Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Friday, March 16, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: $395 AN OUNCE (1988)

Confession time: I am a huge fan of prison movies. Not sure why, but I’d put good money on it resulting from me watching THE LONGEST YARD (1974), ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979), and BRUBAKER (1980) in quick succession as a kid. So when we started the BIG MAN journey and there was a clip of what seemed to be a prison episode in the opening credits, I got my hopes up. Turns out the fifth episode, $395 AN OUNCE, is indeed that episode and fortuitously fell on my review schedule. But if BIG MAN has taught us anything, it is to never get your hopes up.

The episode gets right down to business as we get a brawl in a French prison yard where Harvey Gaudin (Michel Constantin) is beating the crap of a fellow prisoner. Cut to the boardroom of Lloyd’s of London where Mr. Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) explains Gaudin’s action - the day before his release - has tacked on another 5 years to his sentence. Now why does an insurance house care about the fisticuffs of a criminal? Well, turns out Gaudin was the prime suspect in the robbery of a gold shipment fifteen years ago that Lloyd’s insured. The company paid out the policy, but was hoping to have him followed when he was released to reclaim the hidden loot of 700kg of gold. With the price being $395 an ounce, there is roughly $9.7 million dollars of gold waiting to be reclaimed. And if we know one thing, it is old white dudes are crazy about their gold. Naturally, Winterbottom knows the perfect man for the job.

We get introduced to Jack Clementi (Bud Spencer) once again at his French seaside hotel. Clementi, however, is different this time as he suddenly has a passion for fish. Huh? This is the first time they’ve mentioned the character is really into his pet fish. Hell, in the first episode he was eating fish. Weird. Anyway, he soon gets the call and heads to London to meet Winterbottom. Clementi hatches a rather unorthodox strategy and heads to France where he informs a French inspector of his plan - he is going to go undercover into the prison to befriend Gaudin and find out where the gold is hidden. The inspector agrees but says, “You can not reveal your true identity and you can’t expect help.” Ha, like the big man needs help.

So we soon see Clementi in handcuffs and being transported to la grande house. To establish his hardness to his jailers, when asked for his name he says, “Call me Santa Claus, asshole.” Yikes! The Bud man cursing? Shit must be serious. When pressed for his real name, he says it is...wait for it...Jack Renetti. Ha! He better hope someone from his past as a cop isn’t in this slammer. “Hey, aren’t you Jack Clementi?” “No, I’m Jack...Renetti! Totally different guy.” Jack is housed in the same cell as Gaudin and soon establishes his prison cred with his fellow inmates. Not by cursing but by beating up five guys in the chow hall (this is the scene shown in the opening credits). Jack’s ability to throw down and keep his mouth shut impresses Gaudin and he invites him to join a prison escape he has planned that night. Wait, what? We’re leaving prison already? Color me disappointed. Gaudin, Jack and two other guys - Bobby and Marcel - make it out in what Tom called perhaps the “fastest prison break eeeeever.” They put the express in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. Hell, we don’t even see them get out of the gates or crawl over a fence. Color me verrrrrry disappointed. By the way, what is Jack's disguise on the outside? A blue cap. Unrecognizable!!!

Of course, Jack has to go along with all of this law breaking because he can’t reveal his true identity. In one of the series’ darker moments, Baudin shoots the two accomplices dead and remarks they were “extra weight.” To compound the gravity of this grim scene, Jack jokes, “What do you got against extra weight?” Nothing sums up BIG MAN’s schizo direction than that. Anyway, back at the hotel, a young girl shows Fernande (Mylène Demongeot) the mugshot of Clementi/Renetti in the paper. She dismisses it, but then immediately shows it to Simon (Denis Karvil). Ah, hell. Simon now begins his own investigation. Meanwhile, Gaudin and Jack have driven to an isolated hotel in the countryside run by Daniel (Daniel Langlet), his wife Marilyn and their daughter Blanche (Geraldine Pailhas). Apparently 15 years ago this is where Gaudin and his accomplices hid out for a while. It is also in close proximity to a bog where the gold is stashed. Baudin and Jack eventually get the gold out of the swamp as Baudin explains (and is shown in a flashback) that years ago the drivers freaked out during the robbery attempt and drove into the swamp (the emphasize the grimness here, Steno makes sure to include a shot of their rotting skeletons). To complicate matters, Baudin’s two accomplices also saw his picture in the paper and have headed to the hotel with the hope of getting their hands on the gold they were cheated out of.

