Three Supermen In The Jungle/Supermen/Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Vergini Della Jungla? (1970)

Three Supermen In The Jungle:Supermen:Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Virgini Della Jungla? (1970)‘It all started last year when a stray cat wanted to marry him…’

A top FBI agent is interrupted outside the church when he’s about to be married. The Russians are close to getting their hands on a newly-discovered Uranium deposit deep in the African jungle, and he’s the only man who can stop them. But, before he can begin his mission, he must rescue his two ex-colleagues who are about to be executed in the Far East. Together, they are the ‘Three Fantastic Supermen’…

The third in a series of Italian comedy adventures that began with Gianfranco Parolini’s ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). That film starred Tony Kendall, Brad Harris and Aldo Canti as the title characters: a trio of heroes fighting crime in black capes and bulletproof scarlet body stockings. It was a cheerful cross between a James Bond knock-off, a comic book adventure and a caper movie, and provided a cocktail of mildly diverting, undemanding fun. A sequel ‘3 Supermen a Tokio’ (1968) followed, directed by Bitto Albertini and featuring a new principal cast. This film was the third in the series and saw Harris return from the first film, joining Sal Borgese, George Martin and director Albertini from the second instalment.

Brad Harris is not a happy man. About to tie the knot with his blonde girlfriend, he’s interrupted by men from the ministry, including boss man Colonel Treaps (Pedro Rodríguez de Quevedo). He insists that Harris is the only agent who can foil the Commie’s invasion of the dark continent, and appeals to his sense of duty. Eventually, Harris pretends to agree but plans to give him the slip, arranging to hook up with his bride later on, but the Colonel is too smart for him. Instead, he ends up kitted out like an Apollo astronaut and blasted off in a rocket (courtesy of some reasonably-priced local film library). It was 1970, so I guess moon rockets were the transport of choice.

Three Supermen In The Jungle:Supermen:Che Fanno I Nostri Supermen Tra Le Vergini Della Jungla? (1970)

‘It’s from my agent! He reckons he still might be able to get me out of the sequel.’

The first part of Harris’ mission is to rescue ex-teammates Borgese and Martin from the firing squad of a local desert chieftain. We never find out why they’ve been condemned to death, which should raise an early red flag when it comes to the scriptwriting department. Similarly, we never find out the source of animosity between Harris and his old friends, beyond the fact that he’s all about the mission, and they’d rather be scoring some easy cash. Having said all that, Harris does crash the firing party courtesy of an underground tunnelling machine which is a nice touch, if poorly realised.

Unfortunately, these early scenes turn out to be the highlights of the film by far. Once our heroic trio make it to Africa and run across the obligatory lost tribe of white-skinned lovelies in fur bikinis, the story grinds to a halt and ends up as little more than an apparent rip-off of ‘Carry On Up The Jungle’ (1970), although this film actually arrived in cinemas a few weeks earlier. Yes, the tribe’s queen (Femi Benossi) falls in love with Harris. Yes, Borgese ends up in a large cooking pot, courtesy of the local cannibals. Yes, there’s a joke involving a rubber crocodile. Yes, the cannibals play musical instruments made from human bones while the girls do a vaguely suggestive dance, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

‘Ooh-err, Missus, look a the coconuts on that…fnarr…fnarr…’

Of course, it’s both sexist and racist, but these elements are more of a reflection of the lazy thinking of the time that the film was made, rather than elements delivered with any malicious intent. What’s arguably even worse is how predictable, weary and plain boring it all is. Not only are all the jokes telegraphed well in advance, but they are so old that they probably need to be carbon dated to establish their origin.

The film plays very much like they wasn’t any finished shooting script and the cast had to improv various loosely-connected gags and scenes in order to drag the film bodily toward the 90 minute finishing line. It’s only Borgese’s athletic efforts at slapstick that prevent the onset of audience coma and it’s a close-run thing. Harris in particular tries hard, but there’s simply no-life in such a threadbare script and his impersonation of an oriental in the film’s closing scenes might have kept him awake in later years.

