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.

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Hearts and Armour (1983)

Country: Italy
Starring: Rick Edwards, Barbara De Rossi, Tanya Roberts, Ron Moss, Leigh McClosky, Tony Vogel, Maurizio Nichetti, Zeudi Araya
Director: Giacomo Battiato
Writer: Giacomo Battiato, Sergio Donatti
Cinematographer: Dante Spinotti
Music: Cooper and Hughes
Producers: Nicola Carraro, Franco Cristaldi
Original Title: I Paladini – storia d’armi e d’amori

Hearts and Armour is essentially a clone of John Boorman’s Excalibur. While Excalibur mined Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur for inspiration, likewise Hearts and Armour has gone back to a classic poem called Orlando furioso, written by Ludovico Ariosto in the early sixteenth century. Allegedly this film was also made into a television mini-series, and what we have here is presumably the edited down version. The only reference I can find to this is in my battered copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide 1996 (I really should update it some day — but with the internet it kinda seems superfluous). Scouring the internet, searching under the different names that this film has traveled under, I can find no positive proof or reference to the TV mini-series; so a part of me almost doubts that it was made. Possibly nobody put up the extra cash required for a longer version? But, hey I could be wrong — and it wouldn’t be the first or the last time.

Now if you’re going to attempt to watch this movie, the first thing you have to get past is the music by Hughes and Cooper — being David A. Hughes (one time member of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark — AKA: OMD) — and Martin Cooper. It is an absolutely dreadful electronic rock score that doesn’t follow the film at all. It provides no modifying or emotional effect. The music is loud — really loud — and uptempo regardless of whether a fight scene or a tender love scene is on the screen. I know many people rave about the music, but all I can say is ‘kids, don’t do drugs!’

As the film open Bradamante (Barbara De Rossi) is meeting with a sorceress in a deep dark grotto. The sorceress informs her that she will fall in love with a Moorish Prince named Ruggero. Then the sorceress’ vision, which is displayed on the cave wall like a television monitor, shows the Knight who will kill Ruggero. This knight has a metallic flame emblem on his helmet.

Bradamante runs off horrified at the visions she has just witnessed. Whether she is upset about falling in love with a Moor, or upset that she falls in love with a Moor and then he is killed, is never really explained. But whatever thoughts go on in her mind, have urged her to make a journey. To where is never really explained either. But she travels on horseback along a shallow creek bed which is surrounded on both sides by high rocky cliffs. From the rocks a band of men leap down, knocking her off her horse and into the water. These men are after a little ‘R and R’ — Robbery and Rape. Actually I don’t even think that they were too interested in the robbery, because rather than check her horse for valuables, they proceed straight to the raping. First the brutes start to rip off her clothing and then start to fight each other for first dibs. Just as it seem as if things are are going to get ugly, a knight appears at the end of the waterway mounted on a mighty steed. Seeing Bradamante in peril, the knight gallops at full speed to her rescue, and then proceeds to lop off the limbs from the horny horde of robbing rapists.

As the rapists thrash and wail around in the water — they were not killed — the knight speaks:

‘Bradamante, you left your wealth and comfort behind. But your bravery is not enough. Take my armour and sword and no-one will ever hurt you again’.

The magical thing is, that there isn’t a knight inside the suit of armour. When Bradamante pull back the face guard, she finds that the suit is empty. It is a magical enchanted suit of armour — just for her.

Meanwhile the knight with the flame emblem on his helmet, from the sorceress’ prophecy, rides into a small village. He stops, waters his horse and then takes off his helmet. We are greeted by the good, blonde haired, blue-eyed Christian knight, Orlando (Rick Edwards). Because he has blonde hair and blue-eyes, he must be the hero of this film. Orlando makes a few repairs around the village and then rides on until he meets up with a group of fellow Christian knights.

Elsewhere, a Moorish Princess, Angelica (Tanya Roberts), and a troupe of bodyguards are riding down the waterway – you know, the same one that Bradamante traveled down. Up above them the ‘robbing rapists’ have regrouped — albeit without their severed limbs. One of them has even been so industrious to make an appliance where he can plug his sword where his hand used to be. The ‘robbing rapists’ leap down from their hiding places and start clawing at Princess Angelica’s clothes. But once again, the mysterious knight appears at the end of the waterway and begins to charge at the rapists with a drawn sword. The rapists flee. Of course, this time Bradamante is inside the suit of armour.

