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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Superargo Against Diabolicus (1966) review


Giovanni Cianfriglia (as Ken Wood; Superargo), Gerard Tichy (Diabolicus), Loredana Nusciak (Diabolicus' woman), Monica Randall (Lydia), Francisco Castillo Escalona (Colonel Kenton)

Directed by Nick Nostro

World Wrestling champion, Superargo, accidentally kills his opponent, El Tigre in a brutal match. Feeling deep regret for the death, Superargo retires and slumps into a depressive state. Upon receiving an invitation from his friend, Colonel Kenton, to join the Secret Service for a mission of great urgency, the masked wrestler agrees to help them stop the criminal mastermind, Diabolicus.

The villains plan is to turn base metals into gold flooding the world market thrusting society into an economic chaos. He pilfers mass supplies of Uranium to accomplish this goal. Superargo, possessing extraordinary superhuman abilities, is outfitted with numerous gadgets and devices to help him on his mission to stop the insidious plans of the diabolical Diabolicus.

Action director Nick Nostro successfully makes the transition from sword & sandal adventures to costume superhero/spy/masked wrestling thrills. While the spaghetti westerns were enjoying mass popularity, Italy enjoyed a brief run of spy pictures that mimicked those seen in the James Bond series of movies. At the same time in Spain and Mexico, there were a constant stream of wildly popular masked wrestler/crime fighter movies being produced. SUPERARGO AGAINST DIABOLICUS (1966) is an Italian-Spanish co-production; the first of two movies about this most interesting superhero.

Combining elements of the Italian Spy thrillers with the Lucha Libre genre, Nostro's film is a curious amalgamation offering a plethora of awesome entertainment value. A shame the Eurospy genre died out around the closing years of the 1960's or we might have been graced with more entries in this fascinating series.

All the chief ingredients inherent to the spy films are found here. There's the larger than life villain, an island stronghold with numerous tortures, beautiful women (well two anyway), lots of gadgets and plenty of varied action set pieces. Superargo even gets to jazz around in a souped up sports car.

What's especially endearing about the character is that you learn he has skills and abilities beyond that of the average human; he can withstand being stabbed (apparently only with small bladed weapons), freezing cold and scalding temperatures, but his only real weakness is electricity although he can't be electrocuted. He can also hold his breath for up to 7 minutes.

Of course, the script creates situations where these abilities are put to good use. Superargo isn't impervious to bullets, though, so the secret service fashions him with a bullet proof suit. Some of his other gadgets are various transmitters and a miniature geiger counter hidden within a fake olive(!) Also, a piano is placed at Superargo's home which doubles as an intercom and television receiver, able to send and obtain messages.

The main villain himself wears something of a costume. It's a peculiar outfit with an emblem of an octopus on the chest. The costume for Superargo would change for the next picture, SUPERARGO VS THE FACELESS GIANTS (1968). The color would remain red, but the black portion of the mask would only cover the top half of his face. What's particularly amusing is that the Secret Service would employ a bright red suited masked man as a Secret Agent, especially one that is a famous and well known wrestler. It would be hard for the enemy not to notice such a person that stands out in a crowd.

Superargo is seen from start to finish always wearing his costume. The scenes where he does remove his mask, or has it stripped away by one of the villains, is obscured from the audiences sight. This falls squarely into the conventions of the prolific lucha libre genre. Wrestlers such as El Santo went his whole career without ever being unmasked or showing his face in public. There's a line near the beginning that addresses this possible conundrum. "I'm fed up with this life! I want to show my face in public like everyone else!" I wonder if El Santo, or any of the other masked performers ever felt this way because of the mysterious life they were forced to live.

During the first ten to fifteen minutes, the script does a very nice job of letting us know a lot about the character of Superargo. He has won 123 wrestling matches and is the World Champion and was previously in the war. The wrestling conceit is forgotten after the first 20 minutes or so and the super spy shenanigans take over completely. There is also a bit of building on Superargo's character allowing his personality to shine through even if he does have superhuman capabilities.

Giovanni Cianfriglia, using his familiar nom de plume of Ken Wood, looks the part of a superhero and considering his stuntman background, he handles the action scenes admirably. Working mostly in supporting, or bit roles, Cianfriglia seldom got leads in film, although he did occasionally get to play a main villain. Such pictures as the dismal, HERCULES, THE AVENGER (1965) and KILLER KID (1967) saw Ciangfriglia tackle something bigger than just a thug or background performer. Here, the musclebound actor acquits himself much better than a lot of the stars that got leading roles in the peplum/fusto films earlier in the 1960's.

Franco Pisano composes a jazzy, cool cat score for this odd superhero movie. The score suits the off the wall style of Nostro's film and the opening credits sequence reinforces this. It's one of the strangest, wildest credits sequences I've seen. Blending a lot of psychedelic imagery with shots of Superargo apparently having a nightmare, it reminds me of a more bizarre take on the typical James Bond opening credits sequences. It definitely grabs your attention and lets the viewer know they are in for an unusual viewing experience.

About the only jarring moment comes at the end when Diabolicus' island fortress is destroyed. The miniature work is terrible and the production would have no doubt benefited from an outside effects crew to amp up the bigger action spots. Even still, this adds to the charm of the whole OTT atmosphere. You never expect a movie such as this to reach for anything other than cheap thrills and standard action interplay.

This film does go the extra mile, however. Nostro did a great job with his two entries in the TEN GLADIATORS trilogy, and he delivers some exceptional modern day style thrills here. There's also a scene where the Secret Service rescue Superargo in an 'Operation Skyhook' type fashion as well as some cliffhanger moments like the conclusion when Superargo attempts to foil Diabolicus escaping in his space shuttle before the military arrives to destroy his island base of operations.

These fun pictures are the sort of thing I would see on weekends at any time during the day or night back in the 1980's. Fridays and Saturdays were generally consigned to various types of fantastic cinema and movies like this one (and its more widely seen sequel) were the norm. SUPERARGO AGAINST DIABOLICUS (1966) is, like a lot of the movies reviewed here, the type of entertainment you just can't find anymore.

Thankfully, there are enough DVD companies around the world releasing movies like this although few of the foreign releases are English friendly, there are always grey market alternatives. The audience for weird and wild pictures such as this one gets smaller every day. Hopefully, new fans will be born that will keep such enjoyably silly romps such as the SUPERARGO films alive for years to come.

This DVD can be purchased at

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