OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok/Shadow of Evil/Banco A Bangkok Pour OSS 117 (1964)

‘Mr Barton, despite your weapon and your smugness, you can do nothing against me.’

A series of plague outbreaks in Asia seem to be linked to the activities of a professor distributing vaccines. After an operative with a hot lead to the mystery is killed in Thailand, Agent OSS 117 is dispatched to Bangkok to take up the case…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Kerwin Mathews, reprising his role as Hubert Barton from ‘OSS 117 Se Duchaine’ (1963) and running around Bangkok for returning director André Hunebelle. Only this time he’s doing it in glorious Eastmancolor! And that’s a good thing because one of the film’s main attributes are its locations and setting; the old monastery at the climax being a particularly pleasing visual choice.

The film begins with the obligatory faceless agent getting gunned down by some faceless henchmen on a Bangkok street. It’s not exactly subtle and inevitably provokes the almost immediate arrival on the scene of our suave hero. Not a great move for our mysterious supervillain. Couldn’t he at least have tried to make it look like an accident? For a change, Mathew’s actually got some back up and he visits the local office to get the low down on the situation, where he meets cool blonde secretary Eva (Dominique Wilms). They run into each other again at an embassy reception, but he’s only got eyes for exotic Lila Sinn (Pier Angeli) whose brother (Robert Hossein) is a local doctor/guru and perhaps the most suspicious character in movie history.

His new manicurist had a fresh approach…

What follows are the usual Eurospy shenanigans as Mathews investigates; dodging bullets, punches and car bombs along the way (or his stunt double does, anyway). As usual, all he has to do is to a stare at a woman for her to come over all unnecessary (rather than consider him a creep), and his other skills include immediately hailing a cab with just a wave of his hand and getting a parking space right in front of any building he visits.

Gadgets are limited to some basic surveillance equipment, including a transmitter inside a book, and an interrogation room where he gets strapped up to some electronic gizmo. He’s also shadowed everywhere by a mysterious man in sunglasses who eventually takes a brief part in the action. Who is he? An ex-Nazi double agent, apparently. What he has to do with what’s going on? No idea.

On the credit side, our mysterious super villain does have a nice line in maniacal patter: ‘The world will end in the multiplication of being that the soil one day will no longer feed’. So there! He also has a secret underground lair, including a lab where white coated technicians inject rats with plague virus and various beakers and test tubes boil and bubble. Unfortunately, he does exhibit the usual cavalier attitude towards Health & Safety standards, and the whole thing is instantly transformed into an inferno by a couple of machine gun volleys delivered by Mathews toward the climax.

OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok (1964)

‘And I bet her short hand is just terrific…’

Given that a total of 8 writers worked on this, five with the adaptation and three on the script (including the director), it’s remarkable that the end result displays so little imagination and creativity. Perhaps it was a case of the ‘filmmaking by committee’ method so beloved by big Hollywood studios, which removes any individuality or interesting aspects from a project.

At 118 minutes, it’s far too long as well, and specific events often seem stretched out and slow. Apparently, there is a 92-minute cut, which, if edited so individual scenes are tightened (rather than removed entirely) may be a significantly more enjoyable experience.

Both Mathews and Angeli’s best days were already behind them; Mathews in the title roles of ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958) and ‘Jack The Giant Killer’ (1962), Angeli opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956). The pair reunited a few years later to fight the dreadfully awkward and crappy ‘Octaman’ (1971), the first creation of SFX and makeup guru Rick Baker. Sadly, it was Angeli’s last role; she was found dead from a barbiturate overdose at her home after the production was over. Mathews made a few more scattered appearances in the years following before retiring in 1977 and becoming a frequent guest on the convention circuit in later years. He died in 2007.

Not a bottom of the barrel spy adventure by any means, but one that requires more than a little patience from the audience.


The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)‘And now watch out, I like to eat little girls.’

