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Plot: secret agent investigates disappearances in Scotland. Hilarity ensues!

Hailed as the ultimate in 60s kitsch and camp Zeta One had disaster written all over it. Produced by Tigon on an estimated budget of £60,000 Zeta One was a genre hybrid that could only have materialized in the late sixties. Written and directed by first timer Michael Cort and based on a story from Michael Glassman’s shortlived 1968 “photo fantasy” magazine Zeta – a publication somewhere between a glamour photography magazine and a science fiction serial – it largely was a preamble to get the assembled starlets out of their clothes with the thinnest veneer of a story. In all likelihood Zeta One is the single most memorable and bonkers gathering of future Hammer babes. Imagine what Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren, or Jesús Franco could have conjured up with that budget, a truckload of expensive Saarinen designer furniture, art-deco sets and about every bosomy British starlet of note at their disposal. This should, by all accounts, have been the ultimate knickers and knockers sexploitation romp of the decade. Zeta One lampoons not only the nascent James Bond franchise, it also spoofs science-fiction from a decade before, and is a psychotronic take on that old Mexican romp Planet of the Female Invaders (1966) or a gender-swapped variation on the Larry Buchanan space romp Mars Needs Women (1967). The abundance of skin, Valerie Leon in next to nothing, and the sheer concentration of British pulp celebrity cannot mask that Zeta One is virtually plotless, frequently incomprehensible, and terminally boring.

The late sixties were a unique time in the history of British cinema. The studio system of the prior decade had collapsed, the Summer Of Love heralded a new era of permissiveness and the porno chic was the latest vogue. The little players were forcing the hand of the old houses and daring them to follow brazen new directions they wouldn’t otherwise. Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren, and Tigon shepherded horror and exploitation into a new era of excess, where any story could be improved by adding a gratuitous helping of blood and boobs. Some ideas look good on paper but don’t hold up under closer scrutiny. Zeta One is one such case where all elements for a theoretical box office smash are present, but for some reason they never quite gelled and the production never became more than the sum of its various parts. Helmed by Michael Cort and Alistair McKenzie, first-time director and writer, respectively – Zeta One was anchored by a bevy of bosomy British belles in a permanent state of undress. Yet the promise of so much naked flesh wasn’t enough. Zeta One sank to the murky depths of imagination from whence it came. Zeta One is the Holy Grail of British exploitation and not to be missed.

In the late sixties Tigon British Film Productions had some minor successes with Witchfinder General (1968) and the Lovecraft adaptation Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) and would have in the following years with The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), Au Pair Girls (1972), and The Creeping Flesh (1973). Zeta One capitalized on three cinematic trends of the day: the burgeoning Eurospy cycle that followed in the wake of the James Bond episodes Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965); the renewed interest in all things science fiction following Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Roger Vadim’s sexy space romp Barbarella (1968) from the Jean-Claude Forest comic of the same name (which was particularly successful in the UK); and bawdy sex comedies as School For Sex (1969) made in response to the laxer censorship regulations and the permissive sexual mores following the Sexual Revolution. If all of that wasn’t a crazy enough combination by itself Zeta One tops it off by being a brief feminist fable and women’s liberation fantasy in tradition of British spy romps as The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967), and Deadlier Than the Male (1967). Under the auspices of a better filmmaker Zeta One could have worked as a delicate balancing act. Alas, Michael Cort was furthest from an experienced director and he would never direct anything again. Ever. Without Zeta One the world would never have known The Girl From Rio (1969), or lovably zany excursions into science fiction pulp as Luigi Cozzi’s candy-colored StarCrash (1979) or William Sach’s equally insane spoof Galaxina (1980).

Returning home from an undisclosed mission Section 5 secret agent James Word (Robin Hawdon) is surprised to find company secretary Ann Olsen (Yutte Stensgaard) waiting to debrief him. The two engage in friendly banter, a good amount of drinking and smoking, and a bout of strip poker ensues wherein Ann ends up disrobing completely. The two inevitably end up between the sheets and Ann at long last comes around to inquiring about the more salient details of Word’s most recent investigation in Scotland. W (Lionel Murton) assigned Word the case of Major Bourdon (James Robertson Justice), an underground figure, who himself was conducting an investigation into a string of disappearances around London. In order to find the abductors whereabouts Bourdon learns from his second-in-command Swyne (Charles Hawtrey) that the next intended target is burlesque dancer Edwina 'Ted' Strain (Wendy Lingham).

