OSS 117 Murder For Sale (1968)
Country: France / Italy
Original Title: Niente rose per OSS 117
Directed by Renzo Cerrato, Jean-Pierre Desagnat, Andre Hunebelle
John Gavin, Curt Jurgens, Margaret Lee, Luciana Paluzzi, Robert Hossein, Rosalba Neri, George Eastman

Music by Piero Piccioni

Out of all the OSS 117 films from the sixties and seventies – there’s seven in all – this one held the most interest for me because it stars John Gavin as secret agent OSS 117. As many of you may be aware, John Gavin was cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. After some last minute negotiations – and a hefty sum of money – Sean Connery was convinced to don the tuxedo and toupee once more. Subsequently, Gavin was paid out. But I have often wondered what kind of Bond he would have been? This French Italian co-production is as close as we’ll ever get to knowing.

The film starts off rather briskly. It starts in Washington, and some heavyweights for an un-named spy organisation – let’s call them the OSS just for convenience – are going over some political assassination files. A voiceover states that of all the political assassinations that have taken place, there are only two in which the killer was identified. So the OSS are sure that there’s a secret organisation out there that specialises in murder. They have to come up with a plan that will expose the murderous organisation and bring them to justice.

Some time later, we are in Rome, and a bank robbery is taking place. A villain smashes a second storey window with a suitcase and then, in a smooth fluid movement, leaps down to the footpath below. The jump would have shattered my ankles, but this guy is a pro. He sprints off down the street with the case of filthy lucre in his hand. Several police officers are soon on hand and try to apprehend the thief, but he pulls out a pistol and shoots down the officers in cold blood. Make no mistake, this is one bad-ass perpetrator.

After the titles and a swinging organ theme tune by Piero Piccioni – that is to say that the theme features someone playing a groovy electric organ – not pertaining to Mr. Piccioni’s appendage and any uses he may (or may not) have put it to – we find out that the bank job was a set up. The bad-ass perpetrator was secret agent Jonathan Roberts (John Gavin). I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t OSS 117 supposed to be Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath? You’ve got to remember that this is an English dub, and his character name has been Anglicised. So if you don’t mind, to keep things simple, I will refer to out dashing hero as ‘Roberts’.

So the bank job was a setup to make Roberts look like a bad-ass perpetrator. Well, sort of? Sorry to confuse you, but Roberts has had plastic surgery to make himself look like notorious villain ‘Killer Chandler’ So Roberts, who is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath is now Chandler. Got it? So to keep things simple, I will refer to our dashing hero as ‘Chandler’. I promise I won’t change his name again.

So our dashing hero, ‘Chandler’, wastes no time in worming his way into the bedroom of celebrated Spanish dancer, Concitta Esteban (Rosalba Neri). After, what we can only presume was a vigourous bout of bedroom acrobatics, he takes a little nap. At that time there is a knock on the door and a newspaper is slipped underneath. The paper contains a large front page story on the exploits of ‘Killer Chandler’. Concitta, fearing for her life, calls the police. They promptly arrive and after a minor scuffle, Chandler is taken into custody.

But Chandler’s headline grabbing antics have come to the attention of the right people (‘the right people’ meaning ‘the bad people’). As Chandler is being escorted to prison in a van, complete with motorcycle escort, a helicopter flies overhead. From its undercarriage, lowered via cable is a strange flying saucer type object. As it hangs over the motorcycle escort, it releases a knock-out gas, which causes the motorcycle riders to crash into fences and trees. It is truly a WTF moment, and as a hardened spy film viewer, I must admit a bit of a surprise. I hadn’t seen anything like it. Cool – stupid but cool!

The drivers of the van are soon overcome by the knock-out gas and grind to a halt. The helicopter lands and Chandler is spirited away to the secret headquarters of the evil organisation. In fact this evil organisation is called ‘The Organisation’. I know – it’s not very creative, but I guess by this time all the really good A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.s had been used.

Upon arrival, Chandler is given a medical examination, and who should be his doctor but Luciana Paluzzi. Paluzzi was a regular fixture in sixties spy films – and I feel my life is all the better for it. Undoubtedly her most famous role is as the evil S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Fiona Volpe in Thunderball.

