That Man In Istanbul (1965)

Director: Anthony Isasi
Starring: Horst Buchholz, Sylva Koscina, Klaus Kinski, Gustavo Re, Alvaro De Luna, Perrette Pradier, Mario Adorf
Music: Georges Garvarentz

That Man From Istanbul is one of the most accessible and entertaining of the Eurospy films made in the mid sixties. It features Sylva Koscina in a major role. She may barely raise a footnote these days in lists of ‘most popular actresses of all time’ (particularly in Western countries), but in the mid sixties she was on a bit of a roll, starring in Hot Enough For June with Dirk Bogarde, and Deadlier Than The Male with Richard Johnson.

The film opens with a nifty little pre-title sequence where a light aircraft, with two secret agents in it, lands in a paddock in Turkey somewhere. Five cars packed with hoods with stockings over their heads meet the plane. One of the agents from the plane hands over a suitcase with one million dollars in it. The other agent secretly takes photos of the hoods with a camera hidden in his tie-pin. Once the hoods are satisfied that the money is all there, they signal another car. This car contains atomic scientist Professor Pendergast, who has been kidnapped. An exchange is made, and the plane takes off with it’s new passenger. Pendergast looks like he has been drugged or brainwashed. In the backseat of the plane he is sweating and fidgeting. Then he detonates a bomb inside his coat. The plane explodes and crashes.

Sylva Koscina as Agent Kenny

We skip to Washington D.C. and into a C.I.A. briefing room. A team of agents are watching a report on the crash. X-rays from the bodies at the crash site reveal that the man they believed to be Pendergast was an impostor. The ransom the U.S. had paid was for nothing. As the briefing continues, the President of the U.S.A. phones in and cancels the mission. It seems he wants the affair to be handled through diplomatic channels. This doesn’t please Special Agent Kenny (Sylva Koscina). She sees something in the slides of the crash site, that everyone else has missed. In the background there is car, and in the car is Tony Mescenas (Horst Bucholz). Mescenas is an American who was deported for running a string of gambling houses, extortion rackets. He also ran a kidnapping scam in the past, where he exchanged fake people for his kidnap victims. Kenny doesn’t believe this is a coincidence, but as the President has cancelled the mission, she is forbidden to go to Istanbul.

Horst Buccholz as Tony Mescenas

Horst Buccholz as Tony Mescenas

For our viewing pleasure we are then treated to a colourful animated title sequence with a swinging sixties instrumental over the top. When we return from this interlude we are in Istanbul, introduced via some travelogue shots that look like stock footage. Then we move into Istanbul’s nightlife. Neon lights flicker. Cool jazz plays in the background. And Mescenas is cruising through the streets in his red E-type Jaguar, being discretely followed by the police. Mescenas stops outside a club which he runs with two colleagues. The first is ‘Brain’ (Gustavo Re), who has a photographic memory for facts, and the second is Bogo (Alvaro De Luna), who is more of your garden variety minion. He does all the dirty jobs.

Inside Mescenas' Nightclub

Mescenas enters the club, which on the surface appears to be an average Turkish nightclub with belly dancers writhing on stage. But underneath this club is another club. An illegal casino in fact. Mescenas takes a secret elevator down to the casino and alerts the patrons that they are about to be raided be the police. It seems the tail on Mescenas wasn’t that discrete after all. But don’t panic, Mescenas has the place wired up electronically, and all the gaming tables disappear into the floor and the walls. The police raid the club, but instead of finding an illegal casino, they find Bogo treating the guests to a magic show. It seems like Mescenas ruse has worked. Well almost! A drunk starts demanding for his chips to be cashed. Mescenas can’t pay him without giving the game away. So what does he do? He starts a fight. Within seconds a bar room brawl erupts, the type usually found in western movies. But hey, after all this is a Horst Buchholz movie. Horst who, I hear you ask? Horst Buchholz is one of the two actors from The Magnificent Seven that nobody remembers. He played Chico, the Mexican peasant who wanted to be a gunfighter, …but back to the story.

Of course, Agent Kenny has defied orders and is in Istanbul, and in Mescenas’ club. As Mescenas, Brain and Bogo are regrouping after the police raid, Kenny approaches them and asks for a job. Mescenas’ interview technique is not politically correct by today’s standards. He asks Kenny to strip. She disrobes down to her underwear. Mescenas pretends not to be interested, but when the subject is as attractive as Ms Koscina a side glance is forgivable. Kenny gets the job, but doing what?

The next day Kenny is snooping around some of the locations from the photos in the C.I.A. briefing. One of these locations is a cemetery and mausoleum were the plane crash victims were interred. It is the last place were the missing tie-clip camera was seen. As she searches, she is accosted by the Chinese grounds keeper, but proves herself adept at judo, and acquits herself quite nicely, thank you. As she leaves the cemetery Mescenas picks her up for work. It’s obvious he has been following her. Her job? I’m not really sure what it is. It appears to be travelling around the sites of Istanbul and looking glamorous. She does it well.

Agent Kenny interrogates Mescenas

As they look over the city from the spire of a mosque, Mescenas tells her that he knows she is a spy. Why is she interested in him? Kenny is a fairly trusting agent, and tells Mescenas the whole story about Pendergast kidnapping. Mescenas pleads his innocence and Kenny believes him. Then Kenny tries to convince him to help her track down the true perpetrators. But after being deported from the U.S., Mescenas isn’t too keen on helping Uncle Sam. Mescenas may not be patriotic but he is greedy, and when Kenny tells him of the million dollars ransom that was paid to free Pendergast, his eyes light up. Welcome on board.

Their first lead is to track down the Chinese grounds keeper who attacked Kenny at the cemetery. His information leads Mescenas to the Chinese Embassy. It appears that though the Chinese did not kidnap Pendergast, they are interested in tracking him down for themselves. After all an Atomic Scientist is a valuable commodity. But the Chinese do have the tie-clip camera hidden in a safe at the Embassy. With stealth and the odd bit of brutality Mescenas breaks into the safe and retrieves the camera. His escape, however is not so easy. First he leaps through one window, crashes through another into a bedroom. Then somehow ends up in the sewer system. So it doesn’t make sense, but that is part of it’s charm.

Mescenas undercover

From the photos in the clip, Brain recognises one of the extortionists, the man with the steel hand, Hansie (Gérard Tichy). Well it’s not really a steel hand, it’s more of a steel stump or dome. He lives in a boarding house down by the waterfront, where all riff-raff in this type of film live. Mescenas follows Hansie as he leaves the house, but Hansie realises he is being followed and sets out to trap Mescenas. Hansie starts to ascend a tall mosque spire with a spiral staircase. Mescenas follows. At the top on the balcony, Hansie gets the drop on his pursuer. A fight breaks out but Hansie has a slight advantage. From his steel hand a knife juts out. Mescenas is thrown over the side surely to his death. But no, he catches a rope and slides down to the next level. Mescenas rushes back up the stairs and gives Hansie a beating. Hansie is about to talk when he is shot from below, by one of his accomplices. From Hansie’s dead body, Mescenas picks up the small hearing aid from the ear. It is not a hearing aid at all but a communication device. Mescenas hears the plans for the extortionists to meet at the coast road. In his red Jag, he makes his way there. It’s another trap. The extortionists knew he’d be listening and try to run him off the cliff top road. He gets past one vehicle but is not prepared for being rammed by an army truck. Mescenas’ sports car flies through the protective barriers by the side of the road and down the cliff.

In what really is a ‘cliff-hanger’, Mescenas leaps onto the back of the army truck as it collides with the Jag and hitches a ride. Meanwhile down the road, armed with high powered binoculars, the Chinese are watching. They have been following Mescenas, hoping he will lead them to Pendergast. They follow the army truck.

