Britsploitation from A to Z: Z is for Zeta One (1969)
Well, I’m feeling in a bit of a party mood as here we finally are at the end of this A-Z thing. And there couldn’t possibly be a better film to celebrate with than this. You need to understand from the off that Zeta One makes no sense at all. It’s utterly disjointed and any attempt at a storyline takes a distant second place to ensuring as much screen time as possible is devoted to scantily-clad women. It’s exploitation film-making in the incoherent tradition of American directors like Doris Wishman and Ed Wood. And where Wood had Bela Lugosi, Zeta One’s director Michael Cort has Charles Hawtrey (they even wear similar hats).
It belongs to that most 60s of genres, the Bond spoof-sci-fi-sexploitation film (quite a specialist genre, I grant you). Here the 007 substitute is called James Word (just one of many things that will have you spluttering ‘Eh?!’ at the screen if you ever dare to watch this film), and he’s played by Robin Hawdon. Hawdon is perfect casting as he looks exactly like a cross between Sean Connery and Roger Moore (yes, I know Roger Moore hadn’t been cast in 1969: perhaps this gave them the idea. OK, probably not). Here he is pulling as typical a sex comedy face as you’ll ever see (slightly different to a comedy sex face):
We have the requisite Maurice Binder on the (very) cheap title sequence, accompanied by an unnamed singer Basseying nonsensical lyrics (“Call Zeta! Zeta! Zee-E-T-A Zeta!”) over a Johnny Hawksworth tune that starts off all John Barry and ends as an amazing psychedelic freakout. For some inexplicable reason our M substitute (W) has an American accent, but we’ll pass over that. Substituting for Miss Moneypenny is future Lust for a Vampire star Yutte Stensgard as Ann Olsen.
The main thrust of the film involves superwomen from a mysterious place called Angvia (think of it as a Countdown conundrum) kidnapping the beautiful young women of Britain (well, mainly strippers) and forcibly recruiting them to their cause (not entirely sure what that cause is, but I imagine it involves death and destruction to all men, that’s the usual drill). But just where is Angvia? “I think it’s out in space somewhere,” Word muses, “or perhaps it’s not”. Wherever it is, it’s accessed via an interdimensional portal in the back of a removal van. It’s a “vast supernatural ant colony” apparently, and the queen ant is the mysterious Zeta (Dawn Addams, who’d later reprise her role as leader of a world of women in TV’sStar Maidens, wearing an even more absurd costume than the meringue she sports here). The Angvians’ archenemy is master criminal Major Bourdon, who’s determined to winkle the secrets of their amazing technological advances out of them. Improbably enough, Bourdon’s played by that stalwart of the Doctor films (and bear sex symbol) James Robertson Justice. It’s frankly quite distressing seeing Justice play Bourdon, a drooling sleazeball whose point of view shots generally involve women’s crotches. There’s no shortage of ridiculous dialogue inZeta One, but Justice’s outraged cry of “There’s a bint in the bushes!” is an especially giddy highlight. He’s quite something to see, and as Davina McCall might say, here’s a selection of his best bits:
Yes, he is actually twirling his moustache.
Charles Hawtrey has much less fun as Bourdon’s chief henchman Swyne. It’s a thoroughly generic part, and bereft of the camp joie de vivre of a Carry On script, Hawtrey’s a subdued, rather sad presence. One shot in particular, of his translucently pale face peering out of a phone box, has a strangely haunting quality:
Apart from that Hawtrey only gets one decent scene, sparring with Rita Webb, who pops up briefly as a belligerent bus conductor. Unless you count the bit where he shows some thigh, of course.
Bourdon hires Edwina Strain, star attraction of the Tease for Two strip lounge, to infiltrate the Angvians, but once through the back doors of that van she’s swiftly seduced by the delights of Zeta’s world, including wrestling classes and ‘the self realisation chamber’ (a wobbly silver wall):
“We have to eat every few hours,” Edwina’s tour guide informs her, “but not the food you would know”: cut to Angvians eating…a bowl of fruit.
The Angvians’ final confrontation with Bourdon’s men is tremendously odd: undoubtedly the most prolonged scene of men in tweeds being felled by nearly naked women raising their arms a bit I’ve ever witnessed. But where’s our intrepid agent during all this: in bed with another Angvian actually, so you might wonder what the point of him being in the film is at all. However, it seems Zeta One was considerably under-running as all of the above-described nonsense is padded out with an interminable framing sequence set in Word’s flat, as he relates the adventure to Miss Olsen (even though he was distracted for the majority of it) in bed after they play the world’s most tedious game of strip poker. And smoke an awful lot:
It might drive some viewers up the wall, but I find Zeta One’s makers’ obvious awareness of the film’s essential rubbishness rather endearing: during the main action Robin Hawdon sports a silly false moustache that visibly starts to peel off at one point. The framing sequence (added in later) starts with Yutte Stensgard demanding he removes it as it’s so unconvincing.
Difficult to believe though it might be, there was never a Zeta Two. I can’t help seeing that as a great loss to humanity at large. Still, at least we have Zeta One to boggle uncomprehendingly at. Nearly every shot in the film deserves to be framed (and hung on the wall of a lunatic), and here’s a random selection: