Plot: mysterious femme fatale plots to take over the world. Debonair playboy intervenes.
Leave it to the Italians to produce a spoof of a spoof. Argoman, the Fantastic Superman spoofs the Superargo movies with Giovanni Cianfriglia, themselves sendups of the more popular Eurospy exercises of the day. In Italy it was released as Come rubare la corona d'Inghilterra (or How to Steal the Crown of England) and there it was subject of a nifty promotion campaign that passed it off as a traditional Eurospy adventure romp while promotion at a later date focused on the superhero and fantastical aspect. Argoman takes a lot after the peplum Revolt Of the Praetorians (1964) and the spaghetti western The Colt Is My Law (1965), both from master hack Alfonso Brescia, wherein a debonair character doubles as a masked avenger. There was a time and place for Argoman, the Fantastic Superman and that was in the late sixties. It is the sort of production that has to seen to be believed. It’s exactly as crazy as it looks – and it never makes any qualms about what it is. Fun is first and only objective that Argoman, the Fantastic Superman sets for itself and it succeeds with flying colors even when it falters in other aspects. At heart Argoman, the Fantastic Superman is a children’s movie but one clearly meant for more grown-up, adolescent audience. This is pure male wish fulfillment.
Like many of his contemporaries director Sergio Grieco was a journeyman who dabbled in every popular genre under the sun. Be it adventure, swashbuckler and sword and sandal epics to Eurospy and poliziottesco. In the mid-sixties Grieco directed a string of Eurospy romps with Agent 077 Mission Bloody Mary (1965), Agent 077 Operation Istanbul (1965) and Password: Kill Agent Gordon (1966). These led him directly into Argoman, the Fantastic Superman, a semi-comedic curiosity that crossed the Eurospy with the fumetti. In the 1970s Grieco would direct The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine (1974) and write the screenplay for action specialist Enzo G. Castellari’s World War II epic The Inglorious Bastards (1978), famously remade by Quentin Tarantino in 2009 with a slightly altered title. Before there was Supersonic Man (1979), before Infra Man (1975) – there was Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (just Argoman hereafter).
The fumetti were Italian comic books for adult audiences and are generally considered the precursor to today’s graphic novels. In the late sixties and early seventies they served as the basis for a number of masked superhero productions. The fumetti craze led to memorable productions as Kriminal (1966), Barbarella (1968) with Jane Fonda, Diabolik (1968), Satanik (1968) and Sadistik (1968) (originally named Killing in Italy, but popularly known under its French name). Another prime example of the fumetti was the The Three Supermen (1967-1970) franchise. Argoman had the good fortune to capitalize on both the fumetti and the Eurospy craze in the wake of the early Bond movies with Sean Connery becoming a worldwide phenomenon. That it was released the same year as The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967) and pushed a similar message of women’s liberation and feminist empowerment is just another happy coincidence. That it is certifiably insane by any metric you choose to employ helps in no small part too.
When the Royal Crown of England is stolen in broad daylight from the Tower of London inspector Lawrence (Nino Dal Fabbro, as Richard Peters) from Scotland Yard is left to investigate a case he can’t possibly crack. He calls upon suave English playboy Sir Reginald Hoover (Roger Browne), a gentleman-criminal of considerable repute who lives in a opulent French villa on a remote island, to help locate a prime suspect in the case. In his palatial abode Hoover senses the presence of Regina Sullivan (Dominique Boschero) and guides her to her coastal bachelor pad through telekinesis. Hoover challenges Sullivan to target shooting contest. If she wins she’ll get a brand new Rolls-Royce and a box of precious stones. If he wins, he’ll get her for the remainder of the day. After consummating his relationship with Sullivan, Hoover confides in his turbaned butler Chandra (Eduardo Fajardo, as Edoardo Fajardo) that he loses his ESP abilities for 6 hours after each sexual encounter. Meanwhile the real thief of the Royal Crown, criminal mastermind Jenabell declares herself ‘the Queen of the World’ (Barbarella wouldn’t claim the title of Queen Of the Galaxy until a year later) and her henchmen led by her trusty enforcer Kurt (Mimmo Palmara, as Dick Palmer) returns the Crown of St. Edward to its rightful owner with the promise of a demonstration of her real power.
