Espionage In Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)‘Every time I drink Martinis, I want to be a mermaid.’

An elderly scientist has developed an effective countermeasure to a new deadly weapon possessed by both the United States and Russia. He agrees to pass to his secret to the Americans, but an enemy agent has infiltrated their organisation, and he is assassinated. However, this is a blunder by the Russians as the formula is in code. When a top American agent arrives, the race is on to find the key to the cypher…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is clean-cut American Brett Halsey, making a beeline for the usual mid-1960s mash-up of girls, guns and a couple of low-budget gadgets. This Spanish-French and Italian co-production was directed by Federico Aicardi and Tulio Demichili, with the latter on script duties with five other writers, including infamous Eurotrash filmmaker Jess Franco.

Isn’t it always the way? Secret agent 077 George Farrell (Halsey) is just about to grapple with latest flame Irán Eory when the powers that be call on the telephone, asking him to save the world. Again. He puts the meet off until the next day, but his masters know him only too well; almost immediately there’s a knock on the door and, just an hour or so later, he’s on his way to Lisbon. His mission is to contact renegade scientist, Professor Von Kelster (Rafael Bardem), but the old boy is hiding out at a top-secret location (his estranged wife’s art studio!)

And no wonder the boffin is worried. He possesses the only means to nullify this unnamed secret weapon which transmits ‘electronic waves at a velocity more than the speed of light.’ The vibrations it creates can blind people too! Sounds nasty. Oh, and don’t worry, about how the Professor calculated his formula or how he found out about the weapon in the first place or anything else really, because the movie never bothers us with such irrelevant information.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘I’m sorry, ladies, but my dance card is already full.’

So Bardem has hidden his formula within the musical notations in two books with a 4-letter cypher key needed to decode them. It’s a wise move because the Ruskies have already infiltrated the US spy network, thanks to double-agent Robert Scott (Daniel Ceccaldi). Bardem’s contact has been killed and replaced by beautiful assassin, Olga (Jeanne Valérie). She finishes off the boffin with her purse gun when he realises that she’s an imposter because she can’t read music. Halsey arrives on the scene after the fact but picks up the cypher key, thanks to some invisible writing on a mirror.

A replacement for the American side arrives in the shape of dark beauty Marilù Tolo, but rather than reveal they are colleagues, Halsey proceeds to flirt with her in that charming 1960s way that borders on sexual harassment. She’s a rookie, chosen for this vital assignment because she can read music and go undercover as a singer in a local club. Didn’t the entire US spy network have someone with more experience who could read music as well? Given that the Russians had to use Valérie whose lack of ability in this area blew her cover and, ultimately, costs them the mission, it would seem that this skill is a rare commodity in the world of espionage. Perhaps most spies are just tone-deaf.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘Have you got the latest Van der Graaf Generator LP recording?’

Of course, it’s up to Halsey to obtain the secret with Tolo’s assistance. They bond after disposing of the body of a dead foreign agent from her hotel room, and he does eventually reveal they are working together. I’m not sure when exactly, and why he didn’t tell her in the first place, but I guess those revelations may have been cut from the print that I viewed, which does seem to have lost approximately seven minutes from its original running time at some point over the years since. Even so, the first significant action arrives just over an hour into the film. That’s way too late for an audience to wait in an enterprise such as this. Although for cult movies fans, there’s always the early glimpse of Erika Blanc, appearing here as ‘Girl in Bikini’ under her initial screen name of Erica Bianchi.

In terms of gadgets, we are restricted to some non-standard surveillance equipment. Halsey has an electronic bug hidden in a remote-controlled bluebottle (geddit?), but it’s deployed only briefly. It may have been intended to use it far more, but it’s so poorly realised that probably the filmmakers didn’t care to linger on such a shoddy example of the FX technician’s art. Elsewhere, there’s a mysterious man in a suit, who identifies only as ‘Skylark’, who watches proceedings via a TV in a suitcase while sitting in hotel lobbies and cafés. It’s one of those magic ‘see all’ movie TVs that doesn’t need a camera at the other end to transmit pictures, although he spends just as much time perving on scantily-dressed women in their hotel rooms as he does following the main action. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the climactic gun battle in a deserted monastery. It’s an excellent location and the drama is well-staged, but it’s taken a very long time to get to that point, and a good percentage of the audience may not have stayed the course.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘Are you looking at me, Daddio?’

Halsey had begun his screen career in small roles, sometimes uncredited, which included an appearance in Gill-Man sequel ‘Revenge of the Creature’ (1955). By the end of the decade, he’d worked his way up to be a featured supporting player in low-budget movies such as ‘The Cry-Baby Killer’ (1958) which marked the debut of a certain Jack Nicholson. Just a year later, the busy young actor took the lead in teen-drama ‘Speed Crazy’ (1959) and appeared with Vincent Price in the title role of ‘The Return of the Fly’ (1959). Bigger budgets meant smaller parts, so he turned his gaze to Europe and the lead in Italian-French swashbuckler ‘The Seventh Sword/Le sette spade del vendicator’ (1962). Many leading European roles followed, including appearing twice for horror maestro Mario Bava in two of the director’s lighter, more mainstream efforts: ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) and ‘Four Times That Night’ (1971). After that, he moved back to the United States where he became a regular face on network television right up to the mid-1990s, appearing on ‘The Bionic Woman’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘Knight Rider’, and several times on ‘Fantasy Island’ among many others.

A rather slow-moving Eurospy without the dynamism or outlandish flourishes that mark out the best of the genre.

