Archive for Antonio Margheriti

Cox’s Orange Pippins #1: A Fistful of Kinski

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2022 by dcairns

I picked up Alex Cox’s personal field guide to spaghetti westerns, 10,000 Ways to Die in the West, which is fun — he’s very opinionated, but his enthusiasm for the good and ugly entries, and his outrage at the bad, is infectious, so I decided to run a few of his recommendations.

AND GOD SAID TO CAIN… (either 1979 or 1970) lives up to Cox’s recommendation: a Gothic oater directed by Antonio Margheriti in a style close to his Barbara Steele horror movies (one of which, CASTLE OF BLOOD, was co-directed with DJANGO helmer Sergio Corbucci). Klaus Kinski is, ludicrously, a man called Gary Hamilton — “sounds like a football hooligan!” protested Fiona. Pardoned from his chain gang sentence, he embarks on a one-man vengeance spree against the rich businessman (and his private army) who framed him. In the course of this, he rapidly comes to seem like an avenging wraith or revenant, vanishing at will, striking from the shadows.

The movie begins with bright blue skies, bright blue eyes (Kinski’s huge watery orbs were made for ECU) and wobbly crane shots, but also artful use of silhouette and lens flare. Kinski/Hamilton rides into town on an empty horse — he apparently dematerialises from its saddle while his enemies are watching — and the whole last hour of the film is a running battle between KK and the private army. The only thing resembling a subplot is the baddie’s young son, a JFK type scion, wandering about wondering what’s going on.

There’s a strange meal where the rich folks, in their house full of red drapes, candelabras and mirrors — very American/Italian Gothic — try to ignore the sounds of mayhem outside while helping themselves to red wine, mountains of mashed potato, and a single apple, cut down the middle. An almost Chaplinesque repast.

Fiona was at once put off by a particular aspect of the spaghetti aesthetic: big orange faces in sweaty closeup. And hairstyles dyed into a dry crust. The main bad guy has the blorange waves but also a peculiar green streak, presumably some misbegotten clash of hair colouring and Technicolor. But the atmosphere and intensity won Fiona over, and even if none of the other actors was distinguished, Kinski was always around, “fully present,” as Cox says. “Languid, menacing, strong, mad, Gary Hamilton is one of his best Western roles.” That he’s dubbed is a shame: you could have German cowboy, though maybe not one called Gary. Kinski spoke German beautifully, was admired by Brecht for that reason. And his English was agreeable too, in a sinister sort of way.

Cox points out that the film’s classic unity of time, place and theme are unusual: it happens in one night, during a tornado. Margheriti fills the air with bits of straw, a striking effect I haven’t seen copied.

Kinski’s revenges take on almost Phibesian elaborateness: one thug is hanged from a bell-rope, causing his cadaver to dip and rise comically with each toll: another is carefully manoeuvred into position under the bell as it’s cut down. It’s not CONVINCING, but it is messy and horrid.

While Kinski SEEMS like a wraith — one victim calls him “a monster from hell,” and he comes in the French windows through billowing curtains to face his ex just like Chris Lee’s Dracula. But, according to the plot, he’s human. Cox seems torn between feeling the movie is weakened by a refusal to commit to the supernatural, as HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER would do, and feeling that the fudging of the point actually creates a more inexplicable atmosphere, which was our reaction.

For a climax, we get a Cormanesque budget-conscious conflagration, and a Wellesian shoot-out in the mirrored house where the chief villain, losing his marbles, can’t tell Kinski from his multiple reflections. Which is also a bit unconvincing, it’s his house, after all, and while there are a lot of mirrors reflecting one another, they’re all around the walls. Kinski appears to be standing in plain view in the middle of the room. But Margheriti shoots it well, we don’t have to BELIEVE this stuff, do we?

AND GOD SAID TO CAIN… is on Amazon Prime for free. We found the blacks blotchy and blocky, but otherwise it looked good.

Of bannisters and beer

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2022 by dcairns

“The time has come,” Satanik said / “To speak of hope and fear / Of spies alive and spies quite dead / Of bannisters and beer.”

SATANIK (1968) is a kind of crossbreed of DIABOLIK and A WOMAN’S FACE, or maybe THE WASP WOMAN. Like the Bava film, it’s based on a fumetti, like the Cukor and Corman, it deals with a disfigured woman whose beauty is restored, but in a manner that thrusts her into CRIME!

In fact, Dr. Marnie Bannister (yes, we kept calling her “Minnie,” and spoke to each other in Goon Show voices throughout) is already evil, stabbing the discoverer of the youth-and-beauty formula just because he wants to do more tests before allowing her to munch his magic crystals. Probably her really dreadful monster makeup has driven her crazy.

