Saturday, September 12, 2015

Oddball Film Report: 3 GIANT MEN (1973)

3 GIANT MEN (1973-color)

The short story: Captain America and Santo travel to Turkey to stop the villainous Spider from following through with an international art-smuggling/counterfeiting scheme.

The details: Where to begin?

     Admittedly, reviewing 3 GIANT MEN is a bit of a cheat, since it's usually (not always, but usually) my hope that you'll eventually see these films for yourself. Being a fair sport about it, I have also never reviewed a subtitled picture before now. There's practically zero chances of you're seeing this film, largely unknown to the casual movie fan. It's Turkish in origin, and Turkish films are notoriously obscure even within the borders of their native land. Historically, little or no care went into preserving their native movies, and as result many (if not most) are now considered lost.

   What remains, though, paints a considerably wacky portrait of a country's cinematic output.

   Turkish films came about mostly because films imported from America and other countries did very well there. Some enterprising domestic businessmen began producing their own films in order to feed the endlessly-hungry theater patrons. The results are movies that appear to've been made by people who'd read about movies but never actually seen one.

    Turkish films (genre films in particular, since those are the ones people outside of Turkey were interested in seeing) are unbelievably poorly crafted. This film, for example, features bits of leader occasionally seen during the scene transitions and cuts! They're uniformly crude, it seems, with production values that would embarrass even the cheapest 70's regional exploitation porno. 

    Countering this is a raw energy and obvious love of movie adventure that gives the end product the feel of nothing so much as a really ambitious home movie. Frenetic actions scenes, over-the-top acting, breathless pacing, and a complete absence of logic give these films the impression that they were pieced together by a hyper little boy, albeit one who had plenty of help from his weird older brother. That's because, for all their innocence, Turkish genre films also catered to adult audiences with merrily outlandish villainy which included torture, rape, and disfigurement, in addition to wildly exotic death scenes. There were frequent additions of scenes involving sexual encounters and occasional nudity as well.

   In the end, these films have a bizarre combination of aesthetics borrowed from Ed Wood, Barry Mahon, Hershel Gordon Lewis, K. Gordon Murray, and Republic serials. In fact, serials from Republic and other studios were among the most popular imported fare. Copyright laws being almost non-existent in Turkey, some of these serials were remade outright as colorful feature films. 40's serial THE MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN, following the adventures of crime-fighter the Copperhead, was re-worked into THE DEATHLESS DEVIL

(THE DEATHLESS DEVIL served as my introduction to the Turkish genre film. Wow. In one scene that will always stand out in my memory, Copperhead and a bad guy are having a fight in an office. They shuffle off camera and suddenly we see them battling on a rooftop somewhere! While you're busy trying to figure out how they got there, they move back and the fight continues back inside the office they just left! Really, words can't describe it.)

   Indeed, it's the costume from the Dick Purcell serial that Captain America wears here.

Dick Purcell as CAPTAIN AMERICA, 1944

   You might be wondering why a Turkish adventure movie that you've never heard of features one of comicdom's most popular crime-fighters. Well, Turkish movie-makers didn't care one iota about copyright infringement. Like little kids drawing their own comic book, they'd use whatever hero they wanted to use. They also went after domestic audiences of major Hollywood movies by crafting their very own versions thereof! In fact, there were Turk versions of popular American movies like FIRST BLOOD, SUPERMAN, and most famously STAR WARS, which actually lifted footage from Lucas' film!

   This habit also extended to ineptly utilized stock music cues. The main theme to 3 GIANT MEN is from John Barry's score to DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER! (They didn't seem to care much if the music matched the theme of the movie they were making either. One Turkish viking movie uses the theme from AIRPORT to note the appearance of a giant octopus!)

   Captain America began his career in the comic books, famously socking Hitler in the jaw before the U.S. was even officially in the War. Cap's book proved a popular one, and ran well beyond the War that caused his creation in the first place. 

   In the comics, as in the recent blockbuster, Cap was originally puny would-be defender of liberty Steve Rogers. His chance to fight came when a revolutionary serum was in need of volunteers, the aim to create from even the worst physical specimen a verified Super Soldier. It works, turning Rogers into a superman. Unfortunately for our side, enemy agents kill the creator of the substance and leave Rogers the program's single success. Needless to say, Cap would spend the next several years giving it right back to the Nazis, and later the Reds.

   Cap first hit the silver screen via the serial CAPTAIN AMERICA, in 1944, I think it was. Rather than follow tradition, however, this Captain America was a crusading district attorney who moonlighted as a masked superhero. His name was even changed to Grant Gardner, for some reason. Nevertheless, the serial proved popular with the kids who went to see it, and it was re-issued a couple of times.

