Saturday 30 October 2021

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976)

If you’re going to make a movie in the poliziotteschi genre could you come up with a better title than Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man? That’s the title of this 1976 entry in the genre directed by Ruggero Deodato (the original Italian title is (Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore).

It starts off with a manic motorcycle chase. A woman has not only had her purse snatched she’s been brutally beaten by two men on a motorcycle. Two cops set off in pursuit. It’s not only a frenzied adrenaline rush of a chase it also tells us quite a bit about these two cops. Alfredo (Marc Porel) and Alberto (Ray Lovelock) are partners and they work together like a well-oiled machine. They never give up. And they have no time at all for such legal niceties as due process or suspects’ rights. Their idea of crime-fighting is that violent criminals need killing and they’re happy to do the killing. They’re nutters so it’s just as well they’re on the side of the good guys.

We find out that they work for a police Special Force. It’s an elite squad that doesn’t mind bending the rules a little. Alfredo and Alberto don’t just bend the rules, they ignore them completely. Even in the Special Force they’re considered to be dangerous and crazy but they get results.

The main plot thread concerns a big-time gangster named Pasquini. The Special Force has been trying to nail him for several years. Now Pasquini has had a senior Special Force officer assassinated. So Alfredo and Alberto are now really keen to get Pasquini. Their task may however be complicated by police corruption at a high level.

Alfredo and Alberto find time to get involved in plenty of other violent situations, such a siege which they deal with in their own individual style. Their style is messy but it works.

They also find plenty of time to chase women.

Our two cop heroes decide to put some pressure on Pasquini, which they do with the aid of lots of explosions. That’s usually a good way to get someone’s attention.

The trouble with Pasquini is that he’s obsessive about covering his tracks. Nobody knows where to find him. Alfredo and Alberto do however know where his sister Lina lives. They decide to interrogate her. Their interrogation methods are somewhat unorthodox. They involve both Alfredo and Alberto having sex with her. They don’t get any useful information but Lina really enjoys this method of interrogation.

Unfortunately while our two rogue cops are hunting Pasquini at the same time Pasquini is also hunting them. Their best chance of survival is to find him before he finds them.

That opening motorcycle chase is justly famous but it’s just one of a series of amazing action set-pieces. The shoot-out at the quarry is inspired. It’s also like something out of a spaghetti western. Ruggero Deodato had been assistant director on Sergio Corbucci’s classic spaghetti western Django and Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man does have a bit of a spaghetti western feel, with the two heroes being more like gunslingers than cops.

It’s an extremely violent movie. I’m not always a fan of ultra-violent cop movies but the violence in this movie is stylish and imaginative rather than merely crude and the movie lacks the extreme nihilism that sometimes afflicts the poliziotteschi genre.

The humour has some lighter moments to balance the violence and some of the violence has a definite black comedy tinge to it.

There’s a bit of nudity but not too much. In fact by 1976 standards very little.

Marc Sorel and Ray Lovelock make a great team. They’re both charismatic and they both have a rogueish charm. The presence of Adolfo Celi in the cast (playing their long-suffering boss) is a bonus. The entire cast acquits itself well.

I should add that Ray Lovelock gets to sing - his ballads are interspersed throughout the movie.

The Raro Video DVD (they’ve released in on Blu-Ray as well) offers an excellent transfer and is apparently pretty much uncut (it’s a movie that had quite a few censorship problems). There are some sparse liner notes and a very good 42-minute documentary, Violent Cops, featuring interviews with many of those involved in the production including director Ruggero Deodato and star Ray Lovelock (both of whom are, quite righty, proud of this movie).

I have mixed feelings about the the poliziotteschi genre but Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is now easily my favourite representative of the genre. It’s fast and furious and incredibly stylish and very entertaining. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Atragon (1963)

Atragon is a 1963 Japanese science fiction movie directed by Ishirô Honda. Ishirô Honda is of course best known as the man who first brought Godzilla to the screen. He also directed the wonderful 1957 sci-fi epic The Mysterians. Atragon includes just about everything that I personally could hope for in a sci-fi movie.

