My class and I recently went to Rome to look at a lot of art, hoping to pass our exams without reading books so heavy you get a potbelly just from resting them on your chest while reading on the bed. And boy did I learn a lot. Like how Michelangelo got pissy at Raphael because he stole his style and got credit for it, proving that Raphael indeed was cool but rude and that Michelangelo by no means was a party dude. Also, unlike what you might think, it wasn't Donatello who did machines, but Leonardo. Don't believe everything TV tells you, it could seriously screw you over on your final exams. I sure almost learned that the hard way.
More relevant to this site is what I learned about Italian superheroes. When a friend of mine went out to browse the local video stores, I asked him to keep an eye out for EO material. He returned with Superargo contro Diabolikus from 1967. Now, if you take 1967 and subtract one year, you arrive at 1966. Which was the year Adam West put his pointy ears on, sucked his gut in and started a successful career as the daytime version of the Dark Knight. Subtract four more years, and you'll find Sean Connery introducing himself as Jamesh Bond for the very first time. Put these two together, and you've got Superargo in a nutshell. Only problem is, something went wrong and he got West's silliness without his self-irony and Connery's confidence in his own radical coolness without anything to back it up with. I give you Superargo: wrestler by day, superhero by night. Wait, other way around.
As the movie starts, Superargo is fighting El Tigre for the wrestling world title. Superargo is wearing his costume, El Tigre is dressed like Johnny Weissmüller. Now, you may think that it's a bad idea to have your secret identity as a superhero also be your highly profiled identity as wrestling champion of the world. And I would agree with you, but let's see how the fight turns out instead of worrying about that. It looks bad for Superargo for a while, but you know how you have a hard time getting ahead in a fighting game until you find a technique that works well and you start using only this trick all the time until you beat the game? Well, Superargo figures out that if he pulls the head scissors move over and over again, El Tigre doesn't stand a chance. Hooray, Superargo is the champion! Oh wait, El Tigre died.
Superargo is comforted by his girl, who reminds him it was all an accident, and that accidents can happen. Maybe she's right, but it's also an accident if you transport fugitives in a garbage truck with wiring problems and people get flat. Using super-powers in the ring is a pretty dumb thing to do. After Argo throws a fit about how he wishes he could take his mask off and live a normal life (which I don't see a reason why he couldn't do), his girlfriend manages to calm him down. He is lucky to have a girl like her. Not only for the moral support, I'm sure she also helps him zip up his costume, which he also wears in private, by the way. I think I finally know what the deal with capes is: it looks pretty stupid when you've got a giant fly running up your entire backside.
Argo's girl pays a visit to Argo's old war buddy colonel Kinsky to ask him to take Argo's mind off wrestling. While they're talking, the colonel's phone rings. Apparently the villainous Diabolikus (or DiaboliKus with a capital K according to the cover art and opening credits) has stolen a shipment of uranium. Kinsky tells his guest that this is good news, as it's exactly what Argo needs to get his mind off the killing of El Tigre.
Superargo is brought in, and Kinsky (who for some reason is referred to as Keaton or possibly Kitten in the English-langue version of this movie) also tries to convince the superhero/wrestling champion/guy sitting around his house in a costume that this was all an accident. Still, Argo blames himself. Like he should. Kinsky proposes a way of redemption: bringing down some madman with a bunch of uranium. After all, nothing says "I'm sorry I killed you" like solving wacky mysteries for the Secret Service. Argo agrees, and Kinsky summons the heads of the agency to demonstrate the amazing powers of Superargo. Suddenly, he turns on his friend and stabs him right in the arm with a knife.
Try to remember that guy in the brown suit, he'll play a part later in the movie. Sadly, the one with the bow-tie will not.
But what exactly puts the 'super' in Argo's 'hero'? The lab coat brigade is here to tell us. First, it is demonstrated how Argo can ride a bicycle hard without his pulse rising very much. Then it is established that he can hold his breath for a shocking seven minutes. He can also withstand extreme cold. To demonstrate this, Argo is put in a temperature chamber, and a few minutes later he is quite all-rigth except his skin seems to have secreted enormous amounts of silly string to insulate him. Finally, the Secret Service guys are shown how his blood coagulates really really fast. Kudos to Mr. Park for donating blood on-screen. Hope there weren't many takes.
