Agente segreto 777 – Operazione Mistero/Secret Agent 777 (1965)

‘No, I never drink before eating… or being eaten.’

A medical doctor who became a secret agent comes out of retirement to investigate strange events centred around his old Professor. Enemy agents are interested in his revolutionary research into rejuvenation, which may be able to resurrect the newly deceased…

Italian Eurospy games with a twist of horror and science-fiction from director Enrico Bomba. This week’s (medically qualified) ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Mark Damon, who takes on the usual groovy mix of ‘Guns, Girls and Gadgets’ and…er, the walking dead.

When an Armenian agent fries in his car at the bottom of a mountain road, it’s a matter of grave concern for FBI head honcho Zaref (Tiziano Cortini, billed as Lewis Jordan). The dead man has stolen microfilm in his pocket, and, although it’s mostly unreadable, it appears to contain details of the top secret research being carried out by Professor Keller (Walter Neng). Cortini decides that it’s a job for Bardin… Dr Bardin (Damon). The top agent has resigned to pursue a career water skiing around the playgrounds of the rich and idle with pretty Greek blondes, but the spymaster gets him back on board by appealing to a personal connection. Back in the day, Damon was one of the Professor’s students.

Arriving in Beirut, Damon finds evidence of a traitor at Leng’s lab and a tangle of romantic relationships at the core of the mystery. Leng’s number two, Dr Dexter (Stelio Candelli), seems to be having an affair with research associate Dr Serens (Seyna Seyn) while married to the old man’s daughter Louise (Mary Young). Meanwhile, she’s still holding a torch for originally intended spouse Karl Richards (Aldo Bufi Landi), who’s carrying on with nightclub singer Franca (Franca Ducci). When Landi succumbs to a heart problem, Leng and Candelli bring him back to life on the lab table, but an accidental explosion knocks them unconscious. Coming to his senses, confused and disorientated, the dead man grabs Leng’s jacket, which happens to contain all his research notes, and goes for a little walk…

Despite the potential for an interesting mashup of spy thriller with other genres, it’s sad to report that it’s Bomba’s film that could really benefit from a quick shot of Leng’s reanimation juice. Hamstrung by far too many static, talky scenes, the film never gets out of first gear and just wanders around a bit with its tie askew, much like the resurrected Landi. It’s a shame too because the opening has promise. Colourful animated credits dance across the screen to Marcello De Martino’s swaggering brassy theme, which is the perfect curtain-raiser to shots of 1960’s sun-drenched locations. Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets, with events soon exposing the paper-thin qualities of the script by Arpad DeRiso and Giovanni Scolaro.

What action there is comes with an underwhelming roadside dust-up between Damon and some faceless goons. Later on, something similar happens after our hero invites himself into the boudoir of the exotic Seyn to admire her lovely wallpaper and enjoy some amorous adventures on the couch. Oh, there is a very nice shot of the car falling down the mountainside at the beginning, so there is that. What Bomba doesn’t provide are any zombie hordes or robotic killers, just a sweaty, slightly bemused, middle-aged bloke walking about until he sits down in a cafe. The wandering dead, anyone?

What fills up most of the runtime is talk. There’s even a lengthy scene where Damon plays back the entirety of a hidden tape recording of Landi’s resurrection in the lab to the assembled suspects. This isn’t exactly new information for the audience because they witnessed the scene earlier in the picture. Casting Asian Seyn as a kind of half-hearted Dragon Lady is lazy stereotyping, and although Damon gives it his best shot, the baby-faced 32-year-old is burdened with an Elvis quiff and looks too young to be a hardened agent. Also, it’s interesting that Leng’s process apparently uses nuclear energy, given that his lab looks as sophisticated as the back room of an old radio repair shop. Even De Martino’s bright score throws in the towel pretty early on.

Director Bomba, credited here as Henry Bay, was a behind-the-scenes all-rounder who very occasionally appeared in front of the camera as well. Beginning his career in the early 1950s, he wore several hats on a limited number of projects over the next couple of decades: producer, production designer, writer and director, sometimes taking on more than one of these roles on the same film, sometimes not. As a director, his output was limited to half a dozen pictures, including loose sequel, ’Ticket To Die/Agente segreto 777 – Invito ad uccidere’ (1966), where Cortini graduated from spy boss to the role of Secret Agent 777. By far, his most notable film work was as one of the producers of the Orson Welles classic ‘The Trial/Le procès’ (1961), albeit uncredited. He performed the same role on the undistinguished international thriller ‘Last Train to Baalbeck/FBI operazione Baalbeck’ (1964), which starred Hollywood veteran George Sanders. He also worked on other film projects with actors Roger Moore, Lex Barker, Jean Marias and José Ferrer.

