Sex and Spies

Here’s a link to an article by Lauren St. John which appeared on the Times Online.

The years of loving dangerously

They were communist agents trained — and surgically enhanced — to seduce the West’s Moneypennys and Bonds. Lauren St John finds out what went on between the sheets behind the iron curtain

In the mist-shrouded forests and mountains of Transylvania, home to the castle of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a more modern myth, dating from the cold war, has survived down the generations. This, some say, was the location of an extraordinary “sex school”, one in which the most beautiful and handsome of cold-war spies were trained in lovemaking before being sent forth to seduce and inveigle secrets from western diplomats and agents.

To read the full article click here

Sex and Spies

Fear In The City

Maurizio150When it comes to giving crime a right proper kicking, no one kicks harder than Maurizio Merli. And he’s back in another hard-hitting poliziotteschi. This time he plays Inspector Murri whose methods are…hang on, you should know the spiel by now. Merli and his mustache are a regular fixture here. For the one or two of you who need a refresher, click on the following titles to jump to previous Merli adventures: Violent Rome: Violent Naples: Convoy Busters: Rome – Armed To The Teeth.

The rest of you know what to expect. Fear In The City delivers more of the same. The film starts with a prison break out. Master criminal Letteri (Raymond Pellegrin) and ten other prisoners barely raise a sweat as they traverse the prisons corridors until they get to the library. Inside the library, Masoni (Cyril Cusack), a model prisoner is doing a spot of reading. The escapees grab Masoni and drag him along as they make their way to the gates, and out into a waiting van.

After the breakout, the retribution begins. The gang start erasing all the snitches who got them put away in the first place. The first is a prostitute who gets picked from a roadside kerb. For $30 she promises to take the driver around the world. He agrees. She gets in. After a few minutes, she enquires where she is being taken. She is then grabbed by a guy hiding in the back of the car. Once restrained, she is shot. Next, three men burst into a bar, and shoot the bartender. The carnage continues as a couple are enjoying a bit of horizontal relaxation in a dingy room when the door is kicked in by a scary lookin’ guy brandishing a shotgun. He blasts both man and woman. The last guy to get whacked is a guy wearing an ugly green suit. I don’t know if the villains killed him because he was a snitch, or because anyone wearing such an ugly suit should die. Either way, he is kicked and pummelled and then hurled off a bridge.

James Mason is the Police Commissioner and he is in a quandary about what to do about the increase in crime. He wants action and results, but the men under his command are incapable of giving it to him. But despite the cities problems, there is one option that the Commissioner refuses to take – and that is get Inspector Murri (Maurizio Merli) back on the force. He doesn’t agree with Murri’s violent methods of law enforcement. Unfortunately for the Commissioner, the Minster for the Interior does not share his view, and insists that Murri be re-instated, and assigned to ‘sort out’ the city’s problems.

Unlike other Merli films, this one is a little different in that he actually does some police work. Usually he just drives along, and crime will happen outside his car window -no investigation required. But in Fear In The City he actually follows a few leads. He tracks down the niece of Masoni, Laura (Silvia Dionisio). She’s a good girl gone bad, who now works as a hooker. Naturally, Murri pumps her for information.

But Fear In The City is not so different that it doesn’t feature a high speed chase through the streets of Rome. This one happens to be on motorbike. Another staple of the Eurocrime thriller is the bank hold-up scene, complete with hostages. And to the film’s credit it gives it a twist. Rather than have Murri sneak into the bank and then shoot the ‘perps’, they have Murri sneak into boot of the getaway car. Once the crims have made their getaway, Murri pops out and shoots them.

The music by Giampaolo Chiti is avant-guarde jazz. Many Eurocrime thrillers go for loud pumping rock scores – but Chiti is more subtle. He creates a tense atmosphere using syncopated bass and bongo beats, and the film is all the better for it.

Fear In The City is exactly like it should be. Loud and violent. It may not be everybody’s idea of a great night’s entertainment, but if you like hyper-realised Italian cop thrillers, then add this one to your list.

Fear In The City

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Directors: Lauren Montgomery, Bruce Timm, Brandon Vietti
Voices: Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, Swoosie Kurtz, Adam Wylie, Ray Wise, John Di Maggio
Music: Robert J. Kral

As I started the Costumed Adventurer Week with a review of an animated Superman story, I thought it only fitting to come full circle and close out with another adventure from the Man of Steel. It has very little to do with spies…but I just enjoy watching Superman hit people. And it is interesting comparing the newer incarnations of Superman with the original crimefighter who appeared in the Fleischer and Famous studios animated shorts.

When I saw Superman Returns at the cinema, I thought it was just okay. I had seen most of it before, as so much was re-hashed from the original Superman: The Movie (1978) starring Christopher Reeve. The only positive thing to come out of Superman Returns was Brandon Routh’s performance. He was right on the money. And if they make another film, with a decent script, I am sure he’ll make a good Superman.

That brings us to Superman: Doomsday, a recent feature length animated movie. I am not an avid comic reader (although I have read the first issue of Night & Fog – co-written by fellow COBRAS member Matt Bradford), and I am unfamiliar with the comic trilogy it is based on, so I had no pre-conceptions about the story. All I wanted was a bit of ‘oomph’ injected into the Superman story. And I got it. Superman: Doomsday is fantastic. It is the film that Superman Returns should have been.

I am not going to outline the plot as that would give too much away – all I will say is that the film is about the Death of Superman.

The voices are provided by Adam Baldwin (Superman), Anne Heche (Lois Lane), and James Marsters (Lex Luthor). They all do a first rate job, and imbue their characters with life.

The animation by the Warners animation team is up to it’s usual high standard, retaining that stylised 1940’s feel, so reminiscent of the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons of that era.

