Monday, January 30, 2017

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 5


Agent X-77 Orders To Kill (1966): This Italian-Spanish production is only marginal, mostly elevated by supersexy Italian actress Sylva Koscina as a saucy nurse who hooks up with the hero, Vadile, and helps him take on a group of Commie plotters who are looking to steal the plans to an experimental fuel called Agent X-77. As for the hero, he is a French dude with zero screen presence, and Koscina easily steals the show from him. Anyway our hero Vadile is a French agent sent to Italy posing as an airline investigator. A plane crashed in the Itallian mountains and we viewers know it was sabotaged, the men onboard killed for the documents they were carrying. Vadile sort of lurks around the countryside and investigates; it’s all very slow-going, with only an occasional fistfight or car chase in the first hour. But as mentioned there is Sylva Koscina sexing things up; with her chin-length ‘60s hairdo and big eyes she looks like a living Japanimation character. At the hour mark Vadile is captured, strung up, and mercilessly whipped, and you still care little for him. I didn’t really enjoy this one, but I did get a chuckle that the two main villains looked like Walter Mathau and James Coburn. Also of note is the annoying soundtrack, which sounds like something out of a Buster Keaton comedy.

Electra One (1967): When the protagonist isn’t a spy but instead is a jewel thief, does the movie still count as Eurospy? This is of course the same question that plagued the ancients. At any rate “Electra One” doesn’t have enough to recommend it either way. Our “hero” is a square-jawed type with the bland good looks of a paperback cover model; he is a Hamburg-based thief who runs into a scheme involving an experimental gas called Electra One which unleashes inner impulses or something. Not that much is made of it; we only see it at work in the beginning, where villainous Electra, a Blofeld-type who plans to blackmail governments with the gas, uses the drug to mess up the mind of a US colonel who then attempts to launch missiles on Russia. But from there on the movie devolves into one chase after another as our hero inadvertently saves the pretty blonde assistant of a murdered doctor who has come up with an antidote to the drug. There’s a grating comedy element courtesy a pair of American and Russian agents who do nothing but eat up the running time. However, always-sexy Rosalba Neri appears as a villainous babe, one working for Electra. She doesn’t do much, though, other than sit around and look sexy. But you take what you can get in meager films like “Electra One.” The finale isn’t bad, with our hero armed with a subgun and being chased by a small plane.

O.K. Connery (1967): Unlike Danger!! Death Ray, which was also given the MST3K treatment, this film is improved by watching the uncut version. The story behind this one goes that, when Sean Connery briefly quit the Bond franchise after filming “You Only Live Twice” in 1966, some genius in Italy wondered, “What if we hired Connery’s younger brother Neil in a bunch of pseudo-Bond films – and also hired a bunch of other actors from those movies to play similar roles?” From the real Bond films we have Bernard Lee, playing “Commander Cunningham,” a variation of M; Lois Maxwell, playing “Max,” a more ass-kicking variation of Miss Moneypenny; Anthony Dawson (who played Professor Dent in “Doctor No” and the behind-the-camera Blofeld in “From Russia With Love” and “Thunderball”) as a variation of Blofeld; Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana in “From Russia With Love”) as a sort of Pussy Galore; and Adolfo Celi (the villain in “Thunderball”) as a variation of Emilio Largo. Where they couldn’t get the original Bond actors, they got lookalikes and gave their characters similar names: Lotte Lenya, who played Rosa Klebb in “From Russian With Love,” is replaced by a lookalike actress whose character is named “Lotte Krayendorf!”

The movie is often referred to as a spoof, but this isn’t really true. For the most part it plays it straight, with only the occasional humorous aside. In that manner it’s not much different than the actual Bond films. But this isn’t a “Matt Helm” movie or anything. The movie has Neil Connery as “Neil Connery,” a doctor with mental mastery along the lines of Doctor Strange. He’s the brother of Commander Cunningham’s “best agent,” and is drafted by the Commander to handle the latest plot of Thanatos (aka SPECTRE), an international criminal organization which plans to steal some atomic maguffin. Connery (who didn’t dub his own voice) is okay if bland in the lead role, bringing none of the rakish charm of his more famous brother. The most enjoyable aspect of the film is seeing the actors from the Bond movies have fun with roles that give them a bit more opportunity to stretch their acting wings – Bernard Lee gets a few laughs, and as mentioned Lois Maxwell gets to do all sorts of action stuff.

There must have been a nice budget in play, as “O.K. Connery” goes all over Europe and down to Morocco, Connery researching various leads and getting in the occasional fight. He’s more superheroic than even his brother’s character: in addition to being able to control minds, Neil Connery is also an expert archer. He keeps bumping into the lovely Bianchi (dressed in the most outrageous fashions), who is one of Thanatos’s members, though not as evil as the others – and interestingly, we get to see a lot of evil women who work for the organization, in particular Mildred, a curvy brunette Eurobabe who at one point wears this crazy-but-awesome leather catsuit/miniskirt deal – that is, right before some dumbass kills her. Bummer!

