The Road to Fort Alamo/La strada per Forte Alamo (1964)

The Road To Fort Alamo/La Strada per Fort Alamo (1964)‘Over there are bewildered horses.’

A drifter who has lost everything in the American Civil War falls in with a band of outlaws. He has a plan to rob a bank, but the gang double-cross him after the successful heist and leave him for dead. Found by an Army patrol still wearing the uniform he used as a disguise in the robbery, he joins their outfit who are escorting officer’s wives through Indian country to Fort Alamo…

Italian Western adventure directed by John Old that follows the familiar story of a disparate group’s dangerous journey through hostile territory. Sergio Leone’s redefinition of the genre ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964) had only hit Italian screens a month earlier, so this film follows the standard American template, both in plot and style, rather than displaying any of the flourishes that came to characterise the Spaghetti Western. Why is it of interest here? Because John Old was none other than the Maestro of Horror himself, Mario Bava.

It’s been a rough few months for farmer Bud Cassidy (Ken Clark). Not only have Yankee troops burnt his farm to the ground and requisitioned is livestock, all he is left with is a worthless promise of reimbursement. A bitter, disillusioned drifter, he has wandered West and fetches up in a one-horse town in the land of the Osage Indians. On the way there, he finds a slaughtered Yankee patrol. The dying Sergeant hands him an important paper ordering a hefty payment to the army from a bank. Later, in town, he helps out young gun Slim Kincaid (Alberto Cevenini) who is being hustled at cards and two flee with the local Sherrif on their heels.

Cevenini introduces Clark to some friends of his, an outlaw gang run by loose cannon, Kid Carson (Michel Lemoine) and Clark realises that the opportunity for the perfect crime has fallen right into his lap. Dressed in the uniforms of the dead patrol, they present the letter at the local bank. All goes well until the violent and unstable Lemoine guns down one of the customers, but the gang escape back to their hideout. Clark advocates an immediate split, but Lemoine disagrees, with the result that Clark and Cevenini are knocked out and left for the Indians. Staked out to die, a genuine army patrol led by blowhard Captain Hollis (Antonio Gradoli) rescue the duo and, believing Clark to be a Lieutenant because of his uniform, they are added to his command.

Gradoli’s mission is to ferry a group of officer’s wives to Fort Alamo, but the way leads through the Osage territory. In a foreshadowing of the kind of military incompetence highlighted by Sergio Leone in ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ (1968), Gradoli is a ‘by the book’ officer who won’t accept any advice, least of all from Clark, despite his comprehensive knowledge of the enemy. Old hand Sergeant Carter (Gustavo De Nardo) immediately suspects that Clark is an imposter, but lets it go because he realises that the outlaw is a much better option when it comes to the troop surviving the journey. Of the ladies, Clark finds himself drawn to outcast firebrand Janet (Jenny Clair) who is being taken to the Fort for trial after killing an officer. The fact that he was attempting to rape her at the time is apparently not likely to be a factor in the upcoming judgement. Then they come across the stolen money, courtesy of the slaughtered outlaws, survivor Lemoine turns up looking for it, and the Indians start to close in…

Although it might be surprising to encounter the Maestro of Horror behind the megaphone for such a project, the fact is that his films were never successful enough in his own country to allow him artistic autonomy. For much of his career, he was a ‘gun for hire’ and returned to the Western twice more over the next few years. Given his expertise with Visual Effects, mood and lighting, opportunities to showcase his skills were obviously limited here and yet there are some signs of his genius. The opening conflict in the cheap saloon is shot and cut with impressive rhythm and invention, and the later scenes of the army camp at night are exquisitely lit and photographed. Yes, they are fairly obviously filmed in a studio, but there’s a depth and quality to the image that resonates far more than the way contemporary American films would have presented such material.

Those looking for echoes of Sergio Leone’s work are likely to be disappointed. The locations are far too lush and green to bear comparison with the now-familiar desert-scapes of the Spaghetti Western, or even Hollywood backdrops such as Monument Valley and the somewhat less spectacular Californian foothills. There is a similarity in the notion of an anti-hero as the main protagonist, though, and the depiction of the town where most of the early action takes place is pleasingly run-down, underpopulated and dirty. However, that was likely down to budgetary limitations.