An engineer is kidnapped and the witnesses, including a glamour photographer, tell the police a strange story of a man emerging from the sea. The police start to get really worried when other engineers start disappearing. The police inspector in charge of the case is even more worried when he encounters a strange guy who claims to be an agent of the Mu Empire. This guy really does disappear into the sea.

As everybody knows (or at least everybody in the movie knows) the Mu Empire vanished beneath the ocean 10,000 years ago.

The agent of the Mu Empire, Agent 23, is interested in a man named Kusumi (Ken Uehara). Kusumi had been a Vice-Admiral in the Imperial Navy. His protégé Captain Jinguji (Jun Tazaki) had been a genius designer who had designed an incredibly advanced submarine, the A400. It came too late to affect the outcome of the war and the last of the A400 boats, the A403, was lost with all hands (including Captain Jinguji) in the final days of the war.

Agent 23 is convinced that Captain Jinguji is still alive, and that he is working on a new submarine, the Atragon, which will be a mortal threat to the Mu Empire. The world’s most advanced submarine, the American Red Satan (!), has just been destroyed by the Mu Empire but the Atragon would be a much more formidable threat. The Empress Mu intends to extend the Mu Empire’s dominion over the whole planet.

The news that Captain Jinguji might be still alive is a shock to his daughter Makoto (Yôko Fujiyama). She was three years old when the war ended and has been raised by ex-Admiral Kusumi.

Captain Jinguji is alive and he has built a new super submarine. The problem is that Captain Jinguji is quite mad. He has not accepted that the war is over. He has established a secret base on an island from which he intends to re-establish the Japanese Empire.

There is of course a very obvious and conscious parallel being drawn between Captain Jinguji’s crazy plans and the equally crazy plans of the Empress Mu. In both cases it’s an attempt to revive the glories of the past. Admiral Kusumi on the other hand represents the new world and the new Japan. He has come to terms with the end of the Japanese Empire. He is a man of peace, although he also accepts that the Mu Empire will have to be destroyed.

So there’s lots of stuff about Japan trying to find its place in a new world, trying to move forward to a peaceful future, but with some elements in society still looking to the past. There’s a conflict between Japan’s official pacifism and the need to counter a real threat.

You tend to expect political subtexts in Japanese movies of the 60s and 70s. At least in this case it’s a more complex and subtle political subtext than usual.

The political aspects are also intertwined with some emotional conflicts. Admiral Kusumi and Captain Jinguji have tried to deal with the shock of Japan’s defeat in different ways and for Jinguji there’s the difficulty of trying to re-establish a relationship with a daughter who finds his actions and attitudes incomprehensible. There’s some surprising nuance in this movie.

This movie has super-submarines. It has secret agents. It has secret island military bases. It has monsters (yes, it has monsters). It has a threat to Civilisation As We Know It. It has a beautiful but evil queen. Best of all it’s a lost world/lost civilisation story, a genre of which I’m extremely fond. This movie ticks all my boxes. And it has not just a super-villain but an ambiguous villain-hero as well.

Of course you know there’s going to be a climactic battle between the Mu Empire and the forces of Earth, but in the meantime there’s the kidnapping of Makoto by agents of the Mu Empire to provide further suspense and excitement, and to provide the necessary Woman In Peril angle. It always helps if the woman in peril is young and pretty and Makoto qualifies on both counts.

The miniatures work is very impressive. The special effects are excellent. There are some cool sets.

The acting is also generally extremely good.

The Cheezy Movies DVD release only offers the English dubbed version but it’s in the correct aspect ratio (the film was shot in Tohoscope) and the anamorphic transfer is very good. There have been other DVD releases but this one seems to be the easiest to get hold of at present.

Atragon offers all the ingredients that made Toho’s science fiction and monster movies so much fun and adds some thematic subtlety. This is just a terrific movie and it’s highly recommended.

This is another great movie I discovered through Michael's Moviepalace.

Friday 22 October 2021

Seduction (La seduzione, 1973)

Director Fernando Di Leo has gained quite a cult following in recent years for his 1970s work in the poliziotteschi genre. He worked in other genres as well, an example being his 1973 erotic melodrama Seduction (La seduzione).

