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O.K. Connery

O.K. Connery
O.K. Connery

Format: DVD

Director: Alberto De Martino

Writers: Paolo Levi, Frank Walker, Stanley Wright, Stefano Canzio

Cast: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi

Italy 1967

104 mins

This review of is an excerpt from horror luminary Kim Newman’s new book Video Dungeon (Titan), which explores the B-movie basement and digs out unexpected gems.

Only in 1967… only in Italy… could an entire movie, with a reasonably healthy budget, be built around the fact that Sean Connery’s younger brother was sort of interested in acting. Of the (many) imitations of the James Bond series, this – even more than the Charles Vine movies, which sold themselves as the adventures of the second best secret agent in the world – is most outrageous in lifting from the parent megafranchise. It’s also loopy Italian exploitation which shares personnel with the classic Diabolik – though director Alberto De Martino (The Antichrist, Holocaust 2000) is a plodder next to Mario Bava.

Neil Connery, who refused to shave a neatly trimmed beard which makes him look more like a villain than a hero, plays Neil, the brother of the coyly unnamed best secret agent in Europe. He’s not a professional spy but a plastic surgeon who uses Tibetan hypnosis as anaesthetic (and for memory recovering purposes), is also a champion archer and all-round playboy. Connery, whose infernally catchy Ennio Morricone-Bruno Nicolai theme song warbles ‘OK Connery’ wherever he goes, is approached by Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee) and Miss Maxwell (Lois Maxwell) of the British Secret Service to fight Thair (Adolfo Celi), Number Two (codename Beta) of the SPECTRE-like evil organisation THANATOS. Thair plans to use a device (based on misuse of an ‘atomic nucleus’ and radioactive rugs manufactured by ailing blind people in North Africa) to disable every mechanical or electronic component in the world. Mildred (Agata Flori) is Thair’s all-the-way-evil girlfriend and gets killed, while Maya (Daniela Bianchi) goes the Pussy Galore route and switches sides (along with her troupe of girl sailors) after receiving serious smooching from Dr Neil and discovering her boss intends to kill her off as a loose end. With guns, planes and cars not working, Connery and archery club pals in Robin Hood/William Tell hats invade Thair’s underground lair with old-fashioned bows and arrows.

Yes, the casting is that blatant, with Lee and Maxwell in basically their regular 007 roles, and Bianchi (From Russia With Love) and Celi (Thunderball) doing Bond girl and Bond villain shtick honed to perfection in the official series. Even Anthony Dawson, the to-be-murdered Alpha of THANATOS, was in Dr No and (without credit) played Blofeld in movies where the villain stroked his cat in the shadows. Celi finds an escape dinghy built into his yacht in imitation of the boat gadget from Thunderball and a baddies-sat-around-the-plotting-table set piece echoes Goldfinger and Thunderball. Pop-eyed Connery (dubbed by a bland American) hasn’t got the charisma to carry off the role of himself, let alone prove a credible threat to his big brother (he’s rather more relaxed in The Body Stealers). However, O.K. Connery is a hoot for its non-stop parade of astounding outfits (Celi has a red leather jumpsuit with shoulder pads), weird plot turns (Connery poses as a blind Arab to infiltrate the evil rug factory and foment a rebellion, good guys dressed as van Gogh have a gunfight in an orchard with bad guys in red berets and matching pullovers), gadgets (a flick-knife that shoots a blade across the room, machine guns hidden in the ceiling), eye-popping candy colours and a general attitude of what-the-hell… In the Bond films, Maxwell’s Miss Moneypenny spent all her time quipping and pining in M’s outer office; De Martino at least gets the actress in the field to mow down THANATOS goons with a machine gun disguised as a sheaf of hay.

Outstanding contribution: costume designer Gaia Romanini. Also with Franco Giacobini as a comedy relief agent called away from his wedding, Ana María Noé as an imitation of Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb, and a lot of pretty girls. Story and script mostly by Paolo Levi (7 Women for the MacGregors, The Killer Reserved 9 Seats), with Frank Walker, Stanley Wright and Stefano Canzio.

Kim Newman

Raging Sharks

Raging Sharks

Format: DVD

Director: Danny Lerner

Writer: Les Weldon

Cast: Corin Nemec, Vanessa Angel, Corbin Bernsen

USA/Bulgaria, 2005

92 mins

This review of is an excerpt from horror luminary Kim Newman’s new book Video Dungeon (Titan), which explores the B-movie basement and digs out unexpected gems.

‘Have you tried saturating with deuterium yet?… They’re hydrogen isotopes charged with thermal neutrons. There’s nothing like it on Earth!’

The pre-credits scene of this NuImage quickie will make you think the SciFi Channel have changed their schedule without telling anyone. Spaceships ram each other while bark-faced aliens grunt urgently as if this were a space opera called something like Terminal Space (ships and costumes are from NuImage’s Alien Lockdown) rather than the expected Jaws knockoff. Things get on track when the losing ship jettisons a glowing orange pod into the seas of nearby Earth. After an expository title (‘Impact Zone – Bermuda Triangle – 5 Years Later’), Raging Sharks plays to expectations. Alien particles are found near Oceana, an undersea base everyone pronounces as if it were an Irish name. Abyss-type soap-opera scientists alternate shouting at each other with heartfelt character dollops about children or hobbies which are supposed to make us upset when they die. Oceana is attacked by several shark species working in cahoots: we mostly see one regular shark – plus a few CGI fish and footage recycled from other shark films.

