DNDF: Antonio Margheriti and The Gamma One Pentalogy

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

DNDF: Antonio Margheriti and The Gamma One Pentalogy

Antonio Margheriti (19 September 1930 – 4 November 2002), also known under the pseudonym Anthony M. Dawson, was a prolific Italian filmmaker.  He was born in Rome and died in 2002 from a heart attack in Monterosi, Viterbo, near Rome at the age of 72.

Margheriti made two of the first ever Italian space movies in 1960 and 1961 respectively; Assignment Outer Space (known as "Space Men" in Italy) and Battle of the Worlds (known as "The Planet of Extinct Men" in Italy).

In 1965, since he was considered an accomplished science-fiction film director who could work wonders with a very small budget,  Margheriti was hired by MGM to direct four Italian space movies that became known as the Gamma One series.  He finished all four films in three months.  The films in the series were made to be distributed in the USA (most were sold directly to late-night television) under the following titles: Wild Wild Planet, War of the Planets, War Between the Planets and Snow Devils.  A fifth film was later made in the Gamma One series in Japan in 1968 entitled The Green Slime (aka Gamma One: Operation Outer Space) which starred Robert Horton, but Margheriti was not involved with that one.

 

Wild, Wild Planet (1965)

  • Original Title: I criminali della galassia
  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Antonio Margheriti
  • Produced:
    • Joseph Fryd  
    • Walter Manley  
    • Antonio Margheriti  
    • Ivan Reiner
  • Written:
    • Ivan Reiner  
    • Renato Moretti
  • Starring: Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Massimo Serato, Carlo Giustini, Franco Nero, Enzo Fiermonte, Umberto Raho, Vittorio Bonos, Aldo Canti, Franco Doria, Margherita Horowitz, Carlo Kechler, Rodolfo Lodi
  • Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
  • Cinematography: Riccardo Pallottini
  • Editing: Otello Colangeli
  • Studio:
    • Mercury Film International  
    • Southern Cross Feature Film Company
  • Distributed:
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  
    • Something Weird Video  
    • Warner Home Video
  • Rated: Approved
  • Release Date:
    • 1 July 1966 (Italy)  
    • 9 August 1967 (USA)
  • Running Time: 93 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language: Italian

Wild, Wild Planet (Italian: I Criminali della Galassia / "Criminals of the Galaxy"), also released as "The Wild, Wild Planet" is a 1965 Italian science fiction horror film directed by Antonio Margheriti and written by Renato Moretti and Ivan Reiner.  Tony Russel stars as Commander Mike Halstead.  Also featured are Lisa Gastoni, Franco Nero and Massimo Serato.  The low-budget aesthetics and general cheesy vibe of the picture have made it a favorite of bad-movie fans and websites such as badmovies.org.

The film is the first of four "Gamma One" science fiction films.  The films were originally contracted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to be made for TV movies but were released theatrically instead.

Aboard space station Gamma One, a scientist from "the corporation" conducts experiments creating artificial human organs for transplant.  There is no love lost between Gamma One's macho commander, Mike Halstead, and the creepy perfectionist, Dr. Nurmi.  At a dinner party, Halstead is not especially kind to his girlfriend, Connie. She's drunk, so accepts Nurmi's offer of a vacation on planet Delphus: a Corporation research base.  Meanwhile on earth, people have been disappearing at an alarming rate.  The authorities suspect The Corporation, but can prove nothing.  A bevy of evil Barbie women arrive in the city.  Each has their own evil minion in a black trench coat.  They make people disappear.  Actually, they shrink them so they can be smuggled back to Delphus.  The abduction of a Dr. Fried is interrupted and he's found half size and in a coma.

After another failed shrink attempt, the authorities are alerted to the evil Barbies with black coated minions.  The authorities find a dead minion.  It has four arms and cat-like eyes, and appears to have been assembled.  Halstead and Jake confront the evil Barbies in their apartment.  They fight, but the men win.  Some books are found with lists of names and ties to planet Delphus.  Halstead and a team of men fly a rocket to Delphus.  Nurmi is ready for them and takes them prisoner.  Before executing Halstead, Nurmi gives Halstead a tour of his facility and explains his work and dream.  Nurmi is creating a race of perfect humans.  Part of that perfection is to merge a man and a woman into one body.  Connie is to be Nurmi's merge mate.  Halstead and his men start a big fight with the clones and minions, interrupting the merge process.  Halstead and Nurmi fight, damaging the super computer which runs everything.  Windows and doors break, allowing the red lake water to flood the subterranean complex.  Halstead puts his men and Connie into stasis pods so they can float up.  He and Jake use O2 cylinders to breathe through the swim to the surface.  Once on dry land, two rockets arrive from earth.  All is well again. 

