Mar 5, 2009

DVD Review: Fantastic Argoman (1967)

DVD Review: Fantastic Argoman (1967)

Argoman is a superhero very much of the Sixties Euro variety. Clearly, Argoman never had an Uncle Ben who died and taught him any lessons about great power and great responsibility. Argoman is gifted with great powers, but he uses them primarily to make his enemies kill each other and to force beautiful women to come to his island and have sex with him! (Exactly what most Eurospy heroes would do were they imbued with superpowers.) And when he uses them for good, he charges people (and governments) for his services! Examples of fees include Peter the Great’s snuff box (which he recognizes on sight), the Mona Lisa and other priceless treasures, all of which he uses to decorate his own impossibly mod pad.

Argoman’s powers allow him to make people do his bidding via psychic suggestion and to levitate objects (up to a certain size). His weakness (recounted in unapologetically blatant expositional conversation with his turban-wearing Indian manservant, Chandra–who looks a tad like Boris Karlof in The Wild Wild West) is that he loses his powers for six hours following any "rendezvous with a woman." And, being a Swinging Sixties sort of bachelor, Argoman likes rendevousing with women!

Argoman is, in reality, pipe-smoking playboy Sir Reginald Hoover (Eurospy star Roger Browne), a man of science and practitioner of PK, or psychokinesis. (Very trendy for 1967.) He’s seen by Scotland Yard (personified by the perpetually flustered Inspector Lawrence) as a "feather-brained fop," yet called on for his advice on any major crime. Lawrence explains to his constable assistant (who has a very strange cockney accent) that Sir Reginald was brought up in America, and therefore "lacks a British sense of duty." (And a British accent.)

As Argoman, Sir Reginald wears a rather silly (and, frankly, quite unflattering) getup of yellow and black spandex with a red cape, a black ski mask and red Geordi La Forge glasses. When he uses his psychic powers, his eyes glow from within the glasses. (It’s possible this image is inspired by Cyclops in the X-Men comics published by Marvel.) Without the ability to fly or swing from webs, Argoman is prone to leaping, prancing and flouncing about in his costume. And he runs like a girl. It’s quite a sight. I’m not quite sure why Browne decided to wave his arms about whilst running, but perhaps he felt it the only natural thing to do when one is wearing tights. Or perhaps he thought it looked more heroic. Whatever the reason, it reminded me of Misty Mundae as Spiderbabe in the low budget Skinimax parody of Spider-man. (Come on, you know you’ve seen it!) Like Miss Mundae, Browne certainly displays an unbridled enthusiasm for running around in such a manner.

Batman may be a caped crusader who masquerades as a wealthy playboy to protect his alter ego, but Argoman is the opposite. He is a wealthy playboy (and an unapologetic one at that!) who enjoys being a wealthy playboy and who dons a mask and costume for a lark. He spends the better part of the first half of the movie in his Sir Reginald persona rather than his Argoman one. As Sir Reginald, Browne is indistinguishable from any other cad of a Eurospy hero. Bored, he selects a woman from his virtual "little black book" (it’s a video screen!) and invites her over to his private island. But then he gets tired of waiting, so he goes out to the beach and uses his super-vision to scan for a nearer chick. He sees a beautiful woman (Secret Agent Fireball’s Dominique Boschero) out for a ride in her hovercraft (a frequent sight in the Sixties, no doubt) and psychically commands her to "come to the beach." After reeling her in like a fish, he challenges her to a fixed game involving bows and arrows. If she wins, she "gets to leave!" (And she gets a Rolls Royce and some emeralds.) If he wins... he pushes a button and a door opens revealing a swinging bed. (And I don’t mean "swinging" in the typical Sixties sense–although that does apply; I mean it in the very literal sense in that it is suspended from the ceiling by four cables. That's the way Argoman rolls.)

Meanwhile, the Crown Jewels have been stolen. Inspector Lawrence assures the Home Secretary that they’ll get another crown in time for the next coronation, and immediately suspects Argoman of the crime. Not that unfairly, really, because stealing the Crown Jewels does seem to be the sort of thing Argoman would get up to. Before Argoman can be arrested, however, the crown is suddenly returned with a note signed by Jenabelle, the Queen of the World. (Yes, that’s how she signs her notes.) The theft was merely a demonstration of her power. Now she wants the mysterious "Mordof R4" (or Marduf R4 or Morudof R4 or Mordoof R4 depending on who’s pronouncing it) in exchange for... something. For not doing something worse, I guess. What, exactly, the Mordof R4 is is anyone’s guess, though we’re treated to one of those great Eurospy demonstrations of power in which it is apparently shown to have the ability to turn a Franc coin chewy. Who knew?

Even a note from the Queen of the World herself isn’t quite enough to convince Inspector Lawrence of Argoman’s innocence in the Crown Jewels affair; he briefly mulls the idea that Argoman and Jenabelle are one and the same. (Now that would be an interesting twist!) Even while suspecting Argoman, Lawrence turns to his alter ego (oh, the irony!) for advice. When Sir Reginald is sent on a mission meant for a Scotland Yard man or "man of action" (something Inspector Lawrence can’t comprehend this layabout being), he’s instructed to make himself recognizable by wearing a black bowler with a tweed checked suit. Mindful of this foppish aristocrat’s safety, the police ask if there’s anything he objects to. He says yes: "having to wear a tweed suit with a black bowler hat!" He might wear a yellow jumpsuit that makes him look like he’s got a paunch as Argoman, but as Sir Reginald he’s just as much of a sartorial snob as any of his better off secret agent counterparts.