After his medical, Chandler is brought before the head of The Organisation, ‘The Major’, played rather effeminately by Curt ‘He’s the Devil, Hymie’ Jurgens. As you’ve no doubt guessed, The Organisation deals in death, and The Major has accepted a job from a gentleman named Malik. Malik is a diplomat in an un-named Middle Eastern country, and he makes quite a lot of money out of the chaos and continual infighting amongst the tribesman there. But unfortunately for Malik, there is a peacemaker named Hendrick Van Dyck who looks like he will be able to broker a peace between the warring factions. This won’t do and Malik wants Van Dyck assassinated. The Major assigns the job to Chandler.

I know that earlier on in the review I promised not to change the hero’s name any more. Well, sorry – I lied. To carry out the assassination, Chandler must assume a new identity, and he is to become James Mulligan. So Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, who is Jonathan Roberts, who is impersonating Killer Chandler is now James Mulligan. Got that? Good, we can move forward.

Now at this point in the story, call me stupid if you will (everyone else does), but now that Chandler – er Mulligan dammit, knows who is behind The Organisation, why doesn’t he call in the troops? His mission is complete – he knows who the bad guys are and what they do. Time to shut them down I say – but ‘no’ – Mulligan wants to play out the game a little longer.

Now playing out the game is not the brightest thing that Mulligan has done, because he is given a vaccination injection, to protect him against the nasties in the un-named Middle Eastern country where he is to be sent to. But this injection is actually a poison that has a 24 hour incubating period. Mulligan must receive the anti-dote in 24 hours or he will die, but he doesn’t know this. He flies out and upon arrival passes out. Luckily resident bad guy, Dr. Sadi is on hand to provide the antidote. But this antidote has to be administered over the next three days for it to take permanent effect.

Now at this point in the movie, with its poor plot contrivances, you may be thinking it’s time to hit the ‘off’ button. I know I was. But you’d be wrong. This is where the beautiful Margaret Lee enters the picture. Lee may have never been a household name in the 1960’s but she was a busy girl appearing in a swag of Eurospy films – such as Dick Smart 2.007, From The Orient With Fury, Arriva Dorrelik and many more.

Unfortunately, despite Lee’s presence, when the action in the film is supposed to start heating up, the film begins to plod along. There’s quite a few scenes which provide local colour, but do little to move the story along. The film drags out it’s final few minutes at an infuriatingly slow pace before reaching a rather predictable and uninspired climax.

One of the co-directors on this film was Andre Hunebelle who had just come off directing the Fantomas trilogy with Jean Marais. Hunebelle, had also directed several of the earlier OSS films and by this time was battle hardened in presenting convoluted espionage stories. But even his input here can’t seem to save this film. After a sprightly start, this film quickly bogs down and becomes pretty muddled.

The films from the OSS series are some of the more polished Eurospy productions from the sixties and as such, this film is probably just worth seeking out. Only ‘just’. And even then you’d have to be a rather forgiving Eurospy fan – but I figure if you’re into watching Eurospy films, then you’re probably used to watching a lot of crap, and most likely perfectly willing to accept this films failures. It could have been so much more – but hey it features the man who could have been Bond.

And speaking of which, in closing, how does John Gavin stack up as a secret agent? Would he have made a good Bond? Na! He is a bit like Tom Adams – perfectly acceptable in a knock-off role, but as the real-deal, I just can’t see it.

Thanks to Skadog

1 Comment Posted in Film and Cinema
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One Comment

  1. I really wanted to enjoy this escapade for pretty much the same reasons as you. The gorgeous DVD transfer also makes the most of the exotic locales, so it’s very easy to watch in that regard. Too bad, as you suggested, the plot runs off the rails, and there’s not enough action or grooviness to distract from the convoluted silliness. I agree with your comments. It’s a pretty ho-hum Eurospy effort overall.

    BTW, Anthony Hopkins as “Hitchcock” cuts John Gavin to the quick, describing the actor as “plywood”.

    Great review, as always, David. Thanks!

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