Man On The Spying Trapeze/Anonima De Asesinos (1966)

Man On The Spying Trapeze (1966)‘Would you like to show me around the local monuments?’

Foreign agents will stop at nothing to obtain a microfilm that contains secrets from a rocket laboratory. An American spy is sent to Rome to retrieve it after one of his colleagues is murdered, but he soon discovers that a super-villain is at work and there may be a traitor back at Headquarters…

Painfully boring Italian-German-Spanish Eurospy production with U.S. actor Wayde Preston taking his turn as week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ on the trail of an all-important microfilm that ‘must not fall into the wrong hands.’ Unfortunately for the audience, his mission mostly involves wandering about the streets of Rome and Beirut, getting waylaid every now and then by one gang of faceless henchmen after another. The inevitable fisticuffs follow. Who are all these goons? Well, I kind of lost track if l’m honest. And it wasn’t really because of a labyrinthine plot rammed full of surprising twists and turns, either. It was more to do with the problem I was having staying awake.

At the start of the film, we join Preston already on the job in predictable super-spy fashion; lounging around in bed with a luscious brunette called Lolita. There’s a knock on the door. It’s the police. ‘How old are you?’ he asks the girl in a sudden panic. Oh dear. It’s not exactly the most auspicious introduction to our handsome hero, but it is awfully 1960s, ain’t it?! The early morning call actually turns out to be a summons from his boss (Reinhard Kolldehoff) to take the case. There’s been a botched robbery at the rocket lab down the road, and one of the enemy agents was found with a microfilm camera hidden in his false teeth. Enjoy this while you can, because it’s pretty much the only gadget the film has to offer!

Man On The Spying Trapeze (1966)

Blink-182: The Wilderness Years

Preston enjoys better luck on the female front, with his first contact in Rome being exotic dancer Yasmine (Pamela Tudor). Then he chats up sexy blonde Lyda (Lisa Halvorsen) on his flight to Beirut, although she does have a photograph of him in her handbag, which is a little suspicious considering they’ve only just met.

Back in Rome, there’s nosey hotel maid Fawzia (Kai Fischer) as well as the forgetful Solange (Helga Sommerfield), who really needs a lesson in how to behave in one of these films. You’re not supposed to leave your handbag in the hero’s hotel room, you’re supposed to be waiting in the shower for him, having ‘accidentally’ walked into the wrong room! All of them (unsurprisingly) turn out to be heavily involved in the intrigue on one side or the other. There’s also a man with a moustache hiding behind a magazine in the hotel lobby; his mission seemingly to leave no cliché unturned.

One of the few discussion points to arise from this dreary sequence of events is to reflect on Preston’s performance as an agent. Ok, so he’s good in a fist fight but why doesn’t he ever interrogate any of his defeated opponents afterwards? Why does he just leave them where they fall, presumably to take up their evil mission again? Why do most of the women he meets end up getting shot or pushed out of a window? Why does his boss have to screen a film to show him that he’s been followed on the street? Shouldn’t he have noticed that himself? It wasn’t exactly subtle! And why does he fail to finish off the main villain when he incapacitates him at the climax? He has plenty of opportunity to do so, but just doesn’t bother, and gets a bullet in the shoulder because of it! ln short, he’s so incompetent that it’s almost as if the film was originally written as a spoof!

Man On The Spying Trapeze (1966)

Recruitment to the X-Force had taken a turn for the worse…

If there were comedic intentions here, they were lost along the way, although the film certainly doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Strangely enough, the plot (such as it is) often resembles more of a straight cold war thriller than a ‘Bond’ knock-off, with the protagonists playing games of bluff and double bluff solely for the reason of hiding their true objectives.

Preston was briefly a U.S. TV star in the late 1950s. taking the title role of Christopher Colt in three seasons of the Western show ‘Colt .45’, a spinoff from his guest appearances on the more successful ‘Tenderfoot’. Sommerfield turned up opposite Margaret Lee in the similar ‘Spy Pit’ (1967) and Fischer tackled the ‘Maneater of Hydra’ (1967) along with a hilariously OTT Cameron Mitchell.