An exemplary exercise in treading water for 94 minutes.

Code Name: Jaguar/Corrida pour un espion (1965)

‘Are you the Americans about whom we have just received a phone call?’

The security at a naval base in Spain has been compromised. A top investigator is dispatched to plug the leak. Discovering how it keeps happening is a priority, of course, but he also needs to uncover the traitor in their midst…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American leading man Ray Danton, who walked in 007’s shoes on more than one occasion in the 1960s. This time around, he’s spying in the company of some familiar faces in co-writer and director Maurice Labro’s take on ‘Guns, Girls and Gadgets.’

There’s a slight security problem at a US Naval Base just outside Alicante on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. News of the unscheduled surfacing of a submarine in coastal waters has got back to the Russians via film of the event, seemingly shot on the base. Enter super agent Jeff Larson (Danton), who arrives in town to find the obligatory mysterious woman in his hotel room. For a change, he’s the one in the shower while she’s sorting through his luggage. After a quick bout of energetic wrestling, a short password exchange reveals that Pilar Perez (Pascale Petit) is his local contact. Relations are predictably frosty at first, especially with Danton hitting on anything in a skirt, but there are no prizes for guessing where that story thread is going.

The investigation begins with Danton, aided by old friend Bob Stuart (Roger Hanin), who’s been relegated to a desk job due to a leg injury sustained in the line of duty. Danton’s first port of call is the Flamingo nightclub in town because manager Lina Calderon (Helga Sommerfeld) just happened to be taking a boat trip when the sub surfaced. It looks like a respectable enough place, apart from the brutish Karl (Horst Frank), who’s hanging out at the bar with ‘Enemy Spy’ tattooed on his forehead. Danton becomes suspicious that a Polish trawler anchored in the bay might be the transmitting station the Reds are using to send their intelligence to Moscow, so he decides that a little midnight swim is in order.

Bright and breezy Eurospy project boasting decent production values, which allow director Labro to mount some action sequences that are a little more ambitious than many of his cash-strapped colleagues of the time. There’s a well-staged face-off in a quarry with stint driving and fisticuffs (everyone seems to have left their firearms at home), a chase and fight across sun-drenched Spanish rooftops and some shooting on a real ship. None of it is remotely startling, but it does help to give a measure of scale to the proceedings and at least convey a sense that the stakes are high.

The film also has an interesting tone. At first, events are faintly ridiculous, with Danton wisecracking his way through most of them, juggling beautiful women with one hand and taking out bad guys with the other. But as the story unfolds and the body count rises, he begins to exhibit more of a cold, ruthless streak. It’s a subtle transition, and director Labro handles it well; it’s only when Danton starts torturing a prisoner that it’s obvious how dark things have become. Of course, events are never allowed to proceed too far in that direction, but it does help invest in the drama of the final act.

Unfortunately, Frank apart, villains Simon Walter (Charles Regnier) and Vassili Golochenko (Carl Lange) are colourless at best, simply vaguely robotic, professional enemy agents going about their everyday espionage business. Things are a little more interesting on Team Danton. Navy Captain Parker (Wolfgang Preiss) starts to unbend and step outside his comfort zone as he associates with maverick Danton and incurs the displeasure of ‘by the book’ commanding officer Luis Moreno (Conrado San Martín). Petit is as underused as most female agents of the time, but it’s still a lively presence, and her romantic banter with Danton is effective, if very predictable.

Regarding gadgets, there are the usual bugs and communication devices, and the Russians have a brainwashing doohickey that shines coloured lights in Danton’s eyes. They’ve also been spying on the base using four cameras placed around the perimeter in small concrete bunkers booby-trapped with mines. Why no one ever noticed these before Danton hit town is a bit of a mystery, but I guess he’s the security expert, right? Also, rather than call in the bomb disposal unit, everyone’s happy for Danton to take on defusing duties, which he accomplishes by taking off his shirt and while smoking a cigarette.

This was the first of Danton’s spy games, but his subsequent appearances in the genre were in projects of declining quality. ‘New York Calling Superdragon/Secret Agent Super Dragon/New York chiama Superdrago’ (1966) was just about passable, but ‘Lucky the Inscrutable/Lucky, el intrépido/Agente Speciale L.K.’ (1967) was merely a testament to a rapidly vanishing budget. In later years, he got to reboot James Coburn’s superspy Derek Flint for television, but the wretched ‘Our Man Flint: Dead On Target’ (1976) should probably have been called ‘Dead On Arrival.’ Hanin had already starred in his own short-lived secret agent series as ‘Le Tigre’ (‘The Tiger’) and was almost a fixture in Eurospy games of the 1960s. Projects included ‘Our Man in Baghdad/Il gioco delle spie’ (1966), ‘An Ace and Four Queens/Carré de dames pour un as’ (1966) and ‘Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse’ (1967) and many others.

