Ator IV: Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990)

Eric Allen Kramer as the mighty Ator

AKA: Ator III: Hobgoblin, The Lord of Akili
Country: Italy
Director: Joe D’Amato
Starring: Eric Allen Kramer, Margaret Lenzey, Donal O’Brian, Dian Morrone, Chris Murphy, Laura Gemser, Marisa Mell
Editor: Kathleen Stratton
Cinematographer: Joe D’Amato
Writer: Joe D’Amato
Music: Idra Music, Carlo Maria Cordio
Producer: Carlo Maria Cordio

Ator IV is inept on every level. I found it to be one of the more harrowing viewing experiences of recent times. Now, here you may be thinking that I am just being mean-spirited. But take for example a film like Barbarian Queen 2, which is a film that has a minuscule budget, piss-poor acting, un-convincing choreography and a plot that has been cobbled together using every swashbuckling film cliche imaginable. And yet the film is fantastic. A good time is had by all concerned. Ator IV also has a minuscule budget, piss-poor acting, un-convincing choreography and a plot that you wouldn’t wrap fish and chips in. But there the similarities with BQ2 end. Ator IV is cold, lifeless and downright incomprehensible.

Grindle the cantankerous Troll

The film opens on ‘the day of justice’, and Prince Ator (Eric Allen Kramer) sentences a man to death for rape. As these guys in white robes and lizard masks (or are they lizard people — I don’t know) watch on, Ator lops the head off the guilty party. Then this warrior named Thorn turns up and throws a spear at Ator. The point finds it’s target and the prince is skewered. Then in a puff of smoke, Thorn turns from this warrior type into a hairy monster type. Ator is dead and his “mighty sword” is broken.

Later Ator’s widow and son pay a visit to a cantankerous white haired troll named Grindle. Mrs. Ator is heartbroken and cannot go on living without her prince. She intends to take her life. But she wants Grindle to reforge the ‘mighty sword’ and give it young Ator when he turns eighteen. And since she will be dead, she also wants the troll to bring up her son.

One of the many challenges Ator must face

Now Ator may be dead, but he seems to be in some kind of limbo. It’s not heaven and it’s not hell. Limbo appears to be beside a lake, and Ator receives reports about what is happening in the real world from a witch played by Marisa Mell. Now I am a big fan of Marisa Mell. Anyone who has seen Danger: Diabolik is a big fan of Marisa Mell — and needless to say my fantasy life does include a rotating bed with Marisa Mell on it, covered in money, but enough of that. But my memories of Mell in far better films just make this much too painful. Here, Mell plays a frizzy haired hag forced to spout the most ridiculous dialogue.

Now Ator junior is eighteen — and he too is played by Erik Allen Kramer who looks on the wrong side of forty. He asks Grindle for the sword but the old troll refuses to give it to him. So Ator starts a search around the cave — you know, looking under rocks, behind shelves, everywhere and anywhere really.

Kramer and Marisa Mell

Eventually he finds the sword and well, great. That should be it then — Quest complete. I wish. No, Marissa Mell turns up again, and she sends the lad off on another quest to claim the ‘Treasure of the Kingdom of the West’. So off he goes. Along the way he battles all sorts of people and things — what was that weird two headed robot thing? And there’s a weird creepy bit where Ator meets his mother once again. Ick! There’s also some other weird subplot about this chick named Denera. She has feelings for Ator Sr., but here people aren’t allowed to have feelings. As punishment, she is trapped behind a wall of fire.

The music is awful, the acting is worse, and the story is unintelligible. And as for the casting, at least in the earlier Ator films Miles O’Keefe registered as a person. Eric Allen Kramer is just a huge slab of wood with thinning — rather than flowing — hair. Which seems even more silly when you realise he is playing an eighteen year old boy. The final crime this film commits is the misleading title: Quest for the Mighty Sword. It’s not really a quest is it? It’s more of a search around the house. To me, the idea of a quest is more a journey of discovery.

Fans of Joe D’Amato’s Troll 2 may find some amusement in watching this, as he recycled some of the costumes for this flick, but for all others, just don’t do it. Don’t watch. Ignore it and it’ll go away!

