The Karate Killers (1967)

AKA: The Five Daughters Affair
United States
Director: Barry Shear

Starring: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Herbert Lom, Curt Jurgens, Telly Savalas, Jill Ireland, Terry-Thomas, Kim Darby, Diane McBain, Leo G. Carroll, Danielle De Metz

Music: Gerald Fried
The Man From UNCLE theme by Jerry Goldsmith

There are many reasons why this film could be regarded as the worst of The Man From UNCLE films – because of the way the story is structured, it is repetitive and episodic, rather than a fluid and cohesive piece of cinema. Having said that, and throwing away all the rulebooks, this movie has to be my favourite in the series. It’s an absolute hoot.

The film opens with – not one, but three autogyros flying over head – autogyros? Think ‘Little Nellie’ from You Only Live Twice. Down below on a winding mountain road in a sporty blue car are Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). From above the autogyros start peppering our intrepid UNCLE agents with rockets. Due to there choice of car, it appears that the UNCLE boys can’t just roll down the windows and shoot back, they have to open the doors, and these are top opening doors, so Napoleon’s view of his overhead attackers is impeded. So how do they get out of this tricky situation? Illya drives the car into a tunnel. That’s it! I guess they waited the for the autogyros to run low on petrol and go home.

Now as you have no doubt guessed, the guys in the autogyros were THRUSH agents and they were trying to stop Illya and Napoleon from visiting Dr. Simon True who is a scientist who has been working on a vital desalinisation project. During the experiment, as Napoleon and Illya watch, Professor True has a heart attack. Just before he dies, he whispers that his ‘formula’ for the experiment has been passed to the ‘four winds’.

Meanwhile, Professor True’s widow, Amanda (Joan Crawford) is being consoled by her lover, Randolph (Herbert Lom). But Randolph’s care and affection only stretches so far when he can’t find a copy of the Professor’s formula – as that is all he was after. He only had an affair with Amanda so he could get the formula. He questions her and she refuses to co-operate. This is where Randolph starts getting rough – he calls in a band of THRUSH agents in red skivvies with black leather vests and gloves. These guys are the ‘Karate Killers’ from the title and they tear the place a part, and kill Amanda.

The men from UNCLE turn up too late with the Professor’s youngest daughter, Sandra True (Kim Darby). She surmises that the ‘four winds’ that the formula has been scattered to, are in fact Professor True’s four errant step daughters. The first of these daughters, Margo (Diane McBain) is now living in Italy – married to Count Valeriano De Fanzini (Telly Savalas). The Count is an unstable and jealous man and keeps Margo locked up, naked, in an attic. When Napoleon and Illya turn up with Sandra in tow, they don’t quite receive the welcome they expected. The situation gets worse when Randolph turns up the his squad of Karate Killers.

After a slap stick fight sequence, Margo gives the men from UNCLE a photo that her step father had sent to her. In the background of the photo, on a chalk board is part of a formula. On it’s own it doesn’t mean too much, but all of the step daughters have a piece of the formula, and once they have all the pieces they can work out Professor True’s plan for desalinisation.

The next daughter, Imogene (Jill Ireland) is in London, and all parties head across to the UK for the next part of the story. When we first meet Imogene, she has just been arrested – by Terry-Thomas – for indecent exposure. Of course Randolph turns up.

After that we head to the Swiss Alps and the Daughter is Yvonne (Danielle De Metz). She is entangled in a relationship with wealthy gigolo, Carl Von Kesser (Curt Jurgens). And once again Randolph turns up. As I mentioned at the opening, the story is rather repetitive, with our men from UNCLE traipsing across the globe tracking down one step daughter after another – and always Randolph and his cronies are on hand to throw a spanner in the works. But the repetition is not really a hurdle because each episode is fun, and has a great cast.

It’s probably not logical, but I rate this Man From UNCLE movie pretty highly. It is perfect lightweight spy entertainment with plenty of cliff hanger moments, which the boys have to extricate themselves from. This is also one of the more tongue-in-cheek movies of the series. The Man From UNCLE always had a healthy does of comedy thrown into the mix, but this is just swinging sixties excess at its best!

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