Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 7

Eurospy:

Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun (1966): George Ardisson returns as Walter Ross, Agent 3S3, in a superior sequel to the previous year’s “Agent 3S3: Passport To Hell” (below). Also known as “Hunter From The Unknown,” this movie exists in a few different versions. The one I watched was an uncut print taken from a French TV broadcast – it’s widescreen, no commercials, and no network logo, but the picture is a bit fuzzy and the color is a bit muted. But it’s worlds better than the pan and scanned, sourced-from-an-old-USA TV broadcast that once existed on the trade circuit. Some wonderful person has even included the English dub on this French print, but the uncut scenes are in French only, clearly never dubbed into English. This print runs three minutes shy of two full hours, much longer than the 106 minutes listed on imdb.com.

And it truly feels like an epic; filmed on the Ibiza coast, the film brings to mind the sun-splashed hedonism of the film version of Harold Robbins’s The Adventurers. Ross is sent to the sunny island of San Felipe to find out what happened to missing fellow agent 3S4. He meets a host of colorful, exotic characters, from the boisterous dictator, who keeps a harem of women in his palatial, swanky estate, to a brunette villainess who enjoys punishing men with her bojitsu skills. The harem stuff is what really brings to mind The Adventurers; the camera work from director Sergio Sollima (also returning from the previous film) is wonderful ‘60s exploitation, with countless scantily-clad babes relaxing in various poses of undress in the indoor pool. Speaking of which, this French print has a bit more flesh – nothing outright R-rated, though. 

The movie, in this two-hour version, takes its time, with more character-building than any other Eurospy I’ve seen. (And Ross is shown to be more brutal, even shooting an unarmed guard in the climax, a scene cut from all other versions of the film.) In a way it does lack the bizarre, off-the-wall goofy charm of the average Eurospy movie, yet at the same time “Massacre In The Sun” comes very close to being like the real Bond films. Ardisson in particular makes this possible; the actor, an Italian whose real first name was Giorgio, is one of the very few Eurospy actors who could match the on-screen charisma of Sean Connery. He even sort of looks like him.

Action scenes are the expected low-budget fistfighting, but we get some karate too, and the stick-wielding villainess employs a legion of gorgeous women armed with submachine guns. There’s a long chase and fight scene where Ross is hunted down by some of the soldiers of the effete but sadistic head of island security. Another memorable scene has Ross bedding the brunette villainess by not only quickly taking her bo staff away but also giving her a sound spanking! You can bet this only gets her in the mood. Speaking of which, the villainess and mega-babe blonde heroine Evi Marandi get in a knock-down, drag-out karate fight at the end of the film that bests any other girl-on-girl fight you’ll see in Eurospy. 

“Massacre In The Sun” works on a slow-burn for the duration, with periodic sex and action, as Ross discovers that a rebel faction plots the takeover of San Felipe, with the intent to use a new nerve gas or something on the rest of the world. The finale is great, with Ross and comrades clad in black jumpsuits and infra-red goggles, toting “infra-red Tommy guns” and piloting gliders, launching a nighttime commando raid on the villain’s compound. Sollima does some cool psychedelic-esque stuff here with infra-red shots of men getting gunned down, smoke exploding from their chests as they’re machine-gunned, the action viewed through those infra-red goggles. This entire sequence was so murky as to be unviewable in that old pan and scan print; while still a bit muted in the color department, the finale plays a whole bunch better in this uncut French print – not to mention there are additional action scenes here (you can always tell the uncut parts because the characters will suddenly start speaking in French!).

All told, “Massacre In The Sun” is one of the standout Eurospy movies I’ve seen, so fleshed out and complex that multiple viewings would be rewarding, and it makes one wish there had been a third Agent 3S3 film.

Agent 3S3: Passport To Hell (1965): Italian actor “George Ardisson” debuts in the first of two films as Walter Ross, Agent 3S3 of the CIA. Well-regarded by Eurospy fanatics, “Passport To Hell” keeps things fairly realistic, with a plot similar to “Secret Agent Fireball” (below). It even takes place in the same location (Beirut), but this flick I found a little more enjoyable. Agent 3S3 like Fireball is on the hunt for the daughter of an important man, though in her case Pops was a villainous spy who has set up a SPECTRE-like cabal of former spies; these villains are one of the most interesting features of the film. They’re not aligned with any foreign power and, like a true “shadow government,” are out to use their intelligence contacts for their own ends. Plus one of them sort of looks like Terence McKenna. Their mysterious leader is the father of the above-mentioned girl, and Ross is assigned to ingratiate herself into her life, even “marry her if necessary.” Off he heads to Germany, where composer Pierro Umiliani provides this uber strange (yet super-catchy), Muppets-esque “rock” track when Ross gets in a fight in a bar, the local toughs not appreciating his advances on their “girl” (aka the daughter in question, a somewhat-attractive brunette Euroactress).