A Ghentar si muore facile (1967)

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)‘Your face is hard even though you look like an idiot.’

A diver is smuggled into the small coastal republic of Ghentar by rebel forces. His mission? To find the wreckage of a crashed plane offshore. Unfortunately, his identity is already compromised and the country’s military dictator determines to either use his expertise or eliminate him entirely…

Rather generic action-adventure that borders on the Eurospy arena with actor George Hilton as this week’s kind of ‘Bond On A Budget’, although he’s going to be getting familiar with far more guns than girls or gadgets. It’s an Italian-Spanish co-production, partially filmed in Morocco, and directed by León Klimovsky.

Soldier of fortune Richard ‘Teddy’ Jason (Hilton) always has his eye on the main chance and a lucrative gig working for anti-government forces in the banana republic of Ghentar looks like an easy touch. Unfortunately, the rebels haven’t been good at keeping his mission under wraps, and his arrival is met by the troops of the police chief, Inspector Sirdar (Luis Marin). Some decent action and fight choreography follow, and Hilton makes it to the shore, along with roguish fisherman Botul (Venancio Muro) who appoints himself as Hilton’s comedy sidekick.

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)

The location catering left a lot to be desired.

His first contact is at a local bar, run by dark-eyed Maria (Marta Padovan), who is his link to the semi-mythical rebel chief. Diving for the plane wreckage and the secret documents on board turns out to be relatively easy in comparison with all this palaver, especially when the papers turn out to be a box of fabulous diamonds instead. Villainous despot General Lorme (Alfonso Rojas) has his eyes on the gems too, of course, and when Hilton is captured, he’s turned over to right-hand man, Kim (Ennio Girolami) for interrogation. This involves a spot of torture and incarceration at a prison/work farm in the desert.

Although the film has been nothing special up to this point, it’s here where things come to a screeching halt. Obviously, Hilton organises a breakout, but the escapees end up wandering in the desert before Hilton finds himself once again in the clutches of Girolami. This all takes far too long and, despite some moments of half-decent action, it kills the pace stone dead. Things pick up again in the last 20 minutes as we work our way towards the climax, but there is an element of too little, too late, although the film is certainly professionally crafted and delivered. Hilton brings an easygoing, likeable presence while also convincing when he’s called upon to do the physical stuff. His partnership with Muro is probably the film’s most substantial element, in terms of character development, and more screen time spent with the two of them would probably have helped.

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)

‘Heigh-ho, heigh-ho!’

There’s almost a TV feel to proceedings at times as if this was an extended episode of 1960’s spy shows such as ‘Man In A Suitcase’, ‘The Saint’ or ‘Danger Man’. There’s the inevitable underwater spear gunfight, a la ‘Thunderball’ (1965), a decent pace in the first half and an emphasis on action rather than plot. Because Hilton is not actually a spy, he has no gadgets and the romance you expect him to enjoy with Padovan never happens; indeed, considering her high billing, she’s barely in the film.

Hilton was born Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara in Uruguay to British parents but eventually became an Italian citizen. Appearing principally in Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, his leading man status took him into the Giallo arena in the 1970s. He appeared in many notable examples of these horror thrillers, including ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1970), ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ (1971), ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), ‘All the Colours of the Dark’ (1972), ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972), and ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975)’ among several others. His career became more sporadic afterwards, although he carried on working until not long before his death in 2019, and appeared in the borderline deranged ‘guilty pleasure’ ‘The Atlantis Interceptors’ (1983).

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)

‘I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Leone.’

Klimovsky’s filmmaking career began in the late 1940s and mostly centred on adventure films and swashbucklers before he became noted for Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s. A gig with Euro-Horror star Paul Naschy on ‘The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman/La noche de Walpurgis’ (1971) took him in a new direction, and he collaborated with the actor on several further projects. By the time of his retirement at the end of the 1970s, he was working almost exclusively in the horror arena. Other films included ‘The Vampire’s Night Orgy’ (1972), ‘La saga de los Drácula’ (1973), ‘Night of the Walking Dead’ (1975) and ‘The People Who Own The Dark’ (1976).

After quite a bright opening, this action flick begins to drag, and despite good work from star Hilton, ultimately becomes a slightly tedious experience.

Agent 3S3: Passport To Hell (1965)

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)‘I have a grandmother who tears my friends’ limb from limb if they’re not descended from the Crusaders.’

Both the espionage establishment of the United States and their equivalents in the Eastern Bloc are concerned by the rise of a private spy organisation, led by a shadowy figure known only as Mr A. The Americans assign one of their top agents to infiltrate the group. His first step is to get to know the beautiful daughter of an ex-agent who is suspected to be involved…

The name’s Ross. Walter Ross. This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ grappling with girls, gadgets and guns in the exotic capitals of the world is Italian actor George Ardisson. His first point of call is Vienna, and his first job is to beat up some cheap thugs in a seedy bar. This muscular display brings him to the notice of bored little rich girl, Jasmine (Barbara Simons, known to her folks as Bruna Simionato), whose father happens to be Henry Dvorak, missing spy and our prime suspect.

A further not-so chance encounter a local casino gives him another opportunity to display his suavity and Simons agrees to a rendezvous at her artist’s studio. She doesn’t bother giving him the address, but that’s the least of his worries as enemy bigwig The Professor (Georges Rivière) already has him spotted. His agents contact Jasmine, convince her that Ardisson is after her father and their tryst becomes a trap. Our hero is on his game, though, and these minions are no match for his Bruce Lee moves. Via the important spy technique of lying his ass off, he also convinces Simons to head for Beirut together and locate her father.