Ator IV: Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990)

Fear in the City (1976)

Country: Italy
Director: Giuseppe Rosati
Starring: Maurizio Merli, James Mason, Raymond Pellegrin, Silvia Dionsio, Franco Ressel, Cyril Cusack
Music: Giampaolo Chiti
Original Title: Paura in Citta
AKA: Hot Stuff, Street War

When 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.  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 pummeled 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 (1976)

Licence Renewed

Author: John Gardner
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Published: 1981

As a kid I was always pretty lucky tracking down books. My aunt ran a second hand book shop and whenever I got hooked on a series, she’d help to find the books I was after. When I was really young, it was the Charlie Brown comic strip books which appealed to me – and she plied me with a great deal of them. But by the time I was nine years old it was James Bond who had grabbed my attention. And I loved those books – even if looking back now, I have to admit I probably didn’t truly understand them all. What does ‘killed with ignominy’ mean anyway?

I can’t tell you how much I treasured these books – their covers, the stories within, and even the adverts for other spy stories at the back of the books. On weekends, rather than getting out of bed, I’d select a book at random, flick it open to any old page and start reading, and then keep reading till one of my parents would holler for me to drag my good-for-nuthin’ ass out of bed. (I may be exaggerating slightly there!)

But there was a limit, because Ian Fleming only wrote fourteen James Bond books – or more precisely, twelve novels and two collections of short stories (and the rogue Bond story, James Bond in New York which appeared in Thrilling Cities). After a few years my paperbacks were pretty well thumbed and dog-eared – and I began moving on to other things. I had devoured all the written Bond that I could – I so I thought.

Rural Australia, back in 1981 wasn’t big on literary news – hell, even top 10 bestseller lists were not that important. My hometown didn’t even have a proper bookshop. The newsagent fulfilled the town’s literary needs with a shelf along the side, and even then, half of that was filled with Mills and Boon books. But it was here that my mother found a copy of John Gardner’s License Renewed – the first new James Bond book in about twelve years. I didn’t even know it had been written. But my eyes must have been wide with delight when my mother presented the book to me. Wow – a new James Bond book!

Now at this stage I didn’t know who John Gardner was. I hadn’t even heard of Boysie Oakes. Had I known, I must admit I would have found it curious to see Gardner chosen to be the Bond continuation author, as he had (allegedly) been quite vociferous in his contempt for the Bond character in earlier interviews.

Here’s a snippet from Donald McCormick’s Who’s Who in Spy Fiction (1977 Elm Tree Books) in which Gardner opinion of Bond is expressed. NB: I must add here, that while the entry on Gardner does have quotes from the man himself, the passage below is McCormick’s spin on how Gardner viewed Bond. The veracity of the information is open to debate.

Donald McCormick's 'Who's Who in Spy Fiction'

Like LeCarre, Gardner detested the character of James Bond. (There is little doubt that anti-Bondism actually pumped the necessary adrenalin into the veins of quite a few would-be writers in this period.) While he was proud and happy to be the only full-time drama critic on a weekly newspaper in England, the challenge of a new career as a novelist was accepted with enthusiasm. Though he reacted to the Bond era in much the same way as LeCarre, Gardner evolved his own type of spy story as a send-up of Bondism and the whole game of Intelligence. Where LeCarre evoked gloom and tragedy, Gardner indulged in comedy and laughter. The character of Boysie Oakes was not merely a comic anti-hero, but a positive antidote to Bond.

But Gardner did inherit the Bond mantle, and maybe his slightly cynical attitude to the Bond character was a big plus, particularly in this, the first of his many Bond books. There’s a few passages where Gardner attempts to analyze the Bond character and what makes Bond, Bond, and not just another spy pastiche. These explorations are quite successful, and not only flesh out the character, but add a layer to the already established Bond mythos.

I think it is fair to say that Gardner wrote for the Roger Moore – James Bond generation. It is obvious he had read and studied his Fleming, but there is also a sense of the cinematic Bond creeping into the stories. There was Bond’s new car, a Saab Turbo – nicknamed ‘the Beast’ which could come straight from the movies and rivaled the Lotus Esprit, which made such an impact around the world when it debuted in The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 – only three years earlier. Then there was Q’s new assistant, Anne Riley, nicknamed Q’ute. I know you are groaning, but you’ve got to remember I wasn’t even a teenager when I read this book, so to me, this was gold.

Girls on Guns

But as a teenager, Bond’s seduction of Q’ute (or is it Q’ute’s seduction of Bond?) probably was a bit over my head. Not the sex and seduction stuff, but the psychology of it. Above I mentioned there were passages where Gardner attempted to analyze the Bond character. This is one of them. The seduction takes place on a gun range at headquarters, where Bond is cleaning, dismantling and reassembling a new weapon (a Browning 9mm). Here Bond’s actions have a dual meaning. The gun is a phallic symbol (Gardner even makes an in-joke about the 1970’s Triad Panther Bond book covers – which featured girls sitting astride big guns), and as Bond ‘caresses’ the weapon, it is intended to excite Q’ute. Instead, it has the opposite effect. And in the process shows that Bond cares more about the gun, than he could about any woman. This is re-enforced shortly after with a cold reference to the death of Vesper Lynd in Fleming’s Casino Royale.

Onto the story. It appears that MI-5 and Special Branch have a problem with an international terrorist named Franco, who has been secretly meeting with a disgraced nuclear physicist, Anton Murik. Murik apart from being a physicist, is also a wealthy philanthropist, and the Scottish Laird of the Murcaldy. They figure something potentially dangerous is in the offing, and they require some assistance from MI-6. M agrees to help, but chooses to do things his way. He thinks James Bond is the right type of man for a job like this. Bond is not technically 007 in this story, as the double-O section has long since been disbanded, but M still uses Bond as a licenced trouble shooter, and still affectionately refers to him as ‘007’.

Bond’s mission is to ingratiate himself on Murik, gain his trust and find out what dastardly plot both he and Franco are planning. M briefs Bond thoroughly, not just on Murik, but also on his mistress, Mary-Jane Mashkin, and his ward, Lavender Peacock. And then Bond goes to work, shoehorning his way into Murik’s life.

The chapter where Bond ingratiates himself on Murik at Ascot races is a bit muddled. On one hand, the horse race itself echoes Fleming enough that it is damnably readable. But the pick-pocket passage, wherein Bond utilises some time honoured thievery skills to remove a priceless pearl necklace from Murik’s ward, Lavender Peacock is contrived. Even more so, when Bond turns up at Murik’s private box with the pearls, claiming he found them on the floor outside the door. If Murik was in the midst of planning a major terrorist operation and a unknown gentleman shoehorned his way into his life, then surely he would have had him killed. There’d be no games, or tests – which make up the next portion of the novel. It’s a shame in a way, as I said, the raceday, as far as a passage of descriptive Bondian writing was on track (pardon the pun), but then it trotted away from Gardner with unbelievable actions, which are wedged into the story simply to throw the two protagonists together. The scene ends with Bond being invited to join Murik at Murcaldy castle in Scotland. It’s an invitation that Bond gladly accepts.

Thankfully once Bond is in Scotland and at Murcaldy castle and a guest of Murik, the story is more cohesive and the actions of the characters make sense – or at least in the Bondian universe.

At Murik’s castle, Bond is potentially offer employment with Murik, but first he has to pass a test. And that test involves facing off against Murik’s number one minion, Caber, in a wrestling match. Caber is a bear of a man, and Bond stands little chance in a fair fight, so he uses a gadget supplied by Q’ute, to turn the odds in his favour. Personally, I see this reliance of gadgets a bit of a distraction, and only serves to make the character impotent, but as you’d expect Bond wins the fight, and consequently Murik’s favour.

Now a (somewhat) trusted member of Murik’s team, Bond is given a few details of Murik’s plan, which is to hijack several nuclear reactors simultaneously around the globe, and hold the world to ransom. Armed with the information required, Bond simply has to report to M, and his mission is over. Of course, things go wrong, and Bond has to use his wits to save the world (and the girl) once again.

Gardner appeared to take on (or was assigned) the task of bridging the literary Bond with the filmic Bond. I can understand why this decision was made, as the films – with the recent mega hit Moonraker – were incredibly popular then, while the popularity of books was beginning to decline (the ’60s ‘spymania’ bubble had well and truly burst by this time). Gardner achieves mixed results with his marrying on the two Bonds, as well as creating a few problems for himself later on in the series – most notably his novelisation for Licence to Kill which incorporated story elements from Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die.

The most notable links to the film Bond in Licence Renewed are the initial briefing passage with M – I could almost see Bernard Lee as I read the chapter – and the extrapolation of Q Branch. There’s also a passage where Bond makes his escape from Murik castle in his tricked out Saab, with Murik and his minions on his tail. However, the chase culminates with Bond being forced off the road, to crash, and being rendered unconcious. When Bond awakens he finds himself strapped to a torture table. There isn’t a laser aimed at his genitals, and Murik does expect Bond ‘to talk’ (then ‘die’), but the passage echoes the filmic version of Goldfinger, more than Fleming’s novel of the same name.

