Operation Lovebirds (1965)

Original Title: Slå først, Frede!
Direct0r: Erik Balling
Starring: Morten Grunwald, Essy Persson, Ove Sprogøe, Poul Bundgaard, Martin Hansen
Music: Bent Fabricius-Bjerre

Here’s a strange little film from Denmark that I really enjoyed. It starts with a novelty salesman, Freddy Hansen (played by Morten Grunwald) on a ferry having his briefcase of party tricks switched for a case containing top secret files by a courier who is trying to evade capture.

The villains kill the real courier only to find that the suitcase they have retrieved is full of fake noses and whoopee cushions. Realising their mistake, the villains then turn their attention to the novelty salesman who they believe is actually the real agent.

After a failed kidnap attempt by the villains, Hansen is finally brought in by the good guys. They convince him to work with them as a decoy to bring out the head villain, Dr. Pax (Martin Hansen). He reluctantly agrees and is teamed up with Agent Smith (Ove Sprogoe) who is a genuine Super Agent, in the classic tradition.

Hansen and Smith go to Stockholm, where a series of comical attempts on Hansen’s life take place. At first it is Smith, who’s secret agent skills save the day. But as the film progresses and Hansen’s confidence and belief in himself grow, he becomes the dominant action character.

The love interest is a character called Sonja (Essy Persson), who is an assassin for Dr. Pax and her mission is to kill Freddy Hansen by dropping a capsule on cyanide into his drink. Hansen also has orders to kill Sonja by dropping a capsule on cyanide into her drink. Instead of killing each other, they join forces much to the chagrin of both sides.

As Hansen’s character is a novelty salesman, as you can imagine, many of the gags in the movie are pretty puerile, but strangely they start to win you over (or maybe that’s a sad reflection on my character).

This film is in the vein of a Pink Panther movie, with the mission being completed, and the villains being outwitted by Hansen’s bumbling and unconventional methods. It even has the main henchman, Kolick (Poul Bungaard) developing a twitching eye (as did Herbert Lom’s Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films) as he continually gets thwarted and frustrated by Hansen.

Operation Lovebirds isn’t a high-brow film, but it never pretends to be anything other than what it is. It is a harmless time-killer. And considering the large amount of poor comedy spy films that are available, you could you a lot worse than spending your time in front of this one. Apparently a sequel was made, but I haven’t been able to track down a copy for review.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos DVD.

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Arabesque (1965)

Directed by Stanley Donen
Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Alan Badel, John Merivale, Kieron Moore
Music by Henry Mancini
Based on the novel, The Cypher by Gordon Cotler

Arabesque is one of my favourite spy films from the sixties. It is flawed, but still a great thrill ride from go to whoa. Director Stanley Donen had just scored a box office hit with Charade and followed it up with this, another glossy thriller in the same vein. In fact, the role of Professor David Pollack was written for Cary Grant. Somehow the deal must have fallen through. Instead we get Gregory Peck as Pollack, an American Professor of languages at Oxford University in London. Peck is very good in the role, but the dialogue was clearly written for Grant.

After one of his colleagues is killed, Pollack is approached by the malevolent Major Sylvester Pennington Sloane (John Merivale), a henchman for the villainous Nagim Beshraavi (Alan Badel). They want Pollack to use his knowledge of ancient languages to decode a tiny piece of paper with an ancient inscription on it. Pollack refuses and walks off, but is soon plucked off the street by a speeding Rolls Royce. Inside is the President of Egypt, Hussan Jena (Carl Duering), who asks Pollack to reconsider the offer, as it is a matter of great international importance to find out what Beshraavi is up to.

Jena is a respected man, so Pollack accepts the ‘mission’ and ends up at the mansion where Beshraavi is staying. For his trouble, Pollack is locked in a room and forced to try and decode the inscription, which proves difficult. The mansion happens to belong to Yasmin Azir (Sophia Loren), who is as much a captive in her own home as Pollack is.

After a comedic interlude, where Pollack hides in Yasmin’s shower, she warns him that Beshraavi killed his colleague and will kill him too, once he has deciphered the transcription. Pollack hides the code in a chocolate wrapper and escapes, using Yasmin as a willing hostage. One of Beshraavi’s henchmen follows and captures Pollack and Yasmin in an aquarium. The henchman ends up being overpowered at the last minute by a man claiming to be a Police officer, but in fact works for Yussef Kasim (Kieron Moore) the original owner of the coded transcription.

Things turn from bad to worse when it turns out Yasmin is also working for Yussef Kasim. They drug Pollack with a hallucinogen hoping he’ll reveal the whereabouts of the code he has hidden. In a way he does, but due to the drugs, no-one understands his gibberish. Pollack somehow manages to escape, and despite being ‘out of his brain’, manages to cycle to freedom.