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)

‘Here, let me get you a drink!’

This is a fairly standard Eurospy of the mid-1960s with more of a Cold War vibe than usual. Arddison’s range of gadgets is limited to a brooch and sunglasses combo that works as a bug, and a piece of paper that he waves over a drink to see if it’s poisoned or not. All the tech the villains have at their disposal are some sliding panels and close circuit TV, although Dragon Lady Jacky Vein (Seyna Seyn) does have this little gold box that fires poison darts.

Ardisson makes for a decent leading man, with more charisma than many other 007-wannabees, confirming his ‘Bond’ credentials by bedding a housewife who has sheltered him from Rivière’s thugs. He really should be getting on with the mission at this point as the clock is ticking, and the villains are still waiting for him outside when he’s finished, but a sixties secret agent’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, I suppose. Luckily, the bad guys have forgotten to bring their guns, so it doesn’t prove to be a serious problem.

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)

‘Sunbathing on company time again?’

Unfortunately, matters start to drag a lot towards the climax, and the absence of any significant stunt work and action does not help. There is a sequence where two large trucks try to turn our ‘young and muscular’ hero into a Volkswagon sandwich on a deserted country road, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Director Simon Stirling (Sergio Solima) doesn’t give the proceedings any dynamism and style, and the results are firmly flat and pretty anonymous.

Ardisson had a long career in cinema and often filled action roles, such films as ‘Morgan, the Pirate’ (1960), ‘Zorro At The Spanish Court’ (1962) and ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965). He worked twice with legendary director Mario Bava, taking second leads in Viking adventure ‘Erik The Conquerer’ (1961) and as Reg Park’s sidekick in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). There were also further outings in the espionage arena with ‘Operation Counterspy’ (1965) and a return as Walter Ross in ‘Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun’ (1966), again for director Solima. Other roles included Westerns, Giallo films, horror and a science fiction’ close encounter’ with ‘The Eyes Behind The Stars’ (1978).

Agent 3S3- Passport To Hell (1965)

‘Are you going to introduce me as your wife or your daughter?’

Rivière was a Frenchman whose film career began in 1948 and featured an early appearance in ‘El Vampiro Negro’ (1953) which was a remake of the Fritz Lang’s classic ‘M’ (1931). Credits in science fiction pictures like ‘Mistress of the World’ (1960) and ‘Journey Beneath the Desert’ (1961) followed by horrors such as ‘Castle of Blood’ (1964) with Barbara Steele. Seyn didn’t make too many films but worked extensively in the Eurospy genre, taking roles in ‘Oh! Those Most Secret Agents’ (1964), ‘Agente segreto 777 – Operazione Mistero’ (1965), ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’ (1966), ‘The Big Blackout’ (1966) and ‘OSS 117 Murder for Sale’ (1968).

A tolerable spy game that passes the time but lacks the more outlandish aspects that can make the genre enjoyable.

Operation Apocalypse/Missione Apocalisse (1966)

Operation Apocalypse:Missione Apocalisse (1966)‘Radar section, call agent 087 via satellite, gamma 14 frequency.’

An-ex secret agent working in Hong Kong is reactivated to take on a highly secret mission. A mysterious criminal organisation has perfected a missile that can’t be intercepted and have threatened to launch it at a major city unless their demands are met. Nothing is known about them and time is running out…

Tame and anonymous Spanish-Italian Eurospy antics from writer/director Guido Malatesta, billed here as James Reed. This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Arthur Hansel, running all over the world courtesy of old library stock footage and tangling with the usual tepid mixture of guns, girls and gadgets. As per usual in low-budget projects like this, there’s far more of the first two elements than the last, although Hansel does get a wristwatch that contains radar, a deadly ski-pole and cufflinks that secrete acid (convenient when you’re strapped to a missile!)

Ex-covert operative Larry Fitzgerald (Hansel) is working as a translator in Hong Kong when old boss Chief-Z (George Rigaud) gives him a new mission. Atomic scientists have been going missing (as atomic scientists often do) and a mysterious organisation is blackmailing world governments with a brand-new missile. One of the missing boffins is the brains behind the new weapon, working on the instructions of seemingly harmless international playboy Mr Axel (Eduardo Fajardo). Hansel gets on to him pretty quickly through a clue which is just lying around but has somehow eluded everyone else, and eventually teams up with the bad guy’s Girl Friday, Dorine (Pamela Tudor) to take him down.

Operation Apocalypse:Missione Apocalisse (1966)

The Stills Photographer had taken the day off…

This is one of the most faithful copies of the Bond template. Hansel does so much womanising it’s hard to believe that he has the energy for anything else, and he even drinks martinis! He’s handy hand to hand combat too, easily dealing with Fajaro’s minions who favour the time-honoured tradition of attacking him one at a time. One fight scene is speeded up so much that it actually looks as if the film has gone wrong!

Sadly, there’s little else of interest in the final film. Dull incident follows dull incident with little to stick in the memory a few minutes later. There are a couple of moments worth noting, however, if perhaps not for the right reasons. Hansel’s stopover in Hawaii is brilliantly conveyed by having the actor and a female member of the cast sit on some sand in front of a rear projection showing stock footage of a beach. A professional bad guy who tosses our hero’s hotel room manages to miss a false bottom that conceals a two-way radio (with aerials) which is as big as the suitcase it’s hidden inside. Also when he gets captured later on, the bad guys fail to notice the bomb he has hidden in a cigarette packet! Like many a supervillain has learnt to his cost: you just can’t get the staff.

