Monday, December 12, 2016

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 3

Eurospy: 

008 Operation Exterminate (1965): This was the first Eurospy flick from prolific Italian writer-director Umberto Lenzi, who went on to do “Superseven Calling Cairo” and “The Spy Who Loved Flowers.” The guy really knew his spyghetti because this is another good one. Perhaps the main gimmick of “008 Operation Exterminate” is the fact that 008 is…a woman!! Seriously though, blonde German babe Ingrid Schoeller plays 008, an American agent sent to Cairo to find out the truth behind a rumored radar-blocking station. Unlike the “tough chick” clich√© of today, 008 is svelte and self-assured, with none of the aggressively macho posturing of today’s female action characters. That being said, she carries a derringer with “supersonic” rounds in her garter belt and has knock-out mist in her lipstick tube. The actress is certainly pretty and enjoys showing off her impressive cleavage with various plunging-neckline outfits, but one issue I had was the constant vacant expression on her face. She doesn’t look very comfortable in the role at times, perhaps reason why there was never a followup, even though the finale points the way to one.

008 teams up with a British agent (played by an oily and hirsute Italian actor) and together they run afoul of various spy-world types, including a henchman who wears a leather glove that shoots projectile knives. The plot features the usual incomprehensible detours expected of Eurospy, and sometimes it seems to lose its way, but we do get yet another egregious trip to the pyramids. It wraps up in a nice climax in the villain’s high-tech underworld lair, complete with flashing balls of light and whirring electronics. Strangely though the film doesn’t end here, but goes on for another 20 minutes as 008 and partner head to Switzerland to track down the man who has stolen the radar-blocking plans. It all ends with various turnarounds and reversals, but everything wraps up nicely. Overall “008 Operation Exterminate” is another sterling example of the Eurospy genre and would be a great gateway drug into the world of spyghetti.

Devilman Story (1967): Also known as “The Devil’s Man,” this is my favorite Eurospy of all, even though it isn’t technically Eurospy, given that our hero is a journalist. But otherwise it has all the motifs of the genre and delivers them with aplomb. The movie also comes very close to capturing the vibe of a Nick Carter: Killmaster novel; the villain, the titular Devilman, even shares some similarities with Nick Carter’s archenemy Mr. Judas. The movie is very much on the sci-fi tip with a plot about electronic brains, mind control, and human experimentation. It takes a while to get there, though, with a first half that’s more along the lines of typical Eurospy. A sexy brunette Eurobabe named Christine is visiting Rome with her brain surgeon father when he’s abducted; along comes Mike, ruggedly handsome American actor Guy Madison, who looks sort of like a tough guy version of the Professor from “Gilligan’s Island.” Claiming that he’s a newspaperman, one who works for a “scientific journal,” Mike could in fact be a spy in reality – for a reporter, he certainly knows his judo, not to mention how to handle a submachine gun. Mike and Christine follow various leads until they get to Africa, where it develops that Christine’s father has been taken to the desert fortress of a madman who is considered a devil by the Tuareg desert tribes. Christine herself is captured by the “black riders,” ie the black-robed desert warriors who work for Devilman; mind-controlled desert warriors at that, with milky white eyes. Mike manages to infiltrate the place, and here the movie goes full-on sci-fi, with whirring blips and bloops from the bizarre contraptions the villain has stocked his lair with. We have nude men and women in weird red-lighted cryogenic chambers, electronic brains, and even a gizmo that makes a corpse crush a heavy iron ball in his fist.

By far the coolest villain in all Eurospy, Devilman wears a black uniform, leather gloves with blades that are perfect for slicing throats, and a silver mask, so that he sort of looks like the Eurospy equivalent of Destro, from GI Joe. Beneath the mask his face is a scarred ruin, like Mr. Judas. The filmmakers don’t cheat us out of a good finale, either, as is typical for many of these movies; Mike escapes and comes back with those Tuaregs for an action-packed finale that sees hell unleased on Devilman’s fortress, countless men gunned down and a climax that features about a gazillion explosions. Mike even takes on Devilman in a quick judo tussle, before everything quickly wraps up for a happy ending – Devilman’s plot averted (something about becoming a “new messiah” with his electronic brain), Christine’s dad freed from his mind control, and Mike and Christine no doubt about to hop into bed together soon. Previously only available in a poor-quality print, “Devilman Story” is now available on the underground circuit in a nice widescreen print with the English dub. The compilers even included fansubs for the few scenes that were never dubbed into English.

