The Bod Squad (1974)

Country: Hong Kong / Germany
Director: Ernst Hofbauer, Chih-Hung Kuei
Starring: Hua Yueh, Hui-Ling Liu, Sonja Jeannine, Diane Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Hsieh Wang
Music: Fu-ling Wang
Original Title: Yang chi
AKA: Enter the Seven Virgins, Virgins of the Seven Seas, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen

Do you like Shaw Brothers swordplay movies? Do you like German nudie movies from the early 1970s? Have you ever wondered what type of film you’d get if you crossed those two styles of film? Well wonder no more, because The Bod Squad is just such a picture.

The plot is wafer thin. As the movie starts, seven women – and as it matters to the plot – five of them being virgins (the two oldest girls have already been deflowered) have been captured by pirates. They were traveling on a ship from England to Australia, because Australia has a shortage of attractive women, and the seven beauties on the boat were to address this imbalance. I can assure you, I am not making this up – that was the reason stated for their journey. I can also assure you Australia does not have a shortage of attractive women – but I digress.

The women are brought to a coastal village where the pirates live when they are not pirating, pillaging, and raping. At this point, you’re probably wondering if the pirates are such rapists, why haven’t they raped their prisoners? Believe me, they want to. And a few even attempt it, only to be cut down by their superiors. You see, the head pirate wants to sell the ‘pure’ girls for a healthy profit. But first they must be cleaned up, which means gratuitous scenes of the girls bathing and being washed. Then they are to be trained in the art of making love – the various techniques, and positions required to please a man. And they are taught to dance.

But unbeknown to the pirates, the girls are also taught Kung-Fu, which of course is a pretty handy skill to have when you are being held prisoner by a band of ruffians. Despite the films story-line, this film is pretty much played as a comedy (at least towards the end), where the scantily-clad girls start to kick the bad guys asses.

In some ways, The Bod Squad could be considered a cinematic template or antecedent for last years Suckerpunch, which has a remarkably similar story – although stylistically miles apart. Both are stories of women imprisoned, subjugated, and trained to be sexual playthings for men, but while the women are surviving the abuse, they are secretly plotting to escape. The big difference between the films being, The Bod Squad has no CGI, but more nudity and Kung Fu.Depending on your personal taste, take that as a plus or a minus.

Here’s the German trailer – NSFW.

The Bod Squad (1974)

Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)

Country: Germany
Director: Uwe Boll
Starring: Henry Maske, Susanne Wuest, Heino Ferch, Vladimir Weigl, Yoan Pablo Hernández
Music: Jessica de Rooij

Director Uwe Boll has a pretty poor reputation as a film director – especially amongst the gaming community, as several of his films have been disrespectful adaptations of popular games. But, I must say that Schmeling: Fist of the Reich isn’t half bad at all. It has its limitations, but generally the era is captured well, the performances are good – and most importantly, Max Schmeling is a fascinating topic for a biopic.

But in some ways, it should be no surprise that Uwe Boll should make a decent boxing film – after all, he is the man who challenged his critics to put up or shut up in an event dubbed ‘Raging Boll’! I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

Boll made headlines by challenging his critics to “put up or shut up”. In June 2006, his production company issued a press release stating that Boll would challenge his five harshest critics each to a 10-round boxing match. Invitations were also open to film directors Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary. To qualify, critics had to have written two extremely negative reviews of Boll, in print or on the Web. In 2005, footage from the fights were to be included on the DVD of his upcoming film Postal .On June 20, 2006, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka stated on Something Awful that he had been invited by Boll to be the first contestant, after Kyanka reviewed Alone in the Dark. The online gambling site decided to sponsor this event, dubbing it “Raging Boll”. A lot was drawn up in late August 2006, featuring Kyanka, Rue Morgue magazine writer Chris Alexander, webmaster of Cinecutre Carlos Palencia Jimenez-Arguello, Ain’t it Cool News writer Jeff Sneider and Chance Minter, amateur boxer and website critic. Boll fought and won against all five participants. The first match took place on September 5, 2006 in Estepona, Spain against Carlos Palencia. The others battled on September 23, 2006 at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver.

After Kyanka lost his match, he would go on to make several allegations against Boll, including the fact that Boll refused to fight against Chance Minter (an amateur boxer), because he was an experienced boxer. However, Boll fought Minter as his fourth opponent. He also claimed that Boll misled them by claiming it was a PR stunt when he actually intended to fight them and that Boll claimed that the participants would get training before the match (which no one did). Boll had seriously wounded Sneider, who had also believed Boll.

