Future Women (1969)

AKA: The Seven Secrets of Sumuru, Future Woman, Rio 70, River 70, Sumuru, The Girl From Rio
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Shirley Eaton, Richard Wyler, George Sanders, Maria Rohm
Music: Daniel White

This film goes by many names and is a sequel to The Million Eyes Of Sumuru, although the only linking thread seems to be Shirley Eaton, and even her character name changes from version to version. Apparently this film has finally been released by Blue Underground on DVD as The Girl From Rio, which is great if you are a glutton for punishment and The Million Eyes Of Sumuru was not enough for you. Well, maybe I am not being fair here. Whereas the first Sumuru movie was a cross between a Fu Manchu mystery and a Beach Party film, this second one moves into JESS FRANCO territory. Who and what is Jess Franco? Jess (or sometimes Jesus) Franco is a film director who made his reputation by directing a string of Euro-sleaze films. Titles amongst his 180 plus film catalogue include Vampyros Lesbos, Killer Barbie’s versus Dracula, Mari-Cookie, Killer Tarantula in 8 Legs to Love You, Blood Sucking Nazi Zombies, and Sadisterótica. You can read reviews of Franco’s Attack of the Robots, The Castle of Fu Manchu, Kiss Me Monster, and Lucky the Inscrutable. Franco’s films are routinely low budget and contain gratuitous violence and nudity.

In the indispensable The Eurospy Guide by Matt Blake and David Deal, they cheekily described the amazing Mister Franco like this:

“…he spent the whole of the sixties and early seventies traipsing from one exotic location to another, accompanied by a gang of mates and some beautiful women – making films whenever he couldn’t find a good restaurant to sit in all afternoon.”

I am sure it wasn’t all beer and skittles for Franco, but that passage sums up what you can expect from a Franco film apart from the aforementioned violence and nudity – unusual exotic locations and lazy film-making. In the case of Future Women there are great South American locations, and of course featuring the great architectural marvel that is the City of Brasilia, which stands in for the City of Femina. As for the film-making, well it’s a step up from Lindsay Shonteff’s Million Eyes Of Sumuru, but it is pretty low down on the creativity list. A few nice shots of rain forests and sun-sets do not add up to a great film.

Now all that background information probably has you thinking that it might fit into the ‘So Bad, It Is Good’ category. Forget it. It is really crap. Sure it has the odd nude bod, but that doesn’t lift it off the bottom rung. Here’s a quick introduction to the mind numbing plot…

After a title sequence that verges on being soft-core porn, featuring some women clad in transparent mesh tops with steam rising around them, we see the arrival of Jeff Sutton (Richard Wyler) in Rio. He checks into a hotel, with no luggage other than a briefcase filled with ten million dollars. As he checks in, he orders some shirts, to be sent to his room, and a haircut and manicure. The manicurist is Leslie Mathers (played by Franco regular Maria Rohm) and she immediately forms an attached with Sutton.

Meanwhile, the underworld has heard rumblings about Sutton, how he has stolen a large amount of money and fled to Rio. The head of Rio’s underworld Masius, (George Sanders), is interested in acquiring the money for himself. He sends out a squad of underlings to capture Sutton and acquire the cash.

Later that evening, Sutton and Leslie go out to dinner. The meal goes well, but as they stroll back to the hotel, they are accosted by a group of men in carnival masks and brandishing knives. Sutton proves himself adept in a stoush and manages to drag himself, and Leslie back to the hotel.

You may have heard the old saying, ‘if it is in focus, it’s porn. If it’s blurred, then it’s art!’ Back in Sutton’s room, Leslie throws herself at her new man. Franco films this scene through a vase, and the glass distorts and blurs the image. So it must be art! The next morning a newspaper is delivered to the room. Sutton’s face is all over the front page, and now everybody wants a piece of the action. With Leslie’s help, Sutton decides to leave the city. The pair head to the airport. Masius’ men are waiting and they grab Leslie. Sutton is forced to fight his way through a gauntlet of men and barely makes it to the plane. But things aren’t quite what they seem, as Leslie belonged to a colony of women who live in the city of Femina. Femina is ruled by Sumanda (Shirley Eaton), who has plans of conquering the world with her all-girl army. No sooner has Sutton boarded the plane, and then he is drugged by the hostess. In fact he is the only passenger. The plane is filled with an army of Sumuru’s women who are there to take him back to Femina.

When Sutton awakes, he is in Femina and he is a captive of Sumuru. Why does she want him? She doesn’t need the money. And why is Sutton happy to be in Femina? Could it be, that he wanted to go there all along?

From the synopsis above, Future Women may not seem like much of a spy film, but Sutton has a duel purpose for being in Rio, and by the end of the film we are definitely in ‘spy’ territory. Just how many viewers will make it to the end of this film, now that’s another question!

On the positive side, the film is colourful and the locations are great, but then again so are postcards. And on their side, most postcards have more depth than this production. You have been warned!

The soundtrack, credited to Daniel White is pleasant enough. Appropriately enough for a film set in South America, it is in a Latin style, featuring plenty of bongos, xylophones, flutes, and brass. For the sequences in the City of Femina, White reverts to more futuristic, electronic sounds.