The thing that I like about Superman: Doomsday is that they have concocted a story where Superman doesn’t have to be a politically correct overgrown boy scout. He has great adversaries, which allow the ‘man of steel’ to take the gloves off, and the fight scenes are exceedingly well put together. Don’t be put off by the fact that this film is animated. Sure, kids can watch it, but it isn’t a film just for the kids. In fact, in America this feature was the first of the animated series to get a PG-13 rating. So it is a little bit more violent than usual. Highly recommended.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Well that’s the last of my contributions to the COBRAS series of Costumed Adventurer Weeks. Next up is Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8, who promises to stretch the envelope in a new direction.

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Judex (1963)

Country: France / Italy
Director: Georges Franju
Starring: Channing Pollock, Francine Bergé, Edith Scob, Théo Sarapo, Sylva Koscina, René Génin
Music: Maurice Jarre

As usual, I am coming at this review arse-about. This film is a remake of a silent, twelve-part French movie serial that was released in 1916. I have not seen the original serial, so I have to look at the film as a stand alone piece, without the benefit and knowledge of having seen the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because each film should be able to stand on it’s own, without the viewer being a learned student of French cinema.

Since this film is a remake, I guess a little bit of history is required. Judex is the Latin word for ‘Judge’ or ‘upholder of the law’, and the title character is cloaked avenger who rights a few wrongs. The original serial was directed by Louis Feuillade. Feuillade created the character (with writer Arthur Bernéde) as a response to negative criticism of two of his earlier serials, Fantomas and Les Vampires. This 1963 film, shot in black and white, and utilising inter-titles, is a loving homage to the original serial.

The film opens on Mr. Favraux, who is a banker with a shady past. He has just received an ominous letter from somebody calling themselves ‘Judex’. The note reads: ‘Mr. Favraux, I order you to atone for your sins by handing over half your fortune to your victims. You have until six o’clock tomorrow evening to comply. Judex.’ Favraux pays little attention to the note, confident that ‘Judex’ is just a swindler trying to scare him. But non-the-less, Favraux hires Mr. Cocantin, a private detective to look into the matter.

Favraux’s reason for hiring Cocantin is two fold. Not only does he have to investigate Judex, but also provide security for his daughter’s engagement party, which is being held on the following day. His daughter, Jacqeline is set to marry Viscount Amaury de la Rochefontaine. During the celebration, there will be a lot of people at Favraux’s chateau and he doesn’t want any trouble.

Later that day, a vagabond turns up on Favraux’s doorstep. The man claims that he went to prison for Favraux, and in return his family was supposed to be ‘looked after’. Instead, Favraux allowed the vagabond’s wife to die destitute and his son to go missing. Favraux laughs off the man’s claims as that of a rambling lunatic. But later, he gets into his car and follows the vagabond. On a deserted stretch of road as the vagabond walks to town, Favraux runs him down, killing him.

Upon his return to the chateau, Favraux receives his second communiqué from Judex. This time is says that if he doesn’t acquiesce to Judex demands then he will be struck down at midnight, on the following day.

Jacqeline’s engagement party is a surreal affair. It is a masked ball, with many people wearing oversized bird-head masks. Favraux, himself wears a giant eagles head, which he takes off at midnight to make a speech to the assembled crowd. As he talks, he has a heart attack and dies.

Afterwards, Jacqueline is to inherit all of Favraux’s money, but once she finds out how he acquired his wealth, she wishes no part of it. The same cannot be said of all of Favreaux’s servants. Marie Verdier, who worked as a tutor to Favraux’s grandchildren wants to get her hands on the money – or even the information with which Favraux had been able to use as leverage, while amassing his fortune. But this isn’t just a sudden shift in character for Marie Verdier. She is in fact, arch villainess Diana Monti, who controls a small gang of evil doers. When see isn’t tutoring, she is dressed in a black cat-suit and committing crime.

Believing that the way to Favraux’s fortune is through Jacqueline, Diana hatches a scheme to capture her. In town, posing as a nun, Diana injects Jacqueline with a potion that knocks her out. Then acting as a good Samaritan, she offers assistance and then spirits her away in the back of an ambulance.

I have already mentioned that the original Judex was made by Feillade in response to negative criticism to his Fantomas serial. There’s a nice little scene that goes to lengths to point out that Judex and Fantomas are the antithesis of each other. During the scene, Detective Cocantin is reading aloud a scene from a pulp Fantomas novel. The scene he describes features both Fantomas and Commissioner Juvé dressed as nuns. Juxtaposing this scene, with the scene of Diana Monti posing as nun, is it fair to assume that Diana is Fantomas?

But back to the story – now Judex has his hands full tracking down the ever resourceful and beguiling – but totally evil – Diana and rescuing Jacqueline. Judex as a hero, or avenger, is pretty piss-weak. Whenever there is trouble, he sends somebody off to get men from the town rather than handling the situation itself. When later, he actually gets involved in the action – that being smashing through a window to surprise the villains – he immediately gets clocked over the head with a piece of firewood, and subsequently captured.

If you want heroics, you have to wait for the eighty-two minute mark in the film, when a circus acrobat named Daisy enters the picture. Daisy is played by Yugoslavian beauty Sylva Koscina – and for me that sufficient reason to watch this film (over and over). As Judex has been captured, someone must save the day, and it’s Daisy who scales a wall, dressed in her skimpy acrobats costume, and then takes on the diabolical Diana Monti (or should I call her Fantomadame?) in a life and death battle on the roof of an old dilapidated building. The last twenty minutes of this film is pretty good and we ‘finally’ get the payoff that this film has been promising during its whole running time.

