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Some good, some not so good and - something else entirely
4 March 2018
Sex sells. THE OLDEST PROFESSION (IN THE WORLD) is a both a film about selling sex and uses sex to sell itself. With the film divided into six segments with different storylines, directors and casts, how well it succeeds is something of a mixed bag.

The first segment - "The Prehistoric Era" - is set in a vaguely Flintstonesesque stone age where a young woman (Michèle Mercier), spurned by the man she is infatuated with, takes her revenge in a way that introduces the concept of paying for sex into the world. There is the germ of something here, but this segment never really goes anywhere. Mercier is too petulant and capricious, the other performances too flat. The whole affair is basically a one joke setup, badly told. On the other hand, it does sell sex. With Michèle Mercier running around in an animal skin bikini for the duration, there is eye candy aplenty.

For segment two - "Roman Nights" - we leap ahead a few hundred thousand years to Imperial Rome, in its decline. The Emperor Flavius (Gastone Moschin), depressed that the depleted state of the royal coffers prevents him from hosting a proper Roman orgy, sneaks off to an upscale public brothel, where he is at first shocked - and then excited - to discover that the woman he has just paid to have sex with is his moonlighting wife, the Empress Domitilla (Elsa Martinelli). In some ways this is perhaps the most disappointing segment. All the elements are here for what could have been a really enjoyable Carry-On style farce, but whole thing never really gels. Once again, the best thing about it is the eye candy. Elsa Martinelli - really only a supporting player - isn't given much to do, but she is afforded several glamour shots, and absolutely makes the most of them. She is utterly gorgeous here.

"Mademoiselle Mimi" takes us to France during the Reign of Terror. Mimi (Jeanne Moreau) is a successful prostitute/kept woman who seems to have nothing but contempt for the officials of the Committee of Public Safety who shower her with gifts - and proposals of marriage - but allows herself to be taken in by an obviously ersatz noble (Jean-Claude Brialy), claiming that he will inherit his uncle's vast estate, once said uncle loses his head to Madame Guillotine. If "Roman Nights" is the most disappointing segment because it fails to live up its potential, then "Mademoiselle Mimi" is the weakest, because it has none at all. The storyline is groan-worthy in its predictability, characters are uniformly unlikable and I found nothing at all to recommend about this segment. Frankly, I have never understood the appeal of Jeanne Moreau - either as one of France's supposedly great beauties or great actresses. On both counts - of her films I have seen - she consistently appears to have been at least a week without sleep, and her turn here does nothing to alter that impression.

The film's most successful segment, "The Good Times", features Raquel Welch as Nini, an obviously upscale prostitute in pre WWI Vienna, who - lamenting the recent dearth of well-heeled clientele - settles one evening for a rather dull-looking middle-aged prospect (Martin Held). Back at an apartment that he has "borrowed from a friend", there is an exceedingly brief wham, bam, thank you, ma'am encounter, following which the john falls into a coma-like slumber and Nini prepares to depart. However, when in the process of helping herself to a few bills from the man's wallet, she finds business cards revealing that he is in fact a very wealthy banker, Nini is struck by inspiration and plots a long game, with her sights on the big brass ring at the end. "The Good Times" is light, amusing, well paced and pays off for both Nini and the audience at the end. Additionally, Raquel Welch - at the height of her - considerable - beauty is quite good as Nini. All in all, things are looking up as we jump ahead in time once again.

Set in 1960's Paris, "Today" features France Anglade as Catherine, a modern day working girl, and Nadia Gray (playing a character called 'Nadia') as what is essentially her pimp - though that is decidedly too strong a term. Nadia is Catherine's manager, agent, enabler and chauffeur, but above all else, she is quite obviously her friend, and the relationship between the pair - and the shenanigans they get up to - has a very Lucy and Ethel feel to it. When Catherine suffers a setback due to an error in judgment in the course of her professional activities, it is Nadia - during a detour in the storyline - who comes up with the unconventional idea of conducting business in an ambulance. Of course, in typical Lucy and Ethel fashion, on their first night out in their new brothel on wheels, Catherine and Nadia catch the attention of the gendarmes and comedic panic ensues. "Today" is a thoroughly enjoyable segment, with engaging, likable characters and performances, broader humor and plenty of energy.

From the fluff and fun of "Today" the film shifts to the far future, and the film's final segment, with Jean-Luc Godard's "Anticipation". Set in a - literally - colourless and dystopian future, an ambassador from another galaxy (Jacques Charrier) discovers that existence on Earth has become so rigid and specialized that a prostitute he can have sex with (Marilù Tolo) cannot speak and a prostitute who can speak (Anna Karina) cannot have sex. Unsatisfied with either option, he introduces a new idea into this bleak world. This segment is so tonally out of sync with the rest of the film that it is very hard to render judgment on it. "Anticipation" is not a comedy. There are absurd elements, but while they might - possibly - elicit a slight smile, there is nary a chuckle to be found. Depending upon how charitable you are inclined to be, thematically and stylistically, "Anticipation" is really only an encapsulation or a rehashing of Godard's ALPHAVILE.

The US cut of THE OLDEST PROFESSION is some twenty minutes shorter than the European original and these trims are decidedly detrimental to the film. For the most part why these cuts were performed is incomprehensible to me, however in "Anticipation", they are blatantly made to remove the nudity that is unique to the Godard segment. Unnecessary colour tinting is added to this segment for the exact same reason.

A film that could only have been made in the 1960's - that odd era with its strange mix of "modern" sexual liberation and old-fashioned pre-feminism - as a whole, THE OLDEST PROFESSION (IN THE WORLD) is an example of a film's reach exceeding its grasp. There are things to like about it, but there are plenty of missed opportunities as well. It is a film worth seeing, but with properly moderated expectations.
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Into the Labyrinth (1981–1982)
An appealing and entertaining 1980's children's fantasy series
23 September 2017
The premise of INTO THE LABYRINTH was a quest of the basic Dungeons and Dragons variety, but with children as the protagonists and produced on a minuscule budget.

At some point in the - apparently fairly distant - past Rothgo (Ron Moody), an ancient wizard of great power, barely prevailed in a battle with his nemesis, the evil but beautiful sorceress, Belor (Pamela Salem). Weakened and trapped in a cavern, deep underground, the source of his power - the Nidus - lost somewhere in time, Rothgo's telepathic calls for help are answered by three teenagers, Terry (Simon Henderson), his younger sister, Helen (Lisa Turner), and Phil (Simon Beal). Rothgo manages to convince his somewhat reluctant rescuers to help him recover the Nidus, and Phil, Terry and Helen enter the eponymous labyrinth, a rather pint-sized maze that allows them to travel back in time as they move through it.

In each era our heroes visit, they must try to locate the Nidus - which can only be seen in reflection - while being stymied by Belor. Aiding them is Rothgo - both the version from their own time who provides them with telepathic guidance and the corporeal version who lived in the time period they are visiting. And so it went, week after week, the children almost succeeding, before Belor is able - at the last moment - to "deny them the Nidus" hurtling it away into a different time and place, as a prelude to next week's adventure.

The series was obviously produced on a shoestring budget, with a very limited number of sets being endlessly redressed and reused, and very dodgy CSO providing all of the not-very-special special effects. Where INTO THE LABYRINTH excelled - at least in the first two series - was in its scripts, which were intelligent, quite engaging and capable of overcoming much of the cheapness of the production, and in the performances of Ron Moody and Pamela Salem. Moody, an excellent actor, is quite obviously having a ball with the lightweight material, playing the part completely straight, but injecting just the right amount of wit into his character. Salem seems to be equally enjoying herself, delighting in her role as the thoroughly wicked villainess.

After its first run of seven episodes, the program returned for a second series, with the same regular performers, a slightly modified premise and even better scripts, including contributions from the likes of Christopher Priest, John Lucarotti and Robert Holmes. Sadly, with the end of the very entertaining series two, the best days of the show were now behind it.

Gone from the third series of INTO THE LABYRINTH was Ron Moody's Rothgo, replaced by children's entertainer Chris Harris as the inept magician, Lazlo. Also not returning were Helen and Terry, leaving Phil on his own to sort out Lazlo's bungling. Pamela Salem was back - as delightfully wicked as ever - but it wasn't the same. Chris Harris seemed determined to play Lazlo for laughs and the scripts seemed willing to abet this unfortunate change in tone. A shadow of its former self, INTO THE LABYRINTH limped along to end of its third series and then was no more.

