‘No, I never drink before eating… or being eaten.’
A medical doctor who became a secret agent comes out of retirement to investigate strange events centred around his old Professor. Enemy agents are interested in his revolutionary research into rejuvenation, which may be able to resurrect the newly deceased…
Italian Eurospy games with a twist of horror and science-fiction from director Enrico Bomba. This week’s (medically qualified) ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Mark Damon, who takes on the usual groovy mix of ‘Guns, Girls and Gadgets’ and…er, the walking dead.
When an Armenian agent fries in his car at the bottom of a mountain road, it’s a matter of grave concern for FBI head honcho Zaref (Tiziano Cortini, billed as Lewis Jordan). The dead man has stolen microfilm in his pocket, and, although it’s mostly unreadable, it appears to contain details of the top secret research being carried out by Professor Keller (Walter Neng). Cortini decides that it’s a job for Bardin… Dr Bardin (Damon). The top agent has resigned to pursue a career water skiing around the playgrounds of the rich and idle with pretty Greek blondes, but the spymaster gets him back on board by appealing to a personal connection. Back in the day, Damon was one of the Professor’s students.
Arriving in Beirut, Damon finds evidence of a traitor at Leng’s lab and a tangle of romantic relationships at the core of the mystery. Leng’s number two, Dr Dexter (Stelio Candelli), seems to be having an affair with research associate Dr Serens (Seyna Seyn) while married to the old man’s daughter Louise (Mary Young). Meanwhile, she’s still holding a torch for originally intended spouse Karl Richards (Aldo Bufi Landi), who’s carrying on with nightclub singer Franca (Franca Ducci). When Landi succumbs to a heart problem, Leng and Candelli bring him back to life on the lab table, but an accidental explosion knocks them unconscious. Coming to his senses, confused and disorientated, the dead man grabs Leng’s jacket, which happens to contain all his research notes, and goes for a little walk…
Despite the potential for an interesting mashup of spy thriller with other genres, it’s sad to report that it’s Bomba’s film that could really benefit from a quick shot of Leng’s reanimation juice. Hamstrung by far too many static, talky scenes, the film never gets out of first gear and just wanders around a bit with its tie askew, much like the resurrected Landi. It’s a shame too because the opening has promise. Colourful animated credits dance across the screen to Marcello De Martino’s swaggering brassy theme, which is the perfect curtain-raiser to shots of 1960’s sun-drenched locations. Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets, with events soon exposing the paper-thin qualities of the script by Arpad DeRiso and Giovanni Scolaro.
What action there is comes with an underwhelming roadside dust-up between Damon and some faceless goons. Later on, something similar happens after our hero invites himself into the boudoir of the exotic Seyn to admire her lovely wallpaper and enjoy some amorous adventures on the couch. Oh, there is a very nice shot of the car falling down the mountainside at the beginning, so there is that. What Bomba doesn’t provide are any zombie hordes or robotic killers, just a sweaty, slightly bemused, middle-aged bloke walking about until he sits down in a cafe. The wandering dead, anyone?
What fills up most of the runtime is talk. There’s even a lengthy scene where Damon plays back the entirety of a hidden tape recording of Landi’s resurrection in the lab to the assembled suspects. This isn’t exactly new information for the audience because they witnessed the scene earlier in the picture. Casting Asian Seyn as a kind of half-hearted Dragon Lady is lazy stereotyping, and although Damon gives it his best shot, the baby-faced 32-year-old is burdened with an Elvis quiff and looks too young to be a hardened agent. Also, it’s interesting that Leng’s process apparently uses nuclear energy, given that his lab looks as sophisticated as the back room of an old radio repair shop. Even De Martino’s bright score throws in the towel pretty early on.
Director Bomba, credited here as Henry Bay, was a behind-the-scenes all-rounder who very occasionally appeared in front of the camera as well. Beginning his career in the early 1950s, he wore several hats on a limited number of projects over the next couple of decades: producer, production designer, writer and director, sometimes taking on more than one of these roles on the same film, sometimes not. As a director, his output was limited to half a dozen pictures, including loose sequel, ’Ticket To Die/Agente segreto 777 – Invito ad uccidere’ (1966), where Cortini graduated from spy boss to the role of Secret Agent 777. By far, his most notable film work was as one of the producers of the Orson Welles classic ‘The Trial/Le procès’ (1961), albeit uncredited. He performed the same role on the undistinguished international thriller ‘Last Train to Baalbeck/FBI operazione Baalbeck’ (1964), which starred Hollywood veteran George Sanders. He also worked on other film projects with actors Roger Moore, Lex Barker, Jean Marias and José Ferrer.
An exemplary exercise in treading water for 94 minutes.