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Thursday, February 20, 2014

CIA Secret Story (1975) review



Adalberto Maria Merli (Captain Felix Ramos), Francisco Rabal (Mehdi Ben Barka), Mariangela Melato (Tania), Claudio Volonte/Camaso (Che Guevara), Marcello Mando (Luigi Calabresi), Ugo Bologna (Salvador Allende), George Ardisson (Patrick), Riccardo Cucciolla (Giuseppe Pinelli), Lou Castel (torturer)

Directed by Giuseppe Ferrara

"The only type of men to carry out a scientific, professional job like this are the men who are part of the CIA assassination division... Oswald's something else. He'll just be a scapegoat. Oswald's convinced the assassination attempt will only be simulated. But after, he'll be the only one who's arrested." -- just one of many examples of some of the outrageous dialog found in Ferrara's movie.

The Short Version: The sort of film Oliver Stone would grin from ear to ear over, CIA SECRET STORY is an hour and forty-two minutes of Communist propaganda and conspiracy theories covering major events of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Ferrara's anti-American-anti-capitalism-anti-freedom fiasco occasionally veers into mondo-tainment territory with some extraordinarily nasty scenes of sadism. Unfortunately, Ferrara can't even produce compelling sensationalism akin to the more well known shockumentary masters, Jacopetti and Prosperi. Strangely fascinating, most will find this "secret" story dull; but extremists of both the left wing and of Euro-trash cinema will find the most favor with this torturously grim obscure oddity.

***WARNING! This review contains graphic images***

That evil, criminal organization known as the CIA is the high command of worldwide death and destruction. The torture-murder machine for the capitalist Empire known as the United States of America, the CIA is the bane of Communism, the universal savior of poverty and the downtrodden -- as this quasi-mondo mockumentary attests.

Giuseppe Ferrara's bizarro, conjecture-filled, far leftist propaganda flick intertwines various re-enactments of political conflicts with shock n' stock footage of assorted atrocities and broken, tortured bodies. The end result is at times engaging if only for its outlandish mangling of facts and abrasive smear agenda. It chaotically jumps between vignettes championing Communist dictators -- never believably espousing on their reigns -- while decrying the plague-riddled hand of the USA contaminating every nation it came in contact with. 

The CIA is depicted as Olympus-like overseers pulling the strings of the various nations to accomplish their no doubt diabolical agenda; or at least the one that director Ferrara aggressively presents to his audience. In the vista Ferrara creates here, America is the "Forbidden Fruit" that the rest of the world has tasted bringing calamity to all those who have partaken in its pleasures. It's really quite incredible, and fascinating despite being more full of bull than a cow pasture. 

This dubious, quasi-mondo mess is like sloppy sex with its jumbled, non-cohesive narrative. It's all over the place often getting a little too anxious to slander its subject. Eventually it ejaculates into a very wet five minute jism eruption of repulsive "money shots" at the 58 minute mark. This brief torture session depicts various nations getting off on their brand of brutality. Of course, it's all inspired by the Satan-like hand of the CIA and its all-knowing, all- seeing super computer. 

Women are beaten, raped and tortured; a man has a needle shoved into the shaft of his penis and lit up; an Asian woman has an eel shoved into her vagina; limbs are hacked off with axes; a man has an eye gouged out in graphic detail; and a man has his arm lit on fire while he's tied to a post. The camera never shies away from both male and female nudity, either. There's no denying these scenes are very gruesome, often difficult to watch, and effective in there execution. But this is another case of a director blurring the line between the message and exploitation; and in the case of CIA SECRET STORY, the message itself blurs a little bit of fact with a whole lot of fiction.

Ferrara's movie opens with a scene in Vietnam where an American soldier snaps photos of numerous decapitated heads -- these real and fake misery and death shots are often juxtaposed with smiling, overly jovial faces that is meant to show the United States in as bad a light as possible. On other fronts of violence, CIA STORY is peppered with numerous gun battles (military action makes up a huge chunk of the picture) that are never all that exciting, but there are squibs, and one guy does get his face turned into mashed potatoes by the butt of a gun.

