In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)‘The sea had always been his idol, and it became his tomb.’

An escaped convict on the run from the police witnesses a woman burying a body at a coastal villa. When he’s apprehended a few minutes later, he keeps his mouth shut about what he’s seen. When he’s released thirteen years later, he returns to blackmail the family involved but finds that he’s picked the wrong people to victimise as he gets far more than he bargained for…

Wild and wacky Giallo/horror mash-up from director Sergio Bergonzelli that almost defies description. The audience is treated to a barrage of bizarre, fragmentary plot points and some incredibly melodramatic over-acting from his cast, coupled with a heavily stylised and distracting filming technique.

On the run jailbird, Pascal (Fernando Sancho) has just enough time to see governess-housekeeper Lucille (Eleonora Rossi Drago) digging a grave in the family garden before the cuffs are back on and he’s dragged back to prison. The police don’t notice what Drago has been up to and Sancho isn’t about to grass her up. He’s got another plan in mind. However, the coastal villa happens to belong to notorious mob boss André (Alfredo Mayo).

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

The wardrobe designer should have probably checked their medication.

By the time Sancho is released from prison and returns to demand money from the family, the gangster’s been missing in action for many years. Ever since that night when Drago was doing her spot of midnight gardening strangely enough. Worse still, there’s more than one skeleton in the mansion’s closest. Or more accurately in the acid bath in the outhouse. Most of them have been put there by daughter, Falesse (Pier Angeli) but cousin Colin (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) is just as likely to be responsible. Drago seems happy to help clean up any inconvenient consequences. The vicious Sancho doesn’t realise he’s on borrowed time, of course, and begins his reign of terror.

This sounds like the formula for a dark, blackly comic thriller with Sancho and the family plating a cat and mouse game of treachery and murder. But that wouldn’t be an accurate description of the film. By the time Sancho returns to the scene, director Bergonzelli, who co-wrote with Fabio De Agostini, has already assaulted the audience with a bewildering and apparently random, series of events. These have mostly involved Angeli flirting with any male visitors to the house, and then killing them. Caba also has some fun hobbies: feeding the pet vulture, keeping in the front garden and strangling dogs. On the other hand, Drago just has recurrent flashbacks to naked women being gassed by the Nazis at Belsen.

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t go any further over the top.’

Not weird enough for you? Well, all this action is punctuated by crazy camera angles, black and white still photographs, split-second inserts of a speeding train and some of the worst decapitation FX in movie history. If the intention was to demonstrate our main characters’ fragmentary states of mind, this scattershot technique is understandable. However, Bergonzelli pursues it so remorselessly over the first half of the film that it’s likely to have induced a similar mental state in his audience. Many will check out early and just turn off the film, believing it to be 90 minutes of meaningless self-indulgence. But, surprisingly enough, they’d be wrong.

It turns out that the first hour or so of the film is just a curtain-raiser to the main story and the film suddenly settles down to tell it. Godfather Mayo, who was supposedly the victim of the first murder at the start of the film, comes back alive and well. He’s been in hiding for the last 13 years, but with a brand new face courtesy of plastic surgery. Now he’s back to reconnect with his family, but he’s in for a surprise or two. And so are we. Because what follows is a series of such outlandish plot twists and reveals that they take the suspension of disbelief to a new level. Does everything make sense now? Yes. Is it even remotely believable? Not a chance. If Bergonzelli was trying to make the point that traumatic events in the past can turn anyone into a mad killer, well, any fan of the Giallo could have told him that!

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

‘You don’t really expect me to believe that, do you?’

At the distance of half a century and with little production information on the film available, it isn’t easy to know what the filmmakers intended.
Were the final plot developments supposed to be so insanely ridiculous? Was it a black comedy? That would certainly explain the overcooked performances. After all, Angeli was a very capable actress who was on the cusp of stardom in the 1950s after her breakthrough appearance opposite Gene Kelly in ‘The Devil Makes Three’ (1952). She appeared in ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956) with Paul Newman. She could act, even if she never made it to the top of the tree. Well, you would never know it from her turn here as she unmercifully chews the scenery in a cheap blonde wig and too much makeup.

It’s not just Angeli either. This was Drago’s final film before retirement, and she had over 20 years of experience in Italian cinema, going straight into leading roles with almost her first picture, ‘Altura’ (1949). She’d acted with big-hitters such as Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954), Orson Welles in ‘David and Goliath’ (1960), and Jack Palance in ‘Sword of the Conqueror’ (1961) but, again, you’d question her ability on this evidence. It seems likely then that the cast just gave the performances that the director wanted.

This is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is an interesting one. It’s likely to polarise opinion and, as such, it might be worth your attention, but fans of the more familiar Giallo formula would be advised to stay away.

OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok/Shadow of Evil/Banco A Bangkok Pour OSS 117 (1964)

‘Mr Barton, despite your weapon and your smugness, you can do nothing against me.’

A series of plague outbreaks in Asia seem to be linked to the activities of a professor distributing vaccines. After an operative with a hot lead to the mystery is killed in Thailand, Agent OSS 117 is dispatched to Bangkok to take up the case…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Kerwin Mathews, reprising his role as Hubert Barton from ‘OSS 117 Se Duchaine’ (1963) and running around Bangkok for returning director André Hunebelle. Only this time he’s doing it in glorious Eastmancolor! And that’s a good thing because one of the film’s main attributes are its locations and setting; the old monastery at the climax being a particularly pleasing visual choice.

The film begins with the obligatory faceless agent getting gunned down by some faceless henchmen on a Bangkok street. It’s not exactly subtle and inevitably provokes the almost immediate arrival on the scene of our suave hero. Not a great move for our mysterious supervillain. Couldn’t he at least have tried to make it look like an accident? For a change, Mathew’s actually got some back up and he visits the local office to get the low down on the situation, where he meets cool blonde secretary Eva (Dominique Wilms). They run into each other again at an embassy reception, but he’s only got eyes for exotic Lila Sinn (Pier Angeli) whose brother (Robert Hossein) is a local doctor/guru and perhaps the most suspicious character in movie history.

His new manicurist had a fresh approach…

What follows are the usual Eurospy shenanigans as Mathews investigates; dodging bullets, punches and car bombs along the way (or his stunt double does, anyway). As usual, all he has to do is to a stare at a woman for her to come over all unnecessary (rather than consider him a creep), and his other skills include immediately hailing a cab with just a wave of his hand and getting a parking space right in front of any building he visits.

Gadgets are limited to some basic surveillance equipment, including a transmitter inside a book, and an interrogation room where he gets strapped up to some electronic gizmo. He’s also shadowed everywhere by a mysterious man in sunglasses who eventually takes a brief part in the action. Who is he? An ex-Nazi double agent, apparently. What he has to do with what’s going on? No idea.

On the credit side, our mysterious super villain does have a nice line in maniacal patter: ‘The world will end in the multiplication of being that the soil one day will no longer feed’. So there! He also has a secret underground lair, including a lab where white coated technicians inject rats with plague virus and various beakers and test tubes boil and bubble. Unfortunately, he does exhibit the usual cavalier attitude towards Health & Safety standards, and the whole thing is instantly transformed into an inferno by a couple of machine gun volleys delivered by Mathews toward the climax.

OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok (1964)

‘And I bet her short hand is just terrific…’

Given that a total of 8 writers worked on this, five with the adaptation and three on the script (including the director), it’s remarkable that the end result displays so little imagination and creativity. Perhaps it was a case of the ‘filmmaking by committee’ method so beloved by big Hollywood studios, which removes any individuality or interesting aspects from a project.

At 118 minutes, it’s far too long as well, and specific events often seem stretched out and slow. Apparently, there is a 92-minute cut, which, if edited so individual scenes are tightened (rather than removed entirely) may be a significantly more enjoyable experience.

Both Mathews and Angeli’s best days were already behind them; Mathews in the title roles of ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958) and ‘Jack The Giant Killer’ (1962), Angeli opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956). The pair reunited a few years later to fight the dreadfully awkward and crappy ‘Octaman’ (1971), the first creation of SFX and makeup guru Rick Baker. Sadly, it was Angeli’s last role; she was found dead from a barbiturate overdose at her home after the production was over. Mathews made a few more scattered appearances in the years following before retiring in 1977 and becoming a frequent guest on the convention circuit in later years. He died in 2007.