Operation Apocalypse:Missione Apocalisse (1966)Writer-director Malatesta also delivered some peplum films that featured the character of legendary strongman Maciste that were not even prominent enough to be released in America under the ‘Hercules’ banner. Another project was ‘Poppea’s Hot Nights’ (1969), starring husband and wife team Brad Harris and Olga Schoberová. She was better known as Olinka Berova and she was great in Czech science-fiction comedy ‘Who Wants to Kill Jessie?’ (1966) but not so good in the title role of Hammer’s dreary ‘The Vengeance of She’ (1967).

This was Hansel’s first starring role after a bit in ‘Cast A Giant Shadow’ (1966) with Kirk Douglas, and he later played the hero in Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s striking ‘Dr Tarr’s Torture Dungeon’ (1973) and appeared in ‘Mary Mary Bloody Mary’ (1975) which featured John Carradine. Tudor was promoted from one of the supporting arm-candy roles in previous Eurospy bore ‘Man On The Spying Trapeze’ (1966). Two such credits proved an impossible hurdle to overcome and she stepped out of the limelight in 1971, although she later did an uncredited bit in Bud Spencer action comedy a few years later.

Not quite the bottom of the Eurospy barrel, but pretty close.

Oh! Those Most Secret Agents/002 agenti segretissimi (1964)

Oh! Those Most Secret Agents:002 agenti segretissimi (1964)‘You think about women too much. I should have your sexual valves checked.’

An American Intelligence organisation give two stupid burglars a fake secret formula so they can draw agents Russians away from the true couriers. A series of comic mishaps and misunderstandings lead to the thieves evading capture, which turns out to be a good thing as they have accidentally been given the real formula…

Franco and Ciccio were a very popular Italian comedy double act, whose screen career lasted from the 1950s to the 1980s, with the duo being particularly popular in the decades in between. Here they bring their juvenile clowning to the secret agent spoof with a predictable assortment of hi-jinks, physical gags and cases of mistaken identity.

Bumbling housebreakers Franco and Ciccio plan to rob a mansion after a column in the local newspaper suggests it will be unoccupied and filled with goodies. However, it turns out to be a trap arranged by American spymaster Fred (Luca Sportelli) and his talking supercomputer Armando. The duo are rendered unconscious, secret microfilm is inserted into one of the fillings in Franco’s teeth, and the two are dispatched to the French Riviera to lead the dirty Commies astray. Rosa Klebb knock-off Carla Calò leads the red contingent and, in another nod to ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963), one of the few gadgets on display are shoes accessorised with sharp cutting implements. What follows is a madcap series of misunderstandings, misadventures and lots and lots of running about.

Oh! Those Most Secret Agents:002 agenti segretissimi (1964)

‘If we look hard enough, maybe we’ll find one of Lewis and Martin’s old gags!’

This isn’t so much a developing story as a series of broad, comic skits almost randomly thrown together. After the initial set up of the first twenty minutes, it’s just Franco and Ciccio being chased around and foiling the various attempts to capture or kill them while being almost totally oblivious to everything that’s going on.

The best sequence involves a series of assassinations at a night club, facilitated by jackets being marked with chalk in what is a (quite probably) unintentional reflection of Peter Lorre’s identification in Fritz Lang’s ‘M’ (1931). There’s pretty much no plot to speak of, and no sense of escalation as the film staggers towards its underwhelming climax.

The most surprising aspect here is undoubtedly the presence of director Lucio Fulci, who also contributed to the screenplay. He’d only been making pictures for a few years at this point and had begun his filmmaking career almost exclusively with comedies and musicals. He’d already worked with Franco and Ciccio earlier on ‘Gil imbroglioni’ (1963) and ‘Two Escape From Sing Sing’ (1964) and was a long way from the cult horrors which brought him such notoriety during the explosion of the home video rental market in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among other titles, ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), ‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980) and ‘House By The Cemetery’ (1981) all gave the British Board of Film Classification many a sleepless night.

Oh! Those Most Secret Agents:002 agenti segretissimi (1964)

‘I said I wanted Plaice & Chips you idiot!’

Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia appeared in over 100 films together during their long career. Typically, Ciccio was the ‘straight man’ and Franco was the buffoon who spent most of his time pulling very silly faces. Their humour was broad, to say the least, and is most definitely an acquired taste.

Later on, the duo starred alongside Vincent Prince in Mario Bava’s ‘Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs’ (1966) which is almost universally regarded as the director’s worst film. In terms of a ‘Bond’ spoof, this is a weak cocktail indeed. There are very few gadgets, little action and no notable stunt work. Third-billed Ingrid Schoeller is the main girl on show, but her part is little more than a few scenes where she plays the wife of jealous Doctor Aroldo Tieri, who keeps finding her in vaguely suspicious situations with our hapless heroes. Eurospy babe Seyna Seyn also makes one of her many appearances in the genre. There’s also some vaguely racist business in a Chinese Restaurant where the menu seems to consist entirely of live worms and beetles.

At best, this is a harmless comedy if a little trying on the patience at times. There are barely enough jokes here for a half-hour sitcom, and those that we do get are weak, repetitive and not very funny.

Assassination In Rome/Il Segreto del Vestito Rosso (1965)

Assassination In Rome (1965)‘I am the biggest idiot in the whole world!’