But of course, that’s all incidental. Let’s have a look at the film. As the story begins, boxer Max Schmeling (Henry Maske) is an embarrassment to the German army, and when his unit is wiped out in Crete, it is believed that he has been killed. But Schmeling survives. As punishment for his survival, despite an injured leg, he is forced to march and English prisoner back towards his own troops. It is assumed (or hoped) that Schmeling will be shot. But instead on the track, he enters into a dialogue with his prisoner. As they walk, Schmeling recounts his story – which also explains how he became an embarrassment that the army.

The film flashes back in 1930, and Schmeling has a title shot against American boxer Jack Sharkey. Schmeling wins controversially, when Sharkey is disqualified after a vicious low blow. However, Schmeling doesn’t deal like a champion, and although he is embraced by the German ruling elite, the common citizens don’t believe he is a real champion either.

In between title defences, Schmeling courts Czech actress Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest). Anny is Jewish, and in the prevailing political climate in Germany at the time, her film projects are having trouble attracting funding.

In June 1932, Schmeling fights a rematch with Jack Sharkey at Madison Square Garden. Despite Schmeling’s dominance from start to finish, Sharkey is awarded the fight and the Championship belt on points. The German public are outraged.

Later, a story in a German newspaper highlights Schmeling and Anny’s relationship, which up until this point had been kept secret. Anny fears that the story will cause the end of their relationship instead Schmeling asks her to marry him. She does.

Meanwhile in the world of boxing, nobody of any worth is willing to fight Schmeling – with the exception, of course, of an up and comer named Joe Louis. Louis has a reputation as a wrecking machine, and everybody advises Schmeling not to take the fight. But Schmeling has watched a lot of footage of Louis in action and thinks he has spotted weaknesses in the ‘Brown Bomber’s’ technique.

Before the fight, Hermann Goering sends for Schmeling. He wants the fight stopped – as he thinks Schmeling will lose, and therefore would embarrass the German people. He also asks Schmeling to leave his wife, and to ditch his American trainer, who also happens to be Jewish. Schmeling refuses. But before Goering can enforce his demands, he is undermined by the Fuhrer himself, who wants to see Schmeling beat Joe Louis. When Schmeling, who goes into the fight as an unbackable underdog, defeats Louis, he becomes the toast of Germany.

Schmeling and Louis contest a rematch in 1935, but this time Louis knocks Schmeling down in little over two minutes into the first round. Now Schmeling is a national disgrace, and as punishment is called up to its service. The story picks up again at the start of the film, where it began in Crete and follows Schmeling’s life through the rest of the war and beyond.

Ultimately, Schmeling is a man who fought for himself. He wasn’t a Nazi or a politician. He was a boxer and a pretty good one at that. The fact that many boxing commentators consider the first Schmeling v Louis fight to be one of the greatest fights of the twentieth century, proves his boxing skills but it is a shame that the politic of the day should overshadow his contribution to the sport. This film does a lot to address that issue, painting Schmeling as a decent man at an indecent time. And one whose sporting achievements were hijacked for propaganda purposes.

I must confess that beyond some archival footage of Schmeling (and Louis), I do not know much about the man and cannot comment on the veracity of this film. But it seems like an earnest and sincere portrait of a man who became larger than the sports he was associated with. The film is insightful, entertaining, and the boxing scenes aren’t too bad either – without being showy. This is probably because lead actor, Henry Maske, isn’t an actor at all, but a boxer. But he does a good job in the acting stakes – and is convincing. Schmeling: Fist of the Reich, despite the lurid and inappropriate cover art (as shown above) is a solid boxing film – and if you have an interest in the sport, then I think you’ll enjoy this production.

Click here to visit the film’s official website.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)

The Hand of Power (1968)

Country: Germany
Original Title: Im Banne des Unheimlichen
AKA: The Zombie Walks
Director: Alfred Vohrer
Starring: Joachim Fuchsberger, Siw (Siv) Mattson, Wolfgang Kieling, Pinkas Braun, Claude Farell, Peter Mosbacher, Siegfried Rauch, Lillemor ‘Lill’ Lindfors
Music: Peter Thomas
“The Space of Today” Performed by Lillemor ‘Lill’ Lindfors
Based on the novel, ‘The Hand Of Power’ by Edgar Wallace

Im Banne des Unheimlichen (or The Hand Of Power, as I’ll call it because I don’t speak German), is another adaptation of an Edgar Wallace novel, and although I cannot find any reference to it, I’d guess that The Hand Of Power is a follow up to The College Girl Murders (1967), which was also directed by Alfred Vohrer, and starred Joachim Fuschsberger as Inspector Higgins of Scotland Yard.

