It is the future and the Gamma One space station orbiting the Earth has been host to a scientist, Mr Nurmi (Massimo Serato), who is experimenting on creating a race of what he terms "supermen" by using genetic means to improve human biology. The Commander of the station, Mike Halstead (Tony Russel), is sceptical about exactly how much good this could actually do, and makes his views plain to Nurmi, but his objections are batted away with claims that he does not appreciate the progress being made in this sphere of research. Though Halstead doesn't know the half of it, for his guest has a scheme in mind...
And not a good scheme, either, in fact it's patently the notions of a madman, sure, a madman who knows his science, but he's crazy all the same. A lot like this film, the first in the Italian sci-fi Gamma One series which spawned three or four sequels (depending on who you talk to), most filmed at the same time to save money. What has made fans gravitate towards this initial instalment was not simply the cheesiness of a sixties pulp confection, although plenty have found much to laugh at here with director Antonio Margheriti doing his best to create A budget effects on C budget means, but the way in which he and his screenwriters didn't allow this handicap to hold back the power of their imagination.
Which brought about some ideas as wild as the title stated, all presented with enthusiasm and ambition if not especially slick in execution. Every scene threw up some fresh lunacy, but the basics of the plot were that Nurmi's plans were not for the betterment of humankind, but for his own insane obsession with improving the race whether they were sensible or not. When early on he has his eye on one of Halstead's top staff, the judo proponent Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni), we can tell this will end in tears, yet she is sufficiently charmed to go to dinner with him - and, er, Mike. But soon Nurmi wants to kidnap her for his own reasons - and you won't believe what his reasons are, talk about gender confusion.
In the meantime, we are shown what Nurmi's small army of mutant men and women can do; the women look normal enough, quite glamorous actually, but have the power to shrink their victims to fit inside a suitcase, helped by their silent cohorts who wear black overcoats, wraparound shades and hats over their bald heads. The way the carry this out is by enveloping the targets inside the coats, but at one point they're interrupted by a little girl relation of one professor - she gets strangled to death (!) and the Prof is left half shrunk, i.e. now played by a dwarf actor (!!). Quite why they have to go to all this trouble is none too clear, but one supposes it makes the kidnapees easier to transport. Anyway, Halstead is soon waking up to the danger.
Russel was one of those many American actors who found a steadier income by emigrating to Europe, and he fitted the handsome but stolid mould of many a sci-fi hero of the day. Here he doesn't get much of a chance to play romantic with Gastoni, indeed that sort of business is relegated to the last minute of the movie, which means the bulk of this is no-nonsense nonsense as we reach the planet of the title having seen off four armed mutants with blazing ray guns (which look pretty perilous to use). Although it might seem ridiculous, because it is, you can see how this might have influenced Stanley Kubrick: yes, he had more money and more pretensions to intellect with 2001: A Space Odyssey, but every so often there will be a shot or a set-up which looks as if he improved on it. In addition, the deluge of blood which makes up the climax is not dissimilar to the one flooding from the elevator in The Shining. But in the main you'll enjoy The Wild, Wild Planet for its dedication to its mania, it's a lot of fun - watch out for Franco Nero, too. Music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino.
For the most part Italian filmmakers seemed less drawn towards the more cerebral aspects of science fiction but had fun with the trappings of space opera. The Wild, Wild Planet ranks among Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella, Fantabulous and Starcrash as the most stylishly surreal examples of Italian science fiction. Margheriti's Battle of the Worlds is pretty good too. Franco Nero returned in the lesser War of the Planets.