In the Moor encampment, by the sea, Ruggero (Ron Moss) is preparing to leave the camp. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because his sister, the Christians have taken Angelica prisoner. Actually it couldn’t be that — because that hasn’t happened yet. That’s in the next scene. Oh well, Ruggero must be restless, and want to roam the countryside looking for Christians to kill.

As I suggested above, indeed, Angelica is taken prisoner by Bradamante, who takes her to her Christian King as a prisoner. Along the trail she runs into Orlando and his stout-hearted band of Christian knights. They continue their journey together. Ruggero continues his quest to retrieve his sister, and he too is soon caught by the Christians. Now all the cast is gathered together in one spot, the love stories can begin. After all, this film is called Hearts and Armour. We’ve had a lot of armour — really silly armour — but now it’s time for a bit of romance. In this film there are tow love at first sight stories going on. Firstly, Ruggero and Bradamante fall in love — well that’s hardly surprising because the sorceress at the beginning of the film told us so. But, we didn’t expect Orlando to fall for Angelica. How’s that for a bizarre emotional entanglement. Fate has deemed that Orlando will kill Ruggero, but yet Orlando has fallen in love with Ruggero’s sister. And meanwhile, Bradamante is just trying to play peacekeeper.

The films continues to spiral towards its fateful and inevitable showdown, and despite the clumsiness of the first half, the film begins to pick up momentum in the second half. The introduction of a few new characters adds a bit of zest to the story. The first is a wizard named Atlante (Maurizio Nichetti), who is like a small live action version of Yoda — that is, if Yoda had been tarred and feathered. He enlivens things with a few invisibility spells and some not so prophetic wisdom.

The second character is a crazy Moorish knight named Ferreau (Tony Vogel). During his quest or travels, he discovers Princess Angelica who has managed to escape from her Christian captors. He promises to protect her and lead her back to the Moorish encampment and safety. But like most of the male characters in this film, instead he tries to rape her. In fact, poor old Angelica spends most of the film in a torn dress with her right nork hanging out, as various characters try to rape her. At one point, even an invisible priest tries to rape her. It’s tough work being a Princess in medieval Italy.

Now I am trying not to talk about the armour in this film, because many other reviewers have talked at length about the costume design — but in all fairness, I cannot shy away from it. The screencaps throughout this review will not do justice to weird, wild and wonderful armoured creations that populate this film — especially on the tops of their helmets. Orlando has this weird lopsided crest of flame. Bradamante has a circle disk — which could be all sorts of things (the sun, a halo, or a piece from a nice table setting). One of Orlando’s men has a sword jammed into his head, the actual blade runs down the front of his armour. Another has what looks like rams or goats horns. And one has what looks like a tulip. Along the way, they battle men with even weirder armour. Farreau’s costume make him look like some kind of bird, the Japanese Samurai wears a facemask that makes him look like ‘V’ from V for Vendetta. One set of armour even has a little tree at the top. Obviously, whoever was in charge of costume design, and the armoured creations was a person of great imagination and skill. But somehow, despite all the work and craft that have gone into the designs, at times I can’t help but think ‘man that looks really stupid!’

Many of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, and that may simply be because it is hard to choreograph fight scenes between people in suits of armour. Conan, Dar (from The Beastmaster), an Talon (from The Sword and the Sorcerer) were not weighed down by heavy armour and as such were free in their movements. Nearly all of Orlando’s fight scenes are in heavy armour, and they are slow. Some people, who are into medieval authenticity may claim that the film is simply trying to be truthful, but the movie only runs 100 minutes and if all the fight scenes were played out in real-time, the film would give Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace a run for its money in screen time. Ruggero comes off a lot better, because he doesn’t really don his armour too often. He has freedom to move around, and pose stoically. That’s another thing you can’t do in a suit of armour, is hold a pose while the wind rushes through your hair.

The film is plagued to two major short-comings. The first is the serious tone throughout. It is po-faced without an ounce of humour — well not intentional anyway. I laughed at nearly every scene with Ferrau, because Tony Vogel’s acting performance is off the chart. It’s like the man has a rubber jaw and cannot deliver a simple bit of dialogue without pulling a face. The second flaw, is the lack of narrative. People appear to do things for no reason — they just travel. I think we are supposed to see the film (most of it) through Bradamante’s eyes, but even she is hard to relate to. Like at the beginning, why is she seeing a sorceress? Then, where is she going. The suit of armour tells us she has given up a life or privilege — where and why? Then she receives an enchanted suit of armour — again, I ask why? It’s not like she used it for some noble purpose. At least the other characters are knights and as such their motivations can be distilled down to simple patriotism, and then later lust.