An American newspaperman working in Rome becomes involved with an old flame who is visiting the city when her husband vanishes without a trace. They team up to find him, and their investigations connect the disappearance with the recent discovery of a man found dead by the Trevi Fountain with a package of heroin in his coat pocket…

A stale and perfunctory crime thriller that was a co-production between studios in France, Spain and Italy. A familiar setup leads to a series of remorselessly dull, predictable developments bereft of any wit, creativity or invention. The final ten minutes provide what little interest there is, but it takes a very long time to get there, and co-writer and director Silvio Amadio seems to have little idea how to keep his audience on board for the ride.

It’s just another day at the office for square-jawed news editor Hugh O’Brian. Sure, last night’s date was interrupted by a diversion to the Trevi Fountain to visit with a John Doe and old friend Inspector Baudi (Alberto Closas), but it didn’t look like much of a story. Then he hears of the disappearance of a visiting American tourist and realises that the missing man’s wife is Shelley North (Cyd Charisse). Of course, she’s ‘the one that got away’ so he leaps on his milk-white steed and rides to the rescue! Closas throws his hat into the ring when he finds that the man at the fountain was murdered, and had absent hubby’s address in a little red book.

Assassination In Rome (1965)

‘I wonder what’s for lunch.’

O’Brian’s investigations lead him to a series of mysterious thugs, gangsters and men who sit behind newspapers in cafes. All the while he’s fending off the playful attentions of society columnist Erika (Eleonora Rossi Drago).

Then Closas encounters a pair of dimwitted comedy-relief burglars who have accidentally lifted the item that everyone is after and, of course, reporter and policeman team up in the way that only ever happens in movieland. In a particularly riveting scene, O’Brian and Charisse visit with her old family friend Philippe Lemaire, who may as well be wearing a sign around his neck that says ‘You can’t trust me. I am a big liar.’

For the most part, this is all painfully predictable and mundane, and the cast seems to have little enthusiasm for proceedings. Drago tries to lighten things up with a bubbly performance, but O’Brian is no better than solid, and Charisse seems barely awake most of the time. There is an interesting sequence where events take O’Brian backstage at the city’s legendary Cinecittà, founded in 1937 by Benito Mussolini! After the war, it became the largest film studio in Europe and the list of directors who have worked there over the decades is an outstanding ‘who’s who’ of the film world and includes Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, Federico Fellini, and many, many others. Sadly, it’s only a brief visit, but we do see a ‘sword and sandal’ picture being shot. The film’s only dramatic virtue is in its climax, which provides a twist that, while not entirely credible, is still reasonably surprising, although a little more justification for it afterwards would certainly have helped.

O’Brian was best known for his extensive work on US Network TV, mostly in Westerns. His film roles were not so frequent but he did appear in prominent supporting roles in the swangsongs of two cinema legends: John Wayne (‘The Shootist’ (1976)) and Bruce Lee (‘Game of Death’ (1978), although Lee died early in the production). Writer-Director Amadio is notable for two back-to-back Giallo thrillers he made later on: ‘Amuck!’ (1972) and ‘Smile Before Death’ (1972).

Assassination In Rome (1965)

‘Can I go home now?’

Charisse was a star of the ballet stage by the age of 14 and famously danced on screen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; the former in ‘Silk Stockings’ (1957) and ‘The Band Wagon’ (1953), and the latter in ‘Brigadoon’ (1954) and ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ (1952). Her career as a dramatic actress outside musicals never really took off but she usually displayed far more screen personality and acting chops than she is able to muster here. Perhaps she had simply lost her enthusiasm for the business; after all, she made less than a handful of further features after this and concentrated instead on making guest appearances on many Network TV shows.

The most interesting cast member here is actually lesser-known supporting actor Drago. In her mid-twenties. she co-starred opposite three-time Oscar-nominated Italian star Marcello Mastroianni in ‘Enticement’ (1952) and with Oscar-winning Hollywood refugee Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954). Later on in the decade and at the start of the 1960s, she worked with directors Julien Duvivier and Michelangelo Antonioni and starred opposite Orson Welles, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio Gassman, Jean Marias, and Jean-Louis Trintignant in a variety of projects. However, the size of her roles and the prestige of the pictures had begun to shrink by the time, she encountered ‘The Flying Saucer’ (1964) and her last two credits find her firmly down in the cast list in Massimo Dallamano’s somewhat notorious ‘Dorian Gray’ (1970) and as a housekeeper in Giallo thriller ‘In The Folds of the Flesh’ (1970).

I have seen this picture categorised as both a part of the Eurospy and of the Giallo genres. Although an argument can be made for its inclusion in either or even both, it’s not really worth taking the time or trouble to worry about it. This is simply a painfully dull crime thriller with a mildly interesting conclusion.

Peligro…! Mujeres en acción/Danger Girls (1969)

Peligro...! Mujeres en acción:Danger Girls (1969)‘A frogwoman is heading towards the mouth of the bay.’

A sinister criminal organisation are planning to blow up an oil refinery in Ecuador, plunging the country into chaos and disrupting the entire region. A special agent is sent to foil the scheme, but little does he know, the villains have put an even more diabolical plan in motion…

Julio Alemán returns as Alex Dinamo; this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ in a direct sequel to ‘SOS Conspiracion Bikini’ (1967). A Mexican ‘Eurospy’ picture? Well, yes, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Guns, girls and gadgets? Well, yes again, if you leave out the gadgets. More like Blondes, Bikinis and Bad Guys, really. But if that sounds a bit negative, at least the film does lives up to its English Language title, making a serious effort to show that the female of the species is at least as deadly as the male. 

