The Mexico of lucha libre films is just about as close to my version of the Promised Land as you can get. I’d gladly turn in our world of turmoil for a world where the biggest news comes when pro wrestlers have to thwart the diabolical scheme of some mummy. Oh sure, no one is going to be crazy about a world full of mummies all walking around with their dusty heads full of diabolical schemes, but once you get over the shock of “Hey, look! A mummy!” things really aren’t so bad. The mummy might kidnap a sexy beauty queen in a flimsy negligee so he can carry her around a bit, and he might injure some old pipe-smoking man by knocking him out with the patented “chop to the shoulders” that seems to comprise the mummy’s only real offense, but that’s about it. In the end, you know the mummy poses only a minor threat to the world as a whole, and Santo or Mil Mascaras will be around eventually to bodyslam the mummy and burn down an old castle.
Wrestling heroes were not limited to Mexico however. Close to the Mexican mark was Italian-Spanish creation Superargo, who if he isn’t quite Blue demon at least isn’t as bad as Superzan. Superargo is introduced in Superargo vs. Diabolikus. He’s a superhero secret agent who retires from the ring after accidentally killing an opponent, only to return to action when his special powers — telekinesis, levitation, and “fast coagulating blood” that allows him to accelerate the healing process — cause the secret service to enlist his aid in a case. Since his Superargo mask and tights brought him luck in the ring, he insists on wearing them on the case as well, no doubt causing no small amount of embarrassment to the men who hired him. He returned in a sequel, Superargo vs. The Faceless Giants, a curious title since the opponents Superargo must overcome are neither faceless nor especially gigantic. Sure, some of them are big, but none of them are Andre the Giant size, and all of them not only have faces, but many of them have very large faces.
While Mexican wrestling movies mixed grappling action with science fiction and horror (and the occasional gangster or ninja storyline), European wrestling superhero films generally selected from different genres, mixing their costumed crime fighters with the Eurospy films that came in the wake of James Bond’s success. Superargo and the Faceless Giants is equal parts Santo film and spy adventure, with more than a little influence being drawn from American superhero shows like Batman and Green Hornet. The result is a film that is heavy on elements from each genre but ultimately lacking the psychotronic atmosphere achieved in the better Mexican films. Since Eurospy films often incorporated elements of science fiction into their espionage storylines, you get plenty of that here — including zombie-like robots, a mad scientist, Indian mysticism, and assorted ray guns.
Superargo‘s action begins where it should — in the ring. A tan, shaven man (thus the good guy) is pounding the tar out of a hairy, pasty dude (thus a bad guy). The good guy’s post-match celebration is cut short when a gang of saggy-faced (but not faceless) guys in black leather body suits and huge, unwieldy silver helmets rush him. Well, they don’t actually rush him. They sort of stagger very slowly toward him. No matter how slow they walk, the robot zombies are still able to surround our hero, who is overwhelmed by the sheer number of exceptionally slow moving lunkheads wandering to and fro and emanating an annoying electronic “bing” noise. The robots kidnap the wrestler, but the wrestler’s sister, Claire, manages to escape by walking slowly away from rather than towards the assailants. The police are baffled, as is their way, by the case of the loud robots. There’s plenty of good stuff about Europe, but if Eurospy and superhero films are to be believed, one can never offer too few compliments to the police force of any European nation. Every single time we see the police force, even those geniuses at Scotland Yard, they’re “baffled” and “at a dead end.” Even the most trifling of cases has some mustache-sporting inspector throwing his arms into the air and whining, “That’s it! We’re stumped!” after a good ten minute or so of detective work. These guys can’t issue a parking ticket without having to first phone up some womanizing globetrotter or some guy who insists on conducting official police business while wearing a red body stocking and a black leather mask. To put this in context, try to imagine the confidence you would have instilled in you if the police and FBI had been unable to solve a mailbox pipe bomb case, and their solution to the problem had been to call a press conference and announce to the country that, “I think La Parka might have some insight into the situation.”
We meet Superargo as he’s practicing his levitation skills with his personal swami, Kamir. When the police arrive, Superargo proves his power to them by doing the whole “I knew you were going to come here” thing. When the secret service rep seems less than enthused about employing a pro wrestler, Superargo further impresses all parties by concentrating for thirty seconds in order to crack a vase using nothing but his astounding mental powers. Never mind that he could have just walked over and kicked the thing in a lot less time than it took him to whip up his mental abilities. I’m not saying that if I could break priceless ceramic antiques using just my mind that I wouldn’t do it, but in a pinch, if it came down to focusing the sum total of my chi powers for thirty seconds versus just slapping someone, I’d go with the slap.