I know it seems like I am giving Hearts and Armour a right proper kicking, but the truth is that it isn’t that bad. There are quite a few good moments, and the cinematography is first rate, with some striking images that will stay in your head for a long time after you’ve watched the film. Of course the female leads are easy on the eye too. Tanya Roberts doesn’t have a nude scene under a waterfall, which I believe she should have written into every film contract. But you can’t have everything. However, she does look stunning in her torn blue dress. Barbara De Rossi appears to have a bit of spunk too, but her character is such a grumble-bum, sometimes it’s hard to warm to her. Finally there is Zeudi Araya as Ruggero’s sister, Marfisa. She doesn’t get much screen time, but she makes a strong impression with the scenes she does have.

The two male leads, Rick Edwards and Ron Moss come off pretty good. They are both good looking fellas and even though the film lacks narrative, you feel like you have been on a journey with both men — even if that journey leads them to a simple understanding that ‘there is no honour in war’.

I think my problem with Hearts and Armour stems from the fact that it is one of the few films of its kind that I didn’t see when it was originally released. Others like Conan, The Sword and the Sorcerer, The Beastmaster and a whole slew of others, I saw either at the cinema or later, immediately when they were released on video. I saw these films during my formative years and at a time of where these films were relevant to my peers. In that regard I probably overlook and forgive many of the flaws in those films because I know them so well or I simply have a retrospective positive association with each film. But not so Hearts and Armour. I have no inbuilt love for the film.

Ultimately Hearts and Armour is a second tier Sword and Sorcery movie from the early eighties. Just that simple sentence should tell you a lot about the film. If you’re tolerant of such fare, you may find a bit to enjoy here — I found a little bit. However, if you are after something a little more swashbuckling and driven, then this film may try your patience.

Hearts and Armour (1983)

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)

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)

Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (1964)

Country: Italy
Director: Piero Regnoli
Starring: Reg Park, Wandisa Guida, Eleonora Bianchi, Bruno Piergentili, Elio Jotta, and ‘Little’ Loris Loddi
Music: Francesco De Masi
Original Title: Maciste nelle miniere di re Salomone

Welcome to the ‘Big Muscle Tussle’. During February, the members of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit are celebrating musclemen – and muscle women. Fittingly, I have stepped once more into my time machine and traveled back to 1964, and to Italy where muscular men were running rampant – throwing boulders, ripping out trees, fighting monsters, fighting tyrants, and fighting whole armies. In general, they were fighting a lot.

Today’s fighting feature is Maciste in King Solomon’s Mine – which I believe is also known as Samson in King Solomon’s Mine. It just goes to show that a lot of these mythological heroes are interchangeable. This time Maciste (or Samson) is played by world champion bodybuilder Reg Park.

A the film opens the viewer is informed by a narrator who is not James Mason, but should be, that in the heart of Africa, there was a city called Zimba, which was surrounded by a high wall, and a dense jungle. At the centre of the city was a palace, from which secret underground passages lead to the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. But wise King Nammar was prohibited anybody from removing the gold from the mine – and the city has had twenty years of peace. Nammar has a young son, Vazmar (‘Little’ Loris Loddi) who is destined, in time, to take over the thrown. As he grows to manhood, he is kept in seclusion under the tutelage of a young woman named Samara (Eleonora Bianchi). The whereabouts (or fate) of Vazmar’s mother is never mentioned.

On the twentieth anniversary of Nammar’s peaceful reign, his Chief General, Riad (Ellio Jotta – billed as Leonard G. Elliot) decides he has had enough peace, and sneaks into the palatial grand hall, and beneath a giant Sphinx’s head (which conceals the entrance to the passageways to the mine), he pushes the marble lid off an alter. Inside is a wooden chest. He removes the chest and opens it revealing a ‘top secret’ map, which outlines all the secret passages underneath the palace – and most importantly to the mine. Riad presumably has a photographic memory, because he briefly scans the map, and then returns it, placing everything back exactly as he found it. He then heads off into the tunnels. But, despite what you may think, he chooses not to go immediately to the rich deposits of gold, but through a passage that leads him secretly out of the city and into the jungle.

Riad makes contact with a woman named Fazira (Wandisa Guida), who is the leader of fierce tribe of warriors. Riad offers her a third of the treasure from the mine, if she’ll help him overthrow Nammar. She agrees – but for half the treasure. Entering into an uneasy alliance, Riad agrees, then he leads her and her men back to Zimba and through the hidden passage. Once inside the city walls they do what any invading force would do – kill, rape, loot, set things on fire.