The fight against the evil SOS organisation goes on! This time around they’re under the leadership of cold-hearted Solva (Elizabeth Campbell). Her major strategy seems to be sending frogmen to plant explosives at a major coastal oil installation in Latin America. In reality, however, she’s got something far more villainous in mind; releasing a deadly virus into the water supply of any country she chooses. The germ’s been engineered by her new pet scientist, who arrives at Miami Airport inside a coffin. Luckily, the free world has Servicio International to protect and save: an international espionage network on the side of the angels, featuring super spy Alemán and some rather attractive co-workers.

Peligro...! Mujeres en acción:Danger Girls (1969)

‘What have you done with my bikini?’

As you might imagine, this is pretty formulaic stuff; the ‘Bond; template had become a global phenomenon and inspired more super spy knock-offs than there were minions in jumpsuits waving prop guns around. Deviation from that was not to be considered. The first film in this short series had leaned more toward the comedic, mostly centring on Alemán’s eye for the ladies, but this sequel is played almost totally straight.

Alemán is no longer saddled with a jealous girlfriend, although he does seem close to colleague Alma Delia Fuentes (‘Island of The Dinosaurs’ (1967), ‘Blue Demon: Destructor of Spies’ (1968)). Are they in a relationship? It’s not really clear because writer-director René Cardona Jr doesn’t establish the identities of any of his characters beyond generic ‘good guy/bad guy’ labels. In fact, there are so many anonymous cast members running about knocking each other off that the killings have no dramatic impact whatsoever and often seem meaningless in terms of the plot. 

One of the film’s main problems is that it plays out over a running time that approaches two hours and, without big action scenes, stunts or a compelling storyline, it is hard for an audience to stay engaged. There’s also a suspicion that this may have been filmed as two TV episodes. The oil refinery thread is resolved around the halfway mark with a very protracted shootout on a beach. Both Alemán and Funetes are wounded in the exchanges but, of course, they aren’t badly hurt. If there’s one thing the movies have taught us, it’s that a bullet in the shoulder is a mere scratch, which can be easily overcome by wearing your arm in a sling for a couple of minutes. But it’s only after these scenes that the virus storyline begins in earnest, giving the film the definite feel of a game of two halves. 

Peligro...! Mujeres en acción:Danger Girls (1969)

‘Is it time for lunch yet? I’m getting cold.’

There is plenty of gunfire though, with quite the troop of young ladies running around the glamorous hot spots of San Juan, Guayaquil and Miami firing off automatic weapons without due care and attention. This might surprise an audience in a film this old, but Mexican cinema was never shy of letting the girls get their hands dirty. Witness the wonderful ‘Wrestling Women’ of the early 1960s (one of whom was played by Campbell) and their tussles with gangsters, mad scientists and the ancient Aztec undead.

But, before you start applauding the film’s feminist credentials it’s worth pointing out that few of the girls get any sort of character to play (let alone develop) and for the vast majority of the running time, they’re all dressed in bikinis. This includes agent Barbara Angely who runs about on a beach for simply ages trying to put on her scuba gear while being shot at from a low-flying aircraft. Rather typically, the sequence becomes yet another reminder for the necessity of training your minions properly. They can’t hit her despite multiple fly-bys and the obvious difficulties she has hauling the heavy equipment down to the sea. Of course, once she’s eventually beneath the waves, we get the obligatory slow-moving undersea battle featuring frogmen with spear guns and stock footage sharks. Did anyone really find the underwater sequences in ‘Thunderball’ (1965) that exciting?

There’s little creativity or invention in this ‘by-the-numbers’ Bond. After all, SOS stands for ‘Secret Organisational Service’. Still, you don’t see all that many movies where the most significant part of the budget was probably spent on swimwear. 

OSS 117 Takes A Vacation/OSS 117 Prend Des Vacances/ Hot Holidays for OSS-117 (1970)

OSS 117 Takes A Vacation (1970)‘What would you say to Tucurucutuba?’

Agent OSS 117 is sent on holiday by his superiors but finds himself confronted by assassins at every turn. After evading a number of murder attempts, he discovers that the killers have been hired by a sinister organisation who plan to destroy Cuba with aeroplanes full of insects…

The last in the five-film 1960s series about superspy Hubert de Bounnasour le Bath finds handsome Italian actor Luc Merenda as this week’s ‘Bond On A (vanishing) Budget. Rather than just the usual cocktail of guns, girls and gadgets Merenda finds himself mixing it with far more dangerous foes; a threadbare plot that still manages to achieve almost complete incoherence and the stylistic choices of first-time director Pierre Kalfon. André Hunebelle, the creative force behind the series (as producer and usually director) is notable by his complete absence from the project.

The film joins Merenda already on his hols, visiting his aunt (Edinge Feuillère) at her chateau in the rural French countryside. Almost immediately, a double turns up and tries to kill him. From there it’s off to Sao Paulo where there’s another attempt orchestrated by the sinister Santovesti (Sergio I Lingst). And then another. And another. Until we finally get a few exploding prefabs in a forest at the climax. By then, Merenda’s already hooked up (and abandoned) various lovelies, including Elsa Martinelli, Rossina Ghessa and Norma Bengell and participated in lots of poorly-choreographed fight scenes in near darkness.

