CANNON MONTH 2: Knives of the Avenger (1966)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first on the site on December 5, 2020Knives of the Avenger was obviously not produced by Cannon, but they did release it in Germany on the Cannon/VMP label in 1985. 

You can’t really judge Mario Bava’s work on this film, as he entered a troubled production and rewrote and reshot it in just six days.

After the apparent death of her husband King Arald (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Crimes of the Black Cat, here called Frank Stewart), Karin (Elissa Pichelli, using the Americanized name Lisa Wagner) has run from the murderous Hagen (Fausto Tozzi, billed as Frank Ross). Now, Rurik, a knife-throwing stranger (Cameron Mitchell, using the name…well…Cameron Mitchell) has rode into town like a Roman Shane and is defending her and her son Moki. Of course, Moki may also have been his son and he could very well have aassaultedKarin in the past, but I guess him learning how to throw knives — and aiming them at the right people — is some kind of redemption?

This is much closer to a western than a peblum, but when you think that Bava pretty much fixed this movie — or at least got it done — in less than a week, you have to admire his talent. That said, this is not one of his best.

This played on double bills with Gamera the Invincible, which seems like a pairing I’d never put together.

Arizona Colt (1966)

Known in Italy as Il pistolero di Arizona (The Arizona Gunslinger) and L’uomo venuto dal nulla (The Man from Nowhere), this film has quite a setup in the soundtrack: “He came out of nowhere, with no one beside him. He rode out of the sunrise all alone. A man out of nowhere, with no one to love him. His one faithful companion was his gun. No one could say, just where he came from. No one could say, where he was going. Was he a man without a heart, a man with a heart made of stone…”

Torrez Gordon Watch (Fernando Sancho) is breaking prisoners out of jail and telling them to join his Sidewinder Gang or die. Somehow, Arizona Colt (Giuliano Gemma) gets out alive. He gets involved with the gang again when a member named Clay Clay (Giovanni Pazzafini) murders a girl named Dolores (Rosalba Neri) who recognizes him. After the gang robs another bank, her father — the banker — realizes that the criminal that stole all the money in town is also the man who killed his daughter. He hires Arizona to stop the gang and get revenge for the low price of $500 and his other daughter’s vow of marriage.

If you enjoyed Giuliano Gemma as Ringo, you’ll really like this. He’s totally sarcastic, plays jokes on the gang and then gets deadly serious when it’s time to kill them off. He even orders a glass of milk at the bar, just like Ringo! Of course, he’s told they only have beer, so he grabs a mug. There’s also a lot of similarity to Django, as Colt’s hands and leg are injured and he must relearn how to be a gunfighter.

Director Michele Lupo also made The Weekend Murders. This was written by the master of all Italian film writers, Ernesto Gastaldi, along with Luciano Martino, who produced so many films with his brother Sergio, helped write Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key amongst many other films and romanced Wandisa Guida, Edwige Fenech and Olga Bisera.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Quién sabe? (1966)

With a title that translates as Who Knows?, this was renamed A Bullet for the General when it was released in the U.S. It’s the first Italian western to seriously deal with the Mexican revolution, which is credited to screenwriter Franco Solinas, a confirmed Marxist, who shared screenplay duties with Salvatore Laurani. It was directed by Damiano Damiani, who was no stranger to movies with political commentary, except for the movie he’s best known for in the U.S., Amityville II: The Possession.

Gian Maria Volonté plays El Chuncho Muños, who is considered the hero — I guess — of this film, who attacks a train and adds American Bill “Niño” Tate (played by Lou Castel with William Berger providing his voice). The foreigner manipulates Chuncho throughout and is present for the deaths of nearly all of his men as well as the death of his brother El Santo (Klaus Kinski, not the masked luchador, but man, Klaus Kinski and Santo in a movie is something I want to see).

It has Martine Beswick in the cast, an actress whose career ranges from Thunderball and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde to The Happy Hooker Goes HollywoodTrancers II and so much more.

There’s also an urban legend that Damiani got so fed up with the hijinks of Gian Maria Volontè and Kinski that he beat them and whipped them on the set until they finally behaved.

The first Zapata western — one that deals with the Mexican revolution — this movie ends with money being thrown and the poor being told to buy dynamite instead of bread. The idealism of revolution is forever co-opted by greed and this movie shoves your face in it and laughs, because even a movie made nearly sixty years ago understands the same issues we’re dealing with today, ones that will never go away. Friendship means nothing, ideals mean nothing, only gold. Anyone, everyone will be sold out and left for dead.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Texas Adios (1966)

Franco Nero may play Texas sheriff Burt Sullivan in this movie, but that didn’t stop it from being called Django 2 in some countries. Then again, there are so many Django movies that don’t have Nero in them and have absolutely nothing to do with that movie.