"Thanks for the nightmares, Steno!" 

- Italian kids everywhere

After getting over the shock of finding out this wasn’t the prison escapade I was hoping for, I settled into what was another stock BIG MAN episode. Meaning it was pretty standard stuff that never bored me for its 90 minutes, but it didn’t set me on fire either. The episode is notable for a few interesting and odd touches though. First, there are the supporting players including Michel Constantin (not to be confused with Michael Constantine) and Geraldine Pailhas. Constantin was a veteran French heavy seen in lots of crime films of the 1970s; fans might also recognize him from his baddie turns in the Charles Bronson films VIOLENT CITY (1970) and COLD SWEAT (1970). He was winding down his career here and proves to be a perfect villain opposite Spencer. As Constantin was winding his career down, Pailhas was just beginning her career with this being her second feature. She would go on to star opposite Johnny Depp in DON JUAN DEMARCO (1994) and Daniel Auteuil in THE ADVERSARY (2002). The second interesting thing about the episode is in this one Jack actually uses his smarts instead of his fists to get out of a hairy situation. About an hour in Gaudin confronts Jack and lets him know he knows who he really is. Instead of freaking out, Jack openly admits he is an insurance investigator and former cop. He then convinces they can work out a deal with the insurance company to get him some money for the returned gold. Gaudin doesn’t fall for it and kidnaps Blanche and offers to return her and the gold for $1 million pounds. Not sure if trading $1 million for $10 million in gold is the smartest move, but Gaudin was just bluffing and took both. However, Jack was one step ahead of him and put a smoke bomb in the money. A double double cross? This Jack guy knows his criminals. I also found myself laughing at a couple of little bits by Spencer, like how he intensely studies a mustard bottle while Gaudin orders around the innkeeper or when a shootout happens and he sits unfazed in his seat. The final notable (and odd) thing about this episode is how dark it is at times. In addition to the aforementioned cold blooded murders and rotting bodies, there is a rather sadistic streak with the Harvey Gaudin character. He is always casually mentioning how he’d like to do something to the underage Blanche and even joyfully tells Jack “all three of us dipped our wicks” in her mom fifteen years previous. Yikes, what is up with dudes named Harvey being total creeps? Of course, nothing is as dark as Jack Clementi’s newly revealed fish fetish. This came out of nowhere and you think there is going to be a punchline as he is telling folks to care for his fish. But Steno says, “No payoff for you!” I’m betting the next and final episode will have no follow up to this because Jack Clementi will have...wait for it...bigger fish to fry.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: BOOMERANG (1988)

When last we saw The Professor, he was running around the South of France, brawling, racing and saving a gambling-prone movie star from a greedy actor and his stuntmen thugs. So the series has started firing on all cylinders and turned into what we want from a Bud Spencer series? Ehh, no. We are, however, headed straight into comic book territory, which isn't really the worst thing in the world.

Because the military is the military, they are very excited to be demonstrating a new devastating prototype sonic ray gun for a senator. The gun, which looks only slightly more probable than the one in LASERBLAST (1978), is a high-tech weapon can incapacitate a tank without a hint of damage on its lowest setting. Of course, nobody cares about that, they want to be able to completely vaporize tanks, through solid buildings, on its highest setting! To prove to the senator that the tank was actually destroyed behind the building, they walk over and take a look. Unfortunately the audience just has to take their word for it. Cheap bastards.

What would a movie about an experimental weapon be if it didn't "fall into the wrong hands"? Yep, just as our super sleuth Jack Clementi (Bud Spencer) is trying to settle down to read some comics, the call comes in from Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) at Lloyd's of London. Someone has stolen the Ultra Sound Rifle, or "USR" (is that the best code name they could come up with?), and if it doesn't get retrieved Lloyd's would be on the hook for a crapload of money! Oh, and the fate of the free world could be in peril, too. This annoys Jack to no end, leading him to growl "I want to know who invented the telephone". Maybe that will be the basis of the plot for the next episode.