Other members of the cast were no strangers to espionage, either, with Frank a reliable sinister presence in Jerry Cotton adventure ‘3-2-1 Countdown for Manhattan/Um Null Uhr schnappt die Falle zu’ (1966), ‘Countdown To Doomsday/Fünf for 12 in Caracas/Cita con la muerte en Caracas’ (1966) and ‘Dead Run/Geheimnisse in goldenen Nylons’ (1967), although he usually favoured similar roles in crime pictures and Westerns. Sommerfeld also appeared in ‘Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse’ (1967) with Hanin and starred in ‘Man on the Spying Trapeze/Anónima de asesinos’ (1966). San Martin played ‘Bond Villain’ in the generic ‘Target Goldseven/Tecnica di una spia’ (1966), and Preiss did his duty in ‘To Skin A Spy/Avec la peau des autres’ (1966) and ‘Dead Run/Geheimnisse in goldenen Nylons’ (1967) along with Frank.

Nothing special, but a cut above most of its competitors in the decade’s Eurospy game.

The Black Box Affair/Black Box Affair – Il mondo trema (1966)

‘You phoney baloney, you shoot like Buffalo Bill.’

A US military plane explodes off the coast of the remote island of Santa Magdalena. The top secret device it was carrying could trigger a nuclear war, so understandably, all the superpowers send their secret agents to the crash site with orders to recover it at all costs…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is American actor Craig Hill who ends up channeling his inner 007 in Vienna. This Italian-Spanish co-production comes from director and co-writer Marcello Ciorciolini, who adopts a slightly more grounded approach to his spy game than some of his contemporaries.

Visiting the estate of an old friend, retired secret agent John Grant (Hill) is set upon by two men posing as gardeners, who he dispatches after some brutal combat. He crashes into the house, ready for anything and gun blazing, but it’s all a test set by General MacGregor (George Rigaud) and his ex-boss Mister X (Herbert Montureano) to see if he can still cut it after two years out of harness. Despite passing the ordeal with flying colours, Hill refuses the offer of a new assignment. However, when they explain that the Russian team in play is led by Fabian (Rolf Tasna), he changes his mind. He has vowed to kill the red agent, who he believes was responsible for the death of his wife.

Hill arrives in San Magdalena with old partner Pablo (Luis Marin), and it’s not long before they are tangling with the opposition. Rather than interrogate three captured agents at gunpoint, our superspy throws his weapon away as he fancies a bit of the old hand-to-hand. Later, he
discovers hotel switchboard operator Myriam (Rossella Bergamonti) in his room uninvited. However, she’s searching his room rather than using the shower, which is a definite red flag. In the restaurant, he finds himself seated at a table beside fashion guru Mamoiselle Floriane (Teresa Gimpera). As she’s dining alone too, the inevitable happens, and the pair hook up.

As Hill’s investigation proceeds, he begins to suspect that the black box was removed from the plane during refuelling at the airport in Vienna. It also seems that Tasna and his Kremlin boys are at a loss regarding its whereabouts. The disappearance of a top scientist suggests that someone is trying to unlock the box’s secrets and both sides suspect the Chinese, forcing Hill and Tasna into a reluctant alliance. The Viennese trail leads Hill to the city’s high-end fashion salon run by Gimpera, whose presence on holiday in San Magdalena now seems to be a little more than just a happy coincidence.

Ciorciolini’s film is caught somewhere between a hard-nosed espionage thriller and an attempt at pandering to the more outlandish expectations of an audience now used to the more comic book aspects of a James Bond adventure. On the one hand, the fight scenes are serious and violent, and there’s Hill’s tragic backstory and his vendetta against the impressively stone-faced Tasna. Hill’s initial test at the hands of his fellow agents pulls no punches and ends with our hero smashing both of them in the face with the business end of a shovel. I can only hope the agency had a decent dental plan!

By contrast, Hill’s romance with Gimpera is flirtatious and sweet, and there’s some playful banter about another agent who changed his name to Sean because of a Bond fixation. Further silliness arrives when Hill and Marin’s contact in Vienna turns out to be a dentist who insists on taking out one of the latter’s teeth. Hill’s partner is also part-Apache and uses a tomahawk and a scalping knife as his weapons of choice, at one point carving bloody initials into the foreheads of a trio of vanquished opponents. The script keeps banging on about his heritage ad nauseam, presumably as a substitute for anything as challenging as providing some actual character development. It also doesn’t help that Marin looks about as Native American as you’d imagine a Spanish actor in a suit could.

