Hercules Against The Barbarians (1964)

AKA: Masciste In the Hell Of Genghis Khan
Director: Domenico Paolella
Starring: Mark Forest, José Greci, Ken Clark, Gloria Milland, Roldano Lupi
Music: Giuseppe Piccillo, Carlo Savina

As with most of the Peplum films that are out there, there appears to be many versions of this film, varying in running time from about 90 minutes to 120 minutes. As well as differing running times, the films hero seems to change from either Hercules or Masciste, the son of Hercules. But that shouldn’t matter too much. The version I am reviewing here is the shortened American version, Hercules Against The Barbarians, which features Mark Forest as the titular Hercules.

The movie starts off with Genghis Khan and his Mongol army invading Poland. Actually we don’t see the invasion, only lots of Mongols, waving spears of horseback. The narrator tells us the Mongols have suffered their first defeat. We are also told that Hercules has fought alongside the Polish, like a ‘tornado’. And when we finally clap eyes on Hercules, he is being thanked, slapped on the back and sent on his way. The opening seems like a bit of a ripoff to me. We hear of a great battle but don’t see it.

Hercules is heading back to Arminia (José Greci), his fiancé, but before he arrives, strange things are happening in her village. Firstly a woman, Arias (Gloria Milland) is being chased by an angry mob. They accuse her of being a witch and want to burn her at the stake. She finds refuge in Arminia and her father’s cottage. However, he protection doesn’t last too long, as a band of Mongols arrive and kidnap Arminia, and kill her father. Arias is left arrive, and blamed for the atrocity. The mob quickly pick up their flaming torches once more and tie Arias to a stake. But just before going up in flames, she is rescued once more, this time by Hercules.

It is determined that the Mongols have taken Arminia to the city of Tornapol, where she is being held captive by Genghis Khan (Roldano Lupi). Naturally enough, Hercules and his new lady friend, Arias, set off in a bid to rescue Arminia.

The real villain in this movie is Kubilai, played by an almost unrecognizable Ken Clark (weird hair, silly moustache). Kubilai is a vicious piece of work, prepared to kill anyone who hinders his ascension to power, including his father and his brother. His malevolence is shown when he stabs one of his lovers in the heart after she has learnt too much about Kubilai’s plans.

At this time, Hercules Against The Barbarians veers into Tarzan territory. Hercules battles various rubber creatures during his travels including a giant python, and a crocodile. Forest makes an admirable attempt at making the croc fight seem real, but cannot overcome the glaringly fake rubber reptile.

For me, Hercules Against The Barbarians is a weak entry in the Sword and Sandal series. Forest is not my favourite Hercules. He takes the role far too seriously and always looks to be in pain. On top of that this movie is fairly slowed paced and drags between action sequences. There is one sequence that is worth mentioning though. It is in the palace of Genghis Khan, and we are treated to an array of ‘regal’ entertainment, including oriental dancers spinning plates on sticks, and acrobats spinning and tumbling over giant flags as they are swirled around the room. The entertainment culminates with Hercules and one of Genghis Khan’s warriors fighting to the death in a gauntlet of (rubber tipped) spears.

Hercules Against The Barbarians (1964)

Hercules Vs The Moon Men (1964)

AKA: Hercules Against the Moon Men, Hercules and the Queen of Samar, Maciste vs. the Moon Men, Maciste vs. the Stone Men
Director: Giacomo Gentilomo
Starring: Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani), Jany Clair, Anna Maria Polani, Delia D’Alberti Jean-Pierre Honoré
Music: Carlo Franci

How can you go past a title like Hercules Vs The Moon Men? I couldn’t. This is a film that had to be watched, but admittedly with low expectations. And for three-quarters of this films running time I was highly entertained.

The film opens with an asteroid crashing into the earth’s surface. Many years later (I guess), we see the children of the kingdom of Samar being lead to a mountain where the asteroid fell. A giant maw opens and the children are forced inside. The children are sacrificed to the mountain.

The citizens of the kingdom are upset that Queen Samara (Jany Clair) allows their offspring to be sacrificed this way and behind her back organise for Hercules (Alan Steel) to come to their city and hopefully change things.

The Queen finds out about the plan and sends soldiers to intercept and kill Hercules. Needless to say, they are no match for the world’s strongest man. It must be said that Alan Steel is a light hearted Hercules. He grins a lot of the time and truly seems to be enjoying himself. I prefer Steel to the dour Mark Forest, who in his films, spend most of the time looking like he has painful blisters on his ankles (forgive me, a little bit of sandal humour there). Let’s face it, Hercules films are not high art. They are meant to be fun, and Steel’s performance hits the button.

