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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Who Wants to Kill Jessie (1966)

My notes on the Czech fantasy comedy Kdo chce zabit Jessii? (Who Would Kill Jessie?/Who Wants to Kill Jessie?)

This light-hearted, mildly sexy Czech science fantasy comedy from 1966 has a lot of specifically Central European business, but its Weird Science-ish premise could easily have translated into an American remake. Jack Lemmon, maybe looking for a follow-up to the strip cartoon-themed How to Murder Your Wife, and Shirley MacLaine were rumoured for it, but the remake project fizzled in ’68 after the tanks rolled into Prague.

Henpecked scientist Jindrich Beranek (Jiri Sovák) comes across blonde comic strip heroine Jessii (Olga Schoberová – later Olinka Berova of Hammer’s The Vengeance of She) in a magazine, and spends an evening reading her adventures – ostensibly because one of her gadgets, a set of anti-gravity gloves, has a bearing on his current project. That night, he dreams of her world, where she is endlessly pursued by a caped muscle-man Superman knockoff (Bruce Campbell lookalike Juraj Visny) and his flat-nosed cowboy sidekick (Karel Effa). Jindrich’s wife Ruzenka (Dana Medrická) has invented a machine which projects dreams on a television screen, and also a serum which can eliminate troubling elements from nightmares – her test case is a cow whose low milk yield is down to a dream of gadflies. This being Thursday night, when she and Jindrich have their scheduled weekly sex, she is upset to peep on his dreams and spy Jessii, and gives him a shot – however, she didn’t notice the flies which leaked from the cow’s ear after the earlier demonstration, and Jindrich is surprised to wake up next to a flesh-and-blood Jessii, who speaks in word balloons and is still being chased by her strip’s now-manifested baddies.

The indestructible comic characters cause havoc in the apartment and the streets, and Ruzenka becomes consumed with an obsession to devise with a way of getting rid of Jessii until she takes a closer look at Superman’s muscles and decides to take him home for Thursday night. There’s some mild tweaking of officialdom, in characters like the bribe-happy prison guard (Jan Libicek), but the baddie here is a domineering, unwomanly wife who gets treated about as well as the mother-in-law in music hall gags (making her sexually voracious gives the film a slightly misogynist edge) and contrasted with the fluffy, blonde appealing Jessii. A nice touch is that Ruzenka isn’t jealous of the bevvy of attractive brunettes who work with Jindrich in the laboratory, just the fantasy female from his dreams. It makes inventive use of comic book panels in a pop art sort of way and Jessii looks a little like Barbarella in a Daisy Mae dress (Berova is very winning with very little dialogue, and it’s supposed to be a key factor in her attractiveness that the heroine is a genius inventor as well as a mega-fox). The villains could be taken for jabs at American pop culture, but are presented in a somewhat less mean-spirited manner than, say, Boris and Natasha in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In Italy, where it was a big hit, the film is known as Superman Vuole Uccidere Jessie (Superman Wants to Kill Jessie), and some alternate, slightly racier scenes were shot for it. This unnamed bruiser does a few Superman licks (tearing off a Clark Kent disguise to show a chest emblem, flying faster than a speeding bullet) but is a preening baddie rather than a hero (as if the makers had seen a Superman comic, but not been able to read the captions and misinterpreted his m.o.), while the gurning cowboy owes more to continental parodies like Lucky Luke or Lemonade Joe than any actual American comic-strip character.

It has a few magazine-style s-f ideas (the dream viewer, the grav-negating gloves), but is at heart a silly romp along the lines of I Dream of Jeanie or My Living Doll, in which stuffy males are also delighted and tormented by supernatural pin-up girls. I found this (with optional English subtitles) in a quality Italian DVD set (Stelle Rosse 2: La Fantascienza della Cecoslovacchia) that includes the better-known Czech science fiction films The End of August at the Hotel Ozone and Ikarie XB1. Directed by Václav Vorlicek.

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