Proof that creativity and ingenuity can overcome a paltry production budget and that an engaging fantasy series can be produced without state-of-the-art CGI effects, INTO THE LABYRINTH, provided an appealing and entertaining series, the like of which today's entertainment industry would never even dare attempt - more's the pity.
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Silly, inoffensive film, with a well-tread plot and faulty direction
23 September 2017
This very broad comedy features several guffaws and one or two solid laughs. The premise is old hat: Douglas and Francis (Alfred Marks and Bob Monkhouse), two idler brothers of the stereotypical British upper-class variety, suddenly find themselves cut off without a penny in their late grandmother's will, in favour of a Corsican cousin, Toni, they have never met and whose existence they were previously barely aware of. Immediately dismissing the notion of actually working for a living, the brothers decide that their only viable options are reacquiring control of the estate by either marrying or murdering their cousin on her impending visit to the hereditary family manor on the English coast.

Initially deciding that murder is the more palatable of the two options, they find themselves vacillating somewhat, when Toni arrives in the person of the beautiful and seductive Anna Karina. From there events proceed in a predictable fashion as Douglas and Francis, without a whit of subtlety between them, alternate between trying to murder and romance Toni, as circumstances keep shifting beneath their feet, leading up to the totally foreseeable finale.

Tossed into the mix is a typical assortment of eccentric British comedy supporting characters: Hattie Jacques as a blustery journalist, Graham Stark as her silent, dour photographer, Peter Butterworh as a myopic, deranged country doctor and Clive Dunn as a confused and klutzy shopkeeper.

All the performers deliver exactly what is required of them, doing their best to work with the tried and true, but ultimately tired material. However, it really isn't the lack of originality that is the main failing of the production. Indeed, to a certain extent, the familiarity is both expected and comforting - the audience knows what kind of movie this is going to be from the moment the opening credits roll and can settle back at ease with it. What really lets the whole production down is Robert Asher's ham-fisted direction. Asher seems to have had no faith in the inherent humour of the material or the skills of his performers and his resulting attempts to force laughs with silly, insipid and embarrassing visual gags and groan-inducing "whacky" sound effects, not only display a lack of directorial inspiration, but a deficiency of good taste.

Certainly not a great movie, but one that is quite indicative of the era of film making that spawned it, SHE'S GOT TO GO is recommended more for fans of British comedies of the type represented by the CARRY ON series (of which Bob Monkhouse was an alumnus and Hattie Jacques and Peter Butterworh were regulars) than those of the Ealing Studios variety.
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An amusing but minor British comedy of the 30's
11 June 2016
There is really nothing original about this film - and it is hard to imagine that the story wasn't old hat even back in the thirties. That having been said, it is an amusing example of the type of comedies that were the standard in Great Britain in that period. The plot is simple: Leslie Fuller is Bill Jenkins, who has just been left the lion's share of his rather ferocious and formidable late aunt's considerable estate. The hitch is that Bill must abstain from drinking, swearing and smoking - all of which he enjoys - if he wishes to keep his inheritance, or it will be given over to his cousin George instead. Encouraged by his wife, Bill puts in an honest effort, but in typical comedy fashion events conspire against him. Of course George's scheming, shrewish wife is eager to catch Bill in any moment of weakness and snatch the inheritance for herself. From this premise events follow their predictably droll course.

Fans of screen beauty Greta Gynt are treated to one of her earliest film roles - though in this case it is a minor supporting part as one of a trio of girls who are mistakenly invited by Bill's wife to spend the night at their home while she is away.
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Easily one of the most impressive science-fiction televisions series ever produced
12 January 2013
In September of 1966, a ground breaking science fiction series premiered on television, one that despite its sadly brief time on the airwaves, would remain a well remembered and well regarded cult favourite, surviving its broadcast demise for decades after with new adventures in prose fiction. Debuting on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) on September 17, 1966, SPACE PATROL - THE FANTASTIC ADVENTURES OF THE SPACESHIP ORION was like nothing ever produced before for television.

The scope of the series, both in concept and execution was grand. The setting for the series was explained each week in the opening narration:

What sounds like a fairy tale today, may be tomorrow's reality. This is a fairy tale of the day after tomorrow. There are no more nation- states; only humanity and its colonies in space. Distant stars have been settled. The ocean floors are inhabited. Space ships cross the galaxy at unimaginable speeds. One such ship is the Orion - a small link in a great chain of defence against threats from space.

Unlike the disciplined heroes of contemporary American fare such as STAR TREK or VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, the crew of the Orion were incorrigible mavericks. In the very first episode the Orion is demoted from active service in the space fleet and relegated to space patrol, the equivalent of galactic traffic cops, for their latest act of disobedience. The Orion's skipper is Major Cliff Alistair McLane (Dietmar Schönherr) a war hero, a man of unquestionable ingenuity, courage and fierce sense of loyalty, yet he is dangerously reckless with little respect for authority and an utter contempt for bureaucracy. His crew would willingly follow him into hell, knowing that if any man could get them back out it would be McLane.

Despite McLane's habitual insubordination, his value is recognized by both his former superior, General Van Dyke (Charlotte Kerr) and General Wamsler (Benno Sterzenbach) the commander of Terrestrial Space Reconnaissance. It is Wamsler who arranges for the Orion to be reassigned to the Space Patrol, rather than have them face court- martial. However as a condition of this, he also assigns them a new crew member, Lieutenant Tamara Jagelovsk, a GSD (Security Services) agent to keep them in line. Initially at odds with his new watchdog, McLane discovers that Jagelovsk, with her cool efficiency and by-the-book nature, is not the millstone he expected and the two quickly develop a considerably less antagonistic relationship.

The other members of the Orion's internationally flavoured crew were weapons officer Lt. Mario de Monti (Wolfgang Völz), engineer Lt. Hasso Sigbjörnson (Claus Holm), astronavigator Lt. Atan Shubashi (F.G. Beckhaus), and communications and space surveillance officer Lt. Helga Legrelle (Ursula Lillig).

It is shortly after their reassignment to the Space Patrol that the crew of the Orion discover a new and unprecedented threat to humanity, on Earth and in space - a race of technologically advanced energy creatures, nicknamed the Frogs, bent on the destruction of mankind. The Frogs and their machinations would serve as the main threat for the duration of the series' run. Other episodes featured such familiar SF concepts as rebellious robots, deranged scientists and lost Earth colonies.

While many of the scientific concepts in the series seem incredibly simplistic today, if not patiently ludicrous, the stories themselves were highly inventive and entertaining. The series made full use of teleVISION, showing, rather than talking about space battles, exploding planets and alien worlds. Unlike other productions where the stories had to reign themselves in to what it was considered possible to visualize with the budgets and technical limitations of the day, the special effects people at Bavaria Atelier seemed to be up to any challenge the script writers could throw at them.

Technically SPACE PATROL was far superior to anything seen on American television, and, for that matter, in most contemporary theatrical films. The show abounded with complex matte shots, miniature work and optical effects, ranging from floating robots to the semi-invisible Frogs, to a giant super nova hurtling through space, to an entire planet ripping apart before the viewer's very eyes. Every opportunity was taken to make the show look more impressive. The Orion didn't simply launch from a pad, it rose from a gigantic hanger on the ocean floor, up through the aquatic depths, then emerged from a spinning whirlpool to lift into the sky. Even what could have been conventional sets were enhanced with complicated optical shots, such as the lounge in the frequently visited Starlight Casino which featured a transparent ceiling allowing patrons to watch giant fish swimming past as the relaxed.

Only seven episodes of SPACE PATROL ORION were produced, broadcast biweekly from September 17 through to December 10th, 1966. Unlike STAR TREK, which suffered from general viewer apathy, SPACE PATROL ORION was immensely popular during its initial run. Unfortunately in Germany the concept of audience size at that time meant very little. In 1966 there were only two television channels, WDR and ZDF; both non-commercial, government run public television services. And so, after the end of its first, all too brief run, the complex and very costly RAUMPATROUILLE ORION passed into television history.

The crew of the Orion continued to have new adventures in one hundred and forty-five SPACE PATROL ORION novels, later reprinted in TERRA ASTRA, published between 1968 and 1984. The original television adventures were released in Germany on VHS in 1993 and then on DVD a mere six years later. The DVD set remains available and is a highly recommended way to enjoy this classic television adventure series.
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Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (2001 TV Short)
A clever reimagining of a children's show into an adult comedy
6 January 2013
The original ELECTRAWOMAN AND DYNAGIRL was a very self-aware pastiche of the BATMAN series from the preceding decade. By airing as a Saturday morning kiddies' show, it was able to get away with being deliberately cheesy, campy and over-the-top in a way that other similar fare of the time, such as the truly terrible AMAZING SPIDER-MAN series with Nicolas Hammond, could not.

