Over the years I’ve heard about a lot of little known and obscure science fiction films.
It is remarkable how many of the really obscure ones were made in Europe during the Sixties, and quite a few of them came from Italy, so many that I just spent the weekend watching three of these Sixties film I never quite got around to, Il Disco Volante, La Poupee, and Omicron.
We tend to think of the Italians producing weird and overly colorful sci fi films in the Late Sixties, and then endless copies of American blockbusters.
But their film industry was also busy putting out quite a few entirely serious films, including some great works by a handful of legendary directors, like Fellini and Antonioni.
And Omicron falls roughly into this category.
Oddly, I recognized the director, Ugo Gregoretti’s name but couldn’t remember why until I learned he contributed to an anthology film called Ro.Go.Pa.G., which also featured films by three of the most notable directors of the era: Rossellini, Goddard and Pasolini.
In fact, it was the only other film I recognized on his IMDB list.
Omicron (Renato Salvatori) starts with a fairly simple and familiar sort of premise: some children find what appears to be the dead body of a young worker named Angelo, but, when the doctors go to perform the autopsy, the corpse suddenly wakes up.
Only that really doesn’t quite describe the situation. The body was stiff as a board when they first found it, but it suddenly starts moving with big, stiff, sweeps of its arms and legs, as if Angelo was unaware of just how his body works.
Which is more or less what has happened, as he has been taken over by a bodiless alien named Omicron.
He’s here to prepare the way for an invasion, a job he is getting very tired of, but Earth is the last planet on his list, so he hopes to get it done quickly and finally go home. After all, he got stuck in a Martian for over 200 years in his last invasion
But humans aren’t like the other life forms out there and have a material form. And he has to figure out how to control that body.
Angelo’s bosses reluctantly decide to let him go back to work as he can carry out tasks, even if he can’t speak or understand what anyone says. However, he runs his machine on the assembly line so fast that it breaks down, so they are more than happy to have him back — and the foreman tells the others on his line that they need to match Omicron’s absurd speed.
But Omicron’s alien bosses want a lot more information, and won’t let him kill his host to return home.
And, far worse, he realizes that Angelo is beginning to wake up…
What really stands out here is Renato Salvatori’s performance as Omicron. It is a decidedly physical and eccentric, with him learning to hop before he walks, and launching suddenly into an insanely fast and out of control walk when he gets separated from his hospital aides. It is sometime before he starts talking (although we hear his unspoken messages to his alien controllers long before that) but, when he finally has access to Angelo’s memories, Omicron finds that Angelo has influenced his thinking.
Now there’s a lot of political messaging here, about workings preparing to strike and the elites running our society. While the political unrest at the plant is a major plot point, for the most part this is played well, and left as one of the many elements of the story, but unfortunately the ending takes the politics too far, and makes little sense as we know that Angelo was originally shy and diffident.
And things go a bit too far when Omicron realizes he can get off the planet without being disintegrated by his bosses if he gets someone else to kill Angelo. This leads to several rather dark moments which go a bit too far when it comes to the innocent lunch girl who likes Angelo.
The real Angelo, that is.
However, the alien story leads to one of those familiar revelations about what happens when you try to take over Earthlings, and a final, ironic twist set up with a very simple visual.
The film overflows with plenty of visual humor, with speeded up motion used very effectively to portray Omicron’s almost supernatural gifts, and a lot of nice little character moments, like Omicron going through hundreds of books but only deciding to keep a heavily illustrated one on Brigitte Bardot (which he tucks in his shirt!).
Omicron is funny enough to overcome its weaknesses in the final act, although it would have been stronger had they backpedaled some of the harsher moments, and gave Angelo a different fate.
It remains a marvelously funny, if flawed film, which deserves far more attention than it ever got, a complex and somewhat sympathetic portrayal of an evil alien invader which shows more than a little influence from those other great directors Gregoretti was hanging out with.
It’s definitely worth a look, particularly for those of you who love the Italian Cinema of the Sixties…