Killers Are Challenged/A 077, sfida ai killers/Bob Fleming: Mission Casablanca (1966)

‘I’ve been kissed better by my Dachshund.’

Three international scientists have been collaborating on a new energy source that will make fossil fuels redundant. Two of them are murdered, and the third decides on plastic surgery to hide his identity. The CIA assign their best agent to take him into protective custody, but his mission becomes complicated when enemy agents target the scientist’s wife…

Frustrating spy-jinks from director Antonio Margheriti in a French-Italian co-production that stars US actor Richard Harrison as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget.’ It’s a sequel of sorts to ‘Secret Agent Fireball’ (1965), with Harrison reprising the role of operative Bob Fleming, this time on the loose in Casablanca and tangling with the usual mixture of guns, gorgeous girls, and low-budget gadgets.

Inventing a new energy source for the benefit of humanity is fine in theory, but scientists Maxwell and Boroloff soon discover the drawbacks when they are rubbed out. Remaining partner Coleman (Marcel Charvey) disappears, booking himself a session with a plastic surgeon to change his face. The CIA get wind of his location and send top agent Bob Fleming (Harrison) to bring him in. After some reluctance on Charvey’s part, Harrison succeeds in having him delivered to Geneva economy-class via some knock-out drops and a coffin. However, hostile forces are closing in on the egghead’s estranged wife, Terry (Wandisa Guida).

Of course, Harrison gets the job of protecting Guida, but it’s far from an easy gig. Wheelchair-bound oil magnate Tommy Sturges (Aldo Cecconi) will pay anything to have the discovery suppressed and has hired a criminal gang to do the job. Harrison goes on the offensive by romancing their beautiful but fairly hopeless operative Moira (Mitsouko), whose heart isn’t really in her work anyway. She soon incurs the displeasure of handler Halima (Janine Reynaud) and the unseen boss of the outfit. Several attempts are made on Harrison’s life, and he finds himself indebted to the mysterious and sexy Velka (Susy Andersen), who seems to have a knack for turning up just at the right moment.

In terms of plot and execution, this is pretty much your standard Bond riff of the day; scientists in the crosshairs, an invention of global consequence, a series of captures, escapes, fights and gunplay. However, Margheriti’s film does have some interesting elements, especially considering the Italian connection. Not always noted for their national cinema’s favourable presentation of women, here it’s the fairer sex in the ascendancy, albeit not too overtly. Although Harrison is the nominal lead and displays the usual smug arrogance of the alpha male secret agent abroad, he’s often shown as less than capable as the sexy Andersen, who saves his life more than once and out-manoeuvres him at every turn. He’s also very slow to tumble to the identity of the head of the gang, who are almost entirely women. Of course, they bring in men for the strongarm stuff, and oilman Cecconi provides the bankroll, but otherwise, it’s the girls in charge.

Having the men mainly reduced to delivering the physical aspects of the film works well here because Margheriti knows how to shoot action. The fight scenes are athletic and surprisingly violent, with Harrison and his various opponents performing well. The film’s highlight is an extended barroom brawl that displays the director’s familiarity with classic-era Hollywood Westerns. There’s a wonderfully humorous slant to all the mayhem, which is echoed in knowing moments elsewhere in the film. This includes the inexplicable presence of an English taxi driver who ferries Harrison around and thwarts the bad guys with a car horn that shoots jets of foam! Unfortunately, these comedic moments are too few and far between, with most other events coming across as serious, even rather downbeat on occasion. Because Margheriti doesn’t commit more to the comedy, it creates a tonal clash that can make things feel disjointed.

This is even more unfortunate because it’s plain that Andersen really gets the humour, giving the audience a playful, knowing femme fatale who thoroughly enjoys her work. There’s a natural sexual chemistry in her scenes with Harrison too, who plays the lover with other women elsewhere in the film but never with such conviction. The remainder of the cast fade into the background somewhat, although Guida scores as the ice-cold Terry. A bigger budget would undoubtedly have helped as the stunt work is mainly limited to dummies diving from high places and an empty car falling into the harbour at the climax. Gadgets are also in short supply, restricted to various bugging devices and a bomb hidden in a cigarette lighter.

The fact that the finished product is a cut above most of the spy shenanigans emerging from Europe in the wake of ‘Goldfinger’ (1964) is probably down to the team of Margheriti and scriptwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Margheriti was a veteran of genre cinema whose solo debut in the director’s chair was science-fiction adventure ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1960). He worked extensively in horror, Giallo, Peplum and Spaghetti Westerns, also delivering another Eurospy, the disappointing ‘Lightning Bolt/Operazione Goldman’ (1966). His films are sometimes cheesy, often uneven, but almost always entertaining in some way.

Gastaldi is celebrated as one of the foremost screenwriters of the Giallo, with premium entries such as ‘So Sweet…So Perverse/Così dolce… così perversa’ (1969), ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh’ (1971), ‘All the Colors of the Dark/Tutti i colori del buio’ (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key/Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave’ (1974). He also directed his own classic example, the unfairly overlooked ‘Libido’ (1965). Like Margheriti, he worked in many other commercial genres, including science-fiction with ‘The Tenth Victim/La decima vittima’ (1965) and the Spaghetti Western with ‘I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death/Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino’ (1969). There were also Peplum projects such as ‘Perseus Against the Monsters/Perseo l’invincibile’ (1963) and horror for the likes of iconic director Mario Bava with ‘The Whip and the Body/La frusta e il corpo’ (1963).

Andersen had a surprisingly brief career given her excellence here, debuting as Suzy Golgi in ‘The Warrior Empress/Saffo – Venere di Lesbo’ (1960). A role in the ‘I Wurdalak’ segment of Mario Bava’s classic portmanteau horror ‘Black Sabbath/I tre volti della paura’ (1963) was followed by four releases in 1964 which was her busiest year by far. After this excursion into the Eurospy arena, she made only four more films, finishing her screen career opposite Klaus Kinski in crime drama ‘Gangster’s Law/La legge dei gangsters’ (1969).

One of the better examples of the Eurospy, although more concentration on the comedic aspects would have helped elevate it further.

Countdown To Doomsday/Fünf for 12 in Caracas/Cita con la muerte en Caracas (1966)

‘You always discover more interesting things at night than during the day.’

The best private detective in the business is sent to Caracas to find the kidnapped daughter of an oil billionaire. He quickly discovers that she was planning to expose a drug-smuggling outfit, which was the main motive behind her abduction. However, with things getting hot for the criminal gang, their mysterious leader demands a ransom for her safe return…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is Italian actor George Ardisson running around Caracas in a sharp suit with various beautiful women and engaging in fisticuffs and gunplay along the way. Sure, there may be no spies or an espionage element, but director Marcello Baldi’s effort ticks all the other Eurospy boxes with effortless ease.

Private eye Jeff Merlin (Aridsson) is enjoying some quiet time with his latest squeeze, but his fun is interrupted when she throws a black widow spider his way. Diverted to Caracas to tackle the kidnapping case, he learns that victim Helen Remington (Christa Linder) was working at a club as Susan Miler and collecting information for a series of articles about the local drug trade. He connects with blonde hostess Gloria (Marion Grant), who promises to talk, but she’s a junkie and betrays him to gorgeous club manager Dolores (María Julia Díaz). He’s soon in the clutches of the drug ring, his interrogation supervised by an unseen woman talking through a radio speaker.

After making his escape, he links up with Police Inspector Sabana (Josep Castillo Escalona) and lab man Dr Soarez (Horst Frank) but soon finds himself arrested when Grant is found dead. He gets free again with the aid of a mysterious lawyer, who passes him a gun inside police headquarters (perhaps Escalona needs to look at his security procedures!) This angel of mercy turns out to be Alan Shepperton (Harald Leipnitz), working for the International Narcotics Commission, along with pretty assistant Vicki (Pascale Audret). They’ve established that the bad guys are using the ranch of the rich Mrs Watson (Luciana Angiolillo) when she’s out of town and suspect there’s a traitor in the official force.

This is a swift, and breezy crime drama told at a breakneck pace by director Baldi, who collaborated on the screenplay with three other writers. None of the action or story developments is original or very creative, but, boy, they do keep coming. Relentlessly. Car chases, captures, escapes, killings, fistfights and gunplay, the film hardly pauses for breath. Even the climax, where Ardisson rushes to save Linder, who is tied underwater to an oil rig about to explode, rushes by in a few minutes! Although it does need to be acknowledged that the print I viewed was over ten minutes shorter than the runtime credited elsewhere. Still, it certainly didn’t drag.