The producers of the 2001 revamp correctly understood that a direct remake of the original series stood no chance of success. They realized that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to translate the program's intentionally camp nature into something acceptable to a more contemporary audience, nor would a more realistic take, such as the DARK KNIGHT series of films, be of much service to the property.

Their final reimagining of the characters and situations was clever, entertaining and apt. In a period when so many "comic book" characters were being reinvented to exist in a darker, harsher world this was hardly a bold move. Obviously depicting the formerly ridiculously white bread ElectraWoman as drunken trailer trash, a decade past her glory days, meant that this new take was not intended for a new generation of kids, but to draw in the now adult audience who's younger selves had watched and enjoyed the original series. The result is irreverent, outrageous, entertaining and filled with series potential. Purists might be offended by the brash take-no-prisoners approach, but the majority of the audience, old and new, would have got the joke and been willing to go along with it.

Likely the pilot was rejected due to a lack of courage on the part of the network; a fear of the controversy that might result from not only skewering a scared cow, but from the risqué nature of much of the humor. While it can be lamented that only this brief tryout for a new ELECTRAWOMAN AND DYNAGIRL was ever produced, at least this much does exist so that it can be judged by the public at large on its own merits, which are considerable, rather than on the hearsay of second and third hand reports.

Look for the video online and decide for yourself.
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Satanik (1968)
A faithful adaptation of the fumetti neri
30 January 2011
The level of success of SATANIK as a film is entirely dependant upon the audience viewing it. An audience expecting something along the lines of OPERAZIONE PAURA or CASTLE OF BLOOD will be disappointed. This isn't a horror film. Even an audience expecting a giallo in the Argento / Fulci tradition is bound to be dissatisfied by the lack of creative violence and relatively mild gore. In 1968 the target audience for this film were the readers of the hugely successful fumetti neri that had already led to popular cinematic spin-offs of DIABOLIK and KRIMINAL. When viewed in this light, SATANIK becomes a much more successful, though no better, film.

In most respects the film is fairly faithful to its literary origins. Marny Bannister, a brilliant but horribly disfigured scientist, ingests a chemical formula that transforms her into a beautiful, but soulless, homicidal femme fatal. Though the base premise relies upon science fiction rudiments, the stories in the original comics tended more towards the Rialto Edgar Wallace krimis than any genre effort by Antonio Margheriti. Horror elements did crop up in the comic, notably the Dorian Gray like character Alex Bey and Satanik's long running battle with the vampire, Count Wurdalak, but such fantastical story lines were interspaced with more conventional crime thrillers. It is from the latter that SATANIK the film takes its inspiration.

It is easy to dismiss the movie as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde done up as a travelogue, but it is unlikely that film audiences familiar with the comic original would have been disappointed. In terms of plot all the fundamentals have been transferred from the comic into the screenplay, with some scenes lifted almost verbatim. The casting of the central role is excellent. The beautiful Magda Konopka displays both the proper malicious delight in her newfound beauty and callous disregard for her pawns and victims and even very much resembles her comic book counterpart. Where the film falls short is in structure, directorial ambition, and resolution.

Other than the avaricious desires of our central character, there really is no central narrative to the film. To its detriment, it is more a series of episodes, strung loosely together. While the same criticism could be easily leveled against the film version of DIABOLIK, that film enjoyed superior pacing and visual interest thanks to the brilliance of director Mario Bava. Indeed Bava could have done much for SATANIK as the direction of Piero Vivarelli is only workmanlike throughout, lacking in ambition and dynamism. The most blatant weakness of the film is its final few minutes. The ending of the film seems hurried, hackneyed and uninspired, owing more to a bland requirement to see justice done at the end then to provide a satisfying conclusion. Something akin to the last moments of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or the original HALLOWEEN would have been far more effective.

This film is available on DVD in North America in an unspectacular, cropped 4:3 English dubbed release. A superior widescreen DVD release is currently available in Europe, with the original Italian audio track. The Italian DVD has no English audio or subtitles.

Historical Note: SATANIK is closely adapted from the Italian comic series created in 1964 by writer Max Bunker and artist Magnus (pseudonym of Roberto Raviola). In the same year the pair also created the character "Kriminal" whose modus operandi and skull and bones costume were usurped by the character "Killing" two years later. When the fumetti Killing stories were reprinted in France the character was renamed "Satanik" and eventually "Sadistik" in America. This character was brought to film as "Kilink" in a series of productions from Turkey. The original Satanik series was renamed "Demoniak" when reprinted in France, so as not to be confused with the already existing "Satanik" title. And of course an entirely different character called "Demoniak" already exited in Italy.
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The Four Just Men (1959–1960)
A classic and trend setting adventure series from the Golden Age of television
6 September 2010
While it is sadly mostly forgotten today, THE FOUR JUST MEN was in its day an important and influential television series. As one of the earliest productions released by ITC, it established the formula that would lead to a string of successful, and more well remembered, programmes in the 1960s. Taking its name from the popular novel by pulp fiction author Edgar Wallace, the series rejected the ruthless vigilantism of the book, opting instead for an entirely different approach to the basic concept.

The opening episode of the series establishes the premise. When four friends, journalist Tim Collier (Dan Dailey), British MP Ben Manfred (Jack Hawkins), law professor Jeff Ryder (Richard Conte) and wealthy hotelier Ricco Poccari (Vittorio De Sica), who have not all been together since World War II, arrive for a reunion at the country home of a fifth friend, Colonel Cyril Bacon (Anthony Bushell) they discover that Bacon has died and left them a unique bequest. Bacon believed that four just men could change the world, and has bequeathed his fortune to the others so that they may use it to pursue the cause of justice wherever they find it. The newly christened Four Just Men take up this call to arms, dedicating themselves to a battle that will carry them across the next 38 episodes, and over a territory that varies both geographically and thematically.

If one word was required to sum up the concept of the programme, it would be "diversity". With Collier based in Paris, Manfred in London, Poccari in Rome and Ryder in New York, the series offered our heroes a wide range of venues in which to operate. The generous amount of location work prefilmed in Europe and Britain featuring the regular cast and inserted into the episodes throughout the run certainly helped to give the series the look of a high budget production and maintain the cosmopolitan atmosphere. This international flavor would become a trademark of later ITC productions such as DANGER MAN, THE SAINT and THE CHAMPIONS.

The adventures the Four Just Men undertook also varied widely in nature. There were, of course, the usual assortment of murderers, swindlers, thieves, gangsters and foreign agents that one expected in such a series. However many episodes discarded such explicit villains and instead probed into the greyer and often grimmer areas of social injustice and human frailty, including racial hatred, moral intolerance and the persecution of the innocent by the ignorant.

Even the cast varied week by week. Each episode featured only one of the main stars in a central role, with maybe one or two of the others appearing briefly in a, usually literally, phoned in cameo. Each lead also had his own supporting cast member. Future AVENGERS star Honor Blackman appeared as Collier's girlfriend and assistant, Nicole. Hammer film actor Andrew Keir was Manfred's private secretary, Jock. Beautiful Lisa Gastoni featured regularly as Poccari's secretary Giulia, and June Thorburn occasionally appeared as Vicky, one of Jeff Ryder's law students. For the record the tally is Dailey 22 episodes, 10 as the featured lead, Hawkins 23 episodes, 9 as the lead, Conte 23 episodes, 10 as the lead and De Sica 15 episodes, 9 as the lead. Honor Blackman appeared in 10 episodes, Andrew Keir in 7, Lisa Gastoni in 6 and June Thorburn in only 4, plus one early appearance in another role before she was recast as Vicky.

The guest players were also an impressive assortment of familiar faces and future stars, including Cec Linder, Sheila Allen, Laurence Payne, John Van Eyssen, Patrick Troughton, Charles Gray, Jane Asher, Jack May, Judi Dench, Anthony Bushell, Ronald Howard, Ronald Leigh Hunt, Donald Pleasence, Kevin Stoney, George Pastell, Lionel Jeffries, Michael Ripper, Ewen Solon, Ferdy Mayne, Robert Shaw, Richard O'Sullivan, Philip Latham, Paul Eddington, George Pravda, Roger Delgado, Geoffrey Keen, Brian Worth, Alan Bates and Mai Zetterling. Special mention must be given to future ARE YOU BEING SERVED star, Frank Thornton who seemed to turn up in just about every second episode playing such characters as Desk Clerk, Auctioneer, Estate Agent, Police Constable, Hotel Manager, etc… In one or two episodes his character even got to have a name.

