In 1965 at least nine Franco and Ciccio films were released, each following the same formula: take some popular success of the time, whether A Fistful of Dollars, Thunderball or The Leopard, and place the two loveable rogues in its world to wreak havoc.
The target here, as indicated by the title, is also Bondian, loosely following on from the previous year's 002 agenti segretissimi, also directed by Lucio Fulci.
A Soviet space mission goes wrong, leaving the two Cosmonauts onboard Popov I lost in space and the party with a potential public relations disaster on their hands. Meanwhile Franco and Ciccio are arrested after a bungled robbery. A Soviet agent in Rome, whose cover is a beauty parlour and gym catering to the wives of Italy's ruling elite, sees Franco and Ciccio's picture in the newspaper and realises they are the spitting images of the Cosmonauts. Accordingly our two heroes are kidnapped, taken to Moscow and, after some tests, sent into space on Popov II. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, they then return to earth. The complication is that they've got to impersonate the Cosmonauts. For the military and media this isn't such a problem: they just have to sit there and keep their mouths shut. But when the two men's wives arrive and wonder why their husbands are speaking Italian rather than Russian it's a different matter. Then unexpectedly Popov I reappears and returns to earth, complete with the real Cosmonauts...
The real Franco and Ciccio, not lost in space but loose?
Who is who?
Nine films is a figure that gives some idea of Franco and Ciccio's popularity with a sector of the Italian public and of the qualities they required of their collaborators, most obviously a fast, efficient way of working. This also, however, helps to explain why Franco and Ciccio were a two-edged sword for the filmmaker, especially a more aspirational one like Fulci.
Working with / for them ensured that you would have plenty of work. But also imposed limitations on what you could do creatively and make it unlikely that intellectuals and taste makers would recognise your efforts in any case: To most of them it was probably just another Franco and Ciccio film, for which criticism and comment, except perhaps of the culture underlying their popularity, was essentially irrelevant.
Presumably not Vatican approved, though to link this with Fulci's personal biography would also be a step too far one thinks
As such, the filmmakers achievements here, modest though they may be, probably went unnoticed. Three things spring to mind.
First, a good proportion of the film's dialogue is in Russian, much of it subtitled into Italian. Given Italy's dubbing culture and the likelihood of the typical Franco and Ciccio fan not being that for the subtitled foreign art film, it comes across as a bold move that perhaps ran the risk of alienating the audience somewhat.
Second, that the documentary-style opening sequence, which sees the two cosmonauts who look exactly like Franco and Ciccio launched into space, convices, as do the two comedians straight performances: they may look like Franco and Ciccio, but are curiously serious, silent and stoic.
Third, a 360 degree pan around a lock-up full of electronics, that starts with (the 'real') Franco and Ciccio but then circles round to include them within the camera's independent vision, in a manner perhaps not too removed from the kind of camera consciousness Pasolini talked about in his discussions of The Cinema of Poetry, making us aware of its independent presence while also indicating something of the significance which televisions, refrigerators and radios had over the film's public at the time. (Later on, once they are in space, TV and radio form the basis for a number of Franco and Ciccio's gags as well.)
Not a great film by any means, but one that has its moments of interest.