Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Fans of Eurospy films may want to check out Matt Blake’s new book Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond. Matt was one of the co-authors of the Eurospy Guide and really knows his stuff. Here he presents an overview of one of the most popular Eurospy stars, Giorgio Ardisson.

As a refresher, here are my reviews from Passport To Hell (1965) and Operation Counterspy (1966).

Here’s the spiel.

ardissonGiorgio Ardisson might not be the best known actor in the world; outside Italy his name was almost totally unknown and even in his own country his brush with fame was short-lived. But his career, which lasted from the end of the 1950s to the early 1990s, was fascinating. Not just because of the sheer variety of films and filmmakers that he was involved with, but because in many ways his story is also the story of Italian film itself.

He started out in the glory years of cinema in Rome, when it was the glamorous centre of a thriving and much respected industry, working in a variety of popular genres including peplums, swashbucklers and comedies. While the films of Sergio Leone were propelling Italian popular cinema onto a world stage, Ardisson carved out his own niche with a series of exceedingly profitable spy films which sold across the world. For a few years he was much in demand with producers looking for a lead actor with an American look. But then, with the arrival of the 1970s, things changed. Budgets dried up, genre lifespans reduced drastically and distribution networks collapsed. There was less call for good looking leading men as a grittier, more downbeat trend took hold of Italian cinema. So Ardisson re-crafted himself as a supporting actor in an increasingly peculiar selection of weird and wonderful films. Many of these were seen by almost nobody, many are still impossible to find and many of them are entirely rubbish.

This book is the first detailed look at the curious career of Giorgio Ardisson, including reviews of his most important films, interview material – much of which is published in English for the first time – and contemporary reviews. It’s lavishly illustrated throughout, including eight pages in full colour.

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond is available from the Wild Eye Shop.

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Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Le Doulos

LeDoulosLike any film fanatic I have a huge mountain of films that I need to watch. I have a stack of Spaghetti Westerns that I haven’t even gotten close to, along with piles of Eurocrime, Eurospy and Eurosleaze films that are all crying out to be reviewed. I try, but a man can only squeeze so much into a day – and I have to squeeze a full days work into my hectic schedule too. Day after day, it’s only natural that I should feel jaded – a tad worn out.

But then along comes a film like Le Doulos. It is the perfect tonic for the jaded film goer. It has revitalised me. It has made me enjoy cinema again – not that I was hating it – but sometimes it’s easy to forget the joy of a great film particularly if you aren’t expecting it.

Over the years everyone has told me that I must watch the films of Jean-Pierre Melville. I was told that Tarantino said ‘Melville did for the Crime film what Leone did for the Western’. So I watched some Melville. Le Cercle Rouge – hey it’s a good film, but there’s nothing in it that I hadn’t seen in Riffifi. Next Le Samurai – again a good film, but a bit detached. While both these films are good, I was starting to think that Melville was over-rated. At times I think some people see a French movie and ‘have to’ like it, because it’s art.

So with a belief that Melville is over-rated, I tentatively started Le Doulos. I’ll admit that I was enjoying it from the beginning, but by the 25 minute mark, I was hooked. Sure it’s a noir style crime story, that I have seen one hundred times before, but this one grabs you by the scruff of the neck, gives you a good shake, and then throws you down onto the rug. And just as you’re getting settled on the rug, it rips that right out from under you, with one of the best endings to a movie that I have ever seen.

You may notice, I am not writing any of my usual plot description. I do not want to spoil any of the surprises this film has in store. They say writing a review for a good film, is a lot harder than writing one for a bad film. In that case, this may well be one of my shortest reviews.

I’ll briefly mention that Serge Reggiani plays Maurice Faugel, a career criminal who has just been released from jail after a four year stint. His best friend is Silien, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Silien is a two-bit gangster and police informer.

Now if you love crime films and you’re fond of French cinema, then I beseech you to track down a copy of this film and watch it. I want to ‘infect’ as many people as I can with this film’s brilliance. Watch it, enjoy it, then drop me a line with your thoughts.

Le Doulos

McGrave

Author: Lee Goldberg
Publisher: Adventures in Television
Published: February 2012

McGrave is a quick fire novella from Lee Goldberg, based on a pilot script for a television show, which never eventuated. And its humble beginnings are very evident as you read it. It is written in present tense as a script would be, and the action scenes are described, rather than lived, if that makes sense. If that simple framework doesn’t appeal to you, then you’d probably find McGrave a rather annoying book.

