Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
WILD, WILD PLANET (1965)
“It’s a mod, mod, mod world!”
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-til-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
Continuing with my series of reviews of the Italian space opera “Gamma I” series, directed by the great Antonio Margheriti (YOR HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE, 1983; KILLER FISH, 1979; CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, 1981), I want to take a gander at WILD, WILD PLANET (1965). WWP was made at the same time as SNOW DEVILS (see previous Bill’s Bizarre Bijou), WAR OF THE PLANETS, and Il PIANETA ERRANTE, but it was released in America first to astounded little kids everywhere and their groaning and grinning parents. It actually comes second in the Gamma I quadrilogy. Confused? Not as much as you will be after watching this fabulously kitschy movie.
Gamma I, if you recall, is a space station positioned above the Earth, spinning lazily on a wire, but WILD, WILD PLANET starts with various model shots of toy cars in toy cities and toy rockets shooting into space while elevator music mixed with weird Theremin sounds plays in the background and the yellow credits roll. A trio of astronauts climbs from the toy rocket and float gracefully over to Gamma I. Hey, they’re on strings, too!
Inside the twirling station, a professor conducts bio-experiments concerning living organs and shrunken body parts, most of which are encased in big tubes. Commander Mike Halstead, this time played by Tony Russel (SWORD OF DAMASCUS – 1964 and the voice of Django in the English-dubbed DJANGO, 1966), doesn’t like having such gruesome experiments performed on his ship. He doesn’t want supermen; he’s “satisfied with people the way they are…I’m a person, not a bunch of meat!” They’re expecting guests, but quite a few of them have mysteriously disappeared.
We are the introduced to the lovely Lt. Connie Gomez, this time played by Lisa Gastoni (MESSALLINA VS. THE SON OF HERCULES, 1964 and WAR OF THE PLANETS,1966), who is teaching a judo class to a large group of people. Two men discussing her say, “She’s a perfect specimen!” “Specimen? She’s one hundred percent woman and one hundred percent for our commander.” Turns out the admirer is Mr. Nurmi from The Corporations. We instantly know he’s bad, because he’s wearing dark sunglasses and black leather coat. He promptly moves in on Connie, dropping sexual innuendos like handkerchiefs until she agrees to go to dinner with him. Nurmi is portrayed by Massimo Serato, star of DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) and AUTOPSY (1975). After he leaves, Lt. Jake (the great Franco Nero, star of the cult classic DJANGO,1966; as well as CAMELOT, 1967; CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN, 1971; and ENTER THE NINJA (1981) all the way to last year’s CARS 2!) tries to schmooze Miss Gomez, and is rebuffed by a judo chop to the belly.
Dinner is held in a room where many inhabitants of the station dance wildly to 60s disco music wearing Technicolor clothing. Mr. Nurmi may be a jerk, but he can cut a rug! After discovering Lt. Gomez is going to Earth for a vacation, he tries to get her to go with him as a guest of The Corporations. After getting drunk, Connie gives a speech about how women are “obviously different from men,” then she decides to go with Nurmi on his dream vacation.
A letter comes, and Commander Halstead and Jake find out another scientist has gone missing. On Earth, a mob of towering-haired women in flimsy gowns and aqua blue eye shadow are given their orders by an even bigger-haired Amazon and a bald man in black sunglasses and a black rain poncho. They go to a house where an Opie Griffith look-a-like is peering through a microscope. The bald man whips his poncho around the kid and something awful happens beneath it. The kid is shrunk to doll-size and put in a small suitcase! Soon, other scientists and politicians are similarly diminished and snatched.
Halstead and Gomez arrive on Earth and drive around in a little bubble-car discussing their relationship like characters in a Noel Coward play. Nurmi takes Gomez to a nightclub where people in butterfly costumes pretend to dance around each other badly. Ah, romance among the La Dolce Vita.
