Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy (2005)

I have a confession to make. I have a really poor memory. It is because of this that I can watch so many spy films over and over again. They always seem fresh and new to me. When I am watching the same old plot – you know the one, where a scientist is kidnapped, and his daughter teams up with a super spy to track him down – I don’t think ‘here’s that hoary old chestnut again’ – I tend to get totally drawn in.

Previously, I posted a review for Sylvia Kristel’s Mata Hari (1985). When I wrote that review I did a little bit of research on Mata Hari. There a great condensed biography on Mata Hari by Denise Noe on this Website: Crime Library. On this website, you’ll also find very good articles on Sidney Reilly (Reilly: Ace Of Spies) and the Cambridge Spies.

At this time I also watched the Biography Channel’s Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy. I didn’t think very highly of the documentary (and didn’t bother to write a review). The documentary tells you ‘what’ Mata Hari did, but never explains ‘why’. And as such, I felt it was a fairly shallow overview of Mata Hari’s life.

Here it is six months later, and all the information I had pumped into my tiny brain has dissipated. I no longer have the encyclopaedic recall about the facts of Mata Hari’s life. And recently I have re-watched Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy. And I must admit I quite enjoyed it. It is a very good introduction for those wanting to learn more about Mata Hari. Sure it doesn’t fill in all the details, but it does explain what all the fuss was about. And it does whet your appetite to find out a little bit more about Mata Hari. With a run time of only 50 minutes, I guess it is very difficult to cram in every fact about her life, and what the Biography Channel has done is taken a straight forward linear look at the events that lead to Mata Hari’s execution.

One thing I would have also liked explored, is Mata Hari’s effect on popular culture. Mata Hari’s life may have come to a premature end on the morning of October 15, 1917, but her legend, or possibly a better word, ‘myth’ lives on. Multiple films and mini-series have been made by the French, Germans, and in the US (more than I can list here), and I believe she is even a character in a video game. Generally they don’t even attempt to tell the true story of Mata Hari. They concentrate on the ‘myth’. Her name has become synonymous with ‘Sex’ and ‘Spying’. As a final insult to her name and her legend this has been taken to the extreme with the release of two films: Codename Mata Hari: The Fountain Of Youth and Codename Mata Hari 2: Sex Is Not Enough. Quite simply they’re pornography. Please note, I will not be reviewing these particular movies, but for those who want a quick overview, here is what May 2006 Australian edition of People magazine had to say:

‘…they’re better than yer average pornos (there are a few very cool animated inserts), but the dubbing from…er, European to English is worse than a chop-socky flick from the 70s.’

It sounds like I am getting sleazy. But really, I am pointing out the extreme manipulation and distortion of Mata Hari’s story in today’s popular culture.

I would say she has almost become a poster child for the ‘sex industry’ but the truth is most people would not even recognise her from a photo (maybe if she was in costume, perhaps). So it is only her ‘name’ that conjures up this misconception.

But back to Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy. Expecting an in depth look at her life and how her legend has entwined itself through modern culture is a bit too much to ask. But as an introduction to the ‘real’ Mata Hari, then this documentary is a good place to start, and may even pique your interest enough that you go out and find out a bit more about Mata Hari for yourself. Highly recommended.

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xXx 2: The Next Level (2005)

AKA: xXx 2: The State Of The Union
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe, Scott Speedman, Peter Strauss.
Music: Marco Beltrami

After almost single handedly destroying the Bond franchise on Die Another Day, Lee Tamahori stuck his hooks into the xXx franchise.

This movie is bad. I try to be positive in my reviews, after all, ‘spy movies’ are a genre that I truly love, but this film has a B.S. quotient that has to be seen to be believed (maybe I have used the wrong words – I don’t recommend that you see it).

POOR SCRIPT or POOR DIRECTOR. Firstly, in the original xXx movie, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) worked for the NSA. In this film, the Division is called xXx. From the outset Gibbons states that Xander Cage, the original xXx (Vin Diesel) died in Bora Bora. Since that was where Xander was at the end of the first movie, and is dead by the start of the second, it is fair to presume that the rebranding of the NSA must have happened overnight (gee that was quick).

