Thursday, May 14, 2009

16th August 2008: "Spaghetti Wrestling Sci-Fi" double!

Superargo And The Faceless Giants

Italy 1968 colour

aka Il Re Dei Criminali, L'Invincibile Superman, Superargo

Director “Paul Maxwell”/Paolo Bianchini Writer Julio Buchs

Cast “Ken Wood”/Giovanni Cianfriglia (Superargo), Guy Madison (Professor Wendland), “Liz Barrett”/Luisa Baratto (Gloria Devon), Diana Lorys

Like the United States, Europe has a long tradition of pulp novels and comic strips infiltrating mainstream culture. Unlike much of the output from the States, however, their comics are usually crafted for a more sophisticated adult audience. Thus the kinky body-stockinged superhero became a staple of Euro pulp cinema in the mid Sixties during a time when Batman and Bond set off a string of pop culture explosions around the world.

Superargo was just one of many comic characters brought to the big screen, first in Superargo vs Diabolicus in 1966, and this, its 1968 sequel Superargo And The Faceless Giants. Played by “Ken Wood” aka Giovanni Cianfriglia, a stunt man and bit player in peplum and spy features who graduated to headlining spaghetti westerns, Superargo cuts an impressive figure: a red body stockinged superhero with a perfectly drawn square jaw and comic book eyes staring out from a black leather mask (is that masquerade or bondage chic?). In fact he’s almost identical to the all-black Diabolik, but then the Euro superheroes (Flashman, Argoman, Goldface, Phenomenal) are all just one differently-coloured mask away from melding into a huge amorphous ultrahero.

In Superargo And The Faceless Giants, Ken Wood makes his first appearance in a wrestling ring, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was yet another Santo knockoff from Mexico. In fact this catch-all pulpathon looks and feels like a continental Santo film, with the added Euro flair of sub-Bondian gadgetry and ubervillains, mutant pop art excesses, ludicrous science fiction, and with some remarkably Sixties attributes: his own personal guru, a turbaned fakir named Kamir, the gift of telepathy, and the ability to focus his psychic energy to bend matter at will. Groovy.

He's called in as a freelance agent for the secret service to investigate the case of the missing champions: all world class athletes kidnapped by the clearly insane Professor Wendland and somehow replaced by the titular “faceless giants” – tallish (but not excessively so) robots with pantyhose features and Cybermen cutoffs. His sidekick Claire is also nabbed and brainwashed by the mad Professor into destroying Superargo and thus taking over the world. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: and so it goes. You've seen it a thousand times before in a thousand configurations, and still it's as much goofy fun as watching Batman as a kid for the very first time.

Batman’s Euro counterparts may have less kitsch and more quiche at their disposal, but it's no less insane, and with its mutant surfadelia and wrestlemania in full swing, I'm sure you're going to go Batshit crazy over Superargo And The Faceless Giants.

War Between The Planets

Italy 1966 colour

aka Planet On The Prowl, “Il Missione Pianeta Errante”/Mission Wandering Planet

Director “Anthony M. Dawson”/Antonio Margheriti Writers Renato Moretti, Ivan Reiner

Cast “Jack Stuart”/Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Commander Rod Jackson), “Amber Collins”/Ombretta Colli (Lieutenant Terry Sanchez), Enzo Fiermonte (General Norton), “Alina”/Halina Zalewska (Janet Norton)

We’ve screened two of Italian genre specialist Antonio Margheriti’s early science fiction movies before on Schlock Treatment. Tonight’s film is the third in a four-film series Margheriti was contracted to make for US television, then desperate for cost-effective colour B-pictures, in the mid Sixties. It took a staggering three months to shoot the four films simultaneously, using different coloured clapper boards to keep track of actors and props on the constantly-recycled sets. All four films were set around a space station, hence the informal “Gamma One Quadrilogy” tag.

Not surprisingly, given the Italian film industry’s assembly line mentality and Margheriti’s own effects wizardry, the results were not only better than expected, but were deemed far superior to most of the domestic schlock-fi pictures of the time. MGM decided to release the four films theatrically, starting with Wild Wild Planet, before dumping them on the late night TV trashpit.

War Between The Planets - also known as Planet On The Prowl – recycles Margheriti’s plot from Battle Of The Planets. Earth is once again rocked by a series of cataclysmic gravitational disturbances caused, it seems, by a rogue planet. Scientists dispatch a Neutron Deflector to the donut-shaped Gamma One space station, rocked by a much smaller series of catastrophes, a space opera of the soapy kind: Redhaired Lieutenant Sanchez is attracted to angry alpha male Commander Rod Jackson, who’s reluctantly engaged to the General’s clingy and infinitely less likable daughter Janet. Luckily for the rest of mankind they keep their dramatic cocktails on ice until after landing on the Angry Red Planet, an odd duck shooting cold coagulated fat into the atmosphere from its pock-marked surface, firing remote-controlled asteroids (or, in the words of one verbose scientist, “asteroidal manifestations”), and with a single computer brain linked via a series of arteries to the living and breathing heart of the planet itself.

If Kubrick didn’t see this film and flip, I’ll eat my beard: Margheriti’s model work and set design is, for a throwaway B film, simply astounding. On the minus side, the actors wear their pancake makeup like a fat kid at a cake-off, and mouthing the words in English when your first language ain’t Inglese was a bad choice. And someone please strangle the narrator – if I hear one more minor plot point mimeographed in triplicate, I will staple my severest of objections to his chest. (Deep breath) Which is possibly my cue to shut the hell up, as we unleash the planet for the prowl in War Between The Planets.

No comments: