Who’s Got The Black Box (1967)

AKA: The Road To Corinthe
Director: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Jean Seberg, Maurice Ronet, Christian Marquand
Music: Pierre Jansen

Some films have a good personality. Like a close friend, they make you smile and you enjoy spending time with them. Who’s Got The Black Box is one of those films. It may have a thin story, and could be considered light on for action and laugh out loud jokes, but none-the-less it is one of those films that is easy to immerse yourself in, and enjoy. For those who have seen the Pathfinder Entertainment DVD cover, and have noticed the intense red packaging, which features a monochrome hero with one arm wrapped around Jean Seberg and the other holding a machine gun, don’t panic. The film is nowhere near that intense or violent. It is essentially a gentle paced spy comedy from French film-maker Claude Chabrol. Chabrol had previously ventured into spy territory with Le Tigre Aime La Chair Fraiche (The Tiger Likes Fresh Meat) and Le Tigre Se Parfume A La Dynamite (Our Agent Tiger), both featuring Roger Hanin as agent Louis Rapiere – two films which I haven’t tracked down English language versions of yet.

Black Box opens with the self proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Magician,’ Socrates (Steve Eckart) attempting to cross the border into Greece. As his vehicle is inspected at customs, the officials find a small black box filled with electronic components.

The discovery is reported back through the chain of command. When the heads of OTAN hear about the device, they fly into a panic and demand to know what it does. (I am sure you have worked out, that OTAN is NATO backwards!)

The magician is forced to talk. That is, he is taken to a small room and pummelled to within an inch of his life by a burly man wearing sunglasses. Finally the magician breaks his silence. He confesses that he has already brought fifteen of the little black boxes into Greece. And that other couriers have brought in more.

And what does the black box do? Each black box interferes with radar and launch of OTAN missiles. Before the authorities can find out anything else, the magician swallows a cyanide capsule.

Sharps (Michel Bouquet), the local head of the CIA in the Mediterranean is an inept fool. He doesn’t believe that there are any more black boxes. But he does assign two agents to look into it. The first agent is Dex (Maurice Ronet) who is experienced and professional. The other agent is Robert Ford (Christian Marquand), who is a dreamer.

Sharps has another reason to send away Ford. Ford has a beautiful wife, Shanny (Jean Seberg), and while he is away on assignment, Sharps, hoping to instigate an affair, moves in on her.

Ford, whose ideas are never taken seriously, stumbles onto a lead and finds out who is behind the black boxes. Rather than return to headquarters, he returns home and celebrates his success with Shanny. As she leaves the room to get a bottle of Champagne, Robert is assassinated. She returns to the bedroom and finds him dead. In turn, she is hit from behind and rendered unconscious. The killer then puts the murder weapon, a gun, in her hand. He also gets her other hand and drags her fingernails down her murdered husbands chest, to indicate that there was a struggle.

The evidence is stacked heavily against Shanny and she is imprisoned. Naturally, the lecherous Sharps arranges for her to be released. Now free, she sets off to find out who killed Robert, and the truth about the black boxes. Along the way she teams up with Robert’s partner, Dex, who is unsure if he should trust Shanny. All the clichés are in place, for slick little spy thriller.

Jean Seberg is likeable in the part of Shanny, but doesn’t quite ooze the sex-appeal required for the role. In places, it is hard to believe that men, both good and bad, are throwing themselves at her. Then again, that may just be the nature of the ‘dirty old men’ in the film. They’d throw themselves at anything in a skirt.

The weaknesses of the film are a couple of uneven comedy sequences, which ruin the flow of the film, and the music in some places. The music generally is fairly unobtrusive, and considering the setting, it does feature some Greek styling. But it does get annoying when the music gets loud and fast. It is supposed to sound Greek and exotic, but instead sounds like music for a slapstick routine. Obviously it does not reflect the action taking place on the screen, and would probably be more suited to a Benny Hill skit.

The film, as I mentioned at the outset is very likeable, without being brilliant. The star of the film is the cinematography, which is very good and utilises the Mediterranean backdrop to great effect. It is a warm film; a friendly film. It is not going to change your life, and it is not going to end up on your list of favourite films of all time, but if you take the time to watch it, you are in for a pleasant ninety minutes.

