The Balearic Caper (1966)

The Balearic CaperOriginal Title: Baleari operazione Oro
Starring: Mireille Darc, Venantino Venantini, Daniela Bianchi, Jacques Sernas, Marilu Tolo, Harold Sakata, Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez
Writer: Jaime de Arminan, Jose Maria Forque, Giovanni Simonelli, Duccio Tessari
Director: Jose Maria Forque
Cinematographer: Cecilio Paniagua
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Music: Benedetto Ghiglia
Producer: Jose Gutierrez Maesso
Alternate Titles: Operation Gold / Zarabanda Bing Bing

In the 1960s, if you were making a Bond-knockoff Eurospy film, the thing that would give your film a modicum of credibility was a liberal sprinkling of actors who had already appeared in an official James Bond movie. I guess the king of clones, was Operation Kid Brother (AKA: Double 07, or O.K. Connery), which managed to rope in Anthony Dawson, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Adolpho Celi and Daniella Bianchi.

This film, The Balearic Caper managed to draw into its web Daniela Bianchi and Harold Sakata. Bianchi is no stranger to spy fans. After her stint in From Russia With Love her career was dominated by spy films; appearing in titles such as Requiem For a Secret Agent, Operation Kid Brother, Code Name: Tiger and Special Mission Lady Chaplin – and a couple more. Unfortunately she retired from acting in 1968. Harold Sakata played the imposing henchman Oddjob in Goldfinger, and basically played the same character for the rest of his acting career. So much so, that ‘Oddjob’ practically became his middle name – in the film The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington he was credited as Harold ‘Oddjob’ Sakata. His post Bond career too was littered with spy films, such as Dimension 5 and The Poppy is also a Flower. But that’s enough of that – Let’s look at The Balearic Caper, which is an Italian comedy spy caper film.

The film is set on the island of Ibiza, and as the film opens, we see two guys in SCUBA gear, riding out in a dingy with an outboard to a rocky outcrop sprouting from the ocean. Armed with spearguns, our duo dive down to the wreck of an old airplane that looks like it has been down there for many a year. One of the divers retrieves a gleaming long thin silver trunk. He hands the trunk to his partner and begins to swim away. Rather than surfacing however, he turns and takes aim with his speargun and shoots. His partner is killed. He swims back, pries the trunk from the dead man’s hands and then swims to the surface. He then motors back to shore, only to be gunned down as he reaches the beach by a third party. This new guy then grabs the trunk and gets into a truck and speeds off.

Before he has driven too far, his path is blocked by a red truck which is angled across the road. As the driver gets out to complain, he is of course, gunned down. I think you should be getting the idea now. Everyone who touches this trunk is killed. It is done for laughs, as this is a wild Italian comedy farce, and contains all the mugging that you’d expect from a film made in that style. And while the film is very definitely an espionage movie, the title, The Balearic Caper should let you know it is equally a caper film fashioned after Topkapi – although stylistically more akin to On A Vole La Joconde (AKA: The Mona Lisa is Missing).

Next a bunch of girls turn up in a bus. They rush out to see what the commotion is about, and open the trunk. Inside is a jewel encrusted sceptre. Later the sceptre is authenticated as the ‘Lyttleton Barry’ by the director of the museum on Ibiza. The director is played by Harold Sakata who, as I mentioned earlier, was famous for playing Oddjob in Goldfinger. Initially it is quite strange seeing him play an educated man, rather than a physical goon. But don’t worry folks, as the film moves along, his character degenerates into something more familiar.

Once news filters out that the sceptre has been found, every thief in Europe make their way to Ibiza and plot to steal the precious artifact. First to arrive is Guiliano Foucet (Venantino Venantini) and his floozy Sophia (Marilu Tolo). Foucet has a very elaborate scheme to steal the sceptre, with magnetic boots that allow him to walk up drain pipes. It is all very silly.

Next we have wealthy playgirl, Mercedes (Daniela Bianchi) sunbathing on her yacht in Monte Carlo. Once she hears about the Lyttleton Barry, she decides she must have it. She collects jewelery, and she considers that she must have it for her collection. She doesn’t intend to steal the sceptre, simply buy it – but at the end of the day, she use any means available to her to get it. With her vast fortune, she can buy anybody and anything.

The Secret Service is quite aware that an attempt will be made to steal the sceptre, so they assign an agent, Fernando Lentoni (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez) to prevent the theft. Lentoni is quite a buffoon, in the Peter Sellers, Inspector Clouseau mold, but nowhere near as interesting to watch. In fact his moments on the screen, are when the film really nosedives into nothingness.

Then finally we have Polly (Mireille Darc), who upon arrival on the island, forms a partnership with Pierre (Jacques Sernas), who is a eccentric local artist – who also dabbles as an inventor. He creates automated, voice activated toys for his children, and even has a car that thinks for itself and responds to voice commands (but I’ll talk more about that later).