Action scenes are plentiful, and sometimes go beyond the typical, low-budget fistfights of the average Eurospy. That being said, the money must’ve run out at some point, as the climax features that maguffin atomic device rendering firearms useless, thus Connery and comrades must raid Thanatos’s lair armed with bows and arrows! Connery handles the action scenes okay, but the hand-to-hand fights usually seem awkward and clumsy. Make no mistake, this film is no patch on the real Bond films, and indeed isn’t as good as many regular Eurospy flicks; it’s more enjoyable as a funhouse mirror reflection of the Bond franchise, one with a wild spyghetti overlay. My understanding is this was planned as the start of a franchise, but either it didn’t do well or more likely Danjaq, then-owner of the Bond franchise, probably stepped in and curbed anymore films. And I’d love to know what Sean Connery thought of it! Supposedly the producers asked him if he’d do a two-minute cameo, but he turned them down. This is surprsing, as Connery – by his own admission – hated the Bond film producers. You’d expect he would’ve relished the chance at sticking the knife in.

OSS 117: Double Agent (1968): OSS-117 was a recurring character in a series of French movies (and novels), usually played by a different actor each time. I checked this one out because it was a co-Italian production, and as everyone knows Italians just do it better. Coming out after the Eurospy boom of ’65-’67, “Double Agent” has the look and feel of a Bond film, but lacks the gadgets and sci-fi wackiness of earlier genre entries. Speaking of Bond, the actor playing OSS-117 this time is John Gavin, a brawny, dark-haired, virile type of dude who looks so much like Bond that he was actually chosen to be Bond; he was signed on to portray 007 in “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1971 but obviously backed out once Sean Connery decided to return to the role. But Gavin looks very much like a young Connery, with the same sort of build, looks, and mannerisms. Perhaps he could’ve become “the” Bond if he’d kept the role.

So far as the female leads go, for one we have an early (and sadly too brief) appearance by always-gorgeous genre mainstay Rosalba Neri (“Superseven Calling Cairo”) as one of 117’s early conquests. Later we have busty Italian redhead Luciana Paluzzi, who played the sexy henchwoman Fiona Volpe in “Thunderball” (I’ll take her over Oddjob any day!). As if that weren’t enough, finally we have Margaret Lee (“Dick Smart 2.007,” etc), as gorgeous as ever, but here with an “exotic” makeover courtesy lots of eye liner, given that she’s playing a Middle Eastern gal.

OSS-117 goes undercover as an infamous assassin, hired by a supervillain played by Curd Jurgens. “Double Agent” really has the vibe of a pseudo-Bond film due to the casting; Gavin as mentioned was Bond for a while, Paluzzi was in “Thunderball,” and nine years later Jurgens was the main villain in “The Spy Who Loved Me.” But the movie doesn’t properly exploit any of them; while it starts off promising, with 117 in Jurgens’s headquarters (where he boffs Paluzzi’s character, here serving as a doctor/henchwoman for Jurgens), it soon veers astray as 117 is sent by Jurgens to Istanbul on an assassination mission. Now the plot is a jumbled confusion of 117 trying to pretend to kill a man associated with Margaret Lee’s character. Action is sparse and undermined by cranked-up film speeds. T&A isn’t much exploited, either, though Rosalba Neri apparently sheds her clothing. Again, it’s really just the gals and main actor Gavin that recommends “Double Agent;” even the finale is underwhelming, with Paluzzi’s character totally forgotten, Jurgens dealt with by a random character, and 117 engaged with a non-threatening henchman in an overlong fistfight.

Password Kill Agent Gordon (1966): Roger “Superseven Calling Cairo” Browne stars as dashing “super secret agent” Douglas Gordon in this bland but spirited Eurospy cheapie that goes from Paris to Tripoli to Madrid. Browne’s assignment has him posing as a talent agent for a bevy of beauties, one of whom is super-sexy Rosalba Neri (who appeared with Browne in “Superseven”), with another played by ever-sultry (and duplicitous) Helga Line. The first half is a bit talky and slow-going, before the inevitable endless fistfights expected of Eurospy break out. Gordon does well for himself, scoring with Rosalba Neri’s character early on – a scene which begins with him “torturing” her with a feather to the soles of her feet. As ever Neri shows off as much skin as possible, traipsing around in lingerie; one can almost suspect many of these Eurobabes were just waiting for the ‘70s, when they could go full-on nude in their films.

Once the action moves to Madrid we get more of a sci-fi angle, with Helga Line (who turns out to be a Russian spy who ends up working with Gordon) sporting a lipstick tube that shoots lasers (shown via animation drawn on the film). There’s also lots of cheap spy-fy tricks, like Browne “talking” into his wristwatch. The villain is a wheelchair-bound transvestite who manages to capture both Gordon and Helga Line’s character, putting the former in a chamber with poison gas and strapping the latter onto a bed while being dunked in water and shot with electricity – while wearing nothing but a teddy and panties, naturally. More spy-fy ensues with the revelation of a previously-unmentioned special ring Gordon wears. Action-wise we get periodic shootouts, but this one was certainly cheaply made, as the guns don’t even spout flame when firing. Overall “Password Kill Agent Gordon” is okay, but nothing great. Admittedly it might come off a lot better if we were able to see it in a better print than the current faded, blurry, pan-and-scanned job that’s available.