Of course, every superhero has his weakness. Argo's is electricity. It doesn't kill him or really do any damage, but it stings like hell. He insists that the people around him get a demonstration of this, so the whitecoats pull out a device that seems to have been specifically designed to send electricity through whoever is holding the two handles. The display is so shocking (no pun intended) that the director feels compelled to cut away to reaction shots of a guy who is so disturbed by the sight that he's on the verge of tears.
This is where the James Bond elements start kicking in. From what I have read, Bond plagiarising was the big thing in Italy in the sixties, and Superargo was no exception. The SS lab has developed a bunch of stuff to aid the superhero in his mission. First, he is presented with his new suit, which looks exactly like his old suit, but is bullet proof. Kinsky demonstrates this by shooting at Argo. Hey, I can't blame him. If I had a superhero friend, I'd stab him and shoot at him all the time. This is of course not the only thing he is given. He also gets:
- a car with a TV set in it
- a fancy brooch with a camera transmitter
- a Geiger counter disguised as an olive (which Argo was about to eat)
- a rubber boat with a big computer on it
- a radio telephone cleverly disguised as a grand piano with a big red flashing light
On his way home in his hot new car, Argo spots a traffic accident and stops to check it out. Only this is no ordinary traffic accident, it's a trap! Thugs come running in from all sides, forcing Argo to jump off a bridge. While the thugs run down to make sure he's dead, he eats a pulse-removing pill he was given by Kinsky, thus tricking his adversaries into thinking he bit the big one. The crooks then start working on disguising the whole thing as a traffic accident. Great plan, folks. A superhero killed in a hit-n-run surely won't raise suspicion.
Shortly after, the pianophone starts flashing and beeping violently back in Argo's place. Argo's girlfriend comes running out of the shower to answer it, and is told what has happened by her boyfriend. She is instructed to play along and pretend he really is dead, as this probably means there is a traitor within the Secret Service. Kinsky joins in on the scam, and the mission is declared a failure.
That very night, Superargo travels by boat to the island suspected to be Diabolikus's secret hideout. To make sure, he throws the Geiger counter in the water and receives a positive uranium scan. It's a good thing they disguised that thing as an innocent olive, or it that whole business might have looked suspicious. He swims in through an underwater cave, sneaks into the secret base, and observes some henchmen pushing carts of gold around. Then he sneaks some more.
Observing the sneaking from his hi-tech lab, with not only red, but also yellow and green flashing lights, is Diabolikus and his girlfriend. With the push of a button, Superargo is trapped in a cage and gassed. It's a good thing he has super-powers! Wait... low pulse... holding breath... low temperatures... blood coagulation... uh-oh! Getting out of a cage is not on the list!
Luckily for Argo, the gas wasn't poisonous, it just knocked him out for a little while. Diabolikus has the unconscious hero strapped to a table and gives him a hit of oxygen to get him back among the waking. Then, he pulls his mask off. We never get to see what Argo looks like, but Diabolikus's girlfriend gasps at the sight. The villain himself, however, can't see any reason to wear it. Myself, I'm with the bad guy here. Why the hell can't he just take off the mask sometime if there's nothing wrong with his face? I mean, one thing is when you're out saving the world or wrestling jungle people, but at home? I don't get it.
Argo pleads his innocence, quickly coming up with a clever story about just being out for a swim and getting curious about the island which according to the Secret Service is more than 200 miles away from anywhere else. When asked about why he was swimming in a costume, he replies that he is the famous wrestler Superargo. This is the part of the story Diabolikus has trouble believing, after all his men killed the real Superargo. But whether this is the real McCoy or not has little consequence, since the intruder will be killed anyway. Argo argues that if he's going to die, he might as well be told everything about his enemy. Diabolikus replies, "I'll tell you the whole story, because you won't ever leave this place alive." Bit too many Bond movies there, Diabolikus.
Well, the whole thing is about alchemy. Our friend the madman has discovered a way to turn mercury into gold. Wait, mercury? What's all this talk about uranium about then? Oh, nevermind. With all the gold he can create from common mercury, he will flood the world market, bringing the superpowers of the planet to their knees. Argo protests that this is crazy, but is bitch slapped by his adversary's girlfriend, who asks him how he dares to talk like that to the future ruler of the universe. Universe? Whoa, hold it. Let's take one world market at the time here.
His story told, Diabolikus sees no reason to keep the intruder alive, and orders a valve to be turned. Suddenly, flames start heating up the table our hero is strapped to. Oh, why couldn't it be extreme cold instead of extreme heat? Superargo passes out again.