Once at the headquarters of the tech-company Sfynx, who invented "the weapon" (as it is from here on out referred to), Jack watches some amazingly well-shot security camera footage of the robbery and becomes convinced that it was an inside job. In order to help flush out the turncoat, he decides that the best plan of action is to keep his cards close to his chest. Just kidding! Nope, his great idea is to just cast aspersions on everyone in the room. Naturally this accomplishes nothing except pissing everyone off and causing several to storm out of the room. Sheesh, with skills like that, Jack would be perfect for a job in the White House.

Following up his hunch that it was an inside job, Jack visits his old friend Commissario Caruso (Raymond Pellegrin) who, as usual, is not in the least bit friendly. Jack naturally wants all the government files on every employee at Sfynx, so he can suss out a suspect. Caruso, after throwing a tantrum, tells Jack how modern and progressive the police are nowadays, saying "we don't classify anyone anymore, not even whores and faggots!" Baby steps friend, baby steps.

Meanwhile Jack's driver Simon (Denis Karvil) comes looking for him and promptly gets his ass handed to him in Jack's hotel room by a pint-sized intruder who was clearly looking for something. While Simon didn't manage to do much other than take an externally-induced nap on the carpet, he did manage to grab the assailant's jacket which contains a clue. Jack immediately realizes that since the jacket contains a hard-boiled egg and two ounces of Parmesan cheese, which is apparently the Italian jockey diet, it must belong to a jockey! It also helps that the jacket is a jockey racing windbreaker, but never mind about that, the real clue is the egg and cheese. This takes Jack out to a racehorse stable looking for the jacket's owner, which is pretty amusing as he looks like Budzilla raiding the Lilliputians. Of course as soon as Jack and Simon find their man, he is conveniently zapped into an oversize rag-doll by the weapon's ray. The duo can do nothing more than shrug their shoulders and walk away. Probably a good idea as we soon find out that the cops are looking for an easy collar.

This all leads to a chase on a mountain road in which Simon must dive into the ocean to retrieve a notebook from one of the dead hoods in the crashed car. I am assuming they must drive around with a complete set of scuba gear in the trunk. Never know when that can come in handy. We also get another meltdown from Caruso, who is convinced (again) that Jack murdered the two witnesses that he stumbled across, without even the most flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. Seems like the Italian state police are basically the equivalent of Southern American cops of the Jim Crowe era. "You had lunch with them! Murderer!" Remind me never to make friends with an Italian police detective.

Ultimately we discover that the plot is being carried out by a disgraced military colonel, code named "Zebra" (John Steiner) and his group of bloodthirsty mercs. His master plan is to use the weapon to kill the Italian president and presumably take over the world. Not on the Big Man's watch! As much as I love genre veteran John Steiner, even with a firearm, he is about as threatening as a nervous chihuahua next to Bud Spencer. Of course this gives Bud a chance to (finally) throw down some hurt on Zebra and his mercs in the basement of a rural villa. Hey, it ain't much, but I'll take it. Oh, and it also gives us the title of the episode as Jack manages to program "the weapon" to fire back at the villa if the trigger is pressed, like a... boomerang. Yep, that's where the title comes from. Clever, right? Yeah, not really.

Like all of the BIG MAN episodes, except for DIVA, this obscurely titled outing is not un-fun, but sticks closer to traditional American TV mystery shows like say, a more vertically mobile version of IRONSIDE (1967-1975). I don't know if the idea was to slightly branch out, taking Spencer in a slightly different direction, but they definitely seem to want to avoid the usual trappings that you would expect from a Bud Spencer vehicle. In his early career he played plenty of straight roles, but by 1972 with ALL THE WAY BOYS (Terence Hill and Bud Spencer's first non-Western), he was solidly committed to various shades of the rough and tumble persona that he perfected over the next several decades.