Unfortunately, this film is a homage to the original serial, and while it may be considered a fantastic re-envisioning for fans of that serial, for newcomers like myself, the visual shorthand employed in the film, at times renders the plot almost in comprehensible. I guess this is the price you pay when you condense a three hundred minute serial into a one hundred minute film. But I guess similar visual shorthand is used in the Sherlock Holmes films, which many of us are more familiar with. Very little time is taken to establish who Holmes, Watson and even Professor Moriarty are, because we are familiar with the characters. Just a shot of a man in a deerstalker hat and cloak says so much. Maybe in France, seeing a gent, dressed in black, with a long flowing cloak and a wide brimmed hat says volumes, and very little exposition is needed. Personally, in this film, I wanted to spend more time with Judex and find out who he was – why does he do what he does. These elements were not sufficiently explained.

While I am not willing to can Judex, because my knowledge base is poor, and possibly culturally I am not in tune with the character, I found the film to be rather cold, lacking action and adventure – which is what you want from a mysterious cloaked avenger – and its storyline muddled. Its biggest crime though, is that Judex isn’t on the screen enough, righting wrongs.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Judex (1963)

Judex (1963)


Country: France / Italy
Director: Georges Franju
Starring: Channing Pollock, Francine Bergé, Edith Scob, Théo Sarapo, Sylva Koscina, René Génin
Music: Maurice Jarre

As usual, I am coming at this review arse-about. This film is a remake of a silent, twelve-part French movie serial that was released in 1916. I have not seen the original serial, so I have to look at the film as a stand alone piece, without the benefit and knowledge of having seen the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because each film should be able to stand on it’s own, without the viewer being a learned student of French cinema.

Since this film is a remake, I guess a little bit of history is required. Judex is the Latin word for ‘Judge’ or ‘upholder of the law’, and the title character is cloaked avenger who rights a few wrongs. The original serial was directed by Louis Feuillade. Feuillade created the character (with writer Arthur Bernéde) as a response to negative criticism of two of his earlier serials, Fantomas and Les Vampires. This 1963 film, shot in black and white, and utilising inter-titles, is a loving homage to the original serial.

The film opens on Mr. Favraux, who is a banker with a shady past. He has just received an ominous letter from somebody calling themselves ‘Judex’. The note reads: ‘Mr. Favraux, I order you to atone for your sins by handing over half your fortune to your victims. You have until six o’clock tomorrow evening to comply. Judex.’ Favraux pays little attention to the note, confident that ‘Judex’ is just a swindler trying to scare him. But non-the-less, Favraux hires Mr. Cocantin, a private detective to look into the matter.

Favraux’s reason for hiring Cocantin is two fold. Not only does he have to investigate Judex, but also provide security for his daughter’s engagement party, which is being held on the following day. His daughter, Jacqeline is set to marry Viscount Amaury de la Rochefontaine. During the celebration, there will be a lot of people at Favraux’s chateau and he doesn’t want any trouble.

Later that day, a vagabond turns up on Favraux’s doorstep. The man claims that he went to prison for Favraux, and in return his family was supposed to be ‘looked after’. Instead, Favraux allowed the vagabond’s wife to die destitute and his son to go missing. Favraux laughs off the man’s claims as that of a rambling lunatic. But later, he gets into his car and follows the vagabond. On a deserted stretch of road as the vagabond walks to town, Favraux runs him down, killing him.

Upon his return to the chateau, Favraux receives his second communiqué from Judex. This time is says that if he doesn’t acquiesce to Judex demands then he will be struck down at midnight, on the following day.

Jacqeline’s engagement party is a surreal affair. It is a masked ball, with many people wearing oversized bird-head masks. Favraux, himself wears a giant eagles head, which he takes off at midnight to make a speech to the assembled crowd. As he talks, he has a heart attack and dies.

Afterwards, Jacqueline is to inherit all of Favraux’s money, but once she finds out how he acquired his wealth, she wishes no part of it. The same cannot be said of all of Favreaux’s servants. Marie Verdier, who worked as a tutor to Favraux’s grandchildren wants to get her hands on the money – or even the information with which Favraux had been able to use as leverage, while amassing his fortune. But this isn’t just a sudden shift in character for Marie Verdier. She is in fact, arch villainess Diana Monti, who controls a small gang of evil doers. When see isn’t tutoring, she is dressed in a black cat-suit and committing crime.

Believing that the way to Favraux’s fortune is through Jacqueline, Diana hatches a scheme to capture her. In town, posing as a nun, Diana injects Jacqueline with a potion that knocks her out. Then acting as a good Samaritan, she offers assistance and then spirits her away in the back of an ambulance.

I have already mentioned that the original Judex was made by Feillade in response to negative criticism to his Fantomas serial. There’s a nice little scene that goes to lengths to point out that Judex and Fantomas are the antithesis of each other. During the scene, Detective Cocantin is reading aloud a scene from a pulp Fantomas novel. The scene he describes features both Fantomas and Commissioner Juvé dressed as nuns. Juxtaposing this scene, with the scene of Diana Monti posing as nun, is it fair to assume that Diana is Fantomas?

But back to the story – now Judex has his hands full tracking down the ever resourceful and beguiling – but totally evil – Diana and rescuing Jacqueline. Judex as a hero, or avenger, is pretty piss-weak. Whenever there is trouble, he sends somebody off to get men from the town rather than handling the situation itself. When later, he actually gets involved in the action – that being smashing through a window to surprise the villains – he immediately gets clocked over the head with a piece of firewood, and subsequently captured.

If you want heroics, you have to wait for the eighty-two minute mark in the film, when a circus acrobat named Daisy enters the picture. Daisy is played by Yugoslavian beauty Sylva Koscina – and for me that sufficient reason to watch this film (over and over). As Judex has been captured, someone must save the day, and it’s Daisy who scales a wall, dressed in her skimpy acrobats costume, and then takes on the diabolical Diana Monti (or should I call her Fantomadame?) in a life and death battle on the roof of an old dilapidated building. The last twenty minutes of this film is pretty good and we ‘finally’ get the payoff that this film has been promising during its whole running time.