Going back to the political front, various assassinations and coups are trotted out in a bewildering manner fluctuating between a documentary style replete with actual, often disturbing stock footage; and hap-hazardly handled scenes with conspiracy theorizing actors and voiceovers. Among these are the Kennedy assassination, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, the bombing of the Piazza Fontana and Calabresi's subsequent assassination, and the Chilean coup of Socialist president Allende in 1973. 

These sequences are also surprising (or shocking, depending on your point of view) in that none of the names are changed. The filmmakers make no attempt to be vague despite the flagrant disregard for facts (the dubbing over stock footage is a hoot, too). The painting of all leftists as saints and everyone on the right as Satan is as laughably extreme as Ferrara's fantasy film. There's a great dialog exchange during the finale where both sides are referred to as the "Christian democrats and extreme right". It's so in your face, it's difficult to imagine this playing in a wide range of markets.

The lovely Mariangela Melato is in this fiasco as Tania (or Tamara Bunke; or under her Bolivian name, Laura Gutierrez Bauer), a Communist guerrilla fighter who gets involved with Guevara's militants leading up to Che's capture and subsequent execution. Compared to so many of the more prestigious films she's acted in, Melato's participation here is veritably brief. The famed stage and screen actress is likely best known on these evil shores for her role as General Kala in FLASH GORDON (1980). She's not the only name performer in CIA STORY, though.

Spanish actor Francisco Rabal portrays Tricontinental Conference leader Mehdi Ben Barka. He, too, doesn't stick around for very long. His exit is a bit more excruciating than Melato's. Rabal was another actor of repute whose main claim to US fame came in William Friedkin's SORCERER (1977). Genre fans will know him far better for such trashy romps as Umberto Lenzi's ambitious classick NIGHTMARE CITY (1980) and the atrocious Tony Anthony 3D bore-a-thon, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983).

The most interesting, if tragic name star here was troubled performer Claudio Camaso (billed as Claudio Volonte). He is the brother of leftist actor, the great Gian Maria Volonte. The younger Volonte followed his brother into the Euro-western arena where he played psychotic villains in serviceable oaters like VENGEANCE IS MINE (1967), $10,000 BLOOD MONEY (1967) and VENGEANCE (1968). Camaso plays Che Guevara in CIA STORY, and bears an amazing likeness to the insurrectionist, Marxist revolutionary. Two years after this movies release, Camaso got into an altercation with an electrician quarreling with his wife that ended with Camaso stabbing, and killing the man. After ten days as a fugitive, Camaso turned himself in, claiming the murder was an accident. That same year in 1977, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell.

Italian actor Giorgio (George) Ardisson had a stable career in various genres of European cinema. He had a great look for villainy that is put to use in Ferrara's cinematic Communist orgasm. Ardisson's role is as one of those insidious CIA suits who makes the dirty deals as to who to have killed, and whose economy is next in line for destabilization. Ardisson was Reg Park's sidekick in HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961) and a great bad guy in THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964). He starred in a string of average and non-essential westerns, but found favor with cult fans in a handful of Eurospy adventures.

Lou Castel, the co-star of Damiani's classic leftist western A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1966), is in this movie for a couple of minutes as one of the vile torturers of the Galactic Empire of America, the CIA. Castel main claim to cult cinema is in the aforementioned western, and other oaters such as KILL AND PRAY (1967) and MATALO! (1970).

For the average cult film watcher, CIA SECRET STORY is not worth the time invested in it. However, lovers of European sleaze will be drawn to this like a clutch of curiosity seekers to a carnival barker hyping the sideshow attractions. Those who feel compelled to see as many nasty movies as possible from the top of the barrel all the way to the bottom (where Ferrara's picture resides) will surely want to experience this whirlwind mixture of mangled truth and conspiracy theories at least once. An unintentionally hilarious (for non leftists), if intermittently ghastly little movie, Ferrara's hate-filled flick will likely offend some viewers. It unequivocally proclaims that the United States isn't so much the land of freedom and opportunity, but the Land of the Greed and the Home of the Depraved.

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