These are lifeless spy cuffuffles that never burst into any semblance of life. Some small entertainment value comes from the convoluted dialogue of the English dub track, but that’s not really a sufficient reason to waste 90 minutes of your life.

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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.

 

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.

Upperseven, L’uomo Da Uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces/Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)‘We’ve got to weave through those infra-red beams; they set off the machine guns.’

Special agent Paul Finney foils a gold smuggling operation masterminded by the criminal Kobras, but the supervillain escapes to fight another day. Suspecting that he is involved with a covert Chinese operation in Africa, Finney teams up with a beautiful CIA agent to take him down once and for all.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is smooth operator Paul Hubschmid, fronting a surprisingly well-mounted co-production from studios in Italy and Germany (where were the Spaniards on this one?) Codenamed Upperseven, he’s knee-deep in the usual cocktail of guns, girls and low-level gadgets as he tangles with blonde iceman Kobras (Nando Gazzolo) and his bad girl sidekick Vivi Bach. There’s the usual tour around glamorous cities; this time the itinerary taking in Copenhagen, London, Basel, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rome, and a surprisingly explosive climax at Gazzolo’s secret base in Africa.

After an opening shootout at a burning factory, we find Hubschmid in London, getting his next set of orders and spending quality time with the beautiful Rosalba Neri. However, the talented Italian actress is woefully underused, her part seemingly existing almost solely to establish Hubschmid’s credentials in the bedroom department. She does get her guitar out and give us a song, but it’s hard to judge her musical abilities, as she’s obviously been dubbed by another actress. From there, our virile star moves onto American agent Karin Dor, who’s in town on her way to supervise a big money transfer in Switzerland. Hubschmid is happy to concentrate his working hours on tracking some stolen diamonds, but inevitably the cases are connected and Gazzolo’s hand is behind it all.

The film’s main gimmick is our hero’s use of masks. He makes them himself in a backroom in his flat, and they are so life-like they look almost like other members of the cast with their heads poking through holes in the furniture. In fact, they are the perfect disguise, even when they’ve been crumpled up and hidden in one of his socks for a few hours! Considering such items were such a major part of the arsenal of Peter Graves and his ‘Mission: Impossible’ crew, it’s interesting to note that this film was released almost a year before that TV show first aired.

Let’s consider the good stuff first. The film has more of a budget than many of its kind. This allows for some pyrotechnics at either end of the movie, a hidden underground base for Gazzolo and a refreshing lack of endless ‘tourist board’ footage crammed in to boost the running time. It’s good to see Dor getting in on some of the physical action too. Ok, so she’s not Buffy, the Vampire Slayer but she’s in the driving seat during a car chase, finishes one bad guy with a sharp knife throw and, briefly, handles herself well in a fight. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but it makes her more convincing as an agent than many of her female contemporaries.

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

🎵And you could have it all…My empire of dirt…🎶

Unfortunately, there a few negative aspects on show as well. To begin with, the plot is muddled and lacks focus, often feeling like a few second-hand ideas thrown roughly together. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and action, but it’s all a little undenuhelming and writer-director Alberto De Martino fails to endow proceedings with any real excitement or dynamism.

Although professional enough, none of the cast members invest their roles with any real energy or approach the creation of even a mildly compelling character. It’s simply hard for the audience to care about anything that happens to them. Hubschmid began acting in his native Germany in the late 1930s, and actually appeared in films sanctioned by the Nazi regime during World War Two. It may have been that which prompted him to try his luck in Hollywood in the late 1940s, although he maintained a screen presence in his homeland too. Stateside, he was renamed Paul Christian, and enjoyed a brief career as a leading man, appearing opposite Maureen O’Hara in ‘Bagdad’ (1949), in director Don Siegel’s ‘No Time For Flowers’ (1952), and as the heroic scientist in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953).

Dor met Bond for real in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), but her career stalled after appearing in the Hitchcock flop ‘Topaz’ (1969) and with Paul Naschy in monster train-wreck ‘Assignment Terror/Dracula Versus Frankenstein’ (1970). After a brief flirtation with television, she became a respected stage actress; still working almost up to her death in early 2017. Bach graduated to playing a Eurospy heroine in ‘Electra One’ (1967), and Neri went onto cult cinema greatness in a number of signature roles.