However, if you have no qualms about how your thrills are served up, then McGrave is a balls-to-the wall action adventure that doesn’t let up. John ‘Tidal Wave’ McGrave is a no-nonsense old-school L.A. cop. He gets results, no matter what the cost. He the type of fellow who would destroy $250,000 worth of property to capture a criminal stealing $100 worth of goods.

After such an incident (although more was at stake than $100), McGrave is booted off the force. But like any cop worth his salt, he doesn’t give up the case and follows his leads to Berlin. Then you’ve got you classic fish-out-of-water story. Much mayhem and property damage ensues.

Maybe it’s just my age, and growing up watching material such as this, but I found McGrave to be an absolute hoot. There’s no message beyond ‘enjoy the ride’ and that’s just the way it should be.

Here’s Lee’s promo spiel:

Los Angeles cop John “Tidal Wave” McGrave is an unstoppable force of nature who always gets his man…even if it means laying waste to everything around him, including his own career…which is exactly what happens in his pursuit of Sebastian Richter, the ruthless leader of an international gang of violent thieves. When Richter flees to Berlin, McGrave chases after him…even though the cop doesn’t know the language, the laws, or the culture. But McGrave doesn’t care…he speaks the universal language of knee in the groin and fist in the face…and he won’t let anything get in his way.

What follows is, I hope, a wild, action-adventure novella that captures all of the fun, excitement, humor and pure escapist pleasure of the Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movies…

McGrave is an experiment for me. I set out to write something specifically for the Kindle that would take advantage of the way people read on the device…but that would also capture the pure, escapist fun of watching an action movie. I thought these were very compatible goals.

McGrave

Oasis of Fear (1971)

Country: Italy
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Ray Lovelock. Ornella Muti, Irene Papas, Michel Bardinet, Jacques Stany, Umberto Raho, Antonio Mellino
Music: Bruno Lauzi, Claudio Fabi
AKA: Dirty Pictures, An Ideal Place to Kill
Original Title: Un posto ideale per uccidere

On multiple occasions I have extolled the virtues of the movie Flash Gordon, starring Sam J. Jones as Flash.. As such, I also am a fan of the actors in the movie – not so much Sam, himself, but Timothy Dalton, Peter Wyngarde, Max Von Sydow, Brian Blessed, and Ornella Muti.

Oasis of Fear features a very young Ornella Muti, which makes it compulsory viewing for an old degenerate such as myself. But before those who have an interest in seeing Miss Muti cavort around topless, I have to let you know, a body-double was used for this movie.

The film starts with a young couple, Richard Butler (Ray Lovelock) and Ingrid Sherman (Ornella Muti) holidaying in London. As London is more liberated than where they come from, they go to a sex-shop to buy two dozen porn magazines, which they intend to sell, to cover the expenses of their holiday. They also buy some 45rpm recordings of people having sex.

If I may interrupt the synopsis at this stage – and maybe it’s because I live in an age where pornography is so rampant, and easy to access, especially on the internet, I find nothing remotely erotic about listening to another couple have sex. I am sure those who have lived in share-houses will agree with me. Who would buy a record of sex sounds? Maybe those crazy ’70s Italians?

Anyway, these kids have bought this porn which they intend to sell from town to town as they trek through Europe. They sell it all – and indulge in wild hedonistic holiday hi-jinx. That is, until they run out of money. To refill their coffers, they decide to take a ‘Do It Yourself’ approach with a Polaroid camera.

They try pass some of their homemade porn to a cop and get busted. For there crime they are forced to leave Italy. But before they can leave, they are robbed by gypsies. Richard and Ingrid try to leave, but have no money for fares. It gets worse, as they run out of petrol. They plan to rectify this by stealing petrol from the nearest villa. They are caught in the act, by the lady of the house, Barbara Slater (Irene Papas).

From here, the story does a u-turn from a swift moving Euro crime thriller to a quasi Gothic chiller with a hint of Giallo thrown in. Ultimately, the film is entertaining, but somewhat of a dog’s breakfast – not really sure what it wanted to be. But, if you a fan of Umberto Lenzi, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here – and the performances from the cast, especially Papas, are quite good.