Shot in the Spanish province of Almería at exactly the same time Sergio Leone was making The Good, The Bad and The UglyTexas Adios finds Nero’s sheriff heading across the border with his younger brother Jim (Alberto Dell’Acqua) to get revenge against the man who killed their father, Cisco (José Suárez). The twist is that Cisco ends up being Jim’s real father.

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, who would go on to make much better movies like Comin’ at Ya!Treasure of the Four CrownsGet Mean and two Mark Gregory movies, Just a Damn Solder and Tan Zan Ultimate Mission. In fact, he also made a Django movie, Django, Prepare a Coffin, which originally was going to star Nero and ended up having Terence Hill play the lead.

Baldi wrote the story for this with the script written by Django writer Franco Rossetti.

It’s not the best western. It’s not even the best Franco Nero western. But at least there’s a great bar room brawl.

You can watch this on Tubi

La lama nel corpo (1966)

The Murder Clinic predates the Argento era of giallo while coming around the same time as the Bava instigation with The Girl Who Knew Too Much and the krimini films. Known in its native Italy as La lama nel corpo (The Knife in the Body), it was written by Luciano Martino (brother of Sergio and writer of Delirium and The Whip and the Body) and Ernesto Gastaldi (The Sweet Body of Deborah, All the Colors of the DarkThe Case of the Bloody Iris and so many more) with direction coming from Elio Scardamaglia (this is the only film he’d direct as he usually produced movies) and Lionello De Felice. It’s based on the book The Knife In The Body by Robert Williams, a former Tuskegee Airman who became an actor. He also wrote Turkey Shoot, which really means that his work was produced all over the world.

The story takes place in 1870s England, so this movie can also be considered a gothic horror film. Dr. Vance, the director of a mental hospital (Wiliam Berger) is restoring his sister’s face using patients as raw material, all while a masked killer uses the giallo weapon of choice, a strait razor, to kill other people within the hospital.

This is a story that would replay itself across many films — Slaughter HotelFacelessMansion of the Doomed (well, that owes a debt to Eyes Without a Face) — while the first scene, with a young woman being chased by a killer in the woods at night as well as a scene where the killer stalks his prey in a room full of hanging sheets feel like they inspired Suspiria.

The Murder Clinic itself feels indebted to Bava, really taking to heart the color strategies of Blood and Black Lace.

This is a movie with an interesting release history. After Berger spent some time in an Italian prison — he had been wrongly accused of the possession of hashish and cocaine — it was re-released with a line on the poster that said “William Berger, guilty or innocent?”

In the U.S., it was renamed Revenge of the Living Dead to cash in on Romero’s zombie film. It played triple features with Curse of the Living Dead (Kill, Baby, Kill!) and Fangs of the Living Dead (Malenka) in the 70s as the Orgy of the Living Dead.

With a great location — the Villa Parisi, home of Blood for Dracula and Patrick Still Lives — and appearances by Françoise Prévost (The Return of the Exorcist), Mary Young (who only was in this movie and Secret Agent 777) and Barbara Wilson (her only film and she really should have done more), The Murder Clinic is an early giallo worthy of being enshrined in your collection.

Spy Smasher Returns (1942, 1966)

Created by Bill Parker and C. C. Beck, Spy Smasher was introduced in Whiz Comics #2 and was the second most popular Fawcett Comics hero behind Captain Marvel. Alan Armstrong was a millonaire inventor who decided to use his intelligence to protect America during the war. By the 50s, there was no need for that, so he became Crime Smasher for one issue before disappearing until he made appearances in Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Power of Shazam after DC bought the characters of their former rival.

In the serial, both Alan and Jack Armstrong (both brothers are played by Kane Richmond) are on the wrong side of The Mask (Hans Schumm), including — spoiler warning — a chapter ending that does not end happily, as unlike every serial, one of them is killed.

While the twin idea was invented for the series, The Mask, Admiral Corby (Sam Flint) and his daughter Eve (Marguerite Chapman) are all directly from the comics.

In their book The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut claimed that this was ” the foremost cliffhanger example of a whole school of Hollywood film-making in the 40s that gloried in matchless pure entertainment.”