And we all know that xXx stood for Xander (and his love of X-treme sports) and was based on the tattoo on his neck. In an instant, that is all out the window with the rebranding of the organization, unless it is some kind of tribute (unlikely, he only saved the world once!). This is the contempt the film-makers show for continuity, and their audience and the story hasn’t even begun.

The movie starts with an assault on the xXx headquarters. Believability goes out the window, when the assailants use ACME holes, like the ones the Coyoté used in the Warner Brothers cartoons. Instantly underground, they kill everybody in the complex, except for Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) and Kyle Steele (Scott Speedman). Since their security has obviously been breached, Gibbons decides to recruit outside the system. Someone dangerous! A new xXx. Enter Darius Stone (Ice Cube). He is one bad motherf*cker who has been locked away in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Meanwhile Gen. George Octavius Deckert (Willem Dafoe) is cleaning house in the aftermath of the xXx headquarters massacre. Look, I am not even going to bother outlining any more of the plot. This film is one of the worst sequels made.

The only sign of creative thought that went into this action movie is when Stone launches a tank down the runway of an aircraft carrier. It doesn’t take off, but sure makes a mess of an opposing tank at the other end of the runway.

The special effects, especially during the climax on a bullet train are very poor CGI (even the bullet train CGI sequences in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible are superior – even though it was made nine years earlier. Toward the end of the first xXx movie, Vin Diesel says ‘Start thinking Playstation 2…’ Unfortunately, the film-makers have taken xXx’s quote literally and the movie looks like a stylised video game.

And the real sad part about this whole movie experience is that the film-makers think they have gotten away with presenting this lousy piece of shit to the public. They have the audacity to hint that there will be a xXx 3, with a new xXx. If this is an example of the standard, I don’t think the queue for the next film will be very long (I’m thinking straight to video!)

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xXx (2002)

Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Roof
Music: Randy Edelman

“If your gonna send some one to save the world – make sure they like the way it is!”

A new breed of secret agent! xXx is presented as a James Bond movie for ‘Generation Next’ who are into Xtreme sports and loud punk music. But it is a great deal of fun. Sure, some of the special effects, particularly during the avalanche sequence are a bit lame. But thankfully most of the stunts appear to be done in front of the camera, rather than relying on technical wizardry.

The film opens in Prague, in the Czech Republic. A suave tuxedoed secret agent retrieves a microchip from an enemy operative. But within seconds, other enemy agents are upon him. To escape he darts into a nightclub. Inside the band Ramstein are performing. They play the kind of music I would call industrial-goth, but I suppose today’s youth would probably call it EMO. Amongst the black-clad gothic patrons, the agent stands out like a sore thumb. For his trouble, the agent is killed and his lifeless body is tossed about above the audience, like a crowd-surfer.

The death of this agent is symbolic. In his tux, he represented the James Bond’s of this world. He was the stiff, old-fashioned type of spy, who has hopped around the globe, staying in posh hotels and luxurious casinos. A spy whose methods were old fashioned, and were known by the enemy. He is a spy who has reached his ‘use-by’ date.

Meanwhile at the N.S.A headquarters in the United States, they are analyzing the small amount of information, that the nameless agent in Prague transmitted before he was killed. From the data they have identified a dangerous chemical weapon called ‘Silent Night’. And they have ascertained that the group behind the agent’s death and the custodians of this chemical weapon are a group called ‘Anarchy 99’.

Called in to oversee the continuation of this operation is Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). He believes the N.S.A should look outside the system for a new operative to continue this mission. He says, “Do we want to drop another mouse into the snake pit – or should we send our own snake!”

Next we cut to California. Senator Richard Hodgkins arrives at a fancy country club driving his sleek red Corvette convertible. Politically Hodgkins is outspoken about the youth of today. He has tried to ban ‘Rock’ music and video games. Unfortunately for Hodgkins, he hands his car keys over to Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) who is impersonating a car-parking attendant. In reality Xander is an extreme sports junkie who makes underground movies, videotaping his performance, whenever he performs a dangerous stunt. On this day his stunt involves stealing the Senator’s car and driving it off the edge of a bridge over a wide canyon. As the car plummets towards the valley floor below, Xander pulls a ripcord on a parachute and drifts down gently. The car, on the other hand, explodes in one of those giant orange fireballs that Hollywood do so well.