Strangely, the version I have seen of this film, the Shirley Eaton character, is called Sumanda? Initially this film was intended to be a sequel to The Million Eyes Of Sumuru and as such, I would expect her to be called ‘Sumuru. I could try to find other versions of the film to compare, such as the new The Girl From Rio, but I don’t think I really want to spend too much more time on this turkey. But please, if you want to track down alternate versions to compare the differences, be my guest.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos DVD.

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For Your Height Only (1979 or 1981)

AKA: For Y’ur Height Only
Country: Philippines
Director: Eddie Nicart
Starring: Weng Weng, Tony Ferrer, Yehlen Catral, Carmi Martin, Anna Marie Gutierrez
Music: Uncredited

Now we are about to leap into the perverse. What can I say? This is a weird one. For Your Height Only is a one joke Philipino spy film, which stars the diminutive Weng Weng as Agent Double ‘O’. You see Weng Weng is a two-foot nine inch tall midget. And he does spy stuff, just like James Bond. That’s the joke.

I found it really difficult to review this film. There may be a plot, but it’s not really important. The usual stuff, about a Professor being kidnapped. In fact, most of the sequences don’t link very well. It’s always one of two scenarios. Either Agent Double ‘O’ sneaks into one of the villain’s warehouses and beats everybody up, or the bad guys see Double ‘O’ in the street and chase him. Weng Weng is so short he hides in a shrub, or a drain, and then waits for the goons to run past. Then he jumps out and beats the crap out of them.

Adding to the surreal experience is the atrocious dubbing into English. The dialogue is so bad, that it is funny. I think it is deliberate, but I can’t be sure.

Agent 00The music mimics the Bond sound (in an eighties synthesizer kind of way) and falls just short of a lawsuit. No credit is listed for the music. And don’t quote me on this, but it sounds very similar to the Bond sound used in From Beijing With Love. I would be at all surprised if it came from the same source.

I must admit, for the first twenty minutes, I was howling with laughter. It is really silly, and the sight gags are pretty amusing. But then it just starts to repeat itself. How many times can you watch a midget punch or kick the baddies in the goolies.

There is not much point criticising this film. If you are drawn to watch a Philipino Bond ripoff starring a three-foot-tall midget, then I guess you know what you’re in for. It’s not the type of film that you’d accidentally pick up.

Weng Weng would return as Agent Double 00 (or Agent 3 1/2) in The Impossible Kid in 1982 and for the Western/Spy hybrid D’Wild Wild Weng 1982 (unconfirmed if it’s the same character).

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Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

AKA: Warhead, Sabra Command, Mission Overkill
Director: John O’Connor
Starring: David Janssen, Karin Dor, Christopher Stone, David Semadar, Art Metrano
Music (and Sound Effects) by Synchrofilm Inc.

Apparently The Prisoner In The Middle (and all the other names this film goes by), although made in 1973, was not released until 1977. That may indicate that it is a bit of a turkey, but it isn’t that bad. Sure it’s a pretty low to the ground effort, but I have watched worse (and I am sure will continue to do so in the future). The film opens with an active nuclear bomb sitting on desert sand, it’s parachute billowing in the wind. The bomb itself, looks like an accessory from the Bat Mobile. It is a very odd shape, black with fins, and has a giant, bulbous red light, which flashes instead of a nose cone. It’s not very aerodynamic at all.

To bring the viewers up to speed, and in typical spy film fashion, a typed message runs across the bottom of the screen. This one runs a little longer than most:

URGENT REPEAT URGENT! — CODED FROM PENTAGON TO AMERICAN EMBASSY ISRAEL — TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT — CODE NAMED “SUNBIRD” — B52 — ROUTINE FLIGHT NNR 743 — MECHANICAL PROBLEMS…OFF COURSE — ACCIDENTALLY JETTISONED NEW TOP SECRET NUCLEAR WARHEAD OVER JORDANIAN DESERT NEAR ISRAELI BORDER — IMPERATIVE LOCATE ANTHONY STEVENS — NUCLEAR ARMS EXPERT — ON LEAVE JERUSALEM AND ASSIGN TO MISSION —

There is more to the message, but I think you get the gist of it.

So naturally we are in Jerusalem, and here’s where we meet Anthony Stevens (David Janssen). As was the fashion at the time, he is wearing a beige safari suit. As he wanders around, checking out the tourist sites, he is approached by a C.I.A. operative. It’s time for Stevens to find out what we already know.

His mission: He has to parachute into Jordan alone, Find the bomb and destroy the detonator before anyone else can get their hands on it. No sooner than he has received his instructions, we see him parachuting down into the desert. Armed with a Geiger counter, he starts searching for the weapon.

