Tip Not Included (1966)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Naked Weapon (2002)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New York Calling Superdragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD.

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The Petrov Affair (1987)

Director: Michael Carson
Starring: Alex Menglet, Eva Sitta, Swawomir Wabik, Simon Chilvers
Composer: Paul Grabowsky
Musical Producer: Red Symons
Writers: Cliff Green, Mac Gudgeon

The Petrov Affair is a strange bird indeed. The titles are presented over a series of watercolour images, giving it a classic feel, rather than an action feel. It seems to have allusions of being a BBC drama. But despite this genteel approach and some pedestrian pacing, The Petrov Affair is a very Australian series in (possibly) the worst sense of the word.

This mini-series opens at Mascot Airport in Sydney. Three MVD (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del) agents are escorting Edvokia Petrov to a plane that will take her back to the USSR. Surrounded by a horde of reporters, with flash bulbs going off, she is clearly distressed. Before we can make sense of this, we flash forward to a Royal Commission. An A.S.I.O. (Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation) Officer makes the following statement:

“…in 1951 we were studying Soviet personnel with a view to penetrating the embassy and identifying members of the embassy staff who were engaged in intelligence gathering and potential espionage…The activities of the Petrov’s suggested they may be KGB officers.”

And before we can make any sense of the Commission the series flashes back to an even earlier time. It’s now 1951, and we are at the Russian Social Club in Sydney.

I’ll pull apart these opening two minutes to illustrate how sloppily put together this series is. All these flash-forwards and flashbacks are extremely confusing and are only there to make the opening of this series seem more interesting than it is. Believe me – this series is a slow starter. And unless you are familiar with the events being depicted, there is no way you can follow the story. In my description above, I have been very generous in background detail to help unravel the plot. To the uninitiated the series could play as an unknown woman is shuffled through a crowd of reporters at Sydney Airport. Where is she going and why is she upset? Next the Royal Commission. Timewise, we (the viewers) aren’t even told that this is a flash-forward. It could be a flashback or simply the next day. And they don’t even have the courtesy to tell us that this is a Royal Commission investigation. And finally, we flashback to the Russian Social Club. Again, we are not told where we are and in what context. (On initial viewing I thought it was the Russian Embassy in Canberra). Granted, that these events will make more sense as the story progresses, but when you are telling a story, based on ‘true events’, surely establishing time and place is a key element in the film-makers / story-tellers tool-kit.

Back to the synopsis. At the Russian Social Club in Sydney, the Oktoker Revolution is being celebrated. Pictures of Stalin line the walls; vodka is flowing, and everybody is having a good time. Among the revellers are diplomats Vladimir Petrov (Alex Menglet) and his wife Evdokia (Eva Sitta). Vladimir holds many positions at the Russian Embassy. He is the third secretary of the Embassy, a cultural attaché and it is rumoured that he is the head of the KGB. Despite his position, Petrov is not portrayed as a hard line communist. During the evening, as the Soviet Anthem is being sung, his dog attacks the Soviet flag. Not everyone is amused, but Petrov is falling over in fits of hysterical laughter.

During the evening Vladimir meets Michael Bialoguski (Swawomir Wabik). Bialoguski is a doctor, and also a violinist with the Sydney Orchestra. In general, he is a well respected gentleman in Sydney society – the perfect target for Vladimir to recruit as an agent.

In the following weeks, the two men are spending quality time getting drunk and visiting Sydney’s seedy strip clubs. I’ll digress here to explain a bit of Australian culture, particularly in the 50’s and 60’s. Despite Oz’s reputation as a nation of booze swilling yobs (thank you Barry McKenzie), until the 1970’s all the pubs and clubs had a 6:00pm curfew on selling alcohol. This curfew gave rise to what was called THE SIX O’CLOCK SWILL. Which is probably as debauched as it sounds. Basically all the workers would finish their shifts at 5:00pm and flood to the nearest pub and in the hour till 6:00pm they would drink as much as humanly possible. You will notice, that bars in Australia are quite long. This is so as many patrons can be served, as quickly as possible. A few of the older hotels (that haven’t been renovated and turned into delicatessens) still have tiles half way up the walls from where the publican has to ‘hose’ out the pub after closing.

