julio Buchs Garcia’s righteous take on what’s happenin’ in Soho’s underground clubland. Hang loose and ride easy, baby, it’s just the most!

Sailor on leave Brett Halsey comes home expecting to see his sister but she’s tried flying without wings out the window of her funky pad and The Man has it down as a bad trip. What a bummer. On the brightside, her flatmate turns out to be dishy brunette Marilu Tolo, and the two join forces to find out the truth about what went down. The dearly departed was well into the sounds spun by DJ Fabrizio Moroni at ‘The Mousehole’, a local hangout for the tuned out and the turned on. Halsey catches the eye of pretty flower child Romina Power, but doesn’t even try to score when he gets back to her place. He’s just such a square.

Trumpets of the Apocalypse:Murder By Music:Las Trompetas Del Apocalipsis (1969)

‘Hey, man, you wanna…like, groove?’

From there, his investigation (and the film) disintegrates into a series of murky scenes where he quizzes guys in black rollneck pullovers and silver neck chains, gets meaningless answers that might be clues and then gets beaten up in alleyways by various thugs. And repeat. There’s pop art, bongos, beads and bandannas for the guys, and glittery headbands, big eyelashes and too much makeup for the gals. It’s a gas!

Main suspect The Romanian (Manuel De Blas) is one bad dude. We know this because he wears his sunglasses indoors. The Man appears in the person of Police Inspector Gérard Tichy and there’s a blind beggar who uses his hurdy-gurdy as a dangerous weapon. In the end, it all comes down to this far out groove called ‘The Trumpets of the Apocalypse’ and some strange weed from somewhere or other. Despite being told this tune has been written for violins, we only ever hear it played on piano. But it’s outta sight anyway. Man.

Trumpets of the Apocalypse:Murder By Music:Las Trompetas Del Apocalipsis (1969)

‘Can you dig it?’

Tolo and Halsey had already partnered in anonymous Eurospy ‘Espionage in Lisbon’ (1965) and Power took one of the title roles in Jess Franco’s ‘Marquis de Sade: Justine’ (1969) opposite Klaus Kinski. Actually, there’s some very odd product placement involving her when she plays kid’s racing game ‘Scalextrix’ for a minute or so. Just what you want to see in the last ten minutes of a thriller. Director Garcia did improve though, going onto make the pretty good murder-mystery ‘Alta Tension’ (1972) with Marisa Mell.

So trendy it’s incredibly dated, the ultimate irony here is that, for a film about music, the final results have so little rhythm and structure. There is a good idea buried somewhere here, but it’s buried very deep.

Sock it to me baby!