Unfortunately, this film is a homage to the original serial, and while it may be considered a fantastic re-envisioning for fans of that serial, for newcomers like myself, the visual shorthand employed in the film, at times renders the plot almost in comprehensible. I guess this is the price you pay when you condense a three hundred minute serial into a one hundred minute film. But I guess similar visual shorthand is used in the Sherlock Holmes films, which many of us are more familiar with. Very little time is taken to establish who Holmes, Watson and even Professor Moriarty are, because we are familiar with the characters. Just a shot of a man in a deerstalker hat and cloak says so much. Maybe in France, seeing a gent, dressed in black, with a long flowing cloak and a wide brimmed hat says volumes, and very little exposition is needed. Personally, in this film, I wanted to spend more time with Judex and find out who he was – why does he do what he does. These elements were not sufficiently explained.

While I am not willing to can Judex, because my knowledge base is poor, and possibly culturally I am not in tune with the character, I found the film to be rather cold, lacking action and adventure – which is what you want from a mysterious cloaked avenger – and its storyline muddled. Its biggest crime though, is that Judex isn’t on the screen enough, righting wrongs.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Judex (1963)

Violent Rome

mauriziomerliWriting a few recent reviews of Eurocrime films has made me want to revisit Violent Rome. I know Keith over at Teleport City has covered it pretty comprehensively in his long form review – to read it, click here – but a part of me just couldn’t leave it alone. And can you blame me? Consider this an appetizer, compared to Keith’s three course meal.

The man with the moustache, Maurizio Merli is back, as another hard-hitting, no holds barred police officer, in this the first of a trio of poliziotteschi films (the other two being Violent Naples (1976), and A Special Cop in Action (1976)). This time, Merli is Commissioner Betti, and guess what? He is committed to stopping crime at any cost, and he doesn’t get along with his superiors. Sound familiar? It is very similar Rome Armed To The Teeth. It’s also similar to hundreds of other tough police dramas, not the least being Dirty Harry.

Have already made the comparison between Violent Rome and Rome Armed To The Teeth, I’ll continue the association. While both films are episodic and hardly feature any police work (leads are obtained by informers or beating suspects within an inch of their lives), I must say that Violent Rome is the weaker of the two films. And this is based solely of the strength of the villain. Tomas Milian provided a focal point for the police’s frustration (and hostility) in Rome Armed To The Teeth. But Violent Rome doesn’t provide us with such a character. Sure there are dozens of scumbags for Betti to chase, punch, kick, or shoot at, but none last more than two scenes. Then again, that may be the point. It doesn’t matter how quickly Betti cleans the scum off the street, there are always more ready to take their place.

Another big difference between Violent Rome and Rome Armed To The Teeth is at the half waypoint in the movie, Betti hands in his badge. Betti is disgraced after he shoots a criminal dead (John Steiner), rather than attempting to bring him in. It doesn’t matter to the powers that be, that this crim had shot a police officer in the back, and then whilst attempting to escape, indiscriminately fired a machine gun at a playground full of children, killing three. It was far easier to remove Betti, whose methods were an embarrassment to the police department.

For the second half of the movie, Betti works as a professional vigilante. A group of businessmen, led by lawyer Sartori (Richard Conte), have had a gutful of the impotence of the police force and the increase in crime in their city. They have banded together to fight crime, their own way. It’s all legal of course (citizen’s arrests – no killings), but it isn’t long before the group become a nuisance to the criminal underworld, and the underworld strike back.

There are a few other things worth mentioning. The first is a subplot involving corporal Biondi (Ray Lovelock). During the course of the movie, he sustains a gunshot wound to the spine. He becomes paralysed from the waist down. His scenes are the most poignant in the film. Biondi had joined the force wanting to be like Betti. Even after he is shot, he still has the burning desire to put the scumbags behind bars. But as he slowly watches Betti change into a ‘monster’ (it’s an exaggeration, but you get the point), Biondi slowly changes his point of view. It’s a subplot that could have been expanded more, but quite simply on the whole this film doesn’t slow down for characterization.

Another great scene involves a car chase through the streets of Rome. What impressed me, in a scene that shows just how cool headed and determined Betti is, is when his windscreen is shattered during the chase, obscuring his view. Does he stop? No. While driving, with one foot planted fully on the accelerator, he uses his other foot to kick out the windscreen.

Violent Rome, is vigorous, heart pounding stuff. If violent seventies style cop thrillers are your cup of tea, this is well worth checking out. It isn’t high art, by any stretch of the imagination but it does provide all the elements that you’d expect from this genre; car chases, gun fights, fist fights, fierce interrogations. And as a slight warning, it also features a particularly ugly rape scene.

Violent Rome

Barbarella (1968)


Country: France / Italy
Director: Roger Vadim
Starring: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau, Claude Dauphin, David Hemmings, Ugo Tognazzi
Music: Michel Magne and James Campbell
Based on the bestseller ‘Barabarella’ by Jean Claude Forest, published in ‘Le Terrain Vague’

Okay Barbarella isn’t much of a Costumed Adventurer, but she does wear a few costumes (er,…sometimes). Despite its notoriety the film was a critical and box office failure upon its original release. What first drew me to Barbarella was the blurb on the back of the video, which stated that ‘Barbarella was a female James Bond’. Well that’s enough to drag me in. When I first saw the film, as a young teenager I just didn’t get it. It seemed slow and sluggish, and it’s only saving grace as far as I was concerned was that visually it looked like Dino De Laurentiis’ Flash Gordon. You’ve got to realise I was around ten years old when Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope – it was Star Wars when I saw it – and to me that’s what it will always be) was released in Australia. When that marketing juggernaut hit town, all the other science fiction films that had come before it where dismissed as lame and cheesy. Many years later I decided to give Barbarella another shot but I didn’t hold too much hope for the film. Thankfully I was wrong – very wrong – Barbarella is mind blowingly fantastic. It is a fat slice of swinging sixties, sexy, sci-fi adventure.

