3/22/09

Tomb of Forgotten Film: Hands of Steel (1985)

I want to give credit where credit is due. Tonight’s film is one I never would have heard of if it wasn’t for The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema. The Gentlemen’s Guide is a weekly pod cast devoted to all kinds of cult film and hosted by Big Willie and The Samurai, and back in episode 12 they reviewed this forgotten classic. I think it was Big Willie who had found a video tape copy of the film and from their review alone, I knew this was one I wanted to see. But how? This Sergio Martino effort was out of print and unless I found a copy on tape then I was out of luck. 

It was a few weeks later when the Gentlemen’s Guide hipped me to something else which was very cool, Cinema de Bizarre. Before they could even broadcast the first show with their discount code, I had already rushed over and made a purchase. Then a couple of weeks later they made an important announcement. CdB had obtained an incredible, crystal clear, widescreen version of the movie. I was elated, and I still am. So, I shot off an e-mail to CdB HQ, and he hooked me up with a copy. With that out of the way, I can bring you the film itself. If you only ever see one film about a cyborg assassin getting involved in the world of roadhouse arm wrestling, then see…
Hands of Steel [Italian: Vendetta dal futuro] (1986) starring Daniel Greene, John Saxon, George Eastman, Janet Argen, Claudio Cassinelli, Darwyn Swalve. Directed by Sergio Martino

Paco Queruak (Greene) is an assassin working for an evil foundation which seeks to take over the political structure of America. The foundation has poured tons of resources into Paco’s training, education, and body over the years, and now he is sent on his first mission as the perfect cyborg assassin. He is to seek out the extremely popular head of the reigning political party, Rev. Arthur Mosley, and dispatch him. Paco gets to the man with no problem and kills him with a swift blow from his robotic hands. Or at least he thinks that Mosley is dead. Paco has to make a hasty departure and escapes into the Arizona desert. 

After wandering for a while, Paco finds a bar owned by Linda (Argen) and offers to help around the place in exchange for a place to stay. He soon finds that while the bar is quiet by day, at night, it comes alive when passing truckers stop by for beers and to do a little arm wrestling. Paco soon faces neighborhood tough guy, Raoul (Eastman), and wins the match handily. Raoul soon brings in the tri-state champion to face Paco in a match where the loser will be bitten by a poisonous snake. Little does Paco know that the head of the foundation, Mr. Turner, and his hit men are out to punish Paco for failing his mission. They will stop at nothing to take out the killing machine they created, but Paco has had a taste of freedom and no longer will he be any man’s slave. 

The Bugg Picture

So there have been some great films that feature arm wrestling….well, I take that back. There’s been Over the Top, which I enjoy buy most do not, but while arm wrestling plays a minor part in Hands of Steel, it is those scenes that will stick with you long after you see the film. I was again pleasantly surprised to find a film which was as good as the hype around it (however insular that hype had been), and while many of the stylistic elements which gave Martino’s earlier films such an appeal are gone, there is much to like from the script, cast, and director. I’m going to go ahead and talk about the script for a second because while I loved it there is little I need to say. Hands of Steel is well paced, and its characters fairly well rounded for this type of film. While its cyborg plotline might well have been written to cash in on the success of 1984’s The Terminator. Some of the elements of the humanization of the cyborg character are more reminiscent of films which followed it such as T2 and Robocop

As for the cast, most of these people are familiar to fans of Italian cinema by reputation alone. First, though, a moment about The Saxon. Just a glance at John Saxon’s resume yields titles such as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Glove, The Last Samurai, Pelts, and The Girl Who Knew Too Much.  John plays the heavy here, and whether he’s in his palatial office, behind the controls of a helicopter, or trying to gun Paco down with a massive laser, Saxon's performance is pitch perfect. While the star of the film, Daniel Greene, has no where near the acting prowess of Saxon, Greene nevertheless carries the film quite well. While in any other flick his wooden acting might seem terrible, the man is a cyborg, his acting is not wooden it is so obviously made of steel! Though I must say for a man made of mostly cybernetic parts he seems awfully sweaty. Anyhow, Green, whose previous credits mostly included television roles, would go on top fill small roles is Arthur 2 and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. These days Greene oddly enough seems to only pop up in cameo parts in the Farrelly brothers films. How Green and the Farrellys got hooked up I would love to know, but for now, it will have to remain a mystery. 