At the end of Kill Bill volume 1, there are RIP notices for Charles Bronson, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Leone, Shaw Brothers regulars Cheng Cheh and Lo Lieh, Django director Sergio Corbucci, Lee Van Cleef and the director of this serial, Willian Witney, who Quentin Tarantino has said is a lost master. Witney popularized shooting fight scenes in small bursts, allowing stuntmen to keep high energy throughout the scene. Some of his best regarded movies are The Crimson GhostAdventures of Captain MarvelMaster of the World and the very late in his career Darktown Strutters.

Spy Smasher was one of 26 Republic serials re-edited and re-released as a Century 66 film on television in 1966, in the midst of Bat-mania, and titled Spy Smasher Returns. Other films in this series include — thanks to ugglewuggle on the Movie Serial Message Boards — the following (the in parentesis title is the re-edited Century 66 title):

Darkest Africa (Batmen of Africa)
Undersea Kingdom (Sharad of Atlantis)
Robinson Crusoe of (Robinson Crusoe of)
Clipper Island (Mystery Island)
The Fighting Devil Dogs (Torpedo of Doom)
Hawk of the Wilderness (Lost Island of Kioga)
Mysterious Doctor Satan (Doctor Satan’s Robot)
Spy Smasher (Spy Smasher Returns)
Perils of Nyoka (Nyoka and the Lost Secrets of Hippocrates)
G-Men Vs. the Black Dragon (Black Dragon of Manzanar)
Secret Service in Darkest Africa (The Baron’s African War)
The Masked Marvel (Sakima and The Masked Marvel)
Tiger Woman (Jungle Gold)
Manhunt of Mystery Island (Captain Mephisto and the Transformation Machine)
Federal Operator 99 (FBI-99)
The Purple Monster Strikes (D-Day on Mars)
The Crimson Ghost (Cyclotrode “X”)
The Black Widow (Sombra, The Spider Woman)
G-Men Never Forget (Code 645)
Dangers of the Canadian Mounties (R.C.M.P. & the Treasure of Genghis Khan)
Federal Agents Vs. Underworld, Inc. (Golden Hands of Kurigal)
The Invisible Monster (Slaves of the Invisible Monster)
Radar Men from the Moon (Retik the Moon Menace)
Jungle Drums of Africa (U-238 and the Witch Doctor)
Canadian Mounties Vs. (Missile Base at Taniak)
Atomic Invaders (Atomic Invaders)
Trader Tom of the China Seas (Target: Sea of China)
Panther Girl of the Kongo (The Claw Monsters)

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 17: Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title (1966)

While not strictly a movie made from a TV show, Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title is packed with TV stars either in lead roles or in cameos and that’s always been my jam. In fact, this movie is meta before we even knew what that meant.

Charlie Yuckapuck (Morey Amsterdam) and Annie (Rose Marie) work =at the diner run by Mr. Travis (Richard Deacon), making this nearly a The Dick Van Dyke Show reunion, just as that show was in its last month of first-run episodes. It’s a busy place, so busy that people like Danny Thomas and Forrest Tucker just drop by.

Then, one day, Crumworth Raines (Moe Howard!) comes in to inform waitress Magda Anders (January Jones) that she has inherited a bookstore at Updike University. She hires Charlie and Annie and all manner of hijinks ensue, as Charlie looks just like a defecting cosmonaut named Yasha Nudnik, which brings in spies out of the cold, as it were, such as government agent Jim Holliston (Michael Ford), Comrade Olga (Carmen Phillips) and KEB agents played by Peggy Mondo, Cliff Arquette and Nick Adams.

The bookstore gets even more cameos, including Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Carl Reiner. But perhaps the one that put this on the site was that Irene Ryan plays Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies and is completely in character, giving the protagonists a ride and driving back off to her show. In 1966, movie theaters and movies were battling for audiences, so it’s just crazy to see her show up and literally everyone knows who she is.

Director Harmon Jones made some wild movies like The Beast of BudapestGorilla At Large and Bloodhounds of Broadway. Here, he’s working from a script by Amsterdam, John Davis Hart (who wrote the English dialogue for Any Gun Can PlayThe Great SilenceArgoman the Fantastic Superman and Kill, Baby…Kill!) and William Marks (War Party, episodes of Bonanza and The Wild Wild West. 

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 15: The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966)

As movies battles television for the entertainmenty audience, theaters started showing movies so big that they couldn’t play the same on the small screen. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Huston, this was quite the project: make a movie of the first 22 chapters of the Biblical Book of Genesis from The Creation (of everything) and Adam and Eve to the binding of Isaac. It was written by Christopher Fry with contributions by Ivo Perilli, Jonathan Griffin, Mario Soldati, Vittorio Bonicelli and Orson Welles.