The truck stops in an underground carpark, and Mescenas starts snooping about. Inadvertently he sets off a silent alarm and the extortionists are alerted to his presence. Luckily for Mescenas, at this time the Chinese arrive and enter into a shootout with the extortionists. While all the shooting is going on the leaders of the extortion group sneak Pendergast out in an ambulance. Mescenas waits behind some crates till the shootout is over and then snoops around a bit more. In a back room he finds Elizabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier) tied up. She was kidnapped off a yacht. Naturally he frees her and sends her to a luxury hotel to recuperate.

Meanwhile the extortionists are not happy with one of their own. Gunther (Agustín González), who was driving the army truck, which Mescenas so cavalierly jumped on, is too be terminated for his incompetence. Evil organisations like this don’t tolerate failure. As the assassin draws his gun, Gunther shoots and flees. He’s on the run now and needs help. He phones Mescenas and offers information about the whereabouts of Pendergast in exchange for safe passage out of the country. A meeting is arranged. As Agent Kenny is the only licensed operative on the scene she wants to go to the meeting, but Mescenas does what any sixties, chauvinist, man about town would do. He locks her in a cupboard.

At the meeting Gunther is shot before Mescenas can get to him. Then he finds himself on foot, in the centre of a demolition derby. Some nimble footwork and some accurate pistol shots to car headlights save Mescenas’ skin. Well barely. After the car pile-up, a hail of gunfire starts. He borrows a front-end loader and ploughs a path to freedom.

Mescenas in the cross-hairs

After the nights fireworks, Mescenas pays a visit to Elizabeth Furst at her hotel, poolside. As he attempts to gain more information about her kidnapping and the whereabouts of Pendergast, an assassin lurks in the pool (with a water pistol, no doubt!). He fires a shot at Mescenas which misses, but shatters his wine glass. Not taking a backward step, Mescenas dives in to confront his would-be assassin. Underwater, a knife is produced and the two men struggle until the assailant ends up with the knife in his torso.

The next lead Mescenas and Kenny follow was found on Gunther’s dead personage. It was a season ticket to a Turkish Bath. At the bath, as they search, three goons kidnap Kenny and spirit her away. Out the back Mescenas finds wooden crates full of pieces of an atomic bomb. As he retreats, he is captured at knife-point. Then he is offered one hundred thousand dollars and Kenny alive if he leaves Istanbul. Mescenas refuses and escapes by losing a steam faucet. Clad only in a towel, he then scours the city searching for Kenny, but with no joy.

Klaus Kinski as the assassin Shrenk

Despondent, he rings Brain. Brain passes on a message that Bogo and Ms Furst have information for him. Mescenas rushes to the hotel, but only to find that Furst’s room is empty. Almost. An assassin named Doctor Shrenk (Klaus Kinski) follows Mescenas in. As most evil minions do, Shrenk takes his time in killing Mescenas and talks too much. In doing so he reveals that Pendergast is on a yacht in the harbour. Mescenas ducks under a glass coffee table while Shrenk fires at him with a pistol. And in one of those contrivances that can only happen in the movies, the coffee table turns out to be bullet proof. Mescenas picks up the table and uses it as a shield until Shrenk runs out of bullets. Then it’s fisticuffs. During the fight, which rages through all the hotel rooms, Mescenas finds Bogo’s dead body in the bathtub. This sends Mescenas over the edge and he drowns Shrenk in a sink.

Mescenas’ attention is now on the yacht, and he climbs a cargo loading crane and lowers himself onto the boat as it passes underneath. After the death of Bogo, Mescenas sense of humour isn’t as prevalent as it was, and as he storms the boat, he kills one sailor in cold blood, and then orders the rest of the crew over the side. On board he finds Pendergast and Kenny and sets them free. Then he set about settling the score with the leaders of this insidious plot. Oh, what is their scheme, I hear you ask? It hasn’t really been mentioned yet, but it is something like this: They intend to build an atomic arsenal with Pendergast’s help. Then from a remote island, control the world. Excellent; another World Domination scheme.

In the stateroom on the yacht, Mescenas find the chiefs. He cleans house with a machine gun. He kills them all, except for one. I wont say who it is, but no prizes for guessing?

Ciao Tony!

That Man In Istanbul is one of my favourite Eurospy films. It has a good sense of humour and decent production values, and is fast paced. Maybe it is a little long, and Sylva Koscina isn’t used as much as she should be, but small quibbles. Your response to the movie will depend on how you accept Horst Bucholz. I know of a few people who find his performance annoying and as such, don’t rate this movie very highly. I disagree, but I think you’re going to have to make up your own mind on this one?

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD.

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged , , , ,
The 39 Steps (1935)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Wylie Watson
Musical director: Louis Levy
Loosely based on the novel by John Buchan

Obviously this is one of the classic films of all time, regardless of it being a spy film, and much has been written about it and it’s director Alfred Hitchcock. And naturally, I’ll add my two-cents worth. The 39 Steps is an absolutely magnificent film and the prototype of all the Innocent Bystander spy films. Many spy films use the classic wrong place at the wrong time scenario. Everyman or woman can be the innocent person who stumbles in on an incident or who gets caught up in the web of intrigue. In this case it is Richard Hannay, a character created early last century by author John Buchan.

And the character of Hannay has endured. Buchan wrote, at least another four novels concerning the adventures of Hannay. And the film has been remade three times so far (at the time of writing there is rumoured to be a new version directed by Robert Towne – screenwriter for Chinatown and Mission Impossible 2 – whether this comes to fruition or not is another matter – time will tell). To top it off, a television series was made called Hannay, starring Robert Powell. It went for thirteen episodes and all new adventures and schemes were invented for our dashing hero. So that’s Richard Hannay; the innocent man caught up in this web of intrigue. His name may not be as well known as James Bond, be he is one of the cornerstones of modern spy films and literature.

Hitchcock’s story veers from the book but the film is such great fun, nobody seems to care. Here’s the synopsis. The film opens in a music hall. The act on stage is Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson). Each day, Mr. Memory commits fifty new facts to his miraculous brain. At the music hall his act consists of asking audience members to test his knowledge by shouting out questions. Memory then recites the correct answer. In a fever of excitement, the crowd shout out a plethora of questions. So many that Memory cannot answer them all at once. The crowd gets restless and a melee erupts at the back. As the fight escalates, two gunshots are heard and the crowd stampede for the exit. In the crush two people are thrust together. They are Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) and Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim). She seems flustered and asks to go back to his apartment. Hannay obliges. At his apartment she does not allow him to turn on the lights and she turns the mirror to face the wall. All in all, she seems shaken and paranoid. Hiding in the kitchen with the blinds drawn she explains what is going on. Firstly, she fired the gun at the music hall to create a diversion. Two men are trying to kill her. He says, “It sounds like a spy story.” She says, “it is” but she prefers to be called an ‘agent’ rather than a ‘spy’. Then she explains she is trying to stop a secret being smuggled out of Great Britain – a secret that is vital to Air Defence. Hannay doesn’t believe her (his mistrust will come back to haunt him). She suggests that he looks out of the sitting room window. He does and sees two suspicious characters in overcoats standing under a street lamp. He finally believes her. Trouble ahead.

She says, “I am going to tell you something that is not very healthy to know!” Despite her claim, she doesn’t give much information away. She asks if he has heard of ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’? He says, “No. Is it a pub?” Then she talks of the leader of this secret plot. He is missing the top of his small finger on his right hand.

Annabella Smith asks to stay the night till it is safe. She also asks for a map of Scotland. Once again Hannay obliges. He ends up sleeping on the couch – after all, he is a gentleman.

During the night, Miss Smith crashes into the sitting room where Hannay is sleeping. “Clear out Hannay. You’re next!” she says as she collapses on his lap with a knife sticking out of her back. She dies. In her hand is a piece of paper.

Hannay is shocked and staggers to the window. At that moment the phone rings. His first reaction is to pick it up, but then he thinks better of it. From the window he can see the two hoods who’d been watching his apartment, but now one of them is in a call box. Are they on the other end of the phone? Do they know he is there?

