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.
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.
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.