OSS 117 Takes A Vacation (1970)Further discussion of the film isn’t possible without some serious consideration of director Kalfon’s unusual approach. The most jarring element of this is his determination to introduce forthcoming characters by inserting split-second headshots when they are referenced in an earlier dialogue scene involving our hero.

This strange practice extends to buildings and locations as well! A quick run-down of the business interests owned by dodgy millionaire Balestri (Jess Moragne) results in a blur of stock footage images so fast they should carry a warning to photo-sensitive epileptics. It’s a technique that could work if it was sparingly employed, but it becomes increasingly present throughout the film and quickly wears out its welcome.

We also get several conversations spoken over library stock footage; including aerial shots of beaches, city streets, war ships at sea, spiders and insects, and close ups of cast members that look suspiciously like photography or make up tests. Rather bafflingly, there’s also a text crawl up a blank blue screen about halfway through for no real reason at all! Of course, this breaks one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking; ’show, don’t tell’ and, rather brilliantly tells us precious little we need to know anyway! Although, to be fair, this device could have been employed more often to explain what’s supposed to be going on!

OSS 117 Takes A Vacation (1970)

‘Hands up or the hairpiece gets it!’

Defenders of the film have apparently likened it to the French ‘New Wave’ cinema of the time, but I think the explanation is likely to be far more mundane. This looks very much like a production that simply ran out of money and was never properly finished, the end result being cobbled together from what they’d managed to shoot.

In those circumstances, some of what we see becomes only too understandable. Characters assume a momentary importance before disappearing from the narrative completely, some fight scenes look badly in need of a reshoot and the plot (such as it is) only arrives in one exposition dump near the end with no foreshadowing. Mention has been made that it’s supposed to be a spoof, and there are a few moments where that seems likely, but there’s no real sense of a definite comic approach. Obviously, that was successfully delivered in the far more recent iteration of the character, when he was played by Jean Dujardin in the late 2000s.

Merenda brings an impressive physique to the role, but has little of the charisma of predecessors Kenivin Mathews, Frederick Stafford and John Gavin. The acting plaudits mostly belong to veteran theatrical star Feuillère and Geneviève Grad, who gives a playful performance as Morgane’s bored mistress. Bengell also starred as one of the doomed spaceship crew in Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965).

Kalfon went onto make a handful of other films, but they don’t appear to have been released outside France, and this one took many years to reach foreign shores, only appearing on television.

An ignominious end to a Eurospy series that was never high on creativity, but was always pretty slick and professionally presented. The exact opposite of the qualities we are offered here.

OSS 117 Murder For Sale/Pas De Roses Pour OSS 117 (1968)

OSS 117 Murder For Sale (1968)‘What a shame. Mickey Mouse will never eat his cheese.’

Important political figures are being assassinated and the secret service in Washington believes that it’s the work of an organisation for hire. Their top agent undergoes surgery, so that he can take the place of the world’s most wanted killer in the hope that he will be recruited to their ranks…

André Hunebelle was the French filmmaker behind the 1960’s revival of the secret agent created by novelist Jean Bruce. There were half a dozen films in total and he directed most of them, although this time with the help of Renzo Cerrato and Jean-Pierre Desagnot. This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor John Gavin, taking over from Frederick Stafford who we last saw wrapping up an operation in Tokyo. Gavin also tangles with the usual formula of guns, girls and gadgets, but in varying proportions.

The film opens with one of its few action set pieces; a gunfight in the street with Gavin in his role as the escaping ‘Killer Chandler’; shooting a few cops before making his getaway. It’s all staged, of course; getting him valuable column inches in the global press and piquing the interest of the sinister Major (Curt Jurgens) who’s behind this new incarnation of Murder Incorporated. Gavin is duly kidnapped and assigned the job of rubbing out a middle-east peace envoy who has brokered an unpopular truce between two warring desert tribes. To ensure Gavin carries out the task, he is injected with a poison that will kill him if he doesn’t receive two doses of the antidote to be administered on subsequent days by oily doctor Robert Hossein.

OSS 117 Murder For Sale (1968)

OSS 117 had a more personal examination in mind…

This is a decent enough set up and there are moments of creativity, but the finished product also betrays all the usual qualities of the other films in this series, both good and bad. Firstly, though, it’s well crafted. There’s a budget here and it shows; with a selection of fine locations, a solid cast and good production values.

The fight choreography is imaginative at times, with an early scene of a naked Gavin using various items to both cover his embarrassment and confound his enemies being a particularly clever and humorous highlight. There’s far more serious combat later on when he goes up against George Eastman in a the cramped doctor’s office and later on a roof of crumbling tiles. These are both well conceived and executed.

Unfortunately, that’s really as good as it gets. The only significant gadget is a large, metal ball that hangs from a helicopter and pumps knockout gas into the air. There are no big stunts, action scenes or gun battles. The film does score highly in another of the recognised departments of this type of movie, though: girls. But there’s a catch. When you assemble a top-flight trio of Euro-beauties like Rosalba Neri, Luciana Paluzzi and Margaret Lee, be sure to give them plenty of screen time and lots to do! Don’t waste Neri as a Spanish dancer who appears in one ‘morning after’ scene with Gavin and give her just a couple of lines. Don’t have Paluzzi appear in only about ten minutes of the film as a rather ‘hands on’ member of the villain’s medical establishment and then make her disappear without explanation. Lee does get much more of a look-in as the wide-eyed, thrill-seeking heroine and tries hard to give the role some weight; but it’s an underwritten character at best. Eurospy regular Seyna Seyn also has a minor role.

