It's an obscure and derivative 1967 Italian superhero-investigating-money-counterfeiting death match. Again.
Country: Italy | Runtime: 96mins | Director: Mino Loy
Starring: Paolo Golino, Claudie Lange, Ivano Staccioli, Jack Ary, Micaela Pignatelli
Spoilt plot: Secret crimefighter Lord Alex Burman (Golino) is working undercover at a London bank attempting to foil a counterfeiting operation when he is robbed by an invisible man. As his alter ego, Flashman, Burman investigates the mysterious theft and is soon lead to local crime boss Kid (Staccioli). Accompanied by his hippy sister and the incompetent Inspector Baxter (Ary) of Scotland Yard, Flashman pursues Kid to the continent where he fails to prevent the assassination of a wealthy emir. After much faffing about, Flashman manages to save the emir's daughter, rescue his sister and kill Kid. He parasails back to England.
Can you see ok, Flashman?
The Flash is a DC superhero, the Flashmen are a set of Power Rangers, Funky Flashman is a parody of Stan Lee created by his estranged collaborator Jack Kirby, and Harry Flashman is the fictional protagonist in a series of George MacDonal Fraser novels. But this particular Flashman seems to have nothing to do with any of them. Instead, he's the lazy creation of Ernesto Gastaldi, writer of over 100 Italian B-movies and, somewhat surprisingly, Sergio Leone's epic Once Upon a Time in America. It's surprising because Once Upon a Time in America is a masterpiece, while Flashman is a sack of shit.
The character might be more likeable if he didn't live like this
This is essentially a Batman rip-off, with Lord Burman a wealthy playboy prone to donning cape and spandex in order to fight implausible crime (he's even aided by a faithful butler). Devoid of Batman's sense of purpose (Burman just seems like he's trying to occupy his time), he comes off as a shallow egotist more interested in belittling the police and chasing women than in sacrificing his everyday life to justice. This renders him unlikeable, a trait that isn't helped by a dubbed voice that would make George Sanders sound self-effacing. Maybe rich narcissists dicking about for shits and giggles played better 50 years ago.
Brilliant Italian miniatures are present and correct
The success of the 1960s Batman series sparked a rush among exploitation filmmakers to see who could rip it off first, with Flashman arriving in Italian theatres just two weeks after the similarly unoriginal Argoman. Both movies aim for the same market as the Batman show, the appeal of which hangs on its charm. With all the charm of a stag night at the Bullingdon Club, Flashman has nothing but limited irony to offer. With characters constantly making themselves invisible, we're treated to some very silly 'things hanging from fishing wire' antics, and Inspector Baxter is played so broadly it's impossible to get Dix, the canine detective from 1980s cartoon series Around the World with Willy Fog, out of your head. As usual we can rely on the Italians to deliver great miniatures and music, with the two combining majestically in the movie's standout sequence: a climactic speedboat chase involving fire, a hanky parachute and a tiny wooden Flashman. But there's probably a reason this thing only has 59 ratings on the IMDb. With nothing to latch onto, no character to engage with, we don't care what happens. Even bad movies need to be embraced, but this one keeps itself at arm's length.
Video: Flashman in Under Four Minutes
Zenith Cinematografica/Sinister Cinema
The Three Fantastic Supermen (1967)
Country: Italy | Runtime: 94mins | Director: Gianfranco Parolini
Starring: Luciano Stella, Brad Harris, Aldo Canti, Jochen Brockmann, Bettina Busch
Spoilt plot: Bank robbing acrobats Tony (Stella) and Nick (Canti) reluctantly team up with FBI agent Brad McCallum (Harris), who is investigating a counterfeiting operation. These Three Fantastic Supermen soon meet with Professor Schwarz (Carlo Tamberlini), and learn he once invented a duplicating machine, only to destroy it for the good of mankind. The professor is then kidnapped by agents of Golem (Brockmann), an evil master criminal who turns out to be Schwarz's former assistant. He has built his own duplicating machine and uses it to produce gold, but he needs Schwarz to adapt it to so he can also clone people. The Three Fantastic Supermen eventually free the professor, destroy the machine and kill Golem.
"Just as I feared; slightly radioactive. These bank notes were made by a Universal Duplicator!"
This is more like it. Although little known in the English-speaking world, The Three Fantastic Supermen spawned a franchise that remained fairly popular throughout much of mainland Europe right into the late 1970s. Inspired more by home grown 'poliziotteschi' crime movies and proto-superheroes like Zorro than it is comic books, the first movie features an unusual tone which sits somewhere between the 1960s Green Hornet TV series and Danger: Diabolik. The humour, absurdist touches and stylised look help to rustle up a frothy adventure that's utterly devoid of pretension and bursts with the joys of life.
The villain, Golem (Jochen Brockmann), seems to be based on Goldfinger
The leads are all well characterised, each establishing his own traits and specialties early on, with Luciano Stella (aka Tony Kendall) perhaps the standout thanks to his natural charisma and his character's unflappably suave demeanour. Idaho born Brad Harris, who appeared as a muscleman in dozens of Italian exploitation movies, is hardly less magnetic as the FBI agent charged with trying to channel the extraordinary skills of the eccentric cat burglars placed under his command. And the physical abilities of Canti in the role of the mute 'jumping bean' Nick are incredible. (Canti was a stuntman by trade and allegedly filmed his scenes while on day release from prison, where his mafia related activities had landed him the previous year.) They're kind of like a technicolor version of the Marx Brothers.
"Is that why you reproduced the children, you want to kill them?"
The plot zips along at just the right pace, whisking us from one location to another until the final face off in an underground lair that's straight out of a James Bond movie. It doesn't always make much sense, but you won't care. Just like you won't care that Nick's unnervingly childlike and skittish nature, which is consistently played for laughs, can only be the result of a serious mental disorder. If it weren't for the dubbing and the exceptional cheese it would be hard to call this a bad movie. It's easy to see why it was popular enough to justify (at least) four sequels, each of which dished up the same blend of superhero nonsense, Bond inspired high-tech spy antics and Eurocrime capery.
Video: The Three Fantastic Supermen Can't Stop Jumping