Hannay walks over to Smith’s dead body and pries the piece of paper from her hand. It is the map of Scotland that he had given her earlier in the evening. She has circled one section. “Alt-na-Shellach.”

The next thing Hannay has to do is get out of the apartment without being seen, but he only gets as far as the foyer. Men are watching the door. Luckily for Hannay, the milkman enters the building, making his usual early morning run. Hannay tells the milkman a cock-and-bull story and borrows the milkman’s hat and coat. Disguised he makes his escape.

Next he boards a steam train, The Flying Scotsman. The Scotsman is on its way to Scotland, but before it shunts off, two enemy agents recognise Hannay and raise the alarm. But the train moves off before they can board.

Back in London, Hannay’s maid finds Annabella Smith’s body in his apartment. In a standout piece of film-making, the maid’s silent scream becomes the whistle of the steam train as it powers out of a tunnel.

By the time Hannay hits Edinburgh, the newspapers have the story of Smith’s murder and police are swarming the station and board the train as it continues it’s journey.

Hannay gets flighty, once he realises he is a wanted man, and exits his compartment on the train. Good thing too, as the police are searching every carriage. As he tries to avoid capture he spies (no pun intended) a young lady, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), in a compartment all alone. As the police get closer, he bursts into her compartment, pretends to know her, then gives her a passionate kiss. As the police pass the compartment, they see the couple locked in embrace. As they are after a man travelling alone, they move along. Hannay thinks it is a lucky escape, but not quite so simple. Pamela wasn’t a willing participant in Hannay’s ploy to avoid attention and at the earliest opportunity she tells the police who he is. Hannay runs. The emergency break on the train is pulled and it stops on a railway bridge. Hannay jumps off the train and hides behind the massive iron girders beneath the bridge. He avoids detection and the train pulls away.

But Hannay is now the subject of a substantial manhunt, and police officers flood into the area. Some are on foot, others are in cars and there is even a plane in the air. Soldiering on, Hannay makes his way towards Alt-na-Shellach. As nightfall approaches he buys himself a bed for the night at a farmhouse. His evening is interrupted when the police arrive during the middle of the night. He flees with the farmers dark overcoat.

Eventually, the next day Hannay reaches Alt-na-Shellach and approaches the mansion. At the front door he announces himself as Hammond (rather than Hannay) and says he was a friend of Annabella Smith. This works and he is ushered inside. It appears he has found sanctuary. Of course the police are in hot pursuit and arrive on the doorstep, but they are sent away by the head of the house, Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle).

Alone, the Professor asks Hannay what is going on. Hannay tells his story and is relieved that someone believes he is innocent. Then his host reveals that he is missing the top of his finger on his left hand, and that he isn’t Annabella Smith’s contact, but rather the head of the spy ring she was investigating. The Professor pulls out a gun and shoots Hannay. Luckily for Hannay, the overcoat that he stole from the farmhouse contained a hymn book in the breast pocket. The bullet lodges in the book and saves his life.

Next, Hannay escapes from the mansion and heads to the police station in the local village. He tells his story. It appears the police officer believes him, but in fact is stalling for more time. More police arrive. Once again Hannay has to go on the run. He leaps out of the window of the police station, and searches for a place to hide in the village. At the town hall a civic meeting is taking place. He enters the hall and is mistaken for one of the speakers. It appears that a rally for a local member of parliament is taking place, and they believe Hannay is the guest speaker from London. Hannay has no choice but to step up to the podium and make a speech. He wings it. But Pamela (the girl from the train) recognises Hannay, and notifies the authorities. After the speech they arrest Hannay. Much to Pamela’s chagrin, they take her into custody as well – to identify the suspect (hasn’t she already done that?)

Of course, the police officers aren’t police officers. They are the Professor’s men and are taking Hannay and the girl back to him. Handcuffed together, Hannay and Pamela escape from the car when a herd of sheep block the road. Pamela isn’t an easy partner though. She doesn’t believe Hannay is innocent, and he has to practically drag her kicking and screaming into the night.

They both evade capture and end up on the doorstep of a quiet country inn. Posing as man and wife, to hide the handcuffs, and so Hannay can keep a tight reign on Pamela, they are given a room for the night. During the night, as Hannay sleeps, Pamela squeezes her tiny hand out of her handcuff. She intends to escape and tell the police once more, but as she sneaks out of the room, on the landing, she can hear two men making a phone call downstairs. It is the two fake police officers phoning the Professor. They inadvertently reveal that Hannay is telling the truth. She also hears that their boss has fled the mansion and is heading to the London Palladium to pick up a friend. Pamela returns to her room. She is finally a believer. She tells Hannay what she overheard.

And that’s where I’ll leave the plot synopsis dear reader. You’ll have to watch this movie to find out what happens and who are The 39 Steps. As I mentioned at the outset, the film (and story) is so popular that it has been remade three times, first in 1959 starring Kenneth More as Hannay. The next version was made in 1976 and starred Robert Powell – who would go on to play Hannay in the television series of the same name. Next, is the recent BBC adaptation (2008) with Rupert Penry-Jones as Hannay. IMDB lists a version scheduled for 2011, directed by Robert Towne (which I mentioned earlier).

Most recently, Hitchcock’s film has been adapted into a stage play which has played all around the world, and may I add is a thoroughly entertaining evening of theatre. If you have an opportunity to catch the show, grab it with both hands.

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged ,
Fathom (1967)

Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Raquel Welch, Ronald Fraser, Clive Revill, Greta Chi, Richard Briers, Tom Adams
Music: John Dankworth
Based on a novel by Larry Forrest

The film opens with a stylish title sequence, courtesy of Maurice Binder (Binder did the title sequences to many of the Bond films, as well as Charade, Arabesque and many other films). Fathom Harvill (Raquel Welch) is carefully packing a parachute, while John Dankworth’s theme song and chorus drift over the top. ‘Drift’ is the right word, as the whole title and opening sequence have a dream like quality to them. After the parachute is packed we cut to Fathom floating through the clouds. You see, Fathom is part of the American sky-diving team and on this day she is competing in Spain.

After making a perfect jump she is collected by Timothy Webb (Richard Briers) and driven to meet Colonel Douglas Campbell (Ronald Fraser). At first Fathom is suspicious, after all she is a beautiful girl in a strange land, and wonders why she has been dragged off the beaten path. But she needn’t have worried. It seems Campbell is a good guy, and works for H.A.D.E.S. (Headquarters Allied Defences, Espionage & Security). To prove how good he is, he flashes his credentials which state: ‘Extend all diplomatic priorities to the barer’, and it is signed by Lindon B. Johnson (President of the USA) and Harold Wilson (British Prime Minister). You can’t get much better than that. Golly good!

But what do Campbell and Webb want with Fathom? It seems there has been a calamity in the air. A Hydrogen Bomb has been lost at sea. The bomb was recovered but the fail safe device, called The Fire Dragon, that triggers the weapon by means of an electronic signal was not found. They believe a shady character named Peter Merriweather (Tony Franciosa) is about to sell it to a Red Chinese Agent, Jo May Soon (Greta Chi). But before H.A.D.E.S. can act they need evidence. They had planted a listening device in Merriweather’s villa in Malaga, but it is malfunctioning. Now what they would like Fathom to do is pose as a sky diver who has drifted of course, over Merriweather’s villa naturally, Inside her sky-diving helmet is another little transmitter which should bring the first listening device back to life.

Fathom reluctantly agrees and is soon crash landing at Merriweather’s villa. And so begins her life of espionage. Now you know Fathom’s mission, I’ll leave the synopsis at this point, but will mention a few highlights. The first features Fathom, dressed in red, trapped in a bull ring with an angry bull. The sequence is great fun as she sprints around, avoiding the horns of the enraged animal. The sequence builds an amount of tension, even though her stunt double is clearly a man (who should have shaved his legs).