This review is based on Pathfinder Home Entertainment USA DVD

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Detonator: Death Train (1993)

Director: David S. Jackson
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lee, Alexandra Paul, Ted Levine
Music: Trevor Jones
AKA: Death Train, Alistair MacLean’s Death Train

This film is often referred to as Alistair MacLean’s Death Train. Writer Alistair MacLean has a solid track record when it comes to espionage movies with successful versions of Guns Of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra and Puppet On A Chain based on his novels (to name a few). But be wary of Alistair MacLean’s Death Train. In fact it is Alistair MacNeill’s Death Train. Alistair MacNeill was the author who wrote a series on novels based on outlines left by MacLean at his death. So to begin with, we have a counterfeit MacLean story which the producers have chosen to base their film on.

As the film opens we witness a nuclear bomb being constructed. While this is happening, we hear the resonant tones of Patrick Stewart announce:

Plutonium…the key ingredient in nuclear bombs.

This plutonium was stolen, gram by deadly gram, from a German power plant.

My organization, the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization, responds to nuclear terrorism.

So when Karl Leitzig used this stolen plutonium to construct two nuclear bombs, his creations became U.N.A.C.O.’s nightmare.

Patrick Stewart plays Malcolm Philpott, head of U.N.A.C.O, and when a Russian General, Benin (Christopher Lee), oversees the creation of these weapons, Philpott has a crisis on his hands. The bombs are forcibly loaded onto a train in Bremen, Germany, by a group of mercenaries headed by Alex Tierney (Ted Levine). As well as the hijacked train, Tierney also has twelve hostages, and as the authorities try to interfere, he has no hesitation in killing them. Tierney orders the train to be re-routed across the Swiss border, and then to Belsano in Italy.

Once the train is on the move, U.N.A.C.O. prepares for action. Philpott prepares a crack team of operatives to resolve the crisis. Amongst the team members are Mike Graham (Pierce Brosnan), and Sabrina Carver (Alexandra Paul) who are the stars of the show. Other members of the team include a Russian Major, Gennadi Rodenko (Nic D’Avirro); a US/Kenyan, C.W. Whitlock (Clarke Peters), who happens to a nuclear physicist; and another Russian, Sergei Kolchinsky (Andreas Sportelli), a pilot. With such an eclectic group of team members, it will come as no surprise that one of them is not quite what they appear to be.

Philpott has his team assemble in Munich. On the flight over, he taps into the trains communications. Tierney justifies his actions this way:

We define ourselves by who we hate!
And the USSR was a worthy adversary.
This New World Order thing, we can’t use that!
No, once you know who you hate, everything works!

The first attempt to stop the train, features Carver firing a gas canister into the Locomotive’s cabin, while Graham, attempts some acrobatics hanging from the bottom of a helicopter. Tierney and his mercenaries were prepared for such an assault, and don gas masks and defend themselves with machine guns. Graham is forced to retreat with his tail between his legs. Naturally enough the team regroup and find another way to assault the train

Despite a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart and Christopher Lee this movie is pedestrian in every aspect. And the ending is so bad, it will have you throwing things at your television set. The film may not be quite as bad as I have made out, but it is far from great. It is however, light-years ahead of it’s sequel, which is one of the dreariest spy films ever made.

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Fantabulous Inc. (1967)

AKA: Il Donna, Il Sesso, Il Superuomo (The Woman, Sex And Superman)
Director: Sergio Spina
Starring: Richard Harrison, Adolpho Celi, Judi West, Nino Fuscagni
Music: Sandro Brugnolini

Fantabulous Inc. is a strange little Italian film that has a bit of everything in it. It’s a thriller, it’s a super-hero film, it’s a spy film, and it’s an exploration on civil rights.

The super villain of this piece is Carl Maria Von Beethoven (Adolpho Celi), and naturally enough, whenever we hear his name we also hear a snatch of Ludwig Von Beethoven (Da Da Da Dum). He runs a clinic called Fantabulous Inc., which turns men into super-men.

The film opens in Geneva. Richard Vernon (Richard Harrison) is engaged in a bit of post-coital byplay with his girlfriend, Deborah Sanders (Judi West). But now he has to leave. He works as a banker, and has an important meeting in Milan. Leaving the apartment, he heads down to the underground carpark and to his car. Unfortunately for Vernon, it won’t start. The carpark attendant, who happens to be wearing sunglasses, refuses to help, and only laughs at Vernon’s predicament. Vernon assumes the car is out of petrol and walks around to the nearest petrol station. After an altercation with the attendant, who is also wearing sunglasses, Vernon gets his can filled and returns to the car. Upon his return he finds out that the petrol container has been filled with water.

