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Monday, September 15, 2014

Fantastic Argoman (1967)

Written by Lewis E. Cianelli, Vincenzo Flamini, John Davis Hart and Dino Verde
Directed by "Terence Hathaway", or Sergio Grieco if you want the name on his drivers' license

Roger Browne:  Sir Reginald Hoover / Argoman
Dominique Boschero:  Regina Sullivan / Jenabelle
Eduardo Fajardo:  Shandra the Butler

This one drops the viewer in the middle of the action--in the shadow of a matte painting of the Great Wall of China, a white dude in yellow tights, a black mask, briefs and gloves, and a really unimpressive-looking short red cape gets marched out into a field by a small detachment of Chinese army troopers. They aim rifles at him but through the magic of a voiceover repeating "Kill each other" during a closeup on the visor in his mask, the soldiers all murder the shit out of each other and he steals their officer's staff car in order to drive away (apparently all the way to Russia, as the next scene implies) while his theme song plays on the soundtrack, apparently performed by a community college marching band.

In a big important room full of big important Soviets they're all telling each other how clever they were to hire Argoman--apparently some sort of mind-controlling jerkoff for hire--to destroy the Chinese nuclear weapons program. Even better, the Chinese killed him so they don't even have to pay his fee! Then Argoman parachutes onto the balcony and informs the Soviet officers and politicians that he'll be relieving them of Peter the Great's personal snuffbox as a memento of his adventure. Then we cut to the streets of London (and this sequence, at least at the beginning, looks like it was shot in Swinging London at some inconvenience and expense--though soon enough things might as well just be stock footage of the city). The credits also personally thank the personnel of a company called "HOVERCRAFT ENGLAND", so the thirteen-year-old boys of all ages immediately look forward to seeing a hovercraft.

So the next thing we see is a smashed and empty display case that does not contain the Crown of St. Edward (I think--the DVD I have of this movie was ripped from a VHS tape and the soundtrack is pretty mushy), in a room that probably was not shot on location at the Tower of London. Inspector Lawrence gripes that the Home Secretary keeps bothering him while he's getting stuck with bizarre crimes and that he's tired of getting yelled at by high-level politicians. His suggestion that England just gets a new crown whenever they need to have a coronation probably doesn't go over real well.

In a flat somewhere else, mastermind international criminal genius Jenabell, Queen of the World, talks to her hench about how relatively easy it was to swipe the crown and there's some discussion of Scotland Yard calling in Sir Reginald Hoover as a civilian advisor on the case. He's helped the Yard solve other high profile cases in the past and they'd like his help now. Jenabelle is mildly concerned that a decadent playboy interloper might be able to interfere with her scheme but thinks that she's much smarter than Hoover and that there isn't too much to worry about. Incidentally, I now know of a name just as ridiculous as "Renesmee". Her flamboyant outfits are a continual delight over the course of the film, and one of the few aspects of the the film I can enjoy on its own terms.

It appears that Hoover knows what he's doing, though; in his painfully mod swinging bachelor pad he's got the original Mona Lisa (a forgery is hanging in the Louvre, and since the art lovers of the world never noticed the switch he isn't going to put the real painting back any time soon). His butler engages him in a painful exposition dump barely disguised as a conversation; Hoover was raised in the American west and likes danger although he's really from England. His superpowers make his life of adventure a little too easy for his tastes, but he isn't a big enough fan of fair play to not use them when his life is at risk. He calls Inspector Lawrence to gossip about the case; Lawrence suspects that only Argoman would be capable of such a dastardly deed. Hoover mentions that the Chinese executed the adventurer and Lawrence says that would be great news if it was true. Until it's confirmed, Lawrence will be prudent and post a massive cash reward for Argoman's capture.

Hoover then holds his breath for 38 minutes at the bottom of his indoor pool to keep in practice. I don't know what he is practicing, but during the following conversation he tells his butler that he loses his superpowers for six hours every time he has sex. Hoover leafs through his little black book via TV remote control and calls up a woman named Samantha, who is taking a bath (and apparently has a closed-circuit camera aimed at her in the tub in case Hoover feels like making a booty call). She says she'll be right over for a drink.

