Africa Express (1975)
Jack Palance fan that I am I knew this film existed but had never come across it until rummaging through one of those bargain bins at Walmart. Holy hippopotamus Batman! Africa Express is on this family pack of 7 films from budget label Echo Bridge in the five dollar bin. And it turns out it’s in widescreen! SOLD.
This family friendly tale stars Giuliano Gemma as an adventurer of sorts who along with Biba The Chimp subbing for Tarzan’s pal Cheetah, is a jack of all trades delivering mail, goods and even dancing girls along the river settlements of whichever African country this story takes place in. Before the opening credits even roll in this Michele Lupo directed film, Jack Palance is set up as a villain when a card game with Gemma goes bad forcing him and his card reading monkey to flee before Jack and his hoods can take their pound of flesh of Biba’s hide.
Once the credits finish rolling it’s time to meet our heroine, the ultra sexy Ursula Andress. She’s riding the rails when her train is hijacked by the hoods that good old Jack employs. In a bit that reminds me of Two Mules For Sister Sara, Ursula dons a Nun’s outfit and flees into the jungle running straight into Gemma’s pickup truck and promptly hitches a ride. Just why are Jack’s men looking for the beautiful woman in a Nun’s getup? It turns out she’s some sort of secret agent tracking Palance for previous war crimes and looking to put a stop to his new gig in the ivory trade.
Poor Mr. Gemma. He’s totally taken with the Nun who wears the sexiest garters in darkest Africa. He continually puts his foot in his mouth when talking to the former Bond babe about her figure and sex in general. Once she let’s him in on the truth, the two are quick to become lovers in a comical bit involving an Irish speaking Priest at a local settlement who was previously convinced that Ursula was indeed a woman of chastity.
Honestly, it’s all rather tame and is still family friendly. The majority of the film is played for laughs with a bumbling Palance and company facing off against Andress and Gemma with a certain amount of necessary screen time donated to Biba the Chimp accompanied by a bubbly soundtrack during the Jackie Chan style hijinks as Gemma fends off the baddies. Given the chance, it’s easy to picture this as a Jackie Chan script from his early days of filmmaking.
Made during Jack’s overseas era, African Express was one of two films he starred in opposite Ursula in 1975. The other being The Sensuous Nurse. That one isn’t so kid friendly with Ursula bringing men’s fantasies to the big screen. This trio of stars would also appear in 1976’s Safari Express though I can’t quite confirm it’s an outright sequel to this one. Is this Express really any good? That depends on one’s viewpoint I guess. I’d wager a dollar or two that if I had seen this when I was about 8 years old I’d recall it fondly looking back. Kind of like I now do with a movie such as 1973’s The Borrowers. A made for TV feature that I watched repeatedly as a kid that will always hold a place in my heart and the imagination of my inner child.
So yes, this might play better to the youngsters who have no idea who the stars are but like the antics of a chimpanzee in overalls. (Up goes my hand at the back of the classroom) Then there is the trio of stars. Yes Ursula is one of movies sexiest ladies and I won’t shy away from pointing out how much I love the eye candy but I’ll add any film with Jack Palance to my library of titles good or bad. The same can’t be said of Andress and Gemma.
It’s Gemma I am not too familiar with and generally connect him to most any genre and the Kirk Douglas overseas feature, The Master Touch. Recommendations anyone?
Now if only I can find a cheap budget label edition of Safari Express or better still The Sensuous Nurse.