Agent 505: Death Trap Beirut (1965)

Agent 505 - Death Trap Beirut (1965)‘Only someone who had experimented with refrigerants would have thought of it.’

Four-fingered master criminal The Sheik plans to kill everyone in Beirut by dosing the city with mercury, delivered via his own private rocket. Interpol send in top agent Richard Blake to assess the situation, infiltrate the villain’s lair and foil his deadly plan…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is Czech-born actor Friedrich Strobel Von Stein, better known as Frederick Stafford, whose travel itinerary here is limited to Beirut rather than the main tourist spots of Europe. Helping him out on his mission is pretty young blonde reporter Genevieve Cluny and ‘comedy’ sidekick Chris Howland. All are gathered together under the eye of director Manfred R Köhler, whose other main assignment in the canvas chair was delivering ‘Target For Killing’ (1966), a far superior exercise in the spy game which starred one-time Hollywood heartthrob Stewart Granger.

Like the filmmakers, lnterpol are obviously working on a limited budget here as the only gadgets available to Stafford are a pen radio (think ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’) and a briefcase that drips a colourless, flammable liquid that can be ignited by a cigarette. If that last one seems rather random, it proves real handy when the luggage in question is stolen. Our mysterious villain (just who is he?) has a far better arsenal at hand; guns that fire needles of frozen oxygen (they disappear in the bloodstream!) and a deadly telephone handset that redefines the term ‘nuisance call.’

The plot revolves mostly around Stafford’s investigations; getting up close and personal with bad girl Gisella Arden, taking part in an interminable isotope heist from a ship in port and hanging out at ‘The Red Cockatoo’, a dodgy club owned by dragon lady Carla Calo. On a positive note, some of the outdoor locations are well-chosen and help give the action scenes a little extra flourish. There’s a good stunt with a helicopter (even if the rotors seem to stop dead immediately a few seconds after it lands), and the old ‘empty car going off the side of the mountain’ is far better realised than in most films. Stafford is also not bad as the lead, displaying the necessary suavity and a good moment of eyebrow action almost a decade before Roger Moore made the move his own. He also has no time for a Martini; his signature tipple instead being ‘Two raw eggs, banana, an orange, lemon juice, two teaspoons of sugar and three jiggers of rum’.

Agent 505 - Death Trap Beirut (1965)

‘I told you, you should have used protection.’

There’s the odd moment of wit, as he tells a bad guy ‘We could go on fighting like this for an hour, but l just don’t have the time’ before finishing him off. Although it’s probably best that girls don’t put him to the test when he says: ‘I’ll spank you and I’m very good at it.’ Another mission followed for Stafford in ‘Furia a Bastia Pour OSS117’ (1965) and he also went on to star in Hitchcock flop ‘Topaz’ (1969).

What lets Stafford and the rest of the cast down is the drab, uninspired script, which is a surprise as writer-director Köhler’s regular job was behind the typewriter. However, the quality of the projects with which he was involved is incredibly variable; everything from Harry Kümel’s haunting ‘Daughters of Darkness’ (1971) to the rags and tatters of Jess Franco’s dreary ‘The Blood of Fu Manchu’ (1968). Another disappointment here is the score from world-famous film composer, Ennio Morricone; significant moments signposted by a crash of orchestral instruments rather in the manner of a silent melodrama. It happens so often that it even starts to become annoying. Of course, it is possible that this was added in the English dub so l guess we have to give the great man the benefit of the doubt.

Stafford is fairly surrounded by international agents in this one, including his hotel chambermaid who is played by Renate Ewert. She was already battling drink and drug problems by the time of filming, brought on by disappointment with her acting career. Sadly, she died at her apartment later the same year that the film was released. The official cause of death was starvation, and it was three weeks before her body was found. Shortly afterwards, her parents committed suicide, unable to cope with their daughter’s death.

Professionally competent, but a dull, formulaic spy adventure of little interest.

 

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