After the success of Xander’s cheeky stunt, he is hosting a party to celebrate. Only it is interrupted when the lights unexpectedly go out, and a SWAT team burst through the windows. Xander is shot with a tranquilizer dart and passes out.

When Xander awakes, he is in a diner. He immediately finds himself involved in a hold-up situation. Quickly taking stock of the events as they are unfolding, he quickly disarms the two perpetrators only to find out that the hold-up was not for real. It was a test arranged by Augustus Gibbons. He is looking for new recruits and Xander has just passed the first test in Gibbons recruitment drive.

There are more tests, but of course, Xander passes them too, using his extreme sports skills to get him out of tricky situations. The second half of the film concentrates on Xander’s mission which takes place in Prague.

Fleshing out the cast are Marton Csokas as Yorgi, the villainous head of Anarchy 99; Asia Argento as Yelena, Yorgi’s girlfriend; and Michael Roof as Agent Toby Lee Shavers, the gadget guy.

If you are going to enjoy this film, the first thing you have to get over is Vin Diesel as the hero. Diesel with his clean-shaven skull and lack of chin, would hardly pop into your mind as your classic, suave spy type. But that is the point, he is not your usual spy type. In fact the film-makers have, on the surface, tried to distance themselves as far from the usual Bondian spy film as possible. But this is all an act, and it is very cleverly done. The youth market may think that the film is ‘now’, but there are only a few short burst of rock music and even the stunts are the kind that you see is most big-budget spy extravaganzas. Most of the soundtrack by Randy Edelman is in the old school Bond tradition, and even though Xander never quite makes it to Vienna (is Prague close enough?), we are still treated to shots of cobble stone streets while the Harry Lime theme is played on a zither. It’s all a bit of an act. It pretends to be a new progressive spy film, but at the same time it is happy to revisit the past and play upon it’s spy film heritage.

One problem with making a film seem ‘now’, is that it has the potential to date very quickly. Although only five years old, xXx is already showing it’s age. Dialogue like “Word!” (yes, I agree with what you are saying) and “The cars are dope!” (The cars are very good) already sound dated.

The movie has a cheeky sort of charm. Ultimately it knows it is another Bond ripoff, but takes delight in pointing out how it is different. It’s difference is that it is youthful and hip and doesn’t really care about the ‘supposed’ finer things in life. But it is still a fairly effective addition to the genre. It wont be everyone’s cup of tea (or Cranberry Club Soda – I mean what kind of agent orders Cranberry Club Soda at a bar?), but it does provide big budget mayhem with plenty of explosions, chases, guns and girls. What more could you ask?

EXTENDED EDITION

When xXx 2: The Next Level was released at the cinemas, the producers took the opportunity to re-release xXx in an extended edition on DVD.

The added scenes do little to improve the film and in fact were on the original DVD as deleted scenes.

Also as an added bonus, they have included the short film, The Death of Xander Cage, which explains why Vin Diesel’s character didn’t return in the sequel.

The politest thing I can say is that this is a complete waste of time. It has no style whatsoever. It looks like a student movie, and the ending is terrible.

Adding insult to injury, it doesn’t fit in with the second xXx movie, which states at the beginning that Xander Cage died in Bora Bora.

The whole extended package was an insult to the fans of the movie, and hints at the direction the series was to head in the second movie.

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Operation Kid Brother (1967)

AKA: OK Connery, Operation Double 007, Secret Agent 00
Director: Alberto De Martino
Starring: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolpho Celi, Anthony Dawson, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Music: Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai
Song ‘OK Connery’ performed by Khristy

“I’m a surgeon, not a secret agent!”

Of all the European spy films made in the sixties to cash in on Bondmania, Operation Kid Brother is probably the best known. Not because it was one of the better examples of the Eurospy genre, but because it featured Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil, in the title role. And there you have the joke, the movie hangs it’s plot on.

