“The Three Fantastic Supermen”: Corny, campy & caped Italian superheroes coming to the rescue!

By on April 27, 2017

The Three Fantastic Supermen (Italian: I fantastici tre supermen) is a sometimes corny, always campy Italian superhero movie, inspired by TV’s “The Green Hornet” (1966–’67) and the Adam West-led “Batman” (1966 – ’68), not to mention 1966’s Batman: The Movie as well as the early films in James Bond film franchise. It’s streaming in our Wu Tang Collection of films over on Night Flight Plus.

By 1967, director Gianfranco Parolini had already had lensed the first of the popular Kommissar X series, which were inspired by the James Bond franchise, as well as a number of crime fiction novels about secret agent Jerry Cotton.

Earlier in his career, Parolini had written cheapo detective novels — he claimed to have writtten more than a hundred of them — before he ended up in the film business, working his way up the ranks until he finally got the chance to direct his own movies, many of them Italian historical sword & sandal movies, called peplums, including Samson (1961), The Fury of Hercules (1962), The Old Testament (1962), The Ten Gladiators (1963), and The Three Avengers (1964).

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The peplum genre dominated the Italian film industry from the late 50s up until the mid-60s, when they were pretty much replaced by Eurocrime (poliziotteschi) films and spaghetti westerns.

1965’s Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill — the first of the Kommissar X series — was a huge box office success, launching a handful of sequels. Parolini didn’t care much for the films, however, and even used his Americanized pseudonym, “Frank Kramer,” in the credits.

Two of the actors who appeared in those movies — Italian-born Tony Kendall (born Luciano Stella) and American-born Brad Harris — would also appear in ’67’s The Three Fantastic Supermen, which were patterned on the popular Argoman spoof movie that had arrived in 1966 (directed by Terence Hathaway/Sergio Grieco).

Here’s what we can tell you about the plot: hulking FBI agent Brad McCallum (Harris) partners with two former friends, master thieves Tony (Kendall) and Nick (Aldo Canti, using the name Nick Jordan) — wearing face masks, capes and bulletproof super-suits — to become a trio of crime-fighters who join forces (and apply their special skills) in order to take down the mad scientist named Wilfried Gottlieb (Jochen Brockmann).

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Gottlieb is a fat Goldfinger-type supervillian, who’s running a counterfeiting crime ring (with diplomatic immunity), using his cloning machine to create exact copies of various characters (who end up being melted down into glittering jewels) and to flood the market with radioactive currency.

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Highlights include mute Nick’s karate fights (lots of acrobatic somersaults and flips and mini-trampoline stunts), and the use of a metal yo-yo, not to mention scenes of Mexican wrestling and judo chops.

Tony Kendall and Brad Harris had both previously appeared in Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill, which had been directed by Gianfranco Parolini in 1966. Parolini — often using an American psuedonym, Frank Kramer — had previously worked on sword-and-sandals genre films.

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They drafted in stuntman/actor playing Nick — Aldo Canti/Nick Jordan — who was actually a real-life convicted Mafia thief, who had been released from prison in order to appear in the film, doing incredible stunts like somersaults as he exits a restaurant from a second floor window, launching his machine gun in the air and catching it as lands on his feet below.

He was later shot in the head in a gangland hit, over a gambling debt, his body found in Rome’s Villa Borhese park.

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The Three Fantastic Supermen mixed up a lot of film genres and formulas, with Parolini adding a bit of a twist here and there.

It’s a campy comedy one minute, before spinning off into stunt-filled, heavily acrobatic martial arts action flick the next, and then, another twist, and we’re watching a spy movie, with all the cool gadgets — including suction cup boots! — you’d expect to see.

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The art direction is incredible — as you can see from the photos here, the vivid colors, especially the reds, pop right off the screen — and the fluid camera movement is thrilling.

We should also mention that the film’s score features circus music and kazoos, and something that sounds a bit like the Benny Hill theme song, if that gives you any ideas.

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Fans of movies like Danger: Diabolik and all the aforementioned 1960s-era films and TV series will no doubt love this one, as fans did in the late Sixties, which is why there were so many sequels, knock-offs and associated films (taking place in far-flung locales, like “the jungle,” the “Orient,” “Tokyo,” “the West,” “San Domingo” and much more.

The film’s biggest star is probably Tony Kendall, who starred in literally dozens of Italian genre films, going all the way back to the late Fifties.

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Kendall started his career in show business as a model for Italian Fumetti, which are comics done in photographs.

He changed his name after director Vittorio De Sica made the suggestion — it was common for Italian actors and directors to give themselves English names — and he kept the name duriing the bulk of his career, appearing in well over forty films, including Italian giallo, spaghetti westerns (he played infamous roving gunslinger Django in both Django Defies Sartana and Gunman of 100 Crosses), horror and crime thrillers.

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Kendall paired up frequently with co-star Brad Harris, who had a number of small roles early in his career, making his biggest impact as Captain Tom Rowland in the Kommissar X films, originally a German pulp fiction series of books published between 1959 to 1992.

Those pulps — which had been conceived as a rival to the popular Jerry Cotton series, which were published by a different publishing company, some written by Gianfranco Parolini — followed the adventures of private eye Jo Louis Walker who went by the alias “Kommissar X.”

Rowland, of Manhattan homicide, was Kommissar X’s crime-fighting partner, and just one of many book & film franchises who tried to follow the success of the Bond books and films.

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There were six Kommissar X sequels, over the next five years, which paired up the private eye and homicide dick in sexy, exotic locations with lots of sexy (occasionally naked) girls, with plenty of action and tongue-in-cheek humor.

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In his book Diabolika: Supercriminals, Superheroes and the Comic Book Universe in Italian Cinema, author Roberto Curti described The Three Fantastic Supermen as a “reasonable box office success in Italy.”

This film — shot entirely in what was then Yugoslavia — turned out to be the first in what proved to be a very popular series with numerous sequels set in locales spanning the globe, having our trio of heroes showing up in Japan in Tre Supermen a Tokio (3 Supermen in Tokyo) (1968, Bitto Albertini), which featured an entirely different trio of superheroes.

The next sequel moved everyone to the jungles of darkest Africa, for Che fanni i nostri Supermen tra le Vergini della Giungla? (aka Three Supermen in the Jungle (1970, Bitto Albertini), which brought back Brad Harris to the series, this time siding with George Martin and Sal Borghese.

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The series continued with a trip to Hong Kong for Supermen Against the Orient, 1973) and the American West (The 3 Supermen in the West 1973), before ending with Süpermenler (Supermen against Godfather) (1979, Italo Martinenghi), a Turkish-Italian co-production starring Turkish superstar Cüneyt Arkin in the lead.

Harris chose to sit this last one out as well.

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Gianfranco Parolini

Parolini’s first spaghetti western as a director, the relatively uneventful Left Handed Johnny West (Johnny West il mancino) paved the way for a number of titles in the so-called Sabata Triology — Sabata (E hi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!, 1969), Adiós, Sabata (Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, 1970) and Return of Sabata (È tornato Sabata… hai chiuso un’altra volta, 1971), the first and third starring Lee Van Cleef — and the wonderfully fun Yeti – Il gigante del XX secolo (Yeti: The Giant of the 20th Century, 1977).

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Check out our collection of films in the new Wu Tang Collection, category — where you can see The Three Fantastic Supermen and lots, lots more. They’re all streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.