When watching a lot of the Edgar Wallace Krimi’s the first thing you have to get over, is that although they are German movies, with a German cast, they are set in England. It can be rather off-putting watching characters scamper around London and the English countryside speaking German. It just seems a little out of place, but I suppose no more than watching a Spaghetti Western in it’s original Italian.

The film itself is a great deal of fun, and it really seems to be trying to be ‘out there’ in a swinging sixties way. The colours are pumped up to psychedelic levels, and even one of the characters is green? Don’t ask! There one bizarre scene in a Mexican restaurant, where there are pigeons flying around inside the establishment. One of them even lands and nests in one of the waitress’s hair, as she walks past. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but shows how ‘wild’ this production is.

The film opens in rural England, outside London, at a funeral service for Sir Oliver. Apparently he was a great benefactor to the area, often donating money to the hospital and the church. As the service begins to wind up, and the pallbearers begin to carry the coffin from the church, evil maniacal laughter emanates from the coffin. The bearers drop the coffin in shock. The laughing voice is Sir Oliver’s. A reporter from the London Star newspaper, Peggy Ward (Siw Mattson) was covering the funeral and writes up a story about a ‘laughing corpse’.

Sir Oliver’s Brother, Sir Cecil (Wolfgang Kieling) is now in charge of the Estate, but believes his brother has risen from the dead and is out to get him. His suspicions are confirmed when his lawyer turns up dead. The perpetrator was a man in a skeleton mask, with a black cloak. He kills the lawyer with a scorpion ring, the tail injecting a deadly poison.

Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. Inspector Higgins (Joachim Fuchsberger) is assigned the case. Unfortunately for Higgins as the clues and list of suspects grow, so do the pile of corpses at the hands of out skeletal murderer.

Fuchsberger is great at this kind of role, and seems to have a bit more fun with it than usual. In the few films I have seen him in, he always plays a distinguished authority figure but this time he gets to leer at young girls in mini-skirts and has plenty of by-play with Siw Mattson…on a few occasions, their characters have to revive each other with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

One of the highlights for me is when Sabrina (Lillemor ‘Lill’ Lindfors), a professional entertainer in a nightclub, performs the song, “The Space of today”. It is great sixties entertainment.

The thing about Krimis is that they have dated. When they were made, they were supposed to be a little bit scary, but these days, they are pretty tame. Sure there is violence and death but you’d probably see a lot worse on any one of the crime shows on TV these days. Nowdays, you’d call Krimi’s ‘Horror-Lite’, but that does not take away from the fun to be had watching them.

There’s also great whodunit aspect to this story, which I missed completely. I guess I should have seen it coming, but, well, maybe I was a little bit tired. The clues are there, as are the red herrings, but I think an astute viewer can guess the identity of the killer. I am pleased to say that this is not one of those films, where they unmask the killer, and it’s somebody we have never seen before.

All in all, The Hand Of Power is a pleasant ninety minute diversion, particularly if you love sixties cinema.

Here’s the trailer, uploaded to Youtube by RialtoFilms

The Hand of Power (1968)

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973)

Release Year: 1973
Samuel Fuller
Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang, Anton Diffring, Eric P. Caspar, William Ray, Anthony Chinn
Samuel Fuller
Liesgret Schmitt-Klink
Jerzy Lipman
Music: Irmin Schmidt
Producer: Joachim von Mengershausen
Original Title: Tote Taube in der Beethovenstraße

Out of all the films directed by Samuel Fuller over his long and prodigious career, I have seen but a handful. It will come as no surprise I have primarily seen the ones with a hint of espionage in them, such as the Cold War thriller Pickup on South Street, in which the characters don’t give a damn about the Cold War, and Hell and High Water. I think the first Fuller film I ever saw was The Big Red One, and at the age I was, I didn’t like it. Most probably, I didn’t understand it. The only reason I saw it was that it starred ‘that Star Wars guy’, Mark Hammill. Of course, The Big Red One is a long way from Star Wars, especially to a youthful teenager.

The Big Red One was a personal film for Fuller, based on his own exploits as an infantryman during World War II. However, prior to the war, Fuller worked as a journalist, and it is this, even more than his wartime exploits, that colour him as a film maker. Just a quick glance at any film poster art from his movies, echoes his journalistic experience. His films don’t have ‘tag lines’, they have tabloid press ‘headlines’, such as ‘…the day a man was trapped in the ward of sex-maddened women’ from Shock Corridor, or ‘…suddenly while shooting a huge white shark turned on a stuntman and mangled its victim!’ from Shark.