Giuseppe (Maurice Ronet) is a middle-aged man who has returned to Catania in Sicily after a long absence. He has to wind up his deceased father’s affairs but he’s really come back in the hope of seeing Caterina (Lisa Gastoni) again. She’s now a rather beautiful widow in her late 30s. Maybe this time he can make it work with her.

They begin an affair. Everything goes wonderfully well. It’s just like it was all those years ago, only better. They hit it off in the bedroom, and out of it. And to make the situation even more perfect Giuseppe gets along well with Caterina’s daughter Graziela (Jenny Tamburi).

But maybe Giuseppe and Graziela get along a little too well.

The first time Giuseppe stays the night at Caterina’s house he gets up during the night to visit the bathroom. He can’t help noticing that Graziela’s bedroom door is open. He also can’t help noticing that Graziela sleeps nude and somehow or other, by some unlucky mischance, she’s managed to toss the bedcovers onto the floor so Giuseppe gets a good look at her nude body. Perhaps unwisely Giuseppe has another look on his way back to Caterina’s bedroom.

At this stage Giuseppe isn’t sure that Graziela is flirting with him but she soon makes it very obvious. When she drapes her legs over Giuseppe it is perhaps not an entirely wise thing for him to start caressing those very attractive legs, and it’s definitely not a good idea to start caressing her in more intimate places. But that’s exactly what he does.

It’s obvious that Graziela intends to seduce him and it’s equally obvious that he’s not likely to offer much resistance.

In fact he offers none at all. As to who does the seducing, it’s pretty much mutual.

Giuseppe’s judgment is not all that great. Having sex with Graziela while Caterina is out of the house is risky enough but having sex with her while Caterina is asleep in the bedroom next door is really really dumb.

It’s no surprise at all that Caterina walks in on them at a most inopportune moment.

This is by no means the end of the story. Giuseppe, Caterina and Graziela come to an arrangement which involves Giuseppe and Graziela promising not to get up to any more sexual hijinks but you know that’s not going to last long and then further complications arise when another player joins the game. And neither Caterina nor Graziela can stop loving Giuseppe.

Maurice Monet’s rather diffident performance works. Giuseppe is a guy who really doesn’t seem to appreciate the dangers of the minefield he’s wandered into. Lisa Gastoni is excellent. She’s beautiful and glamorous, and she has some some fairly steamy sex scenes. Jenny Tamburi is convincingly dangerous. Ornella Muti was originally cast as Graziela but Lisa Gastoni vetoed that casting. She was probably right to do so. Muti was just too gorgeous and that would have harmed the film since we have to believe that not only is Graziela a convincing rival to Caterina but also that Caterina is beautiful enough to be a convincing rival to Graziela. Jenny Tamburi is certainly beautiful, but not to the extent of totally overshadowing Gastoni.

Giuseppe’s friend Alfredo (Pino Caruso) provides the comic relief and he is genuinely amusing. He’s entirely inept with women but he likes to give the impression of being a Don Juan. And occasionally, and surprisingly, his observations on relationship prove to be on-target. He’s certainly right about Graziela.

Most reviewers succumb to the temptation to make comparisons to Lolita but that’s not necessarily helpful since once that comparison is made it becomes difficult to discuss the movie sensibly. Graziela’s age is never mentioned but she’s clearly considerably older than the title character of Nabokov’s novel. There nothing in the movie to explicitly suggest that Graziela is legally underage and Jenny Tamburi was twenty-one when the film was made. We can guess that she’s supposed to be around sixteen. This is not quite a Lolita story. There are some Lolita-esque elements but I think that if you get too focused on them you’re likely to be led astray in trying to understand the point of the movie. It’s a twisted romantic triangle that becomes a romantic quadrangle.

Graziela is young, sexually fairly inexperienced (although it’s implied that she’s not a virgin) and very keen to get some more sexual experience but she’s no child. That’s the problem. She’s a woman but young enough to be an emotional time-bomb for anyone who becomes involved with her. The point of the story is that Caterina has a younger rival and that rival is her own daughter, and that both Graziela and Giuseppe become involved in a sexual-emotional game that is likely to have momentous consequences.

The Raro Video DVD offers a very satisfactory anamorphic transfer. There’s an interesting documentary featuring the film’s director, cinematographer and producer plus Jenny Tamburi (who is charming and amusing). There are also liner notes but I wasn’t overly impressed by them. The snippets included in the documentary suggest that the print used as the source for the DVD is not an uncut version.