The film is really a crime movie, but it has a spy movie vibe — DIABOLIK, after all, is just a crime movie with a supercool espionage flavour. Unfortunately, SATANIK isn’t supercool, despite varied locations in Spain and Switzerland and a reasonably snazzy credits sequence. Our girl only dons the catsuit and mask to do a striptease; she’s not a likable or even clever protag; the cops chasing her are bores.

But it’s amusing the way director Piero Vivarelli (also a songwriter!) keeps framing her with or through bannisters, as if to remind us of her name. Even when the cops are discussing her crimes, there’s a bannister. The organized crime guy she takes up with has a totally weird horizontal bannister dividing his room in two. Can you call it a bannister when it has no stairs and doesn’t go at an angle? Wouldn’t that be a fence? But who has a fence in their lounge?

Slightly better, but only slightly, is LIGHTNING BOLT, aka OPERAZIONE GOLDMAN. Directed by Antonio Margheritti, with extra cheese, it’s at least a proper spy film, with some terrific sets including a really impressive control room, it has lots of people in black catsuits (but no red one: the poster lied), rocket ships, cryogenic freezing (not QUITE women in tubes, but near as makes no difference) and hilarious model shots — you can spot a tiny paper cutout of a man folding over as the red paint “lava” bursts in, with a dubbed “Aargh!” to make us believe in him. It’s extremely touching.

One of the main action sequences consists entirely of NASA stock footage, a tiny model car wobbling across a diorama, and rear-projection shot of the hero jerking his steering wheel: a kind of holy trinity of cheapniz.

The English dub shows signs of trying for laconic hardboiled wit, but on the other hand they spell the composer’s name wrong (“Ritz” Ortolani). Margheriti hides behind his Anthony M. Dawson pseudonym as usual.

Anyway, the villain owns a brewery, and his product forms a kind of light beer leitmotif throughout, established far earlier in the film than in needs to be, proving that somebody, maybe talented screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, actually thought about this. Which was arguably a waste of his time and talent, but nevertheless I salute him, if it was him.

When the redheaded villain falls to his death, the redheaded hero quips, “I didn’t like your beer either.”

SATANIK and LIGHTNING BOLT star nobody at all.

This Is Proteo Theater

Posted in FILM with tags , , on August 18, 2020 by dcairns

WILD, WILD PLANET (Antonio Margheriti, 1966) is a weird, trippy kind of thing. The sci-fi world presented is fairly familiar, at first glance — the rockets, the domes, the rotating space station — but all the narrative and character beats are either wrong, or absent, or hideously effed up. Impossible to work out who it’s meant to be about — whenever a character is introduced, they either get shrunk into a suitcase and are never seen again, or make so little impression you don’t recognise them next time they turn up.

Why did the plot seem a jumbled abstraction, a succession of unrelated and incomprehensible incidents? Is it possible we only thought we were watching the film and were merely facing in its direction?

ANY NEWS DEEPLY BOTHERED

Who needs drugs? The sterile dubbing, stiff performances, ludicrous futuristic dancing (a favourite sf movie trope), preposterous props, costumes and makeup (the girl with the coordinated eyeshadow and binoculars was a nice touch) induce all the confusion, alienation and gnawing anxiety you could ever hope to achieve with the ill-advised ingestion of petroleum byproducts or poisonous berries.

I can’t really show you the funny stuff in framegrabs because much of it requires motion to bring out its humour, like the space disco and the sleek jetcars that trundle along at 4.3 mph. I must say, it’s somewhat ambitious — instead of the usual limited supply of cheap, unconvincing stuff, this sixties scifi movie offers up a VAST ARRAY of cheap, unconvincing stuff.

As in PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, all the people appearing on TV monitors are actually standing behind TV-shaped windows, causing extra amusement. In what might be a clever touch, the conversations characters have using vid-call technology have all the stilted hesitancy you’d expect if one half of the conversation were prerecorded. How did they get them to do that? Just hired awful actors, I suppose. (Yet Franco Nero is among them.)

It’s really something. Terry Southern once said something about it taking a particular mixture of talents, non-talents and anti-talents to make a notably bad picture. Here we have something that’s at least as alien as FELLINI SATYRICON — a dismal, inhuman, unrecognizable and incomprehensible experience — while still giving every impression that what everyone wanted (I know, the intentional fallacy and all that) was to make an exciting sci-fi romp, a pop James Bond / Flash Gordon mash-up. But Jesus, it’s nightmarish.

One of the people the baddies try to put in their evil suitcase doesn’t go small enough, and is left a dwarf at the end of the picture, and the goodies laugh at him because he is a small man and therefore funny.

“It’s remarkable how much of this has come true,” I said to Fiona, “just while we’ve been watching.”