29 May 2008 | Bunuel1976
THE WACKY WORLD OF JAMES TONT (Bruno Corbucci, 1965) **
The Italians were among the first to jump on the Secret Agent bandwagon – over the years, I’ve caught a couple of efforts made in this vein – but they were also at the fore when it came to spoofing them. Two James Tont adventures, in fact, emerged during 1965 (“Tonto”, by the way, is Italian for “Dope” – ‘dope’ meaning ‘stupid’, that is, not drugs) – featuring Sicilian comic Lando Buzzanca, later star of myriad sex comedies.
This is actually the second entry – the “D.U.E.” of the original title meaning “Two”…though the initials themselves specifically stand for “Destruction Urbi Eterna” (a reference to the Vatican, whose invaluable wealth the chief villain plans on stealing via an improbably elaborate plan which would even see the cupola of St. Peter’s flying into space!). Anyway, the film gets off to an inspired enough start with a scene involving the First Convention of Secret Agents being held in Geneva – a message from the world’s most famous spy (guess who?) is read aloud wherein he apologizes for his absence there since he’s currently engaged in “Operation Thunderball”(!)…so, it’s up to Tont to thwart the Adolfo Celi lookalike (the latter, a fine Italian actor, would attain international stardom thanks to his appearance in the James Bond adventure THUNDERBALL ).
The case takes Buzzanca on various adventures in the London area – but the best bits are those which find him passing off as a ‘beatnik’ (he purposely keeps himself filthy but also gets to sing a puerile song in English at a club); naturally, he becomes involved with a couple of women – one of them a reformed member of the criminal organization he’s after. Unfortunately, it peters out (no pun intended) during the second half – reaching the height of silliness with the scene in which Tont is decompressed (to a cartoonish, flexible form) and literally mailed inside an envelope to a shuttle base where he’s to replace the astronaut being prepared for a test flight!
While one could hardly expect the overall style to be arresting, given the inherent burlesque nature of it all, the gags themselves are also rather hit-and-miss; the film, then, barely gets by on the star’s charisma, the colorful locations and an agreeable soundtrack (typical of the era and the “Euro-Cult” banner under which it falls).