‘Go pick up all the dwarves in Paris.’
A terrorist organisation is determined to prevent the Turkish government from obtaining new fighter jets from France. They target the ambassador who has come to Paris to sign the deal, conducting an assassination attempt at the airport. France’s top secret agent is assigned to protection duties but is powerless to prevent the kidnapping of the diplomat’s daughter…
Black and white French-Italian Eurospy starring Roger Hanin as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’. Surprisingly, the director was Claude Chabrol, who later in the decade became celebrated for his place on the front line of French’ New Wave’ cinema.
Sinister forces aren’t happy with the idea of Turkey’s airforce being supplemented by acquiring a shipment of new Mirage IV fighters from France. A consultant working on the deal is murdered during a private screening of a film showcasing the new jet, and the assassin follows shortly afterwards at the hands of his own people. These events bring in top DST agent Louis Rapière, known in the business as ‘le Tigre’. His mission is to protect visiting Turkish ambassador Martin Baskine (Sauveur Sasporte) and his family until he signs the necessary paperwork and the deal goes through.
Unfortunately, for action man Hanin this means babysitting Sasporte’s wife and daughter, showing them the sights of Paris and avoiding oily diplomatic flunkey Coubassi (Antonio Passalia). The bad news is that Madame Baskine (Maria Mauban) is an overbearing, flirtatious chatterbox; the good is that daughter Mehlica (Daniela Bianchi) is the kind of woman wannabee Bonds like for breakfast. Meanwhile, all is not sunshine and roses in the villains’ camp, either, with party man Benita (Roger Rudel) clashing with local fixer Dobronsky (Mario David). The former is a patriot, but the latter has far more mercenary intentions.
This is a crisp, efficient spy game from director Chabrol, who injects the relatively standard plot mechanics with some inventive touches and a swift pace. Hanin may not have the charisma of Sean Connery but displays more than enough personality and skill to anchor the drama. Blonde villain David also helps to convey the importance of the stakes involved, which might be a little lacking without their joint presence. Bianchi’s casting was an obvious nod to her appearance opposite Connery in ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963), which likely would have appeared in French theatres early in 1964.
Chabrol also includes a fair slice of humour into proceedings. The DST’s ‘Q’ division is headed by the grinning Duvet (Roger Dumas), who likes nothing better than promoting his somewhat threadbare selection of gadgets. These include a gun that shoots backwards and a black powder explosive that leaves him looking like a refugee from a Roadrunner cartoon. There’s also a sly comic performance from Christa Lang, who plays David’s wide-eyed mistress. Wandering around in an alcoholic stupor throughout, she’s almost entirely oblivious to events developing around her. It’s probably the film’s highlight when she finds Hanin standing on her kitchen worktop, gun in hand, eavesdropping on her boyfriend as he outlines his evil plans in the next room. Instead of raising the alarm at finding an armed stranger in her apartment, she simply collects a fresh supply of booze, gives him a little wave, goes back to David next door and never says a word about it.
The fight scenes are a little hit and miss at times (literally!), but the final confrontation between Hanin and David is well-staged and quite brutal for its time. The two actors really sell the violence of the combat, heightened by some authentic touches, such as the sweat soaking through the back of David’s shirt. Although it’s nothing more than a one-on-one bout of fisticuffs, it would have probably worked better as the finale than the film’s actual climax, which is a little underwhelming. The finish takes place in the kind of car-wrecking yard much beloved by fictional crimelords in the 1970s, although kudos to Passalia for apparently doing his own stunt work. He may have been doubled in certain shots, but if so, it’s very cleverly done. Official sequel ‘An Orchid for the Tiger/Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite’ (1965) followed, but two of Hanin’s other spy adventures were also tagged with the ‘Le Tigre’ brand. However, ‘Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8/Agente Tigre sfida infernale’ (1965) and ‘Spy Pit/Le Tigre Sort Sans Sa Mere’ (1967) found the actor playing different secret agents.
Despite early success with his debut ‘Le Beau Serge’ (1958), it seems that Chabrol had to sacrifice artistic endeavour to commercial necessity and embrace the mainstream at this point in his career. Hanin had starred in two features as secret agent ‘Le Gorille’, but the series ended when the producers lost the rights to use the character. In the wake of the international success of Bond, the actor created secret agent ‘le Tigre’ and receives an ‘original scenario’ credit here, script duties devolving to Jean Halain. The film even has an overt reference to Bond when a villain spins the wire book stand in the airport to reveal a paperback copy of ‘From Russia with Love’, complete with Connery on the cover.
Bianchi’s international prospects were curtailed by her thick Italian accent and lack of English. Typically, she spoke her lines phonetically and was later dubbed. After Bond, her American career consisted solely of appearing in a handful of episodes of ‘Dr Kildare’ with Richard Chamberlain. She returned to mainland Europe but never escaped the shadow of 007 in her brief subsequent career. She starred in the title role of the underwhelming ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin/Missione speciale Lady Chaplin’ (1966) and then opposite one-time Hollywood heartthrob Stewart Granger in ‘Requiem for a Secret Agent/Requiem per un agente segreto’ (1966). There was also a top-billed role with Sean’s bother, Neil, in the Bond spoof ‘Ok Connery/Operation Kid Brother’ (1966). She retired from the screen in 1968.
Nothing truly remarkable, but still an efficient slice of espionage.