De Martino was a journeyman filmmaker at best, whose output slavishly followed popular trends. First, there were muscleman pictures in the early 1960s such as ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961) and ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963) before he jumped smartly onto the Spaghetti Western and Eurospy bandwagons. In the latter genre, he delivered ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) starring Sean’s brother Neil, and Ken Clark’s final outing as Agent 077 Dick Malloy in ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). His career M.O. carried on into the 1970s as he countered ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) with ‘L’anticristo’ (1974), ‘The Omen’ (1976) with ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and ‘Superman’ (1978) with ‘The Puma Man’ (1980), which remains one of the greatest bad movies ever made.

Curiously flat ‘Bond’ knock-off that’s better presented than most, but of little real interest.

Segretissimo/Top Secret (1967)

Segretissimo:Top Secret (1967)‘You swing too, don’t you?’

An ex-Nazi flying ace escapes a Russian prison camp and defects to the West. Doubts as to his real identity mean he is kept under observation, but he’s allowed access to his family’s estate. Once there, he retrieves some important documents and disappears. American agent John Sutton is tasked with tracking him down, but soon finds himself entangled in a complex conspiracy, involving more than one beautiful woman…

Ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott finds himself reprising his turn as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ only a couple of months after taking on the role for the first time in miserable time-waster ‘Danger! Death Ray’ (1967). This time, the spies’ tour takes in Casablanca, Rome and Naples as he wrestles with the usual low-budget mixture of guns, girls and gadgets (but without the gadgets). This is yet another Italian-Spanish co-production, which ticks all the usual boxes over a brisk 90 minutes. However, there is a difference. lt’s supposed to be a spoof. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not. The problem the film has is that it’s not any more outlandish than many other Eurospys of the time that were playing it (relatively) straight!

The story opens with our main villain (Antonio Gradoli) escaping from the barbed wire of the Red Army camp. Although it’s a perfectly reasonable sequence, it makes absolute no sense in terms of what follows and raises many questions that the film simply ignores. The jailbreak is certainly staged, at least to some extent, but if Gradoli is supposed to be a Russian agent then why is he planning to sell the secret documents to the highest bidder? And just who are all his confederates? They seem to be a large and well-organised criminal organisation. More importantly, what are the secret documents anyway? There are a lot of them in big boxes but we never find out! All this is probably part of the joke, of course, but, despite a couple of obvious gags and some wacky noises on the soundtrack, the film often seems to be no more a comedy than many other examples of the genre.

Segretissimo:Top Secret (1967)

‘So whatever did happen to Jane?’

However, on the bright side, Scott is a personable hero and shares an easy chemistry with leading lady Magda Konopka, which makes you wish their romantic banter had been sharpened and more heavily featured. She’s more than just the usual eye-candy as well, and there’s an inventive sequence where the two search each others’ hotel rooms at the same time. She can also put on a jacket while making a U-Turn in a truck on a busy highway. A very specific skill, but quite impressive!

Elsewhere, there seems to be a rather odd in-joke about smoking. Characters frequently start to light up before throwing their cigarette away when something happens. It’s so frequent an event that it’s obviously deliberate, but the significance of it is rather baffling! The more obvious gags see Konopoka stealing a truck from a service station with a tiger in the back (referencing an old Esso advertising slogan) and Scott interrupting a film crew shooting a movie called ‘Agent Secret 0077′.

Director Fernando Cerchio had a long career in cinema, working on comedies with veteran Italian star Toto, Westerns, Peplum (including ‘Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile’ (1961) with Vincent Price) and ‘ll Marchio Di Kriminal’ (1968). Konopka appeared as comic book villainess ‘Satanik’ (1968), had a supporting role in Hammer’s ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ (1970) and did some guest slots in UK TV in shows like ‘Department S’ and ‘The Persuaders!’ This turned out to be Scott’s last film, although the reasons for his retirement are unrecorded. He lived on until 2007 when he died of heart issues at the age of 82.