As I mentioned at the top, Peck is fine as Pollack, and Sophia Loren is excellent as the Femme Fatale, playing all the sides and all the men off against each other. Although sex is only hinted at, it is clear she has slept with all three main protagonists. It is only at the end, that where her real loyalties lay is revealed. She also gets to showcase a very flashy wardrobe.

Alan Badel is very good as the villain Beshraavi, with a cool line in understated menace. In contrast to your modern day psychopathic villain, Badel doesn’t have to rant and rave to be feared. He is calm, and his words have weight, and he is all the more menacing because of it.

Arabesque has all the right elements for a successful swingin’ sixties spy film. At the top there’s Maurice Binder’s multicoloured, swirling title credits, coupled with another great score by Henry Mancini. The visual style too, is impressive. It’s a quasi psychedelic trip, shots framed in the reflections of a grille of a Rolls Royce, or through a chandelier, or even fish tanks at an aquarium. The distorted opening at an optometrists lets you know the type of ride you are in for, and it doesn’t let up. Special mention should go to the humorous drug induced bike ride that Pollack makes to escape from his captors. This is one swinging slice of psychedelic film-making, but one that, thankfully, still keeps the story intact.

This review is based on the Universal Pictures UK DVD.

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Casino Royale (1967)

Directors: John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath
Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Daliah Lavi, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Joanna Pettet
Music: Burt Bacarach
Title song by Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass
Song, ‘Look of Love’, sung by Dusty Springfield
Inspired by the novel by Ian Fleming

“Casino Royale is either going to be a classic bit of fun or the biggest f*ck up since the Flood. I think probably the later.”

David Niven – ‘The Moon’s A Balloon’

Please do not confuse this version of Casino Royale with the 2006 version starring Daniel Craig. There was also an episode of Climax Theatre based on Casino Royale. It was made in 1954, and starred Barry Nelson as ‘Card Sense’ Jimmy Bond. This is the 1967 version, which is one of the worst examples of sixties excess and indulgence. The story of this production is an oft told one and I’ll leave it to the experts to elaborate (For those interested, may I suggest that you track down a copy of the book ‘Martinis, Girls And Guns’ by Martin Sterling and Gary Morecambe. It is a well researched overview of the series from Dr. No to The World Is Not Enough and fleshes out many of the production dramas that have happened throughout the series). The simple points are: this is not an official entry in the Bond series, and it is a comedy.

Where do you start when reviewing this film? I could do a synopsis of the plot, but there is not much point really – the film is all over the place – probably the result of having multiple directors. I could outline the characters, but each character gets renamed James Bond, so that would be confusing. Then what has the film got going for it? The cast, maybe. Although most of them probably cross Casino Royale off their resumés when looking for other work.

• David Niven plays Sir James Bond, a retired secret agent who is called back into service, when ‘M’, the head of M.I.6 is killed. At the start, Sir James stutters and as the film progresses, he becomes more youthful, and loses his speech impediment – I am not sure why?. The film also intimates that Niven is the real ‘James Bond’, and upon retirement, his name and number (007) were passed on to keep the legend alive. Sir James is not pleased about his successor’s womanising – most probably a dig at ‘Connery Bond’. I am not making any groundbreaking comments when I say Niven made a lot of shit. This is one of his greater follies.

• Then we have Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, who is one of the many characters who is renamed ‘James Bond’ in this film. It’s a ploy designed to confuse the enemy. It’s so effective, it confuses the viewing audience as well. As with Niven, it is no secret that Sellers made a lot of shit. Apparently Sellers was going through a prima-donna phase when he made this movie and refused to work with Orson Welles. Their scenes were shot separately.

• As mentioned above, next we have Orson Welles. He comes off relatively unscathed, as his role is essentially a cameo. One wonders what he could have done with the character of Le Chiffre if the film had been played straight.

• Ursula Andress pops up in the film. Revered as the first Bond girl, from Dr. No, it’s a shame to see her in this trash. She looks great though. She plays Vesper Lynd (also renamed James Bond).

• Then we have Daliah Lavi. I am a big fan of Miss Lavi, who appeared in a swag of spy films in the sixties – The Spy With A Cold Nose, Some Girls Do, The High Commissioner, and The Silencers to name a few – but here she is reduced to just another ‘James Bond’ in this massive ensemble cast.

• Deborah Kerr plays Agent Mimi, who also happens to be M’s wife, Lady Fiona McTarry. Apparently she is an agent for SMERSH…but I am not really sure. She gets to put on a Scottish accent and be silly.