Another chase, because that is what this film is – a chase film; features friendly hotelier, Mike – owner of Casa Miguel (Tom Adams – the square jawed hero from Where The Bullets Fly and The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World). Mike pursues Fathom in a speedboat, armed with a speargun. In fact there are a few good speedboat sequences throughout this film. And the action is not just restricted to bulls and speedboats, Fathom gets chased inside a train and in a plane too.

Also a mention should go to Clive Revill, as the villainous Sergei Serapkin who is also after the Fire Dragon. Revill is one of my favourite sixties spy actors having appeared in The Double Man, Modesty Blaise, The High Commissioner and Kaleidoscope. Here he is clearly enjoying his chance to ham it up as the gigolo millionaire who posses a lethal bladed pocket watch. Although Revill enjoys himself, the performance is so over the top (how many mannerisms can one character have), that it becomes rather annoying and the Serapkin over stays his welcome.

At one point during the film, Franciosa says to Welch: “You jump well, you ride well, and you lie well.” Unfortunately Welch doesn’t act well. Her delivery is rather wooden and stilted. But Raquel Welch does have other assets (anyone who has seen the trailer will remember that the film is sold on her measurements 36, 28, 36), which are all on display here. The lime green bikini that she wears in this movie has almost passed into cinematic folklore.

So the film is a good perv. Not much more than lightweight frothy fun in the late sixties spy tradition. It is much better than it’s stable mate, Modesty Blaise, but a few rungs under Our Man Flint.

This review is based on the 20th Century Fox USA DVD

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged , ,
Double Agent 73 (1974)

Country: United States
Director:
Doris Wishman
Starring: Chesty Morgan, Frank Silvano, Saul Meth, Jill Harris, Luois Burdi
Music: Cine Tops

Director Doris Wishman has a reputation for cult nudist and sexploitation films, and Double Agent 73 unashamedly falls fair and squarely into the latter category. It is simply poor quality smut! The Double Agent 73 of the title is Chesty Morgan, whose ridiculously large 73 inch breasts are the star of this low-budget exploitation film. In you’re into films that are so bad that they are good, then this may appeal, but I doubt it.

I’ll attempt to detail the plot, but it basically non-existent and simply an excuse to hang a few titty-jokes on. I use the word ‘jokes’ loosely as there are few laugh out loud moments.

Firstly, Chesty Morgan is a secret agent named Jane Tennay. Her mission is to track down ‘Toplar’ (Frank Silvano), who is a dirty heroin smuggler. To aid Tennay in her mission she has a camera implanted in her left breast. As her mission progresses, she has to photograph evidence and everyone she kills along the way. That in itself could have been a nice little plot device – cheesy yes – but we are talking about a film which stars a giant set of boobies. But instead of presenting this goofy setup in a fun way, it is presented in the most dreary and repetitive fashion. We are treated to scenes where Tennay enters the rooms of the individual suspects, then disrobes to photograph evidence. Next, the suspects burst into their room, and find Chesty going through their belongings. Chesty then has to defend herself by throwing around her enormous mammaries. Sounds fun. It isn’t. After you’ve seen this played out twice, it wears very thin.

If this sounds like your cup-of-tea, let me assure you, you’d be far better off watching a Russ Meyer movie, or if you want to stick with the spy genre, maybe look at Zeta One, which is equally as smutty but provides a great deal more fun along the way. A curious note to end with, the titles state that this movie was made in 1980, but in fact it was released in 1974.

This review is based on the Something Weird DVD

1 Comment Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged , ,
Lucky The Incrutable (1967)

AKA: Speciale Agente LK – Operazione Re Mida
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Ray Danton, Dante Posani, Barbara Bolt, Rosalba Neri, Beba Loncar
Music: Bruno Nicolai

Lucky: “You want my autograph don’t you? You recognised me without my disguise on. Oh, all right, I will sign it for you. But don’t tell anyone I’m here – it’s supposed to be a secret.”

Jess Franco. For fans of Eurospy films, the name either conjures up fear or perverse delight. And Lucky The Inscrutable should be no exception. It is a weird hybrid of comic book and spy movies. If you enjoy (maybe ‘enjoy’ isn’t the word!) Jess Franco’s films, you may find this film has a great deal to offer. In some ways it may be Franco’s most accessible film, as it at least has a sense of humour.

The film opens in London with your standard espionage style sequence. A man is shot down in his hotel room because of the contents of his suitcase. What does his suitcase contain? A large amount of money, that’s what. But the killer doesn’t want the money. He sets the suitcase and the room on fire.

Then we move into a weird title sequence. A girl in a mirrored bikini dances in front of a bank of mirrors. (Think Enter the Dragon but with less martial arts, and more bikinis). Our hero pops up too, as sort of a animated statue. Ray Danton, is ‘Lucky The Inscrutable’, a masked super hero – spy who wears superman style costume with a large yellow ‘L’ on his chest. Naturally for a man of his stature, he is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women.

It’s carnival time. Decorated floats parade down the street and everyone is wearing costumes and masks. In the evening there is a masquerade ball. Naturally enough, Lucky attends. With his costume and mask he doesn’t even have to dress up. Lucky watches as Beba Loncar weaves through the crowd. On a balcony overlooking the dance floor, she moves to a seat. She is expecting company, but Lucky ingratiates himself upon her. She is not impressed, because she is waiting for Julius Caesar (it is fancy dress). Lucky moves on, but Caesar is then skewered by a trident thrown by a gladiator. His dying words to Beba are: “Find Lucky at once. Take him to Archangel.” Beba doesn’t have to look to find Lucky. A murder at a masquerade ball causes quite a bit of commotion and he soon finds himself at the scene. A little too close perhaps, as he is blamed for the killing. Lucky and Beba are forced to flee.

During a brief respite in the chase, Beba asks Lucky to accompany her to America. Before he can respond the villains of the piece, catch up. Lucky is attacked by a clown and then netted by the murderous gladiator. The three costumed men slug it out. Meanwhile an assassin named Hans catches up with Beba and shoots her. Lucky dispatches his attackers and makes it to Beba’s side before she expires. She hands him a pendant with the emblem for Archangel. Who or what is Archangel. They are the Financiers Secret Society, which appears to be run more like a church, with members dressed in black silk robes. (At this point I do expect to see Charles Grey pop out with a knife. The setting does seem somewhat like one of those adaptations of Dennis Wheatley’s ‘Devil’ novels in the early 70’s.

So Lucky is now in American and he is addressing the members of Archangel. For some strange reason he adopts a hybrid Italian / Shakespearian accent. It’s not exactly Merchant Of Venice, more like your favourite character out of The Godfather playing Hamlet.

Are you finding this review weird? Let me assure you the film is! Recapping we have a super hero wannabe, wearing a black leotard impersonating an American gangster while addressing a council of financiers who are dressed like a coven of devil worshippers (maybe that bit isn’t weird). And Lucky’s motivation is the word of a woman who was dating Julius Caesar, Caesar not dying at the hand of Brutus, but on the end of a trident by someone who looks like Woody Strode’s understudy from Spartacus. Got that? As I said earlier – it’s a Jess Franco film.

Remember at the start I mentioned a fellow who was killed in London and had his suitcase full of money burnt. Well it seems he was a paper chemical specialist who was on the trail of Albanian counterfeiters. The money that was torched was fake. Lucky has to go to Albania and pick up the trail. How does Lucky learn all this? Get ready for more weirdness. During the council, a Jewish Nazi in a wheel chair, who happens to be wearing a white bridal veil, tells him. That simple.

That’s enough synopsis. You’re aware of Lucky’s mission. You should have some idea how offbeat this film is. It’s now up to you if you choose to ride along with him.