Lightning Bolt (1966): Another of my favorites in the Eurospy genre. It very much has the feel of a Bond film of the era, but it’s interesting because the hero is more along the lines of Roger Moore’s take on Bond. Strangely, I don’t think the dude kills a single person in the film. Instead he busts out a checkbook – he has an unlimited account – and offers to pay off the latest villain whatever he demands! The ass-kicking is mostly courtesy the babes of the film; our hero’s boss is a busty Italian babe whose code numbers are her measurements. The hero narrates the film, which gives it a hardboiled angle, and overall you could be fooled into thinking this was an American movie.

The finale is very Bond-esque, with the villain, who is based in Florida and trying to sabotage a NASA moon launch, capturing the hero and taking him to his underwater lair. The dude’s henchmen are outfitted almost identically to the Cobra soldiers in the GI Joe cartoon. Cool stuff here like a bunch of people the villain has cryogenically frozen; in the finale they melt and we get eerie shots of decomposing skeletons. There’s another ass-kicking babe in the underwater complex, a busty blonde Eurobabe whose father is the villain’s captive and who runs around in a red jumpsuit. Overall this one is a lot of fun and a great example of the genre, but again slightly let down given that the hero doesn’t even shoot anyone, which is very strange given that it’s a spy flick from the ‘60s.

Operation Atlantis (1965): I’ve watched this one twice now and still don’t know what the hell it’s about, yet for all that it’s one of my favorites. A strange, dreamlike film, “Operation Atlantis” doesn’t make a lick of sense. Our American hero, the muscular dude who co-starred in the old “Honey West” TV show (and who would’ve made for a perfect Nick Carter if a film had ever been made from that series), is apparently a spy or somesuch, and he’s hired while on his way to vacation to go to North Africa and look into…something, I’m not sure. Instead our hero gets in one bizarre misadventure after another. At one point he’s taken captive, put on a plane, and ends up with a bunch of desert dwellers in North Africa.

Then around the halfway point the film takes on this unexpected sci-fi angle. The hero and his latest female companion put on these cool leather “space suits” and cross over a radioactive forcefield in the desert (relayed via cheap red lines on the camera)…and enter the lost colony of Atlantis! Here the movie suddenly becomes like a sword and sandal flick, with the “Atlanteans” going around in robes and performing weird rituals. Of course there’s a hot, busty “princess” who takes a shine to our hero – who by the way is the most ineffectual protagonist in any of these movies. The dude does nothing! Turns out the Atlantis colony is really a Red Chinese decoy or something (despite which all the Atlanteans are Italians), its purpose to hide from the world a store of uranium the Chicoms have discovered. (There isn’t a single Chinese actor in the film, by the way…I think we’re only informed the villains work for the Chicoms.) From there it’s back to regular Eurospy territory for a quick action scene in Rome, the end. Strange and perplexing, the film is somehow still compelling, perhaps because it’s so weird. Plus it’s got three very attractive Eurobabes in the main female roles.

The Spy Who Loved Flowers (1966) “Superseven” Martin Stevens (Roger Browne) returns in a sequel to the previous year’s “Superseven Calling Cairo,” with Umberto Lenzi also returning as writer-director. Interestingly Stevens is never referred to as “Superseven” this time, and the gadgetry/sci-fi vibe of the previous flick is for the most part gone. So are the Eurobabes, with Stevens mostly sticking with just one lady throughout, a somewhat-attractive blonde who is a big step down from the previous movie’s Rosalba Neri. But Stevens is still brutal; the flick opens with him poisoning a pretty female agent and casually making off with the blueprints she stole. Stevens’s chief has it that others know of these blueprints and must be killed.

