Hammerhead (1968)

Director: David Miller
Starring: Vince Edwards, Judy Geeson, Peter Vaughan, Diana Dors, Michael Bates, Beverley Adams, Patrick Cargill, Douglas Wilmer
Music: David Whitaker
Based on the novel by James Mayo

’There’s something intrinsically honest about pornography. The more perverse, the more honest it is!’

I’ve tried very hard to like Hammerhead but it has this undercurrent of sleaze about it that I just can’t quite get past. You’ve probably got a friend who can say the most outrageous and blatantly sexual innuendo and get away with it because they display a certain amount of style and have that rare twinkle in their eye. Equally, you probably have another friend who says the same kind of things, but because of their personality and delivery it comes off as sleazy. Well Hammerhead has the latter personality.

The film opens at an art ‘happening’, sort of how I picture attending a Theatre Of The Absurd performance. In the show manikins are being shot and dismembered, while a food fight happens around them. One girl gets covered in tomato sauce and placed inside a giant bread roll, while nude violinists and accordion players serenade her out of key. It is truly weird. Loitering at the back is Charles Hood (Vince Edwards). Hood is an American secret agent, who appears to be on loan to the British. At the ‘happening’, Hood is meeting an aging hippy who is an informant. Hood receives the information he requires just before the police arrive to shut down the obscene theatrical production. The crowd flee as the police cordon off the area. One of the performers, Sue Trenton (Judy Geeson) escapes by hiding in the back seat of Hood’s car. He take’s her back to his apartment. Now we all know what Mr. Bond would have done in this situation, but not Hood. Apparently we doesn’t mess around when he’s on assignment – but I’ll talk more about that later.

Hood’s enquiries see him board a train for Lisbon. On board he meets his controller, Condor (Patrick Cargill). Condor outlines Hood’s mission. Hood is to attempt to sell two boxes of extremely rare and valuable pornography to Mr. Hammerhead (Peter Vaughan). Hammerhead is not only an avid pornography collector, but is described as being:

‘a completely evil man. He deals in human depravity – international narcotics – gambling syndicates – and a string of brothels throughout the Far-East.’

Despite his nefarious business activities, the intelligence community want Hammerhead watched and investigated for another reason. In a few days, the top men from the NATO nations will be meeting to hear a top secret report on a project called ‘watchdog’. It is suspected that Hammerhead will somehow find a way to steal and sell these secrets.

Hood finally catches up with Hammerhead on his private yacht and attempts to sell his porn. But Hammerhead will not be rushed into buying. He takes his time. This results in Hood being virtually a prisoner on the yacht. At first this doesn’t seem so bad, as we are treated to a wild go-go dance by Hammerhead’s mistress, Ivory (Beverley Adams). Of course spy fans recognise Adams as Lovey Cravzit from the Dean Martin Matt Helm films.

Another twist in the story occurs when Sue Trenton turns up as a guest on Hammerhead’s yacht. At this point in the story we don’t know if Trenton is just a silly blonde infatuated with Hood, or if turning up again is not a coincidence.

Earlier I said I’d talk about Hood’s sexual abstinence. It seems very strange to have an action spy hero, who, during the mission is chaste. Especially when the film is filled with such blatant sexuality – everything from the nude performance artists, to rooms covered in nude artwork by the great masters (okay that’s classy), and finally Mr. Hammerhead’s obsession with pornography. It’s weird to have all this titillation served up, but not allowing the main character to indulge.

Reading all this back, it sounds a bit negative, but Hammerhead does have it’s good moments and is one of the more professional mounted sixties spy film productions. Many people will fins a lot to enjoy in this film. Indeed, Matt Blake’s review in the indispensable Eurospy Guide is quite favourable. But as I mentioned at the outset, for me there is an unsettling undercurrent that stops me from enjoying this movie as much as I should.


Hammerhead by James Mayo

Stephen Coulter, writing under the alias James Mayo wrote a series of books featuring secret agent Charles Hood, Hammerhead being the first. The others in the series are Sergeant Death, Let Sleeping Girls Lie, Shamelady and a Man Above Suspicion.

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