Monday, January 20, 2020

The Wild, Wild Planet (1966)

In my search for new frontiers of schlock, I've been thinking that maybe I should start watching Italian science fiction movies.  (I also received a book on the subject as a Christmas present).  During the sixties Italian studios turned out a number of space operas (which often also worked in crime and horror themes).  While other Italian exploitation genres such as peplums, giallos, cannibal and zombie pictures and spaghetti Westerns remain popular, the space movies seem to have been largely forgotten.  So, as an introduction to this half remembered genre, I thought I'd present a Random movie Trailer devoted to a typical example of the Italian space opera.

1966's Wild, Wild Planet kicked off a quartet of films chronicling the adventures of Commander Mike Halstead of space station Gamma One.  It's Italian title translates into English literally as 'Criminals of the Galaxy', a fair summing up of its content.  Halstead (played by Tony Russel, an American actor who spent most of his movie career in Italy), finds himself tangling with a crazy criminal scientist who is kidnapping earth people (by miniaturising them) to use in his bizarre experiments.  His aim, apparently, is to create a super race with which he can conquer the earth.  Directed by the ubiquitous Antonio Margheriti (aka 'Anthony Dawson'), Wild, Wild Planet, like most Italian exploitation films of the era, looks great, all bright colours, stylish costumes and sets which look like they've sprung from the panels of a comic strip.  Indeed, it presents a very sixties vision of the future, the architecture, space suits and spaceships apparently based on science fiction magazine cover illustrations. 

A notable aspect of the film is its extensive use of miniatures.  Margheriti was something of an expert in this area, often creating the special effects for both his own films and those of other directors.  The results can be variable.  Although Margheriti's miniatures are usually of a high quality, their use can often be shaky.  As can be seen from the trailer, the space effects seem to be realised mainly by crudely suspending his models on strings, against a black back drop.  Later Margheriti directed films would often feature a better deployment his miniatures.  A pair of Lewis Collins starring action pictures from the mid eighties, Code Name Wild Geese and Commando Leopard, for instance, feature, respectively, a well staged car chase partly filmed using miniatures vehicles and the shooting down of an airliner, again using large scale miniatures.  Both sequences are actually pretty convincing.

Aside from Russel, the rest of the cast are Italian, and includes a young Franco Nero.  This and the other 'Gamma One' films were bank rolled by MGM, (explaining their superior production values), and, apparently, were originally intended to be released directly to TV in the US, (a common practice at the time with regard to foreign produced films purchased by US distributors).  In the event, Wild, Wild Planet, at least, got a theatrical release.  If nothing else, the trailer has certainly whetted my appetite for this genre.  Time will tell if I manage to get into it.  I'm still contemplating writing something about Rollin's Two Orphan Vampires and there's some more seventies British smut I'm looking at before I can fully turn my attention to Italian space operas, though.



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