I have explained all that, because Australia was basically dry after 6:00pm (except for take-away alcohol purchased before 6:00pm). And that is how Petrov would ingratiate himself on the people around him (or recruit agents). Wherever he was, in a club or restaurant, he would have a case of whiskey under his table. He would give away bottles to his friends and colleagues, in essence buying a lot of goodwill. Maybe in other countries with freer licensing laws, Petrov’s impact may have been lessened. But in Australia, he was a provider – what we’d call a ‘top bloke’. At the Russian Club in Sydney, people would mill around him and he’d be the centre of attention and activity.

It is very difficult to review this series withount giving away all the key events, so at the risk of seeming vague, I’ll try to discreetly outline events. The key to the rest of the events that follow, is Joseph Stalin’s death in March 1953. In the aftermath, Vladimir and Edvokia Petrov are recalled back to Russia. But Vladimir believes that if he returns to the Soviet Union he will be killed.

Through Vladimir’s drinking companion, Bialoguski, who had been working for ASIO all along, Petrov arranges to defect to Australia. A part of the deal includes, Vladimir supplying information about Soviet espionage activity in Australia. But as Vladimir makes plans to defect, he does not make plans for Evdokia. Seizing the opportunity, the MVD send two couriers to Australia to transport her back to mother Russia.

I have mentioned alcohol in almost every paragraph in this review. That in it self says a lot about this miniseries. Is it a spy drama, or a study in alcoholism with espionage overtones? Your guess is as good as mine. At the risk of being flippant, the amount of booze that is consumed in the first forty minutes of The Petrov Affair, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled upon a politicised version of The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie – hang on, that’s been done – Les Patterson Saves The World. Back to the synopsis and the series.

Is The Petrov Affair at least accurate? It’s hard to say. This series was made thirty years after the events portrayed, and the ‘print the legend’ ethos may have been applied to this production. The Petrov Affair has evolved into a bit of a ‘conspiracy theory’ in Australia and as such, there are many points of view, not all of them accurate. I preparing for this review, I thought it only fair to glean a bit more background information. There are quite a few books out there (whether you can find them is another matter). The Petrov’s themselves had a book written (well, ghost written by one of their ASIO minders: Empire of Fear) outlining their point of view, and Bialoguski has written a book revealing his side of the story . The only book I could find was Nest Of Traitors: The Petrov Affair, (1974, The Jacaranda Press) by Nicholas Whitlam and John Stubbs. It is in no way connected with this mini-series, and is a highly entertaining read. It suggests that Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, may have used the incident to bolster his ‘governments dwindling popularity’ before the 1954 federal election. Menzies was the leader of the Liberal Party (in Australia, the Liberals are the conservative party) and he was not expected to win. It may be true that Menzies manipulated events to his advantage (far be it from me to speculate). But unfortunately one the writers of the book happen to be Nicolas Whitlam, the son of Gough Whitlam, who at the time of this book’s publication was the incumbent Prime Minister. In fact Whitlam was the first Labour Party Prime Minister, Australia had had, since the The Petrov Affair. The co-author is John Stubbs, a former journalist, turned press-secretary for the minister of labour and immigration. So both writers are linked with the Labour party and present a ‘leftist’ view of events.

At the end of the day, The Petrov Affair is an interesting piece of Australian history. Unfortunately the mini-series about it is rather flat and lacks cohesion. The filmmakers have tried to be too fancy with their telling – too many points of view – a simple linear telling of the tale, with tighter editing at the beginning, and a few titles telling us where and when events are happening would have improved this production immensely. (I make it sound simple, don’t I?)

This review is based on the Umbrella Entertainment Australia DVD

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Bad Company

Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Anthony Hopkins. Chris Rock, Gabriel Macht, Peter Stormare, John Slattery, Kerry Washington, Garcelle Beavais-Nilon, Matthew Marsh
Music: Trevor Rabin

Bad Company is a Jerry Bruckheimer production so you know exactly what to expect. It is big, it is loud and it is glossy. Personally I enjoy Mr Bruckheimer’s productions. I think they are great popcorn fare, but they don’t trouble your brains cells too often. The director, Joel Schumacher has had some success in recent years too, with Batman Forever and Falling Down. But regardless on the men behind the scenes, your enjoyment of this film will depend on if you like Chris Rock’s brand of comedy mixed with a modern hi-tech espionage story. If you don’t like Chris Rock’s motor mouthed urban style than this movie is not for you.