What got me watching this? Michael Parks is Adam! Who is the Creator, Tarantino? Anyways, his bride, Eve, is played by Ulla Bergryd, a Swedish anthropology student living who was discovered by a talent scout and on set in a few days. She was only in one other movie before leaving acting for a life in academics.

I mean, this movie is packed with people I love playing roles from the best selling book of all time. Richard Harris is Cain! Franco Nero, who was a still photographer on the set and had never acted before, is Abel! George C. Scott is Abraham, nearly sacrificing his children! Ava Garden was Sarah and she said, “It’s the only time in my life I actually enjoyed working — making that picture.” Stephen Boyd is Nimrod, great-grandson of Noah and not an X-Men villain! Peter O’Toole is an angel? Anna Orso from Day of Anger and Exterminators of the Year 3000 is Shem’s wife! Hagar is played by Zoe Sallis, who was Zoe Ishmail, until Huston decided that she should change her name because of its similarity to the name of Ishmael, her character’s son. Oh well, she was his wife. 1966 everyone. She’s also Angelica’s mother. Anyways, back to the people. Gabriele Ferzetti (On Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceThe Psychic) is Lot! As the Garden of Eden, a botanical garden…

That said, they spend $3 million ($26 million today) on the five sets that make up the Ark. And who will play Noah? Well, after Alec Guinness and Charlie Chaplin turned him down, director John Huston did it. And he was an atheist.

Anyways, I gained new respect for O’Toole when I learned that he was arrested while making this movie. He was on a night out with Barbara Steele and punched a paparazzi.

They planned a whole bunch of these movies and even though it was a big movie in theaters, it cost so much that it still lost $1.5 million.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 5: The Wild Angels (1966)

The Wild Angels earned $7 million on a budget of $360,000, making it the highest-grossing low-budget film of its era. Not bad for a movie that had script issues between Roger Corman and Charles B. Griffith, as well as numerous re-writes by Peter Bogdanovich. Plus, the US State Department tried to prevent the film from being shown in Venice on the grounds that it “did not show America the way it is.”

And yet the Hells Angels brought a $5 million defamation lawsuit against Corman for how they were portrayed in this movie, which really makes me want to be a biker. Maybe they didn’t notice while they were acting as extras, each getting paid $35 per day for their cooperation and $20 per day for their motorcycles.

It’s also the first movie that Peter Fonda would be associated with the counter-culture and motorcycles. While promoting The Trip and autographing astill from this movie showing he and Bruce Dern on one motorcycle, the actor came up with the concept for Easy Rider.

It’s also a movie packed with taglines that shove you into the theater like “

Heavenly Blues (Fonda) shouts, “We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride! We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we’re gonna do. We are gonna have a good time. We are gonna have a party.” That opening is at the beginning of Primal Scream’s “Loaded,” which informs so much of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End.

This episodic film moves from trying to find Joe “Loser” Kearns’ (Dern) stolen motorcycle to the gang evading the police to plan the Loser’s funeral and how Blues, Loser’s girl Gayesh (Diane Ladd) and Blues’ lover Mike (Nancy Sinatra) are pulled along as the gang disintegrates as a final party descends into madness.

The close of this movie, as Blues shovels dirt onto the grave of his best friend and says, “There’s nowhere to go,” is exactly why I keep coming back to Corman movies, which have such a heart and something to say in the midst of the mayhem and carny edge that get you into the theater.

We also have this movie to thank for Laura Dern, as the daughter of Dern and Ladd was conceived while this movie was being made.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 4: Arabesque (1966)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clinton Rawls is an instructor at the Lamar Institute of Technology where he teaches courses on the humanities, art history, and film appreciation. As a labor of love, he translates foreign language and unofficial James Bond comics into English for the first time on his website, Comics Royale. Drop him a line and enjoy more 007 adventures!

Note: You can see also read’s Sam’s take which was posted on September 6, 2021.

Hitchcock. Even today the name looms large. An auteur so iconic the label “Hitchcockian” still carries weight. Many filmmakers have created their own riffs on the Master of Suspense: Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, The Key to Reserva), Brian De Palma (Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Body Double), even Mel Brooks (High Anxiety), but few have been as successful as the great Stanley Donen with back-to-back films Charade and Arabesque. While Charade is more highly regarded, Arabesque (1966) is a sumptuous visual feast which remixes Hitchcock’s tropes with a nod to the sixties spy craze and an eye toward the future.