Secret Agent 007’s brother, Dr. Neil Connery (he uses his real name in the movie) is a plastic surgeon, lip reader, hypnotist and archer extraordinaire. It is these skills that help him once he gets drawn into a tangled web of intrigue, when one of his patients gets kidnapped by an evil organisation called Thanatos. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The film opens with a boat, crewed by a bevy of scantily clad ladies, pulling into Monte Carlo harbour. Below deck, Thayer (Adolpho Celi – who played Emilio Largo in the Bond movie Thunderball) is receiving a massage, while watching a movie on a naked back on one of his girls. More about Thayer later…

Meanwhile Miss Maxwell (Lois Maxwell – who played Moneypenny from 1962-85) is waiting at the Aero Club of Monte Carlo, for a plane to land. And not just any plane. Coming in for landing is an agent named Ward Jones, who is carrying a very important little box. But as the plane lands and begins taxiing down the runway, a remote control car, guided by Thayer (naturally), is sent into a collision course with the plane. Both car and plane explode in a fireball. As emergency crews attend to the wreck, during the commotion, Maya (Daniela Bianchi – who played Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love), clothed in an asbestos fire suit, retrieves the box from the flaming wreckage and disappears with it.

We then move to a lecture theatre where Doctor Neil Connery is holding a lecture on plastic surgery and facial reconstruction. His lecture is disrupted when a group of men burst in an attempt to steal Doctor Connery’s patient. You see, she was Ward Jones girlfriend, and everyone believes that he has left some vital intelligence information with her.

The kidnapping attempt is foiled by Miss Maxwell, who spirits the girl away. Unfortunately, Connery was distracted in the commotion, and has accidentally killed an man. The authorities have him in custody. It’s here that Doctor Connery is recruited, or rather blackmailed, into working for M.I.6. The head of M.I.6 is another familiar face. It is Bernard Lee, who played ‘M’ in the Bond series (from 1962 – 1979). Here he plays Commander Cunningham. Connery’s mission is to stop Thanatos.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the villains of the piece, are an evil organization called Thanatos. The leader of Thanatos, Alpha, is played by Anthony Dawson, another Bond alumni, who played Professor Dent in Doctor No. Alpha’s number two man, is Thayer. But Thayer is not happy about being Number two, or if you prefer ‘Beta’, and has his own plan to take over Thanatos.

But what are Thanatos’ up to? They plan to blackmail the world with a device that freezes anything with moving metal parts. Naturally Thanatos need a secret underground lair, to carry out their dastardly plan, and theirs is hidden under a castle a few miles outside Munich. As you’d expect it is up to Doctor Connery, with a bit of help from some Scottish archery champions to stop Thanatos and save the world. Obviously a trait that runs in the family.

Operation Kid Brother has some over-the-top sequences. A favourite has the girls from Thanatos stealing an ‘atomic nucleus.’ They do this, by disguising themselves as stranded dancehall girls, with car troubles. Then they overpower the men in an army convoy. And if that wasn’t enough, to smuggle their ill-gotten gain back to their headquarters, they disguise the army transport as a moving advertisement for ‘The Wild Pussy Club’, featuring the girls dressed in cat costumes. Grrrrr!

Another over-the-top scene is at the climax, after Thayer begins his two minute countdown to firing the dreaded freezing weapon. Within the 120 seconds, Maya has time to escape from a castle, steal a helicopter, fly back to the nearest city and raise the alarm. Let’s just say Miss Bianchi is certainly a very sprightly agent.
Many articles have been written about Operation Kid Brother, most of them are negative. But the film is actually a great deal of fun. It was never intended as a taut thriller. It is a sly send-up, with outrageous stunts, garish costumes, and performances by a group of actors who are extremely familiar to avid fans of the Bond series. It is a pity that the movie is not more readily available.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD

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Our Man In Jamaica (1965)

Director: Richard Jackson
Starring: Larry Pennell, Brad Harris, Roberto Camardiel, Barbara Valentin, Linda Sini, Margitta Scherr
Music: Marcello Gionbini

“The mission is tough…but we have a lot of faith in you!”

Our Man In Jamaica is a middling Eurospy production. Generally, it’s not too bad and there is a lot to enjoy, but the film-making (editing and direction) and pretty loose in some parts. Many Eurospy films are only available on the grey market and the picture quality can often be ‘scary’. Many are fourth or fifth generation dupes from old VHS cassettes, and only the most diehard fan will have the stamina to sit through them. Thankfully an excellent print is available for Our Man In Jamaica, and that greatly enhances the viewing experience. I realise that a film shouldn’t be reviewed on the strength of it’s presentation or on the quality of print available, but I’m afraid, these days, they are a big part of the viewing experience. It is much easier to sit through a good print of a mediocre film, than to sit through a diabolical print of a good film. I think that sums up Our Man In Jamaica. It is not a great Eurospy film, but it looks great and it sounds great, and that in itself makes it one of the more appealing Eurospy productions available.

