Saturday, June 30, 1973: Superargo vs. Diabolicus (1966) / The Mask of Diijon (1940)

superargoposter

Synopsis: In a crowded bar people gather to watch a highly-anticipated wrestling match, billed as one of the greatest sporting events in recent memory: undefeated wrestler El Tigre squares off against the masked world champion Superargo.

At first, the match goes in favor of El Tigre, with Superargo unable to fend off the challenger in tiger-striped trunks. But slowly the tide turns toward Superargo, who manages to flip and throw his opponent a number of times. But unexpectedly, one of Superargo’s throws sends El Tigre over the top rope, down onto the cement floor below. El Tigre is killed in the fall.

Despondent over having caused the death of El Tigre, Superargo tells his girfriend Lidia (Monica Randall) that he will never wrestle again. She suggests that Col. Alex Kenton (Josep Castillo Escanola), a friend of his since the war, might be able to offer some guidance, but Superargo rejects the notion. “Just because I may have saved his life once doesn’t mean I should go running to him whenever I have a problem,” he tells her.

superargo2

Lidia goes to see Kenton on her own, and he agrees with her that something must be done. The death of El Tigre has sapped Superargo’s confidence, he tells her. There must be some way for him to regain it.

The solution soon arrives when supervillain Diabolicus begins hijacking ships in the Gulf of Mexico. All the ships are carrying cargoes of uranium and mercury.

Kenton demonstrates to his dubious colleagues that the masked wrestler is the perfect agent to go after Diabolicus. Superargo, it turns out, has superhuman abilities: he is immensely strong, recovers from stab wounds almost instantly, and can hold his breath for up to seven minutes. His only weakness appears to be electricity: while he cannot be electrocuted, receiving electrical shocks that would kill an ordinary man do cause him a lot of pain.

superargocontrodiabolikus04

The go-ahead is finally given to send Superargo to the island lair of Diabolicus. Kenton gives him a number of high-tech gadgets that will assist him, including a bullet-proof wrestling suit (identical to the ones he’s already been wearing) and a geiger counter disguised as a cocktail olive.

Superargo is easily able to infiltrate the island of Diabolicus, thanks in part to his ability to hold his breath for extended periods of time. But he is soon captured, and electricity is used to torture him. But Diabolicus’ girlfriend has secretly grown tired of the life of a supervillain’s main squeeze, and she might be willing to give the muscular spy a little help in thwarting the plans of Diabolicus….

super

Comments: Superargo vs. Diabolicus was the first of two Italian / Spanish films (the second being Superargo and the Faceless Giants) that borrowed heavily from both the lucha libre genre of masked wrestler movies and the countless gadget-happy spy movies of the 1960s, which were derivative of the James Bond films.

I wouldn’t say this film “works”, in the generally accepted sense of the word, but like many Italian sci-fi and fantasy films of the era, it’s adorably zany, eager to please and unapologetically juvenile.

It’s never explained how or why Superargo possesses his superpowers; he just does. Nor is it explained why a military veteran with superhuman prowess would choose a career as a pro wrestler, or why no one can ever know his real name or see his face, or why his former commanding officer would recruit him into the secret service essentially just to cheer him up. Or, for that matter, why he insists on wearing his wrestling tights while fighting international spies.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Asking those questions will just make you unhappy. Just take what you see at face value, and try to enjoy the proceedings, you mope. It’s fun, okay? Why do you hate fun?

Ken Wood was the Americanized name of Italian stuntman Giovanni Cianfriglia, who’d served as a Steve Reeves body double in the Hercules movies, and who appeared in a number of spaghetti westerns. A voice actor was used to fill in his dialogue in both Superargo films, so we have to assume he wasn’t much of an actor. American audiences, of course, knew nothing of this, as all the voice parts were dubbed.

Loredana Nusciak is probably best known for her role opposite Franco Nero in Django (1966). She doesn’t make much of an impression here but it’s really not her fault; she’s wasted in a very dull part.

The same could be said for the German actor Gerhard Tichy as Diabolicus. The character has a name and a resume like that of a Bond villain, but when we meet him, Diabolicus is absurdly mild-mannered. He might as well be an accountant, for all the sinister intent he brings to the role. I think the screenplay is to blame here, not Tichy himself. He was a real utility player in European cinema of the 1960s, appearing in Dr. Zhivago (1965), King of Kings (1964) and many more.

The Mask of Diijon

Synopsis: A successful stage magician named Diijon (Erich Von Stroheim) has retired his lucrative act in order to study the mysterious art of hypnotism.  He feels he is on to something big, but his obsessive devotion to his studies is troubling to his wife Vicki and their friends.  His lack of income is putting a strain on their marriage, but all attempts by Vicki’s friends to help are rebuffed by the proud and arrogant Diijon.

About this time, Tom Holliday arrives in town.  He is an old flame of Vicki’s and he too is concerned that she is being neglected.  In an attempt to help her, he offers Diijon a gig at the club where he works as a bandleader.  After much convincing, Diijon finally agrees;  but because he is long out of practice he botches the act and is fired.  Diijon is furious, and accuses Tom of trying to humiliate him in front of his wife.

On his way home, Diijon stops at a diner for a cup of coffee.  A shady character enters and tries to hold the place up – but Diijon manages to hypnotize the man, forcing him to give up his gun and return the money to the owner.  Intrigued by his success, Diijon hypnotizes the man selling papers at a newsstand  — getting him to shout for all to hear that he is selling the evening edition, when he is in fact selling the morning edition.
It becomes clear to him that he can hypnotize anyone, and his subjects will do whatever he orders them to do.  But how far does his control go?  As something of an experiment, he hypnotizes family friend Danton, forcing him to write a suicide note and then throw himself off a bridge.  

Now that he has established a means to kill through hypnotism, Diijon decides to take revenge on Tom and Vicki – by hypnotizing his now-estranged wife, and forcing her to kill Tom at the club, in front of hundreds of witnesses….

Comments: Right from the opening scene, Lew Landers’ The Mask of Diijon paints the title character as an arrogant and thoughtless man, who is openly rude to his wife and her friends.  Quickly establishing a list of grievances against Diijon makes it easier for us to accept that Vicki will, later in the film, leave him for another man.  Even so, it’s a little hard to accept that Diijon becomes a cold-blooded murderer so quickly.

Maybe this is because the screenplay is in such a hurry to raise the stakes. With his newly-developed power of hypnotism, Diijon first chooses to play a prank – he gets the man at the newsstand to shout that he’s selling the evening edition when he is in fact selling the morning edition. Having succeeded at this, he then decides to commit a murder.  It would have been more convincing if Diijon had gradually ventured into more and more dangerous stunts, and only then stepped over the line to murder.

 

 

Well, we can’t expect too much from a PRC programmer, can we?  The movie clocks in at 73 minutes so it has to keep things moving; and Eric Von Stroheim glowers and murmurs so ominously that it’s easy to believe he is up to no good. All the same, I think the movie would have worked better in dramatic terms in Diijon had been given a stronger motivation to begin a series of murders.

In some ways the deck is stacked against Diijon in the same way it was stacked against Wilfred in Werewolf of London. Diijon’s motive for revenge is an unfaithful wife, but we’re expected to blame Diijon himself for pushing her into the arms of her old flame Tom Holliday.

It seems to me that The Mask of Diijon would have worked better if Diijon himself had been a bit more sympathetic –  an antihero we can empathize with, even if we don’t approve of his actions.

 

Advertisements

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.