Undoubtedly due to its black and white filming and half hour format, THE FOUR JUST MEN did not enjoy the same extensive syndication other ITC series did after its initial release, and has unjustly faded into dimming memory and near obscurity. Fortunately the entire 39 episode run has recently been collected into a superb DVD release, so that modern audiences may enjoy and appreciate this classic television series.
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An espionage melodrama indicative of the period and ahead of its time
4 September 2010
In his 1940 review of this film for the New York Times, critic B. R. Crisler unenthusiastically described the 1939 film adaptation of Edgar Wallace's 1905 novel THE FOUR JUST MEN as being both "infected with the virus propagandistus" and as an "espionage melodrama". Considering the tone and subject of the film and the popular sentiment in the United States at the time, this description is hardly surprising. In the summer of 1939, the growing threat of Nazi Germany was clear to all in Europe who wished to see it. Hitler had already conquered Austria and Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland, the beginning of World War II, was only months away. In such dark times the motivation behind a film about four men, dedicated to the cause of justice and determined to prevent Great Britain from allowing itself to fall to the Nazi war machine is wholly understandable.

The four just men of the title are vigilantes, acting outside the law, their identities secret, who have devoted themselves, for reasons never revealed in the film, to fighting crime, tyranny and injustice wherever they find it – mostly in Europe and America apparently. The group is comprised of actor extraordinaire Humphrey Mansfield (Hugh Sinclair), playwright James Brodie (Griffith Jones), Léon Poiccard (Francis L. Sullivan) the successful owner of a exclusive fashion house and foreign correspondent James Terry (Frank Lawton). In the opening sequence, Terry is rescued by his comrades from a Prussian prison where he is moments away from being executed as a spy. Terry escapes with information that a highly placed fifth columnist inside the British government is laying the groundwork for some kind of attack against the United Kingdom. The murder of Myra Hastings (Lydia Sherwood), the wife of a Foreign Office official, leads the Just Men to discover that the Nazi agent is the popular MP Sir Hamar Ryman (Alan Napier) and that the endgame of the enemy plot is nothing less than the invasion and conquest of Great Britain. With only days left until the plan reaches fruition, the race is on to bring down Ryman and save the empire.

The glaring political elements aside, the film plays out like a standard B movie adventure romp. Hugh Sinclair demonstrates he is every bit the actor Mansfield is supposed to be, slipping in and out of characters and disguises with a skill that would leave even Rollin Hand envious. Sullivan is both charming and forceful as the leader of the group and Jones is likable enough as the film's romantic lead, trying to keep eager girl reporter Ann Lodge (Anna Lee) off the track as she edges closer and closer to the truth behind the death of Myra Hastings and the hidden identities of the Four Just Men. Only Lawton is underutilized, his character spending much of the film abroad, and therefore off screen, digging up vital details about the enemy plot.

The film is so obviously an unsubtle warning about the dangers of Nazi appeasement that it cannot escape being labeled as a propaganda film. While the message it champions seems unsurprising today, one must remember that it had only been less than a year since Chamberlain's "peace in our time" speech and that in the United States rules were firmly in place to prevent criticism of Hitler's Germany in Hollywood produced films. But on December 7, 1941 all that would change and Hollywood itself would soon after become the greatest producer of anti Nazi propaganda in the world. Deeming THE FOUR JUST MEN as being "espionage melodrama" is also not inaccurate. But in this too was the film ahead of its time. With the arrival of the Cold War in the 1950s the "espionage melodrama" would come into its own, eventually leading to James Bond and the spy craze of the 1960's.

Never having been released on video or DVD the film is a difficult one to see, but certainly worth the effort if the opportunity arises. It is neither great art, nor great cinema, but it is an entertaining adventure yarn, and a lasting note of a precarious era in modern history.
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A Promising Premise; a Disappointing Film
6 December 2009
The basic premise and plot elements of TOTÒ NELLA LUNA are promising, and certainly could have been developed into a very amusing, if decidedly lowbrow, science fiction/ romance /espionage/ comedy romp. Unfortunately, that is not the film that got made.

The plot in a nutshell: America wants to send a rocket to the moon. A group of advanced extraterrestrials, represented on screen by a pair of animated Mr. Peepers eyes, do not want primitive humans poking around in space and keep sabotaging their rockets. The Americans, of course, aren't willing to give up. Somehow they have determined that only monkeys can survive going into space because only ape blood contains glumonium. However when they learn that there is one man, Achille Paoloni, who has glumonium in his blood, two FBI agents, David Campbell and George Connor are immediately dispatched to Italy to offer him $100,000 if he will agree to be the first man in space.

Not surprisingly, the good hearted, none too bright Achille isn't exactly prime astronaut material. What he is, is a lowly messenger for Pasquale Belafronte, owner publisher of the Soubrette, a weekly tabloid. What he wants is to become a successful science fiction writer, so he can marry Pasquale's daughter, the beautiful Lidia. Lidia wants to marry him regardless, but Achille believes he must become a success in order to provide for her and their future family. Convinced that he could achieve this if only people could read his stories, he substitutes his newest story, "The Rocket in Space" for the magazine's usual titillation and tease content before it is sent to be printed. When Pasquale discovers what has happened, he beats and fires Achille.

Just when all is looking very dark for our hero, Campbell and Connor arrive and make their offer. Predictably, the two Americans don't speak Italian, and Achille doesn't speak English. Achille believes that Campbell and Connor are offering to pay him an advance of $100,000 to publish his story in America - an offer he eagerly accepts. The scheming Pasquale, of course, gets wind of this, and immediately plans to steal the publishing rights and force the Americans to pay him more money to print the story abroad. Meanwhile, lurking in the background are the Professor and Tatiana, two "agents of a foreign power" who don't know what Campbell and Connor are after in Italy, but intend to find out and grab it first. Oh, yes, and the Aliens: they're still around, still watching and still determined that any rocket that goes into space, is never going to make it back to Earth in one piece.

Sadly, despite the promising ingredients, there is really very little to recommend in this film. Ugo Tognazzi is undoubtedly the best thing about the movie, managing to find subtle charm in a broad character and wily humour in grotesque sight gags. Without exception the female cast is gorgeous, but only Sylva Koscina and Sandra Milo are even given characters to play, and even those are stereotypical window dressing. But the greatest disappointment by far is Totò himself. Sometimes described as "the greatest Italian comedian of the last century", there is absolutely nothing in this film that would give any credence to such an accolade. There is nothing remotely endearing or amusing about his unsympathetic performance of a thoroughly despicable character. Pasquale's greed, selfishness, cruelty and arrogance are only barely mitigated by his stupidity. His final fate at the end of the film is a far kinder one than he deserves.

TOTÒ NELLA LUNA is at best silly and at worst embarrassing.
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Rocket Robin Hood (1966–1969)
Hark now and again to the ballad of Rocket Robin Hood
5 December 2009
There is simply no explaining the appeal of Rocket Robin Hood. Many of the stories were silly tipping over into ridiculous, the animation was cut rate at best, the whole premise was largely preposterous, and yet it is one of those programs that indelibly imprints itself on the young mind, a fond memory of television cartoons of days long past.

The series was high concept to say the least: in the year 3000, a descendant of the original Robin Hood reforms the Merry Men, complete with namesakes of the originals, to combat a new Prince John, despotic ruler of the National Outer space Terrestrial Territories, and his evil, but cowardly lackey, the Sheriff of N.O.T.T.. While the bow and arrow was still Robin's weapon of choice, most everything else was updated. He now had rayguns, electro-quarter staves and rocket ships at his disposal, not to mention abandoning a dark old forest hideout for bright and cheery New Sherwood Asteroid as a headquarters.

The first year of the program was nothing special. The series at this point was definitely aimed at younger children and featured such juvenile shtick as leprechauns, friendly dinosaurs and space cowboys, not to mention having a senile Merlin the Magician, travelling salesmen and annoying relatives popping by New Sherwood for visits. It was, to say the least, an undistinguished beginning.

