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LE SPIE VENGONO DAL SEMI-FREDDO (1966)
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Based on an idea by Fulvio Lucisano
Screenplay: Castellano and Pipolo
Additional Dialogue: Franco dal Cer
Editing: Federico Muller
Gori; The song "Bang, Bang, Kissense," written by De Paulis, Castellano
and Pipolo, and performed by Franco Franchi
Main Players: Vincent Price (Dr. Goldfoot/General Wilson); Franco Franchi (Franco); Ciccio Ingrassia (Ciccio); Fabian (Bill Dexter); Laura
Antonelli (Rosanna); Francesco Mule (Colonel Benson); Moana Tahi (Goldfoot's Assistant); Mario Bava (uncredited cameo as an angel)
Alternate titles: Two Mafia Guys from the FBI; The Spies Who Came In From The Semi-Cold
Alternate version: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS
Story: Robert Kaufmann
Screenplay: Louis M. Heyward and Robert Kaufmann
Editing: Ronald Sinclair
Music: Les Baxter; The song "Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs," written by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner, and performed by The Sloopy's
Alternate titles: Dr. Goldfoot and the "S" Bombs
The foppish Dr. Goldfoot plots to take over the world by killing off
the major military leaders of every country; to that end, he creates a
bevy of bodacious "girl bombs" that explode when embraced.
Goldfoot's plans become thwarted when the mysterious deaths arouse the suspicions of Bill Dexter, a former member of Security Intelligence
Command (S.I.C. for short), who has been expelled for being too much of
a lady's man. While following Goldfoot, Dexter happens to run into a
pair of dim-witted doormen, Franco and Ciccio, who have aspirations of
becoming secret agents. Goldfoot positions one of his girl bombs, an
exact duplicate of a lovely hat-chech girl, in the hotel where Franco
and Ciccio work. The hotel is currently being visited by an important
Belgian General, and Goldfoot knows that the military man will be unable
to resist the allure of his girl bomb. Before Dexter can do anything to
stop his plan, he is attacked by Franco and Ciccio, who believe Dexter
to be a foreign spy. In the ensuing confusion, "another General bites
His suspicions confirmed, Dexter visits S.I.C. headquarters, with Franco
and Ciccio in tow. However, General Benson stubbornly refuses to listen
to Dexter's tale, and similarly denies his request to be re-instated in
the organization. Meanwhile, Franco and Ciccio are mistaken for a
couple of new recruits, and are pressed into service.
Soon after, General Willis is kidnapped. Apart from being the last
surviving NATO General, Willis also happens to be a dead-ringer for
Goldfoot -- albeit with a very noticeable stammer, and a patch over his
right eye. Willis is soon killed like all the other Generals, and
Goldfoot plans to take his place at an important conference.
When Goldfoot receives information that a secret meeting is being held
at S.I.C. headquarters, he has the room electronically bugged. General
Benson and his associates determine that the only way to catch the man
responsible for these bizarre killings is to assign their two best
agents to the task. Using a high-tech computer, dubbed "Rita," it is
determined that the two best S.I.C. agents will be flawlessly chosen.
"Humans make mistakes," Benson observes, "but machines -- never!" Upon
hearing this, Goldfoot quips, "That's what he thinks." Sure enough,
Goldfoot proves to be correct. Goldfoot sabotages the computer, and the
two agents selected to carry out the job are Franco and Ciccio.
Having earlier been tipped off by Dexter that Goldfot is hiding out in a
mansion in the countryside, Franco and Ciccio decide to raid the place,
taking full credit for its discovery. They arrive, with General Benson,
to find a Private School for Girls. In fact, this is another deceptive
illusion arranged by Goldfoot, who himself poses as a matron, his facial
hair concealed behind a black veil. Satisfied that the entire trip has
been a waste of time, Benson and his men depart. Franco and Ciccio are
left behind, and the diabolical doctor and his men capture them. They
break free, however, and the villains search the estate for them.
Franco is able to escape by impersonating a girl bomb -- Goldfoot
rationalizes this strange looking "girl" as being the result of failing
to "oil the machine" -- but Ciccio is trapped when he unsuccessfully
attempts to impersonate Goldfoot's reflection in a makeshift mirror.
That night, Franco returns with Dexter. In the interim, Ciccio has
been duplicated. After battling it out with the duplicate, the two
inept doormen are once again reunited.
His plans of world domination still in place, Goldfoot attempts to flee.
A mad chase ensues, leading through such picturesque sights as the Roman
Collisseum (which is slightly damaged when the good doctor smashes one
of the pillars), the Trevi Fountain (into which Goldfoot throws a coin
for "good luck") and an amusement park. The chase culminates in the
air, with Goldfoot boarding a U.S. aircraft under the guise of General
Willis, and Dexter and his cohorts pursuing in a hot air ballon. (In
the English-language print, the balloon ride is presented as a silent
movie spoof, complete with title cards and farcical sound effects).