Oasis of Fear (1971)

Hunter Will Get You (1976)

Country: France
Director: Philipe Labro
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Bruno Cremer, Jean Negroni, Patrick Fierry, Jean-Pierre Jorris, Victor Garrivier
Music: Michel Columbier
Original Title: L’Alpagueur

One of the first movies I ever ordered from France, was L’Apagueur starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. I was going through a Belmondo phase at the time and wanted to get hold of as many of his films as I could. However, I don’t speak French. But the Audio on the DVD was described as Francais et Anglais en Mono D’Origne. I figured that meant it had French or English audio tracks. It actually meant it had the original French soundtrack, with a small amount of English dialogue in it. Not much at all. I watched it, but understood very little, as it has multiple story threads happening at once. Sure, they collide at the end, but by then, I was well and truly lost.

The good news is, and it’s been out for quite a while now, L’Alpagueur is available in English, as Hunter Will Get You. The film is not a spy film, nor is a police film. It exists in that nether world in between. Belmondo plays, Roger Pilard, the ‘Alpagueur’ – or the ‘Predator’ in the English dub, and he hunts criminals who operate above the law. He is a mercenary, who does what the police are unable to do – for a price, of course.

The film opens early in the morning in Rotterdam, near the port. Some kind of sting is about to go down. The Predator, and his team are assembled, watching and waiting. Out of a water-side restaurant, three men exit carrying a briefcase full of money. The Predator’s team swoops. However, Pilard does not. He keeps watching and sees a pregnant lady exit the restaurant a few seconds later. He rushes after her, and starts kneeing her in the stomach. As you’ve guessed, she is not really pregnant. The kicks, knock free a padded pillow which had been strapped to her stomach. It falls from her skirt to the ground. He picks it up, and cuts it open, and inside is a shipment of heroin. Chalk one up for the Predator.

The organized crime syndicate behind the drug shipment of ‘H’ are very unhappy with Pilard, and set about finding out who he is (as nobody knows his true identity), and ultimately putting him out of business – and this becomes more prevalent as the story moves along.

While the crime syndicate is working on that, Pilard moves on to his next assignment – which is to shut down an illegal gambling operation. With fake eyebrows and a mustache, Pilard poses as an insurance agent named Roget, and within no time, he has routed out the bad guys.

Meanwhile, in Paris, in a pinball parlor, a juvenile delinquent named Costa Valdes (Patrick Fierry) is trying to rip the money tray out of one of the machines. He is observed by a violent criminal known as the ‘Epervier’ – the ‘Hawk’ in the English dub (played by Bruno Cremer). The Hawk recruit Valdes to assist in a robbery (for the tidy sum of $1000).

On the Hawk’s instruction, Valdes, armed with a pistol, walks into a jewelery store to rob it. The store owner hits the alarm switch. Hawk enters dressed as a policeman. Initially, Valdes in relieved, believing it is a great scheme employed by the Hawk. That is, until the Hawk shoots the store owner in cold blood. Then he draws a bead on Valdes. Hawk fires, hitting Valdes in the arm. He is about to finish him off, when two real policemen enter the store. Hawk turns and guns them down. Then he flees, leaving Valdes alive – the only man able to identify the maniac criminal.

Valdes is sent to prison, but he refuses to rat on Hawk – leaving the authorities once again, without a lead on Hawk’s identity.

After Pilard has taken care of the gambling operation, his next mission is to catch Hawk. With the only lead being Valdes, Pilard is given a fake identity and arranges to be sent to prison, and to share a cell with Valdes.

Unbeknownst to Pilard, the prison officials are corrupt, and this puts him on a collision course with the aforementioned crime syndicate – and ultimately leading to a showdown with Hawk.

Hunter Will Get You is an entertaining slice of 1970’s crime action. It’s not a masterpiece, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a good solid thriller with good performances by Belmondo and Cremer. As a way of lazy comparison, this is the type of movie Charles Bronson made in the ’70s – which to your way of thinking, may be a plus, or a minus (I don’t think Bronson made crap until the ’80s, so, to be it’s a big plus). There’s a hint of vigilante to Belmondo’s character, Pilard. For the first two assignments, he takes a hefty fee. But when he is assigned to Hawk, he refuses to be paid, as Hawk is such a menace to society. In Pilard’s quest, laws are not really applicable – he’ll do what ever is required (so I guess he’s some kind of government sanctioned vigilante).

If you like Belmondo, or seventies action thrillers, this is worth a look.

