Monday, March 28, 2011


What Ursula Andress’ body of work lacks in quality it certainly makes up for in quantity. In 1976, for example, she starred in four different movies, which was more than Audrey Hepburn, Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda combined. True, all of those movies were terrible, but then no director ever cast her expecting finely nuanced cinema.

A case in point is 1976’s ‘Africa Express’. Let’s face it, when one of your co-stars is a monkey, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re not doing a classy BBC adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Although now that I think about it, that would be totally awesome.

AndressFester PM wanted everyone to know that, technically, chimpanzees aren’t monkeys.

The film begins auspiciously, with Giuliano Gemma playing cards with Jack Palance while his pet monkey Biba helps him cheat. Jack Palance, doing the usual bad guy schtick that paid his taxes between 1968 and 1991, becomes suspicious and the inevitable fight breaks out. Giuliano barely escapes with his winnings and his life, and Jack vows revenge.

PM insists that you remember that chimpanzees aren’t really monkeys. Apparently this matters.

Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, a train is hijacked by a gang of villains searching for three people. Two of those people are shot and killed, but the third, Ursula Andress, escapes in disguise after beating up a nun and stealing her habit. While walking down a lonely road she meets up with Giuliano in his truck, and he, believing her to be a nun, offers to take her to the local mission. It's soon after this that we encounter the movie's single greatest scene: Ursula Andress lasciviously eating a banana while dressed as a nun.

Basically it’s the high point of the 1970s, if not the entire 20th century.

With the sexual tension and the attendant whack of Catholic guilt running high, Giuliano delivers Ursula to the mission and tries to get back to his life as a delivery man. But he can’t get Ursula out of his mind, especially when he discovers that Jack Palance is gunning for both of them.

It turns out that Ursula is a British secret agent, a concept just slightly less unbelievable than that of her being a nun. She has evidence that Jack Palance is running an international ivory poaching gang, and it’s clear that Jack will stop at nothing to silence her. Only if she and Giuliano, plus his pet monkey, various natives, a drunken riverboat captain and some fat German chorus girls work together will they stand a chance of defeating the evil Palance.

Seriously, PM demands that you all acknowledge that chimpanzees aren’t monkeys. I think they’re reptiles or something. I don’t know.

While considerably better than ‘The Loves and Times of Scaramouche’, 'Africa Express' was still an awful, awful movie. When Italian misogyny meets the Zimbabwean sense of humour, the results are bound to be dire. The dialogue was as clunky as one would expect from something that had been dragged, kicking and screaming, from Italian into English. The moments of comic relief appeared to have been sourced from a cut-rate local version of Benny Hill. The cinematography rendered Africa's famous natural beauty as a drab and anonymous landscape.

So why was this movie made at all?

Ah, yes. Take that, quality cinema!


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