The first thing worth noting is that Bond parodies and rip-offs were always more successful in Europe than in the United States - not for nothing is there an entire Eurospy subgenre far more robust and long-lived than anything that America or the United Kingdom was able to claim. And thus it was the case that Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, a small disappointment in its native country, did shockingly good business in Italy. Those who've been around long enough to recall our previous adventures in Italian genre cinema know that this can only be leading to one place.

Yes, the Italian Dr. Goldfoot knock-off! In this case, though, it was a legitimate, official sequel, even starring Vincent Price as Dr. Goldfoot and all. Though the history behind Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs is rather more complex than that. Because not only was it a followup to Bikini Machine, it was also a followup (of sorts) to a completely unrelated Italian film, Two Mafiosi Against Goldginger - like Bikini Machine, a comic knock on the spectacularly successful James Bond movie Goldfinger. From the American film came Price and a pretty teenybopper (here, Fabian, a marked trade down from the already somewhat vanilla Frankie Avalon), from the prolific Italian came comic duo Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. And since all that was a bit too easy to follow, there are two entirely distinct cuts of the film: the one we're dealing with here was prepped for the English-language audience, and focuses more on Fabian (or so I have been made to believe: I've never seen the other version and cannot compare), while the other cut, Le spie vengono dal semifreddo ("The Spies Who Came in from the Semi-Cold", though semifreddo is also a type of dessert), focusing more on Franchi and Ingrassia, was made for Europe. Both versions feature roughly equal amounts of Price, they tell me; for Price is all things to all nations.

Let's get the unpleasant part out of the first: Girl Bombs is pretty damn bad. Bikini Machine is also pretty damn bad, of course, but it makes up for it with fizzy, goofy energy, and a relentlessly cheerful campy tone that makes it obvious the filmmakers pretty much knew that it was bad. Girl Bombs is just a slog: hectic comedy in too many different flavors slapped onto a plot so malnourished it makes the slapdash storytelling in Bikini Machine look complex and deep. Allowing that it's bad to make generalisations about other cultures, I feel only slightly like a bigot in proposing that Italian taste in comedy doesn't translate as effortlessly as it does elsewhere in Europe - see, for example, the apparent national obsession with clowns - and that already puts Girl Bombs at a disadvantage; add in the inherent distancing effect of post-dubbing (for despite some AIP money, this is still altogether an Italian production, and that inevitably means dubbing), which gives everything up to and including Price's own performance an otherworldly gloss, and any chance at the film being funny even in the breezy, dumb sense of the first movie is pretty much shot.

And then the tremendously unpleasant part: worst of all is how criminally mis-directed the picture is. Why, you ask, do I characterise this as tremendously unpleasant? Because the director is none other than Mario Bava, the master of horror and thrillers and officially regarded in these parts as a genius and one of the all-time great Italian filmmakers. Like many before him, Bava was apparently just not up to the challenges of directing comedy: not to judge him by Girl Bombs, anyway, where the comedy is big and loud and obvious, neither organic to the characters nor the plot nor even the other comedy, like each individual gag exists in total isolation from the rest of the film and humanity itself. One can practically feel the director's effort and sweat radiating off the film, and comedy should not ever feel like it was hard work. This was not an untested, uncertain Bava, either - the film comes exactly in between his marvelous ghost story Kill, Baby, Kill and Diabolik, a glitzy Eurospy adventure that is all the things Girl Bombs isn't: stylish, breezy, fast-paced, charmingly campy. Of course, Diabolik is not a comedy, and that makes all the difference.

The new film finds Dr. Goldfoot once again creating an army of fembots to seduce and destroy powerful men, though in this case subtlety is straight out the window: none of that "love them, marry them, change their will, kill them" business, here the robots merely up and explode when they kiss a man. Because here, Goldfoot's plot is far more Bondian than it was last time: he is going to assassinate several NATO leaders in order to disrupt a war games exercise, so that in the confusion he can drop a massive nuclear bomb on Russia, blame it on the U.S., and start a war that, yada yada yada, Goldfoot rules the world. Opposing him are a womanising SIC agent, Bill Dexter (Fabian), and two clumsy agents of... INTERPOL, I think? Exposition isn't the film's strong suit. Anyway, these two agents are played by Franco & Ciccio, playing a stock "smarter guy and dumbass" relationship, and I have to admit, cultural differences and all, that I found them monumentally unfunny.

There's a hell of a lot less Price in this movie than its predecessor, and what we get instead is a lot of running around Europe, making idiot mistakes, and ogling pretty girls on the part of all three heroes, in a style reminiscent of Blake Edwards at his very worst, and then worse yet; Blake Edwards with a hangover, maybe. At any rate, there's a definite Pink Panther vibe, if The Pink Panther was absolutely lousy and lacked style. As before, the Goldfoot scenes are far and away the best parts of the film, though on a massively lower level than before: Price's bickering with pretty Chinese assistant Hardjob (Moa Tahi) isn't nearly as satisfying as his verbal abuse of his lackey Igor, while the limitations of appearing in a film without sync sound, and presumably with a cast and crew that largely speaks the same language did absolutely terrible things to Price's enthusiasm and energy: it's one of the most subdued, even strangled performances in his whole career, and where he managed to hold his dignity at even the dumbest moments of the last picture, here, it seems that he's almost constantly uncomfortable in scenes where he has to flirt with his girl bombs, or cackle maniacally, or disguise himself as a nun. And if you'd asked me, I'd have said that Vincent Price in drag playing a nun would have been absolutely something I wanted to see. I would have been wrong.

Just about the only thing Price salvages is the direct address that he's frequently given: throughout the film, Goldfoot frequently breaks the fourth wall, making us his accomplices, and tacitly admitting that we've been rooting for him pretty much the whole time. And these moments are generally speaking more fun than the rest of the movie, giving Price a chance to play around with tone more than he does elsewhere, though even here, the fact of the dubbing shuts him down a bit.

Many years ago, I saw exactly one scene from this movie: Goldfoot spying on a room full of diplomats through a periscope. At one point, one of the diplomats absently stubs a cigar out in the periscope lens, and in his lair, Goldfoot jumps back with shout of pain as smoke pours out of the eyehole. He turns to the camera, and Price says in a perfect mix of petulance and irony, "Smoke got in my eyes". That I have remembered this innocuous moment for something like 18 years speaks to my own failings; that it proves to be the most successful gag in the whole thing speaks to the picture's failings. It's such a shambling, clumsy waste of everything: of Price, of the Goldfoot character, of Bava, of 82 minutes that not even an army of sexy killer fembots in gold bikinis can salvage. There's too much bland Fabian and irritating Franco & Ciccio and chintzy model work and horribly ill-advised jokes at Dr. Strangelove's expense, and it all ends up to as pure and irredeemable a farrago as you could wish to see. Or better yet, not see, ever, for any reason.