• Joanna Pettet plays Mata Bond. If you haven’t all ready guessed she is the offspring from Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

• And after all that, we have Woody Allen. Woody is Jimmy Bond, Sir James Bond’s nephew. Jimmy is so scared of his famous uncle, he is rendered speechless whenever he is in his presence.

What else can I tell you? The film has everything thrown at it: cowboys, indians, the French Foreign Legion (represented by Jean Paul Belmondo), American Gangsters (well, George Raft standing by the bar tossing a coin), and even Frankenstein’s monster. Despite all this, it just isn’t funny and isn’t that the point of comedy, to raise a laugh?

SPOILER AHEAD: At the end of the film, all of the major characters die. It is supposed to be funny, but it really is a final insult by this truly awful film. I know the Bond fans who have not seen this film will be strangely drawn to it, but don’t do it. It is not a Bond film, and really, it would be better if it were just forgotten.

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

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Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1998)

Director by Osamu Deszaki
Music by Fujimaru Yoshino

Golgo 13: Queen Bee is a belated sequel to the very popular animé feature The Profssional: Golgo 13. But time hasn’t seemed to dim Duke Togo’s appeal. In fact, I was happy to welcome back an old friend. And all the elements that made the first film so popular, the sex, and violence are all back too, only amplified even further. For those offended by extreme violence and sex, stop reading now. Although this is an animated feature, it certainly isn’t a film for the kids or the squeamish. The violence is high impact and in your face!

The film concerns the skeletons in the closet of an American Presidential candidate, Robert Hardy. Hardy is leading all the polls and looks set to become the next President. His popularity is built on an anti-drug platform. But every week on the campaign trail, Hardy receives a letter in the mail. It says:
“I vote for the death of the Presidential candidate, … Queen Bee”.

The President’s right hand man, Thomas Morecombe, hires Golgo 13 to kill Queen Bee. When Golgo 13 accepts a mission, he always sees it through to the end, no matter where the trail may lead.

Who is Queen Bee? She is a voluptuous red headed guerrilla radical who fights for the Comanero Liberation Army (Comanero – being a fictitious South American country). As well as being a radical, she is also the number two player in a drug cartel. And if that isn’t enough, she also displays a sexual prowess that leaves most men wanting more, and subsequentially they become putty in her hands.

When we first meet Queen Bee in Miami, she is travelling in a van packed with a shipment of cocaine. A roadblock of twenty armed law-enforcement officers attempt to stop the van. Rather than surrender, Queen Bee mans a large calibre machine gun and mows down every living creature in the vicinity.

Most animé features do have a tendency to push boundaries in their depiction of sex and violence. And as I have already mentioned, Queen Bee is quite violent. She spends most of the time naked and making love. After all it is her sexual prowess that gives her power, and this film delights in showing her gaining power (or taking power!). As an example, after the shoot out with the Miami police, Queen Bee is sharing some recreation time, with the local Mafia Don. As they are making love, there is a knock on the door. A man is dragged into the room. He is the stool pigeon, who reported Queen Bee’s drug trafficking to the police. In response, she gets out of the bed and picks up a pistol. Naked, she walks over to the stooly and blows him away. The shot sends a spray of blood all over her breasts. Does she clean it off? No. Instead, she resumes her love making session. Enough said!

That brings us to the anti hero, Golgo 13. In this adventure, he has to share quite a bit of screen time, with Queen Bee’s backstory, but that does not diminish his impact. When a team of mercenaries storm Queen Bee’s Comanero base, Golgo 13 isn’t far form the action, receiving a nice knife wound for his trouble. But this movie shows a different side to Golgo 13. He has a dilemma. Every mission he takes on he must complete. During this story, the more he learns about his target, the more he questions his mission. And equally, the more he learns about his employers…well, you get the idea. At least the film resolves it satisfactorily, if in a somewhat downbeat fashion.

The one aspect that ruins Golgo 13: Queen Bee is the music. It isn’t funky or trippy…and only compliments the film during the sex scenes. That is to say, that the soundtrack sounds like it belongs in a bad seventies porn flick.

As I said at the outset, I really enjoyed the return of Golgo 13, but for the uninitiated, a film like this can take a little getting used to. But like it’s predecessor, if you are jaded by all the Bond clones out there, this may be just the tonic you need.

This review is based on the Madman Entertainment Australia DVD.

