Monday, January 2, 2017

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 4

Eurospy: 

Agent 505 Death Trap Beirut (1966): I really enjoyed this one, a bright and colorful German-Italian production shot entirely in sixties Beirut, a much different place than today. The movie has a great opening as a few lovely young women are shot by the poolside, their killer using a C02 gun that fires frozen air bullets! The killer himself is soon done away with, his dying words that the girls “knew too much” and that by tomorrow everyone in Beirut will be dead. Enter Agent 505 of Interpol, a suave spy-type who looks similar to Roger Moore. This dude quickly informs us he operates by his own rules: he knows killers will be looking for him, so sets up a gullible traveling salesman as bait! At least he ensures the guy isn’t killed. As with most West German productions there’s a focus on comedy here, mostly through ironic one-liners, which gives the film more of a Bond feel than most Italian Eurospy efforts, which usually fail at the ironic comedy. That being said, the middle half derails a bit with the bungling efforts of a group of criminals 505’s Interpol colleague gets involved with.

This does pay off, though, as the criminals work for the mysterious Sheik, ie the villain of the piece, a master criminal with only four fingers but who is never seen. The reveal of who the Sheik turns out to be is actually well done, if implausible. There could be more gals on display, though: the only two main ones are a blonde trickshot artist with bouffant hair who is the ex-wife of the Sheik, and another blonde, this one a reporter who falls for 505. The story takes place over two days and the action keeps moving, with more C02 guns, a telephone-gun, and other gadgets, plus a lot of stunts, including 505 hanging off a helicopter. The finale is the highlight, as 505 and pals infiltrate the villains’s lair, and like “Coplan FX 18 casse tout” we have a miniature “Dr. No” riff, with the heroes and villains all wearing shiny silver radiation suits and blowing each other away with submachine guns. This flick features the most brutal killing of a main villain yet in Eurospy, with the hearltess bastard’s face wrapped up in barbed wire before he gets blown up!

Cifrato Speciale (1966): Apparently the English title for this German-Italian production would be “Special Cypher,” but it was never brought over to the US, and thus the only print we have of it is from a widescreen German VHS which some helpful fan has subtitled in English. Like most West German co-productions this one seems to have had a nice budget, but it’s undone by constant action scenes, with more fistfights randomly and arbitrarily breaking out than in one of the Bruceploitation flicks of Bruce Le. Seriously, hero Lang Jeffries (as a US agent posing as a formerly-insane pilot…!) can’t go five minutes without someone jumping out of the shadows and taking a swing at him. The flick opens in 1945 as two Nazi pilots drop special crates into the ocean. Twenty years later various factions are looking for these crates, which apparently hold the plans for anti-gravity tech. Jeffries poses as the lone survivor of the flight, who has spent the past two decades in an insane asylum, escaping as the movie opens. Everyone thus believes that Jeffries knows where the crates are, so everyone looks for him.

There are a few Eurobabes in attendance, one of whom is a treacherous spy for the main villain faction, a SPECTRE-type cabal that apparently resides in an underwater city (we only see the inside of it). Here various henchman stalk around in shiny black jumpsuits, toting submachine guns. There’s a fair bit of “Thunderball”-inspired underwater photography, with Jeffries in scuba gear getting in a few scrapes beneath the waves (even here there is constant fighting) while riding around on an underwater sled. It climaxes in the villain’s lair, but hopes for a big battle are dashed as a deus ex machina poison gas does the hero’s job for him. But the sets look cool and the movie certainly keeps moving, even though it’s all so convoluted. Like many German productions this one also mocks itself throughout, with “witty” asides making fun of the events. Also a great bit where the treacherous spy babe strips down to bra and panties to prove she isn’t wearing a wire, but the bastards cut away when she doffs her bra. I wept bitterly.

Coplan FX 18 casse tout (1965): This one’s supposedly a French-Italian joint, but it seems a bit too French to me. Sluggish pace, self-conscious camera angles, lack of a good Eurobabe. As usual the Italians just did it better. Also, it’s very humorless. This is surprising given the star, the Roger Moore-looking dude who showed up two years later in the slapstick-esque “Dick Smart 2.007.” Here he’s dour and merciless Coplan, top French agent. The convoluted plot has him going to the Middle East for something about a missing scientist or whatever; stuff just happens in the movie and characters react like it’s a big deal, whereas the viewer has no idea what’s going on. There’s a lack of gadgets and as mentioned a lack of Eurobabes, with only two or three of them showing up in minor roles. Action is occasional, like a long motorbike-car chase. The final thirty minutes improves with an underground complex where a nuclear missile is being built. It’s all very Bond-esque, complete with goons in sci-fi radiation suits a la “Dr. No.” But even this can’t save the film, which just lacks the spark and fun of an Italian spy-fy flick.