What is really happening in Samar is that the queen has made a pact with the aliens who live inside the mountain. They want to take over the world, and she is to be their number one human, making her the most powerful ‘person’ on earth. The aliens are a weird bunch. There is a leader, who looks a bit like a robot. And the so called ‘Moon Men’ are walking rocks…er, yeah. Now, what the moon men have to do to take over the world is revive their Moon Princess, who is in suspended animation. She conveniently looks like Queen Samara’s younger sister Billis (Delia D’Alberti). And as you’ve probably already guessed, Billis is to be sacrificed to bring the Moon Princess back to life.It’s Mighty Hercules job to save Billis and the children of Samar from the alien threat. Is he up to the task. You bet!

How does Herc do it? Well, he pushes over a lot of things. He pushes down walls, trees (even though he could walk around them), and statues. And he throws things. He throws the Queens evil soldiers into beer barrels, and even throws around one of the rock monsters into a group of other rock monsters. It’s fun stuff.

There’s a few good setpieces throughout the film. The brawl in the tavern raises a chuckle, and there is a good scene where Herc is chained between two spiked boards that are squeezing in on him (like an Iron Maiden). However, the sandstorm towards the end of the movie is not one of the great setpieces. It might have been good, had it not been so long and downright boring. It is one of the most infuriating pieces of film-making ever, and is guaranteed to have you shouting ‘Get on with it’ at your television set.

If it weren’t for the ending I would rate this film a lot more highly and recommend it as a good example of the genre, but as it stands, I cannot. It is better than many, but the final quarter really drags it down.

Hercules Vs The Moon Men (1964)

Covert Affairs: Pilot (2010)


Director: Tim Matheson
Starring: Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham, Kari Matchett, Eric Lively, Anne Dudek, Peter Gallagher, George Tchortov, Eion Bailey, Emmanuelle Vaugier
Music: Christopher Tyng

Covert Affairs is the latest spy series to go to air, and the general consensus appears to be that the show is extremely enjoyable. But already quite a few people are comparing it to Alias – and taking nothing away from the star of the show, Piper Perabo, she does look just a little too similar to Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow in Alias. The thing is, Alias was such a popular show, and through that, Garner had such a following, that it is going to be a big ask for Covert Affairs to break out of that shadow and stand on its own. That aside, it looks like the show will have a lot to offer spy fans, and I think that there is enough room to manouvre for the producers and writers to create a fine television series.

The pilot episode begins Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) undertaking a lie detector test to see if she is suitable material for the CIA. The interrogator asks her some questions of a personal nature and about her past, which she seems slightly uncomfortable with. Her last serious relationship was with a man named Ben who she met in Sri Lanka. After a whirlwind love affair, lasting all of three weeks, Ben disappeared leaving behind a cryptic note saying ‘the truth is complicated – Forgive me’. Annie was pretty cut up about Ben running out. She truly thought he was the one. After bumming around the globe on a tourist visa for a while, Annie returns to the United States and decides that a career in the CIA is for her.

Now two years later, Annie is at a CIA training facility known as ‘the Farm’. With a month of training still to go, she is pulled out of ‘the farm’ and sent to Headquarters at Langley. The DPD (Domestic Protection Division) need a new operative who can speak Russian – and Annie happens to be fluent in six languages.

A Russian assassin named Stas wants to cross over to the United States. In exchange for being granted asylum in the West, he has offered to provide large amounts of quality top-secret intel. Annie has been chosen to be the liaison for the CIA, and to bring Stas over to the West.

At Langley, Annie is introduced to a swag of operatives – who it could assumed that most will become regulars, week to week over the series. The Head of the DPD division is Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett), who just so happens to be married to the divisional Head of the OCS (Office of Clandestine Services), Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher). Furthermore Joan suspects that Arthur is having an affair, and she uses CIA resources to spy on him.

Next we have Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), who is the Tech Ops (high-tech/gadget) guy at the DPD. The nice twist here is that Auggie is blind – so obviously he isn’t going to be participating in many action scenes (although, there is an amusing part where he accompanies Annie to the morgue to identify a body). As a fairly office bound character, what Auggie says is more important than what he does. In that sense, he performs two functions in the show – firstly serving as a mentor figure (or voice of reason) for Annie, and secondly as comic relief -thankfully not at the character’s expense due to his visual impairment, but rather in spite of it.

Then there is Conrad (Eric Lively), who is the smooth ‘ladies man’ who befriends Annie, as she arrives at Headquarters – this guy is fast – she hasn’t even entered the building and he is weaving his magic. He also works for Arthur Campbell in the OSC division. As the series progresses, there are more characters to be introduced, but that is a start, and as you can imagine, the CIA is a pretty bitchy place to work – never knowing who to trust. Especially when each character’s day to day life entails lying, and manipulating of the truth, you’ve got to expect some of that to rub off in their interactions with their work colleagues – right? But Covert Affairs isn’t all about inter-office rivalries – there’s some action and shootouts in the show too – so I’ll get back to telling you about Annie’s mission – and said ‘action and shootouts’.