Even though it is night, there’s a suspicious amount of men with sunglasses around. Vernon doesn’t appear to notice and phones the police to complain about the petrol station, but the police officer on the other end of the line, only abuses Vernon for his trouble. From the phone box, as he returns to his car, it is stolen in front of his very eyes. Luckily a police car happens to be passing as he chases his vehicle on foot. He lodges a complaint, but rather than pursuing the thieves, the police question Vernon at length, and then take him into custody. But rather than take him to the nearest police station, he is taken to the headquarters of Fantabulous Inc. In the Fantabulous carpark, he finds his car. Initially he is pleased, that now he can continue his journey to airport, and then Milan. But before he can do so, one of the police officers produces a hypodermic needle and injects Vernon. He wakes up in the middle of a strange medical procedure, which seems incredibly invasive and brutal (his arm appears to be shorn off).

Next we cut to Deborah, who is an aspiring actress and fashion model. She is engaged in a photo shoot, we she is interrupted by phone. It’s a call from the police. She has to go to the morgue and identify Vernon’s body. There, as his body is slid out of the drawer, it looks like Vernon’s face, but she is adamant, that the body does not belong to Richard.

And Deborah is right. Vernon is not dead. He wakes up in what seems like a hospital room. He is still in fact at Fantabulous Inc., a company that specialises in bio-chemical and bio-physical experimentation.

Behind Fantabulous Inc is Beethoven, who I mentioned earlier, who is the mastermind behind the whole operation. He arranges for the capture of appropriate physical specimens for conversion into supermen. He also is the marketing manager, who sells his creation to foreign powers to control the masses. Also working for Fantabulous is the mad Professor Cronin (Gustavo D’Arpe), who is the brains behind the process. It’s his experiments that have created the super-human beings. As with all good henchmen, Cronin has a physical deformity; he has metal pincers for hands.

Beethoven aside, the music and songs, by Sandro Brugnolini throughout Fantabulous Inc. are catchy and infectious; from gutsy soul based numbers that remind you of Ray Charles or Sammy Davis Jnr to piano driven conga-line numbers. The music certainly helps this film press forward when visually things slow down. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out the name of the vocalist on the soundtrack.

The first half of this film is incredibly entertaining and I challenge anyone to guess where it is going. But the second half gets pretty silly. There’s some not so subtle symbolism and quasi-political mumbo-jumbo about the misuse of power. To give the film it’s due, I am looking at it from twenty-first century perspective, rather than 1967, and maybe the ‘message’ in the last half, was more important back then. But as far as narrative and entertainment go, then or now, the second half veers very wildly from silly super hero cartoon heroics to rhetoric about discipline and authority.

Unfortunately this film only appears to be available on the grey market, (with copies that appear to be of a very poor standard) which is a shame, because I think it is film that will divide people. As I said above I didn’t like the end, but other viewers whose viewpoint is slightly more anarchististic than mine, may think this film is, er sorry, Fantabulous. But without a good DVD of the film on the market, for everyone to view and decide for him or herself, I am afraid it’s a little hard to debate the merits, or lack thereof, of Fantabulous Inc.

This review is based on the Video Search Of Miami USA video cassette transfer

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Blue Ice (1992)

Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Michael Caine, Sean Young, Ian Holm, Alun Armstrong, Todd Boyce, Bobby Short, Bob Hoskins,
Music by Michael Kamen
Featuring music by Charlie Watts and the Big Band

Blue Ice is a routine spy thriller from Australian director Russell Mulcahy. It is far from the worst film that Caine has done, but for a man that spy films are his bread and butter this is a token effort. In Caine’s autobiography, ‘What’s It All About’, he makes mention of how great it was to be working with Bob Hoskins again. But don’t believe it. Hoskins’ role is barely more than a cameo.

The film starts with a young American agent, Kyle (Todd Boyce), poking around the docks in London, but he is spotted by an unseen quarry driving a red mail van. He quickly flees and phones his ex-lover, Stacy Mansdorf (Sean Young). She answers her mobile phone whilst driving and ploughs into the back of Harry Ander’s car. Harry (Michael Caine), a jazz club owner, is not too enthused by the vandalism of his classic Jaguar Mk II, but still invites Stacy back to his club for a drink. It doesn’t take long for Stacy to get her kit off, and before you can say ‘Honey Pot Trap’, Harry has fallen for her, hook, line and sinker. Oh, did I mention that Harry used to be a spy? Of course he was, but he was forced out after a bit of unsanctioned rough-housing with a Czech agent.