But before we look at the film, maybe it’s worth recounting a bit of Barabrella’s history. From the official site of Jean-Claude Forest and Barbarella.

‘Jean-Claude Forest created the character of Barbarella for V-Magazine in 1962, at the request of its editor, Georges H. Gallet, who was already familiar with Forest’s work as France’s premier science fiction cover artist and had commissioned an illustrated version of Catherine L. Moore’s classic story Shambleau in 1955. Barbarella was published in book for by Eric Losfeld’s publishing company Le Terrain Vague in 1964, became an immediate runaway bestseller and was soon translated in a dozen countries, including by Grove Press in the United States. Not long after, it was adapted into a 1968 motion picture, produced by Dino de Laurentiis, directed by Roger Vadim, and starring Jane Fonda, for which Forest acted as design consultant.’

Now the film – Legendary film director and horndog, Roger Vadim is famous to two of cinemas most famous erotic moments – the first is from And God Created Woman, and features his then wife, Bridget Bardot dancing barefoot on a table. The other is the title sequence in Barbarella, where Vadim’s third wife, Jane Fonda, while floating in zero gravity, slowly removes all the pieces of her space suit. During the strip tease, the individual letters displaying the cast and crew names in the titles, flitter around the screen covering Barbarella’s naughty bits. Younger readers will recall this technique being borrowed for the title sequence in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Barbarella’s plot – if you can call it that – is quite simple. It is the future, 40,000 AD and the world is at piece. There is no war and no need for armies. But a scientist named Durand Durand (David Hemmings) has left Earth for a distant galaxy and with him are the plans for a new deadly weapon – The Positronic Ray. The President of the Federation of Earth recruits Barabrella to track down Durand Durand. This mission proves no easy task when Barbarella crashes her spaceship on the planet of Lythion. During her quest she meets a swag of interesting characters, including the rather hirsute Mark Hand (Ugi Tognazzi), who catches rogue children in an ice field – Pygar (John Philip Law), who is a blind angel who has lost the will to fly – and the evil Space Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), who controls an army of black guards who root out all kindness and love in the city.

Barbarella is a flawed film, and while it may not be as stylish and kinetic as Bava’s Danger: Diabolik – with which the film is often compared because both are based on comic strips and feature John Philip Law – it certainly is a breathtaking journey, especially for those who are fond of swinging sixties excess.

But as this is Costumed Adventurer Week it is worth taking a look at the costumes featured in Barbarella (or lack there of).

During the titles Barbarella removes her spacesuit.

Barbarella sans spacesuit.

After a particularly nasty incident with some toy dolls with sharp pointy teeth, Barbarella is rescued by a man in a gorilla suit, Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi).

Mark Hand gives Barbarella some furs to wear (her costume had been ripped to shreds). Notice the tail! A fashion device ignored until Iggy Pop’s 1977 European tour!

Barbarella, now dressed in slimline silver space suit meets Pygar (John Phillip Law).

Barbarella captured by the Leathermen. You don’t have to be a psychologist to work out the symbolism in her costume. Silver highlights the breasts, and a bold red ‘V’ takes you directly to her crotch.

Er,…silver boobies!

Milo O’Shea stares pensively, but looks rather regal. Pointy shoulder pieces add to the ensemble. I must admit, had I been the costume designer, I would have added a big gold medallion on the centre of his chest. That’s probably why I am not a costume designer.

Here’s a snippet of information, that may please fans of Barbarella from the official site of Jean-Claude Forest and Barbarella. It also ties the character in with James Bond…after all that’s why I watched the film in the first place…she was described as a female James Bond.

PRESS RELEASE BARBARELLA RETURNS

April 11, 2007

Producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis have acquired all rights to reinvent the Barbarella franchise with a new feature film, to be based on the ground-breaking comic books by Jean-Claude Forest. Dino De Laurentiis produced the classic 1968 Barbarella film, which starred Jane Fonda, was directed by Roger Vadim, and was scripted by Terry Southern. Says Dino De Laurentiis, “Barbarella is the ultimate science fiction adventure heroine: smart, strong, funny, and sexy. THE FUTURE IS FEMALE, and I’m excited to reintroduce Barbarella to a new generation of moviegoers.”

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough, Johnny English) will reinvent the franchise, creating a completely new and original story for this iconic heroine. Purvis and Wade most recently co-wrote Casino Royale, which grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide, and have just penned the next installment in the James Bond franchise.

The new Barbarella will be a free and modern woman who lives in a futuristic sci-fi environment and embarks on adventures using her unique intelligence, fighting skills and sex appeal. The film will combine action, adventure, humor and sensuality.
Given the power and recognition of the original character, the search for the new Barbarella has already begun and will involve both established and unknown talent throughout the world.

Film rights were acquired from Jean-Claude Forest’s only son Julien Forest, represented by Hollywood Comics principal Jean-Marc Lofficier and French agent Laurie Roy, and development of the new movie is accompanying the reissue of the first two Barbarella books and the publishing of material never before translated into English.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Barbarella (1968)

Diabolik (1997)

(1997) TV series

Country: Italy / France / Japan / United States
Director: Jean Luc Ayach
Voices: Claudio Moneta, Sonia Mazza, Marco Balbi, Marco Balzarotti
Music: Michael Day

This incarnation of Diabolik is an animated series produced by Saban International for FOX Kids. Once the series was completed, the American distributor deemed that the show was inappropriate for younger viewers and chose not to air it. It was still released in Europe though, and apparently was quite successful, particularly in France.