From 1973 to 1980, Spencer made a series of four FLATFOOT films with Steno at the helm, and while these films feature far more comedy and action than BIG MAN, they seem to be the loose basis for the TV series. The films wisely give Spencer a sidekick in Deputy Inspector Caputo, who is played by the diminutive and prolific Italian actor Enzo Cannavale, who also teamed with Spencer in Pasquale Festa Campanile's medieval action-comedy SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (1976). Here we are given French taxi driver Simon Lecoq (Denis Karvil) as a sidekick who is frequently absent and whose main function seems to be getting himself taken hostage so that Jack has someone to rescue. Yes, Simon is essentially BIG MAN's Princess Peach. While I'm not usually a guy to advocate some comic relief, or worse a comic sidekick, I sure could use one here. Again, it's not bad by any means, but it is a curious moment in Bud's voluminous career.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: DIVA (1988)

We’re hitting the halfway mark with the third episode of BIG MAN and things are finally kicking into gear. DIVA dives right into the action as it opens outside a casino in France. To show the owners are rather unsavory types, the opening scene has two thugs demanding owed money from a guy while slicing his face with a front of his date! Have you ever seen such cruelty? Inside we see actress Susy Cummings (Bond girl Ursula, Andress) racking up some losses to the tune of 2 million francs. When her line of credit runs out, she demands her actor boyfriend Tony (Michel Albertini) get Meller (Jean Boissery), the owner who reminds her of her debt and says she should cash in her valuable jewelry collection. While leaving the manager’s office, Tony says he will get him those jewels. Jeez, jewels and debt? I think somebody is about to be defrauding an insurance policy.

Insurance investigator Jack Clementi (Bud Spencer) gets introduced watching a TV report about Cummings as she hypes TO CATCH A KILLER, her return to the screen after a two-year hiatus. Clementi is positively smitten with her, remarking of her films, “I must have seen them all three times.” Jeez, sounds like Tom and Bud Spencer! Amazingly, Clementi’s assistant/driver Simon (Denis Karvil) co-owns a boat right next to Susy’s yacht. Man, driving Clementi around town must pay really well. Of course, this is all to move the plot forward as Simon is on the boat later that night and witnesses the stealing of the jewelry and death of the boat’s steward. And guess who just happens to own the insurance policy on these jewels to the tune of 25 million francs? Yup, ol’ Lloyd’s of London and Jack Clementi is immediately on the case. Mr. Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) of Lloyd’s stresses this is a pressing matter because payment may be expediated due to Miss Cumming’s celebrity status. Damn celebs get all the breaks.

Clementi gets a break in the case right away when Inspector Lucas (Bernard Woringer) has Simon do a mock up of the robber he saw. Turns out Clementi’s obsessive movie watching pays off as he recognizes the man as a stuntman used in a lot of Susy and Tony’s films. See, I’m not wasting my time watching movies! I’m actually preparing to help solve any future crimes involving b-movie types. Clementi makes it to Marcel the stuntman’s home where he is entertaining a prostitute. (This bit offers the first nudity of the series and probably resulted in lots of Italian parents having “the talk” with their kids soon after.) Unfortunately, before Clementi can get any info out of him, the lights go out and the stuntman does his final fall via a bullet in the forehead. Not only is Jack pissed he lost his first lead, the prostitute is pissed she didn’t get paid by her client! A true pro, I tell ya.

Of course, Clementi has more sources up his sleeve and a hunch has him calling a fence named Martin. Sure enough he has some of the jewelry, but when Clementi shows up at his place the next day the guy has been killed. Even worse news is the cops arrive just after Clementi and he is taken in for suspicion of murder, but not before he lifts an incriminating receipt. Once at the police station, Clementi is bailed out by Mr. Brossard (Paul Guers), a wealthy man about town and friend of Susy. Now if decades of movie watching have taught me anything, it is that the person who bails anyone out during an investigation is a suspect. I’m sure movie buff Jack took note. Once freed, Clementi confronts Susy with the receipt that she pawned her necklace. She admits she did it and says Tony was behind the whole plan. Wow, we’re hitting the 50 minute mark and everything is all wrapping up? Uh, hellllllll no. This is an Italian TV series starring Bud Spencer so we have at least three more plots to get to. Indeed, Tony is confronted by a blackmailing reporter who accidentally recorded him telling Susy of the plans. This leads to Clementi teaming up with the reporter and then Tony is murdered, the remaining jewels are stolen, and Susy is kidnapped. Much like an Italian meal, this has lots of courses for everyone.