   Back in the comics, superheroes were becoming old hat and their books began dying off after the War years. By the early 50's, the trend in comics was toward romance, westerns, and horror stories. As noted, Cap fought the red menace for a period before having his book altered into more of a horror slant. Eventually, Cap left the scene altogether.

    Come the 60's and superheroes were back with more popularity than ever. Cap was returned as part of the ensemble superhero team known as The Avengers. While Cap's origin was retained, his later life was re-written so that now Cap had vanished at War's end, frozen in a block of ice that wasn't discovered until the 1960's. It was said that the Cap of the 50's was actually another guy wearing the same uniform (and, in the modern attempt to white-wash the red menace into an imaginary scare, the Cap of the 50's is now labelled as an insane persecutor of innocent people -much to the contrary of actual history).

   The 60's also saw Cap the subject of some crudely animated (though nicely drawn) Saturday morning cartoons. The character, or a version thereof, was the subject of a pair of lackluster TV movies starring Reb Brown in 1979. After that, there was an obscure direct to video movie in the early 90's. Finally, there was the massively successful Marvel feature of this Century. That, of course, was followed up by sequels which included film versions of The Avengers. 

   Cap's first real feature, though, was Turkey's 3 GIANT MEN. Sorta. If this guy is the 'real' Cap is a subject open to debate. 

   For one thing, this version of Captain America is never given a civilian name, so there's no way of telling if this is supposed to be the Steve Rogers or Grant Gardner version of the character. He is accompanied by his sister Julia, though. Possibly she's modeled on Grant Gardner's secretary Gail Richards (played by popular serial and westerns beauty Lorna Gray -aka Adrian Booth), but that's just a guess. She and Cap seem about the same age, so it's not likely that this Cap has been in action since the early 40's. On the other hand, this Captain America has the super strength of the comic book hero. See what I mean? It's just confusing.

   At any rate, this version of Cap is super strong and a natural athlete (the actor playing him indeed performs some pretty impressive gymnastics during the fight scenes), but he's also been given the addition of a bullet-proof uniform. Perhaps because of this (and Santo's bare chest), it's Cap who really takes the lead in the action stuff. For what it's worth, the crazily energetic fight scenes are choreographed quite well.  

   Another oddity, although only from the overly PC goggles through which comic book properties are viewed in the new century, Cap is seen both smoking a cigarette and enjoying the occasional whiskey. Turkish heroes were never less than manly men, unless they were women (in which case male behavior wasn't an unknown quantity).

   His sister Julia seems to be an equal in the crime-fighting game, although her specialty is more in the line of infiltration (something common to female reporters and the like from the 40's serials, again making me wonder if this character has been imported and adapted from that source). She's also, per tradition, the one who does most of the tedious research and legwork. She uncovers clues which the men investigate, and the ultimate result is a fight or two with the bad guys.

   Of course, why stop at one superhero? Cap is joined by Mexico's champion El Santo! The pair might seem an odd combination, but the sight of it doesn't seem as jarring as it might sound. This is due mostly to the fact that not only has Cap been regularly seen alongside fellow costumed crime-fighters, but so has Santo. In fact, he did a number of films alongside fellow masked wrestler The Blue Demon, among others.

The real Santo fought, among others, some sexy Martians

   Santo began life as a masked wrestler, such things being common in Mexico (despite their pageantry, however, Mexican wrestlers tend to be a lot more brutal than we Americanos would assume, regularly throwing punches and kicks that would be strictly illegal in the American ring). 

   Originally, he was a "bad guy" in the ring, but his popularity quickly made him Mexico's champion. A comic book turned Santo into a superhero, and so it has been ever since. Beginning in the late 50's, and continuing until the early 80's, Santo was the star of an astounding number of movies. Weirdly, his adventures seldom made it North of the border. I can really only think of one example*, SAMSON VS THE VAMPIRE WOMEN, for which the distributor changed Santo's name hoping audiences might think it one of the hugely popular sword and sandal epics coming from Italy at that time.

(*Actually, I do think there was another import, but I have yet to see it myself. SAMSON AND THE WAX MUSEUM maybe?**)

[**Turns out there were no less than three Santo/Samson movies that saw some U.S. TV play in the 60's. Why has there not been a boxed set collecting these three films together???]