A cut above the usual Eurospy shenanigans. Not assisted by the predictably poor English dubbing, but a little more fun than most of its kind.

Target For Killing/Das Geheimnis der gelben Mönche (1966)

Target For Killing (1966)‘Our secret agents in Pakistan and Vietnam communicate regularly by telepathy.’

A veteran special agent is assigned to protect a young girl who has been marked for death by a mysterious criminal organisation who work in secret from a monastery. He soon discovers that their leader is using ESP and a revolutionary brainwashing technique to further his mad ambitions…

Fast-paced Austrian/German/Italian Eurospy that features ex-Hollywood matinee idol Stewart Granger as this week’s rather silver-haired ‘Bond On A Budget.‘ Granger had some previous experience in these kind of shenanigans as the lead of ‘Red Dragon’ (1965) which often gets bundled in with this genre, although it was more of a crime thriller really. In fact, despite a new name, he is supposed to be playing the same character, as his exploits in the previous film are referenced by local Police Commissioner Rupert Davies.

The story opens mid-flight with ‘marked woman’ Karin Dor being chatted up by our handsome hero. He seems to be making progress, but can’t help noticing the flight crew heading for the back of the plane and, a few seconds later, their parachutes deploying below. How they managed to leave without compromising cabin pressure is a bit of a mystery, but we’ll let it pass. Luckily, Granger was a pilot in the war about twenty years earlier, so he’s able to land the plane with only a slight wobble. The control tower doesn’t even need to talk him down! Now, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here, but all someone without specific training will achieve in those circumstances is to pile up on the runway (if they’re lucky enough to make it that far). Yes, I know screen personalities as diverse as Doris Day in ‘Julie’ (1955), Karen Black in ‘Airport ’75’ (1974), David McCallum as TV’s ‘The Invisible Man’ and Lou Ferrigno as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ have all accomplished the feat without breaking too much of a sweat, but it’s simply not possible. You may as well expect to manage re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere after attending an open day at Cape Canaveral.

So some serious suspension of disbelief is essential here, and the script often does little to help the audience in that regard. There some silly business about Granger being scared of Davies’ pet snake (which he keeps in his office!) and super villain Curt Jurgens has a stable of scantily-clad babes draped all over the furniture at his HQ just because he likes the way they look. Associate Dr Yang (Luis Induni) can read people’s thoughts and turn them into mindless zombies. Although they do have to receive electric shocks and stare into an aquarium at the same time! There’s also a scene where Jurgens’ chief Lieutenant Scilla Gabel shoots off multiple rounds with her machine gun, then ‘blows it out’ and rubs the barrel of the weapon against her cheek. Now, we know her character gets turned on by pain, but burning your face off with hot metal might seem to be taking things a little too far! As it happens, it seems to have no effect on her at all. She must have thick skin, I guess.

Target For Killing (1966)

‘What do you mean I’m too old for this shit?’

The production also looks a little tatty here and there, but all these shortcomings can be forgiven when you consider the wonderful casting. For a start there’s Granger, still oozing Hollywood charisma in his 50s and fully committed in the surprisingly violent fight scenes. Dor went onto to tangle with the real thing in the shape of Sean Connery in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967) and Jurgens crossed swords with Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977).

Not enough for you? Minor villain and eventual rat fodder Adolfo Celi came out on the wrong end of another encounter with Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965) and the lovely Molly Peters was 007’s personal masseuse in the same movie! On top of all the Bond connections, we get Klaus Kinski as a conflicted trigger man, Davies who was TV’s ‘Maigret’ and Erika Remberg who appeared with Moore on the small screen in ‘The Saint‘. Director Manfred R Köhler was also responsible for an earlier example of the genre: ‘Agent 505 – Death Trap Beirut’ (1965) with Frederick Stafford.

Curiously enough though, with the notable exception of Granger, the most memorable performance here is from Gabel. Her only major credits are an appearance in Joseph Losey’s misfiring ‘007’ satire, ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966) and opposite Gordon Scott in ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959) (which featured support from a pre-stardom Sean Connery!) Here, she oozes a playful, dangerous sexuality in various tight fitting outfits, leaving little doubt about her character’s preferences and motivation. While Jurgen plots, she’s  always in the background, usually stroking some inanimate object or other in a suggestive way! Although, rather brilliantly, in one scene she’s just doing her knitting!

