OSS 117: Mission For A Killer/Furia A Bahia Pour OSS 117 (1965)

OSS 117 Mission For A Killer (1965)‘You may trust him implicitly; he’s only killed 20 people.’

South America is hit by a series of high profile assassinations, carried out by innocent members of the public under the influence of a hypnotic drug. Agent OSS 117 is sent to Rio to investigate, but his local contact is killed, and he’s soon involved with several beautiful women, whose loyalties are all suspect…

Third in the French Eurospy series based on the long-running novels by Jean Bruce, and again directed by André Hunebelle. This time around twinkly-eyed Kerwin Mathews has had his licence revoked and wannabee James Bond duties are in the hands of Czech-born actor Frederick Stafford. Crucially, he’s this week’s ‘Bond On A Far Higher Budget than Usual’ and this financial clout helps the film to achieve a level of technical quality and professionalism far in excess of the vast majority of the other exploits of the army of secret agents who invaded continental Europe in the wake of Sean Connery.

Here, Stafford even gets to travel out of Europe; to Rio no less, and the breath-taking scenery and beautiful locations are a definite plus, especially with cinematographer Marcel Grignon behind the lens. His choice of a muted colour pallet is very effective indeed, giving the whole enterprise a real touch of class. Furthermore, Hunebelle is able to add a real sense of scale to the proceedings with a climax involving plenty of extras, explosions and action, and this helps convey the importance of the issues at stake in the unfolding drama.

OSS 117 Mission For A Killer (1965)

‘If you look toward the front of the plane, the fire exits are located here and here…’

So, what’s the story? Well, in best movie tradition, super-agent Stafford is enjoying some pleasant R&R with appropriate companionship when he’s called back to the office by his boss to save the world. Again. This time a series of high-profile world leader types have gone to their maker, courtesy of succession of Johnnie Nobodies with no apparent political affiliations or connections with terrorist groups.

lt’s a three-pipe problem for sure, but Our Man ln Rio seems to have some idea about what’s going on. Unfortunately, by the time Stafford gets there, this guy’s in hospital after a mysterious car accident right next to the home of the gorgeous Mylene Demongeot (quite the compensation I’d say!) In fact, Hunebelle was so taken with her that he soon gave her the main female role in his ’Fantomas’ trilogy. But Stafford’s already up to his ears in beautiful women here, what with raven-haired Consuela (Perrette Pardier) and blonde Consuela (Annie Anderson), who are both claiming to be the injured man’s private secretary.

Investigations lead Stafford to the jungle where a secret military organisation are planning the overthrow of Western Civilisation using a ‘mind control’ drug distilled by a native tribe who they have enslaved. Local landowner Raymond Pellegrin happens to be a friend of Demongeot and may as well be wearing an ‘I am a Supervillain’ t-shirt, but it actually turns out that he’s just a cog in the wheel of this mysterious group. The fact that he shows up pretty late in the film and that Stafford’s main antagonist is finally revealed to be an anonymous military officer really hurts the film and makes it tough for an audience to really invest in our hero’s struggle.

OSS 117 Mission For A Killer (1965)

‘Late night, was it?’

Aside from the larger scale, the film’s major asset is Stafford himself. Previous series incumbent Mathews may have been more traditionally handsome, but Stafford is more charismatic and far more convincing as an agent who will make the tough calls when required; far more of a Sean Connery type than a Roger Moore.

Ironically, Stafford had no previous experience as an actor at all; being offered the role after meeting Hunebelle at a party! Born Friedrich Strobel von Stein, he apparently took part in swimming and water polo events at the 1948 Olympics in London, although this remains unconfirmed. However, the scene where he rescues Demongeot and the two narrowly escape being washed over a waterfall looks very convincing indeed, so there may be some truth to it. After appearing in similar Eurospy project ‘Agent 505: Death Trap in Beirut’ (1966), he reprised his role as Agent OSS 117 once more, before being cast by Alfred Hitchcock as the lead in ‘Topaz’ (1969). Unfortunately, the film flopped hard and his own performance received negative reviews. His career never really recovered and he died in a plane crash in 1979 at the age of 51.