A bridegroom takes his American wife to his old home town of Geneva on their honeymoon. When they arrive, he discovers that his ex-lover has committed suicide and it’s not long before the couple are being subjected to strange happenings and mysterious threats…

The ltalian ‘Giallo’ movie is now recognised as a precursor to the American slasher craze kicked off in earnest by John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978), but the term originally simply referred to a ‘murder mystery’ and this film falls squarely into that category. So there’s a notable absence of the familiar tropes we expect when viewing films from that sub-genre today, but nevertheless this was an important steeping stone in their development, although not so much for what actually appears on the screen.

Handsome Swiss hunk Jean Sorel is showing new wife Carroll Baker the sights of Europe when they stopover in his old stomping ground on the shores of Lake Geneva. A seemingly chance encounter with old friend Philip (Liugi Pistilli) turns nasty when Pistilli informs him of the suspected suicide of Sorel’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart) in a car accident.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

‘Shake it Baby!’

At Stewart’s abandoned old home, they hear spooky music and Baker gets a phone call threatening her life. Believing Pistilli was in love with Stewart and is seeking vengeance, the couple rent an isolated villa in the country, but it seems they can’t escape Sorel’s shady past. And what’s their dangerously handsome next door neighbour George Hilton got to do with it all?

The film starts rather slowly with Sorrel and Baker as loving newlyweds. The intention is to establish character and get the audience invested, which is a fine idea. Unfortunately, both Baker and Sorel seem disengaged with the material and there is little chemistry between them. After their visit to the spooky old house, suspicion raises its ugly head on both sides and the cracks in their relationship begin to show. Their quiet sense of distrust in each other is nicely played and these are probably the film’s best scenes.

So, after a somewhat rocky opening, toward the half way point things seem to be building up nicely. But then there’s no more story development until the last 15 minutes when all the threads come together. It’s this lengthy and very dull second act that really derails the film. To its’ credit, we still not exactly sure of what’s happening until pretty near the conclusion but when the pieces fall into place it’s not exactly a surprise and an attempt at an additional twist at the end is rather ambiguous and makes little sense.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

 In the 60s people really knew how to party… 

Director Romolo Guerrieri is keen to catch that 1960’s zeitgeist by dressing Baker in funky outfits and employing some ill-advised (if pretty) slo-mo in some of the romantic flashbacks. The musical soundtrack by Nora Orlandi is very much of its time and there’s a slightly odd sequence where Baker and Sorel play ‘Twister’ in their back garden to the sound of a marching band!

Considering all this is a fairly tepid experience, then why is it an important step in the development of the ‘Giallo’ as we know it today? Because of the people that were involved – on both sides of the camera. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who co-authored the screenplay) was already becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for these kind of convoluted thrillers and co-writer/producer Luciano Martino went onto fulfil the same roles on several notable examples, including ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wrath’ (1971). That last film was directed by his brother Sergio who served as production manager on this film and actually starred Hilton who top-lined several other similar projects in subsequent years. And the same can be said of Pistilli and Sorel! Perhaps it just shows how tightly knit the Italian film industry was at the time.

Baker was a Hollywood actress who had fame almost as soon as she stepped in front of the camera with a featured role in the James Dean epic ‘Giant’ (1956) and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character of Elia Kazan’s ‘Baby Doll’ (1956). Partly due to the nature of that role and the national controversy which the film provoked, she found it hard to get decent roles afterwards and often argued with producers and studios to escape type-casting. When big budget biopic ‘Harlow’ (1965) was a box office disaster (and her performance in the title role panned by critics) her stateside career was effectively over and, after a short break, she relocated to the continent. Subsequent to this film, she made a string of ‘Giallo’ pictures: ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘The Fourth Victim’ (1971) among others.

This is not a bad thriller by any means, but a dull middle section betrays the lack of an interesting plot and there’s not enough suspense or surprise to satisfy mystery fans. And those familiar with the more extreme elements of later ‘Giallo’ pictures are likely to be severely disappointed.

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)‘The dark side of the moon has been photographed. Natural laws no longer apply.’