The film’s main strength is undoubtedly the athletic Ardisson, who can charm the ladies without being insufferably smug like some of his contemporaries. He’s also convincing in the surprisingly violent fight scenes and handles the conversational demands of the role with a quietly understated charisma. However, his character’s status as the greatest private detective in the world does seem a little dubious, to put it mildly. He gets captured by the bad guys on three separate occasions, and the circumstances do him little credit. He’s hit from behind getting into a taxi, gets gassed hanging around in a tunnel and, worst of all, he’s shot with a tranquilliser dart and wakes up in bed with a dead body and the police banging on the door. Sure, he’s good at escaping from all these situations, but then I’m guessing he’s had plenty of practice! Still, he only has to sit down at a table in a club to draw women like flies, so I guess he must have something.

The film’s budget was obviously not excessive, but it was adequate for the production’s needs until the big finish. Here its limitations are cruelly exposed by some dreadful SFX. Concerning the film’s credentials as a Eurospy, Ardisson’s Jeff Merlin does everything the usual Bond copycat does despite the absence of espionage. He takes his sharp suit to a ritzy hotspot, beds several women, and beats up on the bad guys when the odds are against him. There’s also the mysterious supervillain with the (not so) large criminal organisation. Ardisson is also working for some kind of agency (it’s never specified). The opening scenes where his angry boss berates him for his playboy behaviour are straight out of the 007 scriptwriting handbook.

Ardisson was born in 1931 and played a few supporting roles in films until getting his big break, courtesy of director Mario Bava when he played Theseus in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World/Ercole al centro della Terra (1961). The horror maestro then cast him in the title role of Viking adventure ‘Erik the Conqueror’ (1961). Roles in more historical action films followed, including a starring role as Zorro, before the international success of ‘Goldfinger’ (1964) inspired a flood of Eurospy products. Ardisson took up the ‘Bond’ mantle for ‘Passport To Hell/Agente 3S3: Passaporto per l’inferno’ (1965), ‘Operation Counterspy/Asso di picche – Operazione controspionaggio’ (1965), and ‘Agent 3S3: Massacre in the Sun/Agente 3S3, massacro al sole’ (1966). When the industry switched to Spaghetti Westerns, he starred in ‘May God Forgive You, But I Won’t/Chiedi perdono a Dio… non a me’ (1968), appeared as Sartana in ‘Django Defies Sartana/Django sfida Sartana’ (1970) and several other examples. Many Poliziotteschi crime dramas followed in the 1970s, and he remained very active in film until his retirement in 192 at the age of 61.

Although originality takes an early bath and there’s a faint whiff of cheese, this is still a halfway decent action flick if you keep your expectations in check.

A Cold Blooded Affair/Tip Not Included/Die Rechnung – eiskalt serviert (1966)

‘My company is in the phone book under the FBI.’

A top FBI agent saves a stranger from being beaten up by two thugs after leaving a bar. What he doesn’t know is that all of them are part of a conspiracy to hijack an armoured van and rob the U.S. Treasury. The agent begins to investigate when the young man turns up dead, but the poison gas he created is already in the hands of the gang…

The fourth entry in the Jerry Cotton series finds the ever-present American actor George Nader once more in the title role. Although his adventures are often recorded as falling under the Eurospy umbrella, the connection is a little tenuous. Nader might be a cool agent ready with his fists, but there’s little of the girls and gadgets on hand that an audience might reasonably expect and even less of the typical glamour.

A quiet night down the pub is never on the cards when you’re a secret agent. When his spider-sense starts a-tingling, Jerry Cotton (Nader) follows young gun Tommy Wheeler (Christian Doemer) out of his local when the chemist picks up a couple of non-too friendly plus-ones. Nader deals with them, of course, but Doemer doesn’t hang around to say thanks. Nader shrugs it off, of course. It’s just another day at the office for the likes of him. He’s happy to go back to his pint and chat up the bar’s singer Violet (Yvonne Monlaur), who tells him that Doemer is an out of work chemist who seems to be in some sort of trouble. Nader agrees to look into it, although it may only be an excuse to give her his telephone number.