Meanwhile Riad heads off to the Royal bedchamber and kills King Nammar. While he is doing that, one of the King’s loyal subjects, Abucar (Bruno Piergentili – billed as Dan Harrison – who you may remember from Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens) rushes to the aid of Samara and Prince Vazmar (or is that King Vazmar now?) Abucar leads them to another secret passage that will lead them out of the palace and into the jungle. There they should seek the assistance of Maciste. Once they have escaped, Abucar rejoins the battle but is knocked out and captured.

In the jungle, Samara and Vazma are all alone, and anybody who has seen a Tarzan movie knows that the jungle is full of wild creatures, and no place for a woman and child. But more of that later. Firstly, Vazmar sees a lion cub and wanders off chasing it, because it looks soft, fluffy and fun. He catches up with it and befriends it. Befriend is actually a bad word – because this kid is clearly tormenting the clearly drugged, mini beast. I was half wishing it would claw him, and teach him a lesson – but that would be mean spirited.

Anyway, Samara has lost Vazma, and is wandering around trying to find him. Of course she crosses the path of the fully grown killer lion. But before the ravenous feline can attack, Maciste (Reg Park), who is clad in a loincloth, leaps from a tree and wrestles the lion into submission. Actually to death. Samara passes out.

Vazmar is now in his own little world, and falls into a pit designed to catch the rogue killer lion. He is found by natives, but luckily these natives are pretty good fellas, and they take Vazmar in and look after him.

Miles away, Maciste has his hands full, quite literally, with Samara who is still unconcious. He takes her to another village. Once in the village, delirious, she repeats Abucar’s words about finding Maciste. He realises his old friend Abucar must then be in trouble, so the big clod leaves her to the natives and plods off to Zimba to rescue his friend.

Back in Zimba, things have changed. Nammar’s subjects are now slaves and they are forced to work in the mines. Abucan is lashed and tortured by Riad, who is trying to find Vazmar. But Abucar wont speak, so Riad orders him to be put to death on the following morning. Of course, Maciste arrives in the nick of time and rescues his friend, but in the process, manages to get captured in a net.

Now Maciste is to be put to death in a ‘blood thirsty and breath taking spectacle’. This spectacle happens to be placing Maciste in a cage, which has spikes pointing in at his body. Then maciste is tied by ropes to horses on the outside. These horses are whipped and run off in different directions, pulling Maciste every which way – presumably into the sharp spikes. But Maciste, as you know, is super strong, and he holds the rope tight, waring out the horses, until they collapse.

As the story plays out, there are more plot twists and turns as the story writhes its way through the secret passages and into the Royal court. There’s betrayal, heroism, and the threat of Samara being doused in molten gold, and turned into a statue. And of course, more feats of incredible strength, from Maciste.

Reg Park was okay as Hercules in Mario Bava’s Hercules and the Haunted World is quite ineffectual here. Sure he looks the part, but beyond that he is wooden and lifeless. It doesn’t help that his character isn’t introduced until 25 minutes into the film. The real stars are the villains, Elio Jotta as Riad, and Wandisa Guida as Fazira, who have a high old time sneering and being evil. This film is most alive when they are on the screen being dastardly.

Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines is not an A-Grade peplum by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t a turkey either. Generally it is fast paced, and there are not too many extended talking head scenes, which seem to populate the most dreary of this kind of film. The sets are okay too, and the majority of the location footage, shot in South Africa, looks authentic – rather than using stock footage.

Wandisa Guida appeared in a few Eurospy productions such as Antonio Margheriti’s Lightning Bolt with Anthony Eisley, Killers are Challenged and Secret Agent Fireball, both with Richard Harrison. Eleonora Bianchi also made an incursion into Eurospy territory starring alongside Lang Jefferies in Agente X 1-7 operacion Oceano (X1-7 Top Secret).

That’s it for Maciste in King Solomon’s Mine, but I can tell by that look in your eye that you want more! I give you:

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules 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. However, it is still 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 as the hero.


How can you go past a title like Hercules vs the Moon Men? I couldn’t. This is a film that had to be watched, but admittedly with low expectations. And for three-quarters of this films running time I was highly entertained. However, the sandstorm towards the end of the movie drags on and drags the movie down with it.


Hercules Against the Mongols isn’t the worst peplum you’ll see, but it isn’t inspired either. However it is a step up from the dreary Hercules Against The Barbarians, and it always intrigues me to see another chapter in the strange career of Ken Clark: Cowboy, Gentleman Spy, and Mongol.