So Annie has to meet with a Russian assassin and receive his top-secret intel – via a suped up blackberry. Her cover is to pose as a call girl, and meet her ‘client’ at an upmarket Hotel in Washington DC. Annie is paged, and makes her way up to the room. Inside is the Russian assassin, Stas, who seems to be intent on having a good time at the US tax payers expense (and if he had his way, with Annie too). But finally she convinces him to get down to business, and they sync their blackberries, and Stas sends over the intel. But before Annie can leave, a hail of bullets shatter the window. Stats is shot, and Annie scrambles clear, fearing for her life. She makes it to safety, but unfortunately she has left her blackberry and the top-secret information behind (and her high-heel shoes). It’s not a good start to her career as a CIA agent. But Annie is made of much sterner stuff than that, and with Auggie’s help, concocts a plan to put it all right.

It’s hard to judge a series solely on the first episode. The pilot episode can in fact be the only good episode, with all the others falling into a predictable pattern week after week. I don’t think that will be the case here. Enough forethought and planning appear to have gone into the characters to provide at  least a series worth of twists and turns and duplicitous subplots. There is a little mystery which is setting itself to be the main story arc which takes place over many episodes (much like the ‘who burned Michael Weston’ question in Burn Notice). I am sure it will be dragged out for as long as possible to keep viewer interest up.

All in all, I found Covert Affairs to be very entertaining. Will it become another Burn Notice or Alias? Time will tell.

Covert Affairs: Pilot (2010)

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon (1963)

AKA: Maciste, the World’s Greatest Hero
Director: Michele Lupo
Starring: Mark Forest, José Greci, Giuliano Gemma, Mimmo Palmara, Erno Crisa
Music: Francesco De Masi

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon
is one of the better peplum films I have watched recently. This is due to two reasons. The first is the cast, and the second is that it seems to have had more money thrown at it than most.

The film opens in the town of Methra, which is under the control of the Babylonians. Each year, as a tribute to their rulers, the Methranites send thirty young virgins to Babylon. As the girls are being rounded up, one of them tries to escape. Three soldiers capture her and man-handle her roughly. This doesn’t go over too well with Goliath (Mark Forest). He steps in and makes short work of the soldiers.

A midget (or a little person, if you prefer) who is hiding in a barrel strapped to a pack horse warns Goliath that more soldiers are on their way. I don’t know why Sword & Sandal epics have this fascination for ‘little people’ – they just do. And now, I must admit, if I see a S&S film and it doesn’t have a comic relief midget, I don’t feel I have got my money’s worth.

But back to the story. Goliath doesn’t seem too perturbed that more soldiers will come after him. The ‘little guy’ on the other hand, is worried, and runs off to tell two burly pals that Goliath is in trouble. The two guys happen to be Xandros (Giuliano Gemma) and Alceas (Mimmo Palmara). The three men team up and plan to overthrow the Babylonians.

At the top I talked about the budget and the cast. Expanding upon that, the money was put to good use, firstly on a ocean battle, where two ship engage in a bit of pirate style warfare, and secondly on a chariot race. The race isn’t up to the standard, or provide the level of excitement as the race in Ben Hur, but then again, what would? As for the cast, the main actors are all pretty good. In other reviews I have been farely scathing in my assesment of Mark Forest’s acting ability, but have to admit that he is pretty good in this. He is ably assisted by Giuliano Gemma and Mimmo Palmara. All three get a fair amount of screen time, and each has individual battles and opponents to overcome. Gemma comes off particularly well, displaying a degree of acrobatics that was never showcased in the Spaghetti Westerns that he is so famous for. With three male leads, unfortunately the female lead, José Greci doesn’t get much screen time. Of course, she still looks great though.

One of the highlights of the film is when the villain of the piece has captured Goliath and is about to torture him. Goliath is tied to a table which sits under a roof with holes in it. Housed in each hole is a spear, which is attached to a length of rope. When the connecting rope is cut, one of the spears drops down from it’s hole above. When the villain forces Xandros and Alceas to cut the ropes, it’s a waiting game as each spear falls. Which rope will release the spear that will kill Goliath?

I am far from an expert on peplum films. With each film I see I learn new things. Some of the ones I have seen so far, have had me wondering why the genre was so successful – but then I stumble on a film like this one, which was obviously made at the peak of the genre’s popularity, and it all becomes clear. At there best, peplum movies are damn good fun. They aren’t boring. And they don’t have to have poor visual effects and rubber monsters to entertain. This is one of the good ones.

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon (1963)

Fool's Gold (2008)

Country: United States
Director: Andy Tennant
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Alexis Dziena, Ewen Bremner, Ray Winstone, Kevin Hart, Malcolm-Jamal Warner
Music: George Fenton

Like Sahara, Fool’s Gold, is another Matthew McConaughey treasure hunting adventure, but this time he teams up with Kate Hudson, his co-star from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

Fool’s Gold is wafer thin entertainment that makes Sahara seem like a complex and deeply plotted masterwork, but strangely I still enjoyed it. In fact it has more in common with Into The Blue than Sahara. All three films are about treasure hunting, but Sahara branches off into Health and Environmental issues, whereas the other two are about a guy and a gal who get tangled up with gangster rappers.