Seduction generates an atmosphere of both erotic and emotional explosiveness but it adds some touches of humour and even at times of farce. It’s one of those movies that could never get made in today’s much more moralistic climate but it is a genuine attempt to deal with fairly inflammable subject matter in an intelligent and sensitive manner. It certainly doesn’t let either Graziela or especially Giuseppe off the hook. They removed the pin from the hand grenade and they have to accept the consequences.

Highly recommended.

Monday 18 October 2021

The Libertine (1968)

The Libertine (the original title is La Matriarca) is a 1968 Italian sex comedy directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile which was picked up by Radley Metzger’s Audobon Films in the United States (and released there in a slightly different cut). It’s a lot more sophisticated and stylish than the average Italian sex comedy of its era (in fact it’s a lot more sophisticated and stylish than the average US or British sex comedy of that period as well). This was obviously why it attracted Metzger’s interest.

Of course it has to be said that Italian sex comedies of this era are largely unknown territory outside of Italy so their poor reputation might well be undeserved. It also has to be said that The Libertine is not quite a sex comedy - it’s more of a sexy romantic comedy with a satirical edge.

Margherita (or Mimi as she is known, played by Catherine Spaak) is a very very young very pretty widow. And a very rich widow. She’s a bit puzzled as to why she doesn’t really feel anything about her husband’s passing.

Then she makes an intriguing discovery. Included in her rich industrialist husband Franco’s estate is a large penthouse office complex which nobody knew anything about. She decides to investigate. It turns out not to be an office complex at all but a luxury apartment fitted out as a private love nest. The revelation that her husbands kept a mistress (or mistresses) doesn’t shock Mimi too much. What does shock her is her discovery of his extensive film library. It comprises films of sadomasochistic sex games involving her husband and various women, including Claudia (an apparently very respectable friend of the family).

Mimi is somewhat appalled, but she’s surprised to discover that she’s also slightly disappointed that Franco never invited her to join him in these sex games. I mean, if your husband’s a pervert the least he could do would be to ask his wife to share his perversions.

Mimi also realises that her sex life with her late husband had been pretty boring. It had obviously been boring for him but now she realises it was boring for her as well. She decides that she needs to do something about this. She needs to explore her sexuality. Franco’s luxurious penthouse love nest will provide the perfect headquarters. She’s bought herself a copy of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. She wants to learn all about sexual perversions. She thinks she may be a pervert. Or rather she hopes that she is. It sounds like fun.

Now what she needs are some men to practice on. Initially the results are not entirely satisfactory. She is however a determined young lady and she’s not giving up. She takes a total stranger back to her penthouse where he slaps her around and rapes her. She enjoys this, but not as much as she’d hoped to (this is not a politically correct movie).

Mimi throws herself into the world of kinky sex and then along comes Dr Carlo de Marche (Jean-Louis Trintignant). He has sex with her but then he wants to marry her. Mimi thinks that men never want to marry the women they want to have sex with so she’s rather reluctant. Carlo is determined and persuasive, and his methods of persuasion include giving her bottom a good spanking. Not as sex play, but just because she’s being a naughty girl. Like I said, this is not a politically correct movie.

It’s unusual in being a movie that deals with sadomasochism and various sexual fetishes in a very positive way. Mimi discovers that she is in fact kinky, and that’s a good thing. It suggests that sadomasochism is empowering for women, even when they play the submissive role. This is a movie that is not just a collection of prejudices about kinky sex - it was obviously written by somebody who’d bothered to learn something about the subject and maybe even give the subject some thought. Even more surprisingly it’s a movie that doesn’t imply that women should be punished for exploring their sexuality, no matter where those explorations might take them. And Mimi discovers that she has a very unusual sexual kink indeed, but that’s OK, whatever your kink happens to be there’s bound to be a member of the opposite sex who will be delighted to share it with you.

Jean-Louis Trintignant shares top billing with Catherine Spaak which in commercial terms made sense. He had plenty of star power at the time. It is however Catherine Spaak’s film. Her performance is the one that matters and she’s an absolute delight. She’s quirky, unpredictable, adorable, sexy and very funny.