Doemer has fallen in with a criminal gang who hang out backstage at a wrestling arena and are led by the ruthless Charles Anderson (Horst Tappert). The current project on the books is robbing the U.S. Mint, apparently located in Wall Street and not Washington D.C. as you might have thought. Anyway, this government financial ‘clearing house’ (whatever it may be) is in the habit of recycling old bills for new, sending out the discards in an armoured van, presumably for destruction. The plan is to hijack the vehicle using a smoke bomb provided by Doemer, grab the cash and head for the hills. The heist comes off, but Doemer is surplus to requirements afterwards. When the boffins at the FBI examine the body, they find traces of the gas used in the robbery, and Nader puts two and two together.

The bureau was already on high alert when it came to the targeted shipment anyway, and Nader had advised bank official John M Clark (Walter Rilla) to make the run with an empty van. Stupidly, he ignored our hero’s advice. Faced with the distraught Rilla, Nader accepts responsibility for the decision to the press, which earns him an immediate suspension from agency head Mr High (Richard Munch). Of course, Nader hangs around instead of going on leave and keeps in touch with the investigation, courtesy of his sidekick, Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss). Developments are only too predictable from there; the villains double-cross each other, the inside man reveals his identity, and in an enjoyably silly climax, Nader launches himself off a building and grabs on to a helicopter.

All told, this is a pretty dreary entry in the series, with only the inventive heist sequence sparking any significant interest. This action is well-executed by director Helmuth Ashley, even if it is a tad implausible. Elsewhere, there’s the usual desperate effort to make the film look American with New York stock footage and some truly terrible back projection work. The armoured van also has a ‘Mells Fabo’ decal, which is obviously a riff on ‘Wells Fargo’, but it’s unclear if this is supposed to be a joke or another hamfisted attempt at hoodwinking the audience as to the origins of the film. As usual, Peter Thomas provides a swinging, brassy soundtrack that practically screams the 1960s, but it’s scant reward for sitting through another 90 minutes of Nader’s underwhelming crime games.

Nader was born in Pasadena and performed some uncredited bits and minor supporting roles in films in the 1950s before landing the lead in Phil Tucker’s famously dreadful ‘Robot Monster’ (1953). Signed to a contract by Universal Studios, most likely as insurance against Rock Hudson being outed. Nader’s career went nowhere, perhaps because he was also gay and, unlike Hudson, made little effort to hide it. He did land the title role on the syndicated television show ‘Shannon’ in 1961, but all that followed were a few scattered film roles. These included a return to low-budget science-fiction with the Woolner Brothers’ shabby production of ‘The Human Duplicators’ (1964). He left for Europe shortly afterwards, where he made eight films as Jerry Cotton. There were another couple of encounters along the back roads of cult cinema before he retired in 1974 to become an author.

Monlaur was born in France and trained for the ballet before working as a model in her late teens. She began appearing in domestic and Italian films in her twenties and relocated to England at the end of the decade. Some assignments in the horror field followed, starting with the wildly entertaining ‘Circus of Horrors’ (1960), where she played opposite mad surgeon Anton Diffring. Her performance was enough to get her noticed by Hammer Studios, who cast her as naive heroine Marianne Danielle in ‘The Brides of Dracula’ (1960) and alongside Christopher Lee in ‘The Terror of the Tongs’ (1960). But her career never took off and, after a handful of films back in her native land, she retired at the end of the 1960s.

A rather bloodless and unmemorable crime drama that strays a little into Eurospy territory but fails to make much of an impression in either genre.

A Shot from the Violin Case/Tread Softly/Schüsse aus dem Geigenkasten/The Violin Case Murders (1965)

‘Because of that, I’ve been sentenced to life behind a wall of filing cabinets.’

A gang of crooks shoot a singer dead when robbing her safe and then heist a stock of gold bars hidden in a remote farmhouse. The FBI investigate, only to find the criminals are planning an even bigger job, and their top agent infiltrates the gang to try and stop them…

West German-French co-production that finds US actor George Nader as FBI super-agent Jerry Cotton. He’s this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ speeding around the glamorous capitals of Europe with a blonde on each arm and employing an arsenal of tricky gadgets to defeat a supervillain and his plans for world domination. Only he doesn’t. To call this a Eurospy adventure at all is pushing the definition somewhat when director Felix Umgelter’s film really has far more in common with a standard crime thriller.