In terms of the story and performances, it’s generally unremarkable. The principal cast members aren’t given a lot to work with, but Clark does make for a stoic lead, and his interactions with Clair and De Nardo are appealing. Lemoine also provides good value as the slightly unhinged villain, and the action is lean and well-paced, even if the fight choreography leaves a little to be desired at times. The low-budget does show through on occasion, though it’s to Bava’s credit that the audience may only notice how few wagons and combatants there are toward the finale and not before.

Clark began his career on American television in the 1950s and even played supporting roles in a couple of major studio pictures, ‘South Pacific’ (1958) and ‘The Shaggy Dog’ (1959). However, his only leads were in micro-budgeted affairs such as Roger Corman’s ‘Attack of the Giant Leeches’ (1959), and dire science-fiction bore ’12 To The Moon’ (1960). Relocating to Italy, his impressive physique and handsome features brought him success in Peplum such as ‘The Defeat of the Barbarians’ (1962) before he transitioned to playing secret agents in several Eurospys as the fad for muscleman movies waned. In between, he worked with Bava again on the Maestro’s second Western ‘Savage Gringo’ (1966). He acted only sporadically after the 1960s and remained in Italy, although he did take a couple of small bit parts on US TV in the 1990s before his death in 2009.

Frenchman Lemoine acted in various Italian and French productions from the late 1940s but only came to prominence in the lead of ‘The Planets Against Us/I pianeti contro di noi’ (1962). Major supporting roles in early Gialli such as ‘Death On The Fourposter/Delitto allo Specchio’ (1964) and ‘Run Psycho Run’ (1968) followed, as well as Eurospys ‘Agent 3S3, Massacre in the Sun (1966) and ‘Mission spéciale à Caracas’ (1965). He also had a role in Jess Franco’s controversial ‘Succubus’ (1968). If all this seems a little underwhelming, Lemoine was more interested in working behind the camera, delivering the censor-baiting ‘Marianne Bouquet’ (1972) which he wrote and directed as well as taking the male lead. Indeed, later project ‘Seven Women for Satan’ (1976) was banned in his homeland outright, and he later transitioned into the adult film industry.

Clair does not have extensive credits but also appeared with Lemoine in ‘The Prisoner In The Iron Mask’ (1961), ‘The Planets Against Us/I pianeti contro di noi’ (1962), historical drama ‘Arms of the Avenger’ (1963), and ‘Hercules Against Moloch/Ercole contro Moloch’ (1963). Without him, she appeared as the female lead in two Eurospys featuring secret agent Francis Coplan: ‘FX18/Agent Secret FX 18’ (1964) where Clark played the title role, and ‘Coplan FX 18 casse tout’ (1965) opposite Richard Wyler. She was also memorable as the sexy evil Queen in ‘Hercules Against The Moon Men/Maciste e la Regina di Samar’ (1964) opposite Sergio Ciani, billed as Alan Steel. Although, it’s worth noting that he was actually playing strongman Maciste, not Hercules.

This is not an excellent picture by any means, and it lacks the impact made by Sergio Leone’s work of the same period, but it is still an efficient, pacy Western with a real mark of quality in certain areas.

Run, Psycho, Run/Più tardi Claire, più tardi… (1968)

Run, Psycho, Run/Più tardi Claire, più tardi... (1968)‘Mr Dennison could not have conceived such a monstrous plan.’

A rich man’s wife is murdered, and his young son dies in the same incident by accident. A year later, he tells his family that he is going to remarry, but the woman is the spitting image of his dead wife. Is he sincere, or is it all just a ruse to try and catch the killer?

Very unsatisfying black and white Giallo thriller from Italian co-writer and director Brunello Rondi. The filmmaker had a background in avant-garde projects and apparently intended this is an examination of ‘the origins of today’s disease within the bourgeoisie’ rather than a crime story. However, the complete lack of coherent development of either plot or characters may leave the audience with a very different impression. Namely, that what’s on he screen is the result of a distinctly ‘troubled’ production, rather than intentional creative choices made by its director.

Judge George Dennison (Gary Merrill) seems to have it all; a palatial estate in Cornwall, a beautiful wife Claire (Elga Andersen) and a young son to carry on the family name. However, Andersen is murdered during a weekend house party, and the child also dies when he falls down the stairs at the same time. The killer is never caught, nor does there seem to be any apparent motive for the crime. However, Andersen’s relationship with sister Evelyn (Rossella Falk) was pretty fractious, and she’d been playing with the affections of the boy’s tutor, Guiccardi (Michel Lemoine).