Action is mostly fistfights and the expected low budget stuff, but Ross does take out the occasional foe with a silenced pistol. Ardisson is likely one of the top Eurospies, bringing to his role the same sort of natural swagger as Sean Connery – supposedly he was dubbed “the Italian Sean Connery” – and it’s a shame he wasn’t in more of these films. As he tracks down the various spy network members he fends off several attempts on his life, using a few gadgets along the way, like a beacon that’s tracked by a pair of sunglasses. The villains also have a chamber where they can view proceedings on a viewscreen while lights blip in the background, but this is about the furthest the movie gets into sci-fi.

Speaking of the villain spies, one of the leaders turns out to be a sexy Chinese lady, who at one point strips down to black bra and panties, but of course I scanned through it to avoid watching such shocking indecency. She actually lives through the piece – and surprisingly is not a conquest of Ross’s, who only manages to sleep with the daughter – and for that matter neither is the main villain dispatched by our hero. He simply beats him up and that’s that. Lame! Overall this one wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great, and was mostly elevated by Ardisson and the grim vibe – even the picture itself is sort of dark, but that just might be the murky-but-widescreen version I viewed. The movie was followed a year later by “Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun” (above), which I not only found much superior, but is also one of my favorite Eurospy movies.

Killers Are Challenged (1966): Richard “the proto-Ben Affleck” Harrison returns as Bart Fleming, Agent 077, in this sort-of sequel to the previous year’s “Secret Agent Fireball” (below – and I’m pretty sure he was “Bob” Fleming in that one). However as usual no effort is made toward continuity, and indeed Fleming just sort of walks into the film with no big buildup or payoff. At any rate this one’s a lot better than the previous movie, with Fleming going up against a bevy of sexy Eurobabes. An old scientist has come up with a new energy source and everyone wants it. Fleming poses as the scientist, who has had facial surgery, and goes to Casablanca, where he’s constantly hounded by a variety of enemy agents, all of whom work for a mysterious female. The focus is at times on comedy, but never to an outrageous extent, and the movie gets a lot of good mileage out of Fleming screwing with the unwitting villains who come after him – he’s much more suave and accomplished in this one, with a Bond-esque mastery of every situation. There’s also a bit more action, with random shootouts and chases.

Gadgets aren’t as prevalent, with low-budget stuff like coat buttons that double as audio bugs. Fleming again doesn’t manage to score, though he doesn’t come off like the horny teen of the previous film. The three main gals are an Asian babe who apparently falls for Fleming (though it’s hastily and vaguely implied at the end that she might be in a lesbian affair with the main villainess); failing in her mission to distract Fleming the Asian gal is at one point stripped to her lingerie, chained, and whipped by one of her fellow henchwomen. The main villainess, whose identity isn’t too surprising, is the same buxom blonde who appeared in that year’s Lightning Bolt as the jumpsuit-clad femme fatale in the villain’s underwater lair. She also appeared, as a different character, in “Secret Agent Fireball.” Here she is much more duplicitous and clearly enjoys harming others. Finally there’s a jawdropping redhead who plays Velka, secretary for a wealthy and aging Texan but who in reality is a double agent who helps Fleming; she’s my favorite of them all, but it looks like the actress didn’t do much else.

Everything goes along swimmingly until the final hour, when a pointless barroom brawl breaks out…and goes on for like 15 minutes. Egregious as you can get. The finale at least wraps things up, and once again hero Fleming (who did not return) doesn’t manage to score until the very last frame of the film – with Velka, the lucky bastard. This one features inventive camera angles and seems downright polished when compared to many other Eurospy entries.

Secret Agent Fireball (1965) Brawny blond American actor Richard Harrison, previously a sword and sandal star, makes his Eurospy debut as Agent 077 Bart (or is it Bob?) Fleming (note the last name, of course!), a character he would reprise in the superior followup, “Killers Are Challenged” (above). Harrison makes for a good pseudo-Bond, however personally I felt the actor looks uncannily like modern-day “superstar” Ben Affleck, which admittedly detracts a bit from one’s enjoyment of Harrison’s films. At any rate Fleming is sent around Europe and Beirut searching for a scientist who has devised some maguffin the Russians also want. Speaking of which, a team of Russians constantly shadow Fleming, the scenes sometimes played for thrills, sometimes played for laughs. Gadgets are plentiful but low budget, like shirt buttons that double as homing devices. There’s also a pipe that fires poison darts. Eurobabes are limited to a fierce-eyed blonde who played the red-jumpsuited ass-kicker in the awesome Lightning Bolt (and who also appeared, as a different but still evil character, in the sequel “Killers Are Challenged”), and the svelte brunette daughter of the missing scientist, who becomes Fleming’s ally.

Action is frequent but limited mostly to fistfights and car chases. In the finale Fleming chases the villains via helicopter, and Harrison is clearly sitting in a grounded ‘copter, merely pretending to fly. Also of humorous note is that Fleming throughout is as horny as a teenager but fails to score – he hits on the scientist’s daughter relentlessly when meeting her on an airplane, and makes aggressive advances on just about every lady he meets. So far as sidekicks go, Fleming partners up with a Beirut native who apparently is a fellow spy and who drives a gadget-filled taxi. The film has an unexpected finale in which the leader of the Russians ends up helping Fleming avert world destruction, with Fleming saying some maudlin stuff about the Cold War hopefully thawing one day. This one’s okay but a little threadbare compared to other Eurospy movies – I much prefer the sequel.

6 comments:

Johny Malone said...

Agent 3S3 had a fake "sequel": "Agent 3S3 setzt alles auf eine Karte" (thus was named in Germany the film "Omicidio per appuntamento" (1967).
Bob Fleming also had a forced continuation: "Furia a Marrakech" (1966). Spy Bob Dixon was renamed Joe Fleming in some countries.

Steve Carroll said...

This is just outright bizarre! I was Googling the Agent 3S3 series and specifically George Ardisson just yesterday as a result of some euro-spy investigation on my part following my daughter giving me the Blu-Ray 5-film box-set of OSS 117 movies for Christmas. I own Agent 3S3: Passport To Hell on VHS from Something Weird Video. Great reviews as always!

Johny Malone said...

Ardisson's latest films as a spy were "Faccia di spia" (1975), a tough anti-American film (a strange example of left exploitation) and "Occhi dalle stelle" (1978), a very bad movie about a government conspiracy to cover up the visit of aliens (the performance of Ardisson is the only thing that can be redeemed).

Grant said...

Since I'm so fond of VILLAINOUS "Bond Girl" type characters, "Killers Are Challenged" and "Secret Agent Fireball" each have something I really like, though each one is missing something I really like. I'm not sure of your print of it, but the first one seems to definitely have off-screen sex between the Fleming character and Wandisa Guida's character (with the heroine you mention listening in on the big build-up to it, in more of an amused way than the angry jealous way you might expect!). This is a big SPOILER, but at the end, she double-crosses and kills her husband (or partner or whatever he is), then goes off without knowing she's been poisoned BY him, so the big chase scene between her and Fleming ends with the poison taking effect. Which has a nice "theatrical" quality, but of course I'd usually prefer a "Bond and Fiona" type showdown scene.
Secret Agent Fireball does the flipside of that when it comes to the same two actors. It has a very good "meet cute" between Fleming and Guida's villainess character, with the same kind of chemistry between them as in the other film, but the obvious thing DOESN'T get to happen this time. This is another SPOILER, but at the end there's a very drawn-out showdown scene involving him and her, without a double-crossed partner this time.
So if you take parts of each film and put them together, those two actors make a great "Bond and Fiona." (Again, with a lot of the same "chemistry" as you see betweeen Connery and Paluzzi in THUNDERBALL.)

Marty McKee said...

Keep up the film reviews! The first five OSS 117 films are now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in one set, and they look great.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Johnny, I totally forgot about Fury in Marakesh. I have that one, and even have a review written for it for a future post -- kicking myself that I neglected to include it in this one. But what the hell is it -- a sequel to these two Bob Fleming movies, or some alternate reality, with a different actor, etc? As usual with Eurospy, it makes no sense. But more importantly, what I dislike about that one is the lame hero, who is perhaps the most ineffectual "hero" in all Eurospy. While at the same time being the most arrogant. Plus he looks like Charles "SNL" Rocket, which doesn't help matters. However I like that one because of all the gadgets on display. Oh yeah, and that one, at least in the English print, has the most amateurish dubbing I've ever heard.

Grant, I saw the prints you mention, and agree with you on all your points -- but as for Thunderball, I might finally get to see it on the big screen. The Alamo theater chain has been playing a vintage Bond movie every month (this month it's Goldfinger), so if they keep it up, that means in February they'll be playing Thunderball. And I sure as hell plan to go see it -- it's the one Bond movie I've always wanted to see on the big screen.