The first thing you should know, however, is that this series is very different to the Diabolik portrayed by John Phillip Law in Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. In this series, Diabolik is essentially a good guy. He is still a criminal and wanted by the police, but they have concocted an overblown back-story which explains the change in Diabolik’s character. It goes something like this – Diabolik and his brother, Dane worked for a criminal organisation known as the Brotherhood. The head of the brotherhood is Diabolik and Dane’s father, King. Dane frames Diabolik for a crime he didn’t commit, and Diabolik is sent to jail. Years later, King dies, and Dane takes over as the leader of the Brotherhood. Dane also hatches a plan to free Diabolik from jail – but in reality, it is just a small part in a larger scheme to kill Diabolik. Diabolik survives the attempt on his life, but vows that he will bring down the brotherhood and destroy his brother. As I said, Diabolik is still a criminal, but he uses his skills for revenge against the Brotherhood. Essentially it’s just a tool so they can show Diabolik fighting crime – rather than committing it!

Here’s a snippet of an interview (with an un-named insider) which appeared on the Comics2Film website which highlights how Diabolik changed:

One of the first problems was trying to recast the character as a hero. “He’s a bad person. He’s not a super-hero,” our source said of Diabolik. Fox Kids may have jumped to the hero conclusion given it was a comic book character in tights.
Our source said, that attempts to change Diabolik for a young, American audience were met with staunch resistance from the Italian handlers of the character. Understandably, they had much invested in Diabolik and didn’t want the concept harmed for the sake of the show.

Trying to fit the character into the Saturday morning cartoon mold and keep the rights holders satisfied proved a difficult task. Our source told us that pre-production on most animated shows lasts about two weeks. Diabolik was in pre-production for a year.
Eventually they found a format for the show that seemed workable. “They did touch on the fact that [Diabolik] had been a bad person, without actually having to show anything, and he was making up for his crimes by basically going back and setting things straight,” our source said.

However, the show quickly strayed from this premise. “That’s in the story but it’s touched on so lightly that they never really went back to it. So it ends up being these adventures where Diabolik is constantly being chased by the police, but actually saving the day. He’s stealing things that would cause harm in the hands of his brother who is this crime lord named Dane and has the various henchmen working for him and doing his bidding.

Another change, is that of the character of Eva Kant. Previously she had been painted as Diabolik’s accomplice and lover, but here she is an equal. She even dresses in a similar black suit to Diabolik. She too has a personal vendetta against the Brotherhood. So here Diabolik and Eva are united, not because they love each other, but because they both share a desire to destroy the Brotherhood.

Here’s a quick overview of one of the episodes.

As most of you are aware, I do not speak Italian – it has been suggested that my grasp of the English language is pretty shakey – but when it comes to a character like Diabolik, language barriers don’t mean too much. Diabolik is a man of action and very few words. But having said that, I can’t really be too sure of what is going on – but here’s the basic premise.

Furto Corazzo

The story concerns a nasty South American revolutionary, who looks like Che Guevara, and is after a shipment of rocket launchers. To get the weapons he goes to an arms dealer, who I guess is a member of the Brotherhood. This dealer lives in a palatial mansion which just happens to be situated on the top of a mountain. When the story opens, Diabolik has just scaled a sheer rock cliff and planted a videobug in the arms dealer’s home.

Later Eva and Diabolik, in their swanky apartment lair, which is nowhere near as cool as the cavernous underground lair, tune in, via computer to the bug. The dealer is discussing the theft of the rocket launchers from an army convoy with his number one henchman, who is a hard-ass military type with a buzz cut hairstyle. Mr. Buzzcut says he cannot complete the theft without the help of a buddy who is currently in prison.

The story cuts to a prison chain gang who are removing some boulders that have fallen from the cliffs and blocked a mountain road. A helicopter gunship swoops down and shoots up the place killing the guards. Mr. Buzzcut lowers a rope ladder and a burly crim from the chain gang, who looks like Stone Cold Steve Austin, latches on to it and is lifted to safety. But at that moment, who should fly by in their chopper? It’s Eva and Diabolik. Next an aerial gun battle takes place, with both parties firing batteries of rockets at each other. It looks like Diabolik has the upper hand when he fires a cargo net over the rotor of the opposing chopper. His victory is shortlived, however, when a rocket takes out his tail rotor. As Diabolik and Eva spin out of control and plummet towards the earth, Diabolik jettisons the top rotor and suddenly the helicopter becomes a speedboat. Naturally their ‘boat’ lands on the river and our adventurous couple speed away to safety.

Meanwhile our villains are up to no good. The army’s convoy of rocket launchers is winding its way around a mountain road (they are all mountain roads – no stretches of smooth, straight asphalt in this show) – when a group of purple cars pull out in front of the convoy. From the exhaust pipes of the cars, a knockout gas is released, and the drivers of the trucks following behind are affected by the gas. The villains take control of the rocket launcher shipment and attempt to make their getaway. But once again, who should turn up? Yep, it’s Diabolik and Eva, this time on a tricked-up motorbike with a sidecar. Enough of the story – I am sure you can work out where it goes from here.

As I have already mentioned, this animated series is very different to the Bava movie. This version of Diabolik is more akin to Batman. He is the Dark Knight. And the similarities don’t end there. This Diabolik has at his disposal a seemingly endless supply of vehicles and gadgets that could be found in the Batcave (or would be the envy of Q-Branch).