W orders Wordon to protect Ted by all means necessary and thus discovers that most of the abductions are conducted by Atropos (Valerie Leon) and Lachesis (Brigitte Skay). Word deduces that the Angvians abduct terrestrial women to repopulate their own dimension as they have no biological manner of reproduction. What Word doesn’t know is that a deep undercover agent named Clotho (Anna Gaël) is using her womanly wiles to manipulate the intelligence community. Bourdon’s goons figure that the only way to lure the agents from the interdimensional realm of Angvia to Earth is by using Edwina as bait. With various Angvians minions taken prisoner over the course of the operation queen Zeta (Dawn Addams) is left with no other option but to initiate “Action 69” and let her armies of war descend screaming for the heavens upon the Scottish estate where the stately Bourdon manor is located. Word relays to Clotho how he showed up just in time to witness the aftermath of said fierce battle which prompts her to reveal her true motives. Clotho teleports James back to Angvia where he’s rewarded for his bravery with an eternity of fornication with all of the realm’s most carefully selected and perfectly proportioned belles.

No matter how nonsensical or ridiculous Zeta One gets it’s custodian to some truly outstanding production design from Martin Gascoigne. A better director would have made better use of Gascoigne’s combination of high-end Finnish plastic vacuform furniture from the Knoll line, shimmering foil walls and flashing multi-coloured chequer-board lights. Zeta One was filmed at a semi-converted wallpaper factory that was Euroscan’s Camden Studios in North London owned by producer George Maynard and Michael Cort. When production wrapped as Cort went over-budget and over time Tigon had around an hour’s worth of incoherent material in the can. Zeta One was buried in the Tigon vaults about 18 months before an attempt was made to salvage the project. A 20-minute long framing story was shot with a returning Robin Hawdon and Yutte Stensgaard as the company secretary tasked with debriefing him. It was a decent enough attempt to make something out of nothing but it’s a sad day indeed when not even a bare naked Yutte Stensgaard can manage to liven up proceedings this dreadfully dull. Like the remainder of the cast in the main portion of the feature Stensgaard was never shy about disrobing. As disjointed and detached from the main portion as it feels the 20 minute opening at least is halfway entertaining despite its static nature. Which brings us to the only reason to even bother tracking down a copy of Zeta One

The women are universally and uniformly delectable and can be seen almost wearing suede mini-dresses and white, thigh-high boots whereas the storm troops wear nothing but long black wigs, the skimpiest purple knickers and nipple tassels. It truly looks as insane as it sounds. Yutte Stensgaard, Brigitte Skay, Valerie Leon, Kirsten Lindholm, Gilly Grant and Anna Gaël all can be seen in various stages of undress with Dawn Addams appearing peripherally. First, there are the three girls that went on to become Hammer Film babes. Yutte Stensgaard featured in If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), and Some Girls Do (1969) the same year and would go to star in Lust for a Vampire (1971). Brigitte Skay debuted in Sexy Baby (1968) and her post-Zeta One resumé includes the Mario Bava giallo A Bay Of Blood (1971), the Italian blockbuster Homo Eroticus (1971), and the Luigi Batzella giallo Blackmail (1974) and his il sadiconazista The Beast In Heat (1977). Valerie Leon would famously star in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), as well as the popular Carry On (1958-1992) comedies, and was at one point tipped to play Vampirella. Dawn Addams was the elder stateswoman who had starred in Fritz Lang’s murder mystery The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) and The Vampire Lovers (1970). Of the many Angvia extras Kirsten Lindholm (then still Kirsten Betts) and Gilly Grant are by far the most retroactively famous. Lindholm went on to play supporting roles in the Karnstein trilogy The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971), and Twins of Evil (1971). Grant was a veteran of Pete Walker sexploitation with roles in The Big Switch (1968) and School For Sex (1969). Gilly would end up in the Lindsay Shonteff actioner Clegg (1970) as well as the considerably more high profile Carry On Matron (1972). Second, none pulled off quite the trajectory as Hungarian import Anna Gaël.