It’s strange reading this book again after so many years. When I read it as a boy, I can unashamedly say, I loved this book. Now, many years have past, and I have read many more spy books and watched many more spy films, and while I still enjoyed reading Licence Renewed, I see it as a patchwork quilt Bond story, with its disparate patches not quite matching up. John Gardner is not Ian Fleming, but he is a very good writer in his own regard, and each section works on its own, but not placed next to each other. As I have suggested, there are Flemingesque sections, filmic Bond sections, and Gardner’s own, slightly cynical exploration of the Bond character. Outside of the Bond universe, there’s also the legacy of twenty years of popular spy fiction. For example, there’s one passage, where Bond is being interrogated that owes a very large debt to The Berlin/Quiller Memorandum. I can imagine Quiller fans almost being outraged at such a blatant reappropriation of an incident, that is so (well for me anyway) associated with Quiller, and hijacked for Bond series. With so many different styles taking place, it’s almost remarkable that the book is readable at all. But it is. Very.

I still like Licence Renewed, but maybe not with the passion I did as a boy, but I still recommend Gardner to Bond fans, and if you’ve never read any of his books, I suggest you do so, but also do it with an open mind. There is only one Ian Feming, so if you expect a Fleming book, you’re sure to be disappointed. If you’re after a brisk thriller, in the Bond tradition, then Gardner’s Bond continuation novels aren’t bad. They’re flawed to be sure, but not ‘bad’.

Licence Renewed

I Spy: The Lotus Eater (1967)

Robert Culp and Bill Cosby

Country: United States
Director: Christain Nyby
Starring: Robert Culp, Bill Cosby, Vivienne Ventura, Michael Evans, Sheldon Leonard
Writers: Elick Moll, Joseph Than

Of course, the television series, I, Spy needs very little introduction here. The Lotus Eater is an episode from the third series and the scholarly among you are probably aware that in Homer’s Odyssey IX, the Lotus Eaters were a people whose land Odysseus visits. They live on the lotus-fruit, which makes those who eat it, forget their home and they desire to remain in Lotus-land forever.

Here’s a snippet of Odyssey IX (translated by Samuel Butler) via Wikipedia which relates to the Lotus Eaters

“I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-Eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.”

This episode, The Lotus Eater unashamedly follows a similar story structure, but with an I, Spy twist. As the episode begins, Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) arrives by boat at a seaport on a small Mediterranean island. He asks a local fisherman, if he has seen an American (who plays tennis) in the village. The fisherman responds in the affirmative and that the man that Scott seeks, is living in a building high up on the cliffs overlooking the seaport. Scott begins the long winding up-hill walk.

As you have guessed, the man that Scott is seeking is his partner in espionage, Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp). Robinson had been scheduled to meet Scott in Athens ten days previously to start a new assignment, but did not show up.

When Scott reaches the top of the cliff, he finds Robinson sitting casually on a whitewashed wall, swinging his legs like a child. He is incredibly relaxed and speaking in riddles like he is drunk or as if he has been drugged. But a happy kind of drug. Scott claims that he has ‘come in from the cold’ and is ‘not in the spy business anymore’.

Robinson is living with a beautiful nightclub singer named Irena (Vivienne Ventura), who continually plies Robinson with large amounts of Ouzo. Ventura, in her fairly short career – she only appeared in nineteen productions – was quite a ‘spy girl’,  chalking up appearances in The Persuaders, Get Smart, The Man From Uncle, The Wild Wild West, The Saint and she also appeared in the movie, Battle Beneath the Earth. All in all, a pretty impressive resumé.

Naturally Scott is very suspicious. Over his career, Robinson has had plenty of pretty girls throw themselves at him, and drunk his share of booze, but it has never effected him before. Scott’s suspicions are confirmed, when after leaving a nightclub, two thugs try to jump him. He fights them off, but recognises them as minions of a master criminal named Sorgi. Producer, Sheldon Leonard plays Sorgi (that’s how it is spelled on IMDb), however it should be noted that Leonard played a character called Sorge in the Season 1 episode, Three Hours on a Sunday Night (which is an episode I haven’t seen). The character name is undoubtedly a a reference to infamous Russian spy Richard Sorge.