The set design is impressive, especially Franco’s secret sex hideaway. I love the chairs in the form of a pair of scales. Miss Spaak gets to wear some fabulous 60s clothing (which she takes off frequently - there’s quite a bit of nudity). This movie is packed with late 1960s style.

The Nucleus Films Blu-Ray includes a lively audio commentary by Kat Eflinger who managed to convince me to go looking for more of this director’s films) plus a featurette on the production design and the US cut of the film.

The Libertine is a playful and very stylish sex comedy that manages to be very amusing without treating sex as a dirty joke. An excellent movie, highly recommended.

Thursday 14 October 2021

Rica 2: Lonely Wanderer (1973)

The Rica trilogy, which began with Rica in 1972, was a very successful if rather atypical example of the pinky violence sub-genre, that fascinating genre of 1970s Japanese exploitation movies. Rica 2: Lonely Wanderer followed in 1973.

The pinky violence genre, an off shoot of the pink film genre, was a desperate attempt by a number of Japanese studios to keep themselves afloat in the face of the devastation that television was inflicting on the Japanese film industry. The idea was that if you wanted to tempt audiences back to movie theatres sex and violence was the way to do it.

As Rica 2: Lonely Wanderer opens Rica (Rika Aoki) is in reform school but she naturally has no trouble at all breaking out. She wants to find her friend Hanako who is in trouble. Hanako, like Rica, is only half-Japanese and therefore occupies a slightly uncomfortable position in Japanese society. Rica’s father was an American serviceman who raped her mother during the Korean War. Rica was later raped as well.

Hanako’s problems began when she was one of a number of girls who were “entertaining” American soldiers on board a ship, the Tohuko. The ship mysteriously blew up. The Tohuko was at the centre of complicated illegal yakuza activities which we will discover have something to do with a yakuza kingpin, Boss Shimamura.

Boss Shimamura is old school yakuza and feels very strongly that yakuza should settle their differences without harming innocent bystanders. But he is an old man and he is dying. The new boss of the Shimamura Gang is going to be his beautiful young daughter. And she’s a lot more ruthless. Yes, this time Rica will be going up against a glamorous lady gangster.

Rica’s interest in the Tohuko case is very inconvenient for a lot of people. Four professional assassins are sent to kill her. Four men against one girl is just not a fair fight. Those guys don’t stand a chance. Rica is not just a girl, she is a one-woman army. Eight guys might have had a chance. She has no difficulty killing three of the assassins and terrifying the survivor.

Finding Hanako will be more difficult. Rica tracks her down to a mental hospital, but getting her out of the hospital will be a challenge.

She can’t expect any help from the cops. They’re in the pockets of the yakuza.

Then some mysterious guy named Hachiro shows up. Is he on Rica’s side or not? Is he a yakuza, or a cop, or something else? More importantly, could he be the man Rica needs? Rica is an awesome killing machine but she’s still a woman. What she needs is love. If she can find love she might be able to give up killing people. And she obviously thinks Hachiro is kinda hunky.

The plot is a bit creaky but it’s mostly an excuse for an endless series of fight scenes so it doesn’t matter too much. The thinking behind this movie seems to have been that if the action slowed down for thirty seconds, just have half a dozen guys leap out of the bushes and attack Rica for no obvious reason. I have to say that it’s a technique that works fairly well.

This movie has an odd tone. There are countless fight scenes, most of them pretty impressive but at times rather stylised. The violence is, on the whole, rather restrained compared to the more famous pinky violence films. There’s also not all that much of the sex and nudity which were such distinctive features of this genre. At times the tone becomes whimsical and at other times slightly surreal. There’s a definite cartoonish feel.

This movie could be described as Pinky Violence Lite. There’s a huge body count but no fountains of blood. The delirious sleazy excesses and the sadomasochism of bona fide pinky violence classics like Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973) are not to be found here. Rica 2: Lonely Wanderer is not exactly wholesome family entertainment but it’s wholesome by pinky violence standards.

