The Series Project: Leonard
Leonard: The Syndicate II (dir. Luigi Franzino, a.k.a. “Louis Franklin,” 1974)
Luigi Franzino is the director of such cult hits as Wait Until Light (1958), Bad Juju (1966), and Too Many Teeth! (1967). His light touch with deft genre material lends Leonard: The Syndicate II a slick-yet-shabby Eurotrash grindhouse feeling. Who cares if it's a bit trashy? Who cares if it's a bit sillier? This is where the series really started.
For one, it's the first in the Leonard series to star Bill Cosby in the title role. It also codified many of the Leonard plot devices that would eventually appear in future installments: It was the first film to introduce Nurse Carvalho (Anna Levine), and her habit of giving Leonard a series of magical items that he will, without fail, use throughout the course of the film. Frayn (Tom Courtenay) is still around, but plays a very minor role.
The story of Leonard II is a rather gritty drug story. A local drug dealer (Jerry Orbach) has been selling drugs with a magical taint to them. When the kids take the drugs, they actually become clean and safe and sane. Naturally, the drugs contain a mind-control element, that Orbach will use to… actually that plot point is never made clear. We do know that he answers to a mysterious man in a wheelchair named Andy (Hal Bokar), who will be back in Leonard Part 6.
All we need to remember is the scene wherein Leonard rides a jet engine into the bad guy's lair, sporting his magical whip and bullet-proof tuxedo, all while beating away Orbach's army of topless Chinese succubi. There is a strange dignity to the climactic battle that we just don't usually see in most exploitation films. This is the Aliens to The Syndicate's Alien. The first is the superior film is almost every respect, but the second is just such rollicking, slick, genre fun, well, you wouldn't be blamed if you thought it was the best.
Leonard: The Syndicate II was, contrary to what you might have read on the internet, actually released in theaters in the U.S., and actually played, undetected by Interpol, for several months at underground screenings and midnight movies. I know someone who screened the film, projecting it for months, and he says that the midnight shows were well-attended by special guests who were in the know. Of course it was never advertised, usually being touted as “an unfinished John Waters film.” If you ever hear John Waters talk about his unfinished films, you now know that it is shorthand.
And the controversial scene? Patricia Nixon, of all people, is filmed shoplifting from a Woolworth's. How did they get these people?