The film’s main virtue comes from Hill’s performance as he switches effortlessly between humorous charm and ruthless efficiency as the script requires. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t bare close examination. It’s hard to credit that a government agency would send a retired field agent into a situation that, if mishandled, would result in a significant international incident at best and nuclear Armageddon at worst. Especially given that said agent has a personal score to settle, that’s likely to cloud his judgement. As it is, Hill’s emotional damage is only relevant at the points when the story needs them to be, with the rest of the time, the agent quite obviously getting a kick at being back in the game.

As with many Eurospy projects, the lack of budget shows up in the final act with a general lack of scale and spectacle. After enjoying all the fun of the fair at the Vienna Prater, Hill and Marin track the villains back to their secret hideout. Unfortunately, this proves to be a run-of-the-mill suburban house, and the scientist’s lab is a handful of random pieces of electronic gear sitting on an old desk in the front room. The final confrontation takes place at night in a wrecking yard. Poor Hill. He never even got to meet Orson Welles on the big wheel.

Ciorciolini began his screen career as a writer in the early 1950s, mainly working in comedy, historical dramas and the sword and sandal genres. Notable projects included ‘Robin Hood and the Pirates/Robin Hood e i pirati’ (1960) starring ex-Tarzan Lex Barker, ‘Ursus in the Land of Fire/Ursus nella terra di fuoco’ (1963) and more than half a dozen scripts for top Italian comedy double act Franco and Ciccio, including some uncredited work on spy spoof ‘The Amazing Dr G/Due mafiosi contro Goldginger’ (1965). His directorial career began the same year and included another Eurospy project ‘Tom Dollar’ (1967). Half of his ten credits behind the megaphone found him reteamed with Franco and Ciccio.

Hill’s career also began in the early 1950s with small bits in top Hollywood productions such as multi-Oscar winner ‘All About Eve’ (1950) and meatier supporting roles in smaller pictures such as Samuel Fuller’s ‘Fixed Bayonets! (1951). By the end of the decade, however, he was far more likely to be seen on television, most famously as one of the leads on the crime show ‘Whirlybirds’, which ran for three seasons. This success generated a few leading film roles in independent productions, such as the unusual science-fiction morality play ‘Flight That Disappeared’ (1961). However, by the middle of the decade, he had decamped for Europe, returning for the occasional role back home. On the continent, he became best known for starring in more than a dozen Spaghetti Westerns, from ‘Taste of Killing/Per il gusto di uccidere’ (1966), ‘Bury Them Deep/All’ultimo sangue’ (1967), ‘Three Crosses Not To Die/Tre croci per non morire’ (1968), ‘And The Crows Shall Dig Your Grave/Los buitres cavarán tu fosa’ (1971) to ‘My Horse, My Gun, Your Widow/Tu fosa será la exacta… amigo’ (1972). He also found time to appear in Paul Naschy’s horror trainwreck ‘Los Monstruos Del Terror/Assignment Terror/Dracula Versus Frankenstein’ (1970) and, later, in stylish Giallo ‘The Bloodstained Shadow/Solamente nero’ (1978). His final credit was in the Spanish science-fiction comedy ‘Flying Saucers/Platillos volantes’ (2003), and he passed on in 2014.

Gimpera was already married to advertising executive Octavio Sarsanedas with three young children when she became an actress via a short modelling career with her husband’s agency. She debuted in the title role of the little-known but well-regarded comic book spy adventure ‘Fata/Morgana’ (1966) and went on to further espionage adventures with Ray Danton in Jess Franco’s ‘Lucky the Inscrutable/Lucky, el intrépido/Agente Speciale L.K.’ (1967) and Bruno Corbucci’s comedy ‘Spia spione’ (1967). Many film projects followed, including some avant-garde work, comedy, horror and a role in Alfonso Brescia’s Giallo ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park/Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco’ (1973). Her marriage having disintegrated many years before, Gimpera met Hill again in the 1980s, and the two married a few years later, remaining together for 24 years until his death.

A Eurospy that never fully commits to either humour or a dark edge but contains elements of both and integrates them with some success.

Marie Chantal contre Dr. Kha/Blue Panther (1965)

‘These are strange mashed potatoes.’

Travelling by train to Switzerland with her cousin, a young woman meets a mysterious stranger, who asks her to look after a brooch for him. Later on, at the ski resort, he is murdered on the chair lift and, with his dying words, asks her to deliver it to a market vendor in Morocco…

Quirky spy satire from French director Claude Chabrol, who also co-wrote with Christian-Yve, basing their tale on a character created by famous dancer, socialite and TV personality Jacques Chazot.