Gladiators 7, featuring Richard Harrison, is familiar territory for those who have watched any vintage swashbucklers, but the film handles it all with a great sense of style and fun. This is enjoyable if somewhat predictable entertainment.


Hercules Against the Barbarians is a weak entry in the Sword and Sandal series. Forest is not my favourite Hercules. He takes the role far too seriously and always looks to be in pain. On top of that this movie is fairly slowed paced and drags between action sequences.


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


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


Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens is pretty silly in parts but it is fairly fast paced, which is a big plus. My main problem with the film is the character of Alia Baba. Nothing against Dan Harrison’s performance, he looks the part, but the character is simply not very convincing. He falls into nearly every trap set for him.

Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (1964)

Kriminal (1966)

Country: Italy
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Glenn Saxson, Helga Line, Andrea Bosic, Ivano Staccioli, Esmeralda Ruspoli, Dante Posani, Franco Fantasia, Susan Baker
Music: Raymond Full, Roberto Pregadio

The character Kriminal has a rich history, which is a bit out of my depth to discuss at length. Put simply, Kriminal began in a series of adult comic books (called Fumetti) in Italy. The success of the comics lead to two Kriminal movies, made in the mid sixties and starring Glenn Saxon as the titular hero.

The film opens in London. A man is being lead to the gallows. The man is ‘Kriminal’ – an evil genius. He is to be executed for the theft of the Crown of England. Kriminal mounts the scaffold, and the noose is slipped around his neck. At the last second, before Kriminal swings, the lights go out and the rope breaks. In the confusion Kriminal escapes.

The escape had been carefully planned down to the last detail. But not by Kriminal though. It was the police that allowed Kriminal to escape. Why? Because the Crown has not been recovered. If Kriminal had died, the secret location would have died with him. Instead, the police have secretly positioned officers in cars and on foot to follow the fiend, hopefully to the regal headpiece. But as I mentioned at the top, Kriminal is an evil genius, and it does not take him long to slip through the cordon of officers, leaving Scotland Yard with egg on their face and a lot of explaining to do.

Taunting the police further, Kriminal returns the crown, letting everybody know that it is a goodwill gesture on his behalf, rather than the tactics or investigation skills of the police that have returned this priceless artifact.

Now free from the shackles of imprisonment, Kriminal can return to his old ways, and when committing a crime, this involves wearing a full body skeleton suit. It’s a pretty threatening ensemble, but you could only get away with wearing it in the sixties. No modern evil mastermind would be seen dead wearing it. When we next see Kriminal he’s in his suit and breaking into a ladies bedroom. When he flicks on the light the lady awakens, and then confronted by Kriminal, she screams. As she does, he takes off his mask. She recognises his face and stops screaming. Her name is Margie Swan and she used to be married to the man standing in front of her. And all that time she never knew she was married to an uber fiend. But that is all in the past. Margie is all set to remarry a rich man. She now works for the Tradex Diamond Company and her new love, is her bosses son. But Kriminal isn’t interested in Margie’s love life. He’s interested in Tradex’s next big shipment of diamonds from London to Istanbul.

The thing about masked fumetti characters like Kriminal or Diabolik, is while they are criminals themselves, their actions tend to take down people and crime syndicate’s that are worse. The regular criminals have no code of honour, or worse still, pretend to be upright citizens. Kriminal’s skeleton suit says to the world, ‘look out’, I am a bad person, ‘stay out of my way’. But criminals who do not wear are costume are hypocrites who want things both ways. They want there ill gotten gain, but they also want to be accepted and fit into society. That’s exactly what happens in this film. Kriminal attempts to steal some diamonds, but finds that they have already been stolen. But of course, he gets the blame for the theft, while the perpetrators get off scott free. But Kriminal is an evil doer of the highest order, so naturally he seeks retribution.

Kriminal is an interesting film. It’s fun in a glossy sixties jet-setting fashion, but there are a few ‘evil’ moments. Generally, the nasty things happen to people who deserve the atrocities, but a couple of innocents get caught along the way. It’s this subversive or slightly malevolent tone that may put a few people off this movie. But mostly it’s cartoon mayhem, with a dash of sixties glamour.

October is the month of the Skeleton Suit! Or Skeletons, Skulls and Bones, and in a month long celebration, The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit is checking out the Skeletons in their closets.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Minions of M.O.S.S. check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page or the Twitter feed.

Kriminal (1966)

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)

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)