On a desert road, in a bus, Lieutenant Liora Schulman (Karin Dor), an Israeli soldier, is traveling with a group of school children. She is assigned to protect them. The kids are singing and joking around. Hidden in the dunes, on the side of the road is a mortar, and it fires as the bus passes. The bus explodes and everyone is killed except Liora. The perpetrators are the Palestinian Liberation Army, who have slipped across the border to carry out the attack. As the PLA approach the bus, to check the results of their heinous handiwork, Liora picks up a machine gun and mows them down. All except one, their leader, Malouf (David Semadar), who looks like Frank Zappa. He escapes, driving off in a jeep.

Have you ever noticed, that in films where barbaric acts are perpetrated on children, how we rarely see the carnage? (this film shows a little bit.) What we are always shown is a doll or a teddy bear amongst the wreckage. Well, that happens here too. Liora picks up a teddy and stares almost blankly at it. She is in shock. Then the flood of tears start.

Malouf has fled back to Jordan and is in hiding. The Israeli army assemble a team of soldiers to go in after him. The team of sixteen, is headed by Captain Ben-David (Christopher Stone), and Liora is second in command. The team, armed to the teeth, cross the border and a mine field in search of Malouf.

Meanwhile, Stevens has found the bomb. But as he starts to deactivate it, he is captured by Malouf and his men. As the PLA load the missile onto a truck, Ben-David and his soldiers arrive at the scene. A gun battle takes place. Both sides are keen to possess and take control of the nuclear weapon. Stevens caught between the two warring armies, clearly is ‘The Prisoner In The Middle’.

The story itself is quite okay (in a Six Million Dollar Man kind of way), if a bit simple. Afterall, we are talking about a genre that prides itself on convoluted plots, with double and triple crosses. In this movie, everybody is exactly as they seem. Not being the plot, the weaknesses of this film are the casting, and the acting. Janssen is clearly too old (and possibly has one too many chins) to be playing this kind of role. And the acting in places is truly awful. But having said that, The Prisoner In The Middle is serviceable, but I wouldn’t put it high on your list of ‘films to see’.

This review is based on the Flashback Entertainment DVD

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Die Another Day (2002)

Directed by Lee Tamahori
Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench as M, John Cleese as Q, and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, Colin Salmon as Robinson.
Music by David Arnold
Title Song by Madonna
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming

Is Die Another Day the worst Bond film ever made? In a word, YES! That’s not to say it doesn’t have any good moments, like the sword fight sequence in Blades gentlemen’s club. The fight is one of the most muscular sword fight sequences ever filmed, and the equal to many of the classic fight scenes performed by the likes of Basil Rathbone (The Mark of Zorro), or Stewart Granger (Scaramouche) to name but two. But Die Another Day, as a whole, is a very patchy effort.

The film starts well enough with James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) impersonating a South African mercenary selling conflict diamonds to the North Koreans. Particularly to Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and Zao (Rick Yune). (For those unaware, conflict diamonds originate from African nations controlled by forces in opposition to their legitimate and internationally recognised government (such as Angola or Sierra Leone). These diamonds are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments. On 1 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, unanimously, a resolution which forbade the trade of rough diamonds originating in these areas, in the hope of breaking the link between the illicit trade in rough diamonds and armed conflict.. The recent film Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio shows why this resolution was put in place.)

Unfortunately for Bond, before he can complete his mission, his cover is blown. He escapes in a hovercraft, hotly pursued by the North Korean Army in their own flotilla of hovercrafts.

Ultimately, Bond and Moon end up wrestling on top of the same driverless hovercraft as it rushes towards a waterfall. The craft goes over the falls with Moon, but Bond leaps off at the last moment. His reprieve is short lived as he is captured by the North Koreans.

Here, dear readers, is where the films goes off the rails. Firstly, Madonna’s theme song is rubbish. This is not just a case of Madonna bashing on my behalf. I thought her song, Beautiful Stranger for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was a great pop song, but Die Another Day is sub standard.

Next problem is the title sequence. Bond’s torture at the hands of his captures continues throughout the titles. Daniel Klein, who took over the Bond title sequences after the passing of Maurice Binder, has proven himself over the past three movies. Let him do his job!

Once the film resumes, eighteen months has passed and Bond is still a captive. He is far from the suave, impeccably dressed agent we are used to. He is gaunt; his hair is long a matted and an unkempt beard adorns his face. But his incarceration period is over as he is swapped in a prisoner exchange, for Zao, who is now horribly disfigured with a diamond encrusted head.

Back in safe hands, Bond is not trusted. There has been an information leak and Bond is the obvious suspect. He is to be interrogated and locked up. Before this can happen he escapes. Clothed in a soggy set of pyjamas and with his hair still matted and tangled he marches into the foyer of an exclusive Hotel in Hong Kong. Of course, all the guests are disgusted at his appearance, but unperturbed, Bond walks up to the front desk and asks for his usual suite.

Within moments, Bond is cleaned up and back in a Tuxedo. Not long after that, he is in Cuba, tracking down Zao, the man he was traded for in the prisoner exchange. Bond traces Zao to Los Organos, a gene altering, transformation clinic. It is here that Bond meets C.I.A. agent Jacinta Johnson, A.K.A. Jinx (Halle Berry). Both agents are working on the same case but from different ends. But does this mean that they would pool their resources and work together? Not on your life. After a quick interlude, they go their separate ways.