Back on earth, Halstead, Connie and a few others lounge around a pool.  Halstead offends Connie by being a jerk (again), but he kisses her and she melts into his arms.

 

The War of the Planets (1966)

  • Original Title: I diafanoidi vengono da Marte
  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Antonio Margheriti
  • Produced:
    • Joseph Fryd  
    • Walter Manley  
    • Antonio Margheriti  
    • Ivan Reiner
  • Written:
    • Renato Moretti 
    • Ivan Reiner
  • Starring: Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Franco Nero, Carlo Giustini, Enzo Fiermonte, Linda Sini, Nando Angelini, John Bartha, Marco Bogliani, Calisto Calisti, Aldo Canti
  • Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
  • Cinematography: Riccardo Pallottini
  • Editing: Otello Colangeli
  • Studio:
    • Mercury Film International  
    • Southern Cross Feature Film Company
  • Distributed:
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  
    • Warner Home Video
  • Rated: Approved
  • Release Date: 4 June 1966 (Italy)
  • Running Time: 99 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language: Italian

War of the Planets (Italian: I Diafanoidi Vengono da Marte, literally "The Diaphinoids Come From Mars") is an Italian film directed by Antonio Margheriti and starring Tony Russel and Lisa Gastoni, released in 1966.  Russel's name is misspelled in the opening credits as "Tony Russell".

The film begins on New Year's Eve in the middle of the 21st century.  After space station Alpha-Two reports impossible "negative radiation" readings and loses contact with United Democracies (U.D.) headquarters, Captain Tice and his crew are sent to investigate.  They find the Alpha-Two crew immobilized, some dead, before coming under attack themselves by green glowing energy beings.  The creatures immobilize Tice's team and the space station disappears entirely.  On space station Gamma-One, Commander Halstead sends ships to investigate the remaining space stations and evacuates all but a skeleton crew.  Meanwhile on Earth, the creatures have possessed Captain Dubois and use him to break into the Institute for Advanced Sciences' nuclear reactor.  The possessed Dubois sends the U.D. a message offering "symbiotic partnership" for "the good of the whole".

As the energy beings seize each of the stations and surround the Earth, Dubois relays the demands of the energy beings.  Halstead and his crew are taken to Mars where they find the missing stations and the alien base at an automated uranium mine.  Exploring the area, they discover the corpses of several Delta-Two crew members who failed to merge with the energy beings because of their "passion and emotion".  Dubois reveals that the beings are "Diaphinoids" from the Andromeda Galaxy who need humans as host bodies.  Halstead and his team are forced to watch a "hosting" ceremony which results in several more deaths.  They rescue a pair of female station crew then start a melee with their captors.  Opening a panel in the outer wall, they escape across the surface of Mars to a nearby spacecraft while the air vents from the base, killing all inside.  The U.D. fleet arrives to bomb the base but Halstead's ship can't liftoff on its own.  Unwilling to let the Diaphinoids escape, Halstead demands the fleet drop its bombs even though it will almost certainly kill them too.  Luckily, they are able to use the blast from the U.D. attack to help loft the ship safely into orbit.  Back on Earth, Halstead is awarded the U.D. Medal of Honor... and court martialed for dereliction of duty.