While I was watching this film, I was reminded of a film we ‘Aussies’ call Flying High. Funny enough, before I posted this, I quickly flicked through The Eurospy Guide to see if there was anything obvious that I missed. In David Deal’s review in the Guide, he compares Lucky to Airplane. Yep, Flying High and Airplane are the same film. So from the mouths of two different sources, the point being that this is a very broad comedy. That’s not to negate it. Some of it’s quite funny, and for it’s genre (the really, really stupid, comedy spy film) it is pound for pound (laugh for laugh) a whole lot better than the Abraham’s, Zucker Brother’s foray into spy films, Top Secret.

Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack, by today’s standards, is pretty cheesy. The standout track is ‘Lopagan Island’ which is a jaunty calypso style number with Edda Dell’Orso’s soprano voice warbling over the top. The music lives better in the context of the film, than as a standalone piece of music.

That’s the film (well, a taster anyway). It’s very different to New York Calling Super Dragon, but if you are in the mood for a bit of silliness, then Lucky The Inscrutable is another winner from Rampaging Ray Danton.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged , , ,
The Spook Who Sat By The Door (1973)

Country: United States
Director: Ivan Dixon
Starring: Lawrence Cook, Paula Kelly, Janet League, J.A. Preston
Music: Herbie Hancock
Based on the novel by Sam Greenlee

Today’s audiences may see this The Spook Who Sat By The Door as a low budget blaxploitation film from the early seventies that has little to offer the genre. But that isn’t quite so.

The film opens with a white politician checking the polls and his numbers to see if he will be re-elected. His numbers are down. The black vote in particular is a source of concern. To swing numbers in his favour, his assistant suggests that he accuse the C.I.A. of being racist and elitist because they have no Negroes in their ranks.

This sets the ball rolling. The C.I.A. begin an integration program for black Americans. Hundreds are interviewed, police checked and tested. Slowly their numbers are whittled down to forty, then ten.

One of the final candidates is Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), who is diligent in his studies and doesn’t go out on the town with the other candidates. This causes friction between the applicants and they accuse him of being a ‘puppet for the white man’. But as the evaluation process continues, Freeman proceeds through to the final round. He does all the right things. When he does venture out of the training camp, he goes to a prostitute. In this day and age, you may think that this indicates that he has low moral fibre. But no, this is the early seventies, and to the powers that be, this indicates that Freeman is not a homosexual. And anyone who has watched alot of spy films from the sixties and seventies knows that homosexuality was viewed as a weakness, or an illness, which often lead to communism. 9Not my view – simply an observation.

Finally Freeman makes it through the selection process. He alone, will be the first black American to join the C.I.A. Despite this honour, his worth to the C.I.A. is illustrated by the position he is entrusted with. Is he to become a covert agent out in the field performing daring missions? No way! He becomes the Top Secret Reproduction Section Chief…that is, he is in charge of the photocopier. But he does his job enthusiastically. Soon his professionalism and amiable manner are noticed, and he almost becomes a propaganda tool for the C.I.A. Whenever a dignitary or politician visits C.I.A. headquarters, it is Freeman who shows them around the facility. He is on show as much as the building and the technology.

But after five years of duty, Freeman decides to leave the agency to become a youth worker in Chicago. As an important role model for black America, he is given a hearty handshake and wished the best of luck.

This is where the film hots up. Freeman heads back to Chicago and does become a youth worker by day, but by night he moulds gangs of ghetto kids into a highly trained guerilla army. He teaches them all the tricks he has learned during his time at the C.I.A. And I am not going to ruin the film for you by telling you what happens next. It is fairly predictable, but the action set pieces and violence aren’t the point of the film. It is the message that’s the important bit. And it’s a simple message of equality…not really an equality of rights…but an equality in skills and the ability to think and to act for oneself without handouts and welfare from the state. It’s about being your own man, or woman.

It’s important to remember that before the film came out, there was a book of The Spook Who Sat By The Door, by Sam Greenlee, which was released in 1966. Obviously the title is a play on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and like LeCarré’s novel both are works of fiction. The comparisons end there. Greenlee’s book, while containing many espionage elements, had an underlying message for black America. I talked about the message in the above paragraph. It seems harmless enough, doesn’t it: the ability to think and to act for oneself without handouts and welfare from the state. But in 1973, when the film was released, it still was a message that many white American communities didn’t want to hear. While I am hardly an expert on Black Civil Rights, it seems that a fictive story with espionage genre trappings should barely raise a ripple. But for Black population that didn’t have the right to a voice, seeing the militant stylization in the movie was a powerful statement. So powerful in fact that the movie was rumoured to be pulled from distribution. For many years the only way to see it was underground screenings or on bootleg video.

The Spook Who Sat At The Door is a fascinating film. It is a low budget production, so don’t expect to be blown away by the visuals. At the heart, is it’s story and a subversive little story at that. If you are after slam-bam action, this will not be your film, but if you are after a spy film with a voice, or are simply interested in the times, then this movie is highly recommended.

This review is based on the Obsidian Home Entertainment / Monarch Home Video USA DVD

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged
Ring Around The World (1966)

Directors: Georges Combret, Luigi Scattini
Starring: Richard Harrison, Hélène Chanel, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Dominique Boschero, Bernard Blier
Music: Piero Umiliani
Songs: ‘I Told Her’ and ‘Mary Lou’ performed by The Bumpers.

Ring Around The World is a very good Eurospy production. If you can find a good print, it is well worth checking out. The story goes like this: An unnamed Killer (Jack Stuart / Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) takes the components of a snipers pistol from a case and assembles it. Into the chamber he inserts an ice bullet. As the credits roll, he goes on a global killing spree. First he guns down a man seated in an outdoor café in Italy. Next he shoots a man on a beach in Rio. Then he moves to a temple in Thailand where his target is on holiday.

After all this carnage, we meet out hero. His name is Fred Lester (Richard Harrison), and he is an investigator for an insurance company. He has been called to London by colleague John Wild. Wild has been investigating the deaths of the three men in the title sequence. It seems that each of the three men had substantial insurance policies, and have listed financial institutions as their beneficiaries, rather than their families. And they all died rather suspiciously from heart attacks.

As Lester enters the insurance company’s headquarters, there is an ear piercing scream, and a man falls to his death in the elevator shaft. No prizes for guessing that this is John Wild. Next, Lester is called into a meeting with the heads of the insurance firm. The men seated around the table are Mr. Sanders, Viscount Berry, Sir Joseph Ashley, and Sir Anthony Queen. They assign Lester to continue the Wild’s work.

Lester starts his investigation at Wild’s apartment at South Eaton Place. On the desk he sees a flyer for the Le Macabre Nightclub. As he examines it, the phone rings. Lester answers it, pretending to be Wild. On the other end of the line is an elderly gent called MacMurray.

He says, ‘They’ve got Yo-Yo. They’re looking for me. I can’t stay here. I’ll give back all the money, you’re right, they don’t want it. They want to kill me.’ Once MacMurray realises it isn’t Wild on the phone, he panics and hangs up.
Lester returns to headquarters and digs up MacMurray’s insurance policy. Sure enough, it is for one hundred thousand pounds. Lester gleans the address and makes his way there, only to find that MacMurray doesn’t live there anymore. It appears that MacMurray is a bit of a rapscallion. He has abandoned his wife, who he only married for money in the first place, and has now run off with a nightclub singer called Yo-Yo.

Lester puts two and two together and works out that Yo-Yo must perform at Le Macabre, so he makes that his next port of call. Le Macabre is a swingin’ sixties go-go pad, and Lester’s job is made incredibly easy when Yo-Yo (Dominique Boschero) approaches him on entry. She wants to dance. He wants information. They go to her room backstage.