Danger!! Death Ray (1967): You’d think watching the uncut version of this flick in widescreen would result in a movie better than the one so capably mocked on MST3K, but nope! It really sucks. “Special effects by Timmy” does sum up the film, but you have to respect how the filmmakers just said the hell with it and clearly used toys in various shots. Superbuff Gordon Scott as “Bart Fargo” can’t really carry the film, and the plot lacks much logic, even considering the standards of the Eurospy genre. Highlight is the finale, which almost prefigures Arnold’s “Commando,” with buff Bart blowing away scads of henchmen at the villain’s villa. The annyoing, repetitive “Watermelon Man” theme song drives me crazy, and I say this as a guy who actually collects Italian soundtracks from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Otherwise this one didn’t thrill me, but the widecreen/English-dubbed print I saw looked great.

Dick Smart 2.007 (1967): A strange hybrid of a comedy film and a gadget & action-heavy Eurospy movie, “Dick Smart 2.007” is a spoof of Bond that sometimes takes itself seriously. Dick Smart is a suave, very Roger Moore-esque superagent, one more interested in picking up chicks than solving cases. Like Moore he’s also very fond of gadgets and has a motorcycle/helicopter deal. Whereas most of these Eurospy movies are all about the European babes, the hotstuff female lead in this one is blonde British babe Margaret Lee, who is extremely pretty. She plays the villainous Lady Lister, who is trying to steal jewels or some such, but one of her own employees turns out to be the main villain. Dick Smart of course hooks up with her, as well as other babes throughout, but the “comedy” angle is grating and too low-brow, like cranked-up film speed in the fight scenes. But there is a lot of action, and the finale is especially nice, with Dick Smart and Lady Lister united in a raid on the villain’s compound, complete with Lady Lister blowing away a bunch of villains. Usually the women are just eye candy in these movies, but she holds her own, and not in the generic “touch chick” clich√© of modern action movies. She also looks damn great in a bikini-type scuba suit.

From The Orient With Fury (1965): The second film in the “Dick Malloy” trilogy features studly, hirsute Ken Clark returning as Agent 077. This one unfortunately is about as drab as the first film, “Mission Bloody Mary,” and nowhere as great as the last one, “Special Mission Lady Chaplin.” This despite a premise concerning a death ray. At any rate Malloy is called on to look into a missing, perhaps dead scientist who was working on a laser-based ray. Off Malloy goes to Madrid, where he gets in one brawl after another. Seriously, this film wins the contest for most barroom brawls in a Eurospy flick, with two of them breaking out just minutes apart, in two separate bars. One of them goes on forever, complete with a tourist Spaniard or something who eagerly joins in the festivities, adding a bit of unfunny “comedy.”

As far as the Eurospy-mandatory Eurobabes go, we have a return of the treacherous brunette who also played a bad girl in the much superior Superseven Calling Cairo that same year. There’s also megababe Margaret Lee, who shows up in the last half hour as a fellow secret agent; her voice is dubbed this time and she’s got beach-bottle blonde hair to her chin. The film doesn’t do much to exploit its actresses, though, save for a busty Spanish beauty Malloy scores with midway through the film. Otherwise this is a tedious, generic film, clearly shot on a budget. Only the finale shows any spark, so to speak, with the main villain busting out that raygun, which is also low budget but still fun. When a person or thing is hit by the ray they glow blue and then disappear. Also this flick features one of the more annoying soundtracks, from a recurring theme song which quickly grates on the nerves to a recurring big band cue that does the same.

Fury In Marrakesh (1966): Bob Dixon, Agent 077 (an annoying ass who bears a disconcerting resemblance to infamous Saturday Night Live loser Charles Rocket), heads to Marrakesh on his first assignment. At times this movie encapsulates the “Budget Bond” aesthetic of Italian Eurospy; there’s even a Q who has a roomful of dangerous gadgets which he shows off for 077. But this is a more randy pseudo-Q; he produces a pair of X-ray glasses and calls in his sexy secretary to try them out on! Agent 077’s mission is to find a sexy gal who lifted a bunch of counterfeit cash that itself was looted from Hitler’s war stash. A SPECTRE-type cabal is also after her.