Sicario 77: Vivo o Morto (1966): Rod Dana is Ralph Lester, a freelance agent currently taking an assignment from British intelligence which has him going from a fixed boxing match in Soho to a villain’s headquarters hidden in a renovated cathedral in Madrid. “Sicario 77: Vivo o Morto” (aka “Killer 77: Alive or Dead”) benefits from nice production values and a plot that’s lifted directly from “Dr. No,” which was of course the template for most of the better Eurospys – the film starts off a basic spy yarn before progressing further into sensationalism. It also has a great surf guitar theme song that will get stuck in your head. Action is sparse for the first 40 or so minutes, but the plot isn’t as complicated as most other entries in the genre, and there’s some fun with Lester’s comrade on the assignment, “The Priest” – a busty, beautiful blonde so-called by her fellow agents due to her prudish views on sex. That being said the director gives us enough lecherous moments, like the Priest shedding her clothes and walking toward the camera until her panties-covered crotch is in super-extreme closeup. Eventually Lester is captured, after a long chase sequence and a fight in an elevator shaft that could come right out of one of the Dalton 007 movies. He wakes up a prisoner of V-3, an organization of “old Nazis” who look to take over the world.

The Budget Bond vibe is at full effect, complete with a Blofeld-esque main villain, several armed guards in identical black outfits, and a sadistic, leather-garbed henchman who is an expert with the barbed whip, slashing apart a female member of the organization for the viewing pleasure of the leader (an act which is kept off-camera, but later we see the scars on the woman’s back – along with the insinuation that she enjoyed it!). Gadgets are relegated to a special bullet Lester can fire which emits radiation that can be tracked by a command center or somesuch; we’re informed just one bullet costs a few hundred thousand pounds, but in this way Lester is able to alert British intelligence where he is. We also have a micro-recorder in the heel of Lester’s shoe, complete with antennaed earpiece for long-distance audio surveilling. After some unsurprising betrayals we move to an action finale, which occurs in the villain’s villa rather than the expected cathedral. On a motorcycle a toting a subgun, Lester guns down several uniformed henchmen before whipping out this bizarre-looking bazooka-type deal which he uses to blow up scads more of them in a rousing action finale. Apparently never dubbed into English, “Sicario 77” currently exists in a nice-looking widescreen print sourced from some Italian broadcast, graced with English subtitles.

Tom Dollar (1967): This late-era Eurospy almost has more in common with the Italian crime flicks of the ‘70s; even the soundtrack occasionally sounds like a Blaxploitation score, with copious wah-wah guitars. But titular Tom Dollar is a CIA spy, and his assignment has him trying to stop an Iranian villain from stealing uranium. Tom Dollar is played by an Italian actor but he’s apparently meant to be Japanese-American – the actor wears subtle eyeliner to heighten the “Oriental” look – his father mentioned as having been a samurai and his mom an American. He also has a Japanese sidekick who engages Tom in impromptu Pink Panther-esque fights to test his mettle.

The movie is a bit sluggish and undone by periodic attempts at comedy, particularly courtesy a fellow CIA agent whose speciality is disguise. There’s an overlong sequence where this guy, an artiste, makes up the female lead of the film, an Iranian princess whose father was murdered and who is next on the death list. As is typical for Eurospy, the plot is jumbled and overly complex, livened up by sporadic, patience-testing fistfights. Given the Japanese angle, most of the fights are of the karate and judo variety, however the director speeds up the film during the fights, so that it almost looks like Benny Hill. We aren’t treated to nearly as many Eurobabes as is standard for the genre, again indicating that the movie was made in the twilight years. Even the finale lacks the action climax one could want, again degenerating into brawls, though we do get to see a few of the villain’s stooges gunned down by a commando squad.


Johny Malone said...

You're doing a great job commenting on these movies.
There are several OSS-117 novels translated into English.

Marty McKee said...

I love the film reviews. The O.K. CONNERY song is bonkers.

Johny Malone said...

I recommend buying "The International Spy Film Guide 1945 - 1989", by Richard Rhys Davies, a true work of art on the spy cinema of the Cold War:

Grant said...

"He keeps bumping into the lovely Bianchi, dressed in the most outrageous fashions."

I notice that that's true of a few other Euro-spy films, like ARGOMAN in the case of Dominique Boschero, whom you see in one dramatic wardrobe after another. It seems like one more area where these movies try to one-up the Bond movies in a friendly way.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone -- and Johny, that book sounds great, but good grief is it ever overpriced. That's like almost 300 dollars US! I could make my own Eurospy movie for that much!!

Marty McKee said...

You may find this one fits your budget better:

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Marty, but I've checked that one out via Interlibrary Loan...checked it out twice, in fact. What turns me off about it is the overwhelming negative tone throughout. The majority of the reviews are almost hit pieces. At least, that was my take on it.