Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Italian Superhero Roll Call: Superargo

I've already given Superargo extensive coverage over at Teleport City, but in the interest of making Italian Superhero Roll Call as useful a scholarly resource as possible, I felt he should have his own entry. Along with the Three Fantastic Supermen, Superargo shares the distinction of being one of the few superheroes of 1960s Italian cinema to feature in more than one film -- proof that the practice of Italian commercial filmmakers of the era of simply churning out as many films in one genre as possible in the hope that something would stick actually, on occasion, resulted in something sticking. Not only that, but he even made a big enough blip on the cultural radar -- in Europe at least -- to be lampooned in the 1967 film Fantastic Argoman, aka The Incredible Paris Incident.

Of course, Superargo himself, at least in his first film, appears as if he might have been intended as a deadpan parody of Santo and his masked Mexican wrestling compadres. Like Santo, he never removes his mask, and at the beginning of Superargo vs. Diabolicus he is indeed shown to be a professional wrestler. Unfortunately, he is a professional wrestler who is not very good at judging his own, obviously considerable, strength, and as a result ends up killing one of his opponents in the ring. This somber turn of events leads to Superargo spending a lot of time moping around in his office in his tights and mask and drinking a bit too much. Finally Superargo's girlfriend and best friend end up getting him a job with the secret service, basically because they feel sorry for him. (Not made up.) Once set up in his new career as a masked superspy, Superargo is revealed to have a freakish metabolism that enables him to do stuff like heal extra quickly, endure extreme temperatures, and hold his breath for a really long time.

No explanation is ever really given as to why Superargo has these powers, which is pretty typical of Italian superhero films like this. Providing an origin story was obviously seen as adding too much ungainly narrative weight to a film that was likely just going to be a one-shot deal anyway. For instance, we never learned why exactly Flashman chose to wear that ridiculous costume, or how Argoman got his ability to levitate sexy women, or, for that matter, why Avenger X decided to parlay his ability to do absolutely nothing of interest into a career as a masked crimefighter. One might wish for the opportunity to ask the makers of those films for the answers to such questions, but only if one might enjoy being enveloped in a cloud of secondhand cigar smoke as his questionee guffaws heartily in his face.

Despite what I may have said elsewhere, Superargo vs. Diabolicus, directed by Nick Nostro, is a high water mark in the spaghetti superhero genre, blessed with impressive production values, sprightly pacing, and lovely widescreen photography by Francisco Marin. Sadly, it's sequel, Superargo and the Faceless Giants, is a whole 'nother story. Much of this can be blamed upon the film's obviously reduced budget and flat direction by Paolo Bianchini (The Devil's Man -- 'nuff said), but there is no doubt in my mind that, even with those shortcomings, Superargo and the Faceless Giants would have been made immeasurably better by the inclusion of some of those faceless giants advertised in the title. Instead there are just a bunch of stocky androids in stocking masks. Pretty weak, but still Superargo has to be credited for his longevity, given that most in his field never even came close to getting a second shot at the big screen.

Anyway, to those of you who already felt that they had heard as much about Superargo from me as they could possibly stand, thanks for bearing with me. You must understand that this was the only way for me to put off having to write about Phenomenal.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I actually like the lack of backstory to Italian super heroes. I find the Hollywood love for the origin story quite annoying.

Prof. Grewbeard said...

i would write a comment but i just had sex and therefore don't have the energy- i'll be back in six hours...