Hunter Will Get You (1976)

Violent Rome (1976)

Country: Italy
AKA: Roma Violenta, Forced Impact, Violent City
Director: Marino Girolami
Starring: Maurizio Merli, Ray Lovelock, John Steiner, Richard Conte, Luciano Rossi
Music: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis

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 halfway point 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, which may put some viewers off.

Violent Rome (1976)

Circus of Fear (1966)

Director: John Moxley
Starring: Christopher Lee, Margaret Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Maddern, Maurice Kaufmann
Screenplay: Peter Welbeck
Producer: Harry Alan Towers
Music: Johnny Douglas
AKA: Psycho Circus

What we have in Circus Of Fear is a British (rather than German) Edgar Wallace Krimi, albeit with a rather ‘International’ cast so it can travel over borders quite effectively. It also has a quite effective story line – I never knew where it was heading. Sure there are plenty of hints, and you can guess where each story thread may be leading, bot how do they all tie up together?

The film opens in London, and on a nice big widescreen closeup of Klaus Kinski’s head. Klaus is standing on a dock overlooking the Thames. But he isn’t the only suspicious character loitering around. There are quite a few suspicious characters – there’s two on a boat, there’s a few in a car, and another two men standing by a bridge with stockings over their heads. I realise this is swingin’ sixties London, baby, but I don’t think these guys are dressed like this because they’re swingers! It looks like some kind of heist is going down.

It doesn’t take long for the object of everyone’s attention to appear on the screen. It’s a small armoured van carrying a shit load of cash (er, for those confused by my terminology, a ‘shit load’ is an Australian collective noun… It can be used for almost anything, but most often to describe a large amount of money and when purchasing dim sims – but I digress). As the van and escort vehicle pull up at the bridge, the two gents in stockings make short work of the guards. This is because one of the guards, Mason, is in on the gig. However, unlike the other crooks, Mason isn’t a professional and he panics. He draws a pistol and shoots one of the other guards. The heist has now gone from being a simple robbery to now, MURDER!

Meanwhile Klaus has gone from loitering with intent, to completing a bit of nasty work himself. He sneaks up on the fellow in charge of raising and lowering The London Bridge and clocks him over the head. Now in charge, Klaus raises the bridge. The other cohorts are now on the bridge and are tying a rope to the railing and attaching the other end to a boat waiting on the river below. Attaching rings to the sacks of cash, they slide their ill gotten gain down to the boat. Then the criminals follow suit, crawling down to the boat. As the police flood into the area, the perpetrators make their getaway slowly cruising down the Thames.

Once in the clear they all assemble at a warehouse. Mason, after his indiscretion is given his share of the loot, and the unseen boss man’s loot too. Mason has to meet the boss outside the city in a place called ‘The Old Farm’ at Inglemere. The other cohorts load a van up with the remaining cash an drive off. Unfortunately for them, the police receive an anonymous tip off revealing the route they’ll be taking and the vehicle licence plate. This results in a car chase, with the perpetrators eventually being run off the road.

This leaves Mason as the only man with any of the cash, and he arrives at his destination at The Old Farm. For his trouble, he ends up with a knife in his back. Now this is where the films changes tone. Inglemere also happens to be the winter location for Barbarini’s Circus. Immediately we are introduced to a new set of disparate characters. Firstly there is Barbarini who runs the circus. Then there’s Gregor (Christopher Lee). Gregor, some years back had a horrible accident and now always wears a black hooded mask. Hi is also the custodian of his neice, Natasha (Suzy Kendall) Then we have Gina (Margaret Lee) who performs a knife act with her insanely jealous boyfriend Mario, who, as you’ve guessed is a knife thrower. Next you’ve got Karl (Heinz Drache), who is the ringmaster.

Now it’s pretty obvious that someone associated with the circus has had a part in the robbery, but of course that isn’t revealed. But it’s not before long and some of the stolen money starts to surface. All the banks in the area have been notified of the serial numbers of the stolen money, and when some turns up, passed by Barbarini, Police Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn) is called in to investigate.

It’s not the purpose of this website to act as a shill for any particular video or DVD company, but if you are going to watch Circus Of Fear (or any of the other names this film has travelled under), then do yourself the favour and obtain the Blue Underground version – Previous versions have been severely truncated – in America the film was originally released at 61 minutes long and in black and white – needless to say, this will not do the film justice. Get the full version and enjoy the film for what it is – and that’s a hugely entertaining thriller with a great cast.

Circus of Fear (1966)