I’ve been writing a series of posts on Criterion Collection film releases for this site. Some of the Criterion titles I’ve covered have been things like campy romps and low-budget oddities, but most of the movies in question are decidedly highbrow fare: critically acclaimed cinematic works directed by noted auteurs.
As I’ve been plowing away at these pieces, another side of my film fanatic self—my inner trash-movie lover—has been knocking at my conscience, asking to be allowed to come out and play. So it’s time to give way to that urge for a moment while taking a break from all the high art. The moment has arrived to investigate the ridiculous yet pleasurable 1967 superhero Eurocrime work, Argoman, The Fantastic Superman.
For the sake of brevity, let’s just call the film Argoman from here on in. Argoman is an Italian-made movie that is stated to be an English-language production. Hmm, the exaggerated-accent voices on my DVD copy certainly sound dubbed. Oh, well, no need to belabor the point; let’s just accept that it was done in English.
I will confess to not knowing the, um, other works of any of the principals involved in the feature, apart from that of Italian soundtrack maker Piero Umiliani—his groovy, breezily psychedelic sounds are perfect for this film. The director of Argoman is one Terence Hathaway, which is a pseudonym used by Italian moviemaker Sergio Grieco (1917-82), whose specialty—besides cheesy crime movies—seems to have been sword-and-sandal epics.
Leadman Roger Browne (1930-) is an American whose acting history includes duties in a lot of Euro releases, some with titles such as Vulcan, Son of Glove (1962), The Spy Who Loved Flowers (1966), and Women in Cell Block 7 (1973). Those titles kinda say it all, huh? Argoman also features a leading lady in French/Italian beauty Dominique Boschero (1934-), whose acting CV makes it look she has run in a lot of the same cinematic circles as Browne.
Before we explore the (ahem) plot of Argoman, a couple basics about its titular character. When he’s not wearing a yellow superhero suit, cape, and identity-hiding face mask and helmet, Argoman is known to the world as Sir Reginald Hoover—an American by birth who currently resides on a palatial seaside estate somewhere in England. And yes, he has been knighted. Sir Reginald owns several Rolls Royces, has a manservant and other employees to see to some of his needs, and is constantly in a state of being ready for a good swim. He’s also a playboy/lover of women.
Argoman's signature superhero talent is that he is a master of telekinesis; when appropriate, he utilizes this rare mental capacity to move people and objects around as suits him and his goals as well as to see things not viewable to most mortals. But here’s the catch about the guy’s duality of being a Casanova and one who combats baddies: after having sex, Reginald/Argoman’s extraordinary psychic powers are not available to him for the next six hours. So, you know, if you’re thinking about pulling off some big swindle within his general vicinity, you might want to do the job soon after he’s had a hookup.
If it sounds to you like there would be no room in Argoman for another outrageous character apart from its lead man, think again. In the lawless and insatiably greedy femme fatale portrayed by Boschero, Hathaway/Grieco and writers Dino Verde and Vincenzo Flamini worked in a woman who is Argoman’s nemesis as well as his farcical match. The lady—who goes by a couple different first names but ultimately likes to be known as Queen of the World—is a kind of crime boss/dominator of men who wears a variety of dresses and headpieces that are riots of wild colors and designs. She manages to be both powerfully sexy and giggle-worthy ludicrous.
At the beginning of the story, Queen (cool if we just call her that?) and her gang of subservient, black-clad henchmen illegally remove a jeweled crown from under the noses of security personnel in the Tower of London. But then, they send the prized item to Scotland Yard with a note from Queen explaining that this heist was merely a show of strength and a warning as to what might come if their wishes are not fulfilled.
What Queen and her goons really want is a valuable yet dangerous gem, currently located in Paris, which is exquisite and priceless yet also a ticking bomb because of its radioactive qualities. Well, what they really want is actually full-on world domination, but for starters, they’ll take that glorious and explosive rock.
So the story’s locale switches from Blighty to Gay Paree as Queen and friends arrive in France’s capital in an effort to gain possession of the potent gem. Scotland Yard’s lead law enforcement officer also makes the trek to Paris, and there works with the French police head in an effort to thwart Queen and Co. They realize that to battle this crafty and ruthless lot, they need someone with unusually sharp criminal-stopping powers. Enter Sir Reginald, who the English police know to be wise to crooks and who just so happens to have arrived in Paris along with the crowd. The team of police chiefs somewhat reluctantly ask for Reginald’s assistance, and in so doing are, of course, inadvertently signing on Argoman, who they think is a villain. Huh?? Anyway, so light the torch, blow the whistle, and let the Argoman vs. Queen of the World games begin.
Countless Austin Powers-influencing campy spy- and crime-thriller movies were made in the 1960s. I should know, as I’ve spent what some might consider an alarming amount of time watching them. Argoman stands apart from most of the pack because of (a) its deliriously absurd plot elements and main characters, (b) its enjoyably cartoonish look and special effects, and (c) Umiliani’s music. If cult-classic ‘60s action films such as Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968) and the like hit your sweet spot and you haven’t experienced Argoman, set aside some time and enjoy the ride.
See also: Crimes Against Film: Barb Wire (1996)
Brian Greene writes short stories, personal essays, and reviews and articles of/on books, music, and film. His work has appeared in 25+ publications since 2008. His pieces on crime fiction have also been published by Noir Originals, Crime Time, Paperback Parade, The Life Sentence, Stark House Press, and Mulholland Books. Brian lives in Durham, North Carolina.