Events begin with our slick gang of crooks in operation, exhibiting an almost military precision as they rob the singer’s safe and lift the gold bars from their hiding place under a farmhouse. Both robberies leave FBI boss John High (Richard Münch) perplexed. How did the gang know that the singer’s publisher was hiding ill-gotten gains in her safe? How did they know the location of the gold bars? These facts were supposed to be privileged information available only to the higher echelons of the agency and a handful of other officials. Time to call in top man Jerry Cotton (Nader) to investigate, alongside sidekick Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss).

The agency has been receiving some anonymous calls that provide Nader with an initial lead. These are coming from Kitty Springfield (Sylvia Pascal), who is worried that her sister is involved with a criminal gang. What she says about their movements fits in with the crimes under investigation, and so Nader infiltrates the group at the bowling alley where they hang out. Posing as a drunk, he beats a couple of them up in a bar fight and thus becomes a trusted member of the gang! He’s immediately given a role in their latest project, a ‘Rififi’-type heist that involves setting off a bomb in a school across the street as a diversion.

The film is a slightly unusual hybrid of an adventure due to its attempt to emphasise the leading character’s ‘super spy’ credentials in the wake of the James Bond phenomena. Apart from Nader’s endless capability to rise to any occasion, there’s little else of the typical Eurospy tropes on show here. The most sophisticated gadget is a machine gun built into a violin case, and some vague flirting with Münch’s secretary (Helga Schlack) doesn’t really establish Cotton’s reputation as a ladykiller. What emerges is little more than a conventional tale of cops and robbers.

At times, Umgelter seems to be aiming for a gritty, documentary approach, assisted by the black and white cinematography of Albert Benitz. However, the decision to set the film in New York was a mistake. Obviously, the intention was to heighten its opportunities for foreign distribution, but the city appears only courtesy of ham-fisted back projection. The technique is used frequently and is never remotely convincing, giving proceedings a shabby, bargain-basement look. At one point, this stock footage can even be seen projected on to the side of a truck where Nader is clinging. Then there’s the music. Although Peter Thomas’ jazzy score is very distinctive and rightly highlighted as one of the film’s most remarkable qualities, it mitigates against the realism of events and would be better placed in a more standard Eurospy adventure.

Nader starred as Jerry Cotton in eight films for Allianz Filmproducktion and Constantin Film, the last being released in 1969. As a young man, he had starred in Phil Tucker’s notoriously ridiculous ‘Robot Monster’ (1953) before his handsome looks and rugged physique secured a contract with Universal. Unfortunately, all he received were a few supporting roles to the studio’s leading talent of the era, including his friend Rock Hudson. Nader was also gay, and there are unsubstantiated rumours that this hurt his career.

He moved into television when his contract expired, although occasional film roles followed in such low-budget projects as science-fiction turkey ‘The Human Duplicators’ (1964) and ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ (1967), author Sax Rohmer’s attempt to create a female supervillain to rival his own Fu Manchu. Nader virtually retired after the Jerry Cotton series wrapped up, apart from the occasional TV appearance and one more film, Eddie Romero’s cheap and cheerful ‘Beyond Atlantis’ (1973).

Jerry Cotton is the star of more than 2,500 pulp novels released in German-speaking countries and Finland in the decades following his debut in 1954. More than 100 authors have been responsible for his adventures, and worldwide sales have reached over 850 million copies. If it’s tempting to assume that Nader’s sexuality was the reason for the character’s ‘all work and no play’ attitude towards the ladies, apparently that was present and correct in the literary works already. In recent times, Constantin Film attempted to revive the character with the film ‘Jerry Cotton’ (2007) starring Christian Tramitz in the title role. The emphasis was more on comedy, and it did not lead to a series.

More of a crime film shoe-horned into the 007 template, this is a passable way to spend 90 minutes if you can forgive some of the obvious technical deficiencies.

7 Golden Women Against Two 07: Treasure Hunt/7 donne d’oro contro due 07 (1966)

‘Kissing you is not hygienic.’