The series carried on for another two films, minus Harris who must have thought better of it. Borgese and Albertini were still on board for ‘Supermen Against The Orient’ (1973) (a distinct improvement on this) and Borgese and a returning Martin reunited with a new director for ‘Three Supermen In The West’ (1973), which saw the trio back in the Old West, courtesy of a time machine. Albertini also gave the world strange ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip off ‘Escape From Galaxy 3’ (1981) which was a mixture of kiddie-friendly sci-fi and soft-core porn. That was a more interesting film than this one, if not necessarily for the right reasons.

A painful slog. Not recommended.

Supermen Against The Orient/Crash! Che Botte…Strippo Strappo Stroppio (1973)

Supermen Against The Orient (1973)‘Don’t worry, I have a wonderful ointment made out of donkey fat.’

An incompetent FBI agent is sent to the Far East to investigate the disappearance of half a dozen of his colleagues. To solve the mystery, he must team up with two criminal ex-partners and members of a martial arts school in Hong Kong.

Curious hybrid of infantile comedy and chop socky action that formed part of a loose series of movies began by director Gianfranco Parolini with ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). The original starred Tony Kendall and Brad Harris from his ‘Kommissar X’ series, and was a cheerful amalgamation of Bond knock-off and caper film with nods to comic book and superhero genres. It was humorous without being an out and out comedy, an approach that was discarded when Parolini passed the baton to writer-director Bitto Albertini, the man behind the somewhat underwhelming ‘Goldface and The Fantastic Superman’ (1967).

So what’s new? Well, for a start, Kendall and Harris have been replaced by Robert Malcolm and Antonio Cantafora in the leads. And Kendall’s suave efficiency has apparently given way to complete incompetence. You see, according to the higher echelons at the bureau, Malcolm is a total disaster as an agent but always gets the job done (somehow?) So he’s hijacked from his wedding and packed off to Bangkok to begin this important mission. After ensuring he’s pointlessly strolled around plenty of nice-looking tourist board landmarks, he’s sent off to Hong Kong by mysterious femme fatale Shih Szu where he meets jovial crooks (and old friends) Cantafora and Sal Borgese. Borgese had replaced Aldo Canti from the original movie in the series as Canti’s film career was somewhat limited due to his links with organised crime, consequent time spent in jail and eventual murder in 1990. Borgese was actually the series’ only constant in front of the camera, having played a bit part in the original Parolini film.

The most interesting thing about the film are the circumstances of its production and how that influenced the finished product. This was an Italian-Hong Kong co-production, involving the world famous martial arts studio of the Shaw Brothers. They were looking to send their films overseas due to new censorship issues in local markets like Singapore. Similarly, Thailand had introduced a quota system to protect their local film industry, which probably explains the diversion to Bangkok. The result of this is that we get lots of tiresome knockabout comedy (the Italian element) periodically relieved by some well-choreographed scenes of hand to hand combat, particularly those involving local stars Lo Lieh and Lin Tung. Their climactic confrontation, although far too short, is quite easily the best sequence on offer. Szu was also a rising star in the genre so she gets to show off some of her moves, and that really is a young and unbilled Jackie Chan in one of the mass brawls…and he was involved in staging the fights.

Unfortunately, aside from the Kung Fu action, what we get is a truly painful trawl through lots and lots of dumb gags and painfully laboured attempts at humour. There’s a pointless and excruciating subplot about Cantafora and Borgese robbing the safe at the U.S. embassy (an idea actually lifted from the first film). What makes this much, much worse, is that this development means extended exposure to the comedy stylings of Jacques Dufilho as the American Consul, who mugs and flaps his way through proceedings as if begging the audience for laughs. The entire plot is sketchy at best, Albertni seemingly assembling random elements almost like he was putting together skits for a TV show.

Supermen Against The Orient (1973)

‘I thought there was only supposed to be 3 of us and, hang on, but aren’t you a girl?’

In the plus column, there’s possibly the most over-sung film theme of all time as Ernesto Brancucci squawks, growls and yelps through a demented number that almost defies description. There’s also a curious bit in a nightclub where traditional dancers wave their scarves on a dancefloor that looks strangely reminiscent of the one stalked by John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977) four years later.