Taking jewellery from strangers on a train is never a good idea. Rich girl Marie-Chantal Froidevaux des Chatenets (Marie Laforêt) is travelling to the Swiss Alps for a holiday, accompanied by idiot cousin Hubert de Ronsac (Pierre-François Moro). In the dining car, they are joined by the handsome, earnest Bruno Kerrien (Roger Hanin), who asks Laforêt to look after a little trinket for him, a brooch shaped like the head of a blue panther. Soon, she finds herself the centre of the attention of several fellow passengers, who just happen to end up staying at the same hotel at the ski resort.

After Hanin is killed, Laforêt and Moro move on to Morocco, followed by her newly acquired entourage of suspicious characters, including the suave Paco Castillo (Francisco Rabal). Several unsuccessful attempts are made to steal the Panther from her, but she gets it to the rendezvous intact. However, her contact is murdered right before her eyes, and she only escapes the assassin with Rabal’s help. She’s been marked for death by evil mastermind Dr Kha (Akim Tamiroff), who is determined to use his criminal organisation to obtain the Panther as it contains a superweapon vital to his plans for world domination.

Exceedingly silly spy game that mocks some of the more familiar tropes of the genre but resembles more of a riff on a Hitchcockian mystery adventure than the outlandish excesses of Bond and his Eurospy disciples. There’s the innocent, neophyte heroine, the capable Cary Grant leading man, the Panther as MacGuffin, and a supporting cast rounded out by a selection of odd and eccentric characters. This rogue’s gallery of international agents includes slinky femme fatale Olga (Stéphane Audran), hopelessly proper Englishman Johnson (Charles Denner) and Russian Ivanov (Serge Reggiani), who takes orders from his bespectacled adolescent son Gregor (Gilles Chusseau).

All this works very well as a delicate comedy soufflé, with Laforêt menaced by the various forces moving around her, getting no help at all from grinning, oblivious blockhead Moro. The early scene in the restaurant car is particularly funny, with Hanin’s attempts at intense conversation constantly derailed by discussion of the quality of the mashed potatoes and the attentions of the waiter. At times, the proceedings threaten to descend into farce, but Chabrol usually keeps a firm grip on the humour. However, the murder of the street vendor is surprisingly graphic and threatens to spoil the fun, and it is around this point that the film begins to struggle. There’s just not that much happening, and, with Tamiroff largely offscreen, the supporting characters aren’t given enough to do to pick up the slack.

The presence of Tamiroff’s puppet master does suggest that more of a direct 007 satire was intended. However, when he emerges from the shadows in the final act, his secret headquarters are revealed to be a single, small room in some temple ruins; he has no minions anymore bar assassin Sparafucile (Antonio Passalia) and no gadgets whatsoever. This could have been a deliberate Anti-Bond parody, of course. Still, with the entire supporting cast vanishing from proceedings with about half an hour remaining, it looks more like the production simply ran out of money. There are still some good moments in the latter stages, courtesy of the intelligent script, but it is frustrating that events come to no actual conclusion and that the teased sequel never happened.

When the film is on song, however, it works very well indeed, and the lion’s share of the credit has to be laid at the feet of the wonderful Laforêt. Almost as deadpan as Buster Keaton, she navigates all the murderous intrigue as if she’s circulating at a high society cocktail party, juggling the various interactions to avoid the possibility of social embarrassment. The audience is never sure if she’s spectacularly smart or incredibly stupid, but Laforêt provides just enough animation and micro-expressions to keep the audience invested. Similarly, when he arrives on the scene, Tamiroff is quite brilliant, clearly relishing the chance to embrace his inner Bond villain. The final face-off between the two is unusual, too, with both displaying a strange innocence and naivety that mirrors the other. It’s a clever piece of writing, and the script has such moments throughout.

Laforêt was born in 1939 at the seaside resort of Soulac-Sur-Mer on the west coast of the south of France. Unable to speak for several years after being raped by a neighbour at the age of three, the family eventually moved to Paris, where she attended drama school. Winning a talent contest led to her being cast opposite Alain Delon in René Clément’s ‘Plein Soleil’ (1960), a film based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel ‘The Talented Mr Ripley.’ It turned her into a star overnight, and her performance of the title song of ‘Saint-Tropez Blues’ (1961) kickstarted a long recording career that led to worldwide sales of over 35 million albums. Her acting career continued, although, by the late 1960s, she was concentrating more on music. She became a Swiss citizen in 1978, opened an art gallery and retired from singing, although she continued to act semi-regularly. A triumphant return to the stage followed in the late 1990s, playing Maria Callas in Terence McNally’s ‘Masterclass’. She passed away in 2019 at the age of 80.

There are some seeds of greatness here, but the final act drops the ball despite still containing some fine moments.

High Season for Spies/Comando de asesinos/Assassin Squad (1966)

‘I feel like punching you, but 3,000 years ago, I became civilised.’