Fool’s Gold starts with Benjamin Finnegan (Matthew McConaughey) and Alfonz (Ewen Bremner) searching the ocean floor for a fabled ship that was carrying a fortune in treasure, nicknamed ‘The Queen’s Dowry’. The ship was destroyed in a hurricane as it was heading back to Spain, but no-one has ever located the wreck, and more importantly, the treasure.

In his quest, Finnegan has borrowed money to buy a new boat off a gangster rapper called ‘Bigg Bunny’ (Kevin Hart). Unfortunately Finnegan didn’t spring for a new generator for his undersea vacuuming equipment. As Finnegan and Alfonz toil away on the seabed, the generator explodes and catches fire. Within moments the whole boat is on fire, and an explosion in the engine room sends the ship down to the ocean floor.

Now, not only is Finnegan without a boat to continue his search, but he now owes Bigg Bunny a filthy amount of money which he cannot pay. Gangster Rappers don’t like this, and Bigg Bunny orders that Finnegan be killed.

Meanwhile Tess Finnegan (Kate Hudson), Benjamin’s wife, is at a local court finalising the details of their divorce. As Benjamin is tied up with other matters, such as saving himself from being killed, he turns up late to the hearing and looses any other assets he may have had to Tess.

But Benjamin isn’t one to give up. He sees his his opportunity to continue his treasure hunt anchored in the harbour. A majestic yacht, The Precious Gem, owned by Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), is in port for two reasons. The first is that Honeycutt’s daughter, Gemma (Alexis Dziena) is joining her father onboard during her holiday break. Gemma is a spoilt heiress who would rather be in Paris with her socialite friends than spend time with her father. The second reason why the ship is in town is that Honeycutt’s new stewardess needed to be in town for her divorce preceedings. Yep, Tess is Honeycutt’s new stewardess.

Naturally, Benjamin doesn’t know this. All he sees is an expensive yacht and a potential new benefactor. He contrives a way to get onto the boat. It is quite a shock for Tess as she is about to serve dinner, to find that one of the ship-board guests just happens to be her ex-husband – the man she went to sea to get away from.

In the end Benjamin and Tess relay their life’s stories to Honeycutt. Intrigued by the treasure hunt story, he agrees to fund a search for the lost ship.

The location photography on and around the Whitsunday Islands is breathtaking, and Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are pretty likeable leads, but this film’s story and subplots are never really fleshed out. It appears that the film-makers were so happy to have Matt and Kate together that they spent all their time focusing on them rather than building a story around them.

Fool’s Gold isn’t a ‘crock of gold’, but nor is it a ‘crock of shit’. It’s sunny, bright, breezy entertainment, that’s a perfect way to unwind if you’ve had a long tiring week, and you are too brain-dead to concentrate on little things like plot or character development. Let the crystal clear images sweep over you and enjoy the film for what it is.

Fool's Gold (2008)

Fool’s Gold (2008)

Country: United States
Director: Andy Tennant
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Alexis Dziena, Ewen Bremner, Ray Winstone, Kevin Hart, Malcolm-Jamal Warner
Music: George Fenton

Like Sahara, Fool’s Gold, is another Matthew McConaughey treasure hunting adventure, but this time he teams up with Kate Hudson, his co-star from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

Fool’s Gold is wafer thin entertainment that makes Sahara seem like a complex and deeply plotted masterwork, but strangely I still enjoyed it. In fact it has more in common with Into The Blue than Sahara. All three films are about treasure hunting, but Sahara branches off into Health and Environmental issues, whereas the other two are about a guy and a gal who get tangled up with gangster rappers.

Fool’s Gold starts with Benjamin Finnegan (Matthew McConaughey) and Alfonz (Ewen Bremner) searching the ocean floor for a fabled ship that was carrying a fortune in treasure, nicknamed ‘The Queen’s Dowry’. The ship was destroyed in a hurricane as it was heading back to Spain, but no-one has ever located the wreck, and more importantly, the treasure.

In his quest, Finnegan has borrowed money to buy a new boat off a gangster rapper called ‘Bigg Bunny’ (Kevin Hart). Unfortunately Finnegan didn’t spring for a new generator for his undersea vacuuming equipment. As Finnegan and Alfonz toil away on the seabed, the generator explodes and catches fire. Within moments the whole boat is on fire, and an explosion in the engine room sends the ship down to the ocean floor.

Now, not only is Finnegan without a boat to continue his search, but he now owes Bigg Bunny a filthy amount of money which he cannot pay. Gangster Rappers don’t like this, and Bigg Bunny orders that Finnegan be killed.