Finally a spot of luck: Diabolikus has his prisoner sent to a really cold room. When a couple of henchmen go back to pick him up, convinced he'll be a shock-red icicle, he jumps up and split-knees them both right in the face. Then he sneaks back into the gold factory. He is spotted and ambushed by another thug, but he is no match for Superargo's mighty head scissors move. Then, our hero proceeds to strangulate his opponent, who unlike Superargo can't super-hold-his-breath for seven minutes. Or seven seconds for that matter. Argo is spotted again, so he breaks a pipe conveying silver rubber balls. For some reason, these rubber balls kill everybody except Argo himself.
They manage to sound the alarm before they die, however, and Diabolikus sends his top soldiers out to take the intruder out. Problem is, he does this over the loudspeaker installation, so Argo can hear every bit of tactic communicated to the elite troops. Argo lures them into a trap underwater, and steals their SCUBA equipment. Again, no super lungs, and they drown the second their masks are pulled off.
Pissed off, Diabolikus contacts his man within the Secret Service, and it's... oh no, it's the man in the brown suit! Oh man in brown suit, how could you do this to your friends? The traitor is shocked to hear Superargo is still alive, and promises to take care of this immediately. Meanwhile, El Uomo Mascerato is back in his car, talking to his girlfriend over the TV car phone connected to the brooch and piano at home. That camera brooch is pretty amazing, while it's pinned to the front of the lady's left shoulder, it transmits a semi-profile of the right side of her face to Argo's car. Suddenly, she is kidnapped and taken away in a car, and Argo uses the camera transmission to shadow the kidnappers. This may come as a surprise, but Argo is spotted by his persuees.
Linda (yeah, they finally named her) is taken to the island, and Argo runs over to Kinsky to give him a status report. Kinsky is on the traitor's case, and will keep an eye out. He tells his friend to go back to the island and save his girl, but must do so before midnight, or the whole place will be bombed with him in it or not. Also, his rubber boat will turn back into a pumpkin. It has also become painfully obvious that Argo couldn't get past the first five feet in Metal Gear Solid if he had the official strategy guide, so this time he's given a big gun and explosives.
Upon arrival, Argo is proposed a partnership with Diabolikus. He refuses, so Linda is strapped to the old flame table. This makes him furiously angry, so he kills a guard and steals his flamethrower and uses this flamethrower to blow in the ten-inch steel door that separates the entrance room from the lab. Then he saves the girl and kills every guard left with his machine gun.
Of course, Diabolikus and his girl escape. Unfortunately, there is only room for one in the evacuation rocket, so the fiend tries to trick his girlfriend into fetching some papers while he bails on her. She is smarter than she looks, though, and soon turns the tables on him. Then Linda comes running in, gunning the girl down. For some reason, she doesn't touch Diabolikus, who runs out to his rocket.
Argo tries to stop him, but that tricky bastard has connected the grated door to the rocket room to the power grid, so it really hurts when Argo tries to open it. While our heroes instead decide to escape, the bombers are closing in, threatening to destroy the island. On the way out, they snipe the brown suit man to get rid of that loose end. Then they run on, Argo's back zipper glinting in the moonlight. Well, sun-for-moon-light. Then, the planes let their bombs drop, setting the entire paper mâché thing on mis-scaled fire. Linda cheers, celebrating that her boyfriend finally can take his mask off. Kinsky agrees to this, but hints that he may have to put it on sometime, hinting at a possible sequel. Which arrived the year after, and has according to the title faceless giants in it. The end.
Superargo may not be the greatest superhero of all time, nor the greatest secret agent. In fact, you can pretty much strike the 'super' and the 'secret' parts. You know what, strike 'hero' and 'agent' as well, he's just a guy in a suit with really good lungs. Still, the movie is a lot of fun, and the picture quality on my DVD is surprisingly good, as is the audio. The extras are somewhat lacking, but what can one expect? To those curious, the special features consist of opening and closing credit sequences without superimposed credits as well as a trailer which consists mainly of the three same shots of Superargo jumping at the camera, rolling around, and striking a superhero pose while a voiceover guy yells "Superargo! Uomo Mascerato! Superargo! Superargo! Uomo Mascerato! Superargo! Superargo! Superargo! Superargo! Uomo Mascerato! Superargo!". All in all, a movie worth seeing.