Here’s a quick look at the story: Agent 001, Ken Stewart (Larry Pennell) receives a briefing from his chief. It appears that Agent 009, Larry Peacock has gone missing. He was investigating an illegal arms trafficking ring, which seemed to be centred in Jamaica. Stewart’s mission is to find Larry Peacock and replace him on the mission. His chief sends him off with these words of encouragement, “The mission is tough…but we have a lot of faith in you!”

Pennell is quite okay as the lead in this film. He may not be the most talented actor but he has the tools and the haircut to convey the super cool, male chauvinist secret agent.

Unlike other jet-setting spies of the sixties, Stewart is not provided with his own private jet, or even a ticket on a Pam-Am or BOAC commercial flight to Jamaica. The poor bloke has to fly his own Piper Cherokee. As Stewart approaches Jamaica, he contacts the tower for landing instructions. He is told the ‘strip’ is not clear and to circle out to sea whilst awaiting instructions. I thought that this might be a scheme arranged by the unknown villains of the piece, so he could be blown out of the sky. But Our Man In Jamaica doesn’t have that kind of budget. This is simply an opportunity for some nice overhead locations shots. They look great in a travelogue kind of way, but don’t really progress the story.

On the ground and in his hotel suite, Stewart is contacted by a ‘mystery man’, who says to meet him at the Alligator bar. In a rental car, Stewart weaves his way through some more glossy location footage. Kingston at night is a kaleidoscope of splashy neon signs and flickering lights. Stewart then arrives at the Alligator Bar. After the gloss and polish on the external footage, it’s a bit of a come down to land on the cheap set for the Alligator Bar. It looks like it has been left over from a Spaghetti Western with lots of raw wood and railings. But in some ways it is appropriate, because within a minute of arriving Stewart starts a bar-room brawl.

Fans of Eurospy films will recognise one of the patrons in the bar. He’s Brad Harris, brawny star of the Kommissar X films. He doesn’t say or do much in this scene, but rest assured that he’ll make his presence felt, later in the film. Harris leaves the bar, and Stewart is beaten up by the locals.

The owner of the bar, has Stewart’s unconscious body dragged to his office. Once alone, it is revealed that it was just a fake set-up. The bar-owner is in fact, Stewart’s contact in Jamaica. He steers Stewart in the direction of Signora Cervantes (Linda Sini). She is a wealthy antique dealer who Larry Peacock was seeing regularly.

Naturally enough, Stewart makes his way to the Cervantes mansion. At the door he meets Signora Cervantes secretary, Gloria (Barbara Valentin). She is not too receptive to Agent Stewart’s charms and tries to impede his investigation. This only makes him more suspicious. Signora Cervantes is not much help either. But he does learn that she has a warehouse at Flamingo Bay, where her antiques are shipped into and out of.

Stewart decides to pay a visit to Flamingo Bay. It doesn’t go well. He ends up in a gun battle with the men working at the site. His resolution is simple. He fires a few shots at some drums of flammable liquid. They explode and so does the warehouse. Agent Stewart is certainly making his presence felt.

As a warning to Stewart, Larry Peacock turns up dead, on the doorstep of Signora Cervantes home. Peacock’s body has burn marks on his feet and temples. The doctor surmises he was electrocuted.

Earlier I mentioned Brad Harris. In this film he plays Captain Mike Jefferson, England’s man in Jamaica. He starts to make his presence felt in the second half of the film, when he joins forces with Stewart. Other cast members of note are, Roberto Camardiel as the villainous and reclusive Elmer Hayes, and Margitta Scherr as Jane Peacock, Larry’s younger sister who joins the investigation.

Our Man In Jamaica is a decent light weight imitation Bond product. You get all the things you’d expect. There are girls, guns and gadgets. There is some fine location footage, and there is enough mayhem to satisfy most fans of spy cinema.