Bond catches up to Zao at the clinic, but Zao evades capture. But he does leave behind one clue. Diamonds. These diamonds are engraved with G.G. While Bond was in captivity a young entrepreneur, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), has started a diamond mine in Iceland and had struck it rich. Bond finds it suspicious, that Graves’ diamonds should have they same composition as African Conflict Diamonds. He decides to look into Graves operation more thoroughly.

Although Toby Stephens is a good actor, he was fantastic in Cambridge Spies, in this film his performance is particularly ‘hammy’. Admittedly, he got lumbered with some atrocious dialogue, and equally silly scenes to act out. He comes off as a rather petulant young pup. When compared to the Bond villains of the past, he simply isn’t a threat.

My two major gripes, of the many things that I didn’t like, were the editing and the sloppy CGI. Editor Christian Wagner has adopted an MTV style of editing where there is exaggerated speeding up and slowing down of the action to create a visual effect. But all this does is cause Bond to look less potent than he should. Rather than throwing a good hard punch, Bond’s actions are slowed down and stylised. It is almost visual castration.

And now onto the CGI. It was atrocious. If there is one thing us Bond fans have come to expect is that the stunts that are performed professionally and generally, where possible, actually in front of the camera. Think of Bond skiing of the cliff in The Spy Who Loved Me (and now think of it done with CGI – blah!) But in Die Another Day we are treated to some substandard effects as Bond rides a gigantic ice wave. I know it couldn’t be done in real life, but at least hire a team of professionals who can render this type of environment well. It looks like a video game.

I am not even going to talk about the invisible car! My thoughts on that are best not aired in public.

A quick word about the music: With the exception of Madonna’s title song, which I have already talked about, the Dave Arnold score is of a high standard. Particularly the Cuban rhythms which are not only infectious they creatively incorporate the James Bond Theme. Strangely, little of the Cuban music ends up on the Soundtrack CD. But my last gripe about the music used in Die Another Day is the inclusion of London Calling by The Clash as Bond returns to London. In any other film, I’d almost applaud the use of The Clash or Joe Strummer in a soundtrack but in a Bond film it is inappropriate.

After the success of this film, there was talk of a spinoff movie featuring Halle Berry as Jinx. Again it was to be directed by Lee Tamahori. It is rumoured that a script was prepared but he film never eventuated. Maybe we were lucky? Tamahori would later go on to destroy the xXx franchise.

Die Another Day was an unworthy swan song for Pierce Brosnan. Sure Brosnan will go on to make great films after his time as Bond, but I sort of feel, that his Bond films were wasted opportunities. He’s a good actor, and he had the charm and charisma to succeed as Bond, but unfortunately he got lumbered with some poor scripts, and crew members (Directors, Editors, and even Actors) who just weren’t up to the task. Thankfully for the Bond series, the producers went in a different direction for the next feature Casino Royale. Sure, it was sad to see Pierce go, but if the series was to survive, a new approach was needed. And thankfully we got it.

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My Name Is Modesty (2003)

Director: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Raymond Cruz, Fred Pearson, Eugenia Yuan,
Music: Deborah Lurie
Based on Characters created by Peter O’Donnell

Time was running out for Miramax films, who held the film rights to the character Modesty Blaise. They had to make a film quickly or lose those rights. My Name Is Modesty is the result. It isn’t a ‘bad’ picture, but it is a low budget production which attempts to tell a small story about how Modesty, became Modesty Blaise. It is not a slam-bang action film. And in no way does it resemble the 1966 film, Modesty Blaise (and that is a good thing!) It was filmed in Romania and shot over a period of eighteen days…as you can see; it wasn’t exactly a labour of love…more of a contractual obligation.

The film starts off with a slick monochromatic title sequence, which uses pop-art colours. Since Modesty began her life as a comic-strip character, this seems appropriate. Then the story starts, somewhere in the Balkans…

In the middle of a war zone, a group of soldiers take a break from the carnage to eat. In the ruins is a young girl, Modesty of course, in tattered rags. It appears that her family is dead, and she lives amongst the rubble. One of the soldiers offers her a can of food, and asks her name. No reply. She takes it, and then is gone!

Eleven years later we are in a casino in Tangiers. Modesty Blaise (Alexandra Staden) is now one of the managers of the casino. She says:

“Everybody is born with a certain amount of luck. Some spend their luck on cards – some spend it at the roulette wheel – one in thirty-six chances – for the lucky, the brave or the foolish. One in thirty-six did I say? Actually no! One out of thirty-seven. Most people like to forget that the odds are stacked against them!”

Although Modesty is in charge of the casino, she doesn’t own it. Her boss is Henri Louche (Valetin Teodosin). Louche is planning some ‘big’ deal. We aren’t told what it is, but we know it is illegal and requires him to have a large amount of cash in the casino vault. As Louche, is chauffeured home, his car is ambushed and he is shot and killed.