After a bit of gentle intimidation, Yo-Yo gives Lester MacMurray’s address at Embankment Gardens. Lester is on the move again, but this time he is being tailed by the Killer. As Lester steps into the elevator at MacMurray’s apartment, the Killer steps in also. Lester is a pretty smart cookie and knows he has been followed. “We’re looking for the same person,” he says. At MacMurray’s apartment, both men are ushered in by a servant. But all is not as it seems as the servant is working with the Killer. He bids the men to sit down and wait, and offers to make them a cup of tea. Naturally, Lester’s has poison in it. Lester chooses not to partake in the tea ritual and pulls a gun, but as the Killer distract Lester, the servant sneaks up on Lester from behind. Lester is clubbed unconscious.

Lester remains unconscious as the Killer and his henchman drive out of town until they come to a railway crossing. The plan is to leave Lester in the car, in the middle of the tracks and, well you can guess the rest… As the train approaches, Lester awakens and with a well placed kung-fu chop knocks out the henchman. Then he leaps from the car as the train collides with it. The Killer is nowhere to be seen.

Upset by his experience, Lester returns to Le Macabre to find Yo-Yo. Not surprisingly, she has packed up her things and scarpered. But after a bit of biffo with two burley bouncers, he discovers her address and heads around to her apartment. She isn’t home, so he waits in the dark for her to arrive. Upon arrival, Lester asks her once again about MacMurray’s whereabouts, but this time at gunpoint. He isn’t too happy. He is told that MacMurray has fled to Rio, and staying with a man called Hernandez, who has a store in the Old Bazaar section.

Lester lands in Rio and makes his way around to Hernandez’s store. Hernandez says that another man (The Killer) has already been to see him regarding MacMurray’s location. Lester thinks he is too late. MacMurray is hiding out in the Hotel Americano, in the village of Gabia. The village is one hundred miles from Rio and only accessible by airplane. Luckily, Hernandez knows a pilot with a small plane who can get him there quickly. So Lester is off once again. It is dizzying keeping up with him.

At the back of the shop MacMurray is held at gunpoint by The Killer. And the man Lester thought was Hernandez is really another of The Killer’s minions, and at the airfield another plot is being put in place to eliminate Lester. A bomb is fixed to the engine of the plane, with a timer set to go off at two o’clock. Lester arrives at the airfield, boards the plane. Once they are in the air, he finds it strange that the pilot is already wearing a crash helmet and a parachute. The pilot explains that it is ‘company policy’. As two o’clock approaches, the pilot tries to leap from the plane, but as he jumps, Lester latches onto him and free-falls with him. Once the parachute has been deployed, Lester strangles the pilot mid air, and then glides down safely.

On the ground, Lester continues on to the Hotel Americano in Gabia, but it is deserted. The caretaker explains that it went out of business a year ago. Lester’s next move is to phone Hernandez. This time he gets the real one, who says that MacMurray was at the Hotel Americano in Brasilia. You guessed it. Lester’s on the move once more. In Brasilia, the local police explain that MacMurray is dead. They found him in the hotel swimming pool, cramped up. They say it must have been an accident, but Lester knows better.

That’s the end of the race to save MacMurray, but back in England there’s another policy holder who has gone missing. His name is Brightford and his daughter Mary (Sherrill Morgan) is worried about him. Lester is assigned to find Brightford, and naturally Mary tags along. I’ll leave the synopsis there, but let me asure you, there’s plenty more to come, and it is well worth your time.

With a title like Ring Around The World, you’d expect the film to feature some impressive locations. And the film doesn’t let us down. The first of note is the city of Brasilia. For those interested, the city was designed by Brazilian architect and urban planner, Lucio Costa. Major buildings were designed by Oscar Niemeyer and landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx planned the layout. The movie features the uniquely shaped buildings, art and sculpture and wide streets as a backdrop, particularly during a car chase sequence. For those who’d like to see a bit more of the city will strangely have to go to Rio (746 miles away). Or more precisely watch That Man from Rio (L’Homme de Rio) with Jean Paul Belmondo or The Girl From Rio (The Seven Secrets Of Sumuru) with Shirley Eaton.

The other noteworthy location is used in the denouement. The final shootout takes place in the Tiger Balm Gardens, also known as Aw Boon Haw Gardens, a popular tourist attraction in Hong Kong. The gardens were created by Aw Boon Haw, who made his fortune from the sale of Tiger Balm. It’s a great setting and visually gives the movie and organic yet slightly surreal feeling.

A quick word about the soundtrack by Piero Umiliani. It is an absolute knockout. It is pounding, it’s jazzy, it’s swinging sixties. It’s almost worth watching the film for the soundtrack alone.

This review is based on the Retromedia Entertainment Inc DVD. This is part of a Richard Harrison double feature which also includes the movie Terminal Force

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged ,
Tip Not Included (1966)


AKA: A Cold-Blooded Affair
Director: Helmuth Ashley
Starring: George Nader, Yvonne Monlaur, Heinz Weiss, Horst Tappert, Christian Doermer, Ullrich Haupt, Richard Münch
Music: Peter Thomas

Tip Not Included is the fourth film in the West German series of Jerry Cotton films. As with most entries in the series it plays more like a detective story than a spy film. Jerry deals more with your garden variety hoodlum and scum, than your megalomaniac with plans to take over the world. The series, while being action packed, suffered from minuscule budgets. The films are chock full of American stock footage and most of the big set pieces are done using rear projection with varying degrees of success. Before I begin the review, I would like to say Tip Not Included, has some of the sloppiest, laugh inducing rear projection I have ever seen.

The film! We launch into some seriously swinging titles, with a montage of Jerry’s red E-type Jaguar, shots being fired from a pistol and neon lights, all accompanied by Peter Thomas jazzy score. It gets the film off on the right foot. Jerry (George Nader) emerges from the titles and swaggers into a nightclub, checks out some booty as it wiggles past, and then orders a double scotch.

Also sitting at the bar is Thomas Wheeler (Christian Doermer). Wheeler is a chemist who has been out of work for quite a while but has stumbled onto a scheme that might help him out of his predicament…but more on that later. At the moment Wheeler is at the club to see Phylis Vernon (Yvonne Monlaur) who is a singer at the club. As Phylis warbles out a pleasing torch song, two thugs enter the club and forcibly remove Wheeler from his barstool. Outside the hoodlums start to give Wheeler a good pounding, but of course, Jerry has tailed them outside and intervenes. Jerry overpowers the brutes and has them handcuffed for the police, but in the commotion Wheeler has disappeared. Not even a thank you! Jerry consoles Phylis and gives her his card.

Wheeler stumbles back to his apartment and finds a man, bathed in shadow waiting for him. Whatever Wheeler’s money-making scheme is it seems as if there is another interested party. Wheeler is offered a deal. ‘50-50 or you a dead man!’ Wheeler naturally accepts. And he accept a miniature radio, so he can communicate with his new silent partner.

What is Wheeler’s scheme I hear you ask? Wheeler is working for a gang headed by Charles Anderson (Horst Tappert), another of New York’s leading mobsters. Anderson’s gang, who’s secret base is a wrestling arena, are planning to hold up an armoured car that leaves from the Treasury Clearing House on Wall Street every day. It is Wheeler’s job to come up with the smokepots that will be used in the robbery.

On the next morning the Treasury Clearing House is preparing for it’s usual delivery. The Head Of The Treasury, Mr Clark, is waiting for his Chief Controller, George Davis (Ullrich Haupt) to arrive, before sending his shipment off. But Davis had been mugged the night before and was now in the Riverside Hospital. The money shipment is postponed.

It’s time for the F.B.I.’s best man, Jerry Cotton to go to work. Mr High, Jerry’s boss contacts him on his car phone. High suspects the mugging is related to the money transfer but cannot be sure. Jerry goes to the hospital to interview Davis. Davis is of little help to Jerry. In fact his responses border on antagonistic. Next Jerry interviews, Mr Clark, the Head of the Treasury. Jerry suggests that the days money shipment should go ahead, but with an unladen van. That way if a robbery attempt was made, the cash wouldn’t be at risk. Clark agrees and the armoured van is sent off.

