Thursday, October 30, 2008

Italian Superhero Roll Call: Argoman

Fantastic Argoman aka The Incredible Paris Incident (1967) Dir. by Sergio Grieco. The body is weak, but Italian Superhero Roll Call will not be denied. And so I bring you Fantastic Argoman. This is actually one of the best of the sub-Diabolik Italian comic book movies of its day, graced with snappy pacing, a breezy satirical tone, a colorful production design, and pretty darn respectable production values considering the scattered telltale signs of a fairly modest budget. Helmed by Sergio Grieco, director of a number of superior Eurospy efforts (including the 077 entry Special Mission Lady Chaplin), the film presents exactly the kind of fantasy-driven, enclosed reality you hope for with this kind of movie, complete with a psychedelic supervillain lair staffed with robots and costumed goons, a plethora of goofy looking superweapons, and, for the hero, a futuristic bachelor pad that makes the interior of Barbarella's spaceship look like that of a modest bungalow. The only place where the movie falls short is in the Argoman costume itself, which is about the saddest looking thing you've ever seen--a circumstance which may explain why the script is structured to allow star Roger Browne to perform a good deal of his heroics out of costume. After all, Browne is a damn good looking man, and Argoman looks, well, stupid.

Fantastic Argoman is, in part, a spoof of an earlier Italian superhero film, 1966's Superargo versus Diabolicus, which was popular enough to spawn a 1968 sequel, Superargo and the Faceless Giants. I have yet to conjure the spiritual fortitude to cover the Superargo films in Italian Superhero Roll Call. This is because they are a textbook example of that unique Italian ability to combine elements that sound like surefire excitement (Costumed superheroes! Mad scientists! Espionage! Wrestling!) into films that are as dull as watching beige paint dry while eating a jack cheese on white bread sandwich and listening to an endless loops of hits by the group Matchbox 20. (They're really dull.)

Like Superargo, Argoman has telekinetic powers and an Indian mystic for a sidekick, but the similarities pretty much end there. Argoman is a lot less solemn in his pursuit of justice, for one thing, and is even not above dabbling on the other side of the law, an attribute that makes him kin to such fumetti anti-heroes as Kriminal and Diabolik. His criminal exploits are not so much a matter of maintaining a living as they are a result of his taste for the finer things in life, which is exemplified by the fact that he has the original Mona Lisa prominently displayed on the wall of his home. (Why return it, he reasons, when the public seems perfectly happy with the copy he replaced it with?) Another thing that separates Argoman from Superargo is a story gimmick by which he loses his powers for six hours after having sex--a state of affairs which proves to be quite problematic, because Argoman, he really like-a the ladies.

Argoman's alter ego is a foppish aristocrat by the name of Sir Reginald Hoover, who, when he's not out stealing priceless masterpieces or chasing down super criminals, spends his days lounging around in the aforementioned super-swank pad on his own private island. He is roused from his lazy routine of slo-mo bacchanalian revelry, however, with the appearance on the scene of a flamboyant female criminal mastermind referring to herself as Jennabelle, the Queen of the World (Dominique Bochero). Jennabelle, it seems, is after a freakishly gigantic diamond in the possession of the French government which has mysterious destructive powers. Because her criminal methods are similar to that of Argoman (as a way of announcing herself to the world, she steals the Crown of St. Edward from the Tower of London), a characteristically baffled Scotland Yard calls upon the aid of Sir Reginald, due to his known association with the costumed anti-hero. Of course, before moving on to her main endeavor, Jenabelle first personally sees to it that she gets that six hour head start on Argoman.

Putting the tasty Italian icing on the deliciously daffy slice of cheesecake that is Fantastic Argoman is a typically ebullient score by the great Piero Umiliani, who also did the honors on Goldface, the Fantastic Superman. This, of course, consists of lots of enthusiastic wordless vocalizing by a mixed gender swing chorus, and if you'd like to sing along at home, the theme tune goes as follows:

Bwa-dap daaaa!
Bwa-dy-ya bwap daa!
Bai-yap dap dada dai-yap dap doo-waaah!
Or, if you really need actual words, you can sing these alternate lyrics that I composed myself:

Keep it in your pants!
Or else you cannot save the world todaaaay!
Anyway, I imagine it's pretty obvious that I like this movie, so I won't go into any further detail, other than to say that it's one I'd recommend, not only to those who enjoy this kind of wacky sixties superhero caper, but also to those who enjoy those entries on the more colorful and phantasmagorical end of the Eurospy genre. In fact, hell, I'd recommend this movie to anybody. And if you don't like it, you need to figure out why, because the problem's obviously with you, buddy.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Hm, now I'm going to have to spend the rest of the evening trying to find out which obscure comic character Argoman reminds me of.
Even the six hour gimmick (and isn't that a great incentive to stay virginal? *coughs*) sounds familiar...

Keith said...

While I was in total agreement with you regarding the boring nature of Avenger X, we part opinions on Superargo. The movies are just clumsy enough for them to work for me. But of course, few things can hold a candle to Argoman and his tendency to levitate beautiful women out of their hovercraft and into his lap.

Todd said...

Damn you! Now I'm going to have to watch those movies again to make sure I didn't misjudge them.

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