 

War Between the Planets (1966)

  • Original Title: Il pianeta errante
  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Antonio Margheriti
  • Produced:
    • Joseph Fryd  
    • Walter Manley  
    • Antonio Margheriti  
    • Ivan Reiner
  • Written:
    • Ivan Reiner  
    • Renato Moretti
  • Starring: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Ombretta Colli, Enzo Fiermonte, Halina Zalewska, Goffredo Unger, Pietro Martellanza, John Bartha, Marco Bogliani, Vera Dolen, Renato Montalbano
  • Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
  • Cinematography: Riccardo Pallottini
  • Editing: Otello Colangeli
  • Studio: Mercury Film International
  • Distributed:
    • Fanfare Films  
    • Astral Films  
    • Something Weird Video  
    • Dark Sky Films  
    • Dias Film  
    • InterCinema Distribuzione  
    • Monterey Video
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 29 July 1966 (Italy)   7 April 1971 (US)
  • Running Time: 80 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language: Italian

The third film in the Gamma One quadrilogy was titled “Il pianeta errante” (The Errant Planet) in its original Italian. The English dubbed release in America was retitled War Between the Planets (WBP).  Director Magheriti's economizing continued.  Sets, costumes and props were reused from the first two movies, but the cast was different.  WBP is yet another rouge-planet film, though not a strong one.  Yet, the proto-Star Trek-like saga continues.

The earth is being wracked by earthquakes, tsunamis and storms.  Scientists cannot find a source.  Computers suggest an unknown planet may have moved into the solar system in Gamma One's quadrant.  Space Command's leader, General Norton, sends his best "space man" to space station Gamma One to find the cause.  Once back on Gamma One, Commander Rod Jackson barks out orders and is a jerk to his clandestine girlfriend, Lieutenant Terry Sanchez.  Gamma One has been wracked by odd gravity forces too.  Jackson's second-in-command, Dubrowski is miffed at having his earth-leave canceled.  He belittles Jackson's love life.  A fist fight breaks out, but is interrupted.  General Norton and Jackson's fiancĂ©e, Janet Norton, are coming.  A faint distress call from station Echo alerts Jackson to the likely place to find the errant planet.  He mounts a recon squadron of ships to find it. 

In his absence, the General arrives who also barks out a lot of orders.  Dubrowski, Sanchez and some others take another ship and join the recon party.  Dubrowski is intent to blow up the planet as revenge for the death of his wife in an earthquake.  One of Jackson's ships finds the planet.  It has many odd features, such as very low density, able to alter its direction and an ability to expel and recover a "school" of asteroids, it can alter it's gravity too.  One of Jackson's ships is caught in a gravity burst and it crashes on the surface and begins sinking in red goo.

Eventually, the others go EVA to explore the planet's surface, some of which is solid.  Dubrowski falls into the red goo and sinks away.  Jackson, Sanchez and Perkinson go down a crater, into a labyrinth of caverns.  The walls are lined with red "arteries", the floor has moving "breathing valves."  They seek a deep enough place to plant their anti-matter bomb.  An artery grabs Sanchez.  She drops the detonator into some goo.  Perkinson must use some extra circuits in Jackson's helmet as an alternate detonator, so they trade helmets.  There is a tremor and a cave-in which traps Perkinson.  Jackson must hack the arteries with an axe to open passageways so he and Sanchez may escape.  Eventually, they do and float back to their rocket.  All ships power away and the order is given to detonate.  The errant planet is destroyed.  At a solemn funeral for Dubrowski and Perkinson, Janet realizes she's lost Jackson.  Jackson, Sanchez and Dubrowski's red-headed son Ricky walk off hand in hand.

Snow Devils (1967)

  • Original Title: La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin
  • Genre: Drama – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Antonio Margheriti
  • Produced:
    • Joseph Fryd  
    • Antonio Margheriti  
    • Walter Manley  
    • Ivan Reiner
  • Written:
    • Antonio Margheriti  
    • Renato Moretti  
    • Ivan Reiner  
    • Charles Sinclair  
    • Aubrey Wisberg
  • Starring: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Ombretta Colli, Renato Baldini, Wilbert Bradley, Halina Zalewska, Enzo Fiermonte, Goffredo Unger, Furio Meniconi, Isarco Ravaioli, Renato Montalbano, Piero Pastore, Giuliano Raffaelli, Franco Ressel, Nino Vingelli
  • Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
  • Cinematography: Unknown
  • Editing: Otello Colangeli
  • Studio: Mercury Film International
  • Distributed:
    • Warner Home Video  
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 18 January 1967 (Italy)
  • Running Time: 78 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language: Italian

MGM released the fourth in the Gamma One quadrilogy in early 1967.  Snow Devils (SD) is considered the weakest of the four, but perhaps not by much.  SD may have gone direct to TV without a theatrical release.  This fourth installment of the Gamma One series re-used some of the characters from the prior films, but was not a sequel in the usual sense.  Its plot about alien yeti-men was a stand-alone.

