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Buddha has the power to change the nature of a person into their opposite. He uses this power only when the world is in danger. When a villain obtains plans that could be used for peace or war, Buddha turns him into a good guy. Now what?
TORPEDO BAY (Charles Frend and Bruno Vailati, 1963) **1/2
This Italo-British production feels like the European equivalent of THE ENEMY BELOW (1957), adapted from the book “Beta Som” inspired by a true WWII incident. For the record, director Frend had helmed the classic naval drama THE CRUEL SEA (1953) – whereas Mason had appeared in THE DECKS RAN RED (1958); also, the film is one of a few instances from this era of an Italian co-production with English-speaking countries: two similar war efforts were THE BEST OF ENEMIES (1961) and THE CAPTIVE CITY (1962) – both of which, incidentally, co-starred David Niven (I’ve lost the former many a time on TV, but should be checking out the latter soon).
Anyway, back to the film at hand: Mason isn’t particularly taxed by his role here, but his graceful presence is a plus to any film; Lilli Palmer, pushing 50, is a surprising choice to provide the romantic interest – yet she carries it with elegance and conviction, Andrew Keir appears as Mason’s burly lieutenant; Geoffrey Keen has a rather memorable role as the nasty head of British Intelligence at Tangier. Gabriele Ferzetti, then, is the rugged captain of the Italian ranks (who manages to hold his own in Mason’s distinguished company); Alberto Lupo is one of his officers (later involved with voluptuous chanteuse Valeria Fabrizi); Andrea Checchi is Ferzetti’s ‘contact man’ at the Moroccan port; and Paul Muller has a small role as the (surprisingly tolerant) district Police Commissioner.
The two sides’ peculiar attachment to one another is tested during a bar-room brawl (the Italians stand up for the outnumbered British sailors against the locals); later, the English oblige in the procurement of penicilin to treat a wounded Italian soldier. The film’s adherence to a serviceman’s code of ethics is clearly wishful thinking, but the proceedings come across as reasonably engrossing for all that – while offering a mix of hysteria, irony and sentimentality at the climax. By the way, co-director Bruno Vailati had been the producer of the Riccardo Freda/Mario Bava horror/sci-fi opus CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959); besides, the film's remaining technical credits include at least two other “Euro-Cult” stalwarts in cinematographer Gabor Pogany and composer Carlo Rustichelli.
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