Albertini was still on board with the series in the mid-1980s, and other entries include the trio heading back to the Wild West in a time machine! One curious note here; star Malcolm appeared in only three films; this one, ‘Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad’ (1973) and ‘Charity and the Strange Smell of Money’ (1973). He was the lead in all three, but has no other credits whatsoever. lt’s also highly likely that Robert Malcolm was an alias to help sell the film to U.S. distributors. I wonder who he really was?

Fast forward through the film and stop every once in a while for the martial arts action. And be sure to check out the theme song. If you dare.

The Three Fantastic Supermen/The Fantastic Three (1967)

‘Watch out! One of the three Supermen is following in a Yellow Cab!’

Two thieves who rob high-profile targets wearing special bulletproof costumes are joined by a third member for their latest heist. Their plan to rob a foreign embassy of millions of dollars goes off without a hitch, until they realise that their new colleague has his own agenda…

Cheerful 1960’s comedy-adventure that combines elements of the Superhero genre, James Bond and the caper movie. Producer-Director Gianfranco Parolini (hiding under his usual alias of Frank Kramer) had previously teamed actors Tony Kendall and Brad Harris in decent Bond knock-off ‘Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill’ (1966). That movie launched them in the successful ‘Kommissar X’ spy film series, which ran until 1971, but, in the meantime, Parolini put the performers together again here.

Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) is the leader of this criminal enterprise, always ready with a knowing smirk, smart chat for the ladies, and a useful pair of fists. Sidekick Aldo Canti is an acrobat who can’t speak but giggles hysterically throughout, in what is a somewhat puzzling artistic choice. Their schemes are backed by boffin Carlo Tamberlani, who has invented their bulletproof suits (and capes!), a self-driving car and a ‘Universal Reproducer’ (of which more later). He also has a pretty young niece, of course, played by Bettina Busch, which gives rise to all sorts of kidnapping possibilities for chief bad guy Jochen Brockmann and his gorgeous sidekick Sabine Sun. Kendall also runs a spy school for beautiful women, and may be an English nobleman working for British Intelligence (although, like a lot of plot points, that isn’t exactly clear).

When our heroic duo become a trio for their latest blag, they’re joined by American Brad Harris. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s an FBI Agent and he’s after their swag because he suspects it to be counterfeit (and a little bit radioactive). That’s because it’s been created by Tamberlani’s ‘Reproducer’ which has ‘fallen into the wrong hands’ as these great inventions always do. The villainous Brockmann doesn’t want to stop at such petty larceny though, conscripting Tamberlani (through the unexpected medium of kidnapping his pretty niece) to modify his device to create copies of people. Yes, he needs zombie soldiers for his army so he can conquer the world!

This is all supremely silly, of course, and the film proceeds at the sort of helter-skelter pace designed to both maximise the entertainment value and paper over the gaps in the screenplay, which is sometimes more than a little incoherent as well as deliberately ridiculous. Unfortunately, Parolini doesn’t have the sort of budget necessary to achieve the swashbuckling style he’s aiming for, with both fight choreography and action set pieces lacking in execution and thrills, although there is some decent stunt driving.

Three Fantastic Supermen (1967)

Audiences thought the ‘Dance Off’ was too close to call…

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the presence of Canti. Most of his acrobatic feats are performed in a mask, so it could have been a stunt double, but it does seem he had at least some gymnastic ability. Why is this a surprise? Well, apparently, Canti was a real-life criminal with ties to the Mafia. ln fact, he was a full-time resident of the local prison during production but was allowed out during the day to film his scenes!

Two sequels followed; ‘3 Supermen in Tokio’ (1968) and ‘Supermen’ (1970). Kendall didn’t appear in either, but Harris showed up for the last of the short series. Unsurprisingly, Canti was a no-show on both occasions too, his role being taken by Sal Borgese, who turns up here as an FBI Agent with a bazooka!

Good, undemanding fun if you can look at the other way and forgive the technical deficiencies.