   For those who can stomach subtitles, though, the Santo movies are a lot of fun. As the situation called for, the Man in the Silver Mask was everything from a detective to a scientist capable of building a time machine! He was never seen without his mask, and his services were always there for those in trouble. Being the sort to just fight evil because it was the right thing to do, Santo captured the heroic nature we all aspire to. And evil took on many forms in Santo's world.

   As far as I know, the Santo films never took place within the same universe. The only constant was Santo. His adventures routinely brought him up against gangsters, spies, werewolves, witches, Martians, monsters, Nazis, vampires (even Dracula), mad scientists, and you name it! Some films were cartoonishly delirious, others strained for mood and a sense of reality. As noted, Santo would sometimes be assisted by fellow wrestling stars like The Blue Demon. 

   And of course, being a real-life wrestler, Santo's films would always include a bout or two in the ring.

   Through it all, Santo always looked the same. A healthy bulk clad in white tights, bare chest, and silver mask. He also possessed a flashy cape which came off when the fighting started. As goofy as it might sound, it made for some fine adventure. In fact, other masked wrestlers tried their hands at being movie stars too. None were as prolific as Santo, but it's interesting to note that some of them actually made into American theaters. Neutron was one such masked marvel, who had a good half dozen or so films dubbed for U.S. release. 

   While the masked wrestler-turned-superhero wasn't big in the States, however, it did catch on elsewhere. Italy gave us Superargo, who was basically Santo through a James Bond filter. He too was a masked wrestler, though he possessed super powers that made him invincible. Recruited by the secret service, Superargo swung into action in at least two adventures, SUPERARGO VS DIABOLICUS and SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS -in the second film, he picked up a swami sidekick! (The similarly-named Argoman owed more to the Green Hornet than Santo, and went for a more adult approach than one might expect from seeing his costume....) It was a magical time when films like these were routinely dubbed for American screenings. Why we'd import Superargo and largely ignore Santo, though, I have no clue!

   Somehow or other, Santo's films did make it to Turkey, where he proved mighty popular. And since the Turks like to make their own films about things they like, there were a couple of Turkish Santo movies. I don't know if the other Turkish films followed the play of 3 GIANT MEN, but this particular version of Santo isn't much at all like his namesake. 

   The most obvious change is that this Santo has a civilian identity, and is thus seen frequently minus his famous silver mask (the real Santo didn't disclose his true identity until 1984*). What's more, if the garb of Mr. Santo's everyday form is any indication, this version of Santo is an American Indian! Weirdly, though, he's still a great Mexican detective. Even weirder is that Captain America's features look more Mexican than do Mr. Santo's! Being the 70's, both Cap and Santo sport thick wavy hair that's too long. In the case of Santo, this means big clumps of it poke out distractingly from the back of his mask.

(*Santo famously unmasked himself on television. Less than a month later, at the frightfully young age of 66, the greatest wrestler in all Mexico died -while actually wearing his mask!)

   While not as physically thick as the real Santo, it should be noted that this guy does in fact have the movements and mannerisms of the real thing. He even looks like Santo in the face when most of it is covered by the mask. On the other hand, this Santo is shown to be a pickpocket(!) for no real reason at all.

   Also unlike the real Santo, this version of the character doesn't engage in any wrestling matches while on assignment in Turkey. The closest thing we get is a brief karate bout when Santo breaks into a criminal operation fronting as a martial arts school. On his way out, Santo is spotted by a number of henchmen in their fighting garb. They challenge Santo, and the Man in the Silver Mask quickly puts them on the floor. Per the usual play of things, the fights have a far more realistic look about them than does the rest of the movie.

   Anyway, in this film, the Turks are up against a nasty crime syndicate headed up by the Spider, a masked criminal. The Spider is even butting heads with the Mafia, and killing off a shocking number of their men. The grand scheme involves stealing art treasures and shipping them to the States through Mexico, and then purchase of the hot statues with millions of dollars in counterfeit monies. This will destabilize economic systems around the world (this being a time when American dollars were worth their value and Mexico was still considered something of a vacationer's paradise). The authorities call in the top agents of the West, those being Captain America, his sister Julia, and Santo.

   Somewhat reducing the excitement is that our heroes arrive in civilian dress. In fact, they only don their costumes to physically engage with the bad guys. Why? Cap explains that the Spider is angered by seeing other people's masks. Okay...

   As if Captain America and Santo weren't enough to make the film somewhat notorious, the film also offers up the Spider. Weirdly (a word frequently employed when discussing this film), The Spider actually keeps his identity a secret -right through the end of the movie! He removes his mask at one point to jump in bed with his moll, but the camera stays on the back of his head the whole time. So the heavy is actually more like Santo than Santo here!