There’s a great scene in which Rica and Hachiro are tied up and are about to be fed to the sharks. Then Rica remembers that she has a knife in her panties (a sensible girl never leaves home without a knife concealed in her panties). If only Hachiro could reach that knife. But they’re both tied up. There’s only one thing for it. Hachiro will have to use his mouth. He’s a brave lad and he’s willing to give it a try even if it does mean having to bury his face in her panties.

The Rica movies made beautiful half-Japanese actress Rika Aoki a major star but her film career was extremely brief. She made just four movies in total. The truth is that compared to the queens of pinky violence (Meiko Kaji, Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike) she just wasn’t quite as good an actress and she didn’t have their star quality or their charisma. She does get to sing several times.

She also gets to wear a rather cool cape which is the sort of thing you wear if you’re a kickass action heroine.

The Media Blasters Rica DVD set includes all three movies on three discs. The anamorphic widescreen transfer for Rica is excellent.

Rica 2: Lonely Wanderer compares reasonably well with the first Rica movie. It’s fast-moving and entertaining. It’s recommended but if you’re new to pinky violence then I’d suggest movies such as Girl Boss Revenge (1973), Sex and Fury (1974), Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973) or Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972) as being more representative of the sleazy delights the genre has to offer.

Saturday 9 October 2021

Fly Me (1973)

Shout! Factory’s Lethal Ladies Collection volume 2 offers three wonderfully trashy Roger Corman’s produced 70s exploitation movies, including the excellent Pam Grier vehicle The Arena plus Cover Girl Models and Fly Me. Fly Me is the one we’re concerned with at the moment. It was helmed by Cirio H. Santiago who did lots of these sorts of movies for Corman. The king fu sequences (yes, you read that right, this is a stewardess movie with kung fu) were directed by Jonathan Demme.

It’s set in Hong Kong, Manila and Tokyo and it was apparently filmed in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

At first it seems like it will be a typical 70s stewardess movie - some nudity, some jokes, some exotic settings, some melodrama. But take a look at that tagline about stewardesses battling kung fu killers. This is a stewardess action thriller.

There are of course three stewardesses (much the same formula as Corman’s nurse movies) and they’re all babes. Pat Anderson (who really is drop-dead gorgeous) plays new stewardess Toby. Toby is looking forward to some fun when the plane gets to Hong Kong and she’s met a handsome doctor on the flight who should be able to provide just that. And then Toby makes a grisly discovery - her mother is on the flight as well. And her mother is going to be on her next flight as well. Mother is determined to defend Toby’s virginity. Of course back in the 70s (if we’re to believe all those stewardess movies) trying to defend a stewardess’s virginity was likely to be an uphill battle.

Andrea (played by Lenore Kasdorf who is also pretty darned cute) has a problem. She was going to meet her boyfriend in Hong Kong but he’s disappeared. This is our first hint that this is to be a thriller.

And then the third of the trio of stewardesses, Sherry (Lyllah Torena), disappears as well. In fact she’s been kidnapped. And she’s about to be sold into white slavery.

Meanwhile Andrea is being stalked by those kung fu killers but fortunately Andrea is a martial arts expert (stewardesses needed a wide variety of skills in the 1970s). She’s also being stalked by a blind assassin.

The three female leads are not great actresses but they’re certainly enthusiastic. The other cast members are not so great in the acting department.

The kung fu scenes are not exactly of the standard you’d find in a Hong Kong kung fu movie of this vintage.

The plot is all over the place. Trying to keep three plot strands (one for each stewardess) going simultaneously is always a bit of a challenge and in this case the result is something of a confused mishmash.

The plot strands eventually come together, with the aid of some unlikely coincidences. This is not what you would call a tightly plotted movie.

Fortunately this is a Corman picture so when the action starts to flag you can be sure that one of the girls will take her clothes off.

The jokes become more sparse as the movie progresses but there are some genuinely amusing moments early on. In its later stages it relies more on suspense and thrills, but the suspense isn’t that suspenseful and the thrills aren’t that thrilling. Which doesn’t really matter. This is a silly goofy movie and we’re certainly not expected to take it the least bit seriously. It’s very much a popcorn movie.

The anamorphic transfer is a bit iffy with quite a bit of print damage early on. It’s not a major issue and in this type of movie it actually adds a bit more seediness so in some ways it’s a bonus.

Fly Me is not by anybody’s standards a good movie but if you’re in the mood for light-hearted entertainment with three pretty female leads who have trouble keeping their clothes on then you’ll probably enjoy it.

Most people are going to buy the Lethal Ladies Collection volume 2 for The Arena so if you think of the other two movies as bonus movies you’ll be well satisfied.

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Dr No (1962), Blu-Ray review

Dr No, the first of the Bond films, was released in 1962 and the spy movie would never be the same again.

Spy movies had been popular for years of course. North by Northwest had been a huge hit for Alfred Hitchcock just three years earlier. The differences in style and approach between North by Northwest and Dr No really are startling. North by Northwest is full of implied sexuality but the sexual elements in Dr No are more overt. Bond bedding one of Dr No’s female agents is simply taken for granted - such casual sexual encounters treated quite openly were something new. The violence in Dr No might be tame by later standards but it’s much more overt than anything in Hitchcock’s film.

And Bond was a whole new type of movie spy. Prior to this villains were allowed to be ruthless but a ruthless killer as hero was something quite new. There’s a scene in which one of the bad guys is quite defenceless. His gun is out of ammo and Bond knows this, but Bond casually shoots him anyway, and then shoots him again to finish him off. Movie spy heroes simply didn’t do such things before Dr No.

There’s also the sense of outrageousness (which is present in the Bond novels) which was something new to the spy movie. Previous movie spies were usually tying to get their hands on secret documents or secret formulae but Dr No adds a new ingredient - an outlandish plot for world domination. Ian Fleming had been heavily influenced by Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, which invariably involve a threat to Civilisation As We Know It, but spy movies hadn’t dealt very much with such ideas prior to the Bond movies.

And of course there’s the subtly tongue-in-cheek feel, which was another innovation in a spy movie.

There are a few changes from the novel but they’re mostly fairly minor. In the book Dr No’s fortune is based on guano harvesting - there’s a surprising amount of money in bird poo. In the film it’s bauxite mining. Dr No’s master plan is revealed earlier in the film, which is understandable because it immediately establishes that the movie is dealing with space-age technology. CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) is added to the story for no obvious reason other than perhaps to give the movie a more transatlantic feel. Honey’s bizarre backstory from the novel is dropped in favour of something more conventional.

The action finale is different. Fleming’s version is perhaps more fun but it would not have been sufficiently cinematic. The movie needed something more spectacular.

Overall however the plot is fairly close to that of the novel. Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of MI6’s Head of Station there. Bond has reason to think there’s a connection with odd happenings connected with the island of Crab Key, just to the north of Jamaica. And to the mysterious and secretive Dr No, the owner of that island.

With a Cayman Islander named Quarrel (who works for Felix Leiter) Bond sets off for Crab Key. Maybe he’ll get to see with Dr No’s dragon which has terrified all the locals so that they won’t go near the island.

And of course we have the celebrated iconic scene of Ursula Andress as Honey Rider, emerging from the sea. Not naked, as she is in the book, but definitely memorable in a bikini.

Bond and Honey do encounter the dragon, and they end up in Dr No’s vast secret headquarters. Dr No has plans for dealing with these interlopers. And Bond awaits his chance to turn the tables on Dr No, if he lives long enough.

Fleming’s Bond novels had changed the face of spy fiction, adding (by early 1950s standards) a lot more sex violence but also adding a hint of cruelty, and a great deal more glamour. It was fairly obvious to the producers that the movie adaptation of Dr No would have to do the same thing for the spy movie. It would have to redefine the genre. That process starts with Maurice Binder’s opening titles sequence (the first of many he would do for the Bond films) which immediately lets us know that this movie is going to be something new and exciting.

Terence Young’s approach as director, Peter Hunt’s approach to the editing and Ken Adam’s production design all reinforce the impression that this is a new kind of spy movie, faster and more viscerally exciting and more outrageous than anything seen before. And with a whole new type of spy hero, one who has no compunction about killing people in cold blood.

Sean Connery was an almost unknown and very raw actor but his rawness helps. It gives his performance a real edge. Bond can be smooth and sophisticated but he can be brutal and ruthless and Connery conveys both sides of Bond’s character with total conviction.

