Agent Secret FX 18/FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)

Agent Secret FX 18/ FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)‘You’re much too beautiful to bother your head with such things.’

A painter is killed with a blow dart, and his apartment destroyed in an explosion. The special operative sent to investigate disappears, so top agent Francis Coplan is called back from vacation to undertake the mission…

Dire Italian-Spanish Eurospy effort with American actor Ken Clark as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ carrying on in Rome, Marseille and on the island of Majorca. Guns, Girls and Gadgets? Well, yes…but only the girls appear with any frequency. Actually, it’s painfully obvious that this is an early example of a ‘007’ knock-off. The well-worn formula isn’t clearly established, and proceedings often resemble a simple international crime thriller, rather than anything else. Gadgets are restricted to a ‘cigarette’ blow gun, a trick gun and a toy radio antenna which allows transmission of coded messages inside a military zone.

Agent Secret FX 18/ FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)

‘Don’t look at me; I haven’t got a clue what’s going on either…’

This all makes more sense when you realise that Coplan was an existing literary character, created by Belgian authors Gaston Van Den Panhuyse and Jean Libert (writing as ‘Paul Kenny’). He’d already appeared on screen, being played by Henri Vidal in ‘Action lmmédiate’ (1957), and it seems obvious that he was simply co-opted as a convenient ‘Bond’ stand-in as a way to ride the wave of Connery’s global juggernaut.

So, how does it differ from the usual hi-jinks that became so familiar in the years that followed? Well, for a start, Clark is not a lone wolf. He has a team, as allocated by boss La Vieux (Jacques Dacqmine). This includes ‘stand-in’ wife Jany Clair and ‘comedy’ sidekicks Jean-Pierre Laverne and Lorenzo Robledo, who are given far too much screen time. At one stage, Clark’s under threat of getting completely sidelined by their laboured routines, which include a ‘hilarious’ knockabout fight sequence accompanied by music you might expect to hear in a two-reeler from the silent days. The IMF these guys are not.

There’s also a problem with our bad guys. To put it kindly, Noreau (Daniel Ceccaldi) and Barter (Claude Cerval) are completely anonymous, and we get no real idea about what they’re up to either. Their secret HQ is an ordinary private yacht, crewed by bit part thugs and pretty girls Cristina Gaioni and Margit Kocsis. Clair’s character is also a bit of a puzzle. To begin with, she’s an iceberg and rebuffs Clark’s smarmy advances, but, in the blink of a false eyelash, she’s in love with him! At times, it seems she’s in the film simply to be slapped around and tortured, but she does get to prove her spy credentials late on, via the twin mediums of Landrover and machine gun.

Coplan returned for 5 further big screen adventures in the 1960s; played by a different actor on each occasion, including Englishman Richard Wyler in ‘Coplan FX 18 Casse Tout’ (1965), which saw Dacqmine reprise his role and Clair return as a different character. We also got Lang Jeffries in ‘Coplan Ouvre Le Feu A Mexico (1967) which also starred Sabine Sun, who has a small role here. Co- writer/director Maurice Cloche did it all again with the unrelated ‘Agent X-77 Orders to Kill’ (1966), which was a little better, and Clark ranked up a trio of appearances as Dick Malloy, beginning with ‘Agente 077 Missione Bloody Mary’ (1965).

This is an unfocused, dreary slog through one of the dullest espionage adventures imaginable. A truly lousy viewing experience.

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