That Man From Istanbul is one of the most accessible and entertaining of the Eurospy films made in the mid sixties. It features Sylva Koscina in a major role. She may barely raise a footnote these days in lists of ‘most popular actresses of all time’ (particularly in Western countries), but in the mid sixties she was on a bit of a roll, starring in Hot Enough For June with Dirk Bogarde, and Deadlier Than The Male with Richard Johnson.
The film opens with a nifty little pre-title sequence where a light aircraft, with two secret agents in it, lands in a paddock in Turkey somewhere. Five cars packed with hoods with stockings over their heads meet the plane. One of the agents from the plane hands over a suitcase with one million dollars in it. The other agent secretly takes photos of the hoods with a camera hidden in his tie-pin. Once the hoods are satisfied that the money is all there, they signal another car. This car contains atomic scientist Professor Pendergast, who has been kidnapped. An exchange is made, and the plane takes off with it’s new passenger. Pendergast looks like he has been drugged or brainwashed. In the backseat of the plane he is sweating and fidgeting. Then he detonates a bomb inside his coat. The plane explodes and crashes.
We skip to Washington D.C. and into a C.I.A. briefing room. A team of agents are watching a report on the crash. X-rays from the bodies at the crash site reveal that the man they believed to be Pendergast was an impostor. The ransom the U.S. had paid was for nothing. As the briefing continues, the President of the U.S.A. phones in and cancels the mission. It seems he wants the affair to be handled through diplomatic channels. This doesn’t please Special Agent Kenny (Sylva Koscina). She sees something in the slides of the crash site, that everyone else has missed. In the background there is car, and in the car is Tony Mescenas (Horst Bucholz). Mescenas is an American who was deported for running a string of gambling houses, extortion rackets. He also ran a kidnapping scam in the past, where he exchanged fake people for his kidnap victims. Kenny doesn’t believe this is a coincidence, but as the President has cancelled the mission, she is forbidden to go to Istanbul.
For our viewing pleasure we are then treated to a colourful animated title sequence with a swinging sixties instrumental over the top. When we return from this interlude we are in Istanbul, introduced via some travelogue shots that look like stock footage. Then we move into Istanbul’s nightlife. Neon lights flicker. Cool jazz plays in the background. And Mescenas is cruising through the streets in his red E-type Jaguar, being discretely followed by the police. Mescenas stops outside a club which he runs with two colleagues. The first is ‘Brain’ (Gustavo Re), who has a photographic memory for facts, and the second is Bogo (Alvaro De Luna), who is more of your garden variety minion. He does all the dirty jobs.
Mescenas enters the club, which on the surface appears to be an average Turkish nightclub with belly dancers writhing on stage. But underneath this club is another club. An illegal casino in fact. Mescenas takes a secret elevator down to the casino and alerts the patrons that they are about to be raided be the police. It seems the tail on Mescenas wasn’t that discrete after all. But don’t panic, Mescenas has the place wired up electronically, and all the gaming tables disappear into the floor and the walls. The police raid the club, but instead of finding an illegal casino, they find Bogo treating the guests to a magic show. It seems like Mescenas ruse has worked. Well almost! A drunk starts demanding for his chips to be cashed. Mescenas can’t pay him without giving the game away. So what does he do? He starts a fight. Within seconds a bar room brawl erupts, the type usually found in western movies. But hey, after all this is a Horst Buchholz movie. Horst who, I hear you ask? Horst Buchholz is one of the two actors from The Magnificent Seven that nobody remembers. He played Chico, the Mexican peasant who wanted to be a gunfighter, …but back to the story.
Of course, Agent Kenny has defied orders and is in Istanbul, and in Mescenas’ club. As Mescenas, Brain and Bogo are regrouping after the police raid, Kenny approaches them and asks for a job. Mescenas’ interview technique is not politically correct by today’s standards. He asks Kenny to strip. She disrobes down to her underwear. Mescenas pretends not to be interested, but when the subject is as attractive as Ms Koscina a side glance is forgivable. Kenny gets the job, but doing what?