Meanwhile Tess Finnegan (Kate Hudson), Benjamin’s wife, is at a local court finalising the details of their divorce. As Benjamin is tied up with other matters, such as saving himself from being killed, he turns up late to the hearing and looses any other assets he may have had to Tess.

But Benjamin isn’t one to give up. He sees his his opportunity to continue his treasure hunt anchored in the harbour. A majestic yacht, The Precious Gem, owned by Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), is in port for two reasons. The first is that Honeycutt’s daughter, Gemma (Alexis Dziena) is joining her father onboard during her holiday break. Gemma is a spoilt heiress who would rather be in Paris with her socialite friends than spend time with her father. The second reason why the ship is in town is that Honeycutt’s new stewardess needed to be in town for her divorce preceedings. Yep, Tess is Honeycutt’s new stewardess.

Naturally, Benjamin doesn’t know this. All he sees is an expensive yacht and a potential new benefactor. He contrives a way to get onto the boat. It is quite a shock for Tess as she is about to serve dinner, to find that one of the ship-board guests just happens to be her ex-husband – the man she went to sea to get away from.

In the end Benjamin and Tess relay their life’s stories to Honeycutt. Intrigued by the treasure hunt story, he agrees to fund a search for the lost ship.

The location photography on and around the Whitsunday Islands is breathtaking, and Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are pretty likeable leads, but this film’s story and subplots are never really fleshed out. It appears that the film-makers were so happy to have Matt and Kate together that they spent all their time focusing on them rather than building a story around them.

Fool’s Gold isn’t a ‘crock of gold’, but nor is it a ‘crock of shit’. It’s sunny, bright, breezy entertainment, that’s a perfect way to unwind if you’ve had a long tiring week, and you are too brain-dead to concentrate on little things like plot or character development. Let the crystal clear images sweep over you and enjoy the film for what it is.

Fool’s Gold (2008)

Warlords (2007)

Country: China / Hong Kong
Director: Peter Chan, Wai Man Yip
Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jinglei Xu, Yu Ai Lei
Music: Kwong Wing Chan, Peter Kam, Leon Ko

Sorry guys, but this review is not going to be anywhere near the standard I wanted it to be. I didn’t set out to write a ‘filler’ review. I wanted it to be a well crafted and fleshed out exploration of a fine slice of contemporary international cinema. I know I haven’t written a well crafted and fleshed out exploration before, but I was hoping this would be the first time. The film I chose to look at is Warlords. Now, one of my best friends is a merchant seaman (yeah, we make jokes about it to), and every now and then he arrives in town armed with a few goodies to tease and tantalise. One of these was the Warlords DVD. At the time the film was unavailable in Australia. I was pretty excited to watch this sumptuously filmed, big screen epic (it’s a big-screen epic, even when watched on a small screen!) I slipped the disc into the machine and pressed play. Despite the English packaging, the film started in Chinese, with Chinese subtitles. I stopped the film; went back to the main menu, and selected the English subtitle option. ‘Away we go!’ I thought.

And English subtitle did appear, but not in a format that I could understand. Yes there were English words, but it was sort of jumbled – dialogue ended or started mid sentence, and some of the translation was kind of screwy. Much of the first forty-five minutes of the film was spent fighting off attacks from The Comfortable City (kind of reminds me of the old Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch!). During epic battle scenes, characters started yelling ‘put’, which I presumed meant ‘fire’. My suspicions were confirmed later when a character ordered a battalion of archers to ‘put arrows’ (fire arrows). During the middle of a fight scene, there is some dialogue about a seven inch snake – I am not sure if they were talking about the guys dick, or referring to the villain of the piece as a serpent? For All I knew, they could have been talking about the daggers used in the fight. All I can say is here was a potentially great dramatic scene, but I was falling around in fits of laughter because of the ridiculous subs. Towards the end of the film, during great chunks of dialogue, there were no subs at all. It is as if the subtitleer got bored and wandered off to get a coffee.

Now I could joke about the subtitles all day, but the truth is Warlords looks to be an absolutely amazing film. It has been beautifully shot, and the battle scenes are staggering – possibly the best I have seen since Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. The music is sweeping and majestic as befitting a sprawling epic. The film appears to have all the trappings of a superior piece of entertainment – but I can’t really be sure – the story (credited to eight writers) may be absolute piffle.

Jet Li plays a character called General Ma Xinyi, although he doesn’t start out as a general, and the subtitles refer to him as Green Cloud, and at the beginning of the film he is involved in a huge battle. But during the fighting, he plays dead, while hundreds (possibly thousands) of his comrades are slain. Gripped with guilt, Green Cloud vows to never let this happen again. Gradually he rebuilds his life and regains his honour as he joins a band of soldiers at war with The Comfortable City. Through his deeds in battle he gradually rises through the ranks until he is promoted to be a joint leader of this group of soldiers. His co-leader is a gentleman named Noon Sun (I am not making this up, I assure you!) Green Cloud and Noon Sun make a formidable team, and become blood brothers. Soon their rag-tag band of soldiers are taking on all comers  and rampaging across China. After a few successful battles, Green Cloud grows a conscience and wishes to change the rules of war – no more raping or pillaging. This brings him into conflict with Noon Sun who wishes to continue raping and pillaging.