Landing their balloon on the wings of the plane, Dexter foils Goldfoot's
escape. The heroes battle it out with Goldfoot, but the doctor takes
advanatge of the commotion by quietly donning a parachute and escaping.
Before he escapes, however, Goldfoot sets the control panels of the
plane on a course for Moscow -- once it reaches the deignated sight, the
bomb bay doors will open an a "Super Bomb" will be released on the
Kremlin. In an obvious spoof of Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE, OR:
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964), Franco and
Ciccio disarm the bomb, but the doors open prematurely and they are
dropped into the heart of Siberia, riding the bomb like a horse.
The happy ending seens Dexter re-instated as a member of S.I.C., while
plans to rescue Franco and Ciccio are scrapped when President Johnson
declares that the entire incident must be kept strictly under cover. It
ultimately transpires that Franco and Ciccio are happily residing in a
prison camp, presided over by none other than Dr. Goldfoot.
While watching this film, one is faced with many question, chief among
them being: why would Bava, the master of morbid horror, have been
assigned to direct this sophomoric comedy, and why should he have
accepted? Bava was a working director. He took the film to fulfill
contractural obligations and to put food on the table. Not everybody
has the luxury of being able to make the films they want to make. So
much for excuses: as a comedy, LE SPIE is unfunny, and as a film it is,
quite literally, a mess. The lighting is flat and functional, the use
of accelerated motion is, even by 1966 standards, terribly out-dated,
and the performances range from the somnabulistic to the downright
awful. Vincent Price occassionally manages to get a chuckle out of his
lame dialogue, but this sort of material is quite beneath his talents.
All told, this film represents an all-time low for both Price and Bava.
Sicilian comics Franco and Ciccio, to quote the great Italian director
Lucio Fulci -- who wrote some material for them at the beginning of his
career -- were nothing more than "horrible rip-offs of Laurel and
Hardy," and they repeat their standard shtik with customarily laughless
Originally planned by producer Fulvio Lucisano, the head of Italian
International Pictures, to be a sequel to the hit Franco and Ciccio
vehicle TWO MAFIA GUYS VS. GOLDGINGER, the film became complicated when
American co-financing was supplied by AIP. Having had a big hit with
DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (1965 -- itself hardly a masterpice
of sophisticated comedy, though it is vastly superior to the Bava film),
producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson, together with
producer/co-writer Louis M. Heyward, determined that the Italian film
would be a perfect opportunity to fulfill the commercial desires of both
companies: the Italian version would be marketed as a Franco and Ciccio
vehicle, while the American one would be tailored to showcase the return
of Vincent Price's Dr. Goldfoot character. Since Bava was known by both
companies to be a reliable talent, he was signed to direct.
Understandably, he had no enthusiasm for the project and tried to pull
out of it. However, Lucisano had him under contract for one more film,
and he was determined that this was going to be the one. With no other
options opened, he agreed to direct. Bava and his cast improvised from
the poorly written scenario, gamely hoping to deliver a watchable film,
but the impossibility of filming a project which was to be edited into
two completely different films killed their efforts. The American
version, widely hailed as a bomb, is not the work of Mario Bava, as it
was re-written, re-scored and re-edited without his participation, but
even the Italian version -- which benefits from his input -- is far from
a success. In any cut, it is Bava's worst movie.
For all of that, Bava's signature does show up in the film's perverse
premise. Here again, the linkage of sex and violent death is blatantly
obvious. Dr. Goldfoot preys on his victims' sex drive by luring them to
their deaths with his seductive girl bombs. Their orgasmic release is
literally explosive. The idea is a delicious one, even if it is
realized in a reckless and frivoulous fashion.
In many ways, LE SPIE can be viewed as a rehearsal for Bava's later pop art fantasy DIABOLIK (1967). At heart, both films are live action
cartoons informed by an impish sense of fun. In both films, the central
anti-hero uses technology to outwit a slow-witted police force. Dr.
Goldfoot, like Diabolik, makes use of state of the art inventions of his
own design. Yet, there is no question but that is a superior
film in every respect. While it seems clear that Bava personally
invested himself in DIABOLIK, and that he felt some affinity for the
protagonist (for example, Diabolik makes use of photographic tricks which
are very similar to techniques utilized by Bava in his films), here the
director is dealing with a project that has been forced upon him. Even
so, the similarities between the two films are striking, and help to
keep this film from being a total waste of time.
Ideas such as these testify to Bava's seeming inability to undertake a
project without investing something of him self in it. Given the
circumstances of its production, it is perhaps not surprising that it is
such a rambling and unfocused piece of work. Apart from the occasional
clever idea, only Bava's characteristic tactic of layering meaning into
seemingly straight-forward (i.e., commercial) subject matter prevents
the film from being totally worthless.
Review © Troy Howarth
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