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The Professional: Golgo 13 (1983)

Country: Japan
Chief Director: Osamu Deszaki
Animation Director: Akio Sugino
Music: Toshiyuki Omori
Based on characters created by Takao Saito

Gogol 13, and his alter ego Duke Togo are popular characters in Japan. He began his life as a comic strip written and illustrated by Takao Saito. But the pages of a comic were not big enough to contain Golgo 13 and soon he had made it to the big screen. The first attempt was a live action movie, simply titled Golgo 13 (1973) starring Ken Takakura. This was followed up with Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment (1977) with Sonny Chiba in the starring role. But as Golgo 13’s origins were illustrated it is appropriate that he should be given the animé treatment.

The Professional: Golgo 13 is a slick Manga production. The movie has the works, from swirling flame and blood soaked backgrounds, to neon flashing lights, multiple splits screens, and frozen snap shots of colourful graphic art. From go to whoa, this movie is one funky visual trip.

For Golgo 13, the movie is essentially a string of encounters with a host of villains. Each villain is more lethal and perverted than the last. Some of the villains that Golgo 13 has to contend with are: Leonard Dawson, Snake, and the twins Silver and Gold. Dawson is a billionaire whose son was killed by Golgo 13. The death of his son has left him in a crazed state where he utilises all the power and resources that money can buy to track down and destroy Golgo 13. This includes using the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the local police. But his real trump cards are a trio of psychopaths. The first, Snake is a truly repugnant, violent piece of work. On a physical level he is the only serious threat to Golgo 13. The other two psycho’s, Silver and Gold are introduced late into the story, and as such their impact is rather limited.

The sexual politics of this movie is very confused. Actually ‘confused’ may not be the right word. ‘Disturbing’ may be more accurate. During the story, Golgo 13 is sent to assassinate a mysterious underworld figure, known as Doctor Z. To get to the Doctor, Golgo 13 is perfectly willing to sleep with his target’s daughter. The twist comes when it is revealed that Doctor Z is in fact a woman – the same woman that he has been sleeping with. And she is well aware that he has been sent to eliminate her, but has still enjoyed the sexual conquest. She has used him for her pleasure as much as Golgo 13 has used her to get to her father (or so he thought!)

There is one scene that does let the film down slightly. It is an early exercise in computer animation, during a helicopter gunship battle. It may have been cutting edge when this film was released in 1983, but today with the giant strides in computer animation it simply looks clumsy and unimaginative.

As you can imagine, a film about an assassin can be quite violent, and Golgo 13 despite being an animated feature is equally violent. People who are more in tune with the cutesy American style of animation may find this film abhorrent in the extreme. But that would be a shame, because Golgo 13 has a lot to offer the genre. If you don’t mind the odd bit of violence and you are a bit jaded by the run-of-the-mill espionage thriller, I recommend that you give The Professional: Golgo 13
a try.

This review is based on the Madman Australia DVD

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Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment (1977)

Country: Japan
Director: Yukio Noda
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Callan Leung, Etsuko Shihomi, Chi-Chung Lee
Music: Harumi Ibe
Based on characters created by Takao Saito

Gogol 13: Kowloon Assignment stars 1970’s martial arts superstar Sonny Chiba as Duke Togo; codename Golgo 13. The name is derived from the 13th man who gave the crown of thorns to Jesus Christ, and drove him to his death on Golgotha Hill. Not a cheery moniker. Golgo 13 first appeared in a popular Manga comic written by Takao Saito.

Golgo 13 first appears in this film on a boat off the coast of Miami. A mobster, Rocky Brown is waiting for him as Golgo scuba dives up to the boat and unobtrusively slips on board. Brown employs Golgo 13 to go to Hong Kong and kill the syndicate’s top man, Chou Lei Feng (Nick Lam Wai Kei). (As an adjunct, I have seen trailers for this film that refer to Chou as ‘Raiho Shu’, which leads me to believe that there may be multiple versions of this film released with different character names…for the purposes of this review, I will refer to him as Chou.) It appears that Chou has been going out on his own, and the syndicate are not happy about it. And they haven’t been for some time. It transpires that Golgo is the fourth assassin they have sent to eliminate Chou. All of the others have been found dead, floating in Hong Kong Harbour.

Back in Hong Kong, Captain Sminny (Callan Leung) is clamping down on illegal drugs, and he too is after Chou. But Chou poses as a successful Hong Kong businessman and generous philanthropist to boot. Sminny’s relentless attempts to arrest Chou are thwarted by his seniors who do not want to stir the pot. But Sminny puts in place a female agent, Lin-Li to watch Chou. Lin-Li does her job well and follows Chou to his secret drug laboratory, and for her trouble she is shot in the shoulder and captured.