At the risk of appearing lazy, but in the interests of conveying a slightly more accurate description of the events in the film, here is the blurb off the back of the DVD.

‘It is a heroic tale of three blood brothers and their struggle in the midst of war and political upheaval. It is based on “The Assassination of Ma”, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) story about the killing of general Ma Xinyi. The story was filmed by Zhang Che in 1973 as The Blood Brothers.’

So the film is a remake, and appears to be quite different from my brief synopsis – I seem to be shy one blood brother. Once again, in my defence, I’ll blame the subs. Half of the characters in the film are referred to as ‘Elder Brother’ or ‘Adult’. It is impossible to tell who is talking to who.

In closing, I’d have to say, I must watch this film again, but obviously a proper version – not some dodgy pirate copy shipped out of a steamy port in Indonesia. The film appears to be a worthwhile viewing experience, especially if you like epic adventure on a grand scale.

Warlords (2007)

Gamefinger

GamefingerAuthor: Clyde Allison
Real name: William Knoles
Publisher: Ember Library EL 321
Cover illustration: Robert Bonfils
Published: March 1966

WARNING: This review contains moderately sexual and adult content.

Gamefinger is the sixth title published in the highly collectible Trevor Anderson – Agent 0008 series, and the book opens with our oversexed, secret agent on leave. He is holidaying, on his lonesome, at a secluded cabin, beside a lake in Maine. His peace and quiet (and his celibacy) is interrupted by the arrival by a six-foot tall blonde Amazon named Karni. When 0008 meets her, she is skinnydipping in the lake. As this book is a soft-core sex comedy, after a brief introduction, he makes love to her in the great outdoors. This, of course, is one of the many sex scenes described in the book, and while reading the story, I almost get the impression that these sex sequence were more of a contractual obligation, rather than Clyde Allison’s desire to titillate his reading audience. The second sex sequence is almost shoehorned into the story – almost as if the publisher has said that he requires a sex sequence every twenty-five pages. And Allison has obliged.

Later, in the cabin as 0008 believes he is about to embark on another lengthy sexcapade, he closes his eyes as Karni approaches him. But rather than slaking his carnal desires, she renders his unconscious with a well placed judo-chop.

Alas, Karni is not an enemy agent, she is in fact SADISTO’s (the Security and Administration Division of the Institute for Special Tactical Operations) latest recruit, 00085, and when Trevor Anderson wakes up, he is back at SADISTO headquarters and about to be briefed by the General (the head of SADISTO).

The General explains (Page 27):

“…Ahem well, 0008, we are faced, we think, with one of the worst potential menaces to the Free World in recent years. We have reason to believe a madman is scheming to end war and the fear of war.”

I thought it over. “Ending war isn’t so bad,” I said. “But ending the fear of war! Why great heavens, man, think of the terrible slump the war – I mean defense – industries would take! Think of the effect on aerospace and electronics industries! Without the fear of war, dozens of billion-dollar industries wouldn’t get any tax money.”

“Right,” said the General. “You can see what a menace this madman could be – if his scheme, whatever it is, should prove workable…”

The brains behind the diabolical scheme is a man named Cantwell Undershaft – known as ‘Gamefinger’ – who has set himself up as a Caesar type figure, dressed in togas and wearing laurel wreaths in his hair. His plan is to beam, via satellite, vicious battles into peoples living rooms and onto their television screens. Undershaft believes that this repugnant display will sate peoples natural desire for blood, and will put them off war and warmongering forever.

Undershaft has began his plan with a few test productions, which SADISTO has obtained footage of. This footage consists of native women being stabbed, girls with swords and shields hacking at each other, others jousting on horse back, and girls being fed to barracudas. But Undershaft’s productions are crude. They need refining – they need an expert in weapons. And that’s where 0008’s mission begins. He is to pose as world renown weapons expert Rex Kingston. SADISTO’s computer has anticipated that soon Undershaft will attempt to kidnap Kingston and have him work as a technical advisor on his productions. The plan is to have 0008 kidnapped instead.

0008 is airlifted back to his lakeside lodge in Maine, and not before too long, an agent, working for Undershaft arrives on the scene. The agent’s name is Drusilla, and as this book has a quota of pornography to fit within its pages, of course, she seduces 0008. Then of course, knocks him out and drugs him. When 0008 wakes up, he is on Eros Island, and at the whims of eccentric, mad billionaire Cantwell Undershaft.