Run, Psycho, Run/Più tardi Claire, più tardi... (1968)

‘Can you see the origins of the disease from here?’

A year later, Merrill has taken up with lookalike Ann (Andersen, again) who also has a young son of her own. Understandably, this makes his family somewhat uncomfortable, and when he announces that he’s planning to marry her, the news goes down like a lead balloon. His mother, Lady Florence (Margarita Robles) is distraught, and his physician Dr Boyd (Georges Rivière) is also concerned. The smooth-talking Doc has been spending some quality time with Falk on the QT and is also knocking boots beneath stairs with sexy blonde servant, Sarah (Tanya Beryl). She, in turn, is sleeping with the handyman. There’s also a young wild girl living on the estate who may know something about the killing as well.

It’s hard to know where to start with the film’s deficiencies. Firstly, very few of the supporting characters are properly introduced. Most of them seem to be part of Merrill’s extended family, along with partners, but it’s not clear if they are just weekend guests or permanent residents at the villa. They are just there all the time, dropping the occasional line of dialogue now and then. Similarly, Lemoine is still hanging around, which seems rather strange as it’s a reasonable assumption that his teaching duties would have ended about a year earlier when his pupil died. All these characters orbit our main protagonists to no apparent purpose, just boosting the endless parade of static conversational scenes which don’t drive the story and seem entirely pointless. Be warned, this is one talky film.

Run, Psycho, Run/Più tardi Claire, più tardi... (1968)

‘I’m sorry, but were all of you invited?’

There are also quite a few story threads that go nowhere. For instance, there’s Rivière’s clandestine affair with Beryl. It never plays into the main plot of the film. There’s also a strong inference that she’s up to something more than just physical exertions with her handyman lover. But don’t worry about it. They are barely in the rest of the movie. And who is this young wild girl living in the grounds? Is she a servant? The child of servants? Why does she behave so strangely? We never find out, and her presence turns out to have nothing to do with anything. If these events and characters were supposed to be red herrings in the mystery, then their identities needed to be clearly established and their actions explained by the end.

More tellingly, there’s a brief scene where Rivière and Falk discuss the way she’s been trying to convince Merrill that his dead wife is still around. Really? Well, if she’s been doing that, then she hasn’t been making much of an effort. Someone was walking around the tennis court at midnight, and that tempted Merrill out of his room, but it turned out to be Andersen who thought she’d heard a noise as well. Apparently, she arranged for the organ in the summerhouse to play some tunes, which seems to have been significant for some reason. But I’m not sure Merrill even noticed. And it’s not really enough to persuade even the most gullible person that there’s supernatural activity afoot. And why was she doing this anyway? What on earth was her motive? She didn’t like her sister and seemed to be jealous of her marriage to Merrill at the start of the film. It makes no sense.

And then there’s the ending. No spoilers here, but one of the main characters suddenly disappears from the last ten minutes of the film. Why? Because they are suddenly ‘called away on business.’ It’s completely baffling, and the resolution we do get (another dialogue scene, of course) does almost nothing to resolve matters at all.

Run, Psycho, Run/Più tardi Claire, più tardi... (1968)

‘When is the Swimsuit Round?’

There is very little production information about the film and very few reviews, but it seems that filming took place in 1965 and it sat on the shelf for three years before release. All this can be explained if the film was never finished. It would explain the story elements that begin and never develop and also a lot of the inconsequential dialogue exchanges, which could have been excised from the final cut if more footage had been available.

From a technical standpoint, the film is professional enough and betrays no sign of budgetary issues. Performances are fine, with Merrill anchoring the drama when he’s on the screen, but few of the cast can develop a shaded character when the story and drama are both so haphazard. Rondi did find a minor part for Ivy Holzer, though, who was winding down a ten-year career that had seen her appear in early Giallo ‘What Ever Happened To Baby Toto?’ (1964) and Eurospy ‘FBI chiama Istanbul’ (1964) before taking a more significant role in jungle adventure ‘Samoa, regina della giungla’ (1968).

Run, Psycho, Run/Più tardi Claire, più tardi... (1968)

‘Have you forgotten to pay the electricity bill again?’