All that changed with years two and three. Prince John and the Sheriff were all but jettisoned from the program and the stories became darker; the villains more diabolical; the adventures more fantastic. Here begin the stories that would be remembered, the frightening, thrilling moments that decades later are still unforgotten.

Indeed, who could ever forget the giant mutant brain created by the hideous Dr. Medulla? Who could not recall the Dracula like Dr. Mortula and his plans to forever blot out the sun above his world or fail to remember the shadowy Dr. Nocturne, with his living shadows, extinguishing entire stars to plunge the entire galaxy into darkness? Then there was the most unforgettable of all, the adventure that grown adults still remember their younger selves being chilled by, the battle with the demonic Infinata, ruler of the nightmare realm called Dementia 5.

It is too easy to see the many flaws of Rocket Robin Hood. The silly early episodes, the poor man's animation and the blatant splicing together of whole sequences from earlier episodes to make "new" stories in the final days of the series: these failings are obvious and indisputable to any adult eye. But then, Rocket Robin Hood was never meant as entertainment for adults.

There is something magical about a program that can leave memories so vivid in the mind after so many years. There was something special about the villains, the images and the concepts that were able to overcome the almost laughable poverty row production values and create an indelible impression in the minds of young viewers. There is something intangible, indefinable and inescapable about the show that still pulls those who saw it as children, now older and wiser, back to watch it again with more discerning eyes that see all the many flaws and yet remember only the magic.

"Come gather around me. Space travellers surround me. Hark now to the ballad of Rocket Robin Hood."
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Köttets lusta (2004 Video)
There's something lurking in the dark… and it might not be what you think.
5 September 2008
Yes, this is an XXX rated film, with naked people, and naked undead and supernatural creatures, doing the kinds of things that naked people usually do in such films. Adult films parodying, exploiting or just plain ripping off more mainstream fair is hardly a new occurrence. What makes KÖTTETS LUSTA worth looking at is that not since the 1970's, with films like FLESH GORDON, has a project of this sort been undertaken with such respect and admiration for the original source material – not to mention a decent budget.

KÖTTETS LUSTA is both a gentle parody of and a fond tribute to the movie monsters of the 1930's, complete with all the now clichéd elements, the dank castles and dark forests, the unheeded warnings and the twist endings, deliberately included. Nearly the entire roster of classic monsters is represented: Dr. Frankenstein and his creations, Dracula, a werewolf, Dr. Jekyll and the Mummy are all here. In fact the only founding member of the movie monster club who fails to put in an appearance is the Invisible Man.

Each monster is featured in its own segment, which, in homage to George Romero's CREEPSHOW, is introduced and exited from, via the panels of a comic book page. Not surprisingly, the quality of the individual segments vary somewhat. It is quite evident that when extra money was spent in one area, another one felt the pinch. Despite this, it is also quite clear that a great deal of effort, and a fair bit of money, was spent on the production of this film. There is a significant amount of location filming, complex prosthetic makeup, some fairly impressive special effects and mainstream caliber cinematography and editing. In truth, the hardcore elements could be easily jettisoned and the film would have worked just as well, and been more accessible, as a softcore release.

This is obviously not a film that will appeal to everyone's tastes and interests. Regrettably, even those who might wish to give KÖTTETS LUSTA a look may well have trouble viewing it as it has seen only limited DVD distribution in Europe. Perhaps even more regrettable is that with the flood of horror film parodies being dumped onto the North American cable TV and direct to DVD markets these days, almost none even approach the levels of artistry and effort lavished upon what could be casually dismissed as a porno film from Sweden.
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Case of the Missing Shadow: A Light-Weight Mystery Comedy
17 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In the late 1930's Grand National Pictures released two films based on the popular magazine and radio character, The Shadow. The first outing, 1937's THE SHADOW STRIKES saw silent film star Rod La Rocque donning hat and cape, in a rather bland drawing room mystery. Ironically, this crime thriller without the thrills had been very loosely adapted from a legitimate Shadow Magazine adventure. Considering the rather uninspiring result, it is hardly surprising that the studio decided to rethink their approach before putting a sequel into production. The result of this reconsideration, was INTERNATIONAL CRIME.

INTERNATIONAL CRIME is an odd duck of a film. Gone was almost any connection to the Shadow character as he appeared in the magazine series, or even the character from the previous film. This time out, all inspiration was derived from THE SHADOW radio program.

The thing that needs to be understood here is that The Shadow is really a split personality. The hawk-nosed avenger with the blazing twin .45's and the legion of secret operatives existed only in the magazines. On radio he was Lamont Cranston, amateur criminologist and "wealthy young man about town", who in the ancient Orient had learned the "power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." "Friend and companion" Margo Lane was also an invention of the radio series, though she was later shoehorned into the prose adventures as well. INTERNATIONAL CRIME features almost all the standards of the radio Shadow: Lamont Cranston, amateur criminologist, Margo Lane (though here called "Phoebe Lane") as his Girl Friday, cabbie Moe Shrevnitz, and foil Commissioner Weston. In fact, the only significant player missing is The Shadow himself.

Cranston (still played by Rod La Rocque, but with considerably more energy) is now a newspaper columnist and radio personality who goes by the on-air non deplume of "The Shadow". In the middle of a broadcast, his overeager and stereotypically ditzy blonde assistant, Phoebe, hands him an ill advised tip on an upcoming box-office robbery, that is actually a red-herring to draw away the police so that another crime may be more easily committed elsewhere. Already in the doghouse with Police Commissioner Weston for his caustic commentary on the capabilities of the constabulary, Cranston's reputation is now on the line, unless he can solve the real crime, a combination theft and murder, himself. But the sleuthing is never really the main point of the film: the detecting is really just a framework to hang the movie's humorous elements on. At no time is there ever a real sense of danger to the proceedings. From the moment that Phoebe crashes into the middle of Cranston's radio broadcast, the audience knows what kind of film this is supposed to be and just sits back to enjoy the ride.

There is one other very odd element to the film that begs noting –one that may have gone unnoticed by the movie going public of 1938. The criminal masterminds of the piece are Viennese nobility, plotting to halt a bond issue from foreign businessmen that will finance military forces in their homeland. On March 12, 1938, Austria was officially absorbed into Germany. Therefore the government that these conniving and murderous villains are working against, is the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler. Today it is remarkable to consider that such a plot device could have been used in the same year that Neville Chamberlain made his fateful, "peace in our time" speech, and impossible to believe that such an element would have been allowed to stand if this film had been made even a year later.

While fairly predictable, the film nevertheless rolls along at a good clip, providing a light weight, light-hearted and fairly amusing crime comedy in a similar vein, but a lower rent district, to the Nick and Nora Charles or Mr. And Mrs. Smith adventures. INTERNATIONAL CRIME is both a drastic change and a huge improvement over the feeble and stodgy THE SHADOW STRIKES.
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A Monumental Disappointment and a Waste of Fine Talent
30 May 2008
There is a level of high expectation when you sit down to watch a comedy with a cast headed by Cary Grant, Jayne Mansfield, Ray Walston and Werner Klemperer. Those expectations are buoyed further when the film is directed by Stanley Donen, whose comic touch was so evident in, among others, DAMN YANKEES!, BEDAZZLED and CHARADE. For the first five minutes, or so, it seems that those expectations might be met and then…. Nothing. What is supposed to be a light comedy, plunges into leaden, heavy handed melodrama, with nary a chuckle to be had.

Relative newcomer Suzy Parker has often been criticized for her performance, or lack of one, in this film, but in a movie in which even the great Cary Grant frequently appears flat and wooden, attacking Parker seems unfair. Not even as bright a light as an Audrey Hepburn or Doris Day could have changed the fortunes of this meandering, dreary and wholly pointless script, which drags itself lamely along and drags the viewer's interest and patience down with it.

The rest of the cast, especially Ray Walston, keep trying to breath some life into the proceedings, but the horrible script is beyond resuscitation. The desperate, inane effort to drag a half hearted laugh from the numbed audience in the film's final moments only serves to add insult to injury.

This film is nothing but a major disappointment on all levels.
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Les espions (1957)
Cold War Spy Paranoia with a Sense of the Absurd
25 May 2008
In 1957 the Cold War was in full swing, "The Bomb" was a thing of terror, the arms race was still a brand new concept and international paranoia was running rampant. It was the perfect atmosphere for Henri-Georges Clouzot to release LES ESPIONS (THE SPIES) upon the world. A less celebrated film than the director's other films of the period, THE SPIES nevertheless wages a war of nerves upon a level equal to that in THE WAGES OF FEAR or DIABOLIQUE, and keeps its sense of humour as well.

