An oriental mastermind plots to obtain a secret laser weapon in Hong Kong by means of blackmail and murder. He’s able to cope with the machinations of secret agents from various countries but finds himself hard pressed to cope with the intervention of a new opponent: Buddha.
What was in Burgess Meredith’s cigarette holder when he appeared on the ‘Batman’ TV show in the late 1960s? Well, it must have been good stuff for him to come up with this bizarre oddity involving Buddhism and spies in the Far East. For he wrote and directed and persuaded some famous names to take part. Maybe it looked good at the script stage, who knows?
Matters open with Meredith giving acupuncture to James Mason, who plays the title role. Both are in poor oriental makeup and affecting only slight attempts at appropriate voices. At first, being a spy movie, I was hoping that at least one of them was in disguise but sadly not. Mason is a Fu Manchu wannabe who is attempting to secure this new super weapon thingy by blackmailing top American scientists. But halfway through the film, his plans are scuppered when Buddha takes a hand! Apparently, due to some malarkey about the ancients discovering the secret of eternal life, the deity picks one man at random every 50 years or so and reverses his personality. Luckily, this is all explained by Voiceover Man, which is fortunate because otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense at all. Voiceover Man is actually played by Buddha himself, which is probably a first.
Muddled up in the plot is a young American writer, his oriental girlfriend and an Irish-American secret agent, played by Jack MacGowran. His boss is played by Broderick Crawford, who has a couple of scenes where he discusses things in someone’s front room with some unidentified gentlemen in suits and glasses. Back in Hong Kong, groups of people run around a lot for no obvious reason, there’s a lot of footage of the streets at night and a few scenes shot in negative. The choppy nature and general incoherence suggests that maybe some linking scenes were never shot, or were left behind on the cutting room floor. Things are not assisted by some silly happy-clappy songs on the soundtrack.
The cast includes a new actor; supposedly making his first appearance with one of those ‘and introducing…’ credits at the start of the film. You know the kind; the one which names someone you’ve never heard of, who never went on to any sort of career. But hold on a second, this one is ‘Introducing Jeffrey Bridges’. Yes, it’s The Dude, Rooster Cogburn and that guy from ‘Crazy Heart’. Bridges had already appeared on daddy Lloyd’s TV hit ‘Sea Hunt’ and a couple of other things, but this does appear to be his first bow on the big screen. His performance as the wasted young writer is acceptable enough, given the somewhat one-dimensional nature of the role, and it wasn’t long before he was taking his first steps toward movie stardom in ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971).
The problem with this film is there is absolutely no consistency of tone. ls it supposed to be a comedy? A satire of some sort? Simply a Far Eastern adventure? I have no idea. It fails on every level. Worse than that, it’s rather boring. Advertising tried to compare it to ‘Dr. No’ (1962), and emphasise the role of Irene Tsu as a ‘femme fatale’ but she’s more of a ‘damsel in distress’ most of the time. This must have been a near impossible sell, even in the ‘anything goes’ era when it was made.
Meredith had done a little directing before; a co-credit 21 years earlier on ‘The Man On The Eiffel Tower’ (1949) with Charles Laughton, and a TV episode in the 1950s. He’d also written a couple of scripts back at the beginning of his career. But, after this, he never took up his pen or stepped behind the camera again. Judging by this effort, it was probably for the best.