Then the assailants burst through the door of the casino and shoot up the place. Naturally enough (in case you haven’t worked it out), they are after the money in the vault. Unfortunately for them, their itchy trigger fingers have killed all the people who know the combination. Well, except for one man, Garcia (Raymond Cruz) who has taken the evening off and is ‘entertaining’ a lady friend out of town.

The head of assailants, mercenaries if you will, is Myklos (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He is a blood thisty, shoot first – ask questions later kind of guy. He now finds himself in a predicament. He takes all the staff hostage and threatens to shoot one person at a time till he is given the combination to the vault. Modesty takes control and explains that only one man can open it. She calls him on the phone, with a gun at her temple, so she can’t warn him. Garcia prepares to make his way back to the casino, but it will take him a few hours to make the journey.

While the mercenaries and the captive casino staff wait for him to return, Myklos and Modesty engage in a game of roulette to pass the time. If Modesty wins three spins in a row, one of the hostages is released. If Myklos wins, he gets to ask Modesty a question about her past. Why is he, a cold-blooded killer, so infatuated with Modesty? Let’s just say it is one of the conceits of the script, so that we can see via flashback how Modesty Blaise became the person she is today.

If you can get over the ‘smallness’ of this picture, it almost succeeds. The idea of explaining the origins of Modesty’s character is a good one – and even the films structure, given it’s budgetry and time constraints is pretty good. The real weak link is Alexandra Staden as Modesty. She certainly looks the part, but in a small (there’s that word again) ensemble piece like this, you really need an actress who is ‘electric’ as Modesty. Staden does not have the charisma or the depth to bring Modesty to life. It is pivotal that she dominates her screen time, and this doesn’t happen.

Many other reviews for My Name Is Modesty are fairly scathing, which isn’t an accurate reflection on this film. It is very flawed, that’s for sure, but if you have an interest in Peter O’Donnell’s character then this movie is not a total waste of time. It presents a different insight into one of popular cultures most loved heroines.

Let’s hope that if another Modesty Blaise film is made, that they finally get it right.

This review is based on the Miramax Home Entertainment USA DVD

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The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

AKA: The Invisble Claws Of Dr. Mabuse, The Invisible Horror
Director: Harald Reinl
Starring: Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Siegfried Lowitz, Wolfgang Preiss, Rudolph Fernau, Werner Peters
Music: Peter Sandloff

An appreciative audience has gathered at the Metropol Theatre to witness an Operetta. As the musical performance proceeds, in a viewing box at the back of the theatre, a set of binoculars follows the performers on stage – only these binoculars appear to be floating, as if an invisible man was holding them. No prizes for guessing who? So begins The Invisible Dr. Mabuse, a 1962 production, once again featuring Lex Barker as FBI agent Joe Como (Barker also appeared in The Return Of Dr. Mabuse, as Como). Como is a big lug. he seems to walk into more traps than he sets, but with sheer brute force, he manages to slug his way out of trouble.

Back at the Metropol; after the show, Nick Prado, an FBI agent snoops about backstage. One of Mabuse’s henchmen, Clown Bobo (Werner Peters – who managed to survive at the end of the last Dr. Mabuse picture) releases a trapdoor underneath the agent. The agent falls to a lower level of the theatre. Soon he is surrounded by Mabuse and his goons. We don’t actually see Mabuse; we see his shadow on a wall. The agent is questioned about the creatively titled ‘Operation X’. He says nothing and for his trouble is tortured and killed.

Mabuse’s henchmen dispose of the body clumsily on a wharf, and soon the police are involved. And in from America, the FBI send Joe Como to replace the dead agent. As the German connection, this time we don’t have Inspector Lohmann (maybe he finally got to go on his fishing trip?), and instead have Inspector Brahm (Siegfried Lowitz). Brahm is a bit more clandestine than his predecessor. He doesn’t have an office at police headquarters; he is located secretly at the back of an optometrist. Como immediately suspects Dr. Mabuse, but Brahm is skeptical. Everybody knows that Mabuse died at the end of the last film.

At the heart of this mystery, is ‘Operation X’, which is a top secret experiment being conducted by Professor Erasmus (Rudolph Fernau). Nobody has seen the professor in months because he keeps himself locked in his laboratory. No prizes for guessing what type of experiments he is working on. Yep, invisibility. And the authorities are now concerned that Mabuse (or some madman pretending to be Mabuse) has now acquired the Professor’s secret.

All the clues lead back to the Metropol theatre and seem to centre around the leading lady, Liane Martin (Karin Dor – Bond fans will remember her as the wicked Helga Brandt from You Only Live Twice“Mr. Osato believes in a healthy chest!”) In this picture she is the object of everyones affection and attention. Professor Erasmus has fallen in love with her and goes to see her perform every night. Dr. Mabuse wants her, because through her, he can control Erasmus. And finally Joe Como wants her because…well, he’s the star of the movie. the big lug has to get the girl at the end.

This movie (if you don’t mind old black and white films from Germany), is perfect popcorn fare. It has everything you could want, from punch-ups, gun play, a damsel in distress, mad scientists, and an invisible army of men attempting to change the fate of the world. There’s even a hint of Phantom Of The Opera to it, with much of the action taking place within the depths of the theatre. I enjoyed this very much, and although not to everyone’s taste, if this sounds like your cup of tea, I would recommend this entry in the Dr. Mabuse series.