An escaping criminal is caught up in an experimental nuclear test in the desert. Somehow he survives and the effect of the explosion endows him with superhuman strength and invulnerability. Afterwards, he sets out to take revenge on the gangsters who framed him for murder…

Preposterous low-budget crime and science fiction mash up from veteran director Allan Dwan, delivering his final movie in a career that began with hundreds of short subjects back in 1913. It’s a curious choice as a project for him. For a start, he’d never tackled fantastical subject matter in his long career, and his previous few films had starred players such as Dana Andrews, Anne Bancroft and Ray Milland. Not huge stars by this point in their careers, but still significant Hollywood names. Compare them with the cast we have here; mostly television actors with just a smattering of big screen experience in supporting roles.

On the run from the big house, convicted killer Eddie Candell (Ron Randell) wanders into the wrong part of the desert right at the moment that Dr Meeker (Tudor Owens) is testing his latest invention; a bomb containing something called Element X. Randell is caught in the blast, but manages to quit the scene with apparently nothing more than a ruined suit. Unfortunately, he was too close to the tower that held the device and its metal is slowly fusing with his body. Yes, he’s literally becoming a ‘Man of Steel’ folks!

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Even the Most Dangerous Man Alive knew you had to respect the dress code.

From there, we get to the real meat and potatoes of the film’s plot. Randell was a leading mobster whose playboy lifestyle attracted far too much media attention for the liking of his colleagues in the syndicate. They framed him for murder by perjuring themselves in court and now he’s out for revenge. The only person he can trust is ex-girlfriend Elaine Stewart, but she’s already been targeted by cops Morris Ankrum and Gregg Palmer who are leading the manhunt to run him down.

The authorities’ task becomes especially urgent after the cops brace Owens in his curiously ‘open plan’ laboratory and he shows them some unconvincing examples of how the local flora and fauna has reacted to the blast. ‘The melon has absorbed the steel into its cell structure’, he informs them with a completely straight face. Apparently, all this makes Randell the ‘Most Dangerous Man Alive’. For some reason or other. But I’m more concerned as to how one crackpot scientist and a couple of faceless lab-coat assistants seem to have been allowed to stage an atomic bomb test on their own. Isn’t there some kind of Health & Safety law against that sort of thing?

All this is pretty standard b-movie stuff and actually bares a strange resemblance to Coleman Francis’ bad movie classic ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats’ (1961) but without the bizarre voiceover of that particular oddity. However, there are some factors here that elevate proceedings considerably. Firstly, there’s the cast. Performances are professional and well-delivered. Chief hoodlum Anthony Caruso (later to be a very familiar face due to many appearances on US network TV in the 1970s) is rather good as the villain of the piece and Debra Paget also scores as the good-time girl who betrayed Randell in court. In fact, there’s a pleasing level of professionalism all round.

Unfortunately, there are some significant problems. The most obvious is the story’s ridiculous premise. Slowly turning into a metal man seems to have very little effect on Randell at all, other than rendering him bulletproof and giving him the strength to crush small props. There are no physical signs of this supposed transformation, which gives the audience no reason to either empathise or be horrified by him. Also the action (such as it is) seems strangely disjointed at times, and significant events are spoken of but not shown. In one example Caruso tells his boys to grab Stewart once she’s shaken the cops, only to cut cold to the two of them in the back of his car in the very next scene.

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

The Most Dangerous Man Alive’s weapon of choice was a papier mache rock.

But, as often in the world of low-budget filmmaking, there is a practical reason for the movie’s shortcomings and a story to be told that’s probably far more interesting than the picture itself. The film was shot on location and in studios in Mexico and producer Benedict Bogeaus hired everyone involved on the understanding that they were making a 2-part pilot for a proposed television series. Why? So he could pay them all lower wages than if it was going to be a theatrical release.

But Bogeaus was rumbled when the unions realised they were making a feature film and he had to cough up the difference. Quite right too, of course. Except that meant that he had no money left to build the extra sets that the production required and that the shooting schedule had to be cut from five weeks to one! The fact that Dwan and his team delivered a finished article that was anything other than an absolute train wreck is a serious testament to their abilities and professionalism.

