Today marks the fifth anniversary of Permission to Kill, and I thought it was appropriate to look at something off the beaten track, and I was given that opportunity by my Secret Santa. You see, over the last month or so (depending on the postal services of the world), the minions of The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit have united to torment each other – in a unique, festive way. I have been given a gift by a member of MOSS to review. Their aim is to push the envelope, and make me review something that is out of my comfort zone (that, and of course, to watch me squirm).
My Secret Santa has chosen to remain anonymous, and through the protection that anonymity provides, I am sure that from the comfort of their evil lair, they are thoroughly enjoying the embarrassing situation I now find myself in. You see, the gift was an Egyptian spy film – cover image above left. Now I don’t speak or read Egyptian/Arabic, so I don’t actually know the name of the film I am reviewing. Of course, I could have sent an email around to each of the Skeleton Suit members begging the responsible party to come forward, and at least tell me the name of the movie. But I am a very proud man, and I would feel as if I had been beaten in some form of quasi spy-film combat.
So in the tradition of Roger Corman, I am going to retitle this film to suit my own purposes. From now on, to all westerners, this film is called Agent X83: Assignment Sphinx. With that sorted, and without the aid of a safety net, I will now proceed. Next hurdle; the film doesn’t have subtitles. Well I have been down that road before, and as I have demonstrated on numerous other occasions, the international language of ‘spy’ crosses all borders. But to combat the language barrier (and make this review comprehensible), I’ll have to adopt some spy shorthand, just so you can get the gist of the story.
Firstly, there is this super spy fella, named Chavez, who always appears to be wearing sunglasses – even at night. And he appears to be the local head-honcho for a international spy organisation. Chavez, who is cruising around in his spy car, (at night, in sunglasses) receives a call back to headquarters (which is a secret room at the back of the casino) . There’s some guy there attacking the girl who is holding the fort. I will refer to the girl as Egyptian Moneypenny. However this Monneypenny does a bit of entertaining as a night club performer – but more of that later. Now I don’t know if the attacker is a bad guy, or a good guy who lusts after Egyptian Moneypenny so much, that he can no longer can contain himself.
Chavez arrives just in time, and clubs the attacker, saving Egyptian Moneypenny from disrobing any further and upsetting the censors. The chief then goes to a giant TV screen and pushes a few buttons at the side. It would appear that Cairo has cameras everywhere. Chavez homes in on a magical hypnotism act taking place on stage. A man with an eyepatch is blindfolded (yeah, that makes sense), while his scantily clad female partner, er… does something. During the act, a morse code message pings from her watch. The crowd don’t seem to notice, even though she stops mid act, drags the watch to ear and listens to the message. Then without further ado, she rips of the blindfold off her partner, and they leave the stage. The crowd do not mind – it must have been a lousy act! I will now, for simplicity sake, refer to these two magical agents as Hypno-Girl and Patch.
Chavez then switches his televisual gaze to a fella eating in some dingy eatery. This fella has a hook on his right hand. I will of course refer to him as ‘Hookey’. The hook also serves as a radio, and he two is sent a morse signal. And like agents Hypno-Girl and Patch, he is called back to headquarters.
When they return they all gang up on the attacker. He pleads his case, but he is dragged off. His punishment is to hypnotised by Hypno-Girl. And what does she make him do? He takes the elevator to the roof, walks to the edge, and then hurls himself off to his death. Classy! And saves on the cost of a bullet.
Meanwhile, Chavez who also lusts after Egyptian Moneypenny assigns her to a mission. She is to make contact with a man, who I will refer to as Egghead, because he looks a little like Vincent Price’s character in Batman (you can see him on the cover image above).