Off Stevens goes around Europe and the Mediterranean, acting as an executioner; the main villain he chases is the titular flower-loving spy, a bearded rake who is more a thorn in the side than an actual supervillain. Another of the villains is a female Red Chinese agent (Yoko Tani); Stevens calls her a “robot” in an effective moment later in the film. During his travels Stevens runs into the aforementioned blonde, who is a magazine photographer. There are a couple firefights and chases here and there, but nothing as fun as in the previous movie, and the gadgets are nowhere to be found. But at least Stevens is dubbed with a British accent this time. We get a brief repeat of that cool negative photography trick from the previous movie when the blonde is trapped in a cell and a special light turned on to torture her, but otherwise the movie just lacks that fun spyghetti spark. Superseven Martin Stevens did not return.

The Spy With Ten Faces (1966): Another one I rank very high on the list. Our hero is “Upperseven,” a superagent for British intelligence (despite which he and his superiors are all dubbed with American accents – but then I believe the actor, who was an American, dubbed his own voice). Upperseven is a master of disguise, and the film has the feel of the “Mission: Impossible” show with latex masks transforming him into a completely different actor. At first I thought this disguise bit was going to result in a more “gentle” hero, like the one in “Lightning Bolt,” but Upperseven is damn bloodthirsty. I think he kills more people than any other Eurospy hero yet; he has a special fondness for breaking necks. This caper has him going from Copenhagen to Italy to South Africa and back again; I’d say the film had a healthy budget. Upperseven also scores often with women, and is bloodthirsty with them, too; when he sleeps with one of them (hotstuff genre mainstay Rosalba Neri) and discovers she’s set him up for a trap, he pushes her out into the street to take the bullets that were meant for him!

Lots of action in this one, including a “Thunderball”-mandatory bit where Upperseven dons scuba gear and blows up a bunch of villains. The main babe is super-hot redhead Karin Dor, a German actress who the following year played the sexy henchwoman in the Bond film “You Only Live Twice.” She is one of the better-looking women in these films, and that’s saying something. The finale sees her and Upperseven in silver jumpsuits, running around in the villain’s high-tech lair in Africa. (During the action Upperseven, disguised as the main villain, finds the time to sleep with the villain’s hot girlfriend! Even Bond wouldn’t have had the courage to pull that one off!) Karin Dor’s character is a CIA agent and another of those Eurospy chicks who gets in on the action, throwing a few fancy judo moves. That being said, she’s easily captured at one point, with her dress pulled over her head, thus showng off her black lingerie. Overall this one was a total surprise and I’d say it’s definitely one of my favorites yet.

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965): The first of two films featuring agent Martin Stevens (played by American genre mainstay Roger Browne), apparently a Canadian working for British Intelligence whose code name is Superseven (ie even better than plain ol’ 007!!). The movie is bright and colorful and a perfect example of the “Budget Bond” of these Italian Eurospy movies. Filmed in Rome and Cairo, the movie makes the most of its location footage, including an arbitrary trip to the pyramids midway through where this dumbass character tries to escape the villains…by running up the Great Pyramid!! Where did he think he was going? Most importanly, the film features some uber-sexy Eurobabes. For one we have the exotic Rosalba Neri (briefly seen in “The Spy With Ten Faces,” above) in a big part, and later we have another that is quite easy on the eyes.

The plot has Superseven chasing around a film camera that has some sort of new uranium metal or something in it; as usual for the Eurospy genre the plot is both preposterous and convoluted. Fairly good action, with some clever gadgets as well, and also cool psychedelic visuals where at one point Superseven is put in a radioactive room that glows red and these dudes with goggles come at him, and he sees them in a cool negative photography shot. The middle loses its way a bit with some dumb stuff (ie the guy running up the pyramid), but it climaxes with good dramatic reversals and action scenes. Superseven returned with the same director in the following year’s “The Spy Who Loved Flowers,” reviewed above.

3 comments:

Tim Mayer said...

You forgot "Special Mission Lady Chaplin" with Daniela Bianchi (Rowwwwr!).

Grant said...

Even though I'm very okay with "squeaky-clean" heroes in many adventures stories, I go to the other extreme and like really "bad-ass" ones in OTHER stories. And SUPERSEVEN is good about that second thing, especially when it comes to the femme fatales (the blonde girl at the start and Rosalba Neri later on) and how he deals with each of them.
It's just too bad there wasn't more of a role for the belly dancer character!

Johny Malone said...

R.I.P. Umberto Lenzi (1931-2017).