Tuesday, March 20, 2012


By 1976, the year she turned 40, Ursula Andress was reliant on the Italians for the continuation of her career. The Italians, in turn, were reliant on creative budgeting to churn out low-grade product for the uninterested masses.

And so, taking a grubby leaf out of the sordid book of the great Roger Corman, in 1976 the production company Tritone Cinematografica traveled to Africa to make two films - 'Africa Express' and 'Safari Express' - at the same time, using the same cast, the same crew, the same sets and the same locations - basically, the only thing they changed between films was the script. They even used the same monkey, although for our second AndressFest'12 movie, 'Safari Express', they inserted a rather disturbing dream sequence in which it fantasised about marrying its owner. Maybe that sort of thing happens a lot in Africa.

Oddly enough the hero is both movies is named John Baxter, and is played by Giuliano Gemma. But the characters played by Ursula Andress and Jack Palance are different, suggesting that John Baxter lives in a world where bizarre doppelgangers are a normal occurrence.

The story begins when Baxter and his chimp Biba discover the beautiful Miriam unconscious in the jungle. When she wakes, they discover that she has amnesia, and can tell them nothing about who she is or how she got there.

It transpires (eventually) that Miriam is the sole survivor of a mining exploration team who are wiped out by natives, who, as it turns out, were in the employ of one of the team's engineers. This engineer has discovered uranium on the land of another group of good natives, and has joined forces with the evil natives to wipe out both his team and their rivals and thus secure the mining rights and fabulous wealth. But once Ursula regains her memory and realises this, it's up to her and Baxter to thwart the evil Palance and save the good natives.

'Safari Express' is notable (possibly the only time those four words have ever been used together) for being about as close as Ursula ever got to being a kickass action queen. Normally her acting involved little more than stalking about looking icy and unobtainable, but here she was delivering sharp right hooks and impressive kung fu kicks.

There's also a scene in which Ursula hides in a thatched hut and, when the murderous natives enter one by one, she smashes vases over their heads. Then, when she runs out of vases, she resorts to a stout piece of wood. This might be very slightly plausible if there were only three or four natives... but there's at least twenty. Despite the fact that the tiny hut must be getting more crammed than a clown car, they keep entering one by one, and steadfastly ignoring the smashing sounds and grunts of pain that are leaking out through the not exactly soundproof thatched walls.

But despite the kickassery ‘Safari Express’ was still a terrible film. The cinematography was bland and the soundtrack repetitive. The acting from the minor characters was so bad that it made Ursula look like... well... an actress. The humour and hijinks were lame even by Rhodesian standards. And it was set in 1951 for no good reason, other than the fact that they had a couple of battered old cars handy and hey, why not make it a period piece? Certainly there was no attempt to put Ursula into period-appropriate clothes, or, worse yet, almost no attempt to take her out of them. This is, of course, an outrage.

And yet, bad as it was, it was a cinematic triumph compared to our third and final film for AndressFest’12.


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