Egyptian Moneypenny puts on a show and wows the crowd. And she catches the attention of Egghead, who she leaves with after the show. And there, he rips off his glasses and bald skull cap and reveals that he is not arcg villain Egghead at all, but the agency’s number one spy, Max – who I’ll dub Agent X83. X83 is a master of disguise, skilled at unarmed combat and a hit with the ladies. Back at headquarters, he puts his ladykiller charm to use and seduces Egyptian Moneypenny. Their embrace and smooching session is interrupted when Chavez returns… and as I have mentioned, he too lusts after Moneypenny, so in a jealous rage he charges at Agent X83. X83, with his superior skills, swats his chief away like a fly.
But that isn’t the end of the in-fighting. The chief doesn’t play nice. He has Patch and Hookey plant a time-bomb in Agent X83’s car. It goes off and the super-agent is hospitalised.
And here the film veers into comedy. You see there is the fella named Hafeez who is a dead ringer for Agent x83, and he happens to be at the hospital at the same time. Hafeez is a nervous sort of fella. He is jittery, clumsy and awkward around women. He is at the hospital to see a doctor about his anxiety. But of course, Cairo’s espionage community all believe he is Agent X83. Several attempts are then made on Hafeez’s life. The most important is the first, in which he was watching a singer and belly dancer perform. Gunshots that are meant for him (or rather the real Agent X83), hit the singer and she dies in his arms. This simply sets off another anxiety attack, and now whenever he hears that particular song, he flies off into a blind rage… and rest assured that becomes a plot point on several occasions later on.
Later, at the casino, this very thing happens, during a production number in the cabaret. Hafeez goes crazy and is taken to the police station with Egyptian Moneypenny. It’s there that she realises that Hafeez is not Max, Agent X83 – but just a clumsy guy.
But, as you have no doubt guessed, an assignment comes up, where they need Agent X83, or at least somebody who looks like him, and Hafeez is seconded into the service. As a part of his cover, he becomes a part of the cabaret act at the casino, partnered with Moneypenny. And of course, more jealously from the chief. Hafeez’s act is quite bizarre – to say the least. He is kitted out as a Mighty Mouse style super hero, with big round ears and a cape, and has to defeat what appears to be the Big Bad Wolf and a hag who have kidnapped his love (as played by Moneypenny). The act is played out in full, and it is a rather strange musical interlude. As an adjunct here, I can say that the music is a big part of this film, with plenty of vocal and dance routines. I wouldn’t quite call it a musical, as the numbers fit the characters and are intrinsic to the plot. But I think one more song, might have tipped the ledger.
This is all moving to the climax at the casino, where the real Agent X83 comes back, and also dons a mouse suit. And as it’s a comedy, all the good guys turn out to be really bad, and the bad guys turn out to be good. And Hypno Girl is in there too, doing what she does best – inciting people to hurl themselves from the roof to their doom.
Of course, as I said at the top, I don’t speak a word of Arabic at all, so the story may not be anything like that. But then again, the tropes found in your garden variety 1960s espionage film are fairly predictable – so I may not be too far off the mark.
I do not know who the lead actor is, but I am sure he was considered one of Egypt’s national treasures, and a would guess that this film was a monumental crowd-pleaser in its day. During the film, musical cues are lifted from Goldfinger and not that surprisingly, considering the style of the film, Edward Feldman’s Casino Royale – which would have me date this film at around 1967 or 68. Of course it could be conceivably later, but this film has a real Pink Panther vibe to it.
Anyway, that’s Agent x83: Assignment Sphinx, and as I said at the top, a film appropriate to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Permission to Kill. Over the years I have always tried to mix it up a bit, showing that there is a lot more to cinematic espionage than just Bond, Bourne, Palmer and Flint.
In closing, and in all earnestness, I’d like to thank my Secret Santa, whoever he or she may be – (although from the postmark, I am guessing that they may not be human at all, but only a brain floating in green liquid in a glass case, mounted on a pedestal) – for the thought put into this year’s gift – there were some other goodies in the parcel, but I will save them for another day. I hope your holiday season was as enjoyable, and as unpredictable as mine.