Two Undercover Angels / Red Lips / Sadisterotica / El Caso de las Dos Bellezas (1969) -**Ĺ
Iíd always heard the Red Lips movies described as Jesus Francoís response to the James Bond craze that still gripped all of Europe in 1969. That isnít wrong, but it isnít exactly right, either. For one thing, the Red Lips girls actually predate Bond mania, having made their debut in Francoís second feature film (the eponymous Red Lips) all the way back in 1960. When Franco reintroduced the characters for German producer Adrian Hoven in Two Undercover Angels, the reboot unmistakably took its tonal cues from the contemporary Eurospy movies, but at the levels of story and characterization, it was actually something very different. The central characters in Two Undercover Angels, its sequel, and its predecessor from the beginning of the decade are two beautiful and apparently lesbian (or at least bisexual) private detectives who share the disguise whereby they pose as the arch-criminal Red Lips. Their illegal activities are carried out as cover for bringing truly dangerous lawbreakers to justice, but the policemen on the hunt for Red Lips either fail to notice that or just donít care. And all three Red Lips movies are weird and occasionally macabre, but also lighthearted, comedies. All throughout Two Undercover Angels, I was conscious that it was reminding me of something, but it wasnít until I watched the interview with Franco appended to the Blue Underground DVD that I realized what it was. I and everyone else who ever failed to put the pieces together can be forgiven, I think, because the true operative theory behind this movie is so totally bonkers that I canít believe it even now that Iím looking straight at it. Basically, what weíve got here is a set of increasingly screwy ďwhat ifs.Ē What if Abbott and Costello had made a parody of Judex or Fantomas? And what if somebody remade that parody in the late 60ís to poke fun at the Eurospy-influenced Fantomas films starring Jean Marais? And most importantly, what if that somebody replaced Abbott and Costello with a pair of sexy lesbians?
We begin with the conclusion to a fashion show of some kind. Afterward, one of the models, an exceedingly cute brunette named Lida Regnier (Maria Antonia Redondo, who looks strikingly like Lina Romayó in fact, Two Undercover Angels is positively loaded with exceedingly cute brunettes who look strikingly like Lina Romay), is summoned to the office of her boss to discuss some matter involving her ex-boyfriend, a man called Radek. Itís never exactly clear whatís going on here (get used to that, folks), but the boss wants Lida to pay Radek a visitó something about the modeling agency or design studio or whatever owing him some pretty big favors. Lida never makes it to the rendezvous, however, and not just because she really doesnít want to see her ex. While sheís changing out of the last outfit she wore for the show, the dressing room is intruded upon by a werewolf. Or maybe an ape man. Or a yak-anthrope. Or perhaps a Moreauvian manimal. Whatever he is, heís got deadly claws and hair all over his face. And do you suppose his name might be Morpho? Why, of course it is. Morpho (Michel Lemoine, from War of the Planets and Seven Women for Satan) seizes Lida, and carries her off to the headquarters of his master, a Croatian-German artist by the name of Klaus Thiller (producer Hoven, who can also be seen acting in Mark of the Devil and Castle of the Creping Flesh). There Thiller photographs her while the beast-man tears her to pieces, the photos to serve as references for various paintings and sculptures.
One of those paintings winds up at the Galeria de Horror, someplace in Spain. There it attracts the attention of a masked art thief who infiltrates the gallery after hours by impersonating a wax statue. Proprietor Napoleon Bolivar (Franco himself, looking startlingly youthful and only the slightest bit trollish) comes very close to discovering the break-inó so close that the thief finds it prudent to incapacitate him with a blow to the head. Then she makes off with the painting of Lida. Bolivar tells his story to Inspector Tanner (Marcello Arribata-Jauregui, from Dr. Orloffís Monster and The Diabolical Dr. Z), but it doesnít seem likely to avail him much. For one thing, Tanner just isnít very smart, and for another, he has a preconceived notion of who this thief might be, and what sheís supposed to look likeó a notion which bears Bolivarís report very little resemblance. Before Napoleon has much opportunity to grumble, however, Thiller drops by the gallery, and stabs him to death. Evidently he really doesnít want the authorities to look too closely at his work.
Okay, so now letís meet that art thiefó or rather, those art thieves. The perp on this last occasion was Regina (Rosanna Yanni, of Frankensteinís Bloody Terror and Fangs of the Living Dead); the one Tanner was expecting is her older girlfriend, Diana (Janine Reynaud, from Succubus and The Felines). By trading off under the identity of Red Lips, theyíre able to stay always a step or two ahead of numbskulls like the inspector. The reason theyíre stealing paintings even though theyíre really private eyes is that theyíve been hired by Radek to find his missing ex, and theyíve linked Lidaís disappearance to a whole rash of others among dancers, models, and similar professional hot chicks, all of whose likenesses have subsequently appeared in the works of Klaus Thiller.