At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember this is a series made for kids, and if I was a seven to ten year old boy, I think I’d find a lot to enjoy in this series. It is fast paced and colourful, with plenty of explosions. As an adult, and already having a connection with Diabolik through Bava’s film, I find this series pretty annoying. It is not faithful to the character. I get the impression that the people who originally commissioned this series did very little homework. They just saw a cool looking guy in a black suit. Possibly Diabolik was not the ideal character to bring to a children’s series, and in doing so, they have had to chop and change the character so much, that apart from his appearance, there is very little of the original character left. Still it’s an interesting curio – and I’d love to see a few episodes in English.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Diabolik (1997)

Diabolik: Track Of The Panther (1997)

(1997) TV series

Country: Italy / France / Japan / United States
Director: Jean Luc Ayach
Voices: Claudio Moneta, Sonia Mazza, Marco Balbi, Marco Balzarotti
Music: Michael Day

Diabolik: Track Of The Panther is an animated series produced by Saban International for FOX Kids. Once the series was completed, the American distributor deemed that the show was inappropriate for younger viewers and chose not to air it. It was still released in Europe though, and apparently was quite successful, particularly in France.

The first thing you should know, however, is that this series is very different to the Diabolik portrayed by John Phillip Law in Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. In this series, Diabolik is essentially a good guy. He is still a criminal and wanted by the police, but they have concocted an overblown back-story which explains the change in Diabolik’s character. It goes something like this – Diabolik and his brother, Dane worked for a criminal organisation known as the Brotherhood. The head of the brotherhood is Diabolik and Dane’s father, King. Dane frames Diabolik for a crime he didn’t commit, and Diabolik is sent to jail. Years later, King dies, and Dane takes over as the leader of the Brotherhood. Dane also hatches a plan to free Diabolik from jail – but in reality, it is just a small part in a larger scheme to kill Diabolik. Diabolik survives the attempt on his life, but vows that he will bring down the brotherhood and destroy his brother. As I said, Diabolik is still a criminal, but he uses his skills for revenge against the Brotherhood. Essentially it’s just a tool so they can show Diabolik fighting crime – rather than committing it!

Here’s a snippet of an interview (with an un-named insider) which appeared on the Comics2Film website which highlights how Diabolik changed:

One of the first problems was trying to recast the character as a hero. “He’s a bad person. He’s not a super-hero,” our source said of Diabolik. Fox Kids may have jumped to the hero conclusion given it was a comic book character in tights.
Our source said, that attempts to change Diabolik for a young, American audience were met with staunch resistance from the Italian handlers of the character. Understandably, they had much invested in Diabolik and didn’t want the concept harmed for the sake of the show.

Trying to fit the character into the Saturday morning cartoon mold and keep the rights holders satisfied proved a difficult task. Our source told us that pre-production on most animated shows lasts about two weeks. Diabolik was in pre-production for a year.
Eventually they found a format for the show that seemed workable. “They did touch on the fact that [Diabolik] had been a bad person, without actually having to show anything, and he was making up for his crimes by basically going back and setting things straight,” our source said.

However, the show quickly strayed from this premise. “That’s in the story but it’s touched on so lightly that they never really went back to it. So it ends up being these adventures where Diabolik is constantly being chased by the police, but actually saving the day. He’s stealing things that would cause harm in the hands of his brother who is this crime lord named Dane and has the various henchmen working for him and doing his bidding.

Another change, is that of the character of Eva Kant. Previously she had been painted as Diabolik’s accomplice and lover, but here she is an equal. She even dresses in a similar black suit to Diabolik. She too has a personal vendetta against the Brotherhood. So here Diabolik and Eva are united, not because they love each other, but because they both share a desire to destroy the Brotherhood.

Here’s a quick overview of one of the episodes.

As most of you are aware, I do not speak Italian – it has been suggested that my grasp of the English language is pretty shakey – but when it comes to a character like Diabolik, language barriers don’t mean too much. Diabolik is a man of action and very few words. But having said that, I can’t really be too sure of what is going on – but here’s the basic premise.

Furto Corazzo

The story concerns a nasty South American revolutionary, who looks like Che Guevara, and is after a shipment of rocket launchers. To get the weapons he goes to an arms dealer, who I guess is a member of the Brotherhood. This dealer lives in a palatial mansion which just happens to be situated on the top of a mountain. When the story opens, Diabolik has just scaled a sheer rock cliff and planted a videobug in the arms dealer’s home.

Later Eva and Diabolik, in their swanky apartment lair, which is nowhere near as cool as the cavernous underground lair, tune in, via computer to the bug. The dealer is discussing the theft of the rocket launchers from an army convoy with his number one henchman, who is a hard-ass military type with a buzz cut hairstyle. Mr. Buzzcut says he cannot complete the theft without the help of a buddy who is currently in prison.

The story cuts to a prison chain gang who are removing some boulders that have fallen from the cliffs and blocked a mountain road. A helicopter gunship swoops down and shoots up the place killing the guards. Mr. Buzzcut lowers a rope ladder and a burly crim from the chain gang, who looks like Stone Cold Steve Austin, latches on to it and is lifted to safety. But at that moment, who should fly by in their chopper? It’s Eva and Diabolik. Next an aerial gun battle takes place, with both parties firing batteries of rockets at each other. It looks like Diabolik has the upper hand when he fires a cargo net over the rotor of the opposing chopper. His victory is shortlived, however, when a rocket takes out his tail rotor. As Diabolik and Eva spin out of control and plummet towards the earth, Diabolik jettisons the top rotor and suddenly the helicopter becomes a speedboat. Naturally their ‘boat’ lands on the river and our adventurous couple speed away to safety.

Meanwhile our villains are up to no good. The army’s convoy of rocket launchers is winding its way around a mountain road (they are all mountain roads – no stretches of smooth, straight asphalt in this show) – when a group of purple cars pull out in front of the convoy. From the exhaust pipes of the cars, a knockout gas is released, and the drivers of the trucks following behind are affected by the gas. The villains take control of the rocket launcher shipment and attempt to make their getaway. But once again, who should turn up? Yep, it’s Diabolik and Eva, this time on a tricked-up motorbike with a sidecar. Enough of the story – I am sure you can work out where it goes from here.