A clue to the location of Nazi gold has been hidden in a Goya painting. A mysterious American attempts to obtain the canvas but soon finds out that there are multiple forgeries in existence, and many other people are trying to obtain the original…

Eccentric, multi-national comedy adventure from one-man-band Vincenzo Cascino that flirts with the conventions of both the caper movie and the Eurospy genre. The film has nothing to do with either the brief ‘7 Golden Women’ series or the Bond imprint, and it’s tempting to assume the title was imposed to try and salvage box office receipts. However, it could have been just another example of Cascino’s rather odd sense of humour.

A man carrying a painting is pursued through the early morning streets by two thugs on the instructions of a mysterious blonde. He is saved by American Mark Davis (Mickey Hargitay). The latter discovers that the man is an Armenian named Barbikan (played by Cascino) and identifies the blonde as Frenchwoman Marie Dupont (Maria Vincent). They’re both after the Goya painting just sold at auction by Geoffrey Copleston. Strangely enough, this dealer has been selling multiple copies of the artwork to beautiful women from all around the world. The buyers include Miranda, the Italian (Luciana Paoli), the African (Paola Mariani), the Spaniard (Patricia Méndez) and several other gorgeous lovelies identified in the credits only by the colour or length of their hair.

It’s rather fruitless to try and explain the plot any further. The large, multi-national cast have a series of largely pointless interactions going from one place to another with little apparent rhyme or reason. Apparently, the secret of the painting is discovered at some point, so the canvases disappear from the story, only to return late on, but I’ve no idea what the secret was or why they go to the places they do. At one point, everyone visits a ‘haunted’ castle, but I suspect it was just because the location was available for filming for a couple of hours.

The film doesn’t even make an effort to establish the identities of its characters. Some synopses of the story mention that Hargitay is a secret agent, but it’s never mentioned in the film. On several occasions, auctioneer Copleston whispers apparently essential information to several of the principals in turn, but the audience never finds out what he was saying or how it affects the story. Action is limited to the odd bout of poorly choreographed fisticuffs and humour to the listless mugging of the cast, who wander through proceedings as if barely paying attention.

Cascino was an Argentinian industrialist who entered the film business in 1964 and departed three years later, having written, produced and acted in a total of four films. He also served as Production Manager on three of them and directed the final two. He also edited this one, making some very curious and hamfisted choices with his cutting. Similarly, as this was his first time in the director’s chair, perhaps his lack of competence in this department is somewhat forgivable, but it’s hard to work out just what he was trying to achieve with the film. Perhaps he envisaged it as a madcap chase comedy such as Stanley Kramer’s overblown ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’ (1963)? If that were the case, it falls hopelessly flat. Is it a caper movie? Not really. A Eurospy? Well, perhaps.

Additionally, the English dubbing is awful, with Vincent saddled with a ridiculously over the top ‘come to bed’ French tone and an English girl who makes Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent in ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964) sound positively restrained. If all this seems like it might make for a deliciously bizarre 1960s free-form experience, then perhaps that was Cascino’s intention. Unfortunately, the lack of jokes and the absence of plot, action, stakes, form and logic leaves a flabby blob of a movie that goes nowhere and takes a very long and tedious time to get there.

An awkward and rather baffling experience. Unbelievably, Cascino’s fourth and final film was apparently a sequel.

Hell’s Bloody Devils/Smashing the Crime Syndicate (1970)

‘What’s a groovy chick like you doing in the spy racket?’

A mob enforcer is sent across the country to link up with a neo-Nazi group offering to supply substantial sums in near-perfect counterfeit currency. Meanwhile, the federal authorities are on the case, targeting the German nobleman they believe to be the leader of the right-wing group…

This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is American actor Mark Adams, playing Federal Agent John Gabriel, placed undercover with the mob. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to swan around the glamorous capitals of Europe or play with any high-end gadgets because he’s appearing in a film from notorious low budget producer-director Al Adamson.

The federal authorities are concerned with an influx of counterfeit 20 dollar bills they believe to be the work of radicals attempting to fund a new Nazi movement back home. Agent Gabriel has already infiltrated the syndicate, and it’s the perfect coincidence when crime lord Joe (Keith Andes) sends him west to negotiate the wholesale purchase of the fake currency on offer. Although he’s tasked with breaking up the gang, his main objective is finding the original plates, which are believed to have originated in World War Two.

