Saturday, July 5, 2008

Italian Superhero Roll Call: Avenger X and Flashman

Between 1966 and 1968, the Italian film industry occasionally took time out from making countless cut-rate James Bond knock-offs to make cut-rate comic book movies inspired by both the international success of the Batman TV series and by homegrown fumetti heroes like Diabolik and Kriminal. And I hate them for it. Because I feel irresistibly compelled to watch those movies, even though almost all of them are awful beyond imagining. For that reason, while Italian Superhero Roll Call will be a recurring feature on 4Dk, it will probably not be a frequently recurring one, because the process behind it involves some very necessary recovery time.

Avenger X (1967). Dir. by Piero Vivarelli. Avenger X is appropriately named, because soon after I popped it in I said "Why?" and then went ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. And if you think that the only reason I'm reviewing it is so that I could use that joke... well, sadly, you're right. This movie is a perfect example of the unique ability of Italian genre directors of the day to take something that seemed guaranteed to be at least moderately engaging and, against the odds, turn it into something quite dull. Avenger X is more of an anti-hero in the Kriminal/Diabolik vein, and in order to insure that his film wouldn't flirt with the notion of actually being exciting, an actor was cast to play him who looked like Dick Cavett -- which would be capital if you were planning to have Avenger X interview Gore Vidal, but not so much if he's meant to strike fear into the heart of the underworld. Add lots of nailed-down camera work, talking head exposition, pedestrian plotting, and a purveying chintzy-ness in terms of actually showing our main character doing what is ostensibly his purpose for being -- meaning, wearing his costume and engaging in daring feats -- and you've got the perfect recipe for thrill-repellent. In fact, this film often seems pleasure-averse to the point of absurdity, with even the standard ski lift sequence, once set up, stubbornly refusing to give us any kind of action payoff. Avenger X, you may be a criminal genius and a master of disguise, but you suck!

Flashman (1967). Dir. by Mino Loy. Ah, now this one is more like it, with a hero in a prize-winningly ridiculous costume, a garage-y farfisa and electric guitar soundtrack, a plot involving a colorful group of gangsters with an invisibility serum, and a self-effacingly goofy tone throughout. Flashman, in his civilian identity ("known only to corpses and friends" as he puts it at one point) is a foppish English lord, and his crime fighting entourage includes his butler, as well as his kid sister, Sheila, a flower child who sports psychedelic face paint and an assortment of outfits that grow increasingly outrageous as the film progresses. Maybe not so great when taken on its own terms, this one benefits greatly from being viewed in close proximity to something as flat as Avenger X. It's every bit as cheap as that film, but at least shows a little bit of spirit and imagination. Flashman, I'm flashing you the thumbs up!

'Til next time, arrivederci!

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