This review is based on the Avantz Japan DVD

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The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)


Director: Don Sharp
Starring: Christopher Lee, Tsai Chin, Nigel Green, Karin Dor, Howard Marion Crawford, Joachim Fuchsberger, James Robertson Justice
Music: Christopher Whelen
Based on a character created by Sax Rohmer

“Cruel, Callous, Brilliant – and the most Evil Man in the World!”

The Face Of Fu Manchu probably isn’t really a spy film, but in style and content, it is in some some ways connected to the spy films of the sixties. But rather than focussing on the square jawed, heroic figure that dominates so many spy films, this film focuses on the villain, Fu Manchu (even though he doesn’t get as much screen time). It does feature espionage, and Fu Manchu certainly resembles the type of villain that the James Bonds, and Matt Helms would do battle with.

This is the first of five films that producer Harry Alan Towers (and his alter ego, screenwriter Peter Welbeck) made featuring Sax Rohmer’s character Fu Manchu. Out of all five, this is the only one that is quite good. Maybe that is on the strength of Nigel Green as Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard, Fu Manchu’s archenemy. Green only appeared in this episode. Douglas Wilmer portrayed Nayland Smith in the next two films, and for the final installments, Richard Greene took over the mantle. At least the villains were consistent. Christopher Lee played Fu Manchu, and Tsai Chin appeared as Fu Manchu’s malevolent daughter, Lin Tang for all the five films in the series.

The film opens in China. We are in a prison courtyard and an execution is taking place. The man to be executed is Fu Manchu. On hand to witness the execution is Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard. Fu Manchu is marched to a chopping block, and with a lusty blow from a scimitar; his head is cleaved from his body.

Afterwards, Nayland Smith is back in London, and he has landed a cushy desk job, which he is not happy about. He is sure that the ‘Crime Wave’ sweeping Europe is the work of one criminal mastermind. But none of his superiors want to hear about it. The only person who has time for Nayland Smith’s theories is Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford). For the uninitiated, Dr. Petrie is to Nayland Smith, what Watson is to Sherlock Holmes.

Then we are introduced to Professor Hans Müller (Walter Rilla) and his young assistant. In a pea-soup fog they turn up at an old church in Limehouse. They enter the grounds of the ‘apparently’ deserted church. The assistant is strangled as he wanders through the yard. The Professor was told to come on his own. He is taken inside. And who is behind all this? The still very much alive Fu Manchu.

The next day, the Professor’s assistant’s dead body is found. Around his neck is a red prayer scarf, with a medallion of the Goddess Kali tied into one of the corners. Naturally enough, Nayland Smith has seen all this before. It is the work of Burmese Dacoits. They believe the act of murder is blessed by the Goddess Kali, and every ritual killing is a passport to heaven. But the Dacoits must have someone controlling them, and even though he knows it is impossible, after all he saw the man executed, Nayland Smith believes that Fu Manchu is the man behind the killing. He plans to visit Professor Müller an ask him some questions.

At Professor Müller’s home, his daughter, Maria (Karin Dor) waits for his return. As she waits a Dacoit pays her a visit. She Screams. At that moment Karl Janssen (Joachim Fuchsberger), Professor Müller’s research partner, arrives and rushes to her aid. By this time the Dacoit has dissapeared but has left behind a message:

“If you value your Father’s life – say nothing of his disappearance.”

Suddenly there’s a noise in the laboratory down stairs. Janssen rushes down to investigate and gets into a noisy fist-fight with Nigel Green’s stunt double (who’s silhouette looks nothing like Green’s). Before they kill each other, Maria rushes down and turns on the light, and the men stop.

But why is Fu Manchu interested in Professor Müller? Professor Müller had previously studied in Tibet. His research brought him in contact with a flower called the Black Hill Poppy. The flower is incredibly rare, and the Professor needs it for his research. The Professor had received a letter two days previously, saying that if he went to the old church in Limehouse he would be given some special supplies. Naturally the Professor went, and he was captured by Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu knows that a powerful poison can be manufactured from the Black Hill Poppy. A poison so strong, that one-pint would kill everyone in London. A sure enough, that is exactly what evil mastermind Fu Manchu would like to get his hands on.

