Monday, March 5, 2018

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 8


Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun (1966): Okay I’m cheating here, as I already reviewed this one, but this time I watched the cut of the film made for the Spanish market (which is possibly the same as the version that was released in the Italian market). Last time I watched the French cut, which was about 17 minutes longer, but as mentioned the copy I viewed suffered from a blurry, murky print. Not so this time, folks; this cut, which runs an hour and forty minutes, was put together by enterprising Eurospy fan David Alamaco, and apparently at one time it was posted on the Wild Eye Eurospy forum, which appears to be gone now. I was in touch with Mr. Alamaco last year, about to do a trade with him, but he ventures all over South America and the shipping costs are outrageous. Luckily the folks at Cult Action got hold of this very cut of the film, and for a mere $13 I was finally able to see it.

Alamaco sourced his cut from a Spanish cable broadcast, and the picture is pretty great – nothing hi-def, but certainly better than the previous version I viewed. Also, Alamaco has provided subtitles for most of the scenes that were never dubbed into English; as with the French cut I viewed, I of course watched the English dub (it just ain’t Eurospy if it doesn’t have bland, dubbed English voices). Unfortunately, this subtitling arbitrarily comes and goes; some scenes we get to understand what’s being said, other times we’re given no help at all. But whereas that French cut had no subs at all in the undubbed sequences, at least this time we’re given a better understanding of what’s going on. Otherwise the movie flows the same, with Giorgio Ardisson (as Agent 3S3 Walter Ross) strutting his stuff like the “Italian Sean Connery” he was hyped as; the women are approrpiately sexy, and in this more-clear copy we get better glimpses of the female flesh on display in the general’s multicultural harem, not to mention the bits jawdropping blonde bombshell Evi Marandi shows off in the swimming pool.

Here are the major differences I noted: The French cut of the film opens with Ross getting a fellow agent out of a Communist country, which turns out to be a training exercise that’s really being held in England. Then we get to the overlong title credits, after which we meet KGB agent Ivan Mikhailovic (Frank Wolff), who is on a training exercise of his own, posing as a peasant in a Spanish bar which turns out to be a training camp in the middle of snow-swept Russia. The Spanish cut reverses this, with the film opening on this scene, presumably catering to the Spanish market, before cutting to Ross in England, and then the credits. Later in the film, when Ross gets to San Felipe, he is given a room in which he discovers a bug hidden in a statuette. The Spanish cut ends there, but the French cut features a pretty blonde in the room who hops in Ross’s bed and offers herself to our hero. Most notably the finale, with Ross’s men geared out in black combat suits and infrared goggles, features more scenes of subgun-blasting fury in the French cut. In the Spanish cut the gliders land and we only see Ivan and Ross’s pal don their goggles and blast away, then we see some Molotov cockails in use. The French cut features the two female members of the resistance blasting away (with even more sequences of bad guys being blown away in infrared-vision), as well as an entire sequence of a glider landing and guys hopping out of it to mow down their enemies – and then we get to the Molotov cocktails scene. I’d love to see this additional action material in the same quality as the Alamaco dub. Perhaps someday a better version of the French cut will surface and someone will properly subtitle all of it.

The Big Blackout (1966): Here’s another Eurospy that sort of comes off like the Nick Carter: Killmaster film that never was. In fact, a Killmaster volume, The Weapon Of Night, played on the same concept, tapping into the blackout which gripped the East Coast of America in November 1965. Here though this event doesn’t happen until the end, and indeed the budget must’ve been pretty low – unlike most other Eurospy movies, The Big Blackout stays in Italy for the duration. The Italian name for the film is Perry Grant, Agente Di Ferro, so clearly the US distributors thought they’d capitalize on the “blackout” element.