It is more than a coincidence that Sorgi, who deals in information, happens to be anchored in his luxurious yacht, off the same island where ex-spy Kelly Robinson is having his Odyssian breakdown – with wine, women and song.

The Lotus Eater is a fine episode, carried by Culp’s performance as a drug addled ex-spy, and then later as his defences wear down, a man falling apart. On the opposite side of that ledger, Cosby’s performance is good too – as a complete professional / no nonsense spy, which is completely at odds with the image that he (post Cosby Show) projects today. The only thing that dampens Cosby’s performance – and to be honest, I am sure that this is a part of the shows formula – is the semi-comedic sign off at the end of the episode. So Cosby goes from professional ‘hard bastard’ to ‘knock around guy’ in one scene. It seems out of place, but as I said, it’s formula. Fine entertainment.

I Spy: The Lotus Eater (1967)

And the Hits Keep Comin': at Teleport City

For those who are after a bit of entertainment beyond the spy world, I have posted a few reviews over the past few months at Teleport City.

The Killing Machine

If The Killing Machine was solely another violent exploitation flick in the same style as many other films that Chiba was making during this period, then it would leer and revel in the torridness it was depicting. Instead it treats its subject matter with sensitivity and honour. Sure the film has a few unpleasant moments, but they are not in the film to excite the audience. They are there as obstacles that the characters (and one assumes Doshin Soh in real life) had to overcome. Each obstacle makes them stronger people. All in all, this is a surprisingly enjoyable movie. To see Sonny Chiba dish out his unique brand of justice click here.

The Bodyguard

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F#cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it! To be dropped knee deep in the mayhem, click here.

She Shoots Straight

Then we move to Hong Kong, and Sammo Hung’s wife, Joyce Godenzi takes on a Vietnamese super-criminal. The biggest failing in this film is its lack of logic. Sure it is action packed and the stunts are great, but the shear illogicality of many of the sequences beggars belief. There is no ’cause’ and ‘effect’. If Dirty Harry and his imitators were chewed out by their superiors for endangering the lives of innocent civilians, then by the end of this film, the whole Huang family, which seems to make up the majority of the Hong Kong police force, would be constantly on suspension, or kicked off the force. The disrespect for human life and property is absolutely staggering. But, after all it is only a movie and not real life. To enjoy the mayhem, click here.

Salute of the Jugger

I realise that Salute of the Jugger as released, is a very flawed film. It lacks plot and characterisation. Even as a post-apocalyptic tale of society reverting back to a primitive state it fails miserably. But as a sports film where the underdog takes on a vastly superior opponent and against all odds and achieves the impossible, Jugger pushes all the right buttons and succeeds admirably. The end game is as thrilling to watch as it would be devastating to participate in. Over the years there have been plenty of sports films – most of them are crap (boxing comes off the best with at least the original Rocky and Raging Bull credited against the sport). But I think Salute of the Jugger is one of the great sporting films — okay the ‘game’ wasn’t a real game (one invented for the film), but this film overcomes that hurdle, and not only teaches us the rules, but also taps in to latent sporting emotions hidden within. To join the game click here.

And the Hits Keep Comin': at Teleport City

Deadly Inheritance

Release Year: 1968
Country: Italy
Director: Vittorio Sindoni
Starring: Tom Drake, Feni Benussi, Virginio Gazzolo, Ernesto Colli, Isarco Ravaioli, Andrea Fantasia, Ivo Garrani, Valeria Ciangottini, Jeanette Len
Music: Stenfano Torossi
Original Title: Omicidio Per Vocazione

Omicidio Per Vocazione, or Deadly Inheritance as I’ll call it due to my inability to speak Italian is a weird hybrid film. It is basically an overwrought family drama with a small hint of Euro Crime and a dash of Giallo thrown in. The story concerns the family of Oscar Moreau. Oscar is old and deaf. He has three beautiful daughters. The oldest is Rosalie (Jeanette Len), and she has left home. She is married to a two-bit thug named Leon (Ivo Garrani). Leon is in a large amount of debt. Next there is Simone (Femi Benussi). Everybody thinks that Simone is a lonely spinster, but in reality she is secretly having an affair with a nightclub owner named Julian. Julian is stuck in a loveless marriage with his malicious wife, Natalie. She will not divorce him unless he pays her 50,000 francs. Without money he will never be free to marry Simone. The youngest daughter is Collette (Valeria Ciangottini). And finally, Oscar befriended and adopted a young handicapped boy named Janot (Ernesto Colli). Janot is physically handicapped, having to wear a metal brace on his back, and he is quite slow witted.