The next day Kenny is snooping around some of the locations from the photos in the C.I.A. briefing. One of these locations is a cemetery and mausoleum were the plane crash victims were interred. It is the last place were the missing tie-clip camera was seen. As she searches, she is accosted by the Chinese grounds keeper, but proves herself adept at judo, and acquits herself quite nicely, thank you. As she leaves the cemetery Mescenas picks her up for work. It’s obvious he has been following her. Her job? I’m not really sure what it is. It appears to be travelling around the sites of Istanbul and looking glamorous. She does it well.
As they look over the city from the spire of a mosque, Mescenas tells her that he knows she is a spy. Why is she interested in him? Kenny is a fairly trusting agent, and tells Mescenas the whole story about Pendergast kidnapping. Mescenas pleads his innocence and Kenny believes him. Then Kenny tries to convince him to help her track down the true perpetrators. But after being deported from the U.S., Mescenas isn’t too keen on helping Uncle Sam. Mescenas may not be patriotic but he is greedy, and when Kenny tells him of the million dollars ransom that was paid to free Pendergast, his eyes light up. Welcome on board.
Their first lead is to track down the Chinese grounds keeper who attacked Kenny at the cemetery. His information leads Mescenas to the Chinese Embassy. It appears that though the Chinese did not kidnap Pendergast, they are interested in tracking him down for themselves. After all an Atomic Scientist is a valuable commodity. But the Chinese do have the tie-clip camera hidden in a safe at the Embassy. With stealth and the odd bit of brutality Mescenas breaks into the safe and retrieves the camera. His escape, however is not so easy. First he leaps through one window, crashes through another into a bedroom. Then somehow ends up in the sewer system. So it doesn’t make sense, but that is part of it’s charm.
From the photos in the clip, Brain recognises one of the extortionists, the man with the steel hand, Hansie (Gérard Tichy). Well it’s not really a steel hand, it’s more of a steel stump or dome. He lives in a boarding house down by the waterfront, where all riff-raff in this type of film live. Mescenas follows Hansie as he leaves the house, but Hansie realises he is being followed and sets out to trap Mescenas. Hansie starts to ascend a tall mosque spire with a spiral staircase. Mescenas follows. At the top on the balcony, Hansie gets the drop on his pursuer. A fight breaks out but Hansie has a slight advantage. From his steel hand a knife juts out. Mescenas is thrown over the side surely to his death. But no, he catches a rope and slides down to the next level. Mescenas rushes back up the stairs and gives Hansie a beating. Hansie is about to talk when he is shot from below, by one of his accomplices. From Hansie’s dead body, Mescenas picks up the small hearing aid from the ear. It is not a hearing aid at all but a communication device. Mescenas hears the plans for the extortionists to meet at the coast road. In his red Jag, he makes his way there. It’s another trap. The extortionists knew he’d be listening and try to run him off the cliff top road. He gets past one vehicle but is not prepared for being rammed by an army truck. Mescenas’ sports car flies through the protective barriers by the side of the road and down the cliff.
In what really is a ‘cliff-hanger’, Mescenas leaps onto the back of the army truck as it collides with the Jag and hitches a ride. Meanwhile down the road, armed with high powered binoculars, the Chinese are watching. They have been following Mescenas, hoping he will lead them to Pendergast. They follow the army truck.
The truck stops in an underground carpark, and Mescenas starts snooping about. Inadvertently he sets off a silent alarm and the extortionists are alerted to his presence. Luckily for Mescenas, at this time the Chinese arrive and enter into a shootout with the extortionists. While all the shooting is going on the leaders of the extortion group sneak Pendergast out in an ambulance. Mescenas waits behind some crates till the shootout is over and then snoops around a bit more. In a back room he finds Elizabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier) tied up. She was kidnapped off a yacht. Naturally he frees her and sends her to a luxury hotel to recuperate.