Of course, I couldn’t talk about a Fu Manchu film without mentioning Christopher Lee as the evil Doctor. And although next to Dracula, Fu Manchu is the character Lee is most associated with (I don’t count Saruman or Count Dooku), it isn’t a particularly good portrayal. He gets to spout some ridiculous dialogue in a clipped, quasi-Chinese accent, and wear some fake eyepieces to make him look Asian. His main menacing attribute is his height. On the other hand, Tsai Chin as Lin Tang is deliciously evil. For Bond fans, Tsai Chin appeared in You Only Live Twice and has a nice cameo in the 2006 Casino Royale.

Nigel Green is one of the great character actors, adding weight and class to a myriad of productions. Notable performances in espionage movies include The IPCRESS File, Deadlier Than The Male, and The Wrecking Crew. He also did quite a bit of television work, appearing in shows such as Danger Man, The Avengers and The Persuaders. His portrayal of Nayland Smith is the best in the Fu Manchu series, and it is a shame that he only appeared in this film.

The Face Of Fu Manchu is quite a good film. It’s reputation is somewhat tarnished by the lesser films in the series, but as a stand-alone movie, this works extremely well as a period thriller.

The Fu Manchu films is this series:

• The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)
• The Brides Of Fu Manchu (1966)
• The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967)
• The Blood Of Fu Manchu (1968)
• The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)

This review is based on the Universal Pictures (Australasia) Pty Ltd DVD

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The Body In Central Park (1967)

AKA: The Brooklyn Murder Club, Murderer’s Club Of Brooklyn
Director: Werner Jacobs
Starring: George Nader, Heinz Weiss, Helmut Fornbacher, Karl Spenanek, Helmuth Rudolph, Helga Anders, Helmut Kircher, Rudi Schmitt, Dagmar Lassander, Ira Hagen
Music: Peter Thomas
Based on the novel by Gustav H. Lubb

The Body In Central Park is the fifth film in the West German Jerry Cotton series. It is also the first to be shot in colour – although this may have been an after-thought, because the pre-title sequence is in black and white. And even though a bit more money was thrown at this production, is still uses a large amount of rear-projection – some good, and some pretty bad!

Here’s how Jerry gets drawn into the action this time: FBI Agents, Jerry Cotton (George Nader) and Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss) are invited to a lavish party in New Brighton. Upon arrival, three business men, McCormick (Rudi Schmitt), Johnson (Helmuth Rudolph), and the host Dyers (Karl Stepanek), confess that they have received blackmail threats. Each of them of them have been asked to supply the blackmailers, one million dollars or some harm will befall their children.

Before Jerry and Phil have had a chance to sample the selection of fine food from the buffet a team of masked men with machine guns gatecrash the party. As the party guests are kept at bay, the ‘perps’ rush up stairs and kidnap Jean Dyers (Dagmar Lassander). They disappear into the night with their hostage. Naturally Jerry and Phil tried to give chase, but the tires to their cars had been slashed.

It’s only after the kidnappers are in the clear, do they realise they have made a mistake. They did not grab Jean Dyers, they have grabbed her best friend, Sally Chester (Ira Hagen). Sally is of no use to the kidnappers, so they kill her, and leave her body in Central Park.

Mr. Dyers receives a new blackmail letter. This one says, pay the money or Jean’s fate will be the same as Sally’s. They leave instructions to leave the money in a locker at Kennedy Airport. Dyers arranges for the money, and as you’d expect from the F.B.I.’s top men, Jerry and Phil are at the airport, watching and waiting.

There’s a few good set pieces in this movie, and without giving too much away, the first features a chase through the New York Subway. And Jerry once again, gets to prove his prowess at crawling around on moving vehicles – one scene takes place on a moving freight train, and another on a refrigerated tray truck.

Like most of the entries in the Jerry Cotton series, The Body In Central Park is more of a crime film than a spy film, but it is still worthy of inclusion here. In fact this installment plays a bit like a Raymond Chandler mystery, with a ‘whodunnit’ element to the plot – rather than an outright villain.

The score by Peter Thomas is pretty good too. It is not as jazzy as earlier efforts, and in places, even ventures into electronic sounds (maybe Thomas had been listening to Oskar Sala). But naturally enough, whenever Jerry performs one of his trademark, outrageous stunts, we are treated to the whistling Jerry Cotton theme.