As the credits continue to roll, there’s George Eastman. I’ve talked a ton about Eastman lately with my review of Absurd and Anthropophagus. Eastman had previously worked with Martino on his 1983 post-apocalyptic opus 2019: After the Fall of New York, and in Hands of Steel, he makes an appearance as Raoul, the sore loser. Eastman is wonderfully wild eyed, and his attempt to capture and derail Paco from taking on the local champ is one of the film’s shining sequences. Also the broad accent that is given to Raoul allows for some unintentional humor such as when he declares himself a "weeiner". Then there’s Claudio Cassinelli. The veteran actor, who had appeared in Fulci’s  Murder Rock as well as Martino’s Big Alligator River and At the Mountain of the Cannibal God, sadly lost his life during the making of this film when a helicopter he was aboard crashed.  Finally there is Janet Argen as the woman who wooed the cyborg’s heart. She was quite lovely in the film, but her dubbing sounded a bit like someone was trying to go for a Kathleen Turner huskiness. While I got used to it, at first I wondered if Paco was not the only character in the film with after market parts. 

Martino has been a director that I have enjoyed since my first viewing of At the Mountain of the Cannibal God, and here he handles this action fare pretty well. As I stated before it was not as well shot as his earlier work although there were some shots of the desert locals that were very John Ford-esque. Martino was working here with long time cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando, who paired with Sergio for some 35 films (as well as doing the same duties on Troll 2). I assume lower budgets, tighter shooting schedules, and differing genres may account for Hand’s of Steel’s lack of style, but it is pretty amazing to think that this film and a dazzling piece like Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key come from the same eye. All that being said, if I did not know the director or cinematographer’s work, then I would say this is a fine example or a workmanlike mid-80’s action effort. 

Adding to the film is the sound track which was provided by Claudio Simonetti, the former keyboardist for the seminal Italian group Goblin. Naturally this means the soundtrack is synth heavy, but what else would you expect from an action movie from this era. There are a few really great tracks, and I have to add this one to the list of sound tracks that I wish I had. However, I would have to watch listening to it while driving, or I’m afraid I might get quite a few speeding tickets. 

So it’s time I get around to parting words about Hands of Steel, and yet there is so much more I would love to tell you about. Darwyn Swalve and the “Indian style” arm wrestling match. The hit man and his Silent Bob style partner. The adventures of the cops and Dr. Peckinpah. The scene where the truckers egg on Paco to arm wrestle by giving him a note on toilet paper, and Paco replying with his own note on a piece of marble counter top he rips off. Yeah. It’s that kind of film. Once you see it you just want more and more folks to check it out. Some may scoff at my grade and think it quite high for a film like this, but for pure entertainment Hands of Steel is one of the best films out there. Sure it’s not Citizen Kane, but what Hands of Steel actually is is a piece of genre film that any lover of action or Italian cinema should own. 

Bug Rating 


7 comments:

  1. I'm a sucker for anything w/George Eastman. I planned on this being one of my next purchases--again we're both on the same wavelength it seems.

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  2. Wow. WOW! I red this whole post with my jaw hanging open, much like when I first watched One Man's Justice (aka One Tough Bastard).

    Hands of Steel, it appears, was made in order to satisfy all of my favorite things in movies...although, I don't know that you mentioned gratuitous male nudity (a la Rambo). My head might explode if that's the case.

    Cyborg "Over The Top"...ah, dreams really can come true. Thank you thank you thank you for alerting me to this film!

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  4. Rev., to quote a Tarantino flick, "yeah, baby, you dig it the most."Thanks for the comment.

    GGG, I am super excited that you liked the review, and I hope it does make you pick up Hands of Steel. It is an incredible film, it does lack male nudity. Daniel Greene does spend a good bit of time with his shirt off and looking quite sweaty, but never goes full monty.

    This is one of those films where I can't stress enough how good it is. I would have given it a 5, but on things I really love I try to be more realistic as to what the film is really like.

    If either of you folks do pick it up I would LOVE to know your thoughts on this Martino gem.

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  5. I thought this one was Awesome! I did expect more cyborg arm wrestling, but thats okay, because it was action packed! Totally glad you made watch it.

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  6. This was GREAT!. Laser cannons!? cyborg assasin chicks in underwear?? and a soundtrack that came right out of what sounded like an awsome old school video game!. This movie was featured in a horror DVD 50 pack collection(thats right, someone couldn't help throwing it in the wrong genre, cause it was just that good!) a friend of mine had gotten as a gift last year. We were searching for the most nonsensicle titles when we found this hidden treasure. We were blown away by how good it was. Currently trying to rip the soundtrack.

    I'm just glad there are others who appreciate the heart and soul of the 80's out there.

    I salute you all in the name of Bronson.

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  7. Thanks for the comment Bazookaschmoe. I absolutely love this film, and rewatch it anytime I get the chance. I was on the lookout for that 50 pack for a long time before I heard of Cinema de Bizarre.

    Thanks for coming by and I hope you stop in more often. I lve to have people around the lair that love this kind of film.

    Also if you do manage to rip the soundtrack, let me know I would love to get a copy.

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