Kicking off the sporadic genre of British comedies that served up softcore nudity with sci-fi trimmings, 1969’s Zeta One was itself based on a short lived photo-magazine that obsessed on models scantily dressed in futuristic clothes. At its liveliest the film contains recreations of kinky photo-shoot favourites like catfights and underwear clad dollies in torture chamber tableau, as well as colourful scenes of alien women discreetly disguised in identical black wigs and thigh-high Carnaby Street fashions. Sadly the movie version of Zeta One is also saddled with the tiresome exploits of Robin Hawdon -wooden lead of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth- playing a poor man’s James Bond.
Slow to start the film’s first quarter of an hour is a mercilessly static two-hander between Hawdon and his boss’s secretary as they drink, deliver pages of inconsequential dialogue and generally make goo-goo eyes at each other. Despite containing the film’s first show of flesh- they also get round to playing strip-poker- this is padding at its most painful and just seems to go on forever. Eventually Hawdon narrates flashbacks of some ‘very extraordinary business’ concerning the Angvians, a strange race of women from outer space who kidnap pretty girls then brainwash them with kaleidoscope-type optical effects. One such abductee, Soho stripper Edwina Strain (‘please call me Ted’) gets bustled into a car by Angvian women in broad daylight then is treated to a guided tour of their lair. Looking like the set of a Children’s programme, Angvian HQ includes such delights as the ‘the contemplation room’, ‘the self revelation room’ and not forgetting ‘the static time area’. Incredulously in the middle of this already ridiculous scenario up pops Charles Hawtrey- clearly in a pay cheque role between Carry On’s- as Swyne, the second in command of a sinister organisation out to put an end to the Angvian’s capers. Campy and cowardly as ever, Hawtrey’s Carry On persona dictates his character as he follows Angvian women around London only to get on the wrong side of a far more terrifying force in irate Bus clippie Rita Webb.
Understandably Hawdon struggles to make any sense out these events, and with alien women and misplaced comedy veterans rubbing shoulders lets face it who wouldn’t. Indeed when he relates the tall tale to the secretary as pillow talk she responds with ‘oh you’re making this rubbish up’, a fine epitaph for the film. A virtually asleep James Robertson Justice plays the film’s villain Major Bourdon, a roly-poly and seemingly inebriated creep who enjoys chasing alien women around his Scottish estate as if they were game. Robertson Justice’s complete apathy towards appearing in the film is all up there on screen, he clearly hasn’t learnt the script. At one stage Director Michael Cort reportedly had to tape Bourdon’s dialogue to the actor’s trouser leg. Cheekily, during the scene in question Cort inserts leery shots of a girl’s thighs to ‘explain’ Robertson Justice’s motivation for spending much of the scene glancing down.
There is more than a hint of post-production troubles in the final film. The disjoined feel gives the impression large amounts of plot ended up on Tigon’s cutting room floor, particularly noticeable is the lack of a dramatic comeuppance for Bourdon with Robertson Justice simply disappearing towards the end. The film’s biggest abnormality though has to the Hawdon character. Very much like Ken Parry in Come Play with Me, Hawdon is always kept at arm’s length from the main story and is never called upon to mingle with most of the other characters. All of which fuels suspicion that Hawdon’s scenes were either shot separately or merely added by Tigon in an attempt to make sense of it all, he does after all spend the first 15 minutes desperately trying to explain the upcoming plot! His scenes bear all the hallmarks of a regular Tigon ghost director in their blandness and opportunistic employment of full female nudity and sex scenes to spice up a film that otherwise offers nothing hotter than topless women prancing around in asexual situations. Hawdon’s mysterious lack of interaction with the rest of the characters is most hilariously obvious in his absence from the climatic bust up between alien women and men in deerstalker hats. The reason he’s unable to join in the fight? ……..he has to go back to his car to collect some Wellington boots!
The climax also serves as the film’s inglorious highlight with ‘starlets as alien women’ running around the British countryside freezing their backsides off while pretending to fire invisible rays from their hands, and trying (and in one instance failing) not to break out laughing. Whilst Euro-trouper Brigitte Skay managed to drum up a fair amount of publicity for the film- photos of her in a revealing space-age bikini earned Zeta One the cover of both Continental Film Review and Cinema X magazine -it wasn’t until the 1995 video re-release that the film really found an audience. On video and DVD the film has since gone on to achieve a degree of novelty status on account of many of its female cast members later finding success in Hammer horror and comedy roles. Not that many of these actresses have fond memories of the production, Yutte Stensgaard claimed she felt exploited by her then father-in-law/manager who in a spivvy turn didn’t tell her about her nude scenes until she turned up on set, while the late Imogen Hassall was known to joke a higher force must have been looking out for her the day she turned down the opportunity to play an ‘Angvian girl’.