As he explains to Stacy:
HARRY: “…..I took him up to the roof.”
STACY: “What happened then?”
HARRY: “The Czech bounced!”

Hardly subtle, but good fun. Now, coincidentally, Stacy needs a man to discreetly track down her ex-lover, who has gone missing, and an ex-spook like Harry seems just the man for the job.

Harry starts his investigation with a visit to Scotland Yard and an old friend Osgood (Alun Armstrong). For a fee, three hundred pounds, ‘Ossy’ is willing to help. Later at the jazz club, Harry receives a phone call. Osgood has tracked Kyle down to a seedy hotel in South East London. Harry whizzes over there. ‘Ossy’ points out Kyle as he enters the Hotel. Harry asks ‘Ossy’ to keep watch while he makes a quick phone call to Stacy. When Harry leaves the phone box, ‘Ossy’ has disappeared. Cautiously, Harry enters the hotel and goes up to Kyle’s room. There’s still no sign of ‘Ossy’ but Kyle is in his room, but with a bullet hole in his forehead. The window is open, so Harry steps outside and up onto the roof. The killer is fleeing the scene. He fires a shot at Harry, who takes cover behind a chimney stack. Behind the chimney, Harry also finds ‘Ossy’s’ dead body. Harry is pretty upset at the death of his friend, and relentlessly pursues the killer.

Down on the street now, after a near miss on the railway tracks, Harry catches up with the killer, and hopes to get some answers. As Harry starts his line of questioning, out of nowhere, the dreaded red mail van appears and clips Harry, sending him crashing into a pile of garbage. The killer gets away, and Harry has no answers, but a lot of trouble.

Now Harry is up to his neck, not only with a double homicide, but also with something far bigger that may or may not involve Stacy Mansdorf.

Caine seems to be enjoying himself, even though he is clearly too old for the role. Sean Young, on the other hand is as cold as ice. She is undeniably attractive, but hardly register’s on the human emotion scale. It’s almost as if she is recycling her android character from Blade Runner.

The film’s tone shifts very wildly at the end, and it just doesn’t fit in with the scenes that have gone before. The problem is not the usual espionage twist at the end, but a poorly acted character twist. One of the players flip and becomes a psychopath. It is a shame, because up until that point, the film had been half decent – far from perfect – but enjoyable.

The soundtrack to Blue Ice by Michael Kamen is pretty good if you like Bee-Bop jazz. It doesn’t really follow the film, but it is pretty cool anyway. And it features Charlie Watts (from The Rolling Stones) and the Big Band. Musicans include Bobby Short (who plays Buddy in the movie – Piano), Dave Green (Bass), Anthony Kerr (Vibes), Gerald Presencer (Trumpet), and featured musicians Pete King (Alto Sax), and Steve Williamson (Tenor Sax). Oh yes, and Charlie Watts (Drums).

At the end of the day, Blue Ice isn’t a great spy film. It tries hard, but fails due to an uneven script. Any joy that comes from the film, is derived from watching Michael Caine in a role that he has been playing for years (another Harry), This film is for Caine fans only.

The credits claim that Harry Anders is based on a character created by author Ted Allbeury. I have tried to do a little research, but this is as much as I have ascertained.

Allbeury created a Polish-British agent called Tad Anders who appeared in three novels, Snowball (1974), Palomino Blonde (or Omega-Minus in the US) (1975), and The Judas Factor (1984). I have never read these books. Maybe ‘Harry’ is a son?

Please feel free to drop me a line or post a comment if you know more about the history of Harry Anders!

This review is based on the HBO Video DVD USA

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Requiem For A Secret Agent (1967)

Directed by Sergio Sollima
Stewart Granger, Daniela Bianchi, Peter Van Eyck, Giulio Bosetti, Maria Granada, Gianni Rizzo, Georgia Moll
Music is credited to Antonio Perez Olea, but in fact was composed by Piero Uniliani
The song, ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’, is performed by Lydia McDonald

Requiem For A Secret Agent is a pretty good Eurospy production, which stars Stewart Granger as John ‘Bingo’ Merrill, an agent for hire. The film is good, but it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. You see, ‘Bingo’ is a cold-hearted bastard, and as such it’s hard to cheer for a character you don’t like. But he is human and does make mistakes. It’s one of these mistakes, involving Evelyn Bressart (Daniela Bianchi) that will turn some people off his character and ultimately off the movie. Sean Connery never acted this way!