A remote UDSCO weather station in the Himalayas monitors strange global warming events.  It is attacked by strange beasts.  Everyone is killed, but one man missing.  General Norton sends Commander Rod Jackson and his trusty sidekick, Captain Pulowski to investigate.  Lisa, fiancee of the missing Lt. Harris wants to come along, but Rod says no.  Their "helijet" is blown up, so they must trek on foot with porters.  Lisa tags along disguised as a porter.  Weird noises in the night scare off all the porters.  Rod, Frank, Lisa and the odd Sharu press on.

They find a cave, which turns out to be the base of the Yeti men.  All four are captured.  The yeti-men are actually aliens from the planet Aytin.  They came over a hundred years ago to build their base.  Now operational, they're warming Earth to melt the ice caps.  When the earth is flooded, they'll cool the planet to an ice ball just like Aytin -- which is doomed by a cloud of radiation, btw.  Rod and crew escape via an air shaft, make homemade ether which knocks out all the yeti-men.  The leader yeti shoots up his own equipment trying to get the humans, then he dies.

After that, Rod and crew are sent into space to check out Jupiter's moon Calisto.  The Aytians have a base there too.  A force field surrounds Calisto, so no ships can get near (nor missiles sent in).  Rod notices a meteorite strike the moon, so figures that's the key.  His fleet gather up asteroids from the asteroid belt, using magnetic 'cables'.  They then tow and hurl these at Calisto.  The Aytian base is destroyed.  Back on earth Rod is free to resume being a shallow playboy.

The Green Slime (1968)

  • Genre: Drama – Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Kinji Fukasaku
  • Produced:
    • Walter Manley  
    • Ivan Reiner  
    • William Ross
  • Written:
    • William Finger  
    • Ivan Reiner  
    • Tom Rowe  
    • Charles Sinclair
  • Starring: Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther, David Yorston, Robert Dunham, Gary Randolf, Jack Morris, Eugene Vince, Don Plante, Linda Hardisty
  • Music: Charles Fox
  • Cinematography: Yoshikazu Yamasawa
  • Editing: Osamu Tanaka
  • Studio:
    • Lun Film  
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  
    • Ram Films Inc.  
    • Southern Cross Feature Film Company 
    • Toei Company
  • Distributed:
    • Toei Company  
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  
    • Columbia Broadcasting System  
    • MGM/UA Home Entertainment  
    • Warner Home Video 
  • Rated:
  • Release Date:
    • 19 December 1968 (Japan)  
    • 21 May 1969 (USA)
  • Running Time: 90 minutes
  • Country:
    • United States  
    • Japan
  • Language:
    • English  
    • Japanese

The Green Slime is a 1968 science-fiction film produced by MGM in the United States and shot in Japan at the studios of Toei Company by director Kinji Fukasaku.  The film was spearheaded by Ivan Reiner and Walter Manley, the same creative team who produced similar Italian outings like Wild, Wild Planet.

A group of astronauts set out to stop a giant asteroid on a collision course with the planet Earth.  They land on the asteroid, plant explosive charges and destroy it.  Afterwards they return to the staging area, a space station called Gamma 3 in orbit around the Earth.  Unfortunately, a scientist from the mission has unwittingly carried a luminous-green substance on the leg of his spacesuit which quickly mutates into one-eyed, tentacled monsters with the ability to discharge lethal bolts of electricity.  The Gamma 3 crew fend off the alien creatures with their laser-based weaponry, only to discover the creatures feed off the energy which, in turn, allows them to multiply rapidly, sprouting the new creatures from their blood.  As the creatures overrun the station the crew continues to fight back against overwhelming odds.

Portions of this film were used to pitch the pilot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to station KTMA, although the entire film was never lampooned on the series later.  The cover of 1983 science fiction book 'The Worlds of H. Beam Piper' was based on a scene on the asteroid in this movie.

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