A scientist is kidnapped from the foundry in Lisbon, where he has been working on a new process to create toughened but lightweight steel. An American agent is tasked with recovering the scientist and his secret, while his British opposite number gets the same assignment…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is German actor Peter van Eyck, who runs around a bit, wrestling with the usual mixture of ‘Guns, Girls and Low Budget Gadgets.’ This fun, fast-paced Spanish-Portuguese-West German production comes from co-writer and director Julio Coll.

Working on a new formula to create a revolutionary type of steel brings Professor Zandor (José Cardoso) into the crosshairs of international espionage. In a daring raid, he is snatched at gunpoint, leaving pretty assistant Ellen Green (Letícia Román) behind. US agent Kramer (van Eyck) gets the job of retrieving the egghead, but he’s got competition; old rival, British agent Dick Haskins (Antonio Vilar). Suspicions fall on enemies of the West, of course; specifically, the spy ring operated by Bonnard (Klausjürgen Wussow). Román is the obvious place for van Eyck to begin his investigation, but he finds that his charms come a distant second to her intention to meet Vilar at the airport. Inconveniently, the British spy is an old friend of the missing scientist’s chief sponsor, Bardot (Artur Semedo).

Wussow attempts to take Villar out with a sniper at the airport, but van Eyck is on hand to save the day. Later, the British agent finds his hotel room half demolished by an explosion, revealing that a grinning van Eyck had already booked the room next door. None of these shenanigans amuses the local authorities, led by police Kommissar Oliveira (Ricardo Rubinstein). The behaviour of Semedo’s wife Anne (Mikaela) at a masked ball seems to offer more clues to the mystery, with her relationship with playboy Mike Danham (Américo Coimbra) being of particular interest. As events proceed, van Eyck and Villar realise they have no choice but to join forces to complete their respective missions.

Bright and breezy Eurospy adventure that hits just the right balance between action and humour. The plot may be so lightweight that a strong breeze could blow it halfway to Moscow and back, but the succession of twists and double-crosses come so fast and furious that their lack of credibility doesn’t seem to matter. Coll’s trump card is that his three principals seem to be having so much fun that it’s infectious, van Eyck, in particular, grinning throughout like he’s having the time of his life. His bromance with Villar is also perfectly judged, with the actors hitting just the right note of mutual respect and admiration superseded by a determination to come out ahead at all costs. Román is also a delight as the flirtatious wild card, playing one off against the other with sly humour, clearly working her own side of the street.

There are many nods to the silliness of the whole enterprise, with van Eyck introduced whizzing around an empty beach in his open sports car while firing at bottles for shooting practice. Moments later, it’s revealed to be located next door to a crowded hotel. In the next scene, he attempts to chat up the Embassy’s stand-in for Miss Moneypenny, and later on, he and Villar have a friendly chat through the hole blasted in the latter’s hotel room wall. There’s also a priceless moment when one of Wussow’s henchmen tries to kill him with a girder thrown from a tall building.

Coll delivers all these knowing scenes at a breakneck speed with solid filmmaking technique, including good use of the handheld camera in the opening abduction sequence when the audience is still under the misguided impression they’re about to watch something serious. Of course, the film may never amount to anything more than an amusing diversion, but that was probably all that was intended. The ending teases further adventures, but, sadly, these never came to the screen.

Born in a part of Germany that is now modern-day Poland in 1911, van Eyck was born into the Prussian aristocracy and was initially headed for a military career. However, during his education in Berlin, he revealed a considerable musical talent. Appalled by the rising fascism in his native land, van Eyck left in 1931 and reached America six years later via Cuba. There, he played the piano in nightclubs, collaborated with world-famous composer Aaron Copland and arranged music for Irving Berlin. An acting career followed, which saw him ironically cast in small parts as Nazi officers in various films like Billy Wilder’s classic ‘Five Graves to Cairo’ (1943). Returning to Germany after the war, he scored the second lead in the comedy ‘Hallo, Fräulein!’ (1949) and a memorable role in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s famous classic ‘The Wages of Fear/Le salaire de la peur’ (1953). Throughout the rest of the decade, he alternated European productions with Hollywood assignments, including ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955), the disappointing reteaming of Edward G Robinson and George Raft in ‘A Bullet for Joey’ (1955) and working for Orson Welles on ‘Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report’ (1955). More multi-national productions followed in the 1960s, most notably Fritz Lang’s ‘The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse/Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ (1960) and ‘The Brain/Vengeance’ (1962), the best version of Curt Siodmak’s cult science-fiction novel ‘Donovan’s Brain’. He passed away in Switzerland from a blood infection in 1969 at the age of 57.