The film opens in Tangiers, and Agent A139, John O’Brien is whizzing through the streets in a sporty blue convertible. His car is being tailed by a group of thugs in a red and white saloon. O’Brien stops, gets out of his car and walks to the crowded city square. Along the way, he purchases a rug form a street vendor, which he folds over his arm, and discreetly, hides his pistol underneath it. Then he joins a crowd of people who are watching a musical troupe performing. One of the thugs has followed O’Brien and sneaks up behind him. As the music reaches a crescendo, O’Brien fires his discreetly hidden firearm, and the thug slumps to the ground dead. In the commotion, O’Brien disappears into the crowd.

Next we cut to Betty Lou (Maria Granada), who is a strip tease artist. She is performing in front of a projected image of a bullfight. As she removes each layer of clothing, more of the projected image is revealed (as well as her body).

At this point, only a few minutes into the film, I can’t help but thinking I have seen these scenes before. Maybe slightly different, but similar none-the-less. The death of the thug as the musical troupe performed, reminded me of the death of Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) in Thunderball. And the projected images (for a spy movie, at least), look no further than Robert Brownjohn’s title sequences for From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. But I’ll talk more about this later.

But back to the synopsis. As the stripper retires backstage, a middle aged man, Felix Bressart (Luis Induni) is waiting for her in her dressing room. Felix showers Betty Lou, who is obviously a lover, with jewellery, before telling her that he has to go away. It appears that Felix has gotten himself into a spot of bother.

But before Felix leaves, he has arranged to meet agent O’Brien back at his house. O’Brien turns up at the designated time, but finds the door to the house open, and Felix dead. Before O’Brien can act, the lights go out. An unknown assailant stalks O’Brien as he tries to make it out alive, and as he tries to escape through a window, the assailant guns him down.

Moran, the Section Chief for Intelligence in this part of the world needs a replacement for O’Brien. For his trouble he is assigned a free-lance S.O.B., John Merrill, also known as ‘Bingo’.

When we first meet ‘Bingo’ he is in Berlin helping a Professor and his family over ‘the wall’ and into the West. It’s here that Moran meets ‘Bingo’, pays him off, and sends him to Tangiers.

After his flight, as he passes through customs, he meets Evelyn (Daniela Bianchi). Foolishly, she is trying to smuggle a pistol into the country. Ever the professional, ‘Bingo’ smuggles it through for her – albeit without her even releasing that he has removed the gun from her. Little does he know that Evelyn is Felix Bressart’s ex-wife, and she has arrived in town to track down his murderer. Naturally enough, their paths cross again later in the film; – the cold-hearted professional, and the naïve amateur – it can’t end well!

I liked Requiem For A Secret Agent and I think it is well worth seeking out, but only if you are prepared to watch a spy film, where the hero is not suave and sophisticated, and on occasion treats the female characters quite disrespectfully. But that a reflection on real life, I’m afraid. I am sure you have met people who don’t treat women right, or at least have read about them in the newspapers. Then again, maybe that’s why you wouldn’t want to see this film. There’s enough degradation of women in real life, without it being served up to the viewing public as entertainment. But I am please to say, the film does not glorify the misogyny it depicts. The other characters in this film, who are privy to ‘Bingo’s actions are all equally appalled as the viewer is.

Earlier in the review I mentioned how I thought some of the opening scenes appeared to be very similar to scenes in a few Bond movies. The spy film genre is a strange beast that seems at times to feed upon it self. For the projected image sequence, I could have easily mentioned Operation Kid Brother (O.K. Connery) and for the killing of the thug I could have mentioned A Shot In The Dark (although it’s not really a spy film). But what I am clumsily saying is a lot of set pieces in spy movies get repeated again and again. There’s a scene towards the end of Requiem For A Secret Agent that fans of the new Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale may find familiar. One of the characters, Rubech (Peter Van Eyck) walks into his office. Hiding in the shadows is ‘Bingo’ Merrill. He surprises Rubech. Rubech then makes his way to his desk and sits down, all the while keeping ‘Bingo’ talking. As the conversation continues, Rubech discreetly open his desk drawer and retrieves his pistol. He then levels the gun at ‘Bingo’ and then fires. Nothing. ‘Bingo’ then shows Rubech the clip he had removed from the gun earlier. Once upon a time, the knock-offs imitated the Bond films, now days, the Bond films imitate the knock-offs. It has all come full circle.