Dr Mike Olsen (Corin Nemec, Mansquito), Oceana’s commander, is topside when the base is cut off and motivated to effect a rescue because his wife Linda (Vanessa Angel, Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys) is in temporary command, despite grumbling from wrench-wielding British handyman-cum-shop steward Harvey (Bernard van Bilderbeek, opting for a more sensible by-line after being billed as Binky van Bilderbeek on a few films). Mike has to fend off nasty government inspector/lawyer Stiles (Todd Jensen, Bats: Human Harvest), while crusty Captain Riley (Corbin Bernsen, Atomic Twister) is gruffly good intentioned but not very helpful.

After a regulation attack on surfers and bathers in Bermuda – either tipped in from another film or matched surprisingly well by Bulgarian locations – an autopsy discloses that the raging, co-operating sharks are full of weird alien orange crystals. Mike and Stiles make their way into Oceana to supervise an evacuation, but extra crises require people to go outside and get killed. For a reel or so, the shark/alien stuff is put on hold, and the film is all about running around the base skirmishing with cackling maniacal villain Stiles as leaks spring and wires spark. After supporting Oceanans (Elise Muller, Simona Levin, Atanas Srebrev, Emil Markov) have died, a poignant moment has Mike and Linda staggering about the wrecked base as tragic choral music plays – but Stiles pops up (with an axe!) for another fight and gets a proper back-spearing. Opera excerpts play as a spaceship arrives and aliens retrieve or detonate their capsule, which seemingly dispels the sharks who have been guarding it from untrustworthy Earthers (attacking Bermuda was probably over-enthusiasm). Mike and Linda escape – apparently because a by-product of an alien encounter is the ability to breathe underwater. The persistent Stiles swims along evilly, but is finally eaten by a shark which hasn’t departed like all the others. On board the rescue sub, nobody believes Mike’s yarn about aliens.

Written by producer Les Weldon (who might conceivably get the joke, since much of the dialogue evokes Airplane!), directed by Danny Lerner (Shark in Venice).

Kim Newman

A Page of Madness

A Page of Madness
A Page of Madness

Screening at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France) on 13 September 2017

Format: Cinema

Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa

Writers: Teinosuke Kinugasa, Yasunari Kawabata, Banko Sawada, Minoru Inuzuka

Cast: Yoshie Nakagawa, Masao Inoue

Original title: Kurutta Ippēji

Japan 1926

59 mins

Teinosuke Kinugasa’s technical and artistic mastery is enough to make A Page of Madness a masterpiece of Japanese and, for that matter, world avant-garde cinema.

Every year Serge Bromberg brings a forgotten jewel from the silent era to the L’Étrange Festival. This year the audience was treated to one of the early films by Teinosuke Kinugasa, best known for his Cannes-awarded and universally acclaimed Gate of Hell (1953). Although it did not meet with immediate success at home, A Page of Madness was considered by Kinugasa to be his favourite film. The story goes that he had it buried in his garden shed during the war and unearthed it only in 1971, which allowed for the worldwide circulation of a newly restored copy. So much for the legend; the truth is that at least three other copies of the film had survived.

The film itself is a mystery, in the total absence of intertitles. The audience is helped (if that is the right way to put it) by a few hints gleaned from contemporary reviews: the story is one of a janitor in a lunatic asylum, a former sailor who took on the job to look after his wife who had been locked there after attempting suicide and drowning her baby daughter. Yet, without those loose plot-threads, the opening sequence of the film would not necessarily suggest the same story. The first minutes after the credits offer a puzzling montage that leaves little doubt as to whether Kinugasa knew Eisenstein’s work. Shots of rainy streets, rushing cars, lightning-lit barred windows and water pouring down stairs create a frenzied acceleration of pace that dissolves into a dance show on an art-deco scene, dominated by a revolving, hypnotizing ball, before the camera zooms back to reveal bars that transport us into the asylum where another dancer, shabby-clothed and barefoot, madly performs in her cell to the sound of imaginary drums and trombones, while thunder and lightning tear the sky, in swift intertitle-like inserts of white painted thunder bolts against a black background.

After this wild sequence the spectators, as the inmates of the asylum, lose track of reality and are carried on through the story, desperately trying to pick up the unhelpful threads of the formerly announced plot. But Kinugasa’s technical and artistic mastery is enough to make A Page of Madness a masterpiece of Japanese and, for that matter, world avant-garde cinema, a proud orphan of the Shinkankakuha movement (The New Sensation School). The film also betrays one of the screenwriters’ obsession with dancers – none other than the great Yasunari Kawabata, who had just received acclaim for his short story ‘The Dancing Girl of Izu’. Yet, if A Page of Madness is often considered the Japanese answer to Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), it’s actually Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau who seemed to exert a much stronger influence on Kinugasa, and in particular The Last Man (1924) which may well have inspired the absence of intertitles, so that the images could speak for themselves. Though very far from any asylum or institution, The Last Man also offers similar scenes of dreams and fantasies, using lens distortion and playing with perspective to alter the perceived reality of the drunken porter played by Emil Jannings, one of Kinugasa’s favourite actors.

Serge Bromberg and David Sheppard spent the last two years restoring the film for a DVD release, but last June they heard a rumour that the text of the benshi (which was a narration read over the film to the audience by professional actors) was rediscovered in Japan, and have decided to postpone the project, thus leaving us in unbearable suspense as to what really happens in the film.

Pierre Kapitaniak