Said power comes from a prized diamond ("Muradoff A IV" is its technical designation) and with the diamond, through the sun’s energy, Jenabell and her legion of automatons (a slave race of humanoid robots) is able to dissolve steel and thus the French currency is under threat of devaluation. The second part of her scheme involves robbing the Bank of France with an army of her leatherclad henchmen in tow and littering the streets of Paris with francs and banknotes as a distraction. The crime leaves inspector Martini (Edoardo Toniolo, as Edward Douglas) puzzled. Hoover uses his glamorous girlfriend Samantha (Nadia Marlowa) to distract Jenabell’s forces and changes into Argoman as he takes on her goons. Argoman possesses sonar, telekinetic and magnetic powers of unknown origin that make him practically invincible – and his only known weakness seems to be beautiful women. Argoman allows himself to be abducted to Jenabell’s fabulous art-deco subterranean lair. Jenabell gives him the choice to either be her consort or her slave. After briefly being distracted by Jenabell’s constant costume changes (the attire includes a black widow, a snake bikini, a queen from outer space and a tinfoil fright wig) Argoman decides to save Samantha, who as per third act convention has been kidnapped, from the advances of a behemoth metallic robot and safeguard the world from Jenabell’s dominion of terror. The Queen of the World seeks to replace all men of power with identical clones doing her bidding. Fighting off goons and clones alike Argoman is able to stop Jenabell from escaping by destroying her plane.
To its credit at least Argoman realizes how silly it is. The costume alone makes Juan Piquer Simón’s Supersonic Man (1979) look as a paragon of good taste and restraint in comparison. The Argoman costume consists of a yellow body stocking, black mask with a red psychedelic spiral on it, a red cape with red velvet lining and flashlight visor eyes. In other words, Argoman looks suspiciously like a candy-colored, psychotronic version of Gort from the Robert Wise science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). True to his European standards Argoman is the designated nominal hero of the piece but that doesn’t stop him from killing without scruples, compulsively talking his way into bedding whatever woman strikes his fancy and/or stealing riches from whichever evildoers he’s been fighting. Argoman is often on the right side of the law but, true to anti-hero tradition, he isn’t afraid to bend or break the law if it involves personal gratification or - enrichment. Where Argoman’s sonar, telekinetic and magnetic powers come from is never explained nor why he loses said abilities after doing the horizontal mambo with any of the many women. Argoman was prescient where the commedia sexy all’italiana was headed was by having Nadia Marlowa stroll down a street in nothing but lingerie, stockings and boots. Almost ten years later Gloria Guida could be seen cavorting around in nearly identical attire in the so-so The Landlord (1976). The retro-future production design inspired by The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) is just icing on a cake already brimming with wall-to-wall insanity. As a bonus it lifts a pivotal plotpoint wholesale from the brilliant The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967).
The star of Argoman is Roger Browne, an American actor that lived in Rome from 1960 to 1980. Browne was a fixture in peplum and later seamlessly transitioned into the Eurospy genre. Like any working actor Browne appeared in many different productions, among them, Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter (1962) (with Bella Cortez), Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968) (with the delectable duo of Edwige Fenech and Femi Benussi), Emanuelle in America (1977), and Alfonso Brescia’s The War of the Robots (1978). Dominique Boschero is best described as a lesser Eurocult queen and Nadia Marlowa was a relative nobody. Boschero has credits dating back to 1956 and include such illustrious titles as Secret Agent Fireball (1965), the gialli The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971) from Riccardo Freda and All the Colors of the Dark (1972) (with Edwige Fenech), as well as the Laura Antonelli drama Venial Sin (1974). Mimmo Palmara was a peplum regular that appeared in Hercules (1958), Hercules Unchained (1959), The Trojan Horse (1961) and later in a supporting part in the Gloria Guida comedy That Malicious Age (1975). Eduardo Fajardo was a monument in Spanish cinema even at this point making his appearances in drek as Umberto Lenzi’s pandemic shocker Nightmare City (1980) and in the original Spanish version of Eurociné’s nigh on incoherent shambler Oasis of the Zombies (1982) all the more lamentable.
It seems almost unfathomable that Argoman didn’t in some major way have an impact on director Juan Piquer Simón’s gaudy pastel-colored vistas for Supersonic Man (1979) and the candy-colored excesses that were part and parcel in Luigi Cozzi's amiable StarCrash (1979), Hercules (1983) and The Adventures Of Hercules (1985). It’s the best kind of kitsch. It’s pure camp. Argoman never takes itself seriously (neither should you) and it pushes all the right buttons as a spoof of the Eurospy and superhero genre . Sometimes it’s able to overcome its limitations, budgetary and otherwise, and sometimes not. It goes by the old adage that anything goes as long as there are pretty girls to look at. Dominique Boschero is godly as Jenabell in her crazy costumes and Nadia Marlowa has one scene forever seared onto the retina of cult fans everywhere. Eduardo Fajardo provides the prerequisite comedic note whereas Roger Browne is as wooden as ever. Whatever the case Argoman, the Fantastic Superman is a 60s curiosity that works best as a pastiche of the two genres it pays homage to. It has no reason to work but it somehow does. Argoman is one part Batman (1966-1968) with Adam West and prescient of where Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) would take science-fiction in the following decade all while pushing camp to whole new levels and remaining strangely enjoyable through out. Too bad it was produced amidst the fumetti craze and remains somewhat of a forgotten gem.