Golgo 13 arrives in Hong Kong and quickly tracks down Chou. One evening outside one of Chou’s nightclubs, Golgo witnesses a young girl, pulling a pistol and shooting her pimp. Golgo tries to remain on the periphery but the pimp, belonged to of Chou’s crew, and a gang of hoodlums come after the girl. Golgo is reticent to help, but in the end, he comes to the aid of the girl and despatches the gang in quite physical and violent ways. Unfortunately for Golgo, this alerts Chou to the fact that another assassin in town.

Captain Sminny tracks down Lin-Li to Chou’s laboratory and an armed fight breaks out between Chou’s men and the police. Lin-Li is killed and a seld destruct switch is activated at the laboratory. The building explodes, and all of Sminny’s evidence goes up in flames.

As mentioned earlier, Chou is a great benefactor to the city of Hong Kong, and he has just donated a public pool. During the elaborate opening ceremony, Golgo 13 takes a rooftop position on a highrise overlooking the new pool. As he takes aim with his sniper’s rifle a shot rings out, and Chou falls into the pool, dead. Golgo quickly looks around with his scope, and sees a blonde woman running from the scene with a pistol. She has beaten Golgo 13 to the kill. But now, the police and the underworld are all after Golgo 13.

Naturally enough, Chou wasn’t the true head of the crime syndicate. He was just a high powered underling, and Golgo 13 has to race against Captain Sminny to find out the truth, complete his mission – remove the head of the Hong Kong syndicate – and most of all stay alive. The film is fast paced and moves from Miami to Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kyoto and Macao, without raising a sweat.

As with all of the Golgo 13 films, this is quite violent, but compared to the animated features that were to follow, this film is relatively tame. …And notice how Golgo 13 recovers from a bullet wound the size of a golfball in his thigh. In the next scene we see him in some swimming gear and their isn’t even a scar. This guy is tough, and this film is a great slice of funky seventies action. The music is great; funky jazz, featuring bongos and flute. And the clothes are unbelievable. Some of the striped suits that Golgo 13 wears have got to be seen to be believed. My favourite is the white Safari suit that he wears during a chase through the streets of Hong Kong.

It could be argued the Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment isn’t a spy film, and I would have to agree with you. It’s probably more of a mafia crime film. It is the nature of the person who employs Golgo 13, and his intended target, that denotes whether it falls into the espionage or crime category. I have included it here as a companion piece to the two other Golgo 13 films I have reviewed, which I believe fall into the espionage genre.

This review is based on the Madman Entertainment / Eastern Eye Australia DVD.

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The Satan Bug (1965)

Director: John Sturges
Starring: George Maharis, John Andersen, Martin Blaine, Henry Beckman, Richard Basehart, Dana Andrews, Anne Francis
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by Ian Stewart (a pseudonym for Alistair MacLean)

Film director John Sturges has an amazing track record. Particularly during the sixties when he made some of his most famous films, like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Ice Station Zebra. The Satan Bug is one of his films that tends to slip under the radar. Which possibly says more about how good his other films are, rather than a reflection on the quality of The Satan Bug. In fact, The Satan Bug is a really good thriller in the Hitchcock tradition. What probably stopped it from being a massive success is the lack of a big name star in the cast.

The film opens at a top-secret chemical warfare compound called Station 3. It’s late on a Friday afternoon and a green delivery truck drops off two crates of new laboratory equipment. The crates are shunted into one of the underground labs.

Meanwhile a helicopter lands at the facility, and out hops Reagan (John Andersen). Reagan is the chief of security at the centre and he performs a sweep of the area. Unbeknownst to him, hiding in the crates are two terrorists, who are after the chemical weapons that are stored at Station 3. The assailants kill Reagan and make off with an amount of deadly toxin.

Enjoying himself at a swinging jazz club is Lee Barrett (George Maharis). During the show he receives a phone call, and he heads back to his home, which happens to be on a boat moored in a marina. Waiting for him is Mr. Martin (Martin Blaine). Martin says he works for the Council for World Peace, and he has acquired a flask of vaccine for Bochalitus (a deadly virus). Martin wants Barrett to take the flask to Europe. If both sides have the vaccine, then the weapon will be useless. Barrett is offered $20,000 to do the job.

But before we go any further, why Barrett? It appears that Barrett used to be a top flight intelligence officer, but his outspoken views on world peace have got him into a lot of trouble. Along with his insubordinate nature. Outwardly It would appear that Barrett is just the man for the job. But not so. Barrett maybe outspoken about war, but he is not a traitor to his country. Which is good, because Martin is a fake, and the whole scene on the boat has been a test of Barrett’s loyalty. And he has passed with flying colours. But the theft from Station 3 is quite real, and Barrett’s skills are required in tracking down the perpetrators and retrieve the chemical weapons.