Anna Gaël was born in September 1943 in Budapest, Hungary as Anna Abigail Gyarmarthy. Gaël debuted in 1962 and starred in a number of Hungarian, German, and French films before landing in the art film Therese and Isabelle (1968) and the World War II epic The Bridge at Remagen (1969) before starring in Zeta One. Most notably she could be seen in the terror film The Woman Is a Stranger (1968), the forgotten giallo The Rage Within (1969), and the French vampire spoof Dracula and Son (1976). Gaël first met Alexander Thynn, Viscount Weymouth in Paris, France in 1959 and would remain his mistress even though she herself was married to French film director Gilbert Pineau at the time. Gaël married Thynn at a London registry office in 1969 and in the process became Anna Thynn, the Marchioness of Bath. Gaël semi-retired from acting in 1970 and reinvented herself as a war correspondent covering conflicts in Vietnam, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. Thynn continued acting sporadically until retiring officially in 1981 after which she disappeared completely from the silver screen. Charles Hawtrey was another veteran of the British screen with credits dating as far back as 1922. From the middle until the end of his career Hawtrey was another regular in the Carry On (1958-1992) franchise with which he remained until 1972. More tragic is seeing James Robertson Justice in pseudo-softcore dreck as this. Justice had a long and storied career on both sides of the Atlantic and appeared in Vice Versa (1948), The Black Rose (1950), Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), David and Bathsheba (1951), Anne of the Indies (1951), the Doctor franchise (1954-1970), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), the multi Academy Award-winning World War II epic The Guns of Navarone (1961), and the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Alistair McKenzie never wrote anything again, and who can blame him? A race of comically large-breasted, Amazon women abduct terrestrial women to repopulate their dimension and are aided in doing so by a bumbling, clumsy, womanizing secret agent. It’s practically a science fiction riff on Jess Franco’s Red Lips two-parter Two Undercover Angels (1969) and Kiss Me, Monster (1969). By 1969 James Bond was a veritable cultural juggernaut, Sean Connery’s tenure as the secret agent had come to a close after 5 movies and On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) saw George Lazenby taking over the role. Casino Royale (1967) was the earliest Bond spoof and for a while Italy and Spain took the lead in ridiculing the very target-rich spy-action genre. There’s an M character named W, there’s James Word (“his word is our bond!”) and the usual bevy of bosomy British beauties. In a bout of typically British humour the dimension the women hail from is called Angvia (an anagram of, yes, you guessed it, vagina).

For no discernable reason Anna Gaël, Brigitte Skay, and Valerie Leon play characters named after the Greek goddesses of fate and destiny, the Moirai, or the Three Fates. While they constitute principal players in the plot their Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos bear no meaningful semblance to their mythological counterparts. The idea is certainly present but McKenzie never fleshes out (there’s plenty of opportunity to ogle their bared flesh, though) their, or any other, character enough to truly amount to anything. Yet as completely and utterly bonkers as Zeta One is most of the time, it’s quite unbelievable just how boring it is seeing Yutte Stensgaard lose her clothes in the world’s most artificially protracted game of strip poker. At least you get a gander at Stensgaard’s perfectly-shaped ass as a well-deserved bonus. You’d imagine that seeing top-heavy Valerie Leon (who just like her fellow Vampirella prospect Caroline Munro never did any on-screen nudity) strut around the English woodside in the tiniest purple bikini bottoms and pasties would elicit more fireworks, yet no sparks erupt. Likewise is it easy, and completely understandable, to confuse Yutte Stensgaard with Anna Gaël. Neither really has much in the way of defining characteristics. Granted, there’s definitely something about seeing this many UK starlets disrobed so frequently. Zeta One is the kind of production that could only have been greenlit in the late sixties…

Zeta One puts exploitation back in exploitation movie. There are more than enough funbags for any warmblooded male but none of it is particularly fun. Had director Michael Cort and scriptwriter Alistair McKenzie actually had any clue this could have served as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of all the cheap science fiction and spy-action productions masquerading as alternatives to James Bond, Bulldog Drummond, and their lesser imitators. What should have been a British counterpart to the popart decadence, unbridled sensuality, and boundless swagger of Piero Schivazappa's The Laughing Woman (1969) (with Dagmar Lassander) instead became, more than anything, a cautionary tale of everything that could go wrong during film production. Not even a flamethrower, a chainsaw, or Valerie Leon’s barely-there war bikini could salvage the flaming hot mess that is Zeta One.

