No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (1979)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Starring: Gareth Hunt, Fiona Curzon, Nick Tate, Geoffrey Keen, Gary Hope
Music: Simon Bell
AKA: The Man From S.E.X.

With the passing of Gareth Hunt last week, I thought it fitting to review No. 1: Licensed To Love And Kill, although it’s probably not the way he’d want to be remembered.

This film is another shlock exploitation flick from director Lindsay Shonteff, the man who gave us The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World and The Million Eyes Of Sumuru. In 1977, the success of The Spy Who Loved Me brought about a resurgence in James Bond knockoff movies. And Lindsay Shonteff, recycled the Charles Vine series, starring Tom Adams from the sixties. Gareth Hunt plays Charles Bind in this bottom of the barrel addition to the spy genre.

This is actually the second film in a series of three; the first being No. 1 Of The Secret Service starring Nicky Henson as Bind and the third a final film was Number One Gun (1990) starring Michael Howe.

What’s it all about? The film starts with Charles Bind trapped in a jet plane as it hurtles out of control. Bind’s explains the predicament he finds himself in:

’I ask myself, what am I doing, Britain’s number one agent, tied hand and foot, in this jet fighter, with only dynamite for company?’

As any good spy hero would, Bind ejects at the last moment, just before the plane erupts into a ball of flame. He parachutes down to the street, and rips off his coveralls to reveal a pristine white dinner suit underneath. Naturally enough, he has landed exactly in front of the restaurant, where he had a standing dinner engagement with a stunning superbabe. When the lady in question admonishes him for being late, he glibly replies, ’Yes, I was tied up for a while!’ Groan!

After a trashy title sequence, Bind arrives at the Ministry Of Defence Headquarters, and waltzes into his superiors office. In Shonteff’s The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, Charles Vine’s boss was Rockwell. In this instance, Bind’s boss is Stockwell (Geoffrey Keen). Bond fans will recognise Keen as Frederick Grey, Minister Of Defence in several of the Roger Moore era films. Bind is briefed on English Lord Dangerfield, a high ranking diplomat. The Home Office is worried about him, as he has been out of contact for a few weeks. His last known whereabouts, was at the home of an old friend, Senator Lucifer Orchid (Gary Hope), in the United States. Bind’s mission is to find Lord Dangerfield and bring him home. After the briefing, Bind is shipped off to see Merlin, in K Department (a low budget version of Q Branch).

As I have mentioned earlier, this is a cheapjack production and the cinematography is very poor, the whole film looks like it has been filmed through the bottom of a beer glass. There are many shoe-string scenes such as when Bind goes to see Merlin (John Arnatt), the head of the ‘dirty tricks’ department. Merlin doesn’t have an office or a laboratory. He seems to be set up in a boy-scout hall. He doesn’t even have a desk; it’s a fold up table. Merlin hands over a few simple gadgets, and then Bind is off to America to complete his mission.

Nick Tate plays Jensen Fury, a loud, abusive mercenary whose code-name is Ultra 1 – even better than No. 1, get it? – implying he is the fastest and deadliest gunman in the world. His acting is on par with the dialogue his character is given. It is so awful it is painful to listen to. When we first meet Fury he is proving his prowess with a pistol to his new employer, Senator Lucifer Orchid. Fury does this by gunning down innocent people on a beach. He’d rather use live targets, because it keeps him sharp.

Once in America, Bind joins forces with Lord Dangerfield’s daughter, Carlotta Muff Dangerfield (Fiona Curzon), who naturally enough, gets called ‘Lotta Muff’ by Bind. But she is only one of the many girls, Bind get’s involved with. There’s ‘Cutie Pie’ and ‘Sweetie Pie’ who provide a bathing service, and the exotic Asian beauty Fun-ghi. Unfortunately Fun-ghi meets an untimely end, when she dives into a swimming pool filled with acid. You see, the caretaker cleans the pool with acid to kill funghi (Fun-ghi, er, get it? No, you’re right. It is not very funny.)

This film also features a few other chestnuts of the genre. There’s an evil double of Charles Bind, and an malicious midget with a whip. Even the ‘She-He’ character from The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World is repeated.

No. 1: Licensed To Love And Kill is not a particularly good film, but one thing it cannot be accused of, is being slow paced. It moves very swiftly from one bad set piece to the next. If you are a spy film completist and must watch this movie, look out for the stripper with razor blades attached to the tassels over her nipples. Ranking as one of spy cinemas most absurd assassins, as she sways around, the razors begin to spin like aircraft propellers, becoming a lethal weapon. As she approaches Bind, he holds a wooden chair out in front to protect himself. Accompanied by the sound of a circular saw, the chair is reduced to saw dust.

Does Bind survive? Who cares? This movie is crap.

This review is based on the Filmways Home Video Australia VHS cassette.

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