And to the title of the film. What is the Satan Bug? It is a new toxin that when it is released into the atmosphere will kill all living things on the planet. And from Station 3, the two flasks of the deadly virus in existence have been stolen.

Soon after the virus is stolen a telegram arrives with an ominous message:

“Mankind must abolish war.
Or war will abolish mankind.
I have what you are looking for.
Order your citadel of the Anti-Christ destroyed.
The President will immediately announce compliance.
To prove that I am to be obeyed, there will be an incident.”

The incident takes place in Florida, and a large portion of the community is wiped out. Dead bodies litter the streets. The terrorists ring once more. This time, they threaten to release the virus in Los Angeles. From then on it is a deadly race against time to track down the terrorist and find where they have hidden the flask of deadly toxin.

As I mentioned earlier, the film does not feature any big name stars, but the ensemble of character actors do a top rate job. Apart from George Maharis as Barrett, the film features Anne Francis as Ann, Edward Asner as Veretti, Richard Basehart as Hoffman, Dana Andrews as General Williams, and Richard Bull as Cavanaugh.

The music for The Satan Bug is by Jerry Goldsmith, and it will come as no surprise that it is really very good. It is tense, ominous and extremely atmospheric. Not quite as jazzy and melodic as some of his scores (like Our Man Flint), but none-the-less it works very well and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The Satan Bug is an excellent spy thriller. It is such a pity that it is not more readily available or widely known.

As far as I am aware, The Satan Bug is not available on DVD. However VHS copies are still available from various sources on the internet.

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Mortadelo And Filemón: The Big Adventure (2003)

Country: Spain
Director: Javier Fesser
Starring: Benito Pocino, Pepe Viyuela, Paco Sagarzazu, Mariano Venancio, Dominique Pinon, Janfri Topera, Emilio Gavira, Maria Isbert, Berta Ojea, Javier Aller
Music: Rafael Arnau and Mario Gosálvez

Mortadelo and Filemón (Mortadelo y Filemón) is one of the most popular comic strip series in Spain. It was created by Francisco Ibáñez and appeared for the first time in 1958. I must admit I have never read any of these comics and coming into this film, I was ignorant of who Mortadelo and Filemón were. So my review is based on the movie as a stand-alone piece. I cannot judge if it is a successful comic adaptation (from the buzz on the internet, it would appear it is very faithful to the comic books, and was quite a success to boot).

The movie is essentially a comedic spy spoof, and a comedy spy spoof is a dicey proposition at best. For every good one, there are five truly awful ones. I think the reason for this poor conversion rate is the fact that most spy films have an element of humour in them to begin with. Some feature outrageous gadgets and implausible villains, others go for corny dialogue and double entendres. So a spy spoof has to be really silly to compete; and extreme broad comedy is hard to do well. On top of that, humour doesn’t seem to travel across international borders very well.

Enough about comedy – on with the review for this very, very broad Spanish comedy Mortadelo and Filemón: The Big Adventure. This film is off the Richter scale for bizarre characters and situations. Despite the set ups, there are very few genuine laughs. Like a Warner Bros. Cartoon the film features rockets, giant hammers, explosions, silly costumes, (misplaced Eskimos) but the characters aren’t likeable or introduced to us in an accessible way. Maybe fans of the comics need no introduction, but ‘tourists’ like me will find it difficult to find an emphatic character to latch on to.

The film opens at the T.I.A. Headquarters (Técnicos de Investigación Aeroterráquea – TIA is also the Spanish word for ‘aunt’ – and obviously similar to C.I.A.), and Professor Bacterio (Janfri Topera) is trying to create a new D.D.T. weapon, which looks like a space aged rifle. In this instance, D.D.T. stands for ‘Daunting Demoraliser of Troops.’ Yuk it up, because it gets worse. The Professor’s just can’t quite get the weapon to work. Then his concentration is interrupted by a Tricopter colepterous anopheles karaoke – or to us normal people – a singing mosquito. The mosquito sings along with the radio as the Professor tries to kill it, almost destroying his laboratory in the process. One of the Professor’s lusty blows, knocks over the D.D.T. weapon and it springs to life. The experiment is a success.

Almost too successful. The weapon sends off demoralizing rays throughout the T.I.A. facility, and the guards all become disinterested and lock themselves away. This allows a petty thief to break in and steal the weapon. The thief gained access through an elaborate tunnel system that runs beneath the complex. Unfortunately, the tunnels were being guarded by two inept secret agents, Mortadelo (Benito Pocino) and Filemón (Pepe Viyuela). The thief tries to sell the weapon to a dictator of a country called Tyrannia. The ruler of Tyrannia plans to invade England and turn Buckingham Palace into a villa estate. In response, the Superintendent of TIA (Mariano Venancio) assigns an American agent, Fredy Mazas (Dominique Pinon) to recover the D.D.T.