The film opens in Antique shop in Prague. Sophisticated C.I.A. Agent Kevin Pope (Chris Rock) is undercover. He is pretending to be a buyer called Michael Turner. What is he buying? A portable nuclear bomb that conveniently fits into a suitcase. The seller is Adrik Vas (Peter Stormare). Agent Pope isn’t working alone though. He has a money man coming to pay for the weapon. Enter fellow agent Oakes (Anthony Hopkins). Oakes hands over a million-dollar deposit on the weapon (against a cool twenty million total). Vas hands Pope a cell phone and tells him that he will call in ten days with the final details for the exchange of the weapon.

So the first meeting has gone well. Both Pope and Oakes go their separate ways. Unfortunately, another buyer cannot compete with the C.I.A. to buy the weapon. But this group want it anyway. Their solution is to kill the buyer – Pope. This evil organization is called The Black Hand, and their leader is Dragan Adjanic (Matthew Marsh). As Pope walks back to his hotel several of Adjanic’s men start tailing Pope. Well it is not so much tailing; it is chasing him in their BMW. Pope runs for his life. But his days are number as The Black Hand has agents everywhere. Pope is shot in the back and killed.

This poses a problem for the C.I.A. How are they going to complete the purchase without Pope. Vas doesn’t trust Oakes, or anyone else for that matter. Their only pipeline in was through Pope.

That brings us to Jake Hayes (also played by Chris Rock). Jake lives in New York and is a no-good hustler and ticket scalper, who sells tickets to sports events, Broadway shows, and everything and anything he can get his hands on. It is not a good time for Jake in his life, as his girlfriend Julie (Kerry Washington) is dumping him and moving to Seattle because he has no prospects. But things are about to change for Jake as the C.I.A. is watching him.

Oakes arranges a meeting with Jake and tells him a few truths about the way he was brought into this world. When he was born, he was one of a pair of twins. His mother died two days after childbirth and his father had long since vanished. Soon after birth, Jake developed a severe chest infection and had to be hospitalised. The doctor at the time thought it was better to separate the twins – improving the healthy one (Kevin)’s chance of adoption. And so it was. Kevin was adopted by the wealthy Pope family, went to college and became a Navy seal before joining the intelligence community. Jake on the other hand went to a foster home, which he shared with eight other foster children. But enough of the sob story. Oakes asks Jake to impersonate his brother. Jake agrees for a fee. Ten Thousand in advance and ninety after the job is done. Oakes agrees. They have eight days to get Jake in shape – turning a rough diamond into a gentleman spy.

This is the premise of the whole film. It is a classic fish out of water story. In this case taking the urban street hustler with the smart mouth and putting him in a tailored suit and placing him in some glorious surroundings. But strangely, Rock isn’t that outrageous when he is placed in this unusual setting. It is usually the contrivances of the story that upset the apple cart, rather than Rock’s mouth. Oh well, back to the story.

Oakes and his team start training Jake to take over from his brother. First he has to learn to speak like his brother and then Czech. Next he has to learn to recognise all the faces of the players in this deception. He also has to train his brain to be alert at all times.

Jake comes through all the preliminary tests with flying colours, so Oakes superiors decide on a more thorough test. They send Jake to Kevin’s apartment. If he can convince Kevin’s neighbours and friends that he is actually Kevin, he will be good to go.

There is also a second more cynical reason to send Jake to Kevin’s apartment. It is likely that The Black Hand are not convinced that Kevin is dead, and if they see Jake, it may force them to make a move.

Naturally enough that is exactly what happens. An assassin sneaks into the apartment and tries to kill Jake. Jake escapes by walking along a narrow window ledge and then fleeing into the streets. The C.I.A. team watching Jake take care of the assassin, but Jake has scarpered and is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t want to be a part of this life where people are trying to kill him.

Oakes tracks him down at his foster mother’s home and gives him a father to son chat which convinces Jake to go on with the mission. There’s plenty more to come once Jake and the team hit Prague. There are double crosses, triple crosses and as there’s a nuclear bomb involved, there’s a beat the clock ending. All of these elements add up to a fairly decent spy story. But it isn’t without it’s flaws. The biggest being the casting of Anthony Hopkins. Don’t get me wrong I like Hopkins work, and he does a good job in this film, but he was simply too old for this role. He, as the experience agent, in essence is the action man of the film. There is something not quite believable about a pudgy silver haired old man shooting it out with a gang of mean spirited terrorists and winning. Hopkins nearly sells it, but not quite. The scenes where he is running through the train station at the end are almost laughable.

