The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)

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The Madmen of Mandoras (1963) is all kinds of awful and awesome, an ambitious espionage thriller about Hitler’s head living head in a jar, parked on a tropical island and barking orders to an army and worldwide sleeper cells. Director David Bradley knew movies inside out, made experimental pictures and was known as a fine educator at UCLA, but in this case had trouble translating his grand ideas with a low budget.*

A professor, John Coleman (John Holland) develops an antidote to G-Gas (a deadly nerve gas that knocks down elephants) and is kidnapped by Nazis operating out of the Caribbean island of Mandoras. They plan to gas the world and want the antidote to protect themselves. One of the professor’s daughters, Kathy (Audrey Caire), and her husband Phil (Walter Stocker) are tipped off to the plot by a mysterious informant (Carlos Rivas) who’s assassinated in their car. They dump him in the first phone booth and travel all by themselves to Mandoras to find the professor and save the world from the Nazis. There, they find the professor’s other daughter, bubbly beatnik Suzanne (Dani Lynn) partying it up in the cantina and hipping the natives to the latest slang (if only she came with subtitles). They get mixed up in shootings, frameups and espionage, discover the police chief (Nestor Paiva) and President (Pedro Regas) have eagerly awaited help from just such a hapless couple, and somehow manage to stop the establishment of a Fourth Reich.

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Their key helper on Mandoras will look mighty familiar since it’s Carlos Rivas again, this time playing Camino, the moustache-less kin of the ill-fated tipster. As this revolutionary tells us in a painfully slow but gloriously avant garde flashback, “Mr. H” (that’s what he calls Hitler) spent his last days in the bunker surrounded by doubles and scientists, and there decided to have his head preserved and packed for easy transport and uninterrupted rule. I loved how Rivas was superimposed on scenes of invading armies and bombing as he shares this secret history, then stops in mid-sentence to take a really long drag on his cigarette (if only the background scenes paused and started up again when he continued).

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Kathy’s talent is stating the obvious and the couple acts more like they’re at a gossipy Mad Men cocktail party than worried about loved ones and the fate of the world. Kathy thinks this is a fine time to buy a complete set of dinnerware and when it inevitably breaks, there’s a group wink-tsk-”that’s our Kathy” look (if only there was a laugh track). Regular L.A. neighbourhoods don’t convince as villages, Presidential palaces and airports, the interior sets are bland, and in poor excuses for “action scenes,” everyone just hurries from one room to another. So it’s a flop in all those ways, but I really got a kick out of the beautiful photography by Stanley Cortez, and the creepy little basement lair where Mr. H’s head lives.

The climactic car chase with H in his jar on the back seat straining to see what’s going on outside his range of vision is absurdly amusing–“macht schnell!”– and in the end we’re treated to a really long look at H’s head melting away much like the Nazi Toht’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but with none of the reaction since zero effort was put into making this look better than just a wax sculpture staring into space (If only there was a Bruno Ganz “Hitler reacts to being melted” scene). Madmen of Mandoras is an extra-large hunk of cheese, a “so bad it’s good” classic, and an entertaining clash between idea and execution.

This movie was re-released in 1968 with additional scenes as They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

*great background on Bradley at Glenn Erickson’s review.

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16 thoughts on “The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)”

  1. This movie was re-released in 1968 with additional scenes as They Saved Hitler’s Brain

    I was wondering why the movie seemed so very familiar, and now at last I have the explanation!

    Great writeup — many thanks!

    1. I’ve never seen the second one, don’t know if it would be worth sitting through just for more footage 🙂 but it is kind of a fascinating mess. Thanks!

  2. Hey, something you’ve watched that I’ve actually reviewed! And yes, I agree: it’s all kinds of awful AND awesome! So many goofy things going on…and I just love the lame, anti-climactic ending!

    And you must check out ‘They Saved Hitler’s Brain’…the added scenes are half-whacked in an entirely different way, and thankfully they exist at the start of the film, so after twenty minutes or so you can shut it all off and go to sleep, if you haven’t already.

    1. I couldn’t even list all the goofiness. Like the upside-down matchbook as secret code for a friend– I don;t recall that being brought up again, and other dropped threads… Ok, I will take a look at the Brain redo, sounds just nutty enough. Thanks!

  3. My fears about Speakeasy going too
    up-market have been erased with this entry.
    Never seen this one but would love to!

    Very interesting write-up…and Stanley Cortez,
    what a career he had…talk about working on
    both ends of the creative scale.

    1. John have no fear! I like all kinds of pictures and I’ll never drop the B’s & Z’s. This one is so weirdly fun, you can clearly see the ambition but the execution is so bad. Hope you have as much fun with it. Now I want to check Bradley’s other movies, Talk About a Stranger, Dragstrip Riot, and 12 to the Moon.

  4. Probably not a picture I’ll ever see, but thanks for the hilarious write-up, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Sounds like Hitler’s head had about the same range of vision we did when we were little and strapped in our car-seats.

    Also got a nice laugh regarding Kathy’s shopping habits, her kinship with Captain Obvious, and how she and her spouse belonged at that cocktail party. Where are the laugh-tracks when you need them?! (lol)

    1. haha, thanks, I had fun with both movie and post. I read that when their informant is shot in their car at a red light, Kathy is shocked: “Phil, he’s been shot!” in Kathy’s defense, the original was filmed with a silencer and a gunshot sound later added, so that time she actually was stating something other than the obvious 🙂

  5. Interesting how the fear of Hitler’s Nazism returning someday was still so prevalent in the minds of many people even 20 and 30 years after WWII ended (like here and in 1978’s The Boys From Brazil).

    Tam

    1. I thought of Boys from Brazil too, while watching this. As long as the idea lives so does the threat, so just having them (or a head) somewhere plotting away has been scary story material.

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