So with the cast all assembled, the shenanigans begins, and to further complicate matters, every thief has brought along their own replica of the Lyttleton Barry, which they plan to substitute for the original. Of course, as the story progresses, and the sceptre is stolen, each additional attempt to steal it, means that they only retrieve a forgery, but they don’t know they have stolen a forgery.

There’s very little point outlining any more of the plot, as you can no doubt picture the various scenarios of mistaken identity, double and triple cross as the various thieves try to acquire the correct sceptre and escape with it.

Of course, any review or discussion about a spy film would not be complete without looking at the gadgets that populate the movie. Gadgets, love ‘em or hate ‘em gadgets and devices from the ‘Department Of Dirty Tricks’ are often featured heavily in spy films. Some would say, the more outrageous, the better!

Spies in films, have always had small secret devices like cameras and guns that have helped them carry out their various assignments, but once Goldfinger hit the silver screen, featuring a tricked out Aston Martin DB5, it opened the floodgates for a whole swag of outrageous gadgets.

The famous moment in Goldfinger is where Sean Connery as James Bond flicks a button in the Aston Martin he is driving at gunpoint. The button fires an ejector seat, and Bond’s captor is fired up out of the roof of the car allowing Bond to escape. From this moment on spy films have been inundated with gadgets. Some are simple and practical, others are rather fantastic, verging on silly.

Once again it appears that James Bond is the progenitor of another common place spy trope. Therefore is Bond responsible for all the wild crazy gadgets in all spy films? Let’s step back for a second, and head back to the source – that being author Ian Fleming. What is Fleming’s most crazy gadget? I am cheating here, because Fleming’s most crazy gadget is not from a spy story at all – it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the magical (fantasmagorical) vintage car from the story of the same name. The book itself was a success, I remember having it read to me as a tot, during a library session. However the film, which was released in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes was a turkey. It was the filmic equivalent to bad prog rock. To quote the sage of the airwaves, Dave Rabbit – ‘this motherf*cker goes on forever!’ Even as a child I couldn’t get through the whole film. The Fleming connection, and though a twisted osmosis, the Bond connection, means that to the Bond film imitators and spooferers, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was ripe for pilfering too. So in The Balearic Caper, we have a vintage car named Eusebia (yeah it has a name – Eusebia was a Roman Empress) that may not be quite magical, in that it can’t fly or skoot across the water, but it thinks and drives itself. It is certainly tricked out enough to nudge the boundaries of copyright infringement.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang versus the old clunker, Eusebia.

Let me clarify that I am not necessarily suggesting that The Balearic Caper plagiarized the film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – as Balearic beat Chitty to the punch. However, if you were a film-maker, and had an inkling that a film was about to be made of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then the plot wouldn’t be too much of a secret – after all the book was published three years earlier. It would be pretty easy to take a few of the story elements and incorporate them into a Bond loving (as witnessed by the hiring of Bianchi and Sakata) spy caper spoof. But hey, that’s merely speculation on my behalf borne out by the automobilic similarities.

As I intimated earlier, Pierre is an inventor, and the owner/master of Eusebia, and as the addle-brained story rushes towards its climax, and Pierre and Polly become endangered, it is only right that the car – or gadget if you will – is going to drive into the action and save their lives. In fact it takes on ‘a flying wooden crate’, which houses the villain. Yes, you read that right – ‘a flying wooden crate’, as in a packing crate. I dunno what the film-makers were thinking there! As I said earlier, it’s a pretty silly film, borrowing from all sorts of sources.

I wanted to like The Balearic Caper, after all, on the surface it appears to be the type of film I should readily enjoy – a spy caper hybrid, with a great cast, with not only the aforementioned Bond stars, but also Mireille Darc, who looks good in any film. Oh, and Marilu Tolo too, who starred in a swag of European genre films. But I must admit I struggle with broad Italian comedy, and while The Balearic Caper doesn’t dive to the excessive and ponderous depths of a Franco and Ciccio film, it still grates instead of amuses.

Poster images used in this post are from the fabulous Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Shop which has prints from the entire poster range available for purchase.
The Balearic Caper - Photobusta

This review originally appeared on Teleport City, December 2010.

5 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
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5 Comments

  1. Hey now, don’t go knocking on Franco and Ciccio. I’ll have to see if the Internet fairy can find me this flick.

  2. Nice review David. I had a major crush for years on Daniela Bianchi after seeing her in From Russia with Love. I never knew she made anything else…

    Good to see Odd Job score some more gigs, too.

    Andrew

  3. How did you manage to see this film? I’ve never found it anywhere!

  4. Tim – so you’re the one who likes Franco & Ciccio!

    Thanks Andrew.

    George – a good spy never reveals his contacts – but you could look on The Eurospy Forum http://thewildeye.co.uk/forum/index.php?board=23.0

  5. I’m told Franco & Ciccio’s humor works better in Italian as they were playing off regional dialects.

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