Most Eurospy films of the 1960’s were cheap copies of the 007 formula. Despite the lacklustre story, thanks to a bigger budget, all round professionalism and the engaging performances of Stafford and Demongeot, this is one of the better examples of the type.

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OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok/Shadow of Evil/Banco A Bangkok Pour OSS 117 (1964)

‘Mr Barton, despite your weapon and your smugness, you can do nothing against me.’

A series of plague outbreaks in Asia seem to be linked to the activities of a professor distributing vaccines. After an operative with a hot lead to the mystery is killed in Thailand, Agent OSS 117 is dispatched to Bangkok to take up the case…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Kerwin Mathews, reprising his role as Hubert Barton from ‘OSS 117 Se Duchaine’ (1963) and running around Bangkok for returning director André Hunebelle. Only this time he’s doing it in glorious Eastmancolor! And that’s a good thing because one of the film’s main attributes are its locations and setting; the old monastery at the climax being a particularly pleasing visual choice.

The film begins with the obligatory faceless agent getting gunned down by some faceless henchmen on a Bangkok street. It’s not exactly subtle and inevitably provokes the almost immediate arrival on the scene of our suave hero. Not a great move for our mysterious supervillain. Couldn’t he at least have tried to make it look like an accident? For a change, Mathew’s actually got some back up and he visits the local office to get the low down on the situation, where he meets cool blonde secretary Eva (Dominique Wilms). They run into each other again at an embassy reception, but he’s only got eyes for exotic Lila Sinn (Pier Angeli) whose brother (Robert Hossein) is a local doctor/guru and perhaps the most suspicious character in movie history.

His new manicurist had a fresh approach…

What follows are the usual Eurospy shenanigans as Mathews investigates; dodging bullets, punches and car bombs along the way (or his stunt double does, anyway). As usual, all he has to do is to a stare at a woman for her to come over all unnecessary (rather than consider him a creep), and his other skills include immediately hailing a cab with just a wave of his hand and getting a parking space right in front of any building he visits.

Gadgets are limited to some basic surveillance equipment, including a transmitter inside a book, and an interrogation room where he gets strapped up to some electronic gizmo. He’s also shadowed everywhere by a mysterious man in sunglasses who eventually takes a brief part in the action. Who is he? An ex-Nazi double agent, apparently. What he has to do with what’s going on? No idea.

On the credit side, our mysterious super villain does have a nice line in maniacal patter: ‘The world will end in the multiplication of being that the soil one day will no longer feed’. So there! He also has a secret underground lair, including a lab where white coated technicians inject rats with plague virus and various beakers and test tubes boil and bubble. Unfortunately, he does exhibit the usual cavalier attitude towards Health & Safety standards, and the whole thing is instantly transformed into an inferno by a couple of machine gun volleys delivered by Mathews toward the climax.

OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok (1964)

‘And I bet her short hand is just terrific…’

Given that a total of 8 writers worked on this, five with the adaptation and three on the script (including the director), it’s remarkable that the end result displays so little imagination and creativity. Perhaps it was a case of the ‘filmmaking by committee’ method so beloved by big Hollywood studios, which removes any individuality or interesting aspects from a project.

At 118 minutes, it’s far too long as well, and specific events often seem stretched out and slow. Apparently, there is a 92-minute cut, which, if edited so individual scenes are tightened (rather than removed entirely) may be a significantly more enjoyable experience.

Both Mathews and Angeli’s best days were already behind them; Mathews in the title roles of ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958) and ‘Jack The Giant Killer’ (1962), Angeli opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956). The pair reunited a few years later to fight the dreadfully awkward and crappy ‘Octaman’ (1971), the first creation of SFX and makeup guru Rick Baker. Sadly, it was Angeli’s last role; she was found dead from a barbiturate overdose at her home after the production was over. Mathews made a few more scattered appearances in the years following before retiring in 1977 and becoming a frequent guest on the convention circuit in later years. He died in 2007.

Not a bottom of the barrel spy adventure by any means, but one that requires more than a little patience from the audience.

OSS 117 Se Dechaine/OSS 117 ls Unleashed (1963)

OSS 117 Se Dechaine (1963)‘I don’t want to get involved in nutty escapades.’

