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  Fearless Frank Super Bad
Year: 1967
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Jon Voight, Monique van Vooren, Severn Darden, Joan Darling, Lou Gilbert, Ben Carruthers, Ken Nordine, Nelson Agren, David Fisher, Anthony Holland, David Steinberg
Genre: Comedy, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The City is a place choked with smoke and crime, and much of the latter is down to the schemes of The Boss (Lou Gilbert) who has tightened his grip on the populace with his evildoing, nobody can stand up to him. Enter Frank (Jon Voight), who was a simple country boy who bade farewell to his parents on their farm to travel to The City and try his luck there. When he reached it, he happened to meet Plethora (Monique van Vooren), the captive of The Boss who had just escaped his clutches and it was love at first sight, though before he could do anything about it the criminal mastermind's henchmen appeared and bundled her into the back of their car. Then, purely out of spite, they machine gunned poor Frank to death...

Well, that was a short film. No, wait, there was more, though it remained a short film just over an hour and a quarter of what was director Philip Kaufman's second foray into feature film making, a low budget spoof of superhero movies that came across as a bit of a lark thrown together by friends on various weekends when they were all available. Presumably it was a shade more professional than that, but what special effects there were would never put twenty-first century Marvel to shame, indeed their much-maligned live action Spider-Man television series of the nineteen-seventies enjoyed better production values and more convincing spectacle. For this reason Fearless Frank is often landed among the very worst of the superhero flicks.

It wasn't quite as bad as all that, though it failed to sustain itself even over such a brief running time since its main idea, that a hero can turn to the dark side when they get too big for their boots, was rather suffocated in the arch tone that seemed to be aiming for a counterculture variation on the sixties Batman television series with Adam West. The trouble was, that effort was genuinely funny and witty, whereas Frank started out as a "big lug" and ended up as a cad with very little in between, so with a lack of inspired dialogue you would be hard pressed to stay invested in his character for long, no matter that in the first five minutes you had seen him murdered and he had seemed a nice enough chap who didn't deserve that.

Fortunately for Frank, a passing scientist, known as The Doctor (Severn Darden in the first of two roles), retrieves his body and performs an experiment on him that not only revives the hapless chap, but gives him incredible powers into the bargain. We had to take those powers pretty much on trust, as the cash patently could not stretch to delivering the visuals that have become accepted as part and parcel of the genre, so when Frank flies Voight would be superimposed on footage of the city, but you could still see the buildings through his form, and when he used his super strength, the punched bad guy would just stagger around in speeded up motion that again was more cheap and cheerful than anything that might have involved a more substantial set of circumstances.

Much of this relied on the rich, chocolately tones of Ken Nordine as the storyteller, who narrated the proceedings in fine, voiceover man fashion, which was what Nordine was, yet even that was overused when Kaufman was frequently ignoring the "show, don’t tell" rule that should really have been applied to even the most impoverished of superhero movies: Ray Dennis Steckler had managed it in Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, after all. But what was on offer here was a small cast delivering overripe dialogue at various locations, though occasionally you would get a brief item of visual oddity such as a man opening a safe with his nose, sparks and all. The subversive content was introduced halfway through when this all-American hero starts believing his own hype and becomes a bully, which should have been satirical, yet the impression was that Kaufman and company were too caught up in the winking fantasy business to get to grips with anything genuinely political, especially with Vietnam casting its shadow over the nation. In the end, it looked one step up from a home movie, more fun to make than watch. Music by Meyer Kupferman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Philip Kaufman  (1936 - )

Level-headed American writer and director who doesn't shy away from challenging material; after award-winning debut Goldstein, he offered superhero spoof Fearless Frank, but it was five years until his movie career really got off the ground. The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid was followed by The White Dawn and the script for The Outlaw Josey Wales, and a remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers was his first big hit. Then came The Wanderers, The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the controversial Henry & June, Rising Sun, Marquis de Sade drama Quills and thriller Twisted. He also contributed to the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark; considering his talent, it's surprising how few films he has directed.

 
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