Bob Dixon 077 is not only annoying but also arrogant, which is pretty funny when you consider he’s as green as you can get. He gets knocked out and captured more times than any other Eurospy hero I can think of. Also his life is sometimes saved via sheer deus ex machina, something you’d never see in a genuine Bond film. There are a ton of gadgets in this one, though, which adds to the fun. But 077 himself ruins it, and the finale seems rushed. Also the dubbing in this one is notable, particularly 077’s; I wonder if the actor himself dubbed it. At any rate it’s all dubbed very amateurishly. Another demerit for this one is the lack of Eurobabes; what few women are here are relegated to the background. The only notable one is the blonde who played the stewardess/evil spy in Operation Atlantis, who here plays the evil spy babe Heidi.

Mission Bloody Mary (1965): The first of three films brawny American actor Ken Clark did as “Dick Malloy, Agent 077,” the other two being “From The Orient With Fury” and “Special Mission Lady Chaplin.” This first one is okay but is more of a “realistic” espionage picture. Malloy heads across Europe and to Greece to track down the titular Bloody Mary, an experimental and highly-dangerous atomic device that’s been stolen. Clark got his start in Italian flicks in the sword and sandal movies due to his bodybuilder physique, thusly the fistfights are given more focus in this one. Clark is one of the Eurospy actors who could hold his own against Sean Connery, at least in the athletic category, but again he sorta looks like Roger Moore, like so many other Eurospy actors.

The film is very slavish to the Bond formula, complete with a theme song that’s almost lifted from John Barry. However I thought the movie was for the most part marginal; the fistfights get old after a while and the “surprise” reveal of who main villain Black Lily is can be seen coming halfway through the movie. The gadgets aren’t as prevalent this time, but 077 does have a special revolver with 9 rounds (it’s quickly lost, though), as well as an attachment for it that apparently gives it super-caliber properties (this showed up again in the much-superior “Special Mission Lady Chaplin”). He also has a kit that can recover burned messages. The movie is fast-paced and again comes very close to capturing the look and feel of a Bond movie, but it just lacks that special something more expected of spyghetti.

Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966): The third of three films with Ken Clark as “Dick Malloy, Agent 077” (not to be confused with Bob Fleming, Agent 077, of course!). This one co-stars the lovely Daniela Bianchi, the svelte blonde who had the female lead in “From Russia With Love” (and she also had the female lead in “O.K. Connery,” to be reviewed next time, as the villainous blonde who later went good). She is the titular Lady Chaplin, yet another henchwoman-type character. The film is filled with great imagery, like the opening shot of Lady Chaplin, disguised as a nun, pulling a submachine gun out of her habit and blowing away a bunch of priests. (Turns out later they were really spies.) The film is very much in the vein of the Connery Bond movies, with lots of action and gadgets and a decent budget. Ken Clark is good as the hero, and he gets to pull his own “Thunderball”-type finale, donning a scuba suit and coming to the aid of Lady Chaplin, who as you guessed goes good before film’s end and helps fight her old boss. This is considered one of the classics of the Eurospy genre, and rightly so. Plus it’s available in a fairly nice widescreen print.

4 comments:

Gary R. Peterson said...

Reads like a fun way to ring in the new year! Where are you finding these fun flicks? I would enjoy broadening my familiarity with Eurospy, which for me has been limited to FATHOM, MODESTY BLAISE, and O.K. CONNERY. And DANGER: DIABOLIK, if that falls under the rubric. One can only watch the classic James Bond, Matt Helm, and Derek Flint films so many times before he wants to venture out and beyond the mainstream. Thanks for all the reviews, this time 'round and a couple months back. Fun and informative reading.

Grant said...

That sub-plot about the traveling salesman in AGENT 505 sounds strangely like the plot of THE SUNSHINE PATRIOT, which is a spy film that's about as far from escapist and glamorous as they get.

The thing I find funny about DANGER: DEATH RAY is that (even if he's not able to carry it, as you say) Gordon Scott somehow seems completely at home playing a "swinging spy" character.
Which is something you wouldn't expect right away if you know him from things like Peplum and Tarzan movies.

Grant said...

I just saw FURY IN MARRAKESH for (I think) the first time, after reading your review. It has of course one of my favorite things in that kind of story, femme fatales, a pair of them. In some ways it uses them pretty thoroughly, but in other ways it really doesn't make the most of them, as in that "seduce the hero" tradition, since that doesn't happen entirely with either one of them. If it weren't for the fact that they hadn't been made yet, the makers could have learned a lesson from the Bulldog Drummond movies DEADLIER THAN THE MALE and SOME GIRLS DO when it comes to pairs of villainesses.

Tim Mayer said...

LADY CHAPLIN never gets old.