Jealous and disgraced, Filemon and Mortadelo also try to retrieve the weapon, hoping to return to good favour with the T.I.A. The remainder of the film is primarily their escapades as they try to accomplish this, but plot isn’t important here. Most of the scenes are simply an excuse to hang some absurd sight gags on. Most don’t work and towards the end of the film, things certainly start to drag.

Regardless of whether the humour in this film hits your funny bone, one thing that cannot be denied is the amazing production design and special effects. As much as I hate CGI, here it is used seamlessly and to great effect.

As I said at the outset, comedy doesn’t cross international boundaries well. Maybe (and that’s a big ‘maybe’) if you are Spanish and grew up on the comic books as a child, and your sense of humour tends toward the absurd and juvenile, then you may enjoy this feature. But I found this to be one of the most painful espionage experiences I have had to endure in quite some time.

But that’s not the end – there’s more – 2008 is the 50th anniversary of Mortadelo and Filemón and in honour of that momentous occasion, they have made another film Mortadelo and Filemón: Mission – Save The Planet. I am not queuing up for that one, but somebody must love the characters.

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Stormbreaker (2006)

Director: Geoffrey Sax
Alex Pettyfer, Sarah Bolger, Bill Nighy, Sophie Okonedo, Mickey Rourke, Alicia Silverstone, Damian Lewis, Missi Pyle, Andy Serkis, Ewan McGregor, Robbie Coltrane
Based on the book by Anthony Horrowitz

The Alex Rider series of books (6 so far) by Anthony Horrowitz have been enormously successful, so it was inevitable that they would be turned into a film series. Well, at least an attempt would be made to make them into a film series. With DVD rentals and sales, these days it is harder to discern what constitutes a hit film, but from word of mouth and critical reaction, it would appear that Stormbreaker was a flop. Which is a shame because the film itself is extremely entertaining, and to my mind, only marred by some awful music choices.

Without giving away too many plot points, the thrust of the story is this. Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) lives with his uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor) and his American live-in housekeeper, Jack (Alicia Silverstone). Ian Rider is often away on business and Jack takes care of Alex. What kind of business does Ian Rider do? Most of the world thinks he’s in banking, but really he is an M.I.6 operative. As the film begins, he is a tad careless performing one of his missions. His mistake costs him his life.

The official line about Ian Rider’s death was that he was in a car accident and he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Alex has trouble believing this and does a bit of snooping around. This brings him into contact with Ian Rider’s superiors, Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy), and Mrs Jones (Sophie Okonedo). Finally Alex learns the truth, but he doesn’t like it. And things don’t get any better when he finds out that M.I.6 wants him for a mission. Alex is reluctant to undertake the mission, but Blunt threatens to deport Jack, because her visa has expired. Alex agrees. And that’s how 14-year-old Alex Rider becomes a secret agent.

Along the way Alex comes across various nefarious characters. Mickey Rourke plays the sinister billionaire Darius Sayle, a man who outwardly seems generous and community minded, but on the inside is bitter and twisted and seeks revenge for wrongs of the past. Andy Serkis plays Mr Grin, an evil henchman with facial scarring from a knife throwing circus trick that went horribly wrong. And last, but not least is Nadia Vole, played by (Missi Pyle). Vole is Sayle’s personal assistant, who seems to have an aversion to fish.

From some quarters, the critical reaction to the casting of Alex Pettyfer has been harsh, but I think he carries the film well, and he is only going to grow as an actor. There too have been some unfair critical comparisons with the Harry Potter series and in particular Daniel Radcliffe. These are unfair because Radcliffe has had four films to grow into his role – if you go back and watch The Philosopher’s Stone you can see how much he has improved. But Pettyfer hasn’t been given a chance. I think he does a good job conveying the range of emotions as required by the story, and he stands out in the physical action sequences. His martial arts scene in the scrap metal yard is well choreographed and he performs the scene with a large amount of believability. He sells it.

Most of the publicity that Stormbreaker did generate was for the amount of big name celebrity cameos. Ewan McGregor was featured heavily in the advertising campaigns but his character dies before the main credits. Stephen Fry has a brief but memorable turn as Smithers, the gadget master. And Robbie Coltrane turns up at the end as the Prime Minister of Britain.

Alex Rider has a lot of competition is the child spy stakes, with Cody Banks and the Spy Kids movies proving to be very popular. But I think that Alex Rider has got what it takes to stand on his own and become an engaging cinematic character. And here’s hoping that DVD rentals and sales help raise the profile of this film and a sequel gets made, because I for one am looking forward to Alex’s next adventure.

The Alex Rider series of books are:
• Stormbreaker
• Point Blanc
• Skeleton Key
• Eagle Strike
• Scorpia
• Arch Angel
• Snakehead

This review is based on the Roadshow Entertainment Australia DVD

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The Spy With My Face (1965)

Country: United States
AKA: The Double Affair
Director: by John Newland
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Senta Berger, David McCallum, Leo G. Carrol
Music: Morton Stevens
‘The Man From UNCLE Theme’ by Jerry Goldsmith

The Spy With My Face is the second Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. All the movies in the series were cobbled together from episodes of the television series with a small amount of extra footage added to pad them out. This film is made from The Double Affair and The Four Steps Affair. The movie opens in Australia, North of Melbourne, we are informed. Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) in conjunction with the Australian chapter of U.N.C.L.E., led by Kit Kiteridge (Donald Harron) engage a compound of T.H.R.U.S.H. agents. The mission is successful, but Kiteridge is injured when he intercepts the path of a knife thrown at Solo.

Strangely, somebody has hidden cameras in the compound and are filming the assault. Someone is interested in Solo. It was also a test to see how fast, U.N.C.L.E. can neutralise their twelve man team.

We cut to an airplane. Inside are three people. The first is the beautiful Serena (Senta Berger), next is Darius Two (Michael Evans), and the last man’s face is hidden beneath a layer of bandages. The title of this movie, probably gives away who is under the bandages.

After the mission in Australia, Solo engages in a little R & R. He calls one of his numerous girlfriends, Sandy (Sharon Farrell), who happens to be an airline hostess, and makes a date. But Solo ends up being detained breaking T.H.R.U.S.H. codes. Sandy is understandably angry when Solo finally does turn up.

Meanwhile, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) has been working late as well. As he leaves U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, he is attacked by two toy robots. Doesn’t sound very threatening, does it? Naturally Kuryakin disables the toys.

The next day, Solo is trying to repair his relationship with Sandy. He takes her to dinner at an exclusive restaurant. During the meal, Solo is called to the phone. Selena is waiting for him at the receiver. They talk, but Sandy feels neglected and comes to see where her dinner companion has got to. She isn’t happy to see him with another woman. Solo ends up wearing a plate of spaghetti and Sandy disappears into the night. But there’s still Selena. Solo goes home with her, has a shower and washes off his dinner. Then the doorbell rings. At the door is Solo’s doppelganger. Before he can react, the real Solo is gassed and put on a plane to Zurich. The impostor takes Solo’s place.

At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, the impostor is briefed on the August Affair, a mission which will take him and Kuryakin to Washington to meet two other agents and retrieve a suitcase. Inside the suitcase is the combination to a top secret vault. The vault’s combination is changed every August (hence, The August Affair). What’s inside the vault? Well that’s the big secret!

Unbeknownst to the two agents, they are being supplied backup in the form of agent Kitt Kitteridge, who has recovered from his knife wound. He is to protect the suitcase couriers from ambush.

Solo’s double and Kuryakin collect the suitcase, which is handcuffed to Solo’s wrist, from Washington, along with another two escort agents, and then board another plane bound for Switzerland. But guess who is one of the hostess’ on the flight. But of course it is Sandy. The fake Solo doesn’t recognise her. Needless to say she is a little peeved and spills not coffee on him. The impostor goes to the bathroom to clean up, but in fact opens the case, photographs it’s contents and closes it all up again. But he has made a mistake. One of the buttons from his jacket has fallen off and is now shut in the locked case.

Kitteridge realises all isn’t as it seems. He suspects that Solo may be an impostor, but before he can do anything about it, he is killed by a cyanide cigarette. Smoking kills once again.

This is where the films starts to get interesting and a little trippy. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Generally wasn’t considered to be a very psychedelic series, but this instalment has some weird things going on underground and some coloured filters are given a good workout. I’ll leave the synopsis at this point, but any film featuring two Napoleon Solos is heading to an inevitable climax.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. films, while being entertaining in their low-budget kind of way, are generally pretty poor. The pace often lags and the sets look studio bound. This film really takes it’s time in building up to the climax, and it can be quite frustrating watching the story. You know where it’s going but it takes so long to get there.

But fans of the series, regardless of what I say, will generally enjoy this movie. Others will find this movie a bit of a chore to sit through.

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