Archive for Riccardo Freda

Niche Interest

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 13, 2022 by dcairns

Really enjoyed seeing CALTIKI IL MOSTRO IMMORTALE on the Arrow Blu-ray. It comes with two excellent commentaries by Mario Bava experts Tim Lucas and Troy Howarth. Bava shot the film and did the special effects, and directed a big chunk of it also.

Unusually for a total B-picture, the film is so full of stuff that the commentaries can’t cover it all. Lucas tells us that director Riccardo Freda himself scultped the statue we see in the niche in the cave with the pool from which monster tripe-blob emerges.

So I became really interested in the wide shot, in which the camera tracks back and pans left as the protags descend the stairs into the cavern, and the statue is revealed. A miniature statue standing in a full-sized location.

It’s clear from the close-up that the statue is quite small, just like the bronze Brian Blessed at the start of Branagh’s HAMLET (a lesser film than CALTIKI): if it were as big as it appears, its surroundings would be better focused. For all his wizardry, Bava wasn’t always able to solve this issue — I regard with affection the heroes’ spaceship in PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, bits of which are nearly always out of focus, proving that it’s a tiny model.

The way to do this usually is to suspend the miniature in front of the lens, close to it. If everything is successfully in focus, the miniature can be made to appear as if it’s enormous, sitting in the background, instead of small and hanging in the foreground.

You can even pan, since the foreground miniature (or glass painting) will move through frame at the same rate as the background.

The complication here is that the camera is also dollying backwards, but they try to time it so that the camera’s motion is over just as the statue comes into view.

And they don’t quite manage it, with the result that the statue appears to float backwards into its niche just as it appears — oh just the tiniest smidge. The conviction added by the camera movement is well worth the slight flaw of the statue’s drift. Guaranteed most viewers assume the statue is life-sized.

Two more thoughts — the serpent and skull cutaway suggests that Freda or Bava or one or writer Filippo Sanjust may have seen THE BLUE LAGOON, the film that terrified a young David Cronenberg with its image of a skull rising up on the end of a snake; and I believe Lucas, whose exhaustive analysis of the film’s beautiful glass shots is fascinating, may be wrong in assuming the volcano effect, made using a fish tank, must have been shot upside-down. It MAY have been. But the “lava” squirts up from below, then descends in your basic DEATHLY PALL, which would also be consistent with the fluid (Lucas suggests a lead suspension, but ordinary paint and milk seem possible) being pumped upwards from below and then curling down when it hits (offscreen) the top of the water. I think this is likelier because it’s simpler. While one way to pull off a trick is to put more effort into it than anyone would think likely, Bava special effects are often distinguished by simplicity and boldness combined with tremendous skill and imagination. Such may be the case here.

The Spy with No Face

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2022 by dcairns
There must be a Bond quip here somewhere.

On, then, to the COPLAN FX-18 series of eurospy eurotrash flicks, based on the pulp paperbacks of “Paul Kenny” (“Coplan” seems to rearrange the sounds of his name, but Kenny was one of those portmanteau nomme-de-plumes for a Belgian writing team). Coplan is French spook and they made what I suppose we have to call a series of six films about him, but he’s played by a different actor in every one of them. Picture a revolving door full of Lazenbies. Adding to the lack of continuity, someone called Jany Holt appears in two of them, but as different characters. The films are mostly directed by men called Maurice, but Riccardo Freda, a man, like De Sica, whose career can be explained by his gambling notes, did two. I checked out COPLAN FX-18 CASSE TOUT aka THE EXTERMINATORS (1965).

Does that title mean COPLAN FX-18 BREAKS EVERYTHING? I’m going to just say it does.

Coplan is a hardboiled sonnuvabitch, at least in this entry, where he’s played by a Brit, “Richard Wyler” — real name, which he sometimes acted under, Richard Stapley, a descendant of the bloke who signed Charles I’s death warrant, so maybe it’s hereditary. Coplan is partnered with an Israeli secret agent called, naturally, Shaimoun and the plot has something to do with nukes.

The toughness doesn’t amount to much, since any sense of gritty realism is undercut by the random plotting and disregard for cause and effect or basic continuity. The action scenes feature stunts too preposterous for a Roger Moore, made even less compelling by the fact that there isn’t a budget to allow them to actually be shown happening, as when our man lands his single-seater plane on top of a speeding truck. Suddenly it’s just there. Then, equally suddenly, it explodes, for no apparent reason.

Random explosions, a la THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, would have been a great feature if they’d kept it up, but apparently the budget didn’t exist for that either. A nocturnal meeting on a barge suggests the kind of noir atmosphere Freda would have been happier playing with, but mostly we’re on wet motorways, drab night clubs, and rather than the aspirational mayhem of a Connery, it feels more like a thuggish Le Carre without the brains, sensitivity, or logical connective tissue.

OK, so that’s what it is, let’s try to GET INTO IT.

Freda’s best films are distinguished by a certain craziness. This isn’t good Freda, but it still has touches of the demented.

Turkish settings, mostly. Sleazy music. Seems like a good choice, even when the soundtrack goes all drunken-warbly. Long bit of Sheimoun having trouble with a hotel door. It won’t open, then it won’t close. Promising. The kind of thing that couldn’t happen to Daniel Craig.