An American secret agent is killed when diving off the South coast of France. His mission was to locate and prevent the deployment of a device which can track atomic submarines. After his death, the authorities send in agent OSS 117 to complete the assignment.

When James Bond became an instant movie phenomenon in 1962, it was inevitable that film producers around the world would look to ride his coattails (or cocktails, perhaps!) to the promised land of financial glory. Perhaps it was a little surprising that the French were first off the mark, but they had an advantage. Agent OSS 117 was already a well-established character with name recognition value, thanks to a series of 88(!) novels by Jean Bruce, the first of which was published four years before Ian Fleming debuted Bond. There’d also been a movie: ‘OSS 117 n’est pas mort’ (OSS 117 ls Not Dead) (1956), which starred Ivan Desny, an actor who was born in China, of Russian descent, and a Swiss national! The producers here also chose to ignore homegrown talent and cast U.S. actor Kerwin Mathews in the title role instead, a leading man best remembered for tangling with Ray Harryhausen’s menagerie of creatures in the title role of ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958).

The plot revolves around the usual ‘device that must not fall into the wrong hands’ and the threat it poses to the free world. For now, it’s only a prototype but, if it proves to be successful in pinpointing atomic subs, a network of the things submerged in caves around the world could have serious consequences. Agent Jacques Harden is already on the case as the story begins; scuba diving off the southern tip of Corsica with the help of local sailor Renotte (Henri-Jacques Huet) and his girlfriend Brigitta (Nadia Sanders). Unfortunately, he pokes his mask in where it doesn’t belong and ends up dead, and Huet is desperate not to get involved in Matthews’ subsequent investigation. Sanders is not so immune to our hero’s rugged charms, of course, but her loyalty to truth and justice is more than a little suspect as well.

On the whole, the film is slow and not particularly exciting. The action is limited to a few bouts of energetic fisticuffs and some underwater combat with spear guns. The aquatic sequences are well-shot and edited tightly so they don’t overstay their welcome, a lesson someone should probably have imparted to director Terence Young before he shot ‘Thunderball’ (1965) with Sean Connery. One significant weakness here are the villains. They are simply anonymous foreign agents, with the notable exception of the creepy Daniel Emilfork, who fans of cult cinema should recall from his performance as the mad scientist in Jeunet and Caro’s astonishing ‘The City of Lost Children’ (1985).

So how much does this film resemble one of Bond’s escapades? Well, quite a bit, so long as you bear in mind that we’re still a decade away from Roger Moore using crocodiles as stepping stones, and an even further distance from giants with metal teeth, space stations, invisible cars and surfing on CGI waves. Yes, this is a far more grounded espionage adventure, much in the manner of the first two acts of ‘Dr No’ (1962). In fact, it bares more than a slight resemblance to the 1960s TV show ‘Danger Man’ which starred Patrick McGoohan. Mathews does have more of an eye for the ladies than McGoohan though and this stretches to sexual harassment in the workplace, grabbing some quick tongue action from a car hire employee in an airport car park. Still, she doesn’t seem to mind too much, because…the Sixties, baby!

OSS 117 Su Dechaine (1963)

‘Tell me! What have you done with the Princess Parisa?’

Director Andre Hunébelle had more than a decade of experience in the canvas chair by the time he first got involved with the spy game, through this film and its sequel ‘OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok’ (1964) (again with Mathews). He shot two further entries in the series, one with Frederick Stafford, and one with John Gavin, and also delivered the ‘Fantomas’ trilogy, a series that shared more than a little DNA with the Eurospy genre.

Mathews was never the busiest of actors and after the OSS 117 sequel took a break for 3 years before shooting another spy adventure ‘The Viscount’ (1967) and then heading across the channel for tatty sci-fi action flick ‘Battle Beneath The Earth’ (1967). After that, he seems to have gone into semi-retirement with just over half a dozen pictures and some limited television appearances before he called it quits completely at the end of the 1970s.