Sure this book is trash – it is smut. But underneath that trashy veneer, there is something pretty interesting going on here. Particularly if you place it in the context of the times. The book was published in 1966. A year after the ground war started in Vietnam (March 1965). In this book, Vietnam is never mentioned. It talks about a generic ‘war’ – but in 1966, as far as America was concerned, their only war was the one in Vietnam. This story concerns itself with the televisation of acts of extreme violence, and I guess that could be equated with the nightly news reports about the Vietnam conflict. The villain, Undershaft, believes that televising violence will cause people to want to stop it, and therefore put an end to all war.

As Undershaft explains (page 77):

“To begin with,” began Cantwell, “I don’t pit nude girls against each other in fights to the death just for kicks – my kicks. Not at all.”

Remembering the casual way in which he’d had the brunette skewered through her left breast just to make a point, I doubted him – but kept silent.

“No,” continued Cantwell, “although I have had perhaps a couple hundred American, European, Chinese, Japanese, African, Arabian, Polynesian and other young men and girls kidnapped, brainwashed and made into slaves – the bulk of whom have hacked, stabbed or shot each other to death, or been torn to shreds by wild animals – and although I intend to kidnap, brainwash and, uh, amusingly destroy several hundred more – still, I do what I do for the sake of humanity.”

Also from page 78:

“… horrible, grisly, sadistic spectacles such as the Roman games provided a safety valve for the whole population. And that’s what the world lacks today – a safety valve. A safety valve I intend to supply – for the sake of mankind.”

As hinted at in the brief passages above, there are some brutal sections in the book – possibly verging on crossing over into ‘bad taste’. These sequence are even more off putting in the fact that they are juxtaposed against the comedy (and even sexual) elements of the story. So for one section there may be a playful, naughty romp by a poolside, then there will be a girl in a fight with a leopard. And while Allison doesn’t dwell on the unpleasantness, it still is kind of creepy to read. Allison does attempt to take the ‘heat’ out of the scenes with some witty asides from 0008 – so he definitely knows he was pushing the enevelope of what was (and is) acceptable. Which to me, indicates, that his passages were written quite purposefully. And that brings us back to Vietnam.

Over time, Vietnam became an unpopular war – was this because of the regular news updates presenting the violence to the general populace? Is this story – yes, a piece of soft-core smut – in reality, a thinly veiled commentary on the Vietnam war and how it was portrayed on television at the time?

So far I have only read a few other Clyde Allison novels – you can read reviews of For Your Sighs Only and Mondo Sadisto – which I enjoyed as Bondian, and pop culture piss-takes. And while those other stories shared many of the same elements as Gamefinger, the hidden understories didn’t gel as well as this one. As I said earlier, this book is trash, but as a piece of trash, I think it is a minor gem – or if not a gem, at least an interesting time capsule.

From the blurb:

Mad-dog billionaire, Cantwell Undershaft, was devising the the most diabolic scheme in 2,000 years – revival of the bloody and orgiastic Games of Ancient Rome in all their lewd and gory splendor…telecasting from outer space color broadcasts of the grisly spectacles – naked men and girls hacking each other to death, mauled by enraged wild beasts, torn to shreds by half-starved barracudas… His goal, ending forever mankind’s lust for war by fulfilling its craving for bloody, sexually sadistic kicks. Was his scheme an insane justification for his own depravity, or were the hundreds of men and girls slaughtered a realistic safety-valve for the world’s repressed desires? That was the problem dread SADISTO agent, Trevor Anderson – 0008, had to resolve in a nonstop orgy of sex and mayhem on remote Eros Island.

Gamefinger has been recently reprinted by Olympia Press, and is available from  Amazon.com

Or for those who prefer eBooks, you can download it for the princely sum of $1.00 from the Olympia Press website.

Gamefinger

The Hard Word (2002)

Country: Australia
Director: Scott Roberts
Starring: Guy Pearce, Damien Richardson, Joel Edgerton, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Vince Colosimo, Kim Gyngell
Music: David Thrussell

The Australian gangster film, to be honest, is pretty much a knock off of it’s English cousins, except that it has even more swearing, and possibly even more corrupt cops. 

The Hard Word opens in the Long Bay Correctional Facility in Sydney, New South Wales. The three Twentyman brothers, Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson), and Shane (Joel Edgerton) have been is prison for two years, but after some dodgy legal practices and some bribes by their Lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor), the boys are released early.

On their first day on the outside the boys are at it again. Dale dresses as a cop; Mal as a parking meter inspector; and Shane and a car window washer (you know the type that try to wash your car windows while your stopped at a traffic light). Their target is an armoured car making a delivery of cash to a bank. The heist goes without a hitch – no one is hurt – and the Twentyman boys make off with the armoured car and take it to a pre-arranged meeting place in a warehouse.

The mastermind behind the heist was Frank. Now Frank is not just a criminal mastermind and a lawyer – he also a bit of a cad. He has been diddling Dales wife, Carrol (Rachel Griffiths), while Dale has been inside. This is to be the boys last job though. Now they have some money, they will each go their separate ways and go straight.

