Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Devil Came from Akasava (1971)

The Edgar Wallace krimis that were such a mainstay of the German film industry in the 60s had just about petered out by the end of that decade, but the early 70s saw a couple of unconventional late entries in that cycle. One of these was Jess Franco’s The Devil Came from Akasava (Der Teufel kam aus Akasava), bassed on Edgar Wallace’s story The Akasava.

Given Franco’s flair for sex and psychedelia and his instinctive grasp of pulp/trash aesthetics he was really the obvious person to give the series a 1970s spin, and The Devil Came from Akasava manages to be both a genuine Edgar Wallace krimi and a genuine Jess Franco film. This is one of Franco’s light-hearted caper movies, very much in the style of The Girl from Rio, and this is a side of Franco’s film-making that I’ve always enjoyed. This one is a total romp.

The plot is insanely convoluted, but that was always a feature of the Wallace krimis. In a fictitious African country a scientist has discovered a mineral that can transform any base metal into gold, but unfortunately the mineral also produces deadly radiation. The mineral is in fact a classic Hitchcock-style McGuffin - it doesn’t matter what it does, what matters is that absolutely everybody wants to get their hands on it, including Scotland Yard, the secret services of several European nations, and assorted crooks and diabolical criminal masterminds. The chase for this rock triggers off a bewildering series of murders and disappearances, and conspiracies and counter-conspiracies, the action taking place in London and in the steamy jungles of Akasava.

One of those seeking this priceless but dangerous rock is glamorous female secret agent Jane Morgan, played by the wondrous Soledad Miranda. It’s one of her lighter roles, but she’s terrific. And she gets to do not one but two erotic night-club routines, these being always a highlight of a Franco film. She also gets to wear some fabulously groovy clothes, and of course she also gets to take them off. Being Soledad Miranda, she manages to be equally sexy clothed and unclothed, and she makes a thoroughly delightful super-spy. Franco himself plays an Italian spy, while plenty of Franco regulars pop up as well, including the great Howard Vernon.

As in most of the later krimis there’s a definite James Bond influence. The comic relief that was always a feature of this genre is largely dispensed with here, which is perhaps just as well. The tone is very much tongue-in-cheek though, and there’s plenty of action, bizarre plot twists, glamour and sex. It’s an entertaining cocktail and Franco delivers a movie that really provides a great deal of enjoyment. A must for all Francophiles, fans of the German krimis, and anyone who enjoys outrageous spy spoofs and high camp fun.

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