Merrill was an American actor with extensive Broadway experience whose star briefly shone in major supporting roles in ‘Twelve O’Clock High’ (1947), ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ (1950) and ‘All About Eve’ (1950). Becoming Bette Davis’ second husband in 1950 led to a couple of subsequent films playing opposite the Oscar-winning actress, but his career fizzled very quickly indeed. By the middle of the decade, he was already doing a lot of television. There was still an appearance with some of Ray Harryhausen’s monster menagerie in ‘Mysterious Island’ (1961) and in low-budget aquatic adventures ‘Around the World Under The Sea’ (1966) and ‘Destination: Inner Space’ (1966) to come, but his big-screen career was pretty much done by the beginning of that decade.

Lending further credence to the notion that this was a compromised film are the credits of co-writer and director Rondi. He was Oscar-nominated twice as a writer, for his work on Fellini’s ‘La dolce vita (1960) and ‘8 1/2’ (1963). He was also nominated at the Venice Film Festival for his second directorial effort ‘Il demonio’ (1963), a picture about a peasant girl suspected of being a witch. But his career behind the megaphone never really took off, and he ended up making movies catering to a slightly different market: ‘Sex Life In A Women’s Prison’ (1974) and ‘Black Emanuelle, White Emanuelle’ (1976).

The circumstances of the production may have compromised Rondi’s intentions, but the reality is that this is a tedious and messy effort. It’s long on talk and short on logic, action and coherent storytelling.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)‘You have inherited a king’s throne because your father has passed on. I killed himself myself in battle.’

The kingdom is in the grip of a horrendous drought, and the Queen of Mycenae demands ever-increasing levels of tribute from her subjects, including pretty young virgins to be sacrificed to the god Moloch. Is there no-one who can lead the people in rebellion against her tyrannical rule?

The Hercules movie that isn’t. Of course, 1960s American audiences were used to the exploits of every Italian muscle man being relabelled with the big man’s name on stateside release, be they Goliath, Samson, Ursus or Maciste. However, this one is an even bigger confidence trick. All we have here is a hero who casually adopts the ‘Hercules’ name when on an undercover mission in the enemy camp. Sure, he’s strong and heroic, but he’s not even pretending to be the legendary Greek demi-god. What a complete swizz.

The city of Mycenae has risen from the ashes after perishing in a fiery inferno. On that day of destruction, the young, pregnant Queen Demeter (Rosalba Neri) promises the dying King to turn the people back to the worship of the Earth Goddess. Fast forward a couple of decades, however, and she’s still got them sacrificing young virgins to the evil deity Moloch, who lives in the caves underneath the city. This so-called god is really her grown up son (Pietro Marascalchi) who is so hideous that he needs to hide in the shadows and wear a metal wolf mask to hide his ugliness! He wiles away the long hours strangling the sacrificial girls or using them as live targets when he fancies a bit of practice with bow and arrow. Everyone has to have a hobby, I suppose.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hello, girls!’

The neighbouring cities are planning to get together in open rebellion, but the leaders of one fo them tips their hand too early and bring down the wrath of Neri’s army. Their King is killed, and the Princess Deianira (Jany Clair) is taken prisoner. Fortunately, Mycenean good guy, lieutenant Euneos (Michel Lemoine) takes more than a passing interest in her welfare. Meanwhile, forces from nearby Tiryns are riding to their rescue, led by the heroic Prince Glauco (Gordon Scott). But they arrive too late so Scott formulates a plan to attack Mycenae from both inside and out, taking the role of one of the slaves offered in tribute to Neri so that he can infiltrate the city.

On arrival, he catches the eye of the imperious monarch immediately, probably because he’s calling himself Hercules and every evil queen in history can’t resist falling for the muscles of the big man. She offers him a job as captain of part of her royal guard with probable fringe benefits to follow. Unfortunately, things go awry almost immediately when he stops chief lackey General Penthius (Arturo Dominici) having his way with Neri’s goody-two-shoes stepdaughter, the Princess Medea (Alessandro Panaro). Thrown into the dungeon and the inevitable gig at gladiator school, it’s up to Scott form and alliance with Lemoine, foment a rebellion among the populace and find a way to get the city gates open to let in the cavalry.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘I’ve had enough of this wowdy webel sniggewing behaviour.’

This is very much an undistinguished ‘sword and sandal’ picture that has only a few points of interest to note. At first glance, it appears there is some budget here, which gives a decent scale to the climactic battle scenes. However, most of this footage is taken from director Giorgio Ferroni’s previous film ‘The Trojan War/La guerra di Troia’ (1961). The swordplay involving the principals is energetic and well-choreographed, though, with Scott convincing in both the action scenes and the quieter moments. Neri also makes for a deliciously evil queen, both as a young woman in the opening scenes and as a more mature version two decades later, which, considering she was only in her mid-twenties at the time of filming, indicates her talent as an actress. But both the leading roles are one-dimensional, and the script doesn’t give either performer much material to work with.

