I due gattoni a nove code… e mezza ad Amsterdam (The Two Big Cats with Nine Tails… and a Half in Amsterdam) (1972)

‘David says it with flowers, and the guru understands.’

A journalist and his cameraman are sent on assignment to Amsterdam after the mysterious death of a diamond magnate. When they attempt to investigate, the photographer inadvertently takes a picture of a man being murdered…

Comedy spoof that is usually also tagged with the Giallo label. Popular Italian double act Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia star for Osvaldo Civirani, who directs from his own script.

Times are tough for investigative reporter Ciccio (Ingrassia), whose partner Franco (Franchi) has been forced to take photographic jobs in advertising to help their business make ends meet. They get a break when the representative of a popular magazine hires them to go to Amsterdam and look into the mysterious death of a wealthy diamond merchant. They befriend businessman Big Bon (Luigi Bonos) on the flight there, but he is arrested by the police when they touch down.

Using the contact information provided by Bonos, the duo touches base with statuesque model Thea (Elisabeth Sennfors), who gives them a bed for the night in the flat she shares with a friend. The following day they set out with their only clue; a strange phrase written on a note found in the dead man’s possession. This message refers to a man named David and a guru, the latter reference prompting a visit to the local hippie community.

Comedians Franco and Ciccio were a national institution in their homeland of Italy, but their broad band of half-hearted slapstick failed to find much favour abroad. Some of their prodigious output did make it to English-speaking shores, but this effort seems to have stalled on mainland Europe. As a result, it never had an English language title, but the original translates as at the head of this review. It’s this ‘cash-in’ title that seems to have fostered a belief that the film is a spoof of Dario Argento’s prominent Giallo The Cat o’ Nine Tails/Il gatto a nove code’ (1971). It’s not. Just what it is supposed to be, well, that’s open to question.

Where to begin? The film fails on so many levels that it’s hard to know. Franco and Ciccio’s comedy stylings were never subtle and are almost the definition of an acquired taste. Franco played the ‘funny one’, pulling silly faces, chattering like Jerry Lewis on acid, and falling over things. Ciccio mainly functioned as the ‘straight man’, getting annoyed with his partner and moving things on to the next gag. Although their act was hardly original, it could work in a limited way, especially if they had something specific to spoof, such as with their Spaghetti Western ‘Fistful of Knuckles/Per un pugno nell’occhio’ (1965). Here, writer-director Civirani hands them a whole lot of nothing.

The film has many problems, but the fundamental obstacle is the script. There doesn’t seem to be one. There is no actual plot as such, just a few scattered, barely connected scenes intercut with our heroes wandering around the streets of Amsterdam, seemingly looking for something to do. The whole production possesses a hopelessly cheap and aimless quality, and it’s tempting to believe that the stars, director and a tiny crew spent a few days in Amsterdam improvising some bits and pieces. There are five minutes in a Judo School where Franco pulls faces when he’s thrown to the mat a few times, and Ciccio struggles with the weights. The sequence has no foreshadowing and never pays off in any way. The overriding impression is that the production came across the establishment in their wanderings, had a word with the owners and then just shot something made up on the spot. In a similar vein, Franco muggs his way through a song about Sicilian hippies in a darkened nightclub, but, of course, it’s entirely disconnected from everything else. Afterwards, they presumably headed back home, shot the few studio scenes on a handful of small, underdressed sets and tried to create some kind of a story. It’s not that nothing makes sense; it’s that there’s nothing to make sense of in the first place.

There also seems to have been a fair bit of guerrilla filmmaking going on. At one point, our hapless heroes stop passers-by on the street to ask them questions. One man objects to Ciccio getting too close to his child, and the actor apologises and moves on. They also mix with some hippies sitting in a city square. It’s plain that these people were not actors, and some probably were not even aware they were being filmed.

There are a few scenes where the boys interact with other legitimate cast members, although there are barely half a dozen significant speaking roles. Sennfors, who has no other screen credits, disappears from the film after a while (she probably had something better to do), and the two girls the boys chat up outside Bonos’ office also vanish immediately afterwards. Floating around on the margins of all this nothing is ubiquitous Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, billed as ‘Killer’, but the ‘Italian Peter Lorre’ gets less than a dozen lines.