Meanwhile the extortionists are not happy with one of their own. Gunther (Agustín González), who was driving the army truck, which Mescenas so cavalierly jumped on, is too be terminated for his incompetence. Evil organisations like this don’t tolerate failure. As the assassin draws his gun, Gunther shoots and flees. He’s on the run now and needs help. He phones Mescenas and offers information about the whereabouts of Pendergast in exchange for safe passage out of the country. A meeting is arranged. As Agent Kenny is the only licensed operative on the scene she wants to go to the meeting, but Mescenas does what any sixties, chauvinist, man about town would do. He locks her in a cupboard.
At the meeting Gunther is shot before Mescenas can get to him. Then he finds himself on foot, in the centre of a demolition derby. Some nimble footwork and some accurate pistol shots to car headlights save Mescenas’ skin. Well barely. After the car pile-up, a hail of gunfire starts. He borrows a front-end loader and ploughs a path to freedom.
After the nights fireworks, Mescenas pays a visit to Elizabeth Furst at her hotel, poolside. As he attempts to gain more information about her kidnapping and the whereabouts of Pendergast, an assassin lurks in the pool (with a water pistol, no doubt!). He fires a shot at Mescenas which misses, but shatters his wine glass. Not taking a backward step, Mescenas dives in to confront his would-be assassin. Underwater, a knife is produced and the two men struggle until the assailant ends up with the knife in his torso.
The next lead Mescenas and Kenny follow was found on Gunther’s dead personage. It was a season ticket to a Turkish Bath. At the bath, as they search, three goons kidnap Kenny and spirit her away. Out the back Mescenas finds wooden crates full of pieces of an atomic bomb. As he retreats, he is captured at knife-point. Then he is offered one hundred thousand dollars and Kenny alive if he leaves Istanbul. Mescenas refuses and escapes by losing a steam faucet. Clad only in a towel, he then scours the city searching for Kenny, but with no joy.
Despondent, he rings Brain. Brain passes on a message that Bogo and Ms Furst have information for him. Mescenas rushes to the hotel, but only to find that Furst’s room is empty. Almost. An assassin named Doctor Shrenk (Klaus Kinski) follows Mescenas in. As most evil minions do, Shrenk takes his time in killing Mescenas and talks too much. In doing so he reveals that Pendergast is on a yacht in the harbour. Mescenas ducks under a glass coffee table while Shrenk fires at him with a pistol. And in one of those contrivances that can only happen in the movies, the coffee table turns out to be bullet proof. Mescenas picks up the table and uses it as a shield until Shrenk runs out of bullets. Then it’s fisticuffs. During the fight, which rages through all the hotel rooms, Mescenas finds Bogo’s dead body in the bathtub. This sends Mescenas over the edge and he drowns Shrenk in a sink.
Mescenas’ attention is now on the yacht, and he climbs a cargo loading crane and lowers himself onto the boat as it passes underneath. After the death of Bogo, Mescenas sense of humour isn’t as prevalent as it was, and as he storms the boat, he kills one sailor in cold blood, and then orders the rest of the crew over the side. On board he finds Pendergast and Kenny and sets them free. Then he set about settling the score with the leaders of this insidious plot. Oh, what is their scheme, I hear you ask? It hasn’t really been mentioned yet, but it is something like this: They intend to build an atomic arsenal with Pendergast’s help. Then from a remote island, control the world. Excellent; another World Domination scheme.
In the stateroom on the yacht, Mescenas find the chiefs. He cleans house with a machine gun. He kills them all, except for one. I wont say who it is, but no prizes for guessing?
That Man In Istanbul is one of my favourite Eurospy films. It has a good sense of humour and decent production values, and is fast paced. Maybe it is a little long, and Sylva Koscina isn’t used as much as she should be, but small quibbles. Your response to the movie will depend on how you accept Horst Bucholz. I know of a few people who find his performance annoying and as such, don’t rate this movie very highly. I disagree, but I think you’re going to have to make up your own mind on this one?
This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD.