Monday, March 19, 2012


AndressFest'12 was a success, but it was not without its issues. As it was our seventh annual festival of Ursula Andress movies, the desire to avoid repetitions has driven my fellow AndressFesters and I further and further down into the murky depths of her oeuvre. The easy pickings, available on eBay and Amazon from a variety of stores, have been consumed, leaving only the rarities, the errata and, frankly, the movies so bad that there really isn't any call for them on DVD.

Things have become so bad that I was reduced to buying print-on-demand DVDs from an Amazon subcontractor, who, for roughly $50US, sent me two movies. And naturally when I put them in my DVD player, one didn't play, and the other one turned out to be a movie I already had, inserted into the wrong box.

Fortunately a couple of my fellow AndressFesters were a) tech savvy and b) prepared to venture into the dirty, hacker infested backwaters of the internet to access dodgy torrent sites in search of obscure Ursulalia. Between them they managed to download copies of the movies Amazon had failed to provide, plus a few spares for AndressFest'13. As such, AndressFest'12 was the first fully digital AndressFest, with all three movies playing off one unhappy portable hard drive rather than my DVD player.

I say "unhappy" because, well, the poor thing was loaded up with Ursula Andress movies, and our three movies for AndressFest'12 were misguided disasters that perfectly illustrated the decline of Ursula's career from 1969 to 1979.

We started in 1969, when Ursula was still a reasonably bankable star. The movie was 'The Southern Star', and within the first sixty seconds we suspected we were onto something awesome.

Top 5 Signs of Awesomeness in the first sixty seconds of 1969's 'The Southern Star'.

1. Based on the novel by Jules Verne. Captain Nemo meets Ursula Andress? Hells yeah!

2. The theme song is sung by Matt Monro. Because nothing says "African diamond mine circa 1912" quite like swanky lounge music.

3. Orson Welles. From 'Citizen Kane' and the great 'War of the Worlds' panic of 1938 to an Ursula Andress movie. What the hell happened, Orson?

4. The National Ballet of Senegal. It was either this or a production of 'Giselle'. Needless to say, they chose wrong.

5. Our Ursula. Because, to coin a cocktail metaphor, she's just the sweet sweet cherry in the manhattan of this mix.

Sweet merciful crap! It's like a wacky improv exercise rather than a series of sane production decisions. It's like deciding to make a movie based on a lesser work by Stephanie Meyer, starring wrestling superstar John Cena, Shakespearean actor Sir Ian McKellen and Cirque du Soleil... with music by Rammstein.

Not that I wouldn't totally see such a movie, of course.

Naturally after this minute of random but evocative promise, the movie fell into a stinking heap. The plot was so well-used that it deserves its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a magnificent diamond is discovered at the mines of the wealthy Mr Kramer, and at its unveiling party he asks his beautiful daughter Erica (Ursula Andress) to name it. She calls it The Southern Star. Moments later the lights go out, and when they come back on, the diamond has been snatched.

Who took it? Erica's gold digging boyfriend Dan (George Segal)? His acquisitive manservant Matakit (Johnny Sekka)? Karl, the vengeful head of Kramer's security (Ian Hendry)? Olga, the pet ostrich with whom her father has an entirely disturbing intimate relationship? Or was it Erica herself?

Not surprisingly, everyone blames the black guy, Matakit. But he escapes, and the hunt is on both for him and the diamond. Dan and Erica give chase, although Karl and his men attempt to thwart them at every turn, as Karl wants Erica for himself and this is the perfect opportunity for him to "accidentally" bump off the competition. Just to make things even more complicated there's Kramer's ex-head of security Plankett (Orson Welles), who lives the life of a bandit in the jungle, and who sees the diamond as both a source of wealth and a chance to stick it to his enemies. He spends a lot of time drinking and mincing and wondering what happened to his career since playing Harry Lime in 'The Third Man'.

Between all the scenes of Orson Welles mincing, Karl scheming, and Ursula providing her standard contractual nude scene, there's stock footage. Of every. Single. Animal. In. Africa. In fact one of the high points of this movie comes when Ursula is menaced by a rear projected stock footage cobra who has little regard for scale.

But it was an enjoyable enough little romp, and for all its flaws at least it wasn't boring. The same could not be said for the next two movies of AndressFest'12.


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