Damn, looks like I beat Tom to the first good episode of the bunch. Since we had dope pushers and Etruscan artifacts, vain actors and jewelry could be far behind. And while the plot might not set your world on fire, we finally get Bud Spencer resembling the punch punchin’ and smirk smirkin’ lead we’ve seen in the opening titles. Bud gets into quite a few scraps in this one. Hell, even Simon throws down a bit. The action highlight is where Bud heads to a bar to follow a lead and he and another guy just absolutely destroy the place. Is it worthy of prime Jackie Chan? No. But after being teased with the valueable statues in THE FALSE ETRUSCAN, it is good to see some good old furniture and glass windows get smashed to pieces. The production also has a nice “the brakes have gone out!” car bit toward the end. The driving down the winding French mountainside is rather precarious looking and definitely a highlight. In addition to that, we got not one, not two, but three jokes from Bud’s character in this. Be still my heart! Interestingly, this particular episode keeps all of the action in France (versus the Italy settings of the first two episodes). This results in some nice location work in Marseilles and making Clementi a bigger fish-out-of-water character. Another interesting thing is that Clementi doesn’t really have to do much detective work. No joke, the script has Clementi learning the whole plot from the reporter and the big mystery is revealed when Clementi looks into the wallet of a guy he beats up and spots a decades-old photo of some French Foreign Legion pals. Damn, he sure is lucky that thug was the sentimental type. Well, I’ll give him credit for recognizing some random stuntman from a police composite. That is a true investigative skill worthy of admiration. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do some more detective work in front of my television.

Ursula Andress gets her first royalty check:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

This Bud's For You: BIG MAN: THE FALSE ETRUSCAN (1988)

As anyone who indulges in genre cinema knows, many films can be released with many titles. There are some Germans who have made fortunes buying cheap spaghetti westerns from the '60s and '70s and renaming them to tie into the DJANGO (1966) series, which is factually only two movies, the second of which, DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN (1987) wasn't made until over a hundred other films had the moniker casually slapped on them. BIG MAN doesn't go very extreme in this area, but for some odd reason, the titles got changed to supposedly appeal to foreign audiences. Apparently someone thought that THE FALSE ETRUSCAN was much more of a hook to the English speaking market than the original title THE LAUGHING GIRL. Both tie in, but neither one gives you much of an idea as to what the hell to expect.

Extra large insurance investigator Jack Clementi (Bud Spencer) is about to learn a thing or two about the Etruscan's, though we the audience are assumed to have had this in history class. Speaking as someone who went to American public school, I can tell you that the only thing I learned in history class was that George Washington had wooden teeth and chased Mobey Dick. So before we dive into The Professor's latest... (cue dramatic pause ) The Etruscan civilization encompassed the north and western areas of modern Italy in the years of about 800 BC to 246 BC. They were prosperous and like many other civilizations of the time, they buried their dead in tombs, complete with all of the comforts that they would have had in life. Because of this, the Roman Republic which would shortly become the Roman Empire, gradually took over the Etruscan lands and cities culminating in complete domination by 100 BC. The Romans, being Romans, plundered the Etruscan's for everything of value and destroyed anything they disapproved of, which was basically anything that didn't help them kill people and steal land. In spite of numerous archaeological sites, not much is known about the Etruscan's, so it's a perfect basis for a TV show, because you can basically just make shit up.