Through a set of binoculars, perched high on the penthouse floor of a high rise building, Anderson watches as the armoured vans unload their precious cargo. Anderson realises that the van being sent out is just a rouse. Even though his men are is position, he postpones the robbery.

Using the radio given to him, by his silent partner, Wheeler tries to make contact, but is discovered by one of Anderson’s men. Wheeler flees and a highway chases ensues. Wheeler ends up driving his car into a ditch and it explodes in a ball of flame. But Anderson doesn’t know who Wheeler was working for. He formulates a plan to capture Phylis and pry the information from her.

Meanwhile at the Treasury Department, Jerry advises Mr. Clark not to ship any money until all the loose ends regarding Davis’ mugging are tied up. Clark ignores Jerry and loads armoured van with a total of thirteen million dollars worth of bank notes and diamonds. From his hi-rise position Anderson watches as the van is loaded and alerts his gang that the heist is going ahead.

The van follows its regular route out of the city. Anderson’s men are ready and as the van drives under an overpass a magnetic bomb drops down, first to the road, and then attaches itself to the underside of the van as it passes over it. The bomb is detonated by remote control by Anderson and the van crumples like an aluminium beer can under foot.

A circular necklace of smokepots are set off around the wreck and Anderson’s goons, wearing smokemasks steal the contents of the armoured van and load it into the back of an ambulance. As the police arrive on the scene, the gang simply drive off in the ambulance under the nose of the constabulary.

As head of the Treasury, Clark doesn’t take news of the heist well. He blames himself for not listening to Jerry Cotton’s advice. Like a circling pack of vultures, the Press are outside his office and want his head on a platter. Despondently, he pulls a gun from his desk drawer and is about to blow his brains out, when Jerry bursts into the room and stops him. To relieve the pressure from Clark, Jerry announces to the Press that it was his idea that the armoured shipment proceed. But Jerry’s act of kindness backfires, as Clark has a heart attack and dies. And now, the true facts are buried, and the public is baying for Jerry’s blood.

In the aftermath, F.B.I. chief, Mr High, has no option but to suspend Jerry from active duty. Jerry’s occasional partner, Phil Decker takes over Jerry’s case load. As a piece of parting advice, Jerry’s suggests to check the morgue. After a robbery of this size, there usually is strife between the perpetrators, often resulting in murder. He tells Phil to check for hints of the smoke used in the robbery.

After the robbery, Anderson’s gang still has unfinished business with Phylis Vernon. She is kidnapped and locked in an office at a rail yard. Luckily for her, the phone is still connected and she calls Jerry Cotton (with the details on the card that he gave her at the start of the film). She gives Jerry directions to where she is being held. But it is all a trap. Anderson has tapped the phone.

When Jerry arrives, he drives into a veritable shower of bullets. Taking deliberate aim, Jerry shoots at a rail petrol tanker. The tanker explodes in a giant mushroom of flame. Anderson and his hoods flee the scene. Jerry rescues Phylis, but is promptly arrested for blowing up the tanker, after all, he isn’t an F.B.I. agent any more.

Phil Decker is called to the rescue and bails Jerry and Phylis out of trouble. Afterwards, Jerry takes Phylis back to her home. Inside, he stumbles on a program from a wrestling match. Upon enquiry, Phylis says it was Wheelers. He went there occasionally. Jerry believes it is a clue, and that evening Phylis and Jerry attend the wrestling. Observing from his office above the bleachers, Anderson plans a trap for Jerry and Phylis. After a regulation bit of biffo, Anderson’s men capture Jerry and the girl and lock them a supply room.

Anderson decides it’s time to bug out and retrieves the stolen money from his hiding place at the arena. As the suitcases are brought out, Anderson is jumped by the mysterious other party who was after the cash. Yes, we finally meet the man who was Wheeler’s silent partner. It is George Davis, the Treasury controller. It appears he knew that Anderson was planning something. And he even faked his own mugging, so a double shipment would be transported and the take would increase. Davis and Anderson agree to split the loot.

While this is all happening, Jerry isn’t sitting on his hands. First he cuts the ropes around his wrists by rubbing them against an oil heater. Then he crawls into a ventilation duct and snakes his way out of the building, towards the roof. The roof just happens to be a hive of activity, as Davis and Anderson are about to board a helicopter with the money.

Naturally enough though, Davis becomes greedy and as Anderson is about to board the helicopter he receives a bullet in the belly. The helicopter lifts off and begins to move away from the building. But you cannot escape from Jerry Cotton that easily. Jerry takes a running jump, flying through the air he grabs the helicopter’s landing strut. The rear projection is these scenes, where Jerry is seen dangling from a helicopter while the New york skyline whizzes past is extremely poor. Actually poor, is probably a kind description. I think ‘laughable’ is a more apt description.

As with most of the reviews found on this blogsite, I try not to give the ending away. So I’ll leave you, dear reader, and Jerry hanging…but Jerry Cotton will return.

Tip Not Included, is a small step down from the last installment in the Jerry Cotton series (3-2-1 Countdown For Manhattan) but still reasonable entertainment, if you can get over the technical deficiencies. One strong point in it’s favour is George Nader. He grounds the films and gives them a sense of continuity. The fact he appears in all the films in the series creates an almost familial ambiance. After all, most Eurospy films feature different actors in each installment (OSS 117, Coplan etc.).

This review is based on the JSV / Giantox Entertainment Holland DVD

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged , ,
Naked Weapon (2002)

Country: Hong Kong
Director: Siu Tung Ching
Starring: Maggie Q, Anya, Daniel Wu, Jewel Lee, Almen Wong
Music: Ken Chan, Kwong Wing Chan

With a title like Naked Weapon and dubious packaging which depicts knife wielding lesbian soldiers, I wasn’t expecting much from this Hong Kong Production. But much to my surprise (or should that be embarrassment) this film turned out to be a compact little thriller with some well choreographed set pieces. Sure, it does have some sleazy moments, like an unnecessary triple rape sequence, but for a film featuring dozens of scantily clad female bodies; it doesn’t leer at its subject matter.

On to the story. The film opens with a CIA stakeout going horribly wrong when a female assassin (pretending to be a hooker, of course) kills the suspect and most of the guards surrounding him in spectacular fashion. However, before she can make her escape she meets her own demise courtesy of a bazooka (yep, that’d do it!) The ex-assassin’s controller, Madame M (Almen Wong) then has the task of replacing her dearly departed protégé. She does so by kidnapping forty young teenage girls who are gifted in athletics and martial arts. The girls are spirited away to a secret island where they spend the next six years being brutalized and trained to be the world’s most deadly assassins.

At the end of the training, the remaining girls enter a ‘cage of death’ where the usual type of violent, choreographed mayhem takes place. At the end of the bloodfest, three girls are left standing. These three become the ‘China Dolls’ – a team of attractive, but lethal assassins under the control of Madame M.

Meanwhile a young, determined CIA Agent, Jack Chen (Daniel Wu) who was working on the disappearance of the young girls all those years ago has discovered a link between one of the China Dolls, Charlene (Maggie Q) and a girl taken from Hong Kong. (DNA testing has obviously come a long way, fast!) Agent Chan watches Charlene’s mother and eventually catches up with Charlene and the China Dolls.

Considering the circumstances and the short time frame, a contrived romance blossoms between Agent Chen and Maggie. Chen is then drawn into a revenge plot against the girls, but as a garden variety CIA agent, rather than a trained killer, he doesn’t have the skills to assist in the final showdown.

The final scene is a glorious confrontation on the Hong Kong docks where Charlene faces her nemesis (The other two China Dolls have been knocked off by this stage).

Throughout the film are the usual Hong Kong stylings; such as plenty of hand to hand combat, hand to machete combat, and wire work.