If Zeta One is anything (it’s a whole lot of nothing the rest of the time), it’s a spiritual precursor to Pete Walker’s hugely entertaining proto-slasher The Flesh and Blood Show (1972). If the late Russ Meyer or Andy Sidaris ever came around to making a science fiction romp it would probably have looked something like this. It’s seldom that exploitationers are boring, but Zeta One charts new highs… or lows, rather. In a post-Barbarella (1968) world the most natural response to the James Bond spoof craze was something as thoroughly and unflinchingly British as Zeta One. And the craziest thing of all? Italy didn’t try to imitate it en masse by the very next month. Germany would duly attempt such a thing with the mildly insane 2069 – A Sex Odyssey (1974) prompting Britain to its own with The Girl From Starship Venus (1975). Somebody had to lay the groundwork and Michael Cort was the one to do it.

Plot: friends, family and other lovers - and heroin too.

Sängkamrater (or Bedfellows, released for reasons unknown in the English-speaking world under the porntastic title Wide Open) reunited Christina Lindberg with Finnish director Gustav Wiklund for what was to be the last of her prime titles during her initial run. Lindberg had worked with Wiklund on Exponerad (1971) three years before and saw her back in familiar territory. After her excursion into Japan that was Journey to Japan (1973) and Sex and Fury (1973), as well as her induction into German softcore with Schoolgirl Report Part 4: What Drives Parents to Despair (1972), Secrets of Sweet Sixteen (1973), and Schoolgirl Report 7 (1974) Christina returned home to Sweden. There she would launch herself to cult cinema superstardom with Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973), and the Shirley Corrigan romp Around the World with Fanny Hill (1974). Wide Open could, nay, should have been Lindberg’s last hurrah and the Three the Hard Way (1974) of Nordporn, except that neither of the Maries Liljedahl or Forså, were nowhere to be seen. In the year that ABBA rose to worldwide prominence by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” Lindberg was just about to fall into certain obscurity and irrelevance.

Christina Lindberg

The other big name here is auburn haired demi-goddess Solveig Andersson. Andersson, of course, was Eva (1969) and had starred in the Danish-Swedish classic Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc. (1971). It wasn’t even her first time supporting Lindberg as she had already done so in the contemptible and widely derided rape revenge caper Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973) the year before. For lack of a better descriptor Wide Open is kind of a Swedish precursor to Popcorn and Ice-Cream (1978), although this being Scandinavian (and not German, Italian or British) it’s far from cheery.

For Gustav Wiklund this was supposed to be his pièce de résistance, his masterwork as he not only directed, but took to writing and producing it as well. Not that anyone could blame him. What would you do if you had Christina Lindberg and Solveig Andersson running around the set half-naked? In one of life’s bitter ironies Wide Open has become something of a forgotten title, as it’s seldom talked about when discussing the Lindberg and Andersson canon. For those hoping to see Christina Lindberg and Solveig Andersson engaging in extensive mutual groping will be sorely disappointed as no such thing will be forthcoming. Wide Open sort of bounces and straddles around (both in the literal and figurative sense) aimlessly before finally deciding what it wants to be. Not that that warrants the effort of seeking it out. Wide Open has been relegated to obscurity for a reason. This is the sort of thing you don't want to dirty up your resumé.

Paul (Kent-Arne Dahlgren) is an unambitious taxi driver in the capital of Stockholm. One day he picks up his bewildered alcoholist father Ollie (Âke Fridell) at a horse race and brings him to his apartment. In the apartment Paul’s journalist girlfriend Marianne (Solveig Andersson) is in the habit of wandering around naked, and she’s none too pleased with the improvised arrangement of having his father sleep off his hangover. Things don’t improve between the young lovers when Ollie suddenly assaults Marianne for no discernable reason. Thankfully Paul is able to intervene. To ease the tensions and diffuse to quarrel the two decide to go to a party. While Paul is in another room making out with a willing and able blonde girl Marianne runs into her free-spirited, promiscuous, and libertine sister Beryl (Gunilla Larsson). Things take a turn for the complicated when Marianne and Beryl’s parents (Per-Axel Arosenius and Karin Miller) come to visit unexpectedly the next morning and an impromptu birthday party is hastily thrown to fake that their relationship is at least halfway functional.