This is quite an entertaining Eurospy if you forgive the slightly uncertain tone; the film never really deciding how serious – or silly – it wants to be. Yes, there’s a bit of an age gap between our romantic leads, but who could blame a young woman like Dor getting her head turned by the handsome Granger? After all, he’s just so damn suave and capable! If ‘Bond’ had come along a decade earlier, he would have been on the shortlist for the role. No question about it.

Good fun if you’re not too demanding.

James Tont – Operazione D.U.O. (1966)

James Tont - Operazione D.U.O. (1966)‘We in the intelligence service always keep some tungsten dentures handy.’

James Tont survives three attempts on his life while giving a speech at the world’s first convention of secret agents, but is tripped on the stairs by a little girl. Recuperating from his injuries at a private clinic, he competes with a mysterious tycoon for the affections of a beautiful nurse, but their struggle is to take on global consequences…

We’re back in the company of Lando Buzzanca again as the Italian comic actor runs around the glamorous capitals of Europe as this week’s ‘Tont On A Budget.’ This is a sequel to domestic hit ‘James Tont – Operazione U.N.O.’ (1965) and opens with our smarmy hero at the espionage conference, encountering Mata Hari’s duplicitous elderly sister and various other shady types. Apparently, he’s the keynote speaker and delivers a robust defence of the technological advances in spy craft which are threatening to leave the more old-fashioned agents behind. That’s potentially quite an interesting story idea, but this certainly isn’t the film to explore it.

Instead, Buzzanca fetches up at a private clinic in Geneva where his broken leg seems to heal instantly, thanks to the bedside manner of Nurse Clarissa (Claudia Lange). Unfortunately, he has a rival in elderly billionaire Magnus Spring (Loris Gizzi, playing a different role from super villain ’Goldsinger’ in the first movie). Part of Tont’s treatment includes a bath in radioactive water(!), but it’s the temperature that kills him when someone messes with the dials on the control panel. His demise prompts world-wide headlines and a televised funeral, which rather proves that he wasn’t much of a ‘secret’ agent, after all.

James Tont - Operazione D.U.O. (1966)

Tont always remembered to put the seat down…

In a shocking twist, our hero is not dead! It was just a ruse to fool the mysterious super villain (now who could that be?) Apparently, he’s recruited a gang of ruthless Beatniks to swipe various nuclear gewgaws for some reason or other, so Buzzanca puts on a stupid hairpiece, gets hip and goes undercover as cool cat Bingo Kowlaski.

At groovy hangout ‘The Blue Dolphin’, he performs a far out song about how much he hates the sky, and this gives him enough kudos to be invited into the criminal gang! He also links up with beautiful, but sadly misguided, Helene (France Anglade). From there, it’s a simple matter of being reduced to the size of a sheet of paper, getting smuggled into Cape Kennedy as dehydrated food, stealing a rocket from the launch pad and trying to foil a plot to send the dome of St Peter’s in Rome into space and steal the Vatican’s treasure.

If all these madcap antics and wild story ideas sound quite appealing, then it’s truly a staggering achievement to the filmmakers abilities that the film drags so much. Sure, there’s a submersible disguised as a giant turtle, Buzzanca makes it into space more than a decade before that other fellow in ‘Moonraker’ (1979) and Gizzi wiles away the time playing a board game based on the exploits of another, certain secret agent (he loses!) But the jokes are forced and predictable, the action half-baked and Buzzanca doesn’t have the necessary charm to put things across.

Bruno Corbucci was in the director’s chair on his own for this effort, and at least it seems there was a little budget available this time. The production made it to London at least, although there’s a suspicion of some ‘guerrilla filming’ going on with some of the ‘tourist board’ crowd scenes. But the most remarkable fact connected with the film is that 8 writers worked on it! Perhaps this goes some way to explain all the different story elements, but does prompt a much more fundamental question. Couldn’t any of them have come up with some decent jokes?

James Tont did not return for any further adventures.