As I have already mentioned, this animated series is very different to the Bava movie. This version of Diabolik is more akin to Batman. He is the Dark Knight. And the similarities don’t end there. This Diabolik has at his disposal a seemingly endless supply of vehicles and gadgets that could be found in the Batcave (or would be the envy of Q-Branch).

At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember this is a series made for kids, and if I was a seven to ten year old boy, I think I’d find a lot to enjoy in this series. It is fast paced and colourful, with plenty of explosions. As an adult, and already having a connection with Diabolik through Bava’s film, I find this series pretty annoying. It is not faithful to the character. I get the impression that the people who originally commissioned this series did very little homework. They just saw a cool looking guy in a black suit. Possibly Diabolik was not the ideal character to bring to a children’s series, and in doing so, they have had to chop and change the character so much, that apart from his appearance, there is very little of the original character left. Still it’s an interesting curio – and I’d love to see a few episodes in English.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Diabolik: Track Of The Panther (1997)

Gettin’ Square

sam-worthGettin’ Square is a comedy crime caper, set on Australia’s Gold Coast in Queensland. So rather than the dim, gloomy look that the Melbourne or Sydney based crime films have, this one is bathed in glorious sunshine. The characters even wear very bright coloured clothes, rather than the tailored black suits that seem to to the uniform de rigueur in these types of films. With the brighter colours comes a lighter film, that at times verges on outright comedy.

The film opens with a robbery. Four men, armed with shotguns, and their heads covered by balaclavas are in the back of a cabbed pick-up truck. The four men are Barry Wirth (Sam Worthington), Johnny Spitieri (David Wenham), Dennis Obst (Garry Waddell) and Lenny Morrison (John Brumpton). As the truck makes it’s way to the place where the robbery is to take place, a cassette, created by the criminal mastermind behind the operation plays, outlining each of the men’s objectives during the robbery.

The truck pulls up, and our four perpetrators hit an office block. Next we hear a gunshot, and then see Barry carrying out Johnny ‘Spit’, who has been shot in the chest. Apparently the manager had a gun hidden in the safe.

The film then cuts back to six months earlier. All four men were in prison, but each of them is up for parole. The parole hearings don’t go to well for them. Only Johnny Spitieri is released. As he packs his gear and says goodbye to Barry, he vows to ‘get square’ which in this instance doesn’t mean ‘seek vengeance’ but ‘go straight’.

Another bloke trying to go straight is Darren Barrington (Timothy Spall), known as ‘Dabba’ to his mates. Dabba runs a none-too-successful restaurant called the Texas Rose. As the restaurant is a money pit, Dabba’s legal advisor comes up with a scene, where they sell the property to developers for condominiums, but can buy in on the ground floor to set up a new revamped restaurant. The scheme will cost a few hundred thousand dollars, but that’s okay, because Dabba has some money squirreled away with his accountant Halliwell.

Back in prison, Barry receives a visit from bent copper, Arnie DeViers (David Field). DeViers is the cop who sent Barry away based on his false testimony. Obviously both men hate each others guts, and Barry isn’t too overjoyed to see him. But DeViers has news. Barry’s mother has died. DeViers hopes that the bad news will make Barry do something stupid, like throw a punch at him, and can be stitched up for a bit more time. But Barry plays it cool. In fact, his mother’s death helps to get him released.

You see, Barry has a younger brother Joey (Luke Pelger), and upon hearing about Barry’s mother’s death, the parole board, grant him early release to provide support and guidance for his younger sibling. The timing is good, because young Joey has fallen under the spell of two-bit gangster, Chicka Martin (Gary Sweet). Making things even messier, is that Martin has formed a business relationship with bent copper DeViers.

Meanwhile Dabba ends up with some legal problems, when Halliwell the accountant’s wife, finds her husband rooting around on her. As an act of vengeance, she tells the Criminal Investigations Commision (CIC) about her hubbie’s shady dealings and soon they come in and confiscate all his records. This trail of paperwork comes back to Dabba, and it looks like his new restaurant and condominium development has come crashing down.

Now on the outside, Barry is trying to find honest work. In prison he worked in the kitchen, so he tries to find work as a chef. But everywhere he goes, no-one wants to hire an ex-con. Eventually his path crosses Dabba’s and Barry ends up working as the chef at the Texas Rose. Of course, all these characters and connections lead to the robbery that opens the film.

As the Australian film industry is rather small, often you will see familiar faces in each film. Gettin’ Square is no different, and features many ‘old friends’ for viewers of Australian crime drama. Vince Colosimo isn’t in this one, but David Field fills the gap as the corrupt cop. Field had previously appeared in Ghosts Of The Civil Dead, Two Hands and Chopper. Another familiar face is Gary Sweet. Sweet who plays Chicka Martin in Gettin’ Square, played Chicka White in The Great Bookie Robbery. ‘Chicka’ appears to be a name that has stuck with him. He also appeared in Blue Murder; amongst many others.

Gettin’ Square is a great film, but I must admit, when I first watched it upon release, I was kinda disappointed. I wanted, and was expecting something a little harder. But if you accept that this film, and it’s characters are played as broad comedic stereotypes, then you’re going to have a very enjoyable time viewing this feature. David Wenham, who won a swag of awards for his performance, is particularly funny. His court appearance after the CIC subpoena him to appear, giving evidence against ‘Dabba’ is a great piece of physical acting. But overall, the acting by the ensemble cast is pretty good. As I mentioned earlier, the characters are broad comedic stereotypes, so it requires some solid acting to bring them to life, otherwise they simply be two dimensional cartoons. All in all, Gettin’ Square is an enjoyable feature.

Gettin’ Square