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The Liquidator (1965)

Director: Jack Cardiff
Starring: Rod Taylor, Trevor Howard, Jill St John, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Akim Tamiroff, Gabriella Licudi, Eric Sykes, John Le Mesurier, Derek Nimmo, David Tomlinson
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Title song performed by Shirley Bassey
Based on the novel by John Gardner

Brian ‘Boysie’ Oakes was a character created by John Gardner as a sort of antithesis of James Bond. Sure he is a secret agent, well more of an assassin really, and he is surrounded by gorgeous girls. But underneath it all, he is a coward with no stomach for killing, and an intense fear of flying. Strangely enough, nearly all Oakes adventures feature flying, after all, a globe trotting agent isn’t much good if he can’t trot. And adding insult to injury, in Gardner’s final Oakes novel, The Airline Pirates, Boysie is forced to set up his own airline called Air Apparent. But here’s a quote from Madrigal (Corgi 1968), the fourth book in the series:

‘Fly?’ The words came out in a strangle of panic. Boysie had a natural aversion to taking airplane rides. It was a state bordering on the pathological. He was sick in aircraft and usually in a state of shock from takeoff to touch down.’

Not very suave and sophisticated is it? That’s enough background on Boysie. Let’s look at the film. It opens in black and white. The end of the Second World War is near, and Boysie Oakes (Rod Taylor) is commanding a tank. But he is lost. As he stumbles around the streets of Paris in search of directions, he comes across a British Intelligence Officer, Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard), being accosted by two assassins. Oakes is no hero, but wades in to help anyway. As he does so, he trips over and Oakes accidentally fires his pistol. The shot kills one of the assailants. Then the kick from the first shot, sends Oakes over onto his backside. He accidentally fires again. The second bullet finds it’s target and the other assailant falls to the ground dead. As Mostyn struggled for his life, he wasn’t watching Oakes. All Mostyn can see is the aftermath. Oakes has cleanly killed two men, with two shots. Mostyn is impressed and locks away in his mind Oakes’ details. Intelligence may have use for a man such as this.

Then screen then explodes into colour and a loud brash animated title sequence, by Richard Williams takes over. The title song, naturally enough, The Liquidator is hammered out with great gusto by Shirley Bassey. It’s no Goldfinger, but the song is big, bold and brassy and at this stage, it seems if the viewer is in for one great ride. Is this one of the great lost spy gems from the sixties?

The war is long over. It is now the swinging sixties. Mostyn is now second in charge of British Intelligence. But unfortunately, of late, there have been a few scandals, and Mostyn’s chief (Wilfred Hyde White) is not happy about it. In fact, he suggests that they hire a man to ‘remove’ the troublemakers and the undesirables. All of this is unofficial, of course. As he says, ‘Rather than scandals, we’ll have accidents!’

Mostyn remembers Oakes from the war and pays him a visit. Boysie is now running a café, that is, when he is not cutting a sexual swathe through all the ‘dolly birds’ in the vicinity. It’s this womanizing that get’s Boysie into trouble, and gives Mostyn the leverage to blackmail Boysie into working for him.

At first, it doesn’t seem too bad. Boysie is relocated to a swinging pad in London, and soon has a new coterie of girls to seduce. Even the military training that he is put through, doesn’t seem too difficult. It’s only when Boysie is sent out into the real world, and actually has to kill someone, that things get difficult. So difficult in fact, he chooses not to do it. Instead, he hires a hitman, Griffen (Eric Sykes) to do his dirty work for him.

The score to The Liquidator is good. It is by Lalo Schifrin who I consider to be one of the truly great screen composers. This is one of his earlier scores, but that doesn’t make it any the less enjoyable. As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack includes Shirley Bassey’s brassy title theme, and an assortment of bossa novas, conga beats, and lounge grooves. It a great slice of sixties spy music in all it’s diversity. For those interested in tracking down the soundtrack album, there are two versions available: The first is the original issue, which has musical highlights from the film (it makes a great lounge album – but is quite short – around 30 minutes). The second is a recent release from Film Score Monthly and has the bulk of the music from the film in chronological order (around 63 minutes). Your choice?

It’s such a shame, that a film that had offered so much in it’s opening minutes should collapse half way through and never truly recover. Earlier, I asked the question: Is this one of the great lost spy gems from the sixties? The answer is sadly no. The Liquidator is an interesting diversion but not much more than that. The failure of this film resulted in no further Boysie Oakes adventures making it to the silver screen. Starting a franchise was obviously the intention. If you look at the corgi paperback of Madrigal, the animated assassin from Williams title sequence can be seen on a playing card, clearly tying it in with the film series. So The Liquidator joins Where The Spies Are, Modesty Blaise and Hammerhead as a film adaptation from a popular book series that didn’t take off.