Anyway, Sir Reginald is captured and the self-proclaimed Queen of the World, who turns out to be none other than the beautiful woman he picked up on her hovercraft earlier! If only he’d bothered to ask for her name amidst their lovemaking, he might have realized that there probably aren’t too many Jenabelles in the phonebook... or the world. Oh well. She quickly deduces his secret identity, so he tears off his checked suit revealing his Argoman costume underneath. Easier to operate that way, I suppose.

Jenabelle is quite the dedicated follower of fashion herself. She wears a different outfit in every scene of the movie, each one more outlandish than the last. She’s also prone to wearing rather ridiculous hats! (My favorite one looks like a potted plant sitting on her head.)

Argoman’s clearly had enough of her and her hats, so he naturally refuses when she makes the inevitable offer for him to join her as her consort. Prepared for this rejection, Jenabelle reveals that she’s captured his other girlfriend, Samantha. (The one he called and got tired of waiting for.) She reveals a video screen showing Samantha being tormented by a monstrous robot. It’s not quite clear what the metal brute is doing to her, but Jenabelle assures us that "it’s not a pleasant fate to suffer at the hands of a robot." Best of all, she pronounces it "RO-but," like Dr. Zoidberg on Futurama.

"Your instincts are diabolic!" snarls Argoman.

Jenabelle leaves Argoman in a fiendish trap and goes off to talk to her giant ray. I’m not really sure what variety of ray it is, but I’ll assume that its purpose is destructive, and it probably depends on the Marduf to operate. Whatever the case, Jenabelle loves her ray machine. "You alone make it possible that I accomplish all I dreamt I would do," she coos to it, stroking its metal plating. "You, with your mysterious absorption of cosmic light. We’ll produce... what no ruler in the world has ever had! As many loyal automatons to manipulate as I please. I’m ready to proceed!" So that’s what it does! (I guess.)

"Start the ray compressor!" commands a henchman.

Argoman does get to perform some everyday superheroics while on the track of the Marduf, like saving a runaway train by flouncing atop it and using his psychic powers to change a switch. Detracting just a little from the derring-do, Argoman always looks vaguely confused when flouncing about in his costume.

By the time he catches up to Jenabelle, she’s dressed like some sort of Techno-Medusa in a silver lame tunic and matching headgear with metallic snaky bits protruding from it. She’s also got a three-barreled pistol that looks like something Samuel L. Jackson would wield in The Spirit.

Will Argoman manage to save the world, and defeat its ill-meaning Queen? I won’t say, but you can probably guess. Once all the dust has settled, Argoman’s at least cleared of all wrongdoing, but immediately steals a government motorcycle, claiming it as his prize. Is he a hero or is he a criminal? "Half and half," decides Inspector Lawrence, as he orders his men to give chase. It’s a very apropos conclusion on the Inspector’s part. All European costumed adventurers from the Sixties appear to be half and half, and that’s what makes them interesting. (I suppose the same could be said for all the deeply flawed Eurospy heroes, ostensibly on the side of good but always being total jerks about it.) A general rule of thumb in case you come across a masked man while traversing Europe in the Sixties: if he’s wearing bright yellow or red spandex–or any sort of cape–then the hero half probably prevails. If he’s dressed all in black, however, or looks remotely like Diabolik, then he’s probably slightly more criminal than hero.

Fantastic Argoman is a deliriously entertaining movie, powered by game performances, an enthusiastic effects department and a terrific score by the great Piero Umiliani. The Region 1 DVD, courtesy of a company called Substance, is probably marginal in its legality and definitely marginal in its print quality. Despite the scratchiness of the print and the iffyness of the transfer, however, it does appear to be anamorphic... though you may have to alter the settings on your player to achieve the correct aspect ratio. On regular TVs, it will show up as slightly letterboxed and somewhat squished. Who cares. The movie is so much fun that I’m just glad to have it at all. And there's good news for fans: Dorado Films (every bit as fantastic as the Fantastic Argoman himself) plans to release a legitimate, widescreen version later this spring! (But they need some help with it.) Based on their Eurospy titles, I'm betting this will be much higher quality, so hold out for this one. I can't wait!


Lizard Lady said...

Does Argoman lose his powers for 12 hours if he participates in a threesome?
Is the only way to strip him of his powers to lure him into an orgy?

Tanner said...

Interesting questions, surprisingly not raised or answered by the movie! I can only imagine the didn't think of it somehow. Joe Walker would have...

Anonymous said...

Hilarious review - and the film sounds like great fun. Shame nobody ever points out to him that he looks much better in a tux than his absurd costume!

Christopher Mills said...

When/if Dorado gets their disc released, I'll definitely have to pick it up. Sounds right up my alley!

ultragoo said...

If he does it by himself, does he get a discount? Maybe only losing his powers for 3 hours?

The Gambler said...

I suppose it's all too useful to spread the word here: guys at Dorado have started a Kickstarter campaign to get the movie released on DVD and BluRay!

Please support it by all means, and help spreading the news!

Monster Kid Radio said...

I'm so glad to read that you enjoyed the movie as much as you did! You might be interested in knowing that I'll be producing the official Dorado Films podcast, and Episode #1 - which will be released later this month - will be all about Argoman! We'll be talking about the movie in depth, and we even have an interview with Roger Browne.

Tanner said...

I am indeed very happy to learn that Dorado will have a podcast! The Browne interview should be very interesting. I hope that's an indicator that Dorado is going to be getting back into releasing DVDs soon too! I'll be on the lookout for that podcast. Email me through the link on the right when it goes up and I will post a link to it here.

Unknown said...

Runs like a girl? As a sportswoman I would disagree. He runs like an idiot.

Tanner said...

Fair point, Oskar Kuelz. Looking back, I do regret that language. Yours is better!