Unknown actor Peter Holden stars as agent Perry Grant; according to this guy was only in one other movie, a Spaghetti Western, so the budget wasn’t extended for a “name” Eurospy actor, like George Ardisson, Roger Browne, or even Gordon Scott. But Holden isn’t bad, though to tell the truth I thought he was an Italian, posing under a fake English name, as was the style of the time. He isn’t the best-looking Eurospy stud nor is his physique all that great, which makes it all the stranger that the director (Luigi Capuano as “Lewis King”) keeps showing us Holden without a shirt on – at the beach, in a gratuitous shower scene, or just lying in bed smoking a cigarette. Hit the weights, dude! I think Roger Moore was more buff.

Grant is called away from his latest Eurobabe, a brunette knockout in a white bikini, by a coded radio message – rock has now entered the realm of Eurospy, with a twangy mod rocker playing throughout courtesy The Planets. Grant’s boss tasks him with posing as a fashion reporter, another agent posing as his photographer, and looking into a plot which will eventually entail a sci-fi contraption that blacks out entire cities – and soon the world! The film is curiously padded, with many scenes of people wandering around aimlessly or eating up the runtime doing menial chores, like tearing open envelopes or looking at maps. Action is sporadic, and poorly staged; the gunfights are particularly lame, with stuntwork that wouldn’t cut the mustard in a kindergarten play. Along the way Grant hooks up with another pretty brunette, named Sylvia (with vacant eyes, it must be stated), and there’s also a slinky Asian babe (who humorously enough is dubbed with a Southern Belle accent!). It must be noted though that agent Perry Grant fails to score!

The final fifteen minutes improve in a major way; the villain has that pulp spy-fy mainstay: an underground base filled with jumpsuited goons (each bearing a lightning bolt logo on his chest). Here oblong tv monitors provide views of the blackouts the main villain, a former Nazi, has been causing, the New York blackout of course included – and black and white footage of the event is included. This sci-fi vibe is much appreciated and makes one wonder why more of the runtime wasn’t spent down here in this underworld lair; the finale at least has some fireworks, with Grant toting a subgun and mowing down jumpsuited thugs in another poorly-choreographed action scene. The flick ends oddly enough with Grant not bedding down with Sylvia, which the penultimate scene implies is a foregone conclusion, but with some other random Eurobabe, on some other beach.

Superargo Against Diabolicus (1966): This perfect slice of Eurospy better captures the vibe of the classic Bond franchise than any other such flick, which is ironic given that its titular protagonist is a muscle-bound wrestler in a garish red costume and a black face mask. Plus he has superpowers! Catering to both the Eurospy and the Lucha Libra genres, Superargo Against Diabolicus only features wrestling stuff in the first quarter, as Superargo accidentally kills an opponent and goes into mournful seclusion. An old friend from “the war” shows up to offer him a job, and a chance at redemption: to stop Diabolicus, a criminal mastermind looking to take over the world in some convoluted fashion. The Bond ethic is in full effect. Superargo is given a bunch of fancy gadgets, in addition to a bullet-proof costume (and by the way he’s already impervious to blades, freezing temperatures, and can hold his breath for 7 minutes). He’s also given some weapons and a souped-up sportscar similar to the one featured two years later in the more-famous Diabolik.

The action kicks in midway through, as Superargo infiltrates the underworld lair of Diabolicus, a place of blooping and bleeping sci-fi gadgets, uniformed henchmen, and a riding crop-wielding henchwoman who apropos of nothing changes costumes at one point to put on something more revealing (not that I minded). Superargo is constantly tested, and when he gets a chance to fight back he kills without mercy. It’s all done very well, and to tell the truth I actually prefer this to Diabolik, as this one plays it straight throughout. The action finale is also fun, with Superargo wielding everything from a submachine gun to a flamethrower to his bare hands as he stops Diabolicus from escaping in a sort of rocket – and by the way, Diabolicus here wears the same avante garde “space suit” as seen in Operation Atlantis.

But man, this one’s a lot of fun, which makes it strange no one’s officially released it (mine’s a widescreen transfer taken from some overseas release, complete with the English dub); even the soundtrack comes off as Budget Bond, with the memorable theme song sounding very similar to John Barry’s “007” (not to be confused with the “James Bond Theme.”) Superargo returned two years later in Superargo And the Faceless Giants, which was courtesy the same director who gave us Devilman Story.