Seconds after Samantha leaves the tub wrapped in a fur-lined Snuggie, Hoover stares off into the distance and psychically notices a hovercraft near his swank bachelor pad. He telekinetically takes control of the boat and steers it towards the beachfront that his sex bunker is located on, then lifts the woman no longer in control of the hovercraft out of the cabin and into his lap! It's a scene so jaw-droppingly misogynist that even the people making death threats against Anita Sarkeesian would find it creepy and off-putting. And that's before Hoover challenges his kidnap victim to an archery contest where she gets a Rolls Royce and jewelry for winning, and has to have sex with Hoover if she loses. Argoman is the living avatar of rape culture. Even worse than Hoover's reprehensible plan is the movie's insistence on treating him as a dashing hero rather than a kidnapper and sexual predator. The era of James Bond as stylish hero has ever so much to answer for. Even skeezier:  the room for Hoover's archery game has the car and jewelry behind one automatic door and his sex swing behind another--it's like the worst "The Price Is Right" game in history. Even the director must have thought this sequence went too far; Regina the kidnap victim takes another shot at the target and wins effortlessly, walking off with the emeralds.

Oh, and Hoover's also being played like a fiddle by the woman he abducted--she gives her name as Regina Sullivan but she's Jenabell, and is dressed in what I can only describe as Penelope Pitstop cosplay. And just to prove that she means business, she returns the stolen crown with a signed note demanding that she be given the Muradoff A-4 within six hours or she'll do...something. She also signs the note "Jenabell, Queen of the World". And the street cop with Inspector Lawrence naturally wants to know what the Muradoff A-4 is, but Lawrence isn't cleared to tell anyone what the Muradoff A-4 does. That includes the audience at this point, naturally.

Samantha shows up in the next scene, as does Inspector Lawrence, who tells Hoover that Jenabell stole the crown from the first act, brought it back, and wants the Muradoff A-4 (not that he tells Hoover what it is). Security camera photos in the Tower of London caught Jenabell next to the display case right before the crown was stolen; Lawrence is off to the Continent for a crimestoppers' meeting and Hoover follows with Samantha along as his unwitting alibi (and the song that plays over the establishing shots of Paris is played in three different time signatures. There's mod and there's just badly handled, and this is definitely the latter).

At the international consortium of detectives and scientists, we get to find out what a Muradoff A-4 is! Hooray! It is a big diamond that looks like it should have numbers etched on it as Donald Trump's personal d20, and a professor says it should be destroyed to prevent its misuse by some criminal mastermind or other. It's a gigantic gem formed at the center of a nuclear test, with a "two-way gamma stream". What's that do? I'm glad you asked. If someone focuses light through the diamond and it hits inorganic material, it destroys molecular bonds and makes whatever it was as firm as Silly Putty. The group of high ranking scientists and law enforcement personnel says they'll defend the diamond to the utmost, which guarantees that Jenabell will have it in about an hour or so.

Meanwhile, at what certainly appears to be an actual location shoot at the Eiffel Tower, Hoover, Shandra and Samantha are openly talking about his superpowers, weaknesses and ability to track Jenabell. Nice job keeping that identity secret, you bozos. It also turns out that Hoover has a Geiger counter in his ostentatious and gaudy ring; that's useful because Jenabell's post-coital cigarette was radioactive (!) so the goofy spinning compass in the ring's secret compartment should be able to track her down. Which is not at all how Geiger counters work, but I don't care at this point. That's not true--I stopped caring about this movie long, long ago.

Jenabell robs a bank with a bunch of leather-suited henchmen and a trick cigarette full of knockout gas; Hoover tracks her to the bank with 18 minutes left on the post-orgasm super power timer. Samantha distracts one of Jenabell's henchmen by stripping down to her underwear and walking slowly; Hoover jumps in the van that they've got full of stolen cash and hides. He gets spotted before the 18 minutes are up and a cramped fight full of judo chops ensues. Exactly one second after the time elapses, Argoman appears in his bright yellow spandexed glory and punches the hench through the walls and roof of the van (proving that he's just as much of an asshole with his super strength as he is with his mind control and telekinetic powers).

Incognito, Hoover chats up Lawrence outside the French Science Building, just in time for Jenabell to drop tens of millions of francs on the country from an airplane and blackmailing the country into doing what she wants or she'll drop the country's entire cash reserves out of a presumably larger plane and bankrupt the nation. Sir Reginald gets pressed into service as the dropoff agent for Jenabell's ransom plans, griping about how little he wants to wear a bowler hat with a tweed suit (the way that the mastermind will recognize France's official capitulator to her scheme). Jenabell's agent has a bomb on the bus that will go up if there's any funny stuff; Argoman mentally compels a driver to smash into the bus as a way to get everyone innocent off the bus before he gets kidnapped and taken to Jenabell.