OSS 117 Murder For Sale (1968)

‘You can have the sports section when I’ve finished with it…’

Elsewhere there’s more evidence of a lack of due care and attention. Jurgens, who famously went up against genuine 007 Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who  Loved Me’ (1977), might have a real cool old mansion as his HQ instead of a giant submarine, but where are all his minions?

Sure, there’s Eastman as his right-hand man and Paluzzi, who wrestled so memorably with Sean Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965), but there’s no sense of a large-scale operation here at all, and therefore the stakes never seem all that high. Jurgens also has the ‘big lever that blows everything up’ in his office (the one so beloved of mad scientists everywhere) but it turns out to be a completely pointless plot device with no payoff.

Gavin was a capable actor, but almost a textbook case of someone who was never destined to become a Hollywood star. His handsome looks found him playing a number of bit parts in Rock Hudson vehicles at Universal in his early days, a couple of which were directed by Douglas Sirk. Gavin caught the well-known filmmaker’s eye and he cast him as the lead of war romance ‘A Time To Love and A Time To Die’ (1958) and opposite Lana Turner in ‘Imitation of Life’ (1959). Roles in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960) and Kubrick’s ‘Spartacus’ (1960) followed but, inevitably, his contributions were overshadowed by the leads in those big hits. The lack of a subsequent success found him appearing more on television and in a few supporting roles in features. The final nail in the coffin was Sean Connery’s last-minute change of heart about reprising his role as James Bond in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971). Gavin had already won the role and was contracted to play it. At least producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli honoured the arrangement and paid him in full.

Another entry in the OSS 117 series that’s professionally made but suffers from a sloppy, uninspired script that wastes a good cast.

OSS 117: Terror In Tokyo/Mission To Tokyo/Atout Coeur A Tokyo Pour OSS 117 (1966)

OSS 117 Terror In Tokyo (1966)‘Don’t take this as a complement, but you really are made to wear a battery’

A mysterious organisation is blackmailing the State Department with a new super weapon. After a military base is destroyed by this unknown method, Agent OSS 117 is despatched to the land of the midnight sun where our man in Tokyo believes he has a line on the villains responsible…

lt’s the second time around for Czech-born actor Frederick Stafford as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, otherwise known as Agent OSS 117. Here he swaps the capitals of continental Europe for the capital of Japan in this French-Italian co-production based on the novels of Jean Bruce. Regular director André Hunebelle stepped into the role of executive producer here and handed the megaphone to Michel Boisrond, but it makes little difference to the final product, which follows the usual ‘Bond On A Slightly Higher Budget Than Usual’ template.

Here, we find Staffiord dispatched to the Far East where it doesn’t take long to establish that the weak chain in the local department’s operation is Marina Vlady, who’s allegedly being blackmailed into passing secret information to an unknown enemy. Stafford doesn’t trust her, of course, but he still decides that the best strategy is to pose as her recently arrived American husband. Carnal relations are strictly off the table, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that’s going to last as long as the average New Year’s Resolution.

OSS 117 Terror In Tokyo (1966)

‘That’s the last time you give me a dirty fork.’

The dynamic between Stafford and Vlady is actually well-balanced, allowing for some wry humour that puts a little more heart into the spying business than usual. There’s also some inventive fight choreography and the best strangulation by telephone line since low budget noir classic ‘Detour’ (1945).

The creativity in the combat scenes come to a head when Stafford takes on a gigantic Sumo wrestler and the subsequent ‘cat and mouse’ action afterwards is also well- realised. Another plus is the high-quality cinematography by Marcel Grignon and an engaging supporting performance by the lively Jitsuko Yoshimura, who is best remembered for her role in the influential Japanese horror ‘Onibaba’ (1964).

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t veer very far from the series’ well-established formula and that brings with it some common weaknesses. The bigger budget does allow for some extra running time, but that does cause some pacing issues. Also the lack of a memorable villain for Stafford to go up against does not help matters. There’s a complete absence of gadgetry (apart from a radio receiver in some spectacles) and, although this makes for a more grounded thriller, it’s a little at odds with what modern day audience expect from this kind of thriller. Stafford does hold everything together with his quiet charisma, but there’s a sense that nothing is being pushed as far as it can go.

Surprisingly, the script was co-authored by Terence Young, who directed Bond’s first adventure ‘Dr. No’ (1962) and subsequent series entries ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963) and ‘Thunderball’ (1965). Other directorial credits include classic thriller ‘Wait Until Dark’ (1967) with Audrey Hepburn, a couple of Charles Bronson vehicles and ‘The Klansman’ (1974) with Lee Marvin and Richard Burton. Sadly, one of his final efforts was Korean War drama ‘lnchon’ (1981) which is widely regarded as one of the worst films of all time.

OSS 117 Terror In Tokyo (1966)

‘Good job I didn’t mention the dirty knife.’

Vlady was a star of French cinema, particularly in the 1960s, and had a major role as Kate Percy in Orson Welles’ ‘Chimes At Midnight’ (1965). Notwithstanding his strong performance over the two films where he played this role, Stafford was not a trained actor, having been spotted by series mastermind André Hunebelle at a social event! This lack of training probably didn’t help when he was cast as the lead in Hitchcock’s ‘Topaz’ (1969) and the failure of that film ended any Hollywood ambitions he may have harboured

Another entry in this efficient spy saga that looks good, is well-shot, presented and performed but never really catches fire.