A private detective arrives in South Africa after being hired by a wealthy industrialist to look into the murder of his butler. The local police inspector shares the only clue; an old photograph left by the body, which depicts the victim, his employer and two other men.
Looking at the marketing for this film, audience members could be forgiven for expecting to see ex-Tarzan Lex Barker wrestling with guns, gadgets and girls as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’. After all, there’s plenty of bikini-clad babes on the poster, Barker with a pistol and a tag line that reads ‘A very special agent with a code that means he can go all the way!’ Unfortunately, this is not another entry in the somewhat over-crowded Eurospy arena, instead being a very pedestrian mystery-thriller, which isn’t all that mysterious and certainly not very thrilling.
Barker arrives in Cape Town at the behest of copper magnate Walter Rilla to investigate the murder in question. Local (and very British) Police Inspector Ronald Fraser is keen to co-operate, as he believes that Rilla knows far more than he’s telling. When another man in the photo is killed, suspicion falls on members of Rilla’s household, including his promiscuous adopted daughter Veronique Vendell. From there it’s a slow trudge through lots of scenes of Barker driving around the countryside, teaming up with pretty blonde Ann Smyrner, and dealing with some cursory action scenes that are thrown his way every now and again.
By the far the most interesting aspect of this dull and soggy enterprise are the locations and the photography. Some of the landscapes are truly gorgeous and it’s no wonder when you realise that the cinematographer was Nicolas Roeg, working on this in the same year that he shot the sumptuous visuals for Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe classic ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1964). Roeg first took the director’s chair six years later on Mick Jagger’s starring vehicle ‘Performance’ (1970) and followed that with nightmarish horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) and an alien David Bowie as ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1975). Sadly, Roeg’s career lost steam in the 1980s, and eventually culminated in shooting feature length editions of ‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’!
Aside from the scenery (the movie was shot in Mozambique), there’s simply not much on offer. There’s only about enough plot for a 50-minute TV episode, which becomes especially noticeable during the long, endlessly drawn-out climax; a sequence weakened all the more by the emotional unravelling of our main villain. This lacks any credibility at all, given the meticulous planning of their scheme over a great many years. However, there is some interesting information on ostrich farming if you’re interested in that.
The musical soundtrack is also very clumsy, punctuating every ‘big’ moment with a blaring of horns and a crash of instruments. Barker and Smyrner are ok as the leads, but they have little chemistry and the idea of them as lovebirds is very hard to swallow. Acting honours are grabbed by Fraser, who seems to be channelling Claude Rains from ‘Casablanca’ (1943).
Barker had quite the European career due to a facility with languages, particularly in Germany where he appeared in a couple of the 1960’s ‘Dr Mabuse’ pictures (as did Rilla, but not in the same ones!) Smyrner tangled with ‘ReptiIicus’ (1962) in her native Denmark, took a ‘Journey To The Seventh Planet’ (1962) with b-movie legend John Agar and visited with Vincent Price in ‘The House of A Thousand Dolls’ (1967). Vendell was briefly touted as ‘the new Bardot’ but her career ﬁzzled after a featured supporting role in ‘Barbarella’ (1967). Director Robert Lynn did 2nd Unit duty on Christopher Reeve’s first two Superman films, but is best known for UK TV work, including episodes of ‘The Saint’, ‘Space: 1999’ and ‘Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.’
But the real ‘star’ of the piece is probably producer Harry Alan Towers. This was only his second movie project (albeit uncredited) but he went onto a career of more than 100 features over an incredible 40 years. These included the Fu Manchu series with Christopher Lee, terrible ‘Star Wars’ knock-off ‘H G Wells’ The Shape of Things To Come’ (1979), appalling sword and sorcery flick ‘Gor’ (1987), ‘Howling IV: The Original Nightmare’ (1988), and many, many others.
Perhaps unfortunately, he wrote most of them as well under his pen name of Peter Welbeck. He provides the story here, and it’s hard to imagine anything more generic, uninspired and formulaic.
A nice travelogue spoilt by having a movie attached.