His mission is complicated by a whole array of local characters who may or may not be involved. There’s a local biker gang, the Hessians, the mysterious Count Otto Von Delberg (Kent Taylor), his girl Friday, Carol Bechtal (Vicki Volante) and rookie agent Jill Harmon (Emily Banks). He also begins an affair with dress shop owner Leni (Jacklyn O’Donnell), which seems to put them both in danger. Gabriel has to dodge the usual mixture of faceless assassins in sunglasses and suits while dealing with betrayal, double-cross, gunplay and conflicting loyalties before the final fadeout.

The main issue with Adamson’s film is the somewhat convoluted storyline. Characters are introduced without explanation, some have identities that are never clearly established, and others fulfil no function in the plot. The most obvious example is the biker gang, who are allegedly agents of the villainous Taylor. The film opens with them stopping a car on the highway and severely beating the two occupants. A piece of voiceover dialogue identifies them as ‘Commies’, and the Russians do get another namecheck later on in the film, but it’s their only (apparent) appearance. Also, the gang (or at least some of them) interact with only one other character in the film, Volante, who acts as their go-between with Taylor. This is because the biker footage was added later on to try and sell the movie, which initially failed to secure distribution. It also allowed the marketing department to put bikes on the poster and give it the tagline ‘They’re madmen on motorcycles!’

If this all sounds like a recipe for complete incoherence, that’s not the case. For once, Adamson papers over the cracks and inconsistencies pretty well, although there are more than a few moments when the scrappy, disjointed structure is rather obvious. There’s also a fantastic car chase where the protagonists stop at red lights and a cheap pen that doubles as a grenade/time bomb. There’s also a great scene when Adams takes O’Donell out on a (cheap) date to the local KFC only to have their romantic tryst interrupted by the real-life Colonel Sanders, who wants to check if they’re enjoying their delicious chicken meal.

We also get some Hollywood stars on their way down. As well as Taylor, Adams’ boss is played by one-time Oscar recipient Broderick Crawford! Despite first billing, he never leaves his office and has a total screentime of not more than five minutes. However, deputy Scott Brady does get in on the action at the end, even if he doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue, and that’s future cult film director Greydon Clark as a fellow agent. And, of course, here’s John Carradine popping up for his one-scene ‘paycheque cameo’ as a Pet Shop Owner offering twin blondes some salient advice about lovebirds with relationship issues. Fans of the original ‘Star Trek’ TV show will recognise Alyce and Rhae Andrece from their appearance in Season 2 episode ‘I, Mudd’.

Adamson was a prolific filmmaker from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s who favoured many of the usual exploitation genres. He tackled horror on several occasions, with cut-price flicks like ‘Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) and memorably awful patchwork outings ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror (1967) and ‘Dracula vs. Frankenstein’ (1971). He also delivered the monumentally appalling interplanetary adventure ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970). However, in the interests of balance, Western ‘Five Bloody Graves’ (1969) and actioner ‘The Death Dimension’ (1978) are pretty watchable. Sadly, his life came to an end in August 1995 when he was murdered by a man he had hired to work on his house.

Although he can’t compete with Carradine (who could?!), Brady still has an enviable list of cult film credits to his name. Starting his career in undistinguished low-budget Noirs, a role for director Nicolas Ray in his dark fable ‘Johnny Guitar’ (1954) saw him typed in Westerns until the 1960s. Work on the range began drying up, and he diversified into science fiction b-pictures such as ‘Destination Inner Space’ (1966), ‘Castle of Evil’ (1966) and David L Hewitt’s intermittently interesting ‘Journey To The Centre of Time’ (1967). The association with Hewitt continued with an embarrassing encounter with ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969), although minor roles in more legitimate pictures came along occasionally, such as the astronaut drama ‘Marooned’ (1969). A lot of television followed throughout the 1970s before he capped his career as Sheriff Frank in ‘Gremlins’ (1984).

Underwhelming, low budget mash-up of crime and spy thriller from the notorious Adamson. Choppy and disjointed but just about coherent by the time the credits roll.

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.