Director Harald Reinl, scriptwriter Ladislas Fodor, and actors Karin Dor and Rudolph Furnau would work together again of the Bryan Edgar Wallace ‘krimi’, The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle, which too, is a great deal of fun.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

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The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961)

Directed by Harald Reinl
Gert Frobe, Lex Barker, Daliah Lavi, Fausto Tozzi, Wolfgang Preiss
Music by Peter Sandloff

An undercover police officer sits alone in a compartment on a train. A suitcase is chained to his wrist. He is transporting some valuable documents from the USA to Germany that incriminate the mob.

A handicapped man with a wooden leg enters the train compartment. The officer insists that he sits elsewhere as he is in a restricted compartment. The handicapped man complains that his wooden leg is causing him discomfort. The officer relents and allows him to be seated. Soon after, the train rushes through a tunnel (no sexual symbolism here). When the train exits the tunnel, both men are gone and the window is open.

Next we meet Inspector Lohmann (Gert Frobe – most people will recognise Frobe as Goldfinger, from the film of the same name). Lohmann is about to go on leave; an extended fishing trip. But as he is about to head off, wouldn’t you know it, the phone rings. Lohmann is called back to duty, to investigate the murder of the police officer whose body was found by the railroad tracks.

Lohmann’s investigations lead him to some interesting characters. The first is Joe Como (Lex Barker). Como is supposed to be an FBI agent sent to infiltrate the Mob. But he may be Nick Scapio, a Mafia hoodlum posing as Como. We also meet Maria Sabrehm (an incredibly youthful Daliah Lavi). She is the daughter of a scientist, who was falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Her father, Professor Sabrehm (Rudolph Forster), is now serving time in the local prison. That brings us to the prison doctor Bohmier, (Werner Peters), who have some unusual methods for rehabilitating the inmates.

What about Dr. Mabuse himself? He isn’t seen for most of the picture, but we hear his voice over the phone, and through microphones that seem to be planted all over the city. Somehow, Mabuse is controlling the inmates at the prison with an injection that turns them into mindless goons. Once the prisoners are attuned to Mabuse’s commands he sends them off, outside the prison walls, to do his bidding. In this instalment in the Mabuse series, his goal is to take over the cities nuclear power plant.

Initially Lohmann belies that the Warden is somehow involved in the crimes that are being committed in the name of Dr. Mabuse, but after the Warden’s car is blown up in the main street, his suspicions have to divert elsewhere.

This film features one great set piece, where Como and Maria are trapped in a generator room at the prison. Mabuse opens a series of water valves and the room begins to flood. We’ve all seen this scenario before (Espionage In Tangiers, springs to mind, and I seem to remember an episode of Get Smart, where Max was trapped in a phone booth that began to fill with water). But Como’s solution to this problem is better than most.

Another great element to this film is the music by Peter Sandloff. I must confess I don’t know much about Sandloff, but his hot stompin’ jazz score to this film is fantastic. There is a great catchy saxophone riff that once you have heard it, it will get stuck in your head for days.

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse is barely more than an amplified crime film, but it’s enigmatic villain, with his hidden microphones and cameras is clearly a Super Villain. He is one of the templates for the cinematic Blofelds of the world and is worthy of inclusion on this blogsite.

This film won’t please everyone, firstly because it is in German, so you’ll either have to watch a dubbed copy or read subtitles. Secondly it is in black and white. And third, by today’s standards, it is light on for action and the special effects, aren’t that special. But, if you are interested in the evolution of spy films to this day, this film will be of great interest, and provide solid entertainment. It may not be as canonical as some of the other Mabuse films, but it is definitely worth a look.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

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Firefox (1982)

Country: United States
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Freddie Jones, David Huffman, Ronald Lacey, Nigel Hawthorne
Music: Maurice Jarre
Based upon the novel by Craig Thomas

In 1982 Clint Eastwood had to re-invent himself again. Although he had massive success with Every Which Way But Loose (1977) and Any Which Way You Can (1981) and increased his fan base considerably, smartarse western characters weren’t as popular in the eighties as they had been in the seventies (Burt Reynolds career, apart from a few bright sparks, never really recovered). Eastwood chose to go hi-tech. The result was Firefox, an espionage thriller based on the novel by Craig Thomas.

Briefly, the film concerns Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood), a Russian born retired USAF pilot. Because he was born in Russia, he thinks in Russian, rather than thinks in English and then transposes it (if you know what I mean?). Why is this important? The Russians have just developed a new war plane, the MIG 31, codenamed: Firefox. The plane is the most advanced ever built, and features a thought controlled weapons system, can travel at Mach 6, and is invisible to radar. Naturally enough, the West is very eager to get their hands on this aircraft. There plan is to steal it. And that is where Mitchell Gant comes in. His Russian background makes him the perfect candidate to attempt the theft of this fantastic new weapon. There is a slight problem though. Gant suffers from a severe stress disorder, which cause him to blackout. This is the legacy of his days as a pilot in Vietnam. Apparently he was shot down and captured by the Vietcong.