Old Oscar works on the railways. His job entails opening and shutting the barriers at the rail crossing and minor repairs to the track. As the film opens, Oscar is to do some work on the track. To begin with he switches the points so he won’t have to contend with any commuter trains and then, armed with a pick he sets to work. As he swings his pick, his hearing aid keeps falling out of his ear. In frustration, he removes the aid and sticks it in his jacket pocket.

Meanwhile an unseen hand shifts the points on the line once again, and a train is diverted onto the line that Oscar is working on. With his back to the train and his hearing aid removed, Oscar is oblivious to the oncoming train and continues to work until it is too late. Splat! Yep, it’s not a pretty sight. Afterward the family has gathered for the reading of the will. Nobody expects too much because Oscar had lost a large amount of money trading stocks quite a few years back. But, much to everyone’s surprise, it appear that the old guy had squirreled away quite a bit of dough — one million new francs. But there is a clause, the money cannot be touched and divided until Janot reaches twenty-one years of age — three years away. As each family member has there own financial problems they are not happy about the delay in receiving their inheritance. This is where the family starts squabbling amongst each other.

Later, Janot discreetly watches as Simone takes a shower. She catches him in the act and lashes him with a wet towel. Early on the following morning, at 2:45 am, Simone is to lower the safety barrier at the train crossing. The railway company hasn’t found a replacement for old Oscar yet, and the children and performing Oscar’s duties. Janot, to make up for his indiscretion (watching Simone shower) allows Simone to sleep in, while he goes to the crossing and lowers the barrier. As the train rushes past, Janot disappears. The next morning, beside the railway line, pieces of Janot’s body are found. It appears that he committed suicide.

The police are called into investigate, led by Inspector Gerard (Tim Drake). Gerard does not believe it was an accident, as too many people had the opportunity and motive for killing Janot. It doesn’t take long for Gerard’s theory to be proven correct when another family member turns up dead. In fact, everyone connected with the money slowly gets picked off one by one by an unseen killer.

Omicidio Per Vocazione is quite stylish and entertaining without being exceptional. Like I mentioned at the top, the film is a bit of a hybrid and as such, it doesn’t really succeed on any level. It isn’t particularly scary or violent. As you’d expect with a film like this, there is a twist at the end, but I doubt it will shock too many people. IMDB lists this film as being made in 1968, which I am guessing is an error, because this film ‘feels’ mid 1970’s. But if it is from 1968, I guess that explains why the film is toned down and doesn’t quite reach the violent excesses that giallo and EuroCrime films would reach in the next decade.

Deadly Inheritance

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules (1962)

Director: Guido Malatesta
Starring: Reg Lewis, Margaret Lee, Luciano Marin, Andrea Aureli
Music: Guido Robuschi, Gian Stellari

The version of Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules that I viewed for this review appears to be an American repackaging of another English version of the film. It features a toe-tapping theme song, “The Mighty Sons Of Hercules” which appears to have been tacked onto a few Sons Of Hercules Adventures – for example Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules starring Mark Forest. In this film Reg Lewis plays Maciste, but the very weird thing is that whenever he says his name, he has been re-dubbed (by another voice that sounds nothing like the original dub). He says “My name is MAXIS – SON OF HERCULES”

This film is a bit different to many of the other Hercules, or Sons Of Hercules films. It doesn’t take place in ancient Greece or Italy. It takes place in the Ice Age. Which brings us to a very interesting question. How could the Son Of Hercules being wandering around the planet, when his father wasn’t born till several thousand years later? Maybe it’s best that we ignore that.

The films opens with the Sun Tribe venturing out of the ice, trying to find a new home where they can set up camp. These are the good guys. You can tell, because they wear white fur skins as clothing. Amongst the Sun Tribe are Idar (Luciano Marin) and Fuwan (Andrea Aureli). They are set to be married. As they stroll along the foreshore of a lake, a giant rubber water dragon attacks them. It looks like it is curtains for our young lovers, but from a cliff top over-looking the lake, up jumps Maxis (Reg Lewis). Lewis, who is suitably beefy for the role, looks like a blonde Elvis on steroids. His slicked back, rockabilly haircut seems a little bit out of place during the Ice Age, but that is just another thing that it is best that we ignore. Maxis tosses a spear at the dragon which hits it in the eye. The dragon dies and Maxis walks off, having completed his good deed for the day.