Jenabell reveals to Hoover that she knows he's really Argoman; in accordance with the proper hero-supervillainess rules of engagement they fix a pair of drinks and Jenabell offers Argoman a position as her consort. He appears to think it over; when we cut back from the police talking about how dire things have gotten the pair of adventurers are making out on the sofa. Argoman turns her down, and Jenabell sulks off to threaten Argoman by destroying his free will with the diamond. If I were a mind-controlling douchebag like Argoman I'd be terrified of tasting my own medicine. As it turns out Samantha's already been kidnapped and Jenabell will have her murdered by a robot if Argoman tries to stop her. Honestly, I'm kind of rooting for Jenabell because she has a robot and because Argoman is such a gaping asshole. Though we do get to see him use his telekinetic powers to push the "open door" button on an elevator in this scene.

Argoman defeats the robot by distracting it with his belt (yes, really), and frees Samantha from the obligatory "strapped down to a table in lingerie" pose that the filmmakers included for salacious purposes. Jenabell's already gone with the Muradoff A-4 by the time Argoman gets his shit together and she commits an act of treachery on the buyers for the atomic superdiamond, then drives off in her hovercraft. Meanwhile, Hoover tells Inspector Lawrence that he won't be able to help any more because he's too tired (yes, really) and scoots off to chase Jenabell down.

Back at her evil headquarters, Jenabell has changed into the loopiest outfit she's worn in the film so far and uses the super diamond to somehow create an android slave (the first of many; she plans to build an army of synthetic humans created to be perfectly obedient to her and then take over the world). Argoman tries to warn the Minster of Something I Didn't Catch of Jenabell's plan, when the official pulls a gun on the tights-wearing jerkoff and gets it telekinetically stolen and pointed right back at him. The treacherous bastard jumps out the window and Argoman hauls him back up with his mind-over-matter powers until a pair of cops come into the room and distract him; the Minister drops to his death for realsies.

Before the big finish, Hoover has to show up at a big impressive party and investigate who has already been bought off by Jenabell using his Geiger counter ring and natural smarmy charisma. Mid-party the lights go out and Argoman shoots a pair of traitors, then pummels some gendarmes and switches back to his civilian identity in order to provide a shaky and transparently fake excuse for Argoman's disappearance. The commander of "nuclear forces in Europe" has been kidnapped by Jenabell, and if he gets mind-blanked by the diamond she stole earlier she can blackmail the entire world into doing what she wants.

Hoover sneaks onto a train traveling third class but gets spotted by an agent of Jenabell's using the Andy Dufresne radio-and-gun-in-a-Bible espionage kit. A baroque assassination attempt follows; the killer shoots the engineer and tries to set up a locomotive crash to take out Argoman. It fails thanks to the telekinetic manipulation of a railroad switching system (a sentence nobody has every written before in English). Jenabell is back in her lair with a crowd of hypnotized diplomats and Argoman is running to the rescue. flopping his arms around in a manner that I find funnier than any of the intentional gags in the movie. And Jenabell's silver satin Medusa costume means that her continually escalating crazy outfits end on a high note. The villainess counts on Argoman killing all of her henchmen as a distraction while she tries to sneak off; he tracks her down and murders two of her body doubles while trying to find the authentic Jenabell.

The police show up just in time to try and tell Argoman they don't trust him and Jenabell places a conveniently timed Skype call to taunt him. Everyone runs outside to watch Argoman take control of stock footage of a plane, which explodes in midair. The forces of law and order thank Argoman for murdering the right people in order to save the world and he thanks them by stealing Lawrence's motorcycle. In the final scene, we find that Argoman has swiped the crown of St. Edward so that his squeeze can prance around in the bedroom wearing it; it's his latest trophy, although in this case nobody ever hired him to take care of Jenabell so he's just a thieving asshole.

Great googly moogly. Looking back at this one with nearly half a century's distance it just makes my skin crawl. Even the barest glance at the subtext is jaw-droppingly misogynist and the smirking approval that the film has for Argoman's reprehensible behavior from start to finish makes me sorry that the film exists. It's hugely mockable, of course, but the idea that anything the titular shit golem does was meant to be awesome and cool and smooth hurts my feelings. Perhaps the only thing that could be done with this material is give it to Matt Stone and Trey Parker and let them mock it to death by exaggerating just how mean-spirited and hateful it really is.

Plus the theme song is stuck in my head now, and I hate everything.

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