Despite this disorder, the Agency behind this mission, decide to proceed, and Gant is launched into a whirlwind training regime. His controller is Kenneth Aubrey, played by veteran British character actor, Freddie Jones. Jones’ eyebrows, which have a character of their own, almost steal the movie from Eastwood.

After his training, Gant is sent off on his mission, which he knows very little about. His first port of call is Moscow. From there he is guided along by a network of dissidents and sympathizers until he finds his way to Bilyarsk, a military post where the Firefox is housed.

Firefox is a film that time has changed. I am not saying that it is better now than it was then. But it is different. But to understand how it has changed, first you must understand that it is a film of two very distinct halves. The first half is a Cold War spy story, and has a KGB – Big Brother is watching – style feel. The scenes are mostly shot at night, and are very claustrophobic.

The second half of the film is after Gant has stolen the MIG 31 plane and is racing through the clear blue skies. This is where the special effects and pyrotechnics take over.

Now, back to my point about the film having changed with time. When Firefox was released at the cinema in 1982, it was really at the tail end of a cycle of spy films. The first half, with it’s Cold War, Harry Palmer wannabe ethos, was very tired an dated. Many people considered it downright boring. The second half, however, was cutting edge visual effects, courtesy of Richard Dykstra, who had worked on Star Wars. When the Firefox flew through the Ural mountains and clouds of snow erupted into the air, there was a real feeling of speed and power.

But here we are in the next century and twenty five (plus) years have passed since the Firefox flew, and special effects have leapt forward at a tremendous rate. The models used in Firefox look rather ‘fake’ today. The whole airplane chase seems rather small and unimpressive.

But now that the Iron Curtain has come down, the Cold War story seems far more interesting. The world is a very different place. Now, the first half seems like a solid, good old fashioned, espionage thriller (the type that they don’t make anymore). I may be being a little generous in my appraisal there, but none-the-less, the passing years have freshened up the start of this movie.

Does that make Firefox a good film? I’m afraid not. However you look at it, then or now, the sum of it’s two distinct parts do not add up.

The character, Mitchell Gant, would turn up in a few more novels by Craig Thomas. These are the ones that I am aware of:

• Firefox Down (1983)
• Winter Hawk (1987)
• A Different War (1997)

And another character, Kenneth Aubrey (Gant’s controller), also has appeared in numerous novels.

This review is based on the Warner Brothers Australia DVD

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Breakheart Pass (1975)

AKA: Alistair Maclean’s Breakheart Pass
Director: Tom Gries
Starring: Charles Bronson, Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Jill Ireland, Ed Lauter, Charles Durning, David Huddleston
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by Alistair Maclean

Breakheart Pass is a weird hybrid, partly Western, partly ‘whodunnit’, and finally spy thriller. But mostly it is pure old fashioned seventies entertainment. But not quite like you’d expect.

By the mid seventies the spy film had become quite jaded. Bond-mania, which had driven the genre along during the sixties had died down, and even the serious anti-Bond films, like Scorpio, or Permission To Kill, had worn out their welcome. Writer Alistair Maclean, a veteran of the genre, decided to move into different territory, whilst still keeping all the espionage elements that had become his trademark in place. He moved towards the ‘western’. At the time, even the western film was suffering. The Spaghetti Westerns from Italy had breathed fresh life into the tired old genre, but even they had run their course. So in Breakheart Pass, in which Alistair Maclean wrote the screenplay, based on his novel, we have two tired genres rolled into one.

I am pleased to say that the idea really works. Maybe the traditionalists may be up in arms, saying that it is not really a spy film, but I beg to differ. I could explain why, but to detail the plot would give away a few of the surprises this movie has in store, but in simplified terms it is the story of a few characters in the old west who are on a steam train, as it winds through the Rocky Mountains to Fort Humboldt The cavalry fort is in the middle of a dipheria plague. The train contains medical supplies and troops who will replace the sick and dying men, as well as Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna) who is leading the ragtag band to the fort. Along for the ride is Major Claremont (Ed Lauter), the cavalry officer in charge of the replacement troops, John Deakin (Charles Bronson), a gambler and a murderer, and Ben Johnson as Nathan Pearce, the US Marshall who is escorting him to trial.

Breakheart Pass features another great score by Jerry Goldsmith. For each Goldsmith soundtrack I come across, I am constantly astounded at the high quality and diversity of his work. This score may not be Goldsmith’s most subtle work, but essentially we have a movie about a train, and in keeping, he gives us a powerful, brassy, driving theme and motifs throughout the movie. It’s a good one.

I am going to go out on a limb here. Bronson made many great films as a part in an ensemble cast; The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and Once Upon A Time In The West to name but a few. But in films where he solely carried the story, the success rate is considerably lower. I think of Bronson’s solo efforts, Breakheart Pass is his best film. It’s a big call, but if you stack up the Death Wish movies, Mr. Majestyk, The Evil That Men Do and it’s ilk, for pure enjoyment, and a great performance, Breakheart Pass is the one!