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The Accidental Spy (2001-2002)

The_Accidental_SpyDirector: Teddy Chen
Starring: Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Vivian Hsu, Kim Min Jeong, Wu Hsing Kuo
Music: Peter Kam (Hong Kong), Michael Wandmacher (U.S. re-edit)

The Accidental Spy is a hybrid spy / martial arts film in the usual Jackie Chan style. This film divides many people due to the fact that there appears to be quite a few versions floating around. There is the original Hong Kong version. A Hong Kong version that has been dubbed into English. And finally a version by Dimension Films, which is an American re-dub that has also been re-edited. It seems that the story changes quite substantially in the differing versions too. This review relates to the Dimension Films version.

The film opens on an ancient rural landscape in Turkey. A convoy of 4WD vehicles wind their way through the village to a hi-tech farming centre, where bio chemists are trying to create new ways of farming the land. In the convoy is an English news crew who are doing a story on the farm. But it seems that someone isn’t happy with the project. As the interview unfolds, a squad of terrorists, armed with machine guns interrupt proceedings and mow everybody down: farmers, chemists and newscrew.

Next we have the title sequence which shows us snippets from the film that is to come, and features a techo theme by Michael Wandmacher which pounds over the top. Wandmacher’s theme has just enough Bond-style brass cues to re-enforce that you are watching a spy film, but not enough to warrant a lawsuit.

After the cow-catcher and titles we land in Hong Kong and Jackie Chan (that’s his character name, played by er.., Jackie Chan) is preparing for another day at work. He works as a sales assistant at a Weider Fitness store, selling workout equipment. After he bungles a sale, Jackie takes a break at the local shopping mall. His timing is impeccable because a bank robbery is taking place. As the bandits flee, they take hostages, but Jackie intervenes by clobbering the assailants with a pram (don’t worry – the tot wasn’t occupying the pram at the time). The crooks drop their bundle of loot and Jackie quickly scoops it up and then scarpers. Naturally the bandits want the money back, so they pursue Jackie through the complex, conducting a running battle as they go. As with most Jackie Chan movies the choreography is excellent (arranged and performed by Tung Wai and the JC Stuntmen Team). The mayhem moves to the roof, high above the city and Jackie makes his escape by leaping onto a large industrial crane.

At the end of the day, Jackie is a hero and order is restored…so how does Jackie become The Accidental Spy? The press make a feature story out of Jackie’s daring heroics and he comes to the attention of a second rate gumshoe, Manny Liu (Eric Tsang). Liu is working for an elderly Korean, living in Seoul, who is trying to find his son. You see, in the television interview, Jackie’s whole life story came out. He grew up in an orphanage, after he was abandoned at the age of four months old, in 1958. All he can remember is a dangling necklace with a Catholic cross. Liu thinks Jackie fits the bill perfectly.

So Jackie is sent off to Seoul to meet the man who may (or may not) be his father. Park Won-Jung (the father) is on his deathbed at a Defence Department Hospital. As Jackie enters the room he notices the catholic cross around the old man’s neck. It appears that Park Won-Jung is Jackie’s father. And not only that, but in the espionage world he was also the most notorious double agent Korea has ever known.

Later after Jackie has left the hospital some opposition agents assault Park Won-Jung in his room. He dies, but leaves behind a carved wooden box with a Holy medal on the front – and inside is the cross necklace and a key. What does the key unlock? Nobody knows. But through the key, and a little game that his father cooked up before his death, Jackie is about to enter the world of espionage. A world that leads him to the rooftops, bath-houses and markets of Istanbul.

The McGuffin in this film is a super drug called Opium Maxa, which you may have guessed, was being manufactured by the bio-chemists who were slaughtered at the beginning of the film. Unbeknownst to Jackie, his inheritance is to track down this drug and not get killed in the process. Along the way there are Turkish thugs, Korean Agents, the C.I.A. and a nosey journalist, all of whom have an interest in getting their hands on the drug. For those interested, in the original Hong Kong version, the McGuffin was an ultra-lethal, weaponized pathogen called Anthrax II. But The Accidental Spy’s American release co-incided with the big Anthrax scare, after September 11. So it had to be changed.