Román will always be remembered primarily as Mario Bava’s ‘The Girl Who Knew Too Much/La ragazza che sapeva troppo’ (1963), the film credited with birthing the Giallo sub-genre of horror thriller. Her screen career was relatively short, spanning the 1960s only, beginning with a supporting role in Elvis Presley vehicle ‘G.I. Blues’ (1960). The daughter of a costume designer and an actress, she travelled to America with her father when he was hired to work on Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Spartacus’ (1960). Although a couple of female leads in Hollywood productions followed the next year, the films were undistinguished, and she returned to Europe. Her most notable subsequent role was as Russ Meyer’s ‘Fanny Hill’ (1965), a bowdlerisation of the erotic novel into a slapstick comedy, which nevertheless got UK censors hot under the collar. Sadly, her witty, assured performance in Coll’s spy game turned out to be her last movie, with the rest of the decade seeing her return to America to take guest roles on some hit TV shows, including ‘The Man from UNCLE’, ‘The Big Valley’ and ‘I-Spy’. After retiring from acting, she became a highly successful real estate broker in California.

A fun concoction played to the hilt by an expert cast.

That Man in Istanbul/Estambul 65 (1965)

‘Bogo, show Miss Babyfat out.’

The CIA exchanges a kidnapped atomic scientist for a ransom of one million dollars, but there’s a bomb on the transport plane, and the scientist is killed almost immediately. One agent pursues the matter unofficially, her main lead being a deported gangster and well-known playboy who lives in Istanbul…

The identity of this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is up for discussion in this Italian-Franch-Spanish Eurospy production from director Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi. Our agent in the field might be the glamorous Sylva Koscina, but most of the action falls to suave leading man Horst Buchholz.

CIA Chief George Rigaud is not a happy man. Not only did atomic scientist Professor Pendergast (Umberto Raho) go up in flames after the ransom payoff, but diplomatic sensitives (and an order from the President no less!) preclude any further investigation into the matter. This does not sit well with special agent Kelly (Koscina), who decides to follow up in Instanbul on an unofficial basis, with Riguad happy to look the other way. Clandestine photographs snapped at the exchange put handsome young nightspot owner Tony Mecenas (Buchholz) at the scene, so she secures a job at his club. Buchholz is an old hand at dealing with law enforcement, though, and he immediately sees through the charade.

From that point on, the two exchange the usual romantic barbs as they begin falling for each other, and he becomes sucked further and further into her investigation. She’s suspected from the first that Raho isn’t really dead and that the sadistic Gunther (Agustín González) and his cronies are taking orders from a secret mastermind. The challenge is to unmask the villain and rescue Raho as Buchholz runs all over Istanbul, dodging bullets and bad guys.

Isasi-Isasmendi’s movie may be formulaic plot-wise, but it has a playful, tongue-in-cheek approach that helps with the entertainment level. Buchholz makes for an athletic hero, aided by some decent stunt work, including some impressive high-speed driving on mountain roads. There’s a running gag that beautiful women know him wherever he goes, and there are even a couple of occasions where he breaks the fourth wall to address a remark to the audience. There’s also a direct romantic rival for Koscina after Buchholz rescues rich girl Elisabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier), who the gang have snatched off her father’s yacht.

What does derail proceedings to some extent is the length. Without a great deal of plot development, a two-hour run time almost inevitably leads to a saggy middle act, and the film begins to drift and drag as Buchholz makes one last-minute escape after another. The script also keeps Koscina off screen for long periods when more of the romantic back and forth between the pair might have provided the necessary sparkle and encouraged more audience investment in the drama.

Still, there is a surprisingly lively supporting cast of characters. As well as the afore-mentioned González, the rogue’s gallery of villains also includes award-winning German actors Mario Adorf and Klaus Kinski as assassins. Although they don’t share any significant screen time and Kinski is dreadfully underused, his face-off with Buchholz is one of the film’s undoubted highlights. On the side of the angels are the dry-witted Brain (Gustavo Re) and magician Bogo (Álvaro de Luna). Isasi-Isasmendi also finds slots for French actor Gérard Tichy, and familiar Spaghetti Western face Luis Induni in minor roles.

In terms of action, there’s enough bang for your buck, although it sometimes verges on parody. Surrounded by four speeding cars closing in for the kill, Buchholz manages to shoot out all their headlights in super quick time and make them all crash into one another. He also jumps from a crashing sports car onto the back of a truck in what would have been a fantastic stunt if we actually got to see it! Jazzing up all this nonsense with blaring horns and strident strings is a faux-John Barry score from composer Georges Garvarentz, which helps instil some dynamism when the mayhem is a little lacking.