The film’s most significant set piece is when the boys escape from a gang of faceless goons holding them captive in a windmill. The chase is speeded up as if everyone is auditioning for the Keystone Kops, and it’s accompanied by manic squeaking on the soundtrack. Our heroes don army fatigues and camouflage gear when attempting to break into a luxury hotel in broad daylight. I guess those are the comedy highlights. If you’re wondering what all this has to do with ‘The Cat o’ Nine Tails/Il gatto a nove code’ (1971) and the Giallo horror thriller in general, then keep on wondering.

If you did want to make a case for this as a Giallo, then a mystery character who appears briefly to bop people on the head with a hammer from time to time. Local Commissario (Luca Sportelli) also explains the ‘mystery’ at the end with a hefty and complicated exposition dump. Of course, almost everything he talks about happened offscreen. If the film is spoofing anything, then I guess it could be a Euro-crime thriller. That does feel appropriate as director Civirani had also been in Amsterdam the year before, shooting a real film. That project was ‘The Devil has Seven Faces/Il diavolo a sette facce’ (1971) which has a far stronger claim as a Giallo but also possesses significant elements of a more standard crime picture.

Franco and Ciccio began working together in the late 1950s, initially appearing as a duo in supporting roles in such films as ‘Maciste in the Valley of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai’ (1961). Starring vehicles followed quickly, beginning with the Foreign Legion comedy ‘I due della legione’ (1962). Over the next decade, they appeared in approximately 112 films enjoying phenomenal domestic success. There were theatre appearances, hit records and even a comic book series. However, by 1972, the ride was almost over, and they went their separate ways soon afterwards.

I don’t care if this film is a Giallo or not. Let us never speak of it again.

The Devil With Seven Faces/Il diavolo a sette facce (1971)

‘You’re an idiot with the brain of an ant.’

A beautiful translator living in Amsterdam suspects that she’s under surveillance. After receiving a panicky telephone call from her twin sister in London, two men try to force her into a car out on the street. Fortunately, her lawyer and his visiting friend step in to rescue her…

The prize is a fabulous stolen diamond in this mystery thriller from Italian director Osvaldo Civirani that boasts some familiar faces in the cast. He shares screenplay duties with Tito Carpi, whose writing slate for the year included other Giallo films such as ‘Marta’ (1971), ‘Cold Eyes of Fear/Gli occhi freddi della paura’ (1971) and ‘Seven Murders For Scotland Yard/Jack el destripador de Londres’ (1971).

American blonde in Dutch exile, Julie Harrison (Carroll Baker, who else?) has been spooked by several strange incidents, including being photographed by a creepy man on the street at night after a house party. She’s lost track of her twin sister, Mary, so it’s another shock to get a phone call from England. Mary’s in trouble, and it’s something to do with her husband, but she’s cut off before she can explain. Baker goes to meet her lawyer, handsome Dave Barton (Stephen Boyd), who’s being visited by old friend, racing driver Tony Shane (George Hilton). Two men try to grab Baker after she leaves, and the intrepid duo dive in to fend off her attackers.

Baker takes an immediate shine to Hilton, much to the chagrin of Boyd, who contents himself with secretary, Margaret (Lucretia Love). The would-be kidnappers break up Baker and Hilton’s romantic evening and ransack her home. Even when she’s threatened with a knife, Baker insists she doesn’t know what it’s all about, and it seems clear the gang have mistaken her for her sister. Boyd gets a visit from insurance investigator Steve Hunter (Luciano Pigozzi), who tells him that the whole business revolves around a priceless diamond lifted by Mary from a visiting Maharajah. He neglects to mention that he’s been fired from his job and is working his own end of the street in alliance with some of the crooks involved.

Thieves fall out is the theme of Civirani’s Giallo adventure as characters circle each other, lining up their sights on the elusive gem. Everyone seems to have their eyes on the prize, and is anyone who they claim to be? This tangled skein doesn’t take a genius to unravel, but there are some pleasing diversions along the way. Baker rocks a bright blue wig on the beach (for some reason!) and displays her usual strong commitment to her role. This time around, the physical demands involve more than just casual nudity (in fact, she keeps well covered) but instead focus on the later action scenes, and she handles them well. Hilton is his usual suave, but slightly sinister, presence and Boyd turns on the charm with effortless ease.

The machinations of the plot are never genuinely gripping, but Civirani keeps up a decent pace, and the audience is invested enough to stay on board. The twists and turns are generally predictable and, although some don’t stand up to close scrutiny, the suspension of disbelief remains intact. Nothing is exciting from a technical standpoint, although a gun battle is well-staged and setting the finale in a windmill and its immediate surroundings makes for some good visuals. Things are a little thin in terms of its Giallo credentials, with an early scene of Baker being stalked and her nervy examination of the attic in her new flat being the most prominent examples. Elsewhere, events resemble more of a Euro-Crime thriller. Probably it’s the casting of Baker and Hilton, the year of production and the Italian origin that’s promoted its inclusion on most Giallo lists.

Hilton was one of the premier actors of early 1970s Giallo, appearing in a formidable number of films, including some notable examples. He began with a minor role in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968) but came to prominence with an eye-catching turn in the outstanding ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh’ (1971). ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971), ’All the Colors of the Dark/Tutti i colori del buio’ (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris/Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?’ (1972) followed, along with several less distinguished Gialli projects. Hilton spent most of the rest of the 1970s in Spaghetti Westerns before turning up as a Professor in Ruggero Deodato’s bonkers science-fiction action flick ‘The Atlantis Interceptors/I predatori di Atlantide’ (1983). The 1990s saw him mainly on television, and he kept working until a few years before his death in 2019.

Civirani began his career with the adult documentary ‘Sexy proibito/Forbidden Sex’ (1963) and moved into the mainstream with threadbare Peplum ‘Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole’ (1964), on which he served as co-writer, director and cinematographer. He delivered Eurospy adventures ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and ‘The Beckett Affair’ (1966) before switching to Spaghetti Westerns, which included ‘Return of Django/Il figlio di Django’ (1967) with US actor Guy Madison. Other projects included motor racing drama ‘Le Mans scorciatoia per l’inferno’ (1970) and several comedies starring Italy’s favourite funnymen Franco and Ciccio. One of these was ‘I due della F.1 alla corsa più pazza, pazza del mondo’ (1971) which also had a motor racing theme. One of his final films was supernatural horror ‘Voodoo Sexy’ (1975) with Karin Schubert and Chris Avram.

A workmanlike but rather uninspired feature.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)‘My mother is dying. A big rock fell on her.’

The legendary hero Hercules is shipwrecked on a strange shore after a terrific storm out at sea. His crew are all dead, and he’s met by a guard of hostile soldiers. Assistance arrives from a group of Inca warriors, and he learns that their land has fallen under the rule of a usurper whose followers practice human sacrifice…

In a sense, this was the last of the ‘stand-alone’ official Hercules series that had been kicked off by the international success of the 1958 film of the same name starring Steve Reeves. Yes, there were three subsequent films, but the first found the demi-god sharing the spotlight with fellow musclemen Samson, Maciste and Ursus. The next was primarily a re-edit of two previous films in the series starring Reg Park and the last was produced initially as a pilot for a television show. And, yes, this project does betray the telltale signs of a dwindling budget and dipping production values.

We join Hercules (Mark Forest) on the coast of South America, washed ashore after an apparent storm out at sea. All his men have drowned, but the bad news doesn’t end there. He’s barely had time to catch his breath before he’s under attack. Some Inca warriors come to his aid (I guess everyone was just hanging at the beach that day) and the bad guys are quickly dispatched. Getting the lowdown on local politics doesn’t take long and, within minutes, Forest has pledged his allegiance to his rescuer: Prince Maytha (Giuliano Gemma), son of the deposed King Houscar (José Riesgo).

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Stop slacking you lazy bastards!’

First on the agenda is preventing the sacrifice of Gemma’s sister, the Princess Hamara (Anna-Marie Pace). She’s due to go under the knife of the High Priest (Giulio Donnini) of villainous despot King Atah Ualpa (Franco Fantasia). Gemma is happy to entrust the task to Forest because he’s known him for an hour or two. By the time Forest and his warrior crew arrive in the city of Tiahuanaca, the shindig is in full swing. For once, the dancing girls on their endless tour of the world’s lost civilisations haven’t got the gig. Instead, there’s a troupe of male dancers in blue feathers and skull masks shaking their thing.

Luckily for Forest, high priest Donnini loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice and takes so long about the ceremony that Forest has plenty of time to snatch Pace from her pink feathered table and make a clean getaway. He covers their escape by bringing down a column in the secret tunnel. This could have backfired and buried everyone, of course, but I guess the big man understands all about load-bearing walls and architectural stuff.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Tell you what. I’ll be Doug McClure if you’ll be Caroline Munro.’