   Infamously, the Spider is wearing a costume modelled upon that of Spiderman, the then-popular star of his own Marvel comic book! But of course, the Spider is the villain... And how! Clearly based on the serial heavies of earlier decades, the Spider commands an army of underlings who carry out various crimes like kidnappings and such. Unless it's something the Spider himself wants to do, in which case he handles the theft or murder himself. Of the cackling madman variety, the Spider gleefully executes people in the most outrageous fashions.

   In what may be the films most potentially disturbing scene, the Spider offs one of his bound underlings by placing a huge, clear pipe before his face. He then grabs a couple of guinea pigs (supposedly rats) that have been starved to the point of frenzy, and stuffs them into the other end of the pipe. The critters then scurry down the tube and eat the guy's face! What's more is that the guy dies pretty fast, as if the rats have eaten right into his brain! In another gleeful scene, the Spider sneaks into an enemy's house and finds him in the shower with a young lady. Grabbing a metal spike, the Spider impales both!

   As we open the picture, a young woman is begging the Spider and his gang not to kill her. This is all looks to be taking place in broad daylight at an open beach. Having dug a hole just large enough to accommodate a female victim, the group surrounds the young lady and then basically close in on her until she blindly falls in. The underlings then shove sand up around her neck so all that's exposed is her head. Screaming for help, she is instead introduced to the business end of a boat motor shoved into position by a pair of henchmen. 

   So our very first moments feature a helpless young woman having her face buzzsawed off by a motorboat. This sounds pretty sick, but as noted these films tend to feel like they were dreamed up and executed by hyper little boys. Somehow, the scene doesn't come off as gruesome as it probably should. Probably because these films are so vague on what their tone should be. The thing leaps back and forth between Republic serial earnestness, comic book kookery, and David Freidman exploitation, with occasional peppering of Batman-style camp.

   The plot, such as it is, follows Cap and Santo as they investigate and periodically fight the Spider and his men. The Spider operates a nightclub and Julia tries to pose as one of the joint's strippers, only to be caught by the Spider. Cap and Santo allow themselves to be captured in a move to free Julia and take on the Spider.

   Since the plot involves strippers, at least one act is highlighted (fortunately for Julia, she never has to actually perform). Oddly, for all the sex and strippers, I don't recall any actual nudity from this particular film. The stripper performs her act in pasties, and all the women having sex are usually shot from the back. Odd move for this kind of thing, which is the only reason I bring it up. As noted, Turkish genre movies apparently tried to be all things to all people, hence the mixture of comic book heroes and sex, violence and comedy.

   For reasons never explained (another phrase one uses often when describing this picture), the Spider has an army of underlings dressed just like himself. These are called in to fight off the heroes and buy time for his escape. They attack one by one, and another makes his presence known once his previous partner has been defeated. Either that, or the Spider has created duplicates of himself. It's not very clear... 

   Either way, this means two major sections of the film feature our heroes fighting with someone they believe to be the Spider, only to defeat him before turning to see another laughing maniac wearing the same costume. Needless to say, this includes the climax of the picture.

   Unlike most superhero pictures, the climax of this one finds both our heroes in civilian dress rather than in their trademark masks. On one hand, this makes a certain degree of sense, as there's no logical reason for them to don their costumes. The Spider knows who they are, and they don't have time to waste anyway. Cap is wearing his bulletproof longjohns under his clothing, though, so he manages to deflect several shots fired at him by the Spider's henchmen. Disappointingly, Santo is almost entirely off the scene during the final battle. Said battle is pretty well done, however.

   At one point earlier, Cap and Santo lift the back of a car into the air to prevent a pair of thugs from making good their escape. While I haven't seen all of the real Santo's movies, I don't recall him ever having superhuman strength (only superhuman stamina). This is the only scene to indicate such, as well. At any rate, how can these human henchmen stand up to being punched by our heroes? In his first big set-piece, Cap shoves his hands through a wall to grab his opponent. How can he do that one minute, and then throw a punch that doesn't even keep his enemy down the next?

   In the end, 3 GIANT MEN is berserk and bizarre, and thus quite entertaining. It's the choice of characters that have kept it alive all these years, though. Despite being seldom seen, the idea that Captain America and Santo join forces to fight an evil Spiderman has been enough to keep the memory of the film in mention. And here I've done my small part to keep the rumors circulating too.

In action, 3 GIANT MEN: The Spider, Santo, and Captain America

Many thanks to Mr. Morgan McDannell for hunting down a copy of the film for me. God bless you, my friend!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Gospel message

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." -Jesus, the Christ, John 3:11-21