This film’s idea of a gadget is a proto-Travis Bickle wrist-gun. There’s no whimsy to that. The prop looks quite good except that it distinctly fail to deliver the handgun into the wearer’s hand. You’d need to be double-jointed. Good job Wyler-Stapley never actually tries using it.

Extras — in reality, unpaid citizens of Istanbul — gaze nakedly at the camera. The spy thriller as Lumiere Bros actuality.

Stapley could convincingly play the assistant managing director of a textile company. His drabness is more appropriate to a spy’s professional requirements than a Connery he-man. The screaming horns keep trying to convince us he’s dangerous. He has the tough guy killer stance of a man who might cut your Christmas bonus by 15%.

The decor seems to have been ordered for a Chinese film, or maybe that was the fashion in Istanbul in the sixties. Rugs with dragons on, big Buddhas.

OK, midway through, things pick up, and the film becomes unexpectedly spoofy. A sex scene — pan from frotting feet to a table laden with cigarettes, whisky, chic turntable and discarded revolver — then a paperback Ian Fleming is slid into view. A fight in a bathroom goes slapstick: slipping on soap, first flying into the lens, a gun in the bidet. Staggering from a punch, a henchman mounts an exercise bike and starts concussedly pedalling.

The approach becomes clear — silly comedy to make it clear that our director regards the foolish genre with contempt, brutality to make it clear that, if any of this were real, he would regard that with contempt too. The Bond thing is pushed a little in both directions, flip and nasty.

Big climax at the spectacular Cappadocia cave dwellings, and the best line, as arms dealers masquerading as archaeologists stab a female agent to death. “What extraordinary archaeologists!” But, from the surrounding context it isn’t actually clear this is meant to be funny.

At the end, after the heroine (who has less than ten mins screentime) tells Coplan that her father was the nuclear scientist killed earlier, inappropriately jaunty party music starts up and the two walk off, his arm around her, and where one would expect the end creds to appear, we instead get a static empty shot of the sea for about a minute, the jaunty music building to a climax of cheeriness. FADE OUT

I liked that bit, and not just because the film was over.

COPLAN FX-18 CASSE TOUT aka THE EXTERMINATORS stars Truck Driver (uncredited); Charlie Bank, le directeur de Superdisco; Casino Barmaid (uncredited); Petit rôle (uncredited); Old Man; Employee at Airport (uncredited); French Pilot Singing ‘La Marseillaise’ (uncredited); and Waiter.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2016 by dcairns


I always had slight doubts about the authenticity of my South Korean DVD or Zulawski’s LA FIDELITE, but when I finally got around to playing it and the label promptly shredded off of disc 1, I began to think it might not be wholly legit. The muddy transfer and the odd ratio of 14:9 — not anyone’s standard frame, anywhere, since the sixties — seems to further suggest that I may have been sold a pup.

The film itself is fairly terrific, and I should invest in an upgrade. Zulawski’s partner, Sophie Marceau, with whom he had already made three films (which I still have to look forward to), stars in an adaptation/update of Madame La Fayette’s 1678 novel La Princesse de Cleves. I must admit I’d underrated her, having only seen her in Tavernier’s DARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER and the Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Oh, and bloody BRAVEHEART. None of which are her best work, it seems. I hate BRAVEHEART, in which her main purpose, like that of most female leads in action films, is to alibi the lead’s heterosexuality (but see here for a problematizing fact-check at around 3:50). On D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER she was responsible for getting octogenarian maestro Riccardo Freda fired from his last chance of directing a film, which rather makes me despise her. Later, giving her opinion about the film, she said that there was too much about Philippe Noiret and the other musketeers and not enough about her. Needless to say, I found her cold-blooded bitch character in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH quite convincing.


But in fact, whatever she may be like in real life (and I have no actual way of knowing), she can be a tremendously sympathetic and intelligent and compelling presence onscreen, as LA FIDELITE shows — she humanizes the extremes of Zulawski’s cinema in a way no other actor I’ve seen can do. In fact it’s the husband character in the film (Pascale Greggory) who goes in for more of the director’s favoured mannerisms, flailing, spasming and twitching, though he does this less often and less frenetically than, say, the stars of POSSESSION. In fact, in many ways he has the feminine role, stuck in the role of “good spouse,” largely passive and pensive — he even writes a message on a mirror in eyeliner (it’s a lengthy quotation, so lipstick wouldn’t have worked).


As so often with historical material dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age (the twenty-first century, just), there are some awkward plot hurdles where society today may not offer exact analogues for the source’s action. Here, Zulawski contrives a subplot about illegal organ-trading which doesn’t seem to even try for plausibility — a shot of bootleg eyeballs shows a fuming tray with eyes, complete with eyelids and dainty eyelashes — periodic bursts of John Woo-style slomo machine-gun action interrupt the relatively naturalistic moments of emotional turbulence with surprising frequency. Relocating the plot from the world of aristocrats to the world of a modern press tycoon works neatly, though, and the film does remind you how detestable the tabloid press is. Hilariously, the saturnine tycoon is called Rupert Mac Roi.

Marceau emotes movingly, and indulges in vigorous sex scenes with Greggory while yearning for loutish-yet-sensitive Guillaume Canet. She’s also convincing as a photographer and artist. Edith Scob blows a raspberry. She didn’t do that in EYES WITHOUT A FACE — her mask would have blasted off.