UNKNOWN MAN OF SHANDIGOR, THE   (L’inconnu de Shandigor)

(director/writer: Jean-Luis Ray; screenwriters: Pierre Korainik, Gabriel Arout; cinematographer: Roger Bimpage; editor: Francoise Gentet; music: Alphonse Roy; cast: Marie-France Boyer (Sylvaine), Ben Carruthers (Manuel), Jacques Dufilho (Russian/Schoskatovich), Daniel Emilfork (Herbert Von Krantz), Serge Gainsbourg (Le chef des chauves), Marcel Imhoff (Yvan), Howard Vernon (Yank/Bobby Gun); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gabriel Arout; Sinister Cinema/Amazon Prime Video/A Deaf Crocodile release; B/W, 1967-Switzerland-in French with English subtitles)

“Comic book styled Cold War ’60s spy spoof that is funny but menacing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A playful pop art curio, comic book styled Cold War ’60s spy spoof that is funny but menacing.

It’s the debut feature by Swiss director Jean-Luis Ray  (“Black Out”), who only made two feature films and two Swiss TV films. He co-writes the artfully made and visually dazzling black and white film with Pierre Korainik and Gabriel Arout. The film never received a theatrical release in the U.S., which is why the gem was little known in America. Only in recent times has its DVD surfaced in a restored form on Blu-ray.

It comments on subjects ranging from mad scientists, to hired assassins, to mind control, and to the influence of the media. We also view the renown Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s Barcelona’s Park Guell and Casa Mila, in shots lifted from other films.

We learn that the weird-looking, reclusive, misanthropic, wheelchair-bound, mad scientist, Herbert Von Krantz (Daniel Emilfork), lives a quiet life in a booby-trapped mansion with his assistant Yvan (Marcel Imhoff) and niece Sylvaine (Marie-France Boyer). The residence features a swimming pool where an unseen giant beast lives. The eccentric genius has created a way to defuse all nuclear weapons. But instead of ending the nuclear arms race, the device is highly sought after by country’s working on enhancing their nuke programs to become nuclear powers. The caveat is if in the wrong hands, the device might destroy the world.

Among some of the countries in pursuit are the French, led by Serge Gainsbourg; the Russians led by Jacques Gufilho; and the Americans led by Howard Vernon. All of them are trying to steal the blueprints for Von Krantz’s weapon. What worries them is that Sylvaine’s ex-boyfriend (Ben Carruthers) might be a double agent, who had the inside track to steal the secrets and would sell the secrets to the highest bidder.

The cult film plays as an even odder kind of Dr. Strangelove. Its big joke revolves around the methods of international espionage in these tense times when the world is undergoing egregious changes (even the Bond movies are changing the way spy films are made).

The jarring musical score by Alphonse Roy is just the right sardonic tone for the twisty comic book story to breathe more life into its macabre tale. It dazzles us with the following outlandish scene, where a dead spy is embalmed while
Serge Gainsbourg performs on an organ the song “Bye Bye Mr. Spy.”

It played at the Fantasia Film Festival of 2021.