The following morning Paul wakes up between a naked Marianne and Beryl. Seething with anger and jealousy Marianne then departs for Copenhagen, Denmark on a work assignment. Beryl is an aspiring actress that has taken up nude modeling to pay the bills. When she picks up her friend Eva (Christina Lindberg) at the airport she speaks about her modeling work, and Eva’s all ears to make some money on the side. As it happens Eva is in an abusive relationship with Peter (Leif Ahrle) who degrades her in various ways and insists she do housekeeping chores au naturel. Beryl tries to seduce Paul, but he’s far more interested in Eva. Meanwhile the two girls go the studio of Mr. X (Jan-Olof Rydqvist) to shoot another nude spread. Afterwards Beryl is offered a stripping assignment at a gentlemen’s convention. On the way home she’s picked up by overweight bald deviant Leonard (Sture Ström) who locks her up and whips her. Beryl manages to escape and to hide her modesty grabs the nearest fur coat. What Beryl doesn’t know is that said coat has heroin hidden in the lining. When his shipment doesn’t arrive Mr. X dispatches his enforcer (Tor Isedal) to locate the missing heroin. He forces Marianne, Beryl, and Eva at gunpoint into a bout of bottomless go-go dancing to ensure they aren't carrying any of the goods….

Wide Open may be somewhat forgotten in the annals of Nordporn, it does feature a whole host of familiar faces. First, there are Tor Isedal from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960) and Exponerad (1971), and Åke Fridell from The Seventh Seal (1957), and Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc. (1971). Back once again is character actor Per-Axel Arosenius from Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) and who played fatherly roles to Lindberg in Maid in Sweden (1971) and Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973). Jan-Olof Rydqvist had crossed paths with Solveig Andersson in Eva (1969) and with Christina Lindberg in Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973). The remainder of the cast consists of television actors Robert Sjöblom and Gunilla Larsson. Despite their presence here Sjöblom and Larsson had and build extensive careers in television afterwards. As for svenske skønhed Christina Lindberg and Solveig Andersson, both were well past the apex of their respective careers. Lindberg’s initial run ended with a disappointing thud as she has more of a supporting role here, and she’s given little to do besides bouncing and strutting around naked. The same goes for Andersson, whose star burned bright and fierce in Eva (1969), something which her subsequent roles never were able to consolidate. Compared to both Gunilla Larsson was, while not exactly unattractive, on the plain side of average. That Wide Open gets the most out of her is with good reason too. In stark contrast to Andersson and Lindberg, Larsson could actually, you know, act.

Swedish erotica has the tendency to be downbeat and depressing most of the time. Unlike German, Italian, and British sexploitationers of the day Wide Open is about as far from fun and breezy as you could get. At least the whole fur coat plotpoint was used to far greater effect in the Cine-S classic The Hot Girl Juliet (1981) (with the triarchy of Iberian softcore sex goddesses Eva Lyberten, Andrea Albani, and Vicky Palma). There’s ample opportunity to get an eyeful of bröst and röv from the two main flicka. Typically, it’s Lindberg for the former and Andersson for the latter. Not that we would want it any other way, but by 1974 the whole spiel was getting kind of old. No wonder Gustav Wiklund grabbed every opportunity to have Solveig Andersson cavorting around completely nude.

Five long years had passed since Eva (1969) and Wide Open consistently fails to capture her beauty. Which is strange considering director of photography Max Wilén was behind the lens here too. Even Christina Lindberg looks more bored and boring than ever. Dog Days (1970), Sex at the Olympics (1972) or Love In 3-D (1974) this most certainly is not. Wide Open didn't even have a gimmick the way the amiable and psychotronic Four Dimensions of Greta (1972) had. This is one of those titles that is long overdue for an extensive restoration and high-end 4/8k remastering complete with digital color correction and improved audio. In recent years Christina Lindberg has been vocal in her disdain for Wide Open and has openly expressed her discontent and disappointment with how it turned out. It’s not exactly hard to see why she would feel that way. Wide Open was so cheap it couldn’t even afford a decent poster – and recent DVD releases have been forced to use images from Lindberg’s nude spreads of the day instead. In the Lindberg canon this is probably the most impoverished, incoherent, and lazy of all her prime features.