This review is based on a Turner Classic Movies television broadcast. Currently, The Liquidator is unavailable on DVD.

The Boysie Oakes novels by John Gardner are:

• The Liquidator 1964
• Understrike 1965
• Amber Nine 1966
• Madrigal 1967
• Founder Member 1969
• A Killer For A Song
• Traitors Exit 1970
• The Airline Pirates (Air Apparent) 1970

Boysie Oakes also appeared in two short stories in:
• The Assassination File 1974

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No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (1979)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Starring: Gareth Hunt, Fiona Curzon, Nick Tate, Geoffrey Keen, Gary Hope
Music: Simon Bell
AKA: The Man From S.E.X.

With the passing of Gareth Hunt last week, I thought it fitting to review No. 1: Licensed To Love And Kill, although it’s probably not the way he’d want to be remembered.

This film is another shlock exploitation flick from director Lindsay Shonteff, the man who gave us The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World and The Million Eyes Of Sumuru. In 1977, the success of The Spy Who Loved Me brought about a resurgence in James Bond knockoff movies. And Lindsay Shonteff, recycled the Charles Vine series, starring Tom Adams from the sixties. Gareth Hunt plays Charles Bind in this bottom of the barrel addition to the spy genre.

This is actually the second film in a series of three; the first being No. 1 Of The Secret Service starring Nicky Henson as Bind and the third a final film was Number One Gun (1990) starring Michael Howe.

What’s it all about? The film starts with Charles Bind trapped in a jet plane as it hurtles out of control. Bind’s explains the predicament he finds himself in:

’I ask myself, what am I doing, Britain’s number one agent, tied hand and foot, in this jet fighter, with only dynamite for company?’

As any good spy hero would, Bind ejects at the last moment, just before the plane erupts into a ball of flame. He parachutes down to the street, and rips off his coveralls to reveal a pristine white dinner suit underneath. Naturally enough, he has landed exactly in front of the restaurant, where he had a standing dinner engagement with a stunning superbabe. When the lady in question admonishes him for being late, he glibly replies, ’Yes, I was tied up for a while!’ Groan!

After a trashy title sequence, Bind arrives at the Ministry Of Defence Headquarters, and waltzes into his superiors office. In Shonteff’s The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, Charles Vine’s boss was Rockwell. In this instance, Bind’s boss is Stockwell (Geoffrey Keen). Bond fans will recognise Keen as Frederick Grey, Minister Of Defence in several of the Roger Moore era films. Bind is briefed on English Lord Dangerfield, a high ranking diplomat. The Home Office is worried about him, as he has been out of contact for a few weeks. His last known whereabouts, was at the home of an old friend, Senator Lucifer Orchid (Gary Hope), in the United States. Bind’s mission is to find Lord Dangerfield and bring him home. After the briefing, Bind is shipped off to see Merlin, in K Department (a low budget version of Q Branch).

As I have mentioned earlier, this is a cheapjack production and the cinematography is very poor, the whole film looks like it has been filmed through the bottom of a beer glass. There are many shoe-string scenes such as when Bind goes to see Merlin (John Arnatt), the head of the ‘dirty tricks’ department. Merlin doesn’t have an office or a laboratory. He seems to be set up in a boy-scout hall. He doesn’t even have a desk; it’s a fold up table. Merlin hands over a few simple gadgets, and then Bind is off to America to complete his mission.

Nick Tate plays Jensen Fury, a loud, abusive mercenary whose code-name is Ultra 1 – even better than No. 1, get it? – implying he is the fastest and deadliest gunman in the world. His acting is on par with the dialogue his character is given. It is so awful it is painful to listen to. When we first meet Fury he is proving his prowess with a pistol to his new employer, Senator Lucifer Orchid. Fury does this by gunning down innocent people on a beach. He’d rather use live targets, because it keeps him sharp.

