Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Zeta One (1969): or, Strip Poker Never Seemed So Redundant


From the moment the credits started with a jazz-orchestra, Batman TV-show brass sting, kicked into high gear with a bongo beat, then followed that with a hysterical James Bond-style theme song ("Zeta! Z-E-T-A zeta! All around you, Yet not here at all!"), all over stylized computer font and superimposed images of beautiful space babes, I knew I was going to love this movie. The only question was, how much?

An hour and twenty-two deliriously jazz-scored, go-go booted, micro-skirted, oil-projectored, laser-fingered, nipple-spotted, super-spied, space-invasioned, strip-pokered minutes later, the question was answered: A LOT.

Secret Agent James Word (Robin Hawdon) returns home from a hard mission in Scotland to find luscious Section 5 secretary Ann Olsen (Yutte Stensgaard) cooking Coq au Vin in the kitchen. She explains that as section head W's secretary (get it? "W"? "M"? These are the jokes, folks), she had both access to James's personal file and a key to his apartment. Not one to look a gift Eurobabe in the mouth, James turns on the charm and soon finds himself in a game of strip poker with Ann. Never mind she'd already opened her dress to him--this is a plot point.

Now, most movies would have shown you maybe the first hand of the strip poker game and then cut to the next scene, but the makers of Zeta One are not so stingy--no, we get THE ENTIRE GAME, shuffles and deals not excluded. They don't stop until the twenty-minute mark of the movie, during which time it becomes clear Ann is intent on "pumping" James for information, nudge-nudge wink-wink say no more! They stop the game and go for the long-promised roll in the hay, at which time Ann forces James to tell the story of his recently completed mission. You knew the wavy lines were coming--the rest of the movie is a post-coital flashback as James narrates the strange tale of Zeta One.

Now, in most movies waiting twenty minutes to get the plot moving would be a detriment, but for Zeta One it actually doesn't hurt. Maybe it's because there's not much plot to get to, and what little exists is there fairly blatantly to set up another scene in which to ogle scantily or un- clad go-go girls. Maybe it's because of the good-natured, all-for-a-lark tone of the thing. Maybe it's the generous display of Miss Stensgaard's formidable talents. At any rate, if you're still smiling by the time they put the cards away, hold on because you're in for a fun ride.

Here he is, folks: your Hero.

You see, through the course of some nebulous studies or other the nefarious Major Borden and his effite henchman Swyne (Charles Hawtrey of the Carry On! films) have discovered the existence of an Amazonian race of women, the Angvians. Led by their queen Zeta (Dawn Addams), the Angvians periodically kidnap Earth women and indoctrinate them into their all-female, vaguely Egypt-centric society. Because the Angvians have time and again interfered with the Major's "plans" (though what these plans were, how and why the Angvians interfered, and a number of other mysteries are all left unsolved), he has made it his goal to find and destroy them.

Major Borden, played with real slimy zeal by James Robertson Justice, discovers the Angvians plan to kidnap London stripper Teddy (Wendy Lingham), aka "Clarissa Richambeau, Queen of the G-String!" Convincing the ingenue that he's with the government, he persuades her to swallow a homing device so that they can find the "alien menace" and stop it. Meanwhile the real Section 5 has picked up on the Major's plan, though they're still in the dark about the Angvians. W assigns James Word to the case, hilariously calling him right in the middle of a swinging threesome! This is the kind of stuff you always half-believe gets cut out of a James Bond movie, but here you get to see it all.

Wait...they're invading, and we want to stop them?

The Angvians are three steps ahead of anyone with a penis, however, and send luscious agent Clotho (Anna Gaël) to keep James distracted while they deal with the Major's threats. Meanwhile the Major and Swyne capture an Angvian spy and torture her in a jarringly nasty attic dungeon that seems to drop in from another, less light-hearted movie. After escaping from Clotho's influence--well, after she teleports herself out--James learns the rest of the story from W (who looks a lot like Nixon) and heads to the Major's estate to find out what's what.

Meanwhile Teddy has been successfully kidnapped by the Angvians and gets a show-stopping tour of their city, which looks like it was built out of giant-sized kids' wooden blocks. (The psychadelic teleportation sequence that drops Teddy in Angvia--nude, naturally--is a real jaw-dropper, and worth the price of admission alone.) We see their self-revelation rooms, their contemplation rooms, their warrior-class training rooms, and most importantly, the room where they bathe! "Gratuitous" is definitely the by-word here, though I don't know if the nudity can be called gratuitous when it is in fact the whole raison d'etre of the film. I guess from that point of view it's very, very tuitous.

Finally Clotho is captured by the Major and he decides to sport with her Most Dangerous Game-style. While he and his henchman hunt her with dogs, Queen Zeta yells to her underlings, "They've got Clotho! Action 69! Action 69, fast!" I was riveted. Meanwhile James is still wandering around lost, doing pratfalls and returning to his car to don a set of waders (?). When the amazing, devastating power of the mysterious Action 69 is finally unleashed--suffice to say I'm sure I wasn't alone in standing up and applauding. Well, applauding, anyway.

Action 69's Horrific Aftermath

If gratuitous is one by-word, "broad comedy" is another...two. James Word is pretty much the least effective super spy in history: he spends more than half the movie in bed (with a naked blonde or two, usually) and the rest wandering around lost or being yelled at by W's overworked artificially intelligent elevator. (Seriously.) The Major's extra security consists of one dog and a man in a tweed jacket. And James's ultimate fate will have you rolling your eyes and hooting with laughter at the same time--or maybe just the former.

This is the kind of movie that will never be made again. Nowadays even comedic exploitation pictures have a certain nastiness to them, but Zeta One maintains a strange kind of innocence over all the naked flesh and broad comedy. Maybe it's because everyone seems to be having such a great time throughout--one of the Angvian warriors seems to be cracking up in just about every scene, doubtless at the ridiculousness of either the Angvian war dress (a topless bikini with nipple-spot pasties) or the deadly invisible finger lasers she uses to dispatch her opponents (think kids playing cowboys and Indians--bang, you're dead!). Maybe it's the blatant nature of the titillating scenes that throws the ridiculousness into such stark relief (why should she climb a ladder in a microskirt?) you can't help giggling. Whatever the reason, it's a ton of fun from start to end.

2.5 thumbs for this entertaining little slice of groovy, swingin' sci-fi/super-spy sexploitation history. Check your brain at the door, and shuffle those cards, baby. I'm feelin' lucky.


"I regret nothing!"


3 comments:

The Vicar of VHS said...

Nota Bene: I found this flick thanks to the X-Y-Z Cosmonaut's generosity at the invaluable Cosmobells, and I suggest all interested parties do the same. And be sure to check out his main site regularly for more obscure goodies. He's doing the Lord's work over there.

CG said...

Thanks for the site recommendation. Looks to be a good one.

This Zeta One business sounds pretty wild. Might have to give this one a look.

CG said...

Vicar - You asked me about screeners on my page. Your best bet is to scour the web for the contact info of either the online publicity manager or the public relations contact for the company you'd like to receive materials from. That's how I've been going about it anyways.

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