Masters Of The Universe

I watched Pulp (1972), the film Michael Caine did after Get Carter.

We start at a typing agency, as lots of young Italian women are at work transcribing some exciting fiction recorded on to tape.

This is the latest work by Michael King, a former undertaker who took to churning out mass-market fiction under a variety of pseudonyms. Bestselling titles we hear about include My Gun Is Long. He was very successful at it, and left his family behind and came to live in Italy. He narrates this film in his usual style and we can often see the action and details being slightly at variance with the version he is dictating.

Mickey visits his agent and they are in turn visited by a dubious fat old guy called Ben Dinuccio, who is here to make a sensational offer.

Dinuccio is the PR agent for some mysterious wealthy private individual who admires King’s various works and wants him to work as ghostwriter on his memoirs.

Although there is comic business about an incompetent agent tailing King around town, and the atrocious Italian drivers, there is also the sinister presence of the “New Front” political movement whose posters and marches seem to be everywhere.

King accepts the offer he can’t refuse and gets on a coach ride South. He is told he will be contacted by another agent, and he thinks he’s found the man (who claims to be a great fan of his books) but they fall out. This fan points out that his works have thin plots that run on too much coincidence.

Later on it seems this man has been murdered at the hotel and the event covered up. At a tourist spot, King hooks up with another passenger Liz.

They make it to the island lair of his new employer: Preston Gilbert (played by Mickey Rooney), the retired Hollywood star who played dozens of gangsters and was idolized by the men he gave a public image to. He has now gone back to living at the same part of the old country he emigrated from with his parents many years ago. He’s bitter that none of his fans are bothered that he left the US.

Gilbert’s mansion is filled with the latest modern appliances, and many images of the great man himself in classic scenes from his career. We quickly skip over the week in which he delivers a solid manuscript of old stories with King. At an event to commemorate his dad’s death, he gets assassinated himself, and now King gets scared about the world he’s got stuck in. Not that anyone misses the old bore, who was being a humourless old bully minutes before his ending.

Back at the villa, all the hangers-on have to figure out what happened. It seems that Gilbert was killed off at the orders of some important people who heard he was writing his memoirs and needed to prevent some particular details from getting out.

Of course this is all like one of King’s own books, as he realises early on, and he can’t help unravelling the connections and clues handed to him without too much fuss and not requiring much effort to decipher, once the right people simply tell you what it means.

The heart of the story is a very nasty crime which Gilbert and some other rich men took part in and expected to keep quiet simply because their sort know they can hide what they get up to. They will do what it takes to keep it hidden, if they think one of their number is going to go public. We can infer that this is much like the world Mickey King writes about, in between the machismo and innuendo and pages drooling with bodily fluids, begging their male readers to get their other hand moving.

There is nothing druggy or psychedelic here, not even alluded to. One of the characters is allegedly a lecturer at UC Berkeley, but we never hear about the counterculture. This is the world of the idle rich for whom protests and revolutionaries are an amusing distraction in the middle distance. King has only recently risen from the working classes to be near these people, and he retains his distaste for now but could lose it if he stayed around much longer. The comedy is broad and not particularly chucklesome, but not as cruel and unfunny as Gilbert’s “practical joke” routine as a waiter, which leaves our hero stone-faced. In the end the mood is something like Loot: farcical stylings around the absurdities accepted in conventional society… except that here we are far above ordinary lives, seeing them instead from the view of Gods disrupting them and offering no meaning or apology.

That’s close to the themes in the work of a songwriter whose appearance seemed to be based on Mickey King, in the mid 90s. He did a very apt song ten years earlier.

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2 thoughts on “Masters Of The Universe

  1. Ben Dinuccio was played by Lionel Stander, an actor well worthy of remembrance and celebration.

    Bronx-born, to Russo-Jewish immigrants, he entered the film business in the early 30s, and did well enough to appear in some of the biggest Hollywood productions of the decade – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and the ’37 A Star is Born, for instance – but his loudly-expressed left-wing political leanings had a predictable effect on his longer-term career prospects there, and the House Un-American Activities Committee pretty much ended it, in the early 50s.

    In the years leading up to Pulp, he got most of his work abroad; Polanski gave him his only leading role in Cul-de-Sac, and Leone cast him as a bartender in Once Upon a Time in the West.

    Following those, in 1979, he landed a TV part for which he’s likely still best remembered, that of Max, the man who ‘does’ for Robert Wagner & Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart.

    His pugnacious features & unmistakable voice were finally stilled in 1994; he was 86.

    Liked by 1 person

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