Opening with what appears to be an ancient religious ritual involving a bust of a smiling woman, we suddenly find Clementi returning from a fishing trip to his residency hotel, run by the cheerful, but annoying Fernande (Mylène Demongeot). After rudely dismissing Fernande and his driver/assistant Simon (Denis Karvil), quite by accident Jack discovered two articles, one in Time Magazine and one in the newspaper, that claim that the famous Etruscan statue The Laughing Girl is located in two different places. This is intriguing because he knows full well that his employer, Lloyd's of London, has the statue insured by Prince Don Pietro of Roccaferro (Jacques Sernas) for £800,000. After making a phone call to Houston Texas, he finds that the other statue has also been certified as authentic and is also insured for a wad of cash. Clearly this is a matter that needs his very particular set of skills. Well, except for the fact that he has to do a lot of convincing to get both his boss at Lloyd's and his grumpy contact on the police force, Commissario Caruso (Raymond Pellegrin), to let him so much as visit the Roccaferro castle museum, which is open to the public! Apparently all the pushback is from the fact that the Prince is a bit of a touchy prick and nobody wants get him rankled.

After finally getting permission to check out the statue under the pretense of inspecting the state of the art security system, Jack heads up to the fictitious Italian village and on the way helps out a villager who is being savagely whipped by several men on horseback. As it turns out, it ain't just the Price that's a touchy prick, but so is his right-hand man Vasco (Spencer regular Raimund Harmstorf), who doesn't take too kindly to having his brutal dispensation of justice interrupted. I guess we know who is to be slapped this episode!

Jack now gets himself into an inn which carves ham made from wild boar with the fur still on! The innkeeper pets the fur and says that it's "nice and firm, just like it should be". I'm not sure whether this is what passes for a joke in this series, or the scene was written by a vegetarian. I'm not Italian, but I have a decent knowledge of Italian charcuterie and I've never heard of the fur being left on a ham of any kind. In a later scene Jack is served a single sausage (presumably the Italian Diet Plate lunch) which he prods several times with a fork and then pushes away saying "food is to be looked at, not eaten." What the hell does that mean? Is that joke? In this series it seems like the writers are afraid of making jokes, or maybe it's just director Steno, who's films with Bud have tended to less comedic than the norm. There are frequently set-ups for jokes that strangely never have a pay-off. These two scenes seem to be either very low-key jokes for Italians, or something out of a pneumonia-induced fever dream.

Quickly Jack learns that the local gun-shop (??) has connections to the art forgery racket and will be happy to provide him with realistic fake Etruscan artifacts, for a price. After making the deal Jack decides it's time to visit the museum and after Vasco's men try to ward him off, Jack checks out the artifacts and meets the curator Leopold Voltera (Mario Pilar) who appears to be the same person who was performing the ritual in the pre-credit scene! After some discussion Jack makes a deal with Leo to make him a fake that would pass any tests, including a carbon dating test! Man, this is going to be a long episode if we have to wait a month or two to get this fake that we still don't know how it fits into the plot. Fortunately Leo has mad pottery skillz as he tells Jack that he'll have it done by tomorrow. Granted the statue in question bears absolutely no resemblance to any actual Etruscan artworks, but still that seems quick.

As it turns out, Jack's cunning plan is to have Simon switch the Prince's statue with the new fake which will be caught on camera and will then give Jack the scoop based on the reaction. If the Prince files an insurance claim, the statue is real, if Jack suddenly gets nostril deep in trouble, then we know the statue is fake. Foolproof, right? Unfortunately for Jack, the people who he hires to test the stolen statue alert the cops who promptly arrest and interrogate him. The police, including Commissario Caruso, seem to legitimately think that the famous insurance investigator actually masterminded this bumbling scheme to steal the statue.

After Vasco's men kill Leo and make it look like a suicide, we discover that Leo really was a genius as he has a big red button built into a boulder about 50 feet from the cave in which he makes all his forgeries. According to his wishes, his forgery dealing buddies, discovering his death, press the button and blow the living crap out of his lab for no adequately explained reason. I say "no adequately explained reason" because apparently Leo left behind a tape for Jack to play in case of his demise. On it Leo rambles on about being not of this world and not wanting anyone to possess the real Laughing Girl which possesses powers and... oh jeezus, somebody pass me the Robitussin, I must be hallucinating again! Oh and nobody seems to notice the giant fireball and smoke cloud coming out of the middle of the forest. Aside from getting busted by the cops, Jack's master plan actually works and suddenly he has a target on his back during one of the Prince's hunting parties, with Vasco and his men looking to take him back to the castle, stuffed and mounted.

While this is a big step up from the opening episode, BIG MAN: DRUG POLICY (1988), Steno has a way of not making use of situations to deliver much of what people want from a Bud Spencer outing. As VJ co-conspirator William Wilson pointed out, we have Jack being shadowed by Vasco's men in the museum full of glass cases of antique artifacts which he has been told are "priceless". This seems like a perfect set-up for a brawl to break out with badguys being punched and thrown through the displays. At the last minute, right before all hell breaks loose, the day is saved and we get no fight, not even a broken trinket. We do, however, get a bit of hide and seek in a labyrinth of Etruscan tombs that look so realistic that I was waiting for Sigmund the Sea Monster to show up at any moment. While even Forrestal would be in no danger of cashing in around this place, you have to take what you can get some times.

It's also fun to see the late German genre great Raimund Harmstorf show up as the villain and have quite a few scenes with Spencer. His role is somewhat limited to a lot of scowling and the occasional intimidating smile to show off his almost Erik Estrada-like dental work, but his presence is always appreciated. Harmstorf got his start in German television in the 1960's and his first feature film turned out to be David F. Friedman and Adrian Hoven's THE LONG SWIFT SWORD OF SIEGFRIED (1971), which in turn with his second film, the notorious grindhouse classic BLOODY FRIDAY (1972) cemented him as a genre icon. He went on to appear in such other cult classics such as Enzo G. Castellari's THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978) and Fabrizio De Angelis' THUNDER WARRIOR (1983). He also appeared in the Terence Hill solo project A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS AND A DUPE (1975) and the Bud Spencer solo project BULLDOZER (1978). Harmstorf worked steadily, mainly in Germany, until his tragic suicide in 1998 at the age of 58. Like so many others, he is gone but not forgotten.

While delivering only slightly more action than your average episode of MURDER SHE WROTE (1984-1996), this is definitely getting the series on more stable footing. Not one precocious child is to be found.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: DRUG POLICY (1988)

By the mid-1980s the profitable partnership between iconic screen duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill was coming to an end. Starting with GOD FORGIVES, I DON’T (1967), the pair would co-star in 16 films over the next 18 years. (Note: The duo did reunite in 1994 for THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.) Amazingly, while operating as a popular on-screen combo, both men also had success in their own features. Hill got a Hollywood call up with the 20th Century Fox production MR. BILLION (1977) and SUPER FUZZ (1980), while Spencer headlined popular films such as four entries in the FLATFOOT series and two sci-fi movies (1979's THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID and its sequel 1980's WHY PICK ON ME?) co-starring the kid from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). However, after MIAMI SUPERCOPS (1985), both men went their separate cinematic ways. Hill reunited with TRINITY director Enzo Barboni (aka E.B. Clucher) to make the modern action-comedy RENEGADE (1987). Spencer remained with their other director, Bruno Corbucci, to make the much-maligned ALADDIN (1986). And despite television increasing their popularity worldwide, neither man had explored that medium until now. 

Interestingly, according to Variety, producer Elio Scardamaglia - who had previously worked with Spencer on films like CHARLESTON (1977) - was looking to sign Spencer to a TV series called THE OFFICE OF UNSOLVED CASES for RAI in May 1986. So going to the boob tube suddenly seemed a viable option; that or the acrid reviews of ALADDIN told him he needed to get back to basics quick. Either way, by October 1986 Spencer had committed to BIG MAN for the Cecchi Gori Group and Silvio Berlusconi’s ReteItalia. (Yes, the same Silvio Berlusconi who later became the Prime Minister of Italy and resigned in disgrace; we’d like to think it was for not making Bud Spencer’s birthday a national holiday). When first announced the series was pitched as a dozen one-hour episodes. By the time filming began in spring 1987, the production had settled down for a more manageable six feature length films. Since its inception the director attached has always been Stefano Vanzina. Credited mostly by the moniker Steno, he had a history with Spencer as he had directed him in the FLATFOOT series. Who better to guide Spencer into this new foray than someone who had guided him as Inspector “Flatfoot” Rizzo? However, this time his enquiries would take place outside of law enforcement as Spencer now became insurance investigator Jack Clementi for this new series. 