Sanders was born in Miami and, although biographical information on her is a little scant, is seems fair to assume that she had some facility with languages. Her first film role was a small bit as ‘French Girl’ in the Three Stooges Sci-fi comedy ‘Have Rocket Will Travel’ (1959), but she swiftly relocated to Italy, where she had half a dozen second leads in ‘sword and sandal’ pictures and appeared in Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’ (1963). After this picture, she returned to the U.S. but her career never really took off and she retired in 1970 after some TV roles and a supporting part in Matt Helm ‘Bond’ spoof ‘Murderer’s Row’ (1966) with Dean Martin.

This is a mildly engaging spy picture with some slow spots, but a decent level of intrigue and action. Mathews breaks the fourth wall right at the end of the picture, presumably to confirm that we shouldn’t have been all of it very seriously and it’s an undemanding, if unexciting, way to spend 90 or so minutes.

Fuller Report/Rapporto Fuller Base Stoccolma (1968)

Fuller Report (1968)‘Maybe l do, and maybe I don’t. I don’t know what the hell’s happening.’

A racing car driver visits Stockholm on a promotional trip at the same time as a Russian ballerina arrives in the city to defect. Two secret agents die after exchanging a confidential report and, as the driver is found at the scene of the second murder, he is drawn into the web of deceit and lies spun by various international espionage agencies…

U.S. actor Ken Clark had already spent considerable time running around continental Europe as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ playing agent Dick Malloy in a trilogy of films, including ‘Agent Bloody Mary’ (1965) and ‘From The Orient With Fury’ (1965). He was following the trail blazed by ‘Hercules’ actor Steve Reeves; relocating to Italy for roles as a leading man after a distinctly underwhelming American career. It was a game plan followed by many at the time. But, although at first glance this seems like yet another ‘cookie cutter’ Eurospy project, you could argue that it doesn’t fit into that category at all.

Clark is Dick Worth: a hot shot, womanising Formula 1 driver who is cajoled into a Swedish working holiday by asthmatic team manager Jess Hahn. The excuse is that Hahn is looking for investors amongst Stockholm’s intelligentsia and Clark is duly dispatched to shake some hands at a theatrical premiere. But our handsome hero has other ideas. His own mission is to ‘get a Swedish girl’ and it seems his luck may be in when one gives him a fender bender in the car park. Unfortunately for Clark, she’s a secret agent who is there for a rendezvous with a colleague and to receive the mysterious report of the title. Both agents wind up dead with Clark first on the scene of the second killing. Luckily, rather than getting arrested by the local constabulary, he’s recruited by C.l.A. big cheese Lincoln Tate to help obtain the report instead (obviously standard C.I.A. practice).

So far, so familiar. This Italian-French co-production sounds like a dozen other Eurospy pictures of the period. As well as Clark, it even has a familiar name behind the camera: Sergio Grieco (hiding under his usual alias of Terence Hathaway) who’d delivered the Dick Malloy trilogy that starred Clark as well as ‘Password: Kill Agent Gordon’ (1965) with Roger Browne. But there are significant differences from the usual formula, which give this film more of the vibe of a serious cold war thriller. For a start, there are no gadgets of any kind. The villain does have a secret identity, but no lair or underground base, and there’s no super weapon ‘that must not fall into the wrong hands.’ Yes, everyone is after this mysterious report, but, for once, it is actually important to the plot, rather than just a device to drive the story.

Fuller Report (1968)

‘Talk or I’m going to smoke this whole pack in front of you.’

And then there’s Clark’s racing driver. Yes, he’s a hit with the ladies, but he soon falls head over heels for sexy ballerina Beba Loncar instead of playing the field. He also spends almost the entire film all at sea; completely confused by events and getting captured, beaten up and interrogated on such a regular basis that it’s really no surprise when yet another group of faceless goons start whaling on him and shouting questions.

Clark’s lack of competence is quite refreshing and it’s perhaps indicative that by 1968, the seemingly endless tide of ‘Bond’ knock-offs was on the wane. However, this doesn’t help to energise the film’s repetitious action, and the absence of any unusual quirks or outlandish touches doesn’t assist with the entertainment value. There’s also a serious lack of pace, which is particularly obvious in the closing stages where the film fails to build any momentum at all.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the copious amounts of smoking that everybody does. After all, what’s the first thing you do after finding a fresh corpse that’s still warm? Light up, of course!

A rather anonymous spy thriller that has little to recommend it.

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.

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.