Yes, this is a fairly dull, unappealing and very minor science fiction picture that has mostly slipped through the cracks and been forgotten. However, given both the central premise and the circumstances surrounding its production, that very anonymity is an acknowledgement of movie making success in the presence of serious adversity.

Dwan and his production team neatly avoid a permanent place on bad movie lists everywhere. It might not be much of a movie, but you have to give them that!

Cannibal Attack (1954)

Cannibal Attack (1954)‘Although I’ve educated her in European ways, there are times when her jungle blood seems to assert itself.’

Johnny Weismuller finds a dead white man on the banks of a river in the jungle. He turns out to be a government man in charge of a missing shipment of cobalt and, although his death is attributed to a crocodile attack, Johnny has his own ideas…

In some strange 1950s alternate universe, Johnny Weismuller was not an ageing star relegated to B- Movie hell, but a heroic trail guide and all-purpose government fix-it man, pitting his jungle wits against tribes of Moon Men, displaced voodoo cults and men crawling about under rubber crocodile skins. Unfortunately, in the real world, he was working with a ‘cash-conscious’ film producer who lost the rights to make films using the name ‘Jungle Jim’ and decided to re-christen the character as ‘Johnny Weismuller’ to get around the problem. Yes, that producer was the legendary Sam Katzman and this was Weismuller’s penultimate turn running around the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in a safari suit.

lt’s obvious from the get-go that this outing is going in a vastly different direction from the rest of the series. Instead of a talky, five-minute opening scene that explains the entire plot, we get a talky, five-minute scene that just explains most of it. This exposition dump comes courtesy of sensible, upright mining engineerJohn King (Steve Darrell) and the visiting Commissioner (Charles Evans). Originally contracted to dig iron ore, King and his unreliable brother (David Bruce) have discovered cobalt! This magic substance is ‘more valuable than uranium’ due to its multiple uses in medicine, electronics, jet aircraft engines, machine tools, delicate magnets and dental bridgework. It’s a bonanza to be sure, but the mine is located deep in the jungle and the only way to get the ore out is down a river infested with crocodiles.

Cannibal Attack (1954)

‘So what are we supposed to be looking at again, Johnny?’

But let’s back up for a minute here. Who are these guys working for exactly? I guess it’s the U.S. Government? Or is it some private corporation? Perhaps the two were interchangeable in the minds of a 1950s audience? There’s not a trace of any native authorities or officials anywhere and, in fact, the local population is almost solely represented by Darrell’s ward, Luora (Judy Walsh), who is apparently of mixed race.

When Weismuller starts investigating the missing shipment, Walsh tags along and actually makes an obvious play for the big man! Certainly not something a ‘nice girl’ would do, is it? All that soppy romantic stuff was firmly relegated to the supporting cast in the Jungle Jim universe, of course, so there’s no chance of her getting anywhere, but she’s foiled by the antics of chimpanzee Kimba anyway. She doesn’t take this kindly: ‘I’m sorry, I have no sense of humour. It must be my jungle blood.’ Ouch.

Leaving aside the dodgy racial and colonial politics, what we have here is Weismuller as a detective. For once, it’s not blindingly obvious who the heroes and villains are, although when it’s revealed it’s hardly a big surprise. Anyway, it’s up to Weismuller to piece everything together. Could King’s foreman Rovak (Bruce Cowling) be involved? After all, his name sounds a bit foreign, doesn’t it? And how do this mysterious tribe of missing cannibals with their ridiculous crocodile fetish fit in? We do know they gave up cannibalism years ago, though, which renders the movie’s title pointless for anything other than box-office purposes. The climax features a mass brawl on boats and a raft in the middle of the river. After a couple of minutes, the bad guys even remember to use their guns!