BIG MAN rumbled onto Italian televisions in November 1988 with the first episode, DRUG POLICY. The plot kicks into gear quickly as a drug shipment is confiscated at an Italian airport. Back in London, the stiff upper lips at the insurance house Lloyd’s of London are freaking out because the FBI has informed them that they have been handling policies that insure the drug shipments. Mr. Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) decides they need to hire Jack “The Professor” Clementi (Spencer), an insurance investigator who “is extravagant, but his methods work.” Clementi is introduced residing in a seaside hotel on the French Riviera where his favorite pastime is complaining about the cooking of his landlady, Fernande (Mylène Demongeot). He gets the call from Lloyd’s and soon has his driver/right hand man Simon Lecoq (Denis Karvil) driving him to the airport. Once in Rome, Italy, he meets up with old pal Inspector Caruso (Raymond Pellegrin, who played a lawyer in the first FLATFOOT film), who cheerfully states “the moment you are here trouble starts.” Hey, that should be good for business!

Back at his hotel, Clementi is surprised by Simon’s arrival and he quickly assigns him the task of locating the woman whose luggage contained the drugs. Clementi dives into his investigation and apparently the filmmakers wanted to go for realism as it involves lots of Bud pounding the pavement and talking on phones. Looooooots. Clementi finds about an arrested courier named Francesco and learns from him about another dealer named Yoko the Tunisian. Unfortunately, Yoko is dead when he gets to him and Clementi is beaten by some thugs who want to know his reason for being there. He convinces them he was looking for a smuggling job and Clementi soon finds himself a drug courier headed to Palermo. His point-of-contact in that city is a streetwise 8-year-old named “Sewer Rat” (Antonino Licausi). “I’ll call you Sam,” Clementi says and then assures they will be “pals for life” to the kid. His definition of “for life” must be different than mine as the kid apparently isn’t in any other episodes of the show. Hey, didn’t I also get the “kid” episode from WE ARE ANGELS? What is going on here, boss man?

Clementi gets back to Rome and completes the clandestine trade of the drugs for 800 million lira. Amazingly, Inspector Caruso is a bit peeved Clementi put that much heroin onto the street, but Jack can’t be bothered with pesky details like that. Damn, his methods are extravagant! Anyway, all of this investigating leads Clementi to the drug kingpin, Don Carmelo (Armand Meffre). We know he is evil because he eats cannoli by the plate full. Oh, and he also has anyone within a whiff of his operation snuffed out. With Clementi closing in, Carmelo knows the only way to get the big man to back off and kidnaps his new BFF Sam. This results in the episode’s only big action as we get a car chase toward the end as Clementi kidnaps the Don to get the kid back.

True story: We originally planned to write up the BIG MAN series after we did the EXTRALARGE series four years ago. However, both Tom and I watched it and came to the conclusion we weren’t feeling it. It is not that BIG MAN is terrible, but the opening episode is a bit of a drag compared to Spencer’s later TV efforts. For whatever reason, the makers decided to play it almost 100% straight, forgetting that one of the things folks appreciated from Spencer’s films (both solo and with Terence Hill) was the comedy. Oh, and some action. Spencer does have a couple of Spencer-esque fights, but they are pretty short. It also didn’t help that the plot wasn’t very engaging. It is the basic “go find this guy, get info, find this girl, get info, find this guy” template. By the end I had no idea what was going on, even when they have Spencer doing a MURDER, SHE WROTE style wrap up in the Lloyd’s boardroom. If there is any positive here, it is that things can only get better after the first entry. Perhaps the biggest highlight of this episode is the opening credits, which delivers a memorable theme song by the De Angelis brothers and promises more fisticuffs and head slappin’ down the line (as pal Mark Tinta said, “That intro needed more Spencer punching. I was waiting for him to punch his own face in that last shot.”) Check it out below and then find yourself humming it for the rest of the day.