Back at the rebel village, Forest gets nearly all the credit for the rescue (I guess the other guys fighting were pretty superfluous) but, despite this victory, Gemma isn’t keen on taking the fight to Fantasia. His forces are badly outnumbered, even with some of Fantasia’s army fighting in another part of the kingdom. This isn’t good enough for Forest, however, who completely undermines the Prince’s authority in front of the whole village by suggesting an attack. Intelligence will make their warriors worth five of Fantasia’s men, he promises. He doesn’t explain how, but he does invent the wheel, so that’s ok. It’s possible that this was an in-joke by the scriptwriters, who may have been referencing earlier series entry ‘Hercules In The Vale of Woe’ (1961), which was a time-travelling spoof that used the same plot device for comic effect.

Forest has the villagers building siege towers, but his contribution to the work consists of offering the odd bit of helpful advice and hanging around with Pace instead. She’s looking after a shoulder injury he’s sustained, but it’s clear that she’d rather be looking after another part of his anatomy. The drippy romance between Forest and Pace may get consummated offscreen as director and co-writer Osvaldo Civirani cuts from their first kiss to a herd of stampeding llamas. Well, it makes a change from a burning fireplace, I suppose.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Can you hear the llamas starting to gallop?’

But it’s at this point that we start to get a hint of trouble. Financial trouble. The villagers hold a party to celebrate the upcoming battle. The entertainment is a solo dance performed by a woman with a few men as her back-up. What’s wrong with that, you may ask. Well, for a start, it lasts for about six and a half minutes, and the cutaways to Gemme and Pace are tight close-ups. Forest attends courtesy of what looks like shaky b-roll footage, and he seems to be looking the wrong way! There have been a few strange editing choices up to this point, but many European films are recut for American release and sometimes with little care or attention. It’s worth mentioning the English language dub, as well. Quite obviously, no-one was in possession of the original script as the dialogue is often clunky and has characters repeating the same information to the extent that sometimes verges on the comic.

There’s also a strange subplot concerning a young boy that’s adopted by the tribe after Hercules lifts a big rock from where it has fallen on the lad’s dying mother. At the time, this seems important, and later we see him following Forest around the village as if they’re joined that the hip. But he never appears again, furthering the impression that some scenes are missing or were never filmed. Events culminate with the storming of the city, of course, and it’s pleasing to report that this is carried out on quite an impressive scale with plenty of extras and action. Unfortunately, the stunt work is uninspired, and some of the combat looks more than a little lethargic.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

The Mardi Gras was in full swing.

Where the film really scores, though, is with the costume design by Mario Giorsi. Fantasia and his Queen (Angela Rhu) wear magnificent, tall headdresses with a skull motif and lots of colourful feathers, and even the despot’s guards are decked out with feathered helmets that reach for the ceiling. The sacrificial ceremony is a riot of bright, vibrant colours thanks to Giorsi’s work, lending the scene a real style and echoing the work of horror maestro Mario Bava on ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). Perhaps it’s a condemnation of the rest of the film’s technicians to highlight this one area to such an extent, but the work is head and shoulders above what else is on offer. Literally!

The film was producer, director and co-writer Osvaldo Civirani’s debut in those roles and, given that, he delivers a respectable picture. There are problems and signs of possible budgetary issues, but it’s still serviceable enough. He teamed with Forest again on ‘Kindar The Invulnerable’ (1965) and delivered acceptable Eurospys ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) with Roger Browne and ‘The Beckett Affair’ (1966). Later projects included several Spaghetti Westerns, a series of comedies with popular double act Franco and Ciccio and crime thriller ‘The Devil with Seven Faces’ (1971) with Giallo mainstays Carrol Baker and George Hilton.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Sorry, kid, who are you again?’

Incidentally, Italian cult favourite Rosalba Neri is listed by some sources with an uncredited appearance as ‘The Queen.’ Well, there’s only one role that fits that description in the finished film and that most assuredly is played by Rhu and not Neri. It’s possible she may have been initially on the picture and left for some reason and still appears in long shots but that’s unconfirmed. However, her list of credits is always going to be open to some interpretation. Reportedly, sometimes she would send her cousin along to play small roles she had been contracted to do when she couldn’t be bothered!

An acceptable enough muscleman outing that leaves the viewer with the impression that some of its flaws were probably down to adverse production circumstances.