What’s most curious, though, is the last twenty minutes of the film. Up until then, things have been pretty grounded. Yes, there’s been talk of the Earth Goddess on the one hand, and Marascalchi being the embodiment of Moloch on the other, but no real indication that it’s any more than talk or local superstition. Then the Goddess seems to take a hand, sending a lightning bolt down to strike the sacrificial knife of high priest Asterion (Nerio Bernardi) that he’s about to use on Panaro in the public square. Maybe that could be written off as an amazingly lucky coincidence, but, then again, there’s what happens in the final act in the dusty catacombs beneath the city when Scott goes to confront Marascalchi.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hit it, baby!’

Despite hating feminine beauty because of his deformity, the living god does keep a harem of young lovelies in his man cave. They seem to be under a spell of some sort, and their job is apparently just to play the drums! Anyway, when the forces of good invade their domain in the final scenes, these beauties revealed to be supernatural creatures of some sort, bringing down the roof by running about a bit and making coloured smoke appear. Weird. Especially as we never see them again afterwards. Marascalchi seems to have powers as well, making the floor collapse beneath some soldiers that are threatening him with spears. However, he seems to forget all about these abilities when he fights with Scott. The two clash with conventional weapons and then take part in an extended wrestling match. Scott even manages to hit him over the head with a table. Twice! It’s all a bit confusing really…

Scott made his film debut in ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955) as the replacement for Lex Barker in the long-running series about the exploits of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Lord Greystoke. Five more appearances in the part followed, including ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959), which remains one of the best of the Ape Man’s outings and also included a young Sean Connery in a significant supporting role. When his time in the jungle was up, Scott moved straight into Italian muscleman pictures with ‘Maciste contro il vampiro’ (1961) which was also known as ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ or ‘Samson vs the Vampires’ – take your pick. He’d starred in almost a dozen similar projects before he made it to Neri’s basement to face off against Marascalchi. Toward the end of his career, he finally got to play Hercules for real in the pilot for an aborted TV series that was later released to theatres as ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965).

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Your monstrous ugliness breeds monstrous hatred. Good! I can use your hate.’

Neri became a mainstay of cult cinema in the 1960s and beyond, with starring roles in many horror pictures and Giallo films after several featured supporting roles in the Eurospy genre. She’s probably best remembered as ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1972) or for Silvio Amadio’s ‘Amuck!’ (1972), but she always brought a quality of performance and natural screen presence to her roles, even if many of them were not deserving of her talents. Director Ferroni made some feature films in the 1940s but did a lot of documentary filmmaking before making a comeback with the visually impressive and strangely fascinating ‘Mill of the Stone Women’ (1960). Unfortunately, it seems that he never fulfiled the promise he displayed with that film, and it’s disappointing to see his name attached to a product like this.

The film was picked up for American distribution by Walter Manley productions but placing the blame for the cheating title at their door would be a mistake. The film’s original, Italian release title was ‘Ercole contro Moloc’ which literally translates as ‘Hercules Against Moloch’. The American print at least has the decency to place that in brackets after ‘The Conquest of Mycenae’ title, which, although it could be regarded as a bit of a spoiler, is far more accurate at least. However, little care was taken with the English dubbing; dialogue doesn’t match mouth movements in any respect and the voice acting is of a very poor quality. Panaro’s lines are delivered in a frightfully posh English accent that makes it sound like she’s been to a very exclusive finishing school and spends her days at garden parties thrashing the servants. It’s hilarious, of course, but it doesn’t help with serious investment in the story.

A minor footnote in the history of the Peplum film and precious little to do with Hercules.

Death On The Fourposter/Sexy Party/Delitto Allo Specchio (1964)

Death On The Fourposter (1964)‘There was a man in the corridor with a strange face!’

A group of young party animals decide to spend a wild weekend at the isolated castle where one of them lives. One of the girls brings along her psychic boyfriend, who predicts gloom and disaster. Sure enough, it’s not long before someone is murdered…

Early Giallo thriller that owes a lot to the whodunnit ‘closed circle’ mystery popularised by Agatha Christie. Sure enough, we’ve got the lonely location miles from anywhere; no-one can leave because all the cars are locked up and people start dying one by one. This black and white example from Italy was directed by Jean Josipovici and Ambrogio Moltenim and written by Josipovici and Giorgio Stegani.