Running out of patients, money and hope, psychiatrist Dr. Malik (Gérard Séty) makes a deal with the devil. In this case the devil presents himself as an American Intelligence Officer (Paul Carpenter) who offers five million francs if Malik will keep a special guest, identified only as "Alex", for a few days at his rundown sanitarium. Malik is told that this person is of interest to foreign powers and that there may be strangers looking for him. The desperate Malik accepts one million francs as a deposit, a bundle of bills that grows increasingly heavy as he awakes the next morning to find that his staff has been enigmatically replaced during the night and that the strangers he was forewarned of have begun popping up even before the arrival of the mysterious "Alex".

From this point on neither Malik, nor the audience, know what is true or who to believe. Both the friendly American, Mr. Cooper, (Sam Jaffe) and the affable Eastern European, Kiminsky, (Peter Ustinov) ooze menace from the chinks in their veneer of civility, and nothing and no one can be trusted - not the child playing in the road, the bartender across the street and certainly not the mysterious Alex (Curd Jürgens) hiding his identity behind dark glasses and leather gloves. Yet, for everyone involved except Malik, all of this is business as usual, and the sheer ridiculousness of this contrast brings a dark humour to the proceedings.

In fact the greatest weakness of THE SPIES comes in the film's last fifteen minutes, when Clouzot unwisely lifts the veil of uncertainty and makes all clear. There is no great revelation that stuns the audience, only explanation which washes away the wonderfully absurd grays that have fuelled the film up to this point, in favour of a black and white clarity that weakens the film. Clouzot attempts in the film's final two scenes to recover what he imprudently surrendered a dozen minutes earlier, but THE SPIES would have been a far finer film if the last reel had never existed.

Less easily seen than some of Clouzot's other work, THE SPIES has been given a respectable release on DVD in the UK.
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An entertaining meeting of the Victorian era and the swinging sixties
25 June 2006
JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON is immediately misleading on two out of three points. Firstly, as the opening credits swiftly admit, while the plot is inspired by the general writings of Verne, it is not in fact based on any particular story that he actually wrote, which makes the attribution somewhat spurious. Secondly, while there is a rocket in the film, it becomes increasingly apparent as the movie progresses that it is in no actual danger of going anywhere near the moon.

Having cleared up the situation with the misleading title, one can sit back and enjoy an amusing romp that, despite its Victorian setting, is unique to the films produced in the swinging sixties. The typically contrived plot concerns a suddenly bankrupt Phineas T. Barnum (Burl Ives) making an escape from his creditors to England, where he becomes the prime mover in a plan to launch a rocket to the moon. On the side of the angels are a German explosives expert (Gert Fröbe), an idealistic young American (Troy Donahue) with a revolutionary rocket design and the well intentioned Duke of Barset (Dennis Price). Up to no good are an unscrupulous financier (Terry Thomas), an egotistical engineer (Lionel Jeffries) and a Russian spy (Joachim Teege). In characteristic fashion, it is around the central framework of the plot that all the amusing vignettes of the film are built. Terry Thomas' "economical" motor car, and Gert Fröbe's explosive experiments to find the right amount of lift to get the rocket into space are two humorous recurring bits.

The film boasts another trademark of films of this era: a large cast filled with familiar faces. Gert Fröbe is great fun in his role as the fireproof Professor Von Bulow. Burl Ives, Terry Thomas and Lionel Jeffries also deliver the goods with their performances, though to be fair, their roles really require them to do little more than play upon already well established screen personas. The gorgeous Daliah Lavi is, well, gorgeous, as the female lead, which is pretty much all her part really calls for. Hermione Gingold, who amazingly is billed fourth in the credits, barely has time to deliver a performance in her five minutes on screen.

Dennis Price is fine in a part that has a fair amount of screen time, but really doesn't require him to do much. Seeing Price in such undemanding roles is always a little sad when one remembers his brilliant turn in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. However Price's performance in ROCKET TO THE MOON is positively dynamic when compared to that of his American co-star, and supposedly the film's leading man, Troy Donahue. Donahue is one of the many handsome Hollywood hunks of the era, who looked great, but couldn't act their way out of a paper bag and he brings exactly that level of skill to his performance here. When surrounded by such a colourful cast it becomes painfully apparent just how out of his depth Donahue is.

JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON is occasionally laugh out loud funny, but mainly delivers grins, smirks and guffaws. Unlike such similar and overlong fare as THE GREAT RACE, THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES or AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, it keeps itself brief, does not wear out its welcome and makes for an ideal film to watch on a Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, ROCKET TO THE MOON has been released in America on home video in only in pan and scan in a long out of print VHS release (under the ridiculous title THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS). It is available in the UK in a quite acceptable 2.35:1 widescreen DVD release.
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Two Movies – Half the Entertainment Value
4 March 2005
In the 1960's, during the heyday of the weekend matinée and drive in movie lots, the American movie market burned through film at a truly phenomenal pace. In earlier days, Hollywood had satisfied this need with B Movie quickies: one week wonders pumped out by the now all but dead studio system. Now, in order to satisfy the voracious hunger of the American cinema, film distributors, such as American International Pictures, tapped foreign markets, importing films from Europe and Asia, quickly providing them with an English language soundtrack of sometimes dubious quality and then swiftly firing them into movie houses to fill the ever popular Double Bills.

In the process of converting these films into English, they were often re-scored and edited for content, to remove those dangerous seconds of celluloid that were deemed either too violent or too sexy for American audiences. While this process allowed the distributor to make slight alterations to a film, it remained, essentially, the same movie in the USA as it had been in its country of origin.


Both films begin with the military leaders of various nations being lured into an explosive, and fatal, kiss by the scantily clad charms of the insidious Dr. Goldfoot's robot girl bombs, and both films end with a climactic confrontation between the forces of good and evil aboard an airborne American jumbo bomber, but the events between produce two very different movies.

DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS stars the popular singer and would-be actor Fabian as well intentioned but barely competent Bill Dexter, an agent of the Security Intelligence Command, or SIC. Though he has been suspended by SIC, Dexter is the only one who realizes the threat posed by Dr. Goldfoot. Assisted by Colonel Benson's gorgeous, but frigid, secretary, Rosanna, ( the anything but frigid Laura Antonelli ) Dexter bumbles his way through various clichéd perils to save NATO's leaders from being blown to bits.

LE SPIE VENGONO DAL SEMIFREDDO stars the Italian comedy duo of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia as a pair of totally incompetent accidental spies, who, following information from American agent Bill Dexter, manage to track the villainous Dr. Goldfoot to his lair, and then get trapped there by him. Dexter arrives on the scene to rescue the bumbling duo, just in time for the climactic chase and final showdown aboard the bomber.

What both versions share is that neither will ever be mistaken for a great movie comedy. The scripts are weak, the jokes poor and Fabian is attractive, but bland. Then there are Franco and Ciccio. There are no shortage of great Italian directors, singers, actors and composers, but somehow the list of great Italian film comedians is much, much shorter. I suspect that Franco and Ciccio are indicative of the reason why. An even less appealing team than Marty Allen and Steve Rossi in LAST OF THE SECRET AGENTS, it is truly frightening to reflect on this duo of barely talented "comedians" being so popular as to star in over one hundred motion pictures.

Surprisingly, then, it is LE SPIE VENGONO DAL SEMIFREDDO that is the better of the two movies. Without a doubt the best thing about either film is Vincent Price, and his Dr. Goldfoot character is better treated, though barely so, in the Italian release. Because of the increased screen time given to Franco and Ciccio, the Dexter character is presented in a more straightforward manner in his reduced role and comes off the better for it. Lastly, several of the American version's most preposterously bad moments, such as the very poorly done demise of Rosanna's robot double, are wisely not in the Italian cut of the film. The substituted Franco and Ciccio scenes are merely silly, rather than painfully embarrassing.

In watching either version, it is difficult to believe that the director was the great Mario Bava. On the other hand it is, sadly, very easy to believe reports that Bava undertook the job simply to fulfill contractual obligations, and had no great personal investment in the final project. Bava's innovative use of visuals, his mastery of colour and composition, were usually able to overcome the poorer scripts he sometimes had to work with. However LE SPIE VENGONO DAL SEMIFREDDO displays none of Mario Bava's usual flare, and frankly could have been directed by anyone.