This review is based on the MGM Home Entertainment USA DVD

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A View To A Kill (1985)

View To A Kill 1Director: John Glen
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Patrick MacNee, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell
Music: John Barry
Title song performed by Duran Duran

A View To A Kill was the fourteenth official James Bond movie, and the seventh (and last) film to feature Roger Moore as agent 007. Quite frankly, Moore was too old for the role by this time. He knew it and the producers knew it, but there was no logical successor at the time. The producers had considered casting American actor James Brolin in the role before filming began on Octopussy (the preceding movie in the series) but decided against it. Footage of Brolin’s screen tests can be seen on the recent MGM/UA 2 disk DVD of Octopussy. Octopussy ended up being one of Moore’s better films, which is probably why the producers stuck with Moore again. But for A View To A Kill, the team went to the well one time too many. Let’s look at why A View To A Kill doesn’t work:

The casting, with the exception of Patrick Macnee, is uniformly weak. I have already mentioned Moore’s age. He is really showing it here. Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), after 23 years of service, she appeared in Dr. No in 1962, is looking slightly out of place too. But you can almost forgive the aging Bond family regulars because they are faces you have grown to love. The major casting blunders are the female leads. Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is so vacuous she barely registers as a human being. She spends most of the film shrieking and squealing. Often in Bond criticism, the Bond girls are given short shrift by the media. Most of the time, I think this is unfounded. Most of the female characters are intelligent and capable women who happen to be rather attractive. Not just mere window dressing. Many are equals to Bond. But Robert’s character comes off as a dumb blonde. He acting is so stilted, she destroys any dramatic scene in which she appears. Just don’t let her speak. She is the reason for any negative Bond girl criticism.

Similarly Grace Jones is rather wooden as Mayday. Her delivery of lines is very forced, but thankfully she doesn’t have many to deliver. She is very eye catching though, and certainly has a presence on the screen.

AVTAK 2Next we come to Christopher Walken. Walken is an actor I really appreciate. I can sit through most of his B-grade movies and smile due to his performances. But here, he is simply miscast. Not that he gives a bad performance; far from it. He does ‘psychopath’ very well. But his character is supposed to be an Anglo-French multi-millionaire industrialist, who was born in Germany. So the character is very European. Yet Walken is so New York. He doesn’t belong in a French chateau, or at Ascot in a top hat and tails.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the one successful bit of casting is Patrick Macnee. The fact that Moore and Macnee were friends from their early television days, and appeared together in the movie The Sea Wolves, may count for the chemistry between them. But despite this (or maybe because), Macnee has an understated grace that makes it seem like he belongs in these opulent surroundings. And acting wise, his is the only character to have any emotional impact in the film.

The next weak element of the film is the script. Admittedly the writers have tried something new. Rather than a megalomaniac for a villain, they have a Max Zorin (Walken’s character) played as a psychopath. Interesting idea on paper, but on screen it doesn’t work. For example, when Zorin kills all his henchmen in a gleeful psychotic display, it leaves him isolated and alone (well practically) against Bond in the final showdown. And let’s remember that Bond has taken on armies in volcanoes, on oil rigs, and on space stations. No matter how creative the backdrop (atop the Golden Gate Bridge, no less), Bond is essentially going up against one man – it’s not impossible odds. And really with the way the plot has unfolded, Bond, with a little help from Mayday, has already saved the day The only reason to go after Zorin is to rescue Stacey Sutton, and you already know my opinion of that character. Do you think I care? The way the whole denouement unfolds is clumsily written.

The story is a fairly simple one. Wealthy industrialist, Max Zorin own’s a company that makes microchips. Unfortunately for Zorin, most of the world’s microchips are made in Silicon Valley in the USA. Zorin (I have already mentioned that he is psychotic), plans to cause an Earthquake, unlocking the San Andreas and Haywood faults. That will cause the destuction of Silicon Valley, which will simply disappear into the sea. His company will then have a worldwide monopoly. Naturally James Bond has to stop him.

To the music now: When the film came out in 1985, Duran Duran’s theme song was a massive hit, even though it sounds a little dated today. The theme ties in nicely with John Barry’s score, which is one of the more evocative one he has composed for the series. I am particularly fond of the music when Bond carries Sutton down a fire truck ladder to safety, while the San Francisco City Hall burns behind them. The music is rousing and heroic, combing the ‘dance into the fire’ motif from the title song with the ‘Bond sound’. The score is universally good except for one minor quibble. During the pre-title sequence, Bond uses a ski from a snow mobile as a snowboard. As he glides down an embankment of snow and across a small pond, instead of the John Barry score, which has been working a treat through the previous action, we are slapped in the face with an annoying cover version of The Beach Boys ‘California Girls’. It is simply not necessary, and it is certainly not funny!

While I do not believe A View To A Kill is quite as bad as Die Another Day, it is one of the weaker entries in the series. It is an unworthy swan song for Roger Moore, who despite a recent dip in popularity is truly one of the great Bond actors. He brought a great deal of enjoyment to many people, and most of all he filled the shoes of Sean Connery.

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