It’s taken quite a while for his friends to persuade handsome Riccardo (Michel Lemoine) to invite them back to his ancestral pile for tea and biscuits, and no wonder! They are just so wild and untamed! On the way, they drive their cars really quite fast and stop every now and then to run recklessly about, giving the girls piggybacks and throwing them through the air! No wonder Lemoine’s attractive housekeeper Caterina (Luisa Rivelli) is less than impressed when they arrive to party. After all, dancing to records and snogging quickly follows!

Death On The Fourposter (1964)

‘Let’s party!’

Things get even more out of hand when man-eating loose cannon Serena (Antonella Lualdi) makes the scene, bringing along new American boyfriend Anthony (John Drew Barrymore). She starts by getting all the girls to dance to crazy ’45 single ‘Sexy Party’ (the film’s funniest moment) and then starts breaking up the established couples by encouraging them to play naughty psychological games.

To cap all of this, it turns out that Barrymore is a psychic! He accurately relates the history of the owner of a makeup case just be holding it, and goes on to tell the future by staring into the flame of a single candle. Unfortunately, the future ain’t bright – it’s evil! The men will see themselves from above and the women will change appearance and go back in time. Barrymore exits stage left, advising everyone to do the same but, of course, they take no notice. A little while later, Lualdi turns up strangled on the fourposter, and the party is really on…

This is not a bad film, but there are some significant flaws which impact negatively on the audience experience. The main problem is with the characters on display. Simply put, the men are loud, arrogant and annoying, and the girls are loud, giggly and annoying. Their ‘madcap’ antics in the film’s first half are loud and annoying. To make matters worse, none of them are sufficiently well-drawn to stand out from the rest, so it’s hard to care about their eventual fates. Nicoletta is the new girl, Luciana wears glasses, Sergio is a bit shy, Edie is an airhead and Paolo has a gambling problem, and so on. That’s about as deep as it gets. Really, you just can’t wait for the killer to get to work (and yes, he/she does take their damn time about it).

Although the mystery’s conclusion makes perfect sense, there’s not a great deal of surprise to it, and it turns out there was a lot less going on than you thought there might be. This lack of creativity is reflected throughout the story. On arriving at the castle, all the cars are locked away in an old garage that can only be opened by one key. Lemoine leaves the key on a ledge just outside the door and points it out to everyone. Hey, I wonder if that’s going to be significant? He also enjoys a submissive sexual relationship with housekeeper Rivelli (which turns out to have no significance whatsoever), and the two make veiled hints about his hidden motive in inviting all his friends over. We never find out what it was, but, hey, it makes him look really suspicious, right?

Death On The Fourposter (1964)

‘Hang on for a moment, girls, I just need to do something suspicious…’

Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem more than a little determined to set Leomine up as the killer and end up taking this much too far in the story’s later stages. Although undeniably handsome, under certain lighting the actor does look a little strange, and that is more than sufficient for the audience to doubt his innocence. However, we also get him contaminating the crime scene by wandering around holding the murder weapon (a scarf), pulling silly faces and carrying on without due care and attention.

There’s also a sprinkling of some of the usual ‘old dark house’ cliches, such as the sinister groundskeeper/servant, the dodgy fuses and a moving bookcase that hides a secret passage. Despite knowing there’s a killer on the loose, people persist in going off on their own and creeping about in the dusty passageways. However, there is an amusing sequence when Vittoria Prada gropes around on the floor for her lost glasses, foreshadowing the actions of Velma from many a ‘Scooby Doo’ cartoon!

Barrymore was the father of Hollywood leading lady Drew Barrymore and a member of an acting dynasty that goes back to the early days of cinema and the Broadway stage of the 1880s. He emerged fairly quickly as the black sheep of the family, having issues with substance abuse and many runs in with the law. He was variously incarcerated for drug possession, domestic violence and public drunkeness, and his career finally petered out in the mid-1970s. In this film, he’s saddled with an odd, floppy blonde hairstyle but gives a perfectly adequate, if surprisingly, brief performance, probably recruited simply as a device to sell the film in America.

A reasonable enough picture, but one that fails to strike any significant sparks.

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.