Italian locations standing in for the real thing – check. Italian actors doubling for other nationalities – check. Entirely ADR-ed soundtrack with poor lip-synch – check. Ennio Morricone-alike music score – check. Impassive American star flown in to play the lead – check.
Cinema history has always been rife with other countries producing cheap knock-offs of popular U.S. movie genres, but the Italian approach of using the English language – a case of beating the Americans at their own game – has meant the so-called Spaghetti Westerns have been more widely seen than most. Probabilità zero is a 1969 example of the slightly lesser known Spaghetti War film, enjoying an Antipodean DVD release thanks to Umbrella Entertainment and being sold on the basis of horror meister Dario Argento’s contribution to its script. It’s no Sergio Leone production, but it shares a lot in common with his pictures and it’s a mostly competent piece of entertainment.
Here the Italian countryside is – very effectively – representing WWII Norway, whereat a Spitfire containing valuable radar equipment has been shot down. Allied agent Duke (Frank Silva, who makes Clint Eastwood look like Jim Carrey) is given the task of infiltrating an underground facility and destroying the wreckage of the plane before the Germans can restore its contents for use.
It’s a simple set-up and mostly plays out eminently predictably. There’s an early resistance attack on a decoy convoy, followed by a cursory sequence in which Duke chooses his team for the main mission. Thereafter most of the main characters follow their predestined courses to their allotted ends with supreme certainty; it’s easy enough to spot not just who’s going to die but also when and in what manner – and that doesn’t spoil the film, it simply sets up a guessing game between filmmaker and audience that’s enjoyable enough to play.
In common with other films of its ilk, Argento and his co-writers even include a little moral ambiguity – the handsome local hero’s beautiful girlfriend who sleeps with the less unsympathetic German officer to advance the mission, for example, or the SS officer who takes over the German operation and assumes he knows better than the man he has replaced – although while the action sequences themselves are well-staged, they’re rather sporadic and the film’s climax is a little too briefly realised to fully satisfy. The narrative is, in fact, surprisingly uncomplicated by plot twists, as if providing setbacks for the mission might have proved too expensive for the producers.
This is a straight transfer from a rather poorly looked after film copy – the sound and picture vary from reel to reel – but that rather adds to the feeling of watching something lost in time. This is occasionally unintentionally hilarious, but mostly tremendous if unsophisticated fun.
PROBABILITY ZERO / CERT: M (AUSTRALIA) / DIRECTOR: MAURIZIO LUCIDI / SCREENPLAY: DARIO ARGENTO, MAURIZIO LUCIDI, GIUSEPPE MANGIONE, VITTORIO VIGHI / STARRING: HENRY SILVA, LUIGI CASELLATO, RICCARDO SALVINO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (AUSTRALIA); UK RELEASE TBA