Amongst all the crocodile stock footage, our cast do their best to remain professional. Walsh was as American as apple pie but her dark looks saw her cast as various ethnicities in a very brief film career; Arabian in ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ (1952), native American in ‘The Half-Breed’ (1952) and lunar-feline in ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1954). Bruce appeared as ‘The Mad Ghoul’ (1943) in one of the weakest entries from Universal Pictures during their horror heyday. But the most crucial casting here finds Tamba, the Talented Chimp, replaced by up-and-comer Kimba. Sadly, the new addition obviously lacks experience or the necessary comedy chops displayed by his predecessor. Also it completely changes the central character dynamic of the entire series. And I could be wrong but is that a ‘stunt chimp’ doing those backflips at the end of the picture?

One more film in the series followed; ‘Devil Goddess'(1955), but it wasn’t quite Weismuller’s last hurrah. When producer Katzman lost the character rights, they ended up with Screen Gems who immediately developed a TV series and hired the big man to star! 27 episodes later, he finally quit the jungle and retired. Somewhat ironically, the TV show was brought to the small screen through Columbia, who had also released the movies. But Katzman obviously wasn’t bothered. He retained his links with the studio, unleashed ‘Rock Around The Clock’ (1956) and made a mint.

More predictable jungle shenanigans from the deadly partnership of Weismuller and Katzman. This one comes with a little more plot than usual, but also with some very outdated and unfortunate attitudes.

Santo Faces Death / Santo Frente A La Muerte (1969)

Santo Faces Death : Santo Frente A La Muerte (1969)‘It looks like Dr Igor has diabolical plans.’

A female wrestler is blackmailed into organising the theft of a fabulous emerald in Columbia by the mysterious leader of a criminal syndicate. International police agencies call in top agent El Santo to investigate and it’s not long before he’s in the crosshairs of an assassin…

Good afternoon grapple fans! This film finds everyone’s favourite luchador during the time when his activities alternated between full-blooded wrestling action and running around the Americas as Mexico’s answer to James Bond. Here he’s swapping holds with the evil Dr lgor and his gang of thugs on the streets of Bogota for writer-director Fernando Orozco, with distinctly underwhelming results.

The film opens with the jewel heist. Rather than a split-second, complex plan involving smarts, tactics, gadgets and stealth, this operation features blonde wrestler Alicia (Elsa Càrdenas) storming a few old buildings with the aid of some goons and their machine guns. Bullets fly, bodies fall, and the gem is secured. Delivering the booty to cloaked super villain The Grand Stranger seems far more problematical though, and, for some reason, it involves dealing with another criminal gang who want to buy it. The plot isn’t exactly clear, even if we do know that Càrdenas is being forced into the life by evil Dr Igor (Àngel Menéndez) and his sexy lieutenant Lina (Mara Cruz), who work for this sinister kingpin.

Santo Faces Death / Santo Frente A La Muerte (1969)

Santo still hadn’t quite the grasped the concept of going undercover.

But the bas guys days are numbered, thanks to the arrival of El Santo, although his options as an undercover agent seem somewhat limited, given the shiny silver mask and worldwide reputation. Still, at least he doesn’t have to contend with any vampires or werewolves this time, although he does take his spot on a wrestling bill that includes ‘Dracula’ and ‘King Kong’! Odd, considering he’d already defeated the vampire king a few movies back in ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure’ (1968) (in which, lest we forget, he invented a time machine).

Another puzzling aspect to the action in the square ring is that blonde Càrdenas fights in a black wig. Presumably this was to match the existing wrestling footage available to the production, so that’s understandable. Or it would be If she wasn’t a brunette in real life!

The musical score is probably the film’s most noteworthy element. Although credited to the prolific Daniel White, it does sound suspiciously like selections have been sourced from a music library, rather than written for what’s actually on the screen at any given time. Demented xylophones accompany lots of the hand to hand action and the frequent use of Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’ is definitely a little curious. Sure, the song’s been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Marvin Gaye, Cher to Electric Flag and Boney M to Robert Mitchum, but what it’s doing in a film about a masked wrestler tangling with the underworld is anybody’s guess!

This was a Spanish/Mexican/Columbian production and writer-director Orozco also served the same function on ‘Santo En El Misterio De La Perla Negra’ (1976) as well as producer for ‘Santo Contra Los Asesin Os De La Mafia’ (1970). Unfortunately, without any monsters or goofy elements, this is a dreary trudge through almost 90 minutes of interminable chases, dull dialogues scenes and damp plot twists. There is a hilarious ‘dummy down a cliff’ moment when the Great Stranger hides his face behind the arm of his cloak like a villain from the silent days, but sadly such moments of joy are few and far between.

Santo Faces Death / Santo Frente A La Muerte (1969)

Their new choreography to ‘La Macarena’ was not an unqualified success.

Surprisingly, Càrdenas turned up in some genuine Hollywood classic films, with small roles in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969), and James Dean’s Oscar-winning swan song ‘Giant’ (1956). She also made a far more substantial appearance opposite Elvis in ‘Fun ln Acapulco’ (1963). Subsequently, she carved out a long and successful career on Mexican television and was still appearing regularly up until 2015.

This is not one of Santo’s most memorable adventures; just a collection of half-baked ideas that culminate in an odd twist in final scenes which are so clumsy and hurried that it’s a puzzle why the filmmakers bothered with them at all.

You really do need monsters for the authentic Santo cinematic experience.

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard/Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard:Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)‘But I had no idea Scotland Yard interrogates furniture these days…’

Masked mastermind Fantomas tries to blackmail the richest people in the world by threatening them with sudden death, in particular targeting a wealthy Scottish nobleman. The forces of law and order gather at the Laird’s ancestral castle with a plan to catch the supervillain and end his reign of terror for good…

The third and final part of the 1960s Fantomas trilogy from Gaumont Studios finds all the principals from the series back in front of the camera for regular director André Hunebelle. This is both good news and bad. The biggest joy, of course, is to see star Jean Marias wearing the striking Fantomas mask and also taking on hero duties as intrepid journalist Fandor. As ever he’s accompanied by the lively Mylene Demongeot and, although their partnership is somewhat side-lined this time, they still make for an appealing screen couple. Unfortunately, the bad news is far more serious. Louis de Funes returns as Commissar Juve along with sidekick Inspector Bertrand (Jacques Dynam). Worse still; their tedious comedy routine gets even more screen time than in the previous films.

After his failure to brainwash the world’s population in ‘Fantomas Unleashed’ (1965), our friendly neighbourhood megalomaniac has decided to raise a little nest egg before he gets around to ‘destroying the world.’ Allegedly, he’s braced all the world’s well-off with a simple proposition: pay him a ‘life tax’ or take a long sleep with the fishes. In practice, his scheme mostly seems to involve playing stupid, puerile pranks on policeman de Funes after everyone assembles at the remote castle in Scotland.

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard:Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)

‘Please tell me there are some good jokes on the next page of the script…’

Sure, he kills off lord of the manor Jean-Roger Caussimon and infiltrates a group of syndicate mobsters, but he spends a lot of time hanging corpses in de Funes’ bedroom, which mysteriously disappear when anyone else comes back to see them. It’s a strange plan, to be sure, and unfortunately means that we spend almost the entire second act of the film in the ‘hilarious’ company of de Funes and his second-hand Inspector Clouseau impression. At least his kilt doesn’t fall all the way down, I suppose.

Leaving aside the comedy, the film has a tired, padded feel to it anyway, which is not helped by the 104-minute running time. The story meanders through a number of pointless sequences, including a half-baked séance and an endless fox-hunt that mostly features de Funes looking for his horse. The Scottish locations are also unconvincing and it’s disappointing to find that our villain has abandoned his secret base on the slopes of a volcano to just skulk around the highlands for a bit and take the odd trip in his helicopter. His ambitions have also become strangely limited; for all his threats, it turns out that he’s just after some jewels. This may be more in tune with the original literary source, but doesn’t it seem to be a key element in taking over the world.

Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard:Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (1967)


Judging from the publicity material, de Funes was now the star of the series, even if that may be somewhat hard to credit for a modern audience. However, it was a fact that apparently led to Marias’ decision to hang up the Fantomas mask and pass on a planned fourth film. If that was the case, it’s a decision that was perfectly understandable.

Taken as a trilogy, the Fantomas films are a bit of a disappointment. There’s no doubt that talented people were involved in their creation on both sides of the camera, and there are some fine moments, particularly when Marias is on the screen in the title role. However, rather than embrace the pop culture explosion of the times to try and create something truly memorable, the films just fall back on stale, dated comedic tropes and conventions. And that’s never more obvious than in this final episode.

Rather a frustrating experience.

Phantom Killer (1942)

Phantom Killer (1942)‘Well, it’s been nice knowing you, Sherlock, I’ll come and see you at the asylum.’

After conversing at the scene of a murder, a janitor identifies a respected philanthropist as the prime suspect in the killing. However, the man has an airtight alibi and what’s more he’s deaf and dumb. Even so, a crusading young district attorney is determined to take the case to trial…

This Monogram Studios thriller is a straight remake of an early Lionel Atwill vehicle called ‘The Sphinx’ (1933) and varies little from its predecessor. Our main man is clean-cut Dick Purcell, who may be handsome and heroic but is probably the worst public prosecutor of all time; taking business magnate John Hamilton to court for murder when all the evidence points to the man’s innocence. Why does he do it? Because he has a hunch that Hamilton is guilty. He even admits that’s his only reason! Perhaps he thinks that ‘hunches’ are sufficient legal grounds to obtain a conviction for a capital crime, and that the jury will just ignore all the evidence!

Aiding our less than stellar legal eagle is smart aleck reporter and love interest Joan Woodbury, who repeatedly warns him against such foolishness. The repartee between them isn’t particularly sparkling, but they do strike a few dim sparks from the limp script. Manton Moreland is also on hand as the janitor, providing his usual, stereotypical comedy coward routine. He’s best remembered these days as Charlie Chan’s chauffeur in the movies starring Sidney Toler as the Chinese detective.

Yes, this is a basic, 61-minute programmer turned out on a studio conveyor belt in a matter of a few weeks, but it doesn’t even succeed on its own terms. For a start, it retains all the same beats as the original film, and it’s far easier to forgive corny, melodramatic flourishes from the early days of sound cinema than a decade later. The villain’s secret room opens by hitting the highest key on his piano and, given that most of the rest of the cast seem to enjoy tinkling the old ivories (including the investigating police detective!), it doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s not the best security system that he could have employed. lt’s also baffling why the killer chooses to chat to Moreland at the murder scene in the first place. Maybe sneaking out unobserved might have been the better option? The solution to the mystery isn’t exactly surprising either; in fact one of the characters even mentions the possibility as a solution in the first few minutes of the film!

Phantom Killer (1942)

‘You just wait until Mr Chan hears about this…’

The director here was William ‘One Shot’ Beaudine (he didn’t like retakes!) who was actually responsible for far worse films; such as painful Bela Lugosi vehicle ‘The Ape Man’ (1943), ‘Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter’ (1966) and ‘Billy The Kid Vs Dracula’ (1965) with John Carradine. Yes, they sound as if they could be funny, but, take my word for it, they’re just excruciating. Beaudine ended his career making episode’s of ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘Lassie’ and Disney shows for TV.

Woodbury was a lively, comedic presence, who enlivened some low-budget thrillers, such as ‘The Living Ghost’ (1942), Charlie Chan mystery ‘The Chinese Cat’ (1944) and ‘The Whistler’ (1944). She also played the title role in Columbia serial ‘Brenda Starr, Reporter’ (1945) and had a late career role in Cecil B DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956). But the real success story here is sound engineer Glen Glenn, who founded the Sound System that bears his name. lt‘s been used in over 20,000 movies to date and you will see it credited in the titles of more major motion pictures and TV shows than there are stars on Hollywood Boulevard.

At best, this is an undistinguished thriller and a typical product of the low-budget studio system of the era.