The basic concept of LE SPIE VENGONO DAL SEMIFREDDO / DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS is an intriguing one; filled with potential. In the hands of talents like Vincent Price and Mario Bava the result should have been a first rate black comedy. Unfortunately the combination of too many other factors, both behind and in front of the camera, diminished the final result into films which are little more than interesting curiosities.

For fans of Mario Bava, Vincent Price or simply for the curious, both films have been made available on home video. DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS was released in a fair pan and scan VHS edition in 1995 as part of MGM's Vincent Price Collection. It is now out of print. LE SPIE VENGONO DAL SEMIFREDDO was recently released by IIF on DVD in a very nice 1.85:1 widescreen edition.
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Baron Blood (1972)
An excellent tribute to the classic Hollywood horror films of the 1930's
2 February 2005
Mario Bava's BARON BLOOD is a fine a tribute to the monster movies of Hollywood's golden age. So evocative of that period is this film that it takes not even a moment's thought to mentally recast Boris Karloff as the Baron, Nan Grey as his intended victim and to tune away the vivid Technicolor into haunting black and white.

As in FRANKENSTIEN or THE MUMMY, the evil in the film is unwittingly unleashed upon the world by the film's hero. In this case it is American Peter Kleist, who returns to the German castle of his ancestor Baron Otto Von Kleist. Even though he is aware that his ancestor, nicknamed "Baron Blood" was a sadistic monster who butchered and tortured the people of the countryside, Peter foolishly recites an ancient spell capable of resurrecting the Baron. The restored Von Kleist immediately resumes his homicidal ways, and now Peter, assisted by the beautiful Elke Sommer as a local historian, must find a way to undo what he has thoughtlessly wrought.

In the classic horror films of the 1930's the monsters were iconic and unforgettable, while the heroes were bland and almost entirely irrelevant. After all, who remembers who played the "hero" opposite Lugosi in Dracula or Karloff in THE MUMMY? (For trivia's sake it was David Manners in both films.) No, the villain/monster may have spent much of the picture lurking about off screen, or skulking in the shadows, but nevertheless he was always indisputably the star of the show.

BARON BLOOD maintains this link to its cinematic forbearers. Antonio Cantafora's Peter Kleist is satisfactory, but eminently forgettable, while Joseph Cotton, obviously having a ball, is terrific in his villainous role. Cotton's performance as the resurrected Von Kleist is spot on perfect, filled with evil charm and malevolent glee. He dominates the screen in the best tradition of the movie monsters of old.

In fact, there is only one significant departure from the classic monster films. Even in the days before the Hayes Commission, blood and gore were rarely seen and usually only suggested in Hollywood motion pictures. BARON BLOOD was produced without such restrictions and, though mild when compared to more recent horror films, it does contain some explicit moments that would have been completely unacceptable in the 1930's. Even as a tribute to the grand old days, it must remembered that BARON BLOOD was produced to appeal to a contemporary 1970's audience. Bava however realized that things modern will inevitably intrude upon the classic, and made light of this by placing soda pop machines in the halls of the Gothic Von Kleist castle and having prerecorded screams available in the Baron's torture chamber at the flip of a switch.

Not as arty as LISA AND THE DEVIL, not as graphic as BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD is often unjustly overlooked, or simply dismissed as a minor effort of Mario Bava's later period. Such hasty judgments do the film a great disservice. If BARON BLOOD has less of the striking cinematography of Bava's best films, it must be argued that such innovation would be out of place in a film striving to recapture the look and atmosphere of the original Hollywood horror movies. If one accepts the movie for what it is, a fine tribute to the genre's past, then BARON BLOOD is a great success, both as a homage and as work unto itself.

BARON BLOOD has been released in numerous VHS and laserdisc editions. The DVD release from Image Entertainment is probably the best example of the film currently available, featuring an uncut 1.85:1 widescreen presentation of the film, complete with the original European musical score, which was replaced when the film was released theatrically in North America.
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Room 13 (1964)
A lesser entry in the Edgar Wallace series
1 February 2005
Edgar Wallace was a popular British author of crime thrillers during the 1920s. Though Wallace himself died in 1932 ( while working on the screenplay for King Kong ) the popularity of his work spawned a number of films based on his novels. Of particular note is a series of German adaptations by Rialto Films, beginning in 1959 and continuing until 1971, that presented the material with a stylish mix of humor and thrills. While this approach led to some very entertaining films, such as DER HEXER, ZIMMER 13, or ROOM 13, is unfortunately one of the poorer entries, being a very predictable and pedestrian affair.

The disappointment begins almost immediately. While the ominous sounding title suggests some significant mystery, ( What, Where, is Room 13? ) it is very quickly revealed that room 13 is about as mysterious as room 222. Ten minutes into the film we learn that room 13 is simply the number of a room in the Highlow nightclub where gangster Joe Legge is planning his next heist. The film attempts to present this theft, a train robbery, as a minutely planned Mission: Impossible style caper, but in fact the whole business essentially consists of pulling the train onto a siding and unloading it.

On the side of the angels is Johnny Gray, played by Wallace series regular Joachim Fuchsberger. Gray is supposedly the greatest private detective in London, which would suggest a marked drop in standards since Sherlock Holmes' day. Gray is brought into the affair by Sir Robert Marney. Legge is threatening that unpleasant things will happen to Marney's daughter, Denise, unless Sir Robert provides some unspecified assistance with his planned robbery, and Gray is hired to protect her. What follows is rather uninspired business with Johnny Gray doing much running around but not much detecting. Often it seems the only progress that Gray actually makes toward solving the case, is when the heavy handed ineptitude of the thieves pushes him toward the solution.

The only actual mystery in the film, is the hidden identity of a maniac who likes to slice women's throats with a straight razor. This subplot seems almost like an afterthought, tacked loosely to the main narrative. Actually it isn't even really much of a mystery, as the film's complete lack of subtlety makes the identity of the killer blatantly obvious very early in the film.

The only real bright spot in the entire production is Eddi Aren't. Aren't is usually on hand in the Rialto Wallace films to provide comedy relief and in ZIMMER 13, he has his work cut out for him. As Higgins, a brilliant, if somewhat odd, police scientist, who is madly in love with his lab mannequin, Emily, Aren't is by far the most interesting thing in the movie. Unfortunately, Aren't alone simply isn't enough, and in the end ZIMMER 13, with its night club setting and hip private detective, feels very much like a less than inspired episode of PETER GUNN.

For fans of the Edgar Wallace mystery thrillers, ZIMMER 13 is available on DVD as part of the Edgar Wallace Collection from Tobis Home Entertainment. This impressive series presents pristine copies of all thirty-three of the Rialto Wallace films in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. Happily, the majority of the DVDs releases in this series feature both German and English audio and subtitle options.
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The Super 6 (1966– )
A lost cartoon classic of 60's TV
17 December 2004
The SUPER 6 is one of the lost classics of 60's Saturday morning television. While I have no reason to believe that the episodes do not exist somewhere in the DePatie-Freleng vaults, this delightful animated super-hero spoof has reportedly not been rebroadcast anywhere in over thirty years, which is really a shame.

The Super 6 were comprised of Granite Man, a statue brought to life by a magical incantation, Elevator Man, who could grow or shrink by pressing a switch on his belt buckle, Magneto Man, a living electro magnet, Captain Zammo, who could fly and travel through time, Super Scuba, a water breathing version of Dean Martin's Matt Helm, and Super Bwoing, who could fly, had laser vision, super strength and was a complete incompetent. Or, as the show's theme song put it, "Five great thunderbolts of power and a bolt who is a nut."

The Super 6 were not a traditional team, like the Mighty Heroes were, rather they were all part of Super Service, a super hero agency where trouble calls were received. The Chief, a Louie De Palma for an earlier age, would take the calls in his dispatcher's booth and send the most appropriate, or in Super Bwoing's case available, hero out on the job. Our six headliners were not the only members of Super Service. Though they rarely took part in the stories, many other super hero types were frequently seen in the Super Service offices, waiting around for assignments.

As best as I can determine, there were twenty episodes of SUPER 6, which is an odd number. This is based on the following formula: each thirty minute episode featured three segments: a "Super Bwoing", a "Super Service", featuring a different member of the other five Super 6 heroes each week, and a "The Brothers Matzoriley", which was a cartoon unrelated to the Super 6 components. To further confuse matters episode guides record 21 "Super Bwoing" cartoons, 19 "Super Service" cartoons, and 20 of "The Brothers Matzoriley".

