Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Wild, Wild Planet (Mercury Productions, Southern Cross, MGM, 1966)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Vintage Sci-Fi movies were along pretty much the same lines as Contamination, though at least they were considerably less gory. The first, The Wild, Wild Planet was also an Italian production, though the English dubbing was considerably better than it was for Contamination. This was made in 1966 and featured at least one actor who went on to at least some degree of international stardom: Franco Nero, billed fifth and playing “Jake,” a lieutenant in the commando brigade led by the film’s star, Tony Russell (some sources list his last name with just one “l” and he was almost certainly another Italian being billed under an Anglo name), playing Commander Mike Halstead. This was yet another story of an alien invader trying to destroy all life on Earth as we know it as a preface to colonization, though it had some intriguing aspects: the principal villain, Dr. Nurmi (Massimo Serato), is an executive with a mysterious corporation called “CBM” (for Chemical, Biological, Medical), and he’s masterminding bizarre experiments that basically involve the manufacture of synthetic humans, who come out of the mold the size of Barbie dolls and are then blown up to full human size in another set of molds. (The Barbie comparison was almost inevitable given that a member of Halstead’s squad is actually named “Ken” — played by Carlo Giustini, billed as “Charles Justin.”) 

Halstead is particularly put out because Nurmi and his agents have kidnapped his girlfriend, Lt. Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastini, who actually turns in the closest approximation to acting of anyone in this film), and he has sinister plans for her which he explains towards the end: “Soon she will be ready for the great moment when she and I will become one person; when my flesh will absorb hers. We will be one, one dual person. That will be the perfect combination of my work — the total fusion, the great moment.” (I couldn’t help but wonder how my Transgender friends would respond to this scene.) The film progresses (like a disease) to a climax taking place in a blood-soaked pool — the detritus of Nurmi’s previous experimental failures (much like the ones in Bela Lugosi’s Bowery at Midnight which tore him up at the end, ditto for Basil Rathbone in The Black Sleep, or the “thing in the closet” in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die) and the various spare human parts he’s accumulated (at least two of the creatures in this film look otherwise like normal humans but have four arms, courtesy of a skin-grafting process Nurmi has invented, which inevitably led me to joke, “That’s what happens when you have a mad scientist who’s also a practicing Hindu”) having soaked the water in blood — in which Halstead frees Connie and the bad guys get theirs, though apparently the film was made under a co-production deal between MGM and an Italian company called Southern Cross, and part of the deal was they made four films taking place in this universe at once. The others were called War of the Planets, War Between the Planets and Snow Devils, and are referred to as the “Gamma One Quadrilogy.” The idea that there are three other movies out there of such mind-numbing awfulness as this one beggars the mind. 

There is one genuinely cool thing about The Wild, Wild Planet: the model sets representing the future outpost at which most of the movie takes place, though among the most obvious models in the history of moviemaking (another of my MST3K-style jokes: “Special effects by the director’s 12-year-old son!”), are genuinely interesting and fun to look at. So are the cars in which the characters drive, which look something like Jetsons-style pods, though instead of actually flying they hover a few inches over the road, kept in that position by the air-based system that also propels them. Of course, director Antonio Margheriti (billed in the opening credits as “Anthony Dawson,” a name he used on quite a few of the U.S. releases of his films) can’t help but show us the little wheels that are actually supporting the cars in some shots, but still the effect is cool. Also a positive in this film is the musical score by a progressive rock group called “I Goblin” (though it’s unclear whether “I” is the English first-person singular pronoun or the Italian plural “and”), who sound like someone’s idea of a mashup between Led Zeppelin and Tangerine Dream and whom I wouldn’t mind hearing more of — indeed, The Wild, Wild Planet might be a better movie if they deleted the dlalogue, left the music and turned the whole thing into a 90-minute music video for I Goblin. Other than that, though, The Wild, Wild Planet is a silly movie which all too faithfully reproduces the conventions of James Bond movies (including their horrible sexism) and transmits them to outer space — in fact, I suspect that’s how “Dawson” and his writers, Ivan Reiner (no relation to Carl or Rob, I’m sure!) and Renato Moretti, got this green-lighted: “Hey, it’s James Bond as science fiction!”