Not a bottom of the barrel spy adventure by any means, but one that requires more than a little patience from the audience.

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You’re Dead (1965)

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)‘Someone’s Crazy! This is the third body in a month with the eyeball removed!’

After the death of a top research scientist, his daughter becomes the target of international spies after a secret formula. An American agent is sent to break her out of captivity on the other side of the Berlin Wall, but his boss has had a secret TV camera implanted behind his eye during what he believed was an operation to cure his sight.

Lacklustre Italian Eurospy doings that are most notable for a featured performance by ex-Hollywood leading man Dana Andrews. He’s the section chief responsible for this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ Brett Halsey, a handsome American actor who never really hit the big time back home. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to run around glamorous European capital cities, or wrestle much arm candy, although he does get to spend a little time in a hay barn with heroine Pier Angeli. In terms of gadgets, we do get a murderous waxwork of Napoleon, and a colleague who carries out a Quasimodo-like masquerade just so he can sometimes attack enemy agents with an unconvincing knife that comes out of his hump. The main villain’s lair also doubles as a doctor’s operating room, via an impressive mechanical set.

However, despite these implausible trappings, this is a much more grounded spy adventure than you would expect. It is more Sean Connery Bond, than the outlandish Roger Moore era. Unfortunately, it’s these gimmicks which are the only thing of interest in the film, and they are fairly peripheral to say the least. What we get instead is a hopelessly dreary 90 minutes of kidnappings, assassinations, cross and double cross, a few scenes with a helicopter and lots of men in suits talking in rooms.

Andrews gets a reliably authoritative performance, but he’s the best thing here by a long way, as none of the rest of the cast are able to invest their characters with any real personality. Similarly, director Vittorio Sala fails to bring a level of tension to the proceedings, and there is a complete absence of style or dynamism in his work. Andrews’ top line credentials were established with big studio hits like ‘Laura’ (1944), ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’ (1946), ‘Boomerang’ (1947) and, later on, the genuinely creepy ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957). Unfortunately, problems with the bottle accelerated a career decline which found him with an icebox full of Nazis in ‘The Frozen Dead’ (1966). But he cleaned up, went into real estate, made a fortune, and lived to the age of 83.

Blonde hero Halsey got his start in supporting roles at Universal in the late 1950s, even graduating to the lead in horror sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959). But, by the 1960s, he’d decided to try his luck in Europe and spent the next decade in ltaly, appearing in projects like this and the similarly themed ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965). He returned to the States in the 1970s and rounded out his career with many guest appearances on Network TV shows and the occasional character role in features, such as ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)

‘Be careful! You’ll have someone’s eye out with that!’

Angeli was an Italian whose big break came opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956), and was an early girlfriend of both James Dean and Kirk Douglas. Unfortunately, she could never capitalise on her initial success and ended her career, and her life (via barbiturate overdose), on the set of no budget monster snooze-athon ‘Octaman’ (1971).

Sala’s most noteworthy credit is probably ‘Colossus and the Amazons’ (1960) simply as it was the next film released starring Rod Taylor after his career making turn as H.G.Wells’ hero in ‘The Time Machine’ (1960). In the supporting cast, it’s always a pleasure to see Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, here appearing in a thankless role as a spy who plays both ends against the middle. If you’re interested in cult European cinema through the 1960s to the 1980s, you could do worse than check out Pigozzi’s filmography. He appeared in everything from ‘werewolf in a girl’s dormitory’ shocker ‘Lycanthropus’ (1961), to disasters like the idiotic ‘Devilman Story’ (1967), several appearances for horror maestro Mario Bava, including ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964), to classic guilty pleasure ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983).

If I’ve talked a great deal more about the careers of the major players here than the film itself, that should tell you all that you need to know. Dull, anonymous spy shenanigans with a few bizarre touches that turn out to be just window dressing and nothing more.