I enjoyed this entry in the Jerry Cotton series very much. I recommend it highly to fans of the series, and if you have never seen a Jerry Cotton film, and wondering where to start, this is a bit glossier than the earlier entries and as such is a bit more accessible. Not a bad place to start.

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Little Nikita (1988)

Director: Richard Benjamin
Starring: Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, Richard Bradford, Richard Lynch
Music: Marvin Hamlisch

Little Nikita is one of the last of the Cold War thrillers (or at least made while Russia was still the bad guy). It is really two films in one. The first concerns a teenage boy, Jeffrey Grant (River Phoenix), who finds out his parents are actually Russian ‘sleeper’ agents. The other story is about an F.B.I Operative, Roy Parmenter (Sidney Poitier), whose partner was killed twenty years ago by a rogue Russian agent code named SCUBA (Richard Lynch). Naturally these two story threads become intertwined.

The film opens in San Diego and a military parade is passing through the streets. It is part of a recruitment drive, aimed at attracting young men to enlist in the Marines or Air Force. One of the boys watching is Jeffery Grant, and he applies to join the Air Force.

SCUBA, it seems is not happy with his current employers, the Russians. He expresses his grievances by killing their convert ‘sleeper’ agents in the United States. He starts with a ‘sleeper’ who now works for the I.R.S. Naturally enough, the Soviets are not impressed with SCUBA, and at the Russian Embassy in Mexico, they assign Constantin (Richard Bradford – who you may remember from The Man In A Suitcase television series) to track down him down and kill him.

Meanwhile at F.B.I. headquarters Parmenter is given a stack of Air Force applicants to screen. When he comes to Jeffrey’s files, he notices a few odd things. According to the F.B.I. database, Jeffery’s parents, Richard & Elizabeth Grant were born in 1830’s and died in 1891. His parents have assumed false identities. He immediately arranges an interview for Jeffrey.

Jeffrey is excited once he is called to the Air Force Academy for an interview. He thinks he is in. Instead, Parmenter Interviews him to see how much he actually knows about his parents. The answer is nothing.

It’s only a few days later and Parmenter has moved in across the road from the Grants, and is ingratiating himself upon the family. Jeffrey is confused. What has all this got to do with his Air Force application?

When Parmenter and Jeffrey are alone, Parmenter drops the bombshell. ’Hey kid, your parents are Russian ‘sleeper’ agents!’ Jeffrey doesn’t take the news well. After all, he is a hormonal teenage boy. He throws a few tantrums around the house, and at one stage even contemplates leaving town with his girlfriend. In the end he comes to his senses.

While Jeffrey has been going through his domestic crisis, SCUBA has been making short work of all the other ‘sleeper’ agents until all that is left are Jeffrey’s parents.

Constantin knows that they will be SCUBA’s next target, and arranges to meet Richard and Elizabeth at the ballet. Considering the topic of the movie, it will come as no surprise that the Ballet is Sleeping Beauty and is being performed by a Russian troupe.

In what should have been a great cinematic moment, while his parents are out, Jeffrey searches the house for evidence that his parents are indeed Russian spies. Juxtaposed with this is the ballet and Constantin’s orders to Jeffrey’s parents. The parents are reluctant to co-operate. After all it has bee twenty years since they were planted. But Constantin insists that they meet SCUBA. In the ballet as Sleeping Beauty is awoken by a kiss from Prince Charming, simultaneously Jeffrey, rummaged through the nursery comes across his parents Russian passports. And to his surprise he also finds a passport with his own details. The ‘sleeper’ has awoken! As I mentioned, this should have been a great cinematic moment, but director Richard Benjamin handles it with sledgehammer subtlety.

Little Nikita was a great disappointment to me. I am a big fan of Sidney Poitier and this film isn’t his grandest moment. And even the other actors and actresses have been in better things (except for Richard Lynch, who was always in crap movies, playing psychopaths – this is a step up for him).

Most films are time capsules of the era they were made in. The good ones transcend this by entertaining us with characters we care about, and a story that we can get involved in. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen in Little Nikita and this film now seems very dated and unconvincing.

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Future Women (1969)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review is based on the Shocking Videos DVD.

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For Your Height Only (1979 or 1981)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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