Hitchcock rarely concerned himself with plot, preferring instead thematic tensions and cinematic devices, but his films can easily be summed up in a sentence. “The wrong man, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, goes on the run to prove his innocence,” could apply to The 39 Steps, Saboteur, The Wrong Man, Frenzy, and of course, North by Northwest. So little was Hitchcock preoccupied with the specifics of plot that he used the term “MacGuffin” as a catch-all for whatever moves the story along. Would a heist film be any different if the money were diamonds instead? Would it matter if the villain in a superhero movie wanted a bioweapon or nukes? Not really.

However, a Hitchcock film still makes sense and the same cannot quite be said about Arabesque, though it hardly matters. From the beginning, Donen and cinematographer Christopher Challis show us a man subjected to an eye exam where the lighting and camera angles shift so wildly it assaults the viewers’ senses. Just like the random letters one recites to an optometrist, the words in this film are meaningless. Donen makes his game plan clear when Gregory Peck, lecturing on Egyptian hieroglyphics to apathetic university students, awakens them by shouting, “Sex!” Strap yourself in, adjust your eyes, ignore the plot, and if you get bored… Sophia Loren!

Donen began his career as a dancer and choreographer, and those skills aid him well here. The performers hit their marks, allowing dozens of marvelous visual compositions to dazzle the eye. Like a stage performer, Loren moves gracefully through the scenery, framed within hypnotic designs and illuminated by a spotlight. Characters are distorted in reflections, and the filmmakers give us frames within frames to the point that a simple two-shot or close-up might seem base if not for the star power of Peck and Loren. Challis’s work is a testament to the power of widescreen filmmaking. Throughout the fifties and sixties, Hollywood deployed several gimmicks to compete with television: Cinerama, Cinemascope, 3D, even Smell-O-Vision all sought to peel audiences away from the typically flat, rote imagery on their TV sets. Arabesque makes the most of its Technicolor Panavision frame with dizzying delight. Eventually television would influence films for the worse as close-ups dominated coverage and more movies were shot in aspect rations that would translate well to pan-and-scan. Arabesque is a relic of a time when filmmakers had a bigger canvas to play with, and they did not waste it.

Both this and North by Northwest feature an ordinary man swept up in international intrigue with a beautiful double agent. Along the way, our hero is drugged and left for dead, and framed for murder in plain sight. Even Hitchcock’s celebrated crop-duster sequence is referenced as our heroes are victimized by a wrecking ball and later by farm combines in an alfalfa field, though the helicopter finale and romantic denouement on a gondola owe just as much to From Russia With Love. Where the film fails in comparison to Hitchcock is Alan Badel’s villain who, while a bit quirky, never conveys the icy menace as only James Mason could. In addition, Peck doesn’t have much of an arc but he’s along for the ride like the rest of us, and it’s refreshing to see him exercise his comedy chops. If you want more Hitchcock callbacks, Donen presents a scene at the racetrack courtesy of Notorious. The press conference assassination is reminiscent of Foreign Correspondent. And Peck’s surreal, drugged-out nightmare must have given him flashbacks to Spellbound.

Where Donen bests Hitchcock is in his willingness to film on location. The drugging scene feels dangerous as cars whiz past Peck mimicking a matador on a busy highway. The hallucinogenic visuals, wide-angle shots, double exposures, and trippy editing prove more effective than Cary Grant in front of a rear projection screen ever could. Loren is likewise in complete control, shifting wildly from femme fatale to damsel to action hero to love interest without ever feeling out of place. By the time the film turns into a political assassination thriller and the heroes hijack a news van to look for clues on grainy monitors, we’re reminded this was made in between the Kennedy assassinations. For a moment, the romantic lightness takes on an eerie solemnity as we witness a film made at the crossroads of history. It’s incredible to think not even a decade later, Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View would remix some of these plot elements and cinematic devices while ditching romance and spectacle for something altogether more cynical.

Unfortunately, the title is apt for all the wrong reasons. There are no Arabians in this film, only actors in brownface. The MacGuffin is an Egyptian cipher. No exotic locations in the Middle East nor Islamic architecture contribute to art design. Even the title sequence by Bond series regular Maurice Binder is mod optical illusions rather than the titular curvilinear designs. The film is in the style of the Arabs; it puts the “esque” in Arabesque.

Criticism aside, Arabesque is a terrific watch with one foot in the past, one in the present, and one in the future. Maybe a three-footed creature doesn’t make a lot of sense, but neither does the plot. Style over substance? Definitely. But when you’ve got such style, sometimes that’s all you need.

Arabesque is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.