Okay, Naked Weapon won’t replace The Bourne Identity in your DVD collection but if you are looking for 93 minutes of mindless action, you could do a lot worse. Oh, and the dialogue was filmed in English so the lip movements match the words.

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged ,
New York Calling Superdragon

Director: Calvin Jackson Padget
Starring: Ray Danton, Margaret Lee, Marisa Mell, Carlo D’Angelo, Jess Hahn, Carlo Hinterman
Music: Benedetto Ghiglia

Rembrandt 13: “So you’re the famous Superdragon?”
Superdragon: “That’s right. Would you like an autograph?”
Rembrandt 13: “If that’s all you can offer a lady…”
Superdragon: “Well in public, yes! But in private I try to be more generous!”

New York Calling Superdragon is an extremely entertaining Eurospy film starring Ray Danton as the Brian Cooper – the aforementioned ‘Superdragon’. While many Eurospy films tend to be blatant ripoffs on the James Bond series, Superdragon is a slightly different in that seems to have been influenced by Our Man Flint. When we first meet our hero, he is practicing some weird yoga technique, which to all intents and purposes seems like suspended animation or death. While Superdragon is …er, resting a metronome beats beside him, only to awaken him once it has finished its cycle. This is extremely reminiscent of when Derek Flint (James Coburn) would stop his heart for relaxation, only to be awoken by a tiny pivot on his watch that would start his heart again, in Our Man Flint. Given both Coburn’s and Danton’s easy way with a smile, it is not surprising that Danton would take over from Coburn in the role of Derek Flint for the TV movie, Our Man Flint: Dead On Target which was made almost a decade later.

Let’s have a quick look at the plot. Strange things are afoot in Freemont, Michigan, a college town in the United States. Two students have died from heart failure, another four have collapsed from an unknown nervous disorder, and fights are breaking out amongst the student population for no known reason.

Coleman (Carlo Hinterman), head of an un-named secret organization has sent two agents in to investigate. The first, Wilson, was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft. The second, Jackson, lost control of his car on Canyon Road and crashed into a river. Coleman’s third choice is Brian Cooper. He has retired and needs a little coaxing to return to duty. The coaxing is provided by ‘Comfort’ Fulton (Margaret Lee), a fellow agent, who turns up at Cooper’s home, poolside, dressed in hot pink.

Cooper agrees to look into the matter. His first stop is at the police station in Freemont. From the local police chief, Cooper gleans that Jackson had been travelling with a beautiful girl named Christine Brewder. She was a visitor from Amsterdam, who was friends with Mr. Ross, the owner of the local Bowling Alley. Strangely, Brewder’s body was not found in the wreckage. It was presumed it had been swept upstream. Cooper isn’t so convinced.

Cooper’s next stop is at Jackson’s apartment, There he finds some documents hidden in the cuckoo clock. They are import documents from Amsterdam for five Chinese vases. They are made out to Christine Brewder. There is also an analysis request for a piece of chewing gum from Ross’ bowling alley. Cooper takes the lead and makes the bowling alley his next port of call.

At the alley, Cooper witnesses Ross, working the concession stand. He is handing out free packs of chewing gum to the teenagers. The teenagers are all hyped up, singing, dancing and clapping along to the jukebox. One girl in particular is shaking up a storm. Cooper then approaches Ross, and tries to buy some gum. He is given a different brand to the kids, but doesn’t protest. It just raises his suspicions.

Continuing his investigation Cooper visits the local university to talk to the Dean about the events in the town, and to be shown the establishment. The Dean assures Cooper that nothing is wrong. But as they watch the gym class go about their activities, a fight breaks out between two girls. One of the girls was the young lady who had been dancing up a storm the night before. The fight soon escalates into a full-scale brawl. After calm has been restored, the dancing girl is lying on the floor in the throes of a convulsive fit. She is quickly sent to hospital but no sign of drugs are found in her system.

Cooper’s not happy about events. He returns to the bowling alley as Ross is locking up. Accompanied by a couple a persuasive backhands to the jaw, Cooper asks Ross a few questions. As Ross is about to talk a car whizzes past, and Ross receives a .38 calibre hole in his forehead. No answers there.

After retrieving the key, Cooper heads to Ross’ apartment and starts to snoop around. He is examining a Ming vase when an assassin bursts through the door. His shot misses, but Cooper’s return fire collects the assailant in the shoulder. The assassin runs into the bathroom and locks the door. By the time Cooper has kicked in the bathroom door it is too late. The assassin has taken his own life. That’s it for Freemont.

Cooper returns to headquarters and debriefs Coleman. Coleman says that the tests on the chewing gum have come back negative. There only hope is to follow up on Christine Brewder. A trip to Amsterdam is planned. Cooper says he will only continue with the mission if he can get some help. The man he wants is called ‘Babyface’ (Jess Hahn). He is a gangster who happens to be in Sing Sing Prison. Coleman pulls some strings and ‘Babyface’ is released.

‘Babyface’, apart from being a thief, happens to be a technology expert. He is essentially the ‘Q’ character. He equips Cooper with a communicator watch and a bulletproof vest, plus a few other little devices that come into play as the movie progresses. It is a refreshing change to see the ‘Q’ character not played as a stuffy buffoon as so often happens. ‘Babyface’ is still comic relief and seems to get in the way more than he helps out, but at least he isn’t a cut price Desmond Llewellyn.

Back to Amsterdam. Cooper and ‘Babyface’ meet with their agent in Holland – Agent Rembrandt 13, Charity Farrell (Marissa Mell). Farrell says that nobody has seen Christine Brewder in over a year, but she did have one special man in her life. A millionaire named Fernand Lamas (Carlo d’Angelo). Farrell arranges a meeting between Cooper and Lamas.

With all the jumping about, shooting and deaths, you’d think we’d be almost to the end of the movie. It may surprise you to know, that the scenes I have described above only make up the first twenty minutes of the film. As you can see it is all smartly paced with a far amount of action. The print I viewed, from Shocking Videos, while being far from perfect, was still featured vibrant colours – I am guessing a pristine print would positively shine, or glow in the dark with it’s sensational mod colour schemes.

Dear reader, I am not going to outline any more of the plot for you. Not because I am lazy, but I think I have given you a fair taster of what this movie has to offer There are a couple of set pieces that I enjoyed that I will bring to your attention though. The first is where Cooper’s neck is wired to the rails of a dry dock in a shipping yard. It’s like him being tied to a railroad track, but rather than a train coming to remove his head from his body, a ship is set in motion and sliding down the rails.

Another interesting set piece happens after Cooper has been knocked out in a fist fight with four thugs. They put his body in a coffin, screw down the lid, and then drill some large holes in the side of the coffin. The holes are not to let air in, but to let water in as the hoods dump the coffin in a canal. It’s all good corny fun, and five years before Mister Connery got trapped inside a coffin in Diamonds Are Forever.

So that’s what you have in store if you choose to watch New York Calling Superdragon. And why wouldn’t you. It has everything you’d expect from a swinging sixties spy film – action colour, humour and some beautiful girls. The real glue that holds it all together though, is Ray Danton’s performance. It’s cheeky, charming and extremely entertaining. And it isn’t the up front womanising or beating up of suspects that make the character endearing. It’s the little things that have nothing to do with the plot. For example in one scene he stops at a souvenir stall to ask for directions. The seller gives him his directions, but asks that he buy a small souvenir. He does out of politeness, but as he walks off, in the background you can see that he passes the gift off to a little girl as she walks by. As I said, it has no bearing on the plot, but it is simple and charming. It’s touches like this that lift New York Calling Superdragon above Danton’s two other Eurospy efforts, Codename: Jaguar, and Lucky The Inscrutable.

I know Eurospy films aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if you are interested, this film is one of the easier titles to track down, and one of the better examples of the genre.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD.

No Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
Tagged , , ,