After the war, Fuller started writing pulp crime novels, which soon lead him to Hollywood – as a scriptwriter. It wasn’t long until he was directing films – his first being I Shot Jesse James in 1949. Again, sorry to labour the point, but simply look at the title – ‘I Shot Jesse James’ – it could come from a newspaper headline. Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets put Fuller on the map as a director of tough, no nonsense dramas; particularly Steel Helmet which once again claimed to be ripped from newspaper headlines, being set in Korea.

Fuller had been courted by the major studios, but instead he chose to work for smaller independent producers, which allowed him a certain amount of autonomy to make the kind of pictures he wanted. And the pictures he wanted to make always seemed to push the boundaries of sex and violence; although Fuller would refute this. He would suggest that he was investing his films with an emotional truth. ‘Truth’ seemed be an ideal that he tried to invest in all his films, much like a newspaper article. There are very few wasted words or scenes. Everything is aimed at delivering the story in an accurate and timely way, always keeping the reader (or in this case viewer) intrigued to the very end.

Although Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street is a stand-alone movie, it was created for a German television series called Tatort. The thing with Tatort is that you don’t see the same characters or detectives in every episode. The show would depict different crime fighting teams from different parts of Germany. The series started in 1970, and is still going to this day (if you flitter over to IMDb, you can see episodes scheduled to air next year in 2011). Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street was the twenty-fifth episode. At the time of writing, the series is current up to its 767th episode. Generally speaking, no knowledge of Tatort is require to understand or appreciate Dead Pigeon. But I do believe it is important to recognise the film’s television pedigree, or else it is very easy to be underwhelmed by the movie.

And with that, it’s time to talk about the movie. First I’ll fill in a little of the backstory for Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street. All these small details are revealed as the story goes on via flashback. Firstly a US Senator, who is not named or seen in the film (although the voice and the cigar would imply that it is Fuller himself), is being blackmailed. A ring of international criminals have photographs of him, shot on a recent trip to Europe, in compromising positions with a blonde. If the Senator doesn’t pay the blackmailers large amounts of money, they will release the photos to the press. This will ruin the Senator’s political career, and as he is a future Presidential aspirant, this is unacceptable. He agrees to pay. But he also hires a detective named Johnson to travel to Europe and hunt them down and retrieve the negative.

As the film opens, Johnson is walking down Beethovenstraße (or Beethoven Street as I’ll call it), when he is shot in the back, by a slimy fellow named Charlie Umlaut (Eric P. Caspar). Umlaut works for the blackmail ring, and quickly searches Johnson’s body. He retrieves a postcard which Johnson has stolen. The gang communicate through the use of postcards, and the within the words are a code. Johnson had broken the code, which linked a girl to the blackmail ring. Umlaut takes the postcard from the deadman and runs, but not before a police officer arrives on the scene. The policeman opens fire and shoots Umlaut in the leg while trying to flee. The killer is taken into custody.

The timeline here is a little screwy, but upon Johnson’s demise, his partner, Sandy (Glenn Corbett) is sent to replace him. I’ll throw a bone here to all the Star Trek fans reading this, yes Corbett played Zefram Cochrane in the episode Metamorphosis in the original series – later the character of Cochrane would be played by James Cromwell in the movie First Contact – but hey, that’s enough geekery. Somehow Sandy teleports immediately from the United States to West Germany and is on the case. Johnson had informed Sandy about the postcard and naturally he wants to see it. As it was not on Johnson’s body, it is surmised that Umlaut must still have it. Umlaut is in hospital, under armed guard, recovering from his leg wound.

Accompanied by a German detective, Sandy heads to the hospital to interrogate Umlaut. But moments before Sandy’s arrival, Umlaut clobbers his guard, and puts on the uniform. As he is making his escape, the German detective recognises him. Fleeing, Umlaut runs into a nursery filled with sleeping children and opens fire – somehow, the babies continue to sleep despite the commotion. Umlaut makes a break for it, shooting the German detective as he makes his escape. Sandy continues the chase, catching up with the killer at the train station. Leaping from the roof of the station platform, Sandy ambushes Umlaut, but despite the element of surprise, Sandy blows it and gets knocked unconscious, allowing the killer to hobble to freedom.

However, in his escape, Umlaut forgot to take the postcard with him, and Sandy is able to decipher the code hidden within. He goes to a cafe and waits, and sure enough a girl turns up. Her named is Christa (Christa Lang). She is the girl in the photo with the Senator. Sandy begins to follow her. Her first stop is at a movie house that is playing a German language print of Rio Bravo (the ‘Muddy Boots’ scene). Sandy, who sits in the back row appears to be genuinely amused to watch John Wayne and Dean Martin dubbed into German.