Later, Idar and Fuwan are married. As the ceremony finishes, the Sun Tribe’s camp is attacked by the Moon Tribe. You can tell the Moon Tribe is bad because they wear black fur skins. The Moon Tribe kill most of the men, and take the women prisoner. They march the women back to their camp, which is hidden in a cave.

Idar is now leader of the surviving Sun people, and naturally wants Fuwan (and the other girls) back. He sends out search parties for Maxis, who is undoubtedly wandering around in a forest nearby awaiting some kind of calamity, where his strength and services will be required. He responds to the call, and tracks the Moon Tribe to the underground lair.

Inside the cave, Maxis meets and teams up with Moa (Margaret Lee), and that folks is possibly the main reason to watch this film. There is something special about watching Margaret Lee scantily clad in animal skins.

Despite the title, Maxis doesn’t really have to battle a giant Fire Monster in this film. There are two dragons and a few snake like water monsters, but this film isn’t really a rubber monster flick. It is about the two warring tribes.

There are some decent set pieces throughout the film, mostly fights with bloody great clubs, and of course, Maxis gets to throw around a few paper mache rocks and trees. The cheesiest moment happens when Maxis and Moa have been captured by the Moon Tribe and are buried up to their neck in sand. How the couple escape form this dire predicament is laughable.

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules is pretty average. If it didn’t feature Margaret Lee, one of my favourite leading ladies from the sixties, I would have switched off half way. Reg Lewis is wooden and very low-key as the hero. As a screen presence, I’d say he was over shadowed by Luciano Marin as Idar. And I am not too convinced about the Stone Age backdrop to this film either. I miss seeing the grand palaces with their evil Kings and Queens, the staple of so many peplum films. All in all, I think this film is a bit of a failure.

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules (1962)

Spyforce: Reilley's Army (1971)

Country: Australia
Director: David Baker
Starring: Jack Thompson, Peter Sumner, Redmond Phillips, Katy Wild, Chips Rafferty, Bill Hunter, Diana Davidson, Denys Piggott, Patrick McCarville
Music: Brian Rangott and Geoff Harvey

As a boorish, parochial Australian, I often wonder what my island nation’s contribution to world espionage cinema and television is. Sure, there’s been quite a few actors, George Lazenby and Rod Taylor readily spring to mind, but actual shows are few and far between. Spyforce was an Australian television series that ran from 1971 to 1973 and starred Jack Thompson as archetypal Aussie, Luke Erskine, and Peter Sumner as his German born partner Gunther Haber (who Erskine constantly refers to as ‘Adolph’). The show depicted the exploits of a highly trained team of soldiers who carried out covert missions behind enemy lines during World War II.

The series was buoyed by an injection of money from Paramount Pictures, and benefited from actual location shooting in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Bangkok, Ceylon and New Guinea.

Despite Spyforce being a local production, I have found it extremely difficult to find episodes to review. Hopefully, this episode, Reilley’s Army (Episode 20) is indicative of the series. The episode begins in New Guinea during 1942. Roberts, is a Coast Watcher for the military. His job is to radio in descriptions of any enemy activity in the area. Upon observing a convoy of thirty-eight Japanese ships, he radios headquarters. Midway through his report, Japanese soldiers burst from the foliage and open fire. Outnumbered, and outgunned, Roberts attempts to flee. As he runs, he is shot in the leg, but he continues to evade capture, scampering deeper into the jungle. He makes his way to another hidden radio and continues his report, detailing the ships in the convoy. It is feared that the Japanese are about to move against Port Moresby or the Solomon Islands. As Roberts winds up, he is shot and killed.

Chips Rafferty as Reilley

Back at Headquarters, Colonel Cato (Redmond Phillips) interviews Mrs. Reilley (Diana Davidson). Cato asks her to radio her husband in New Guinea and ask him to come home. Her husband, Liam Reilley (Chips Rafferty) is living with the natives. Mrs. Reilley isn’t happy about her husband’s choice of lifestyle and refuses to help.