The Accidental Spy was made when Jackie Chan was at the peak of his Western popularity, with hit films like Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour 1 & 2. But Jackie still received a lot of criticism that his films didn’t have the same charm and style that his earlier Hong Kong work did. The Accidental Spy seems like an attempt to address that. Even though this re-edited version is produced by Harvey and Max Weinstein (Miramax), this is still very much a Hong Kong film. Despite going back to his roots, this film isn’t one of Chan’s success’s. Sure it’s entertaining in it’s way, and as I mentioned earlier the stunts and fight scenes are choreographed very well, albeit with Jackie’s habit of verging into silly slapstick (the kids love it). The real problems is the script which appears to be written around the stunts rather than fitting the stunts to the story. The ending, which takes place on a tanker truck, while be a fairly entertaining set piece is really quite unrealistic…As my ten year old son said when he saw it ‘why didn’t they hit the breaks and get out of the truck?’ Well yeah –that would have worked too, but wouldn’t be as exciting.

Having said all that, as I have mentioned there are numerous versions of the film. Maybe in other versions the plot is fleshed out more and the ending is more believable – but I can’t see my self scouring the world for the alternative versions to check. In the end, this version of The Accidental Spy is a pleasant enough time killer if you are a fan of Jackie Chan, but as a spy film it is a trifle clumsy.

This review is based on the Miramax Dimension Home Entertainment / Buena Vista Entertainment (Australasia) DVD

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3-2-1 Countdown For Manhattan (1966)

AKA: The Trap Snaps Shut At Midnight
Director: Harald Philipp
Starring: George Nader, Horst Frank, Heinz Weiss, Dominique Wilms, Monika Grimm, Richard Münch
Music: Peter Thomas

3-2-1 Countdown for Manhattan is the third film in the series of Jerry Cotton films starring George Nader. The series was made in West Germany, but set in the U.S.A., so there is plenty of stock footage and rear projection. But this entry in the series is good fun, but plays more like a detective story than a spy film.

The movie opens with scenes very reminiscent of Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear, where an explosive dump at the Hartland Dam site has gone up in flames. Lumbering towards the inferno is a regular delivery of 20 drums of nitro-glycerine. Unlike The Wages Of Fear, they don’t need the nitro to extinguish the blaze and the truck is turned away. The drivers make their return trip with a fully laden truck. As is their routine, they stop at a diner for something to eat and to harass the attractive waitress who is working there.

Whilst carousing with the waitress the explosive truck is stolen by two men, Lou Hutton (Gert Günther Hoffman) and Krotsky (Friedrich G. Beckhaus), but the hi-jackers don’t realise the truck is full of nitro. They simply needed a truck. Once they realise their mistake, Krotsky scarpers, and Hutton soldiers on alone.

When we next see the explosives truck being driven by Hutton, it is on a crowded New York street, and Hutton ploughs the front end through the window of Cartier and then flees. During the commotion, a svelte blonde named Maureen (Dominique Wilms) helps herself to a selection of diamonds from the store. Arriving late on the scene, the police are worried that the truck will explode any minute. But they are unjustified in their panic as Hutton had unloaded the nitro. But that raises another problem – there are 20 drums of nitro-glycerine hidden in the city somewhere and the refrigerated containers they are in will only keep them stable for another 48 hours. And to make matters worse, New York is in the grip of a heatwave. That’s where the F.B.I. come in.

The clock is ticking. Enter Jerry Cotton and his partner Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss). While Jerry and Phil receive their briefing from their boss, Mr High (what a great name for the head of F.B.I. – played by Richard Münch), Maureen places the stolen diamonds in a locker at the train station and mails the key to Ruth Warren (Monika Grimm), who happens to be Hutton’s girlfriend.

Like any city where organised crime is rife, the Mob are not pleased when a caper is pulled and they don’t get their cut. Larry Link (Horst Frank), New York’s number one mobster, wants to know who pulled the Cartier job, and obviously wants his share. He sends his goons out to find the culprits.

