12/7/09

Kriminal (1966): Mr. Lenzi's Kool Kaper

When people talk Italian genre films, some names rise to the top like Argento, Fulci, Martino, and Bava. Then there are the names that come up much less frequently like Soavi, Mattai, and Umberto Lenzi. We’re here to talk about the latter of those three fellows today. Lenzi is probably best known for his films The Man from Deep River, Eaten Alive!, and Cannibal Ferox, but there is far more to Mr. Lenzi than just a trio of cannibal films. Like so many of his contemporaries, he dabbled in all kinds of genres in his thirty-eight year directing career. From westerns to giallo to Euro-crime and sword and sandals, Lenzi was a director who never met a cinematic trend that he didn’t like. In the late sixties, with the advent of the James Bond films, nothing was hotter than spy films, and Lenzi wasn’t about to let that trend get past him either. That's how we got his 1966 crime/spy/action film Kriminal.

Based on a popular Italian comic book (or fumetti for sticklers for accuracy) by Max and Magnus Bunker, Kriminal (Glenn Saxson) is a master thief who is always looking for the next big score. As the film begins, he’s about to be executed, but he escapes the hanging and soon is hot on the trail of a shipment of diamonds that has already been reported stolen. Hot on his trail is Scotland Yard’s Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic) who suspects Kriminal of being the culprit in the first place. As the master thief begins to track down the goods he must use a variety of disguises (including a full body skeleton suit) to outwit double crosses, seduce a bevy of vivacious ladies, and get his hands on the jewels.

Predating Mario Bava’s film Danger: Diabolik by two years, Kriminal paved the way for the oddball heroes of fumetti to make their way to the screen. With it’s stylized settings, jet setting locales, and fast paced action, Lenzi’s film doesn’t seem to stray far from what little I have seen of the source comic. There are apparently some differences. Notable the skeleton costume has been changed for the film, but not being very familiar with the material, it didn’t bother me one bit. In fact, my only problem with the skeleton costume was that there wasn’t nearly enough of it. Kriminal is very cartoonish around the edges, but it never steps over the line into pure camp. For this reason, the film works on a superhero level as well as mining the Euro-crime/spy vein.

When Kriminal is not sneaking around looking like a more macabre version of Slim Goodbody (if you don’t know who that is then you’re not over 30), then he is a rakishly handsome blonde haired fellow played by Glenn Saxson. Saxson, who hails from the Netherlands, perfectly fit’s the role of the seductive playboy. He also handles his stunts well, plays the comedic moments with aplomb, and does it all without one hair out of place. Kriminal was his most widely hailed role, though he did appear as Django in Alberto De Martino’s Django Shoot First, and Saxson would return to the role two years later in 1968’s Il marchio di Kriminal. Lenzi however did not return, and the film was instead directed by Fernando Cerchio and Nando Cicero.

Kriminal also features a pair of lovely ladies. Now the fact that they’re played by the same person is splitting hairs. Helga Liné plays both Inge and Trudy, identical looking ladies employed to smuggle diamonds. They end up being the linchpin of the narrative, and Liné does a good job differentiating the pair with her performance. There’s a bevy of other lovely ladies that move through Kriminal’s life, and while they are all lovely, they seem more disposable than a secondary Bond girl. The only other lady that left an impression was Esmerelda Ruspoli as Lady Gold. She was quite a character, and her seduction of Kriminal proves that cougars have been around a lot longer than people give them credit for.

The weakest part of the film was Andrea Bosic’s performance as Inspector Milton. He is supposed to be Kriminal’s arch rival, but I never felt that Milton could do anything but stumble around in the thief’s wake. I really wanted a strong presence from Kriminal’s nemesis, someone who was completely square but just as ready to go into action. Milton was anything but. Thankfully, Milton is not really the villain of the piece. That honor goes to Ivano Staccioli as Alex Lafont. He provides a ratlike equal to the debonair Kriminal, and I found him a very interesting actor to watch. I’ll definitely be looking to see more of his work, and if anyone knows where I can get his 1972 film Revelations of a Sex Maniac to the Head of the Criminal Investigation Division, let me know, I have to see any film that rivals Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key for titular wordiness.

Before I sign off I have to mention the man who made the lush stylish look of the film possible, Angelo Lotti. Having to keep up with subtitles and drinking in all the depth of style and color on display often ended up being at odds with each other, but it just means I’m going to have to watch it again to see it all. This will also give me a chance to hear the groovy, groovy score laid down by Romano Mussolini. How this guy only ended up with four credits to his name is beyond me. This film swings and swings hard. Maybe he didn’t have it in him to produce another score this swinging and maybe it was frowned on to hire the son of Benito Mussolini, but whatever the reason, his score is the icing on the cake of Kriminal.

It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to see Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, so I won’t attempt to compare the two. Even so, I seem to recall Bava’s film being a stylish affair with a fairly simple narrative. Lenzi’s Kriminal is extremely stylized, but plot is pretty dang complex. That’s my main problem with the film. Now it could be that the sub-titles didn’t do the story justice, but I found myself more than a bit confused during the film. Other than that, there are really not any major flaws with the film. The only other bad thing about this one is it’s not easily available in the United States, but as usual, I have a tip for that. Go on over and grab it from the Bugg’s good friends Cinema de Bizarre, and check out the adventures of one smooth Kriminal. Hey, at least I waited until the end to put in the crap joke!




Bugg Rating

I couldn't find a trailer or clip from this one except this one of the opening credits. It doesn't show you much of what the film looks like, but the music and style will surely give you a little bit of the vibe.

4 comments:

  1. This movie has been on my to-see list for AGES! I love the masked super-criminal characters, and I'd really like to slap eyeballs on this flick. I love the fumetti-panel-to-film-still credits sequence you've posted here! Your write-up has me yet more intrigued. Thanks for posting this!

    Also: didn't know Helga Line was featured in this film--TWICE, even! She's my fave Naschy leading lady in "Horror Rises from the Tomb," and she'd make a perfect complement to the Kriminal antihero character.

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  2. I've nver seen Horror Rises from the Tomb, i'm going to have to slap my eyeballs on that! Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Check this one out.You won't be sorry.

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  3. simon zinc trumpet-harrisDecember 8, 2009 at 8:42 PM

    Speaking of Helga Line how about reveiwing "Horror express" (1971) its still one of my all time cult favorites.

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  4. I enjoyed this one, probably due to my obsession with Helga Line, and finding her in a dual role film is great.

    Nice site you have here found you searching for Helga so I'll stick around to see what else you got!

    I'm going to be reviewing a Helga Line film every Monday, and a Hammer film every Friday starting next week. Love to have you stop by and share you're thoughts.

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