Baldie tries to shrink another scientist, which is interrupted by a little girl witness, who screams, “Grandpa! Grandpa!” and is promptly strangled by one of the big-haired beauties. The scientist, now midget sized, scrambles away on his little legs. The female assassin informs the bald poncho-wearer that he has failed. She stabs him, and he promptly disappears from view. The woman hurries away in one of those cool bubble cars.
Gamma I investigates the disappearances, led by Commander Halstead, the granite-chinned, ever-tanned Tony Russel. When the midget scientist is found in a coma, our heroes discover a bevy of beauties and poncho-wearing men are working for The Corporations (they always say it as if capitalized). And Lt. Gomez is their latest victim!
When a woman and bald man are spotted at an airport, a plucky cop shoots a ‘red tracer’ on their car so they can be spotted. This tracer is a disc that shoots out pink smoke all over the place, and Commander Halstead follows it, swooping down in his candy-colored spaceship. It’s so slow; you’d think you could walk faster than these guys drive and fly around. Of course, there’s nobody in the escape car when they retrieve it. They do discover a small briefcase with three teeny-tiny people in it, and they’re still breathing.
Gomez is shown around the evil lair of The Corporations, where they clone bald men in sunglasses and wear bright polyester pantsuits during down-time. She discovers a shower that drips blood in her room (ooh! Can I have one of those?)
Meanwhile, Commander Halstead and his fellow spacemen find one of the bald clones, who, when stripped naked, has four fused-on arms and cat’s eyes! Somehow, they discover the whereabouts of the Amazons (please don’t ask me how), and the three men invade their hotel room. This leads to a five minute knock-down, drag out fight between three women in see-through nighties and bikinis and stiletto heels, and our Commander and his two best men. They really go after each other, and Halstead shouts, “Watch out for those gadgets on their chests!” When one gets stabbed by what looks like a comb, she disappears, leaving only the salmon-colored nightie behind her. They discover books left behind with the names of everyone who’s been kidnapped and everyone who will be. Halstead is disappointed to find he is not listed.
And we’re back in the nightclub where 101 Strings are playing, and people dressed like butterflies in capes chase each other, and the audience watches enraptured. I like to think they can’t believe how crappy the entertainment is, but this is an Italian nightclub in the cinema of the 1960s, so that’s kind of a given.
The plot gets more than a little muddled, but it boils down to the evil scientist wanting to meld Connie Gomez with himself, thus creating the first ‘perfect’ human being. His plans are interrupted by Halstead and his space rangers, and they do battle in a huge room full of a blood-like substance. The pool bursts, flooding everything in the red stuff. Funny story; a pipe cracked on the set, and nearby residents in Rome turned on their water taps to find all their water tinged red by the food coloring. Try explaining that to your local plumber.
Will the good guys triumph over the evil Mr. Nurmi? Do you even have to ask?
More mod clothing, hair, sunglasses, and furniture than you could throw a Barbarella at, WILD, WILD PLANET is oodles of 60s fun. The music and dancing will have you rolling on the floor, and the toy-like miniature cities and space stations only add to the innocent fun. Not to mention, the plastic toy guns that shoot out a foot of sparks and flames! Where can I get one?
The movie moves swiftly, much faster than SNOW DEVILS, and there are plenty of whacky actions sequences to keep your attention when you’re not wiping tears of laughter from your eyes. And when was the last time you heard a superior officer call his subordinate ‘Helium Head?’ You also get a cosmic room of mirrors, a basement full of mutants, more stunning women than you can imagine in one movie, and a really nifty performance by an astonishingly good-looking young Franco Nero. The cast as a whole will never win any Oscars, but they all get it. They really roll with the campy silliness of the movie, so the performances actually work. Any kids (or anyone on mind-altering drugs) are going to fall in love with this flick. Even as an adult, I’d take its immature charms over the big budget sci-fi product Hollywood’s been producing lately.
WILD, WILD PLANET is available on a nicely restored DVD from Warner Brother Archive.
I give WILD, WILD PLANET three midget scientists out of four.
© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl