Monday, April 30, 2018

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 9


The Cobra (1967): This is more of a cop film than a Eurospy film, but why split hairs. Our disgruntled hero is Mike Rand, a former Treasury agent now living in Istanbul; a few years he took a bum rap, and now former boss Dana Andrews has come a-calling to see if Mike is interested in taking a new job. A masked villain known as “The Cobra” is looking to hook the West on heroin, working with the Chicoms in some complex scheme. Mike isn’t interested until he learns a woman he either worked with or slept with has been killed in the investigation. Mike by the way is an ass, constantly bitching about something (he has an annoying tendency to call everyone “man,” this being the later ‘60s and all), and to make it worse he isn’t the most skilled agent. The actor playing him (an Italian guy) also handles the action scenes a bit too light in the loafers; seriously there are parts where Mike Rand will punch or kick or run away, and the actor throws in these odd almost ballerina-like touches, like he’s trying too hard to sell it. Oh and Anita Ekberg shows up as a heroin-hooked owner of a fitness center who ends up in bed with Mike, but she doesn’t show too much skin. The action is sporadic and mostly fistfighting, but there’s a firefight in the villain’s refinery at the end. The revelation of who the Cobra is comes off as humorous, as I had no idea who the dude even was. Overall The Cobra is okay – not to mention serviced by a nice widescreen print – but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone new to this particular subgenre.

Operation Counterspy (1965): The same year he starred in Sergio Sollima’s Passport To Hell, George Ardisson starred in this pulpier slice of Eurospy which really needs a better release; currently one can only find a pan and scanned VHS print with hard Danish subs, or a widescreen VHS print with hard Dutch subs, both of them dubbed in English. I saw the former. The print, while cropped, is passable, but it would be great to see this one in sharper clarity. It’s a lot of fun, with more frequent, arbitrary action scenes than Ardisson’s two “Agente 3S3” movies, but not as polished or satisfying as either of them. In fact it’s the too-frequent action that becomes a detriment, particularly given that Ardisson’s character is almost always getting knocked out and/or captured by his enemies.

There’s some unintentional comedy in how Ardisson is dubbed; his character is Lord George Moriston, codename The Ace of Spades, a mega-wealthy freelance English spy. For some puzzling reason, he’s been dubbed with a voice that would be more suitable to a villain; it’s a chilly, pitiless British voice that one would more associate with a supercriminal or something. Also, Ardisson’s blonde hair is dyed black for this one, the producers no doubt capitalizing on the whole “Italian Sean Connery” thing. But he does really look like Connery at times, and as ever Ardisson brings a charisma to the role. I’d say without a doubt he was the best of all the Eurospy stars, and as I mentioned in the comments thread of the previous movie review round-up, I’d be interested to know if the Bond producers were aware of him back in the ‘60s. The guy could’ve made for the perfect replacement when Connery decided to quit being Bond.

The plot has Lord Moriston being called in on a job that has him coming upon some secret plans, which will eventually lead him to an underground installation in the desert in which the villain plans to launch a missile. Along the way he’ll get in a lot of fistfights, the occasional gunfight, and meet a few random Eurobabes. Though curiously Moriston only falls for one of them, and falls hard – the film features several almost awkward scenes where the two kiss a little too passionately. I mean show some reserve, Moriston! The film is hard to gauge because it seems low-budget, yet it has action scenes on a grander scale than many other Eurospy movies, from cars being lifted by wreckers and tossed in the ocean to climactic subgun-blasting battles. The villains are more annoying than threatening: the lead henchman looks like Oliver Hardy after a session or two at the gym, and the main villain is a heavyset guy with a beard who isn’t threatening at all. Though he does of course get to slap a girl around – par for the course in Eurospy – before adding the novel addition of tying her up and whipping off her clothes.

The production seems to have hopped around Europe and Istanbul, but most of the action occurs indoors, so it all could’ve been shot on a set in Italy, who knows. We also get a trip to a club with a belly-dancer; one of the dancers turns out to be the gal who hooks up with Lord George, but even more attractive is the villainous blonde babe who also dances there. But this is another movie that cheats us on the hero-villainess confrontation; the blonde turns out to have her own secrets, as revealed in the climax, which as mentioned takes place in an underground bunker. I wish more of the film had occurred here, as it’s one of those cool sci-fi sort of places common in Eurospy, complete with subgun-wielding goons in silver jumpsuits (with spiders emblazoned on their chests!). Also worth noting that Lord George is a bad-ass here, garrotting guards in cold blood and shooting down goons with a permanent sneer on his face. If only there had been more stuff like this and less of the endless fistfights/Lord George getting captured stuff! Apparently a sequel was planned, but never happened due to scheduling conficts or somesuch.

Spies Strike Silently (1966): Lang Jeffries, who starred in several Eurospy movies (like Cifrato Speciale), stars as agent Mike Drumm, on loan to the British service. This Italian-Spanish joint, unlike many other films in the genre, plays things very straight – perhaps a bit too straight. Jeffries in fact comes off as rather bland in the lead role, sort of a prefigure of Timothy Dalton’s take on Bond. But on the plus side, there’s zero “comedy” antics or general tomfoolery, and plus like many co-productions, this one appears to have had a healthy budget. There’s a lot of traveling around Europe and Beirut, the camera work is downwright artsy for the genre, and the finale is an action onslaught of blasting subguns and mind-controlled, black-uniformed goons buying it in bloodless fashion.

The film suffers from a disjointed opening; an interminable sequence of a group of people just walking around Beiruit, going to a hotel pool, engaging in banal dialog – then the pretty girl jumps in the pool and we get an abrupt cut of her floating there with a bunch of blood around her. From there to Drumm, in London, where he’s briefed by an affable British officer. In Beirut Drumm quickly deduces that there’s more to the murder than meets the eye, particularly when other prominent scientists – each of whom have been working on projects that could benefit mankind – are suffering from similar threats against their loved ones. Action is periodic, with Drumm actually using his gun in a few scrapes – in addition to the genre-mandatory fistfights (which were of course cheaper to film than gunplay), we get a couple parts where Drumm guns down his opponents.

Spies Strike Silently doesn’t go overboard on the Eurobabe angle, but we do have the rather novel appearance of a black actress in one of these films; she’s quite attractive, especially in her mid ‘60s hairstyle and clothing. Then there’s the brunette babe who turns out to be working for the villains – never trust the brunette babes in these movies. Finally there’s a British gal Drumm hooks up with late in the film. However it’s my sad duty to report that agent Mike Drumm fails to score in the entirety of the film! Perhaps it’s his aura of taciturn blandness that fails to entice the ladies. There is though as mentioned a polished feel to the film, with unusual angles and shots that appear to have been carefully staged.

A bit after the hour mark the film takes a turn toward sci-fi, which seems to be mandatory for these films, and no doubt influenced by the similar transition in Dr. No. The villain, a dude named Rashid, is your typical mad scientist type who has created a drug that turns people into his puppets; in his Beirut home he has an entire underground base complete with black-uniformed, submachine gun-wielding goons. There’s also a cool pop art-esque room where potential subjects are strapped to a mod chair and brainwashed. Drumm almost becomes the latest unwitting assassin, only to escape – and then get caught and brainwashed, anyway!

The finale is pretty spectacular, at least when the genre average is taken into consideration; Drumm and his affable British pal lead a squad of Beirut soldiers on an assault of Rashid’s place, and there’s copious gunplay and dudes getting mowed down by subgun autofire. Sure, sometimes the prop guns don’t even belch smoke, let alone flame, and the dudes falling down don’t have a single bullet hole on them, but you have to give them credit for trying. But for some reason it doesn’t end there; instead the climax rips off Goldfinger, only in a car instead of on an airplane. The film ends with Drumm learning his next assignment will take him to…Ohio!? But it appears that, though Jeffries made other Eurospy flicks, this was the only adventure of Mike Drumm.

Spy in Your Eye (1965): This Italian-German production stars future soap star Brett Halsey as “Brad,” American agent who reports to none other than Dana Andrews. Like most Eurospies with a German pedigree, Spy In Your Eye benefits from a healthy budget; there’s a fair bit of globetrotting and some money was clearly spent on sets. Also of note is the English dub, which is so well-done it actually made me look it up – and sure enough, the script for the English dub was courtesy an uncredited American producer. Despite the dubbing, Spy In Your Eye could almost pass as an American production given this extra care in the dialog department – and it’s helped that both Halsey and Andrews dub their own voices.

Halsey makes for a passable Eurospy lead; he’s tall and lanky, and sort of looks like Wally from Leave It To Beaver. Interestingly, he’s more “Timothy Dalton” in his delivery than “Sean Connery;” again like Dalton’s take on Bond, Halsey presents a secret agent who is a bit more taciturn and, well, dull. His assignment has him going around Tangier and Paris, trying to keep the daughter of a scientist from Red agents. The villains aren’t that menacing, a factor not helped by the fact that the main one looks very much like modern fashion icon Michael Kors. Dana Andrews plays Halsey’s boss, and he is the recipient of the titular “spy in your eye;” early in the film he has surgery to get a sort of bionic eye to replace his missing left eye, but it turns out the Kors lookalike and his fellow Commie spies are using this artificial eye to spy on Andrews and Halsey, monitoring their every move.

While it’s sort of lacking on the Eurobabe front, there are a few action sequences that move beyond the genre-norm of fisticuffs, and the villain’s lair is built on a revolving set. One switch of a button and a medical lab becomes your average Eurospy sci-fi headquarters. This transformation results in one of the goofier deaths in Eurospy history, as a villainess is crushed to death (seemingly) by a slow-moving piece of equipment. Honestly, it’s like that part in Austin Powers where the random stooge has plenty of time to get out of the path of Austin’s zamboni machine (or whatever it was) but just stands there sceaming. Otherwise the film plays it pretty straight, without even the usual genre-spoofery one finds in the typical German Eurospy movies. That being said, a robotic Napolean (clearly an actor in costume) factors in the plot.

In 1979 Halsey published a paperback original in the Harold Robbins mold titled The Magnificent Strangers; set in the early 1960s, it’s about a group of American actors working in Rome. I’ve had it for quite some time and keep meaning to read it. Halsey would certainly be able to tell the tale, as he lived and worked in Rome for several years before coming back to America to star in General Hospital. Dude was even married to Luciana “Fiona Volpe” Paluzzi!!

1 comment:

Glen Davis said...

Spy in the Eye is the only one of these I've watched, but I remember liking it.