Reilley has gone renegade, blatantly refusing to follow orders from HQ. Deep in the jungle, he has created his own army, and they wage their own war against the Japanese. This would be fine, but it appears that they are too good at it. The Japanese attempt to strike back, but cannot catch them. Instead they turn their attention to men that they can catch – the coastal natives. In turn, the natives do not appreciate the attention that they receive from the Japanese. To alleviate the harassment, they expose the Coast Watchers. Robert’s happens to be the sixth Coast Watcher killed in the last week.

Summarizing, indirectly, Reilley’s Army is responsible the death of the Coast Watchers. Military Headquarters have repeatedly asked Reilley to cease and desist, but he refuses. They have no other option to send men in to retrieve him. And if he refuses, then he is to be killed.

Jack Thompson as Esrkine and Peter Sumner as Haber

The men chosen for the job are Luke Erskine (Jack Thompson), and Gunther ‘Adolph’ Haber (Peter Sumner). A cursory overview of the plot reveals an ‘Ocker’ spin on Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness – years before Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Now that may not seem like much of a spy story – but the story is double pronged. Not only do we follow Erskine and Haber’s exploits deep in the New Guinea jungle, we also follow Lt. French (Katy Wild) who is sent to observe Reilley’s estranged social climbing wife. Let’s just say ‘loose lips – sink ships!’

Spyforce is actually a pretty good show and I’d love to catch a few more episodes. Most Australian productions from this time were done on the cheap and have not survived very well. It’s biggest asset, of course, is that it has two charismatic leads in Thompson and Sumner. Thompson’s career is still going strong – I think I last saw him in The Good German. If I had to pick one spy show to represent my nation on the international stage, I say that Spyforce isn’t a bad representative.

Spyforce: Reilley's Army (1971)

Spyforce: Portuguese Man Of War (1971)

Country: Australia
Director: Ron Way
Starring: Jack Thompson, Peter Sumner, Redmond Phillips, Katy Wild, Bill Hunter, Victoria Anoux, Alister Smart
Music: Brian Rangott and Geoff Harvey

Here’s just a quick review from the Australian television series Spyforce. Despite Spyforce being a local production, I have found it extremely difficult to find episodes to review. This episode, Portuguese Man Of War is the third episode in the series and suggests that German born Gunther Haber is in fact a German double agent.

The episode begins as a two man team of German saboteurs plant an explosive device at a military facility in Sydney. As they carry out their dirty work they are discovered and captured. One of the guards finds the bomb and disposes of it at the last minute.

The next scene shows Colonel Cato (Redmond Phillips), the head of ‘Spyforce’ questioning the loyalty of one of the men under his command – Gunther Haber (Peter Sumner). Haber is arrested for being a German spy and is taken away and imprisoned at Fort Dennison, which is a small island fortress in the middle of Sydney Harbour – think of it as a miniature Alcatraz.

After Haber’s incarceration, Cato assigns Luke Erskine (Jack Thompson) to investigate the activities of a group of Portuguese fishermen who have been docked in Sydney Harbour. Even though Portugal is a neutral country, it is suspected that these guys are not quite what they seem, particularly in light of the recent increased activity by the Germans in the area.

Erskine pretends to be an army deserter and ingratiates himself upon Domenica (Victoria Anoux), who is a girl employed to fix the fishing nets on one of the boats. Domenica is also the object of affection for one of the fishermen named Carlos (Alister Smart). Carlos is not happy about Erskine moving in on his woman, but strangely – maybe to keep an eye on him – he offers Erskine a job on his boat.

Erskine’s first trip involves sailing out past Sydney Heads to a buoy with Carlos. At the buoy they reel in a suitcase full of cash – German – and a large amount of explosives. Erskine is told they are for a very special mission!

Meanwhile, poor old Gunther is given a proper working over at the prison and is then thrown in a cell with two other German spies. I know you can guess where this is going so I won’t say too much more, but the episode plays out the ‘Gunther the traitor’ story for as long as it can. As Sumner is one of the two main stars of the show, there are no prizes for guessing which side he is on. The episode ends with an over melodramatic ending which features plenty of stock footage of the Queen Mary ocean liner, which in this story is docked in Sydney preparing to take a boat load of troops to Africa.

Portuguese Man Of War is a pretty simple little story and it takes it’s sweet time building up to a climax which most astute viewers would have seen coming from miles away. But still, It’s nice to see spy stories played out on home territory.

Spyforce: Portuguese Man Of War (1971)