The quality of the cartoons varied greatly, especially among the Super Bwoing segments. Some, for instance "Don't Gloat Red Coat", are just incredibly dumb, while others, like "Coldpinky" are great fun. One particularly sophisticated segment was the Elevator Man cartoon "Down Please", inspired by the SF classic THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. Alerted that the gang of an incarcerated crime boss are planning on breaking him out of the city jail, the authorities call in Elevator Man to guard the prisoner. Elevator Man becomes a twelve foot giant, believing that at that size he'll be able to handle anything. But the criminals flood the jail with gas, rendering everyone, including our gargantuan hero, unconscious. Before escaping, the crime boss presses the down button on Elevator Man's belt. When Elevator Man recovers consciousness, he finds that his belt has been removed, that he is now too small to press the "up" button, and that he is still slowly shrinking. Great stuff.

Sadly lacking a syndication or video release, SUPER 6 has too long been relegated to the memories of those who enjoyed the program when it first aired. However with classic 60's TV cartoons, such as THE FLINTSTONES, BATFINK, JONNY QUEST and DePatie-Freleng's own THE PINK PANTHER starting to see releases on DVD, one can only hope that this highly enjoyable series is returned to public view, and we can once again "meet the men from Super Service".

UPDATE: It has been nine years (17 December, 2004) since this review was originally posted and I am pleased to announce that, unheralded and without fanfare, SUPER 6 - THE SERIES was finally released on DVD a few weeks ago. All twenty original episodes, complete, uncut and in pristine condition for less than $10.00!
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A delightfully lighthearted and frivolous comic book romp
5 December 2004
In 1960's America, millions tuned in to the 'BIFF!' 'BAM!' 'POW!' action of the Batman television series. But this 'pop art' phenomenon was not limited to the North American shores. A continent away, another comic book hero, or in this case heroine, was quite literally springing to life in the Czech film 'Who Wants to Kill Jessie?'.

'Who Wants to Kill Jessie?' is a nonsensical film, which begins with a fantastical premise and then madly and unapologetically dashes from one ridiculous situation to another. Which, in the case of a film of this type, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Dana Medrická as Dr. Rose Beránková is the catalyst for all events in the film. Dr. Beránková has just invented a serum that allows dreams to be altered so that undesirable elements can be removed. The effectiveness of this invention can be tested via a dream scanner which allows observers to monitor a person's drams on a TV screen. This remarkable device is seemingly so commonplace that the good doctor keeps one next to her own bed.

The trouble begins when the jealous Rose catches her husband, Henry (Jirí Sovák) dreaming about the gorgeous blonde comic book heroine, Jessie, though in fact he is dreaming about her anti-gravity gloves, and decides to eliminate her dream girl rival by injecting Henry with the new serum.

The next morning however, Rose discovers that subjects removed from dreams, rather simply disappearing, are brought into the real world, and now not only Jessie (the beautiful Olga Schoberová) but her two adversaries, an evil cowboy and a villainous superman, have come to life. Jessie quickly escapes her two foes and begins to track Henry to the University where he is lecturing, pursued by the destructive superman and cowboy, who are in turn being pursued by the police.

When the police finally catch up with the dream trio, Henry is arrested as well. Rose is perfectly willing to let her husband take the blame for the whole mess, testifying at his trial that if he had dreamed about his wife instead of Jessie, none of this would have happened. In the end, while Rose plots a way to dispose of the dream characters, it is up to an imprisoned Henry to save the day, by actually creating the anti-gravity gloves from the comic book.

Interestingly, the film's two comic book villains are not really very evil. They are greedy and destructive, but not cruel or vicious. While the Cowboy is constantly threatening people with his six shooter, he never actually shoots anyone. No one is hurt and no one is killed. Likely this is because these manifestations are not the villains from the Jessie comic, but Henry's interpretation of them from his dreams. Since Henry's dreams are not violent, neither are the realized dream villains. In the same way, while the comic book Jessie has never heard of Henry, the dream Jessie is attracted to him and so the manifested Jessie professes her love for him – which does nothing to improve Henry's standing with Rose.

The closest thing to a true villain the film has is Rose. It is her petty jealously that leads her to first create the problem, then allow her befuddled husband to be jailed for it, and finally to attempt, futilely, to destroy the dream people in quite horrible and savage ways. The viciousness of Rose's actions is muted only by the film's consistently light tone, and the fact that her attempts are completely ineffectual against the seemingly indestructible manifestations.

Undoubtedly the most remarkable thing about this film is that it exists at all. While comic book style films were all the rage in Italy, France and America, in the 1960's Czechoslovakia was still an Iron Curtain country, albeit one experiencing a period of cultural freedom. A film as utterly and delightfully frivolous as 'Who Wants to Kill Jessie?' is as a bold departure from the popular stereotype of the bleak, somber, pathos drenched film of the Soviet Bloc era as one could imagine. This is a film that has no political agenda, aside from a very few light jabs at rigid bureaucracy, tosses away logic and simply delights in being silly.

Long a difficult film to see, usually available for viewing only at film festivals, 'Who Wants to Kill Jessie?' has at last been released on DVD in a very nice 2.35:1 widescreen edition by Centrum Video in Europe, complete with English subtitles. The bonus features, including an interview with writer/director Václav Vorlícek, are unfortunately in Czech only with no English subtitling.
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An Entertaining, but Slightly Flawed Sequel - Possible Spoilers
24 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
If 1965's The Seven Golden Men was akin to Mission: Impossible, then the sequel is pure James Bond, complete with submarines, hovercraft, jet packs and gadgets galore. This time out the United States Government recruit the Professor and his band of bold thieves to kidnap the General - a bushy bearded, Communist dictator of a small Central American island (read Fidel Castro). The requested fee for this service: seven million dollars, naturally, plus the deed to their own private island and absolution for all past misdeeds. However while Giorgia is sent off to seduce the General, and our gold happy crew put the elaborate clockwork plan into motion, the Professor casts his eye toward his real prize: a tanker harbored at the island country with seven thousand tons of gold bricks in its hold.

The Seven Golden Men Strike Again is more outrageous than its predecessor. The set pieces are bigger, the gimmicks are more elaborate and the humor is far less subtle. However, all of this works to the film's benefit by giving a broad, bright, campy look and feel that distinguishes it from the first movie. Unfortunately, after maintaining this originality for 90% of the film, the script stumbles unnecessarily back into too familiar territory at the end. In the first film the fast and furious piling up of double and triple crosses was fresh and fun; this time it all feels forced and unnecessary. If the movie had ended only five minutes earlier it would have been a much better film. Despite this failing, The Seven Golden Men Strike Again is still an entertaining romp of the kind that could only have been produced in the swinging, psychedelic '60s.

Like the first film, The Seven Golden Men Strike Again is available in a sharp widescreen DVD release in Japan, however this one has only the original Italian soundtrack, with no English alternative. There are optional subtitles, in Japanese.
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A Clever, Lighthearted Caper Film – Possible Spoilers
23 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
For anyone who enjoys the classic episodes of Mission: Impossible this film is a must see. There is no long preamble, no waiting for the third act before getting to the good stuff – the plot, in more ways than one, is underway the instant the opening titles appear on the screen. Albert, (Philippe Leroy) an incomparably brilliant, completely unflappable criminal genius, known as the Professor, has masterminded a bold and elaborate criminal operation to remove £7,000,000.00 of gold bricks from a supposedly impregnable bank vault. In this endeavor he is assisted by Adolf, Aldo, Alfonso, Alfred, Anthony and August, an international crew of thieves with specialized skills. Also on board is the Professor's delightfully amoral femme fatal girlfriend, Giorgia, played by former Helen of Troy, Rossana Podestà. As one might guess from the characters names, the film has a decidedly humorous slant, though it is kept very natural, without any of the camp that would have been inevitable had the film been made only few years later.

The theft itself is as meticulous as it is clever, with just the right amount of the unexpected popping up to keep the story exciting and the viewer hooked. And just when it looks like film is ready to wrap up, the plot swings into series of comedic betrayals that keeps the audience entertained right up to the end. The Seven Golden Men is an original, inventive, essentially light hearted and highly enjoyable caper film.

The movie was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Seven Golden Men Strike Again, two years later.

The Seven Golden Men is available in a gorgeous widescreen DVD release in Japan, complete with both the original Italian audio track and an alternate English language track. The subtitles, in Japanese, are optional.
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