But first things first. The cash must be divvied up. The police are in on the heist, and two officers come to the warehouse to collect their split. Then they take the Twentyman brothers with them to the police station. This is an old trick they they have done before. The corrupt police officers say that they have been interviewing the boys all day, so their is no way that they could have participated in the robbery.

Well that it in theory! In fact, Frank has double crossed them. It has been a set up all along. The Twentyman’s are identified and arrested and sent back to Long Bay to do a little more hard time.

But this extra detention is another of Frank’s ploys. He wants to soften the boys up, because he has one last BIG job for the brothers to do for him. It is down in Melbourne on the first Tuesday in November – the day they run the Melbourne Cup.

After the horse race, all the bookies come together at a central location for a piss-up and to count their days takings. With a little inside help, Frank plans to rob the bookies and pull in between ten and twenty million dollars. Of course, in this type of film, nobody can be trusted – particularly Frank. But the heist ‘almost’ goes to plan. The Twentyman brothers manage to get hold of the loot, but a few other people who were involved in the heist do not want to play nicely and share.

I found The Hard Word to be very entertaining, but if you look at the characters and story too closely, you’ll realise you’ve seen it all before. Every violent robbery movie cliché is being played out on the screen. But that is not necessarily a bad thing if you like watching these types of films, like I do. Those seeking originality and a few unusual twists could find themselves disappointed.

The Hard Word (2002)

Hercules And The Masked Rider (1964)

Director: by Piero Pierotti
Starring: Mimmo Palmara, Alan Steel, José Greci, Pilar Cansino, Arturo Dominici
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino

The title to this feature is a trifle misleading. Hercules And The Masked Rider is not much of a Hercules film. In fact, Hercules (Alan Steel) is not the star of this movie at all. He is simply a strongman from a troupe of Gypsies, who are drawn into the story at a later stage. And even then, he is very much in the background. It’s almost as if Steel walked onto the wrong set and decided to throw around a few objects in the background. The star of the film is The Masked Rider (Mimmo Palmara), who is very much in your Zorro tradition. Despite the misleading title, Hercules And The Masked Rider is actually an enjoyable film.

A river divides the lands of the elderly Prince of Val Verde, Don Francesco, and the malevolent Duke of Madina. The Duke has sold half his population as soldiers and only has a few overworked men and women working the land for food and clothing. These overworked peasants, revolt against the Duke and try to flee over the border to Don Franceso’s lands. One couple, Phillippé and Delores make it across the border, but Duke follows after them anyway. Luckily Don Francesco intervenes and gives them sanctuary. The Duke isn’t happy and intends to take the couple by force, but changes his mind when Francesco’s daughter, Donna Blanca (the gorgeous as always, José Greci) arrives on the scene. The Duke is infatuated with Donna Blanca and backs down, offering the two peasants as a gift.

Meanwhile Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara) after a successful stint as a soldier in Flanders is returning home to Val Verde, and his sweetheart, Donna Blanca. But Don Francesco throws a spanner in the works, and the reunion doesn’t go quite to plan. Francesco realises the Duke of Madina is a cruel man, and a man of war. But Francesco is elderly and won’t be around to protect his people forever. His people are peaceful and would be crushed if a civil war broke out between Val Verde and Madina. In an attempt to broker a peace, Francesco wishes to marry off his Donna Blanca to Madina. She is not happy about it, but it is for the good of the people.

When Don Juan returns home, and hears of the Don’s plan, he objects quite vehemently. Don Francesco sees Don Juan’s objection as a lack of respect and casts Don Juan out of Val Verde. In fact Don Juan is banished as an outlaw.

With Don Juan out of the way, the Duke’s plans don’t stop at gaining a beautiful wife. No, he wants the lot! He wants to control both lands, so goads Don Francesco into a sword fight. Naturally, the elder Francesco is no match for his younger and more vicious opponent. Francesco is killed, and the Duke gains control of Val Verde.

Don Juan leaves the city, but in the country side adopts a new, secret identity as the Masked Rider. The Masked Rider wears a red mask, and is an amalgam of Zorro and Robin Hood. He joins a troupe of Gypsies, but before being accepted he has to prove himself worthy. This involves a fight with the Gypsie strongman, Hercules (Alan Steel). Surprisingly, Hercules loses – I told ya it was a Masked Rider movie. Once accepted by the Gypsies, Don Juan (or Masked Rider as he is now called) leads them against the Duke.

Hercules And The Masked Rider is a good little adventure movie. All the clichés are in place, but in these types of films, you expect that. In fact, you tend to notice the clichés more when they are missing. I’d love to see a pristine widescreen print of this film, as this print is pretty washed out. All in all, not a bad way to spend one and a half hours.

Hercules And The Masked Rider (1964)