Obviously that makes Thiller the prime suspect, and someone Red Lips really ought to meet. Accordingly, Regina goes to another gallery where his work is on display, posing as a countess who seeks to buy something of Thillerís. It proves to be more difficult than she and Diana anticipated. Alberto Carimbuli the gallery director (Alexander Engel, from The Horror of Blackwood Castle and The Mad Executioners) claims never to have met Thiller himself, and that the artist conducts all business strictly through his attorney. Even so, Regina is sure Carimbuli knows something that she and her partner could use, so she invites the director to their villa for cocktails that evening. Apparently itís a ruse the detectives have often employedó Regina seduces the desired information out of somebody while Diana records the conversation from the next room. It very nearly works this time, too, but right after Carimbuli agrees to sell Regina a particularly suspicious-looking Thiller sculpture, and just as heís on the verge of revealing the artistís true name and contact information, somebody shoots him dead from outside the villa. Regina and Diana both give chase, albeit without success. And when they return to their living room, they find that someone has made off with Carimbuliís corpse! Fortunately, Diana left the tape recorder running, and it caught the body-snatcher speaking to an accomplice. It sounds a lot like Vittorio Freda (Manolo Otero, from The Book of Good Love II and Tales of the White Sheets).
Who? Honestly, the detectives arenít sure about that themselves. All they know is that heís been following them around a lot lately, seemingly trying to get into their pants. But if thatís Freda on the tape, itís a safe bet his real motives are considerably more sinister. Freda also shows up at Carimbuliís gallery the next day, brandishing a bill of sale for the very same Thiller piece that Regina was supposed to be buying. She lucks out this time, in that Interpol agent Francis McLane (Chris Howland, of The Wanker and The Secret of the Black Trunk) is also present at the gallery, and susceptible to manipulation by a pretty girl; Regina quickly gets McLune to lean on Carimbuliís colleagues with whatever authority he possesses, so that she can go home with the statue. And if Fredaís performance at the gallery isnít enough to convince you that heís no good, then his presence behind the wheel of the getaway car during a drive-by shooting at the Red Lips villa certainly ought to be. Those of you whoíve seen The Mystery of the Wax Museum, House of Wax, or better yet, A Bucket of Blood will not be surprised to learn that all the rigmarole over the statue is due to the presence of Lida Regnierís corpse inside it. Finding that out satisfies the terms of the contract with Radek, but it neither brings the killers to justice nor gets them (or Inspector Tanner, for that matter) off Dianaís and Reginaís backs. Ironically, though, the meeting in North Africa whereby the detectives mean to conclude their business with Radek sets lots of things in motion toward resolving those bigger and more dangerous issues.
Iíve been spinning my wheels for a while now in finishing this review, mainly because I canít figure out why I donít hate Two Undercover Angels. I have very little patience for the Eurospy genre, and I canít fucking stand Abbott and Costello, so how is it that I enjoyed a Eurospy-flavored caper parody made to embody Jesus Francoís love for golden-age Hollywood comedy duos? I have no idea, unless maybe itís simply that Two Undercover Angels has enough of that irreducible Franco-ness about it to overcome whatever else it was supposed to be. I truly do believe that nobody else but Franco could have made this movie. Partly thatís because of the usual things: the salacious nightclub scenes (of which Two Undercover Angels has several), the subhuman henchman called Morpho, the mute or at least silent femme fatale (whom I havenít mention until now because she doesnít seem to have anything to do with the story) lurking in the background at the villainís lair, the reek of sex pheromones pouring from the screen despite the best efforts of censors who were still fairly powerful in 1969. (Those censors, incidentally, are the cause of an amusing bit of fourth-wall breaking, when Regina protests into the camera that she canít get out of bed until it zooms in, pans up, or turns its attention elsewhere. That bit seems baffling if youíre watching the Blue Underground DVD, which is not at all shy about nudity when thereís a nightclub scene going on, but thatís because Blue Underground uses a German print. In the version that played in Francoís native Spain, the go-go dancers keep their backs turned to the camera after their tops come off.) Franco has other, subtler eccentricities, though, and this movie puts them on display more prominently than many others. Most notably, the breadth of influences that go into a Franco movie is often extraordinary, as is his willingness to mix and match those influences in counterintuitive combinations. In particular, he has a tendency to use tropes or concepts pilfered from 30ís and 40ís Hollywood in ways that their originators had never imagined, and would barely recognizeó and what better illustration of that point than a Eurospy movie thatís also a globe-trotting caper flick thatís really a Judex-like masked avenger film thatís also an Abbott and Costello-style horror comedy about two hot dames whoíll seduce the whole male cast if business calls for it, but always wind up with each other in the end?