Top Secret (1967): The same year he starred in the dire Danger!! Death Ray, Gordon Scott made this Eurospy that clumsily melds espionage and humor, which was the style of the time. Luckily Top Secret isn’t a full-blown comedy, the antics relegated to random, inconsequential bits, and Scott, as CIA agent John Sutton, still gets to beat up a few people. But I would’ve enjoyed it more if it played things straight. Our Eurobabe is Polish beauty Magda Konopka (good grief is this woman beautiful), who the following year starred in Satanik. I’m pretty sure The Eurospy Guide (an overly-negative book that is not recommended; practically every “review” is along the lines of, “This movie sucks, but…”) makes the claim that Ms. Konopka gets topless in this film, but that unfortunately doesn’t happen in the copy I watched – a crystal-clear widescreen presentation off the Italian cable channel Rai, complete with the English dub.

The plot’s about…actually I don’t know what the hell the plot’s about. This is typical of the Eurospy genre. But it has something to do with an old former Nazi escaping Russia or something (though it’s implied he’s intentionally allowed to escape?), and agent John Sutton goes from Casablanca to Naples trying to get the top secret info he’s brought over. The film is more concerned with the “Spy vs. Spy” antics of Sutton vs. KGB agent Sandra Dubois (Konopka) – it’s just a repeating situation of one chasing the other, save for the occasional moments they get in bed together. The viewer quickly learns to turn off his brain and just appreciate Ms. Konopka’s ample charms. Action is periodic, but mostly of the fistfight variety; it’s not helped that the musical cue for one of the villains is a cartoonish “BOING!” sound effect.

Gadgets are relegated to bugs hidden in makeup compacts, and while Sutton occasionally totes a pistol, he doesn’t even shoot anyone. In retrospect I think Danger!! Death Ray was actually superior, as at least it played things mostly on the level. (And the MST3K version is one of my favorite episodes of the series.) Piero Umiliani’s score is the usual greatness, other than that annoying villain cue; some of it is the epitome of easy listening. The film ends with what might have been a flash of bare breasts; Dubois slips into Sutton’s bed at the end of the film, and her response to his tirade about her trying to kill him is to whip down the sheets which cover her. It’s hard to say – perhaps the Rai channel edition cut out the nudity, but otherwise I think it would’ve been a bit out of the norm for a Eurospy of this era to end on a scene of toplessnsess. Not that I’d complain or anything.


Steve Carroll said...

Thanks as always for these ongoing Euro-Spy movie reviews. And thanks even more for helping me to find that longer cut of Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun you previously reviewed. Now I'm going to have to once again follow your lead and buy this version as well. I love this movie! Ardisson is simply so convincing as a tough guy and has a cool factor that's off the charts.

Grant said...

It's very interesting that you say positive things about Danger Death Ray, because I've always felt the same way, in spite of the notorious miniatures and the notorious name the hero is given. Mainly because Gordon Scott seems genuinely at home in it.

Guy Callaway said...

I love reading your take on Euro-spy titles.
My major is Euro-westerns, so I've only watched a few but, like peplums, it's fascinating how the Italians took these genres to new (and crazy!) places.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys, glad you enjoy these Eurospy reviews. I go through phases where I watch nothing but them, and currently I'm in one of those phases...Steve, I just saw another George Ardisson Eurospy titled Operation Counterspy, from '65. Not as cool as Massacre In The Sun but a bit more pulpy in places, which was cool. Plus they dyed his hair black so he REALLY looks like Sean Connery in it...though for some curious reason they dubbed his voice in the English print with what sounds like a villain's voice.

I wonder if the Bond producers were aware of Aridsson back in the '60s? When Connery quit after You Only Live Twice, it might've been interesting if they'd considered "The Italian Sean Connery" to be his replacement...though I imagine there might've been a language barrier. But back then they practically dubbed everything anyway...just check out the awesome voice they dubbed Anita Pallenberg with in Barbarella.