Afterward, he follows her to a coffee shop, where he discretely drugs her drink, and then when she collapses in the street, he takes her to a hotel room, and with the aid of a conspiratorial photographer, takes some photos of her in compromising positions. Of course, as she is already working the photo racket, the shots that are taken will not offend her, or make her give up the negatives – but it will allow Sandy to draw out the whole gang of blackmailers, by posing as a man in the same racket. In fact, he is hoping, she’ll attempt to recruit him.

Sandy’s scheme works, and Christa immediately contacts her boss, Mansur played by malevolent character actor Anton Diffring. Along with Peter Van Eyck and Werner Peters, Diffring must be one of the leading German character actors. He appeared in over one-hundred and thirty productions including Where Eagles Dare, The Double Man and Escape to Victory. Here he once again plays an icy villain, who happens to be a fencing master. In fact, barely a scene goes by without him holding a fencing foil in his hand (can you see how this is going to end?)

Eventually Sandy is recruited, and teamed up with Christa to extort money from visiting diplomats. Their relationship starts off antagonistic at first, but then the ice begins to melt. Christa begins to have a change of heart, and wants to get out of the business. Sandy, agrees to help, if she will help him obtain the negatives. Tarts with hearts – got to love ’em, and the cornerstone of any movie like this.

For its time, compared to contemporary American television shows, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street could be considered to push the boundaries of what could be shown in relation to sexual content. Today it all seems very tame, and wouldn’t raise a ripple – the odd flash of breast, implied lesbianism, and a plot about pornographic images used for blackmail, all just grist for the mill. But to put it in its context, West Germany, while always having a seedy underbelly, had until the late 1960s been quite vigorous in its censorship of sexual material. However in 1970, the Schulmädchen-Report films, and others of their ilk flooded the German market. These films, while purporting to be ‘educational’ films, were light hearted sexual romps which unwittingly allowed West Germany to move, if not ahead, then at least to catch up with some of the more liberally minded nations. Oh, if only Dead Pigeon had a Gert Wilden musical score!

By the 1970s and ’80s, the autonomy that Fuller had as a film-maker had eroded. Big corporations owned the studios and had final say over the product they produced. Dead Pigeon was made just after Shark, which was allegedly a very troubled production with a large amount of studio interference. In fact most of the Fuller’s films from this period have legendary – almost passing into mythical status – director’s cut prints which have yet to see the light of day, while the studio prints are the ones in circulation. With all the studio interference it is not so surprising then that Fuller should agree to make a tele-film in Germany. The opportunity to work relatively autonomously again must have been a big lure. But of course, working on a German television production is very different from working on a Hollywood feature – most noticeably in the size of their budgets. This is quite evident of Dead Pigeon because it appears to be done on the cheap. Some of the acting and fights scenes are poor, and this may simply boil down to, there wasn’t enough money for additional takes.

I may be wrong here, but the promotional artwork and book tie-ins would indicate that Dead Pigeon received a cinematic release in the United States, which is a great disservice to the film. As a film, beyond the German location shooting, this film offers very little that is new – in fact if you were to compare it with Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, which is similar in many ways, then Dead Pigeon, with its thin veneer of mystery, sloppy acting and clunky fight scenes could be considered trash. But that isn’t really fair, because the film was never intended to be held alongside Klute for comparison. If a comparison is required, then maybe look at it alongside an episode of The Streets of San Francisco, and then the strengths of Dead Pigeon become more apparent. The journalistic ‘truth’ that so often filled Fuller’s work comes to the fore.

Earlier I mentioned how Sandy leaped from the roof over a railway platform, attempting to take the killer, Charlie Umlaut, by surprise. Yet his sneak attack backfires. Later he is ambushed in the shower, and while he has the presence of mind to spray hot water in his assailants face, he is still taken captive. This adds up to the fact that out hero is a bit of a whimp, but in reality, that’s what happens. Not everybody is John Wayne and can knock a guy out with one punch. That’s the movies, not real life. Dead Pigeon plays like real life. Sandy may be the nominal hero, but as far as heroes go, he is pretty piss-weak. But that is the strength of Dead Pigeon and the strength of Fuller. Realism. Sure it may be ‘tabloid press’ realism, highlighting the more extreme sides of human nature, but at the end of the day, it is still a movie, and it has to entertain…and generally it does. But having said that, I am easy to please. I expect this film is really only of interest to Fuller completists, or those interested in Tatort and German television. Others may find it pretty limp.

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973)