Tuesday, June 03, 2014


Our second and final movie for AndressFest'14 had the dubious honour of being our first ever streaming AndressFest movie. Yes, YouTube is now so dense with video dreck that even Ursula Andress movies are popping up on it. The movie was actually the feature-length pilot of the 1983 TV series 'Manimal'.

Brooke McKenzie is a cop, and she's a damn good one. Assuming, that is, that the hallmarks of quality in a cop run to looking like a knock-off Melanie Griffith and being perkily annoying.

We meet Brooke when she and her 104-year-old partner are on patrol. They pull over a suspicious van and, in the ensuing melee, the elderly partner is shot while Brooke chases one of the bad guys. She almost loses him, but he's brought down by a mysterious black panther, which flees as soon as she catches up.

In the next scene, Brooke been inexplicably promoted to detective, a job for which she dresses in fluffy pink cardigans and pastel blouses.

As part of her investigations she meets Professor Chase, an urbane English police consultant, and it doesn’t take her long to realise that Professor Chase and the black panther are one in the same. Professor Chase has studied the ancient art of turning himself into any animal (despite the laws of physics regarding the conservation of mass and other such trivialities), although it’s almost always a black panther since the production company expended their entire makeup and latex budget on that.

Together Brooke and the Professor search for her partner’s killer, who turns out to be a henchman in an international arms smuggling gang lead, somewhat improbably, by Ursula Andress. Ursula was about as convincing as she usually was when playing a criminal mastermind... that is, not very. Unless we presuppose that being the leader of an international arms smuggling business involves no skills other than stalking about in a fur coat being disdainful, it's hard to see how any actual arms smuggling got done.

One of the classification vagaries of silly, high-concept action TV shows in the early 1980s was that they couldn't show people being killed or visibly injured, lest it traumatise the eight year old boys who would be buying the lunch boxes and action figures the next day. So while Professor Chase can turn into a panther and stalk bad guys, he can't employ a panther's only weapons - big sharp teeth and claws - to actually harm them. Thus there are many scenes of a bad guy pressed against a wall in terror of a snarling panther, who presumably keeps him there until a random passing policeman notices him, or until he starves to death, whichever comes first. In the climactic scene the entire criminal enterprise, full of men holding actual assault weapons in their very hands, is thwarted by nothing more than a panther leaping onto a coffee table.

'Manimal' was a tedious, ridiculous piece of 80s tat, so much so that it made Ursula look like an accomplished actress: she stole every scene she had. In fact, the best scene in the entire movie was the most quintessentially Ursulan one, in which Professor Chase infiltrates Ursula's apartment in the guise of a fluffy white cat. Ursula finds him, and happens to be holding him when she takes a call from one of her clients. The scene was meant to show Manimal listening in on Ursula's plans, but the cat, perhaps being a bit spooked by all the cameras, sticks his head into the front of Ursula's bathrobe and keeps it there.

The audience is thus left with the impression that Manimal's dedication to fighting crime is nowhere near as important as his dedication to snuffling boobies. Somehow, that seems less heroic.

Unless you're Russ Meyers, of course.

I can just imagine what Ursula was thinking. “I'm 47 years old, I'm doing a shitty TV pilot, and I'm being motorboated by Mr Bigglesworth. It's time to retire.

'Manimal' lasted all of eight episodes before being cancelled. When the Curse of Ursula strikes, it strikes hard.


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