Director: Frank Kramer
Starring: Brad Harris, Tony Kendall, Nick Jordan
This 1967 action packed spy comedy from Italy is one of the most purely entertaining superhero adventures I have ever seen. It threw together elements from T.V.s Batman series, Mexico's Lucha Libre films and the spy movie genre (all of which were at the peak of their respective popularity) and blended them (while also managing to satirize them) into an extremely pleasing concoction.
The story deals with a pair of likeable acrobatic thieves (played by Tony Kendall and Nick Jordan) who form an uneasy alliance (if you even want to call it that) with an FBI agent (played by Brad Harris) who is looking to bring down an evil scientist who is in control of the Universal Reproducer, a machine that as advertised can copy seemingly anything... including people. The trio's red superhero (?) outfits are bullet proof (but not flame proof) and come with suction cups on the feet in order to climb up walls and ceilings. They are also equipped with yo yos as weapons (long before the Sukeban Deka ladies were to use them). Guns are a no-no with them.
Though it didn't even make a dent here in the States, The Three Fantastic Supermen was the start of something pretty big throughout Europe and other parts of the world. A long series of sequels followed including a Hong Kong Shaw Brothers co production (Three Supermen in the Orient) and several Turkish productions (the best of which is the very entertaining Three Supermen and Mad Girl). I admit I haven't seen every one in this series, but I have seen most of them and while I found each entry entertaining, this initial installment is easily the best.
Both Brad Harris and Tony Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) had already appeared in the Kommissar X adventures and their strong chemistry built from that spy series carried over well here. Even though this is the debut feature, you get the strong feeling that these two actors are very familiar with each other. This was to be Kendall's sole appearance in the series while Harris returned for the third film (Three Supermen in the Jungle). Their presence was missed in the subsequent entries. The third wheel was portrayed by Nick Jordan (real name Aldo Conti). In real life, Jordan was reportedly a thief with strong mob ties (the story goes that he had to be let out of jail just to appear in this film!). He only appeared in one other film in the series and was apparantly murdered at some point in the 90s (I know, it's a downer). Many have found his mute acrobatic character annoying, but I genuinely enjoyed his performance. His cheerful and giddy approach to the character was something I found contagious. Of the rest of the cast, I really took notice of Gloria Paul, a tall and amazingly beautiful British actress whom I was not that familiar with. I discovered that Miss Paul was (is) a well know actress,singer and all around entertainer. She currently has performance clips all over youtube which she may be distributing herself (though I'm not sure of this). Sadly, she is not given much to do in this film, but I certaintly appreciated each scene she was in.
Directing this film with a super charged enthusiasn was Frank Kramer (real name Gianfranco Paralini), a noted veteran of both Peplum and Western pics. Not all of his films were successful, but many of them were quite good and fine examples of their respective genres. This film may be his finest hour (at least in this so-called critic's opinion).
Filled with some amazingly acrobatic (and far ahead of their time) martial arts battles and punctuated with a goofy but enjoyable music score, Three Fantastic Supermen is great fun and a definite favorite. I've watched it several times and it's silly thrills have never failed to put a smile on my face.
***1/2 / ****