["Criminals of the Galaxy"] Film (1965; vt The Wild, Wild Planet). Mercury Film International/Southern Cross Productions. Directed by Antonio Margheriti credited as Anthony Dawson. starring Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Franco Nero, Massimo Serato, Carlo Giustini, Enzo Fiermonte. Screenplay Renato Moretti and Ivan Reiner. 93 minutes. Colour.
On Space Station Gamma 1 (> Space Stations), Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russel) dislikes the gruesome scientific experiments being conducted by Mr Nurmi (Serato), and he is further upset when Nurmi invites Halstead's beautiful colleague Connie Gomez (Gastoni) on a vacation to an unspecified location. On Earth, authorities are baffled by rising numbers of unexplained disappearances, which are being carried out by beautiful women accompanied by identical bald men with four arms. Halstead suspects that Nurmi is involved, but his superior officers confine him to quarters when he confronts the scientist with his suspicions. Freed by his crewmates, Lieutenants Ken (Giustini) and Jake (Nero), Halstead discovers suspicious activities at the headquarters of Nurmi's company and decides to visit their experimental station Delphus, which is also where Connie has gone for her "vacation". There, Halstead and several crewmates are captured by Nurmi, who explains that his experiments, and the disappearances, are part of his scheme to create an ideal, immortal human race; as the culmination of his project, he plans to combine himself and Connie into one perfect being. But Halstead and his crewmates start a fight, causing chaos within the experimental facility and eventually triggering a dangerous flood of red liquid, though Halstead arranges for Connie and the others to escape by placing them in the compartments reserved for Nurmi's specimens.
This is the first of four films that Margheriti agreed to direct for both Italian and American release, the others being I Diafanoidi Vengono la Morte (1966; vt War of the Planets), Il Pianeta Errante (1966; vt War Between the Planets), and La Morte Viene Dal Pianeta Aytin (1967; vt The Snow Devils). They are collectively referenced as the "Gamma Quadrilogy" since they share the common setting of Space Station Gamma 1, but they might be better regarded as a pair of two-film sequences, since the first two films feature one cast (headed by Russel) while the other two feature a different cast (headed by Giacomo Rossi-Stuart). This first film is by far the best known, though not the best, of the series: it opens with some excellent scenes of some astronauts arriving at Gamma while others are engaged in construction work, highlighting Margheriti's proven ability to effectively employ special effects in depicting humans in space, but the rest of the film disappointingly takes place entirely on Earth and in enclosed Earthlike environments. In addition, Nurmi's plans are risibly absurd, and he is ultimately thwarted by tired melodramatic devices: the scientist unwisely delays killing his opponents in order to give them a guided tour of his facility, granting them an opportunity to overcome their enemy with fisticuffs. [GW]