Superargo soon surmises that someone is kidnapping the world’s best athletes and turning them into slow-moving robotic zombie minions. Exactly why you would take the time to kidnap the worlds best and brightest athletes, the fastest and strongest people in the world, then turn them into shuffling buffoons is beyond me. Seems like you could really be kidnapping any old slob and getting the same ultimate results. Superargo also figures that Claire, being an acclaimed swimmer, is still a target since nothing is handier to your sluggish robot army than having one of them who might be a decent swimmer were it not for the pounds and pounds of electronic equipment strapped to its head. So he devises a genius plot involving Claire hiding in one room while he waits in the other for the robot men to come after her. His plan works wonderfully. She stands in one room, and he’s in the other getting his ass handed to him by the robotic thugs. For some reason, one of them is carrying a medieval mace. What the heck is his deal? If Superargo’s plan included getting beat up and allowing Claire to be successfully kidnapped, then it all worked out pretty well for him.
For his next plan, Superargo decides to stage a dramatic comeback in the world of wrestling, figuring this will make whoever is behind the kidnapping want to kidnap him too. Despite the blatant transparency of his ruse, a plot so feeble and obvious that there is no way the mysterious villains couldn’t recognize it as a trap, it still works. The Faceless Giants show up and kidnap Superargo — except that it’s not Superargo at all! It’s an impostor, and Superargo is following close behind in his inconspicuous sports car. It might be easier if he had allowed himself to get captured. So far, all Superargo has managed to do is break a vase and get two innocent people kidnapped. By this point in the movie, El Santo would have wrestled three matches, judged a beauty contest, and punched a Frankenstein in the face.
Kamir and Superargo begin wandering aimlessly around in the woods in the general vicinity of where they last saw the robots. Kamir sees one of the kidnapped athletes making a run for it, and this athlete was obviously not a track star. He moves like Rerun from What’s Happenin’, with arms flailing wildly in little circles at his side. What was this guy’s sport? Maybe rowing? Unable to help for some reason, possibly laziness, Kamir and Superargo regroup back at the road, only to be discovered by a sultry beauty in a car every bit as sporty as Superargo’s own ride. She seems unimpressed that a pro wrestler and his swami sidekick are wandering around in the woods, like that sort of thing happens all the time. We soon learn that the woman works for the man creating the robot army, Dr. Wond. Superargo and Kamir get attacked in the woods, and once again one of the robots is lugging around one of those spiky morning star things. What the hell? You have the technology to turn the world’s greatest athletes into awkward, clumsy robotic minions, yet the best you can do for arming them is some Renaissance Festival surplus? Look, I know Europe has a rich medieval history and all, but give your guys some guns or something. Superargo, in turn, throws trees at the robots. So I guess on top of mental powers and fast-coagulating blood and levitation, he also has super-strength. Doesn’t that sort of make his in-ring career even more of a sham?
For all his metaphysical mumbo jumbo, Kamir’s only power seems to be to yell “Superargo! Help me!” when he is getting choked by robots. Superargo does manage to capture one of the Faceless Giants. After struggling to get the thing into the tiny back seat of his European sports car (I bet Superargo wishes he’d bought something a little more sensible now), he takes it back to HQ where it is operated on by two scientists who don’t tell him much except for what he already knows, but it does cause Superargo to remember some crazy old scientist who had been doing robotics research before going totally insane. The remainder of the movie involves a lot of running around in the woods and Kamir screaming, “Superargo! Help me!” before everyone ends up in Wond’s underground lair for the big final showdown. The action when it arrives overall is pretty good. The fights are well-choreographed, with only a few of those horribly telegraphed stunt set-ups. I wonder why the only time Superargo uses his super strength is when he throws the tree at the robots. Maybe I’m wrong and that wasn’t a super power at all. Maybe it was one of those surges of adrenaline you read about in the papers. The rest of his powers are pretty useless. He gets to levitate once, but he misses the chance to really piss off Dr. Wond by using mental powers to shatter the madman’s assortment of antique vases.
All in all, Superargo and the Faceless Giants is a so-so sci-fi superhero film. His powers are okay, I guess. I mean, I wouldn’t complain if I could throw trees and levitate. Thanks to it being a European production from the 1960s, there’s a lot of trippy phantasmagoric stuff. Superargo manages to pull off a ludicrous costume fairly well, though I still don’t know how comfortable I’d be with Superargo being the last, best line of defense against the forces of evil. I guess Superargo’s wrestling outfit is no more outlandish than The Phantom’s sweet lavender tights — and that guy was in the jungle! Although there are scenes of “deduction,” the movie generally eschews exposition in favor of more scenes involving Superargo having to pull Kamir out of quicksand. Can’t he just levitate out? Anyway, that’s a good example of the “show, don’t tell” rule, though when my composition teacher told us that, I don’t know if she had in mind red-tight-wearing superhero pro wrestlers pulling swamis out of quicksand.