Meanwhile, Jerry starts his investigation at the diner where the truck had been stolen from. By tracing the dialed phone numbers from the pay phone at the diner, Jerry is lead to Hutton’s girlfriend, Ruth Warren. Simultaneously Link’s men capture Krotsky, the second man in the truck hi-jacking. After some friendly torture, Krotsky reveals that he didn’t take part in the robbery; that he had fled the scene once he realised the truck was full of nitro-glycerine. No longer interested in the diamonds, Link’s thoughts turn to getting his hands on the drums of nitro. With that much explosive he could hold the city to ransom. Link sends his goons out to track Hutton, starting at Ruth Warren’s apartment.

Link’s men turn up first at Warren’s apartment, which is at the top of multi-storey apartment complex, and decide to wait till Hutton arrives. Because of the heat, whilst waiting, the mobsters order a case of beer to keep them cool. Jerry and Phil arrive as the case is being taken up in the elevator by a delivery boy. Thinking it strange that a woman would need so much beer, Jerry deduces that she isn’t alone and instead of going direct to her apartment, goes to the roof and commandeers a window washing rig. He lowers himself down outside Warren’s apartment and then crawls out on a ledge. Link’s men notice Jerry and suggest he moves on, but Jerry forces open a window (which is more like a door – but there is no balcony?) and leaps into the apartment. But a quick thinking mobster slams the window back closed on Jerry. The window shatters, and Jerry falls back outside, surely to his death!

One of the hallmarks of the Jerry Cotton series, is the way Jerry miraculously escapes from ‘certain death’ situations. This film is no exception and at the last second, Jerry grabs a rope that it is dangling from the window washing rig. Hanging precariously, he starts to crawl back up. Now, your probably wondering what Phil, Jerry’s partner, has been doing all this time? Well, he was waiting outside the door to Warren’s apartment. Hearing the glass shatter and Jerry fall, Phil burst through the door and holds the mobsters at gunpoint. But Phil isn’t too observant and one of Link’s men sneaks up behind him and clocks him over the head with a piece of broken glass. Phil goes down.

But Phil’s actions have given Jerry time to climb back up and he bounds through the window and a fist fight erupts. Once the fists start flying, the mobsters flee. The good news is Ruth Warren is okay, and apart from having their egos dented Jerry and Phil are too. Warren tells Jerry where Hutton is waiting for her, and she gives him the key to the locker where the diamonds are hidden.

Jerry meets Hutton at Warren’s designated meeting spot. Hutton doesn’t put up a fight and agrees to take Jerry to the nitro which is hidden in an old subway depot. Unfortunately Larry Link has worked out where the nitro is being kept too, so his goons are waiting when Jerry and Hutton arrive. Poor old Jerry gets beaten up once again and Hutton is killed. And Link now has possession of the nitro-glycerine.

Why was Jerry left alive? He was tied up and left to convey a message to the F.B.I., that Link now possesses the explosive and wants one million dollars for it’s return. Naturally, Jerry escape from his bonds by burning through the rope with a discarded cigarette butt.

Next, Link calls a major newspaper and tells them that there are 20 drums of nitro hidden in the city and the F.B.I. refuses to pay the ransom. To prove that he is serious, Link intends to explode one of the drums in a very public place in New York. Now that the press have hold of the story, panic breaks out. All the highways are blocked as the citizens attempt to flee.

By tracing the detonating device required to set off a canister of nitro, Jerry and the team track the drum to the Manhattan Bridge where it dangles precariously from the girders underneath. In front of some dubious rear-projection, Jerry struggles with one of Link’s henchmen balanced on the metal beams. The henchman falls to his death and Jerry stops the canister from exploding with seconds to spare. A close call.

But Link still has the upper hand. He still has 19 drums, so reluctantly, the F.B.I. agrees to pay Link. But as with all payoffs of this kind, it is a trap and a transmitting device is placed in the case with the money. The transmitter leads Jerry to a refrigerated rail car stalled on the tracks with the Southern Pacific Express bearing down. The rear projection footage in these scenes reach new highs for sloppiness. As the trains whizz past in the background, it looks like Jerry is standing in a ditch because the wheels are so high in the shot. And size? If the train was in proportion to the wheels displayed it would be 15 metres tall. BIG train.

Does Jerry save the day? Of course he does as there are another five films to follow in the series, but you don’t really want me to give the ending away. As I mentioned at the outset, this film is great fun and moves so quickly, the technical deficiencies barely have time to register. The Jerry Cotton films may not be the best Eurospy series to come out of the sixties, but it certainly have to be one of the most enjoyable.

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

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