Once in America, Bind joins forces with Lord Dangerfield’s daughter, Carlotta Muff Dangerfield (Fiona Curzon), who naturally enough, gets called ‘Lotta Muff’ by Bind. But she is only one of the many girls, Bind get’s involved with. There’s ‘Cutie Pie’ and ‘Sweetie Pie’ who provide a bathing service, and the exotic Asian beauty Fun-ghi. Unfortunately Fun-ghi meets an untimely end, when she dives into a swimming pool filled with acid. You see, the caretaker cleans the pool with acid to kill funghi (Fun-ghi, er, get it? No, you’re right. It is not very funny.)

This film also features a few other chestnuts of the genre. There’s an evil double of Charles Bind, and an malicious midget with a whip. Even the ‘She-He’ character from The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World is repeated.

No. 1: Licensed To Love And Kill is not a particularly good film, but one thing it cannot be accused of, is being slow paced. It moves very swiftly from one bad set piece to the next. If you are a spy film completist and must watch this movie, look out for the stripper with razor blades attached to the tassels over her nipples. Ranking as one of spy cinemas most absurd assassins, as she sways around, the razors begin to spin like aircraft propellers, becoming a lethal weapon. As she approaches Bind, he holds a wooden chair out in front to protect himself. Accompanied by the sound of a circular saw, the chair is reduced to saw dust.

Does Bind survive? Who cares? This movie is crap.

This review is based on the Filmways Home Video Australia VHS cassette.

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Zeta One (1969)

Director: Michael Cort
Starring: Robin Hawdon, James Robertson Justice, Yutte Stensgaad, Charles Hawtrey, Dawn Addams, Valerie Leon, Anna Gael
AKA: The Love Factor

Barely more than soft core porn, Zeta One is an example of swinging sixties British Cinema at it’s worst. To fans of the perverse it may even fall into the ‘so bad it is good’ category. Thankfully it is fast paced and the costumes, sets, and the girls in the film are easy on the eye.

The film opens with Section S Agent, James Word (Robin Hawdon) returning home after a mission. Waiting in his apartment is Anna Olsen (Yutte Stensgaad), the ‘company’ secretary. She wants to knows the details of Word’s mission in Scotland. After a game of strip poker (naturally), Word,via flashback, begins to tell the story of ‘Zeta’, a woman who rules a colony of women in a place called ‘Angvia’.

The scantily clad Angvian women have special powers and could take over the world, but so far have restricted their activities to kidnapping and brainwashing a few girls to join their colony. For those who have not worked it out yet, Angvia is an anagram of ‘vagina’.

Meanwhile, head of Department 5, Major Borden (James Robertson Justice), a well dressed, well connected English gentleman, has plans to take over Angvia for his own purposes. Despite Borden’s respectable veneer, he is actually a brutal sadist, with his own torture chamber, which within he ‘questions’ young girls in a bid to find the location of Angvia. To achieve his ends, Borden sends his assistant, Swyne (Charles Hawtrey) out to track some Angvian girls. This isn’t too hard to do as they all wear orange minis around.

Swyne follows two Angvians to a strip club where they intend to kidnap one of the ‘artistes’ to join their colony. Swyne reports back to Borden, who then convinces the stripper, Edwina Strain, to conceal a transmitting device upon a person, so he can track her to Angvia.

All goes to plan. Edwina is kidnapped and taken to Angvia. With the disappearance of Edwina, Word is called into headquarters and has a meeting with his section chief, ‘W’. Word’s mission is to follow Borden, and he is sent to Scotland where Borden has an estate.

The film’s plot really isn’t important, and really doesn’t make much sense. There are a few weird scenes including a Michael Caine look-a-like who follows around Borden, and a superstitious talking elevator with a chip on it’s shoulder. The scenes in Angvia are trippy with a lot of coloured lights and filters, and one scene which looks like it was filmed through a lava lamp.

As a secret agent, Word doesn’t really do much. He gets to bed multiple attractive sixties dolly birds, and drive a fast car. That’s it really. Not surprisingly, Hawdon spends most of the film with a continuous smirk on his face.

Curious note: Lionel Murton plays Word’s boss known as ‘W’ , but on the wall on his office is ‘UU’ (ie double U). Maybe the set designer had a better sense of humour and was more creative than the rest of the team that put this movie together?

Zeta One is a dirty little sixties spy film. If that’s your bag, man, then by all means, seek it out and enjoy. It is fast paced and at approximately 82 minutes it wont take too much out of your day. But for others who are looking for a real spy film, I am afraid you will have to look elsewhere.

This review is based on the Salvation Films UK video cassette

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Operation Lovebirds (1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review is based on the Shocking Videos DVD.

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Arabesque (1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review is based on the Universal Pictures UK DVD.

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