Dr No also established several precedents that would be followed not only by subsequent Bond movies but by countless imitations - the spectacular finale with lots of explosions and the elaborate secret headquarters of the Bond Villain. Interestingly in this film Bond doesn’t make use of any gadgets but Dr No’s headquarters has enough high technology to make up for this.

The budget was quite low but the movie looks like it cost four or five times as much as it did - it’s not how much money you have to spend, what matters is having the right people with the necessary talent and imagination. Later Bond movies would have much bigger budgets but they would still rely on talent and imagination.

Dr No was of course a major success. It was not just a terrific movie, it was a movie that was perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist of the 60s. In fact it helped to define that zeitgeist. You could argue that Dr No was the first truly 1960s movie.

It looks great on Blu-Ray. My copy is from the Blu-Ray boxed set which includes all the Bond movies up to and including Spectre. It cost me a hundred bucks, which for 24 Bond movies on Blu-Ray is pretty impressive value.

Dr No isn’t just a great spy movie, it’s one of the most influential spy movies of all time and it’s highly recommended.

I recently reviewed Fleming's Dr No novel on Vintage Pop Fictions.

Friday 1 October 2021

Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Black Belly of the Tarantula (La tarantola dal ventre nero) is a 1971 giallo directed by Paolo Cavara and it has most of the giallo trademarks.

Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini) is faced with a fairly bizarre murder case. A young woman was first paralysed by an acupuncture needle, before having her stomach ripped out. Since she’d been having an affair and had had an argument with her estranged husband about it the husband is the obvious suspect.

There’s nowhere near enough evidence for charges to be laid. The husband then disappears.

There’s a second murder, also an attractive young woman. The murder method is identical, but there’s no obvious connection between the two victims. The second woman was a furrier involved in cocaine dealing.

A good giallo should feature imaginative murders. In this case the murder method is uncannily similarly to the way the tarantula hawk wasp kills tarantulas - first paralysing them and then slitting open their stomachs.

Inspector Tellini does have one clue to go on and it’s a clever clue. It’s a clue in a photographic (always a nice touch). There’s another lead that points to a photographic studio, another that points to the health club run by Laura (Claudine Auger), anothyer that points to drug smuggling and there’s yet another that points to blackmail. Some of the leads he has are important, some lead nowhere and some are red herrings.

There’s a very clever scene involving the drug smuggling lead and a large and not very happy tarantula.

Giancarlo Giannini gives a fine sympathetic performance. Inspector Tellini is a very nice guy, maybe in some ways too nice and too sensitive to be a cop. And he himself isn’t sure if he’s cut out to be a policeman. He’s very indulgent towards his charming but slightly eccentric wife. He’s indulgent towards his subordinates. He’s just an easy-going guy. The audience is going to be on his side right from the start and is going to share his frustrations. Despite his sensitivity and his self-doubts we never despise him, which is a tribute to Giannini’s acting skills.

There are so many gorgeous women in this movie it’s hard to know where to start. There’s Claudine Auger as Laura, there’s Stefania Sandrelli as Tellini’s wife Anna, Barbara Bouchet as a nymphomaniac(!) and Barbara Bach as one of Laura’s employees. Apart from looking great they all give excellent performances. And no less than three of them either were, or were going to be, Bond Girls.

There’s plenty of suspense with a suitably nail-biting climax.

The visuals don’t have the baroque excesses that you find in some giallos but this is still a stylish film. There’s a bit of gore but it’s not over-the-top (in fact it’s very restrained compared to an Argento giallo). There’s a bit of nudity but again it’s not excessive.

While there may not be much actual gore the murders do have one feature that makes them genuinely horrifying.

Ennio Morricone (an asset to any film from this era) did the score.

Blue Underground’s DVD release offers an excellent anamorphic transfer. The only significant extra is an interview with the son of writer-producer Marcello Danon.

Black Belly of the Tarantula doesn’t have the brilliance of the very best giallos but it does have just about all the essential ingredients and although the plot isn’t spectacularly clever the movie doesn’t really have any obvious weaknesses. If you like the giallo genre there’s no reason why you won’t like this movie. Basically it’s a giallo in which everything works as it should. Highly recommended.