Of course, Buchholz is best remembered as the youngest member of John Sturges’ ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) but enjoyed a film career of more than half a century. Through the 1950s, he worked his way up the ranks in the European film industry from short subjects and unbilled roles to leading parts in such prestigious productions as ‘Auferstehung’ (1958), a big-budget adaptation of the Tolstoy novel. Hollywood came calling with award-winning crime drama ‘Tiger Bay’ (1959), and his trip out west with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen followed hard on its heels. Joshua Logan’s romantic drama ‘Fanny’ (1961) and Billy Wilder’s excellent ‘One, Two, Three’ (1961) completed a formidable kick-off to his American career, but scheduling conflicts led to his being unable to take the lead in ‘West Side Story’ (1961) and another plum assignment on David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962). Instead, big budget flop ‘Nine Hours to Rama’ (1962) and poorly-received Bette Davis vehicle ‘The Empty Canvas’ (1964) hurt his prospects, and he returned to European films. Back in the US in the mid-1970s, he took roles in mediocre movies made for television, on network shows such as ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and appeared in the dreadful but hilarious mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). Back in Europe for most of the remainder of his career, he acted in such notable projects as Wim Wenders’ ‘Faraway, So Close!’ (1993) and Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning ‘Life is Beautiful’ (1997). He passed away in 2003.

A fun Eurospy, but tighter script control and a greater focus on the romantic elements might have made for something far more notable.

Target Goldseven/Tecnica do Una spia (1966)

‘A skin diver has just swum into the protected zone without giving the required signal.’

A secret criminal organisation attacks an English freighter and steals its cargo of uranium. Authorities assign a top secret agent to recover the precious mineral, and his investigations suggest it’s the work of ‘The Snake’, a notorious criminal mastermind and his arch-enemy…

Spanish-Italian Eurospy adventure from director Alberto Leonardi that ticks most of the genre’s usual boxes. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is American actor Tony Russel who juggles the standard selection of ‘Guns, Girls and Gadgets’ in the name of freedom and democracy everywhere.

After a mid-ocean uranium heist gives the security forces a sleepless night, they dump the mess in the lap of special agent Alan Milner (Russel), who immediately suspects it’s the work of his arch-nemesis ‘The Snake’. His investigation begins in Lisbon with the usual ride to the airport, showcasing the city’s charms on behalf of the local tourist board. The trail is cold, but fortunately, he finds Erika Brown (the spectacular Erika Blanc) searching his underwear drawer. The couple shares a bottle of Don Perignon, but Russel seems unsure whether to kiss her or slap her around, so he does both. A couple of goons arrive, and she takes a powder while he deals with them.

Suspicion falls on shipping line owner Otis (Conrado San Martín), whose pet scientist (Giuseppe Fortis) is working on a cure for radiation at the tycoon’s secret island base. Using information provided by Mitzi (Dyanik Zurakowska), who is working undercover in the villain’s organisation, Russel infiltrates the installation. Unfortunately, he’s soon captured, and San Martin decides to use him as a lab rat in the experimental radiation process. The forces of law and order are preparing an attack on the island, but can they arrive in time, or might rescue come from a source much closer at hand?

Given the remorseless wave of spy adventures and Bond knockoffs that saturated mainland European cinema in the wake of ‘Goldfinger’ (1964), it’s inevitable that some projects got lost in the shuffle and have been almost completely forgotten. In the case of this dreary, unimaginative production, it’s perfectly understandable as Leonadi and his writers fail to create one real moment of interest in 82 minutes of relentless, low-budget mediocrity. The ‘Goldseven’ of the title is simply the name of San Martin’s shipping company and has no other significance whatsoever. That’s a good indication of the kind of laziness on display here.

The script comes courtesy of Preston Leonide and María del Carmen Martínez Román. Unfortunately, it appears they only had the back of an envelope handy to write it all down on, so the audience misses out on basic story details they might have felt they had a right to expect. Villain’ The Snake’ is teased throughout the film but doesn’t make an appearance, and Blanc’s identity and motivations are simply never explained. There is a curious, blink, and you’ll miss it, moment at the climax when we get a brief appearance by a character named Alex (Antonio Pica). He seems to have some kind of a relationship with Blanc that might explain things, but Russel kills him immediately, so we never find out who he was either. To give the writers and filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps some earlier scenes providing the necessary exposition were cut or maybe never even filmed if the production ran into financial issues.

There is one priceless sequence, however, when Russel and colleague Louis Kerez Fischer (Franco Cobianchi) interrogate one of San Martin’s captured lieutenants. He won’t talk, so the discussion turns to a general review of the investigation. Not only do they mention that they have an agent undercover in San Martin’s organisation, but they actually name her and decide to give her a call on the radio. All right in front of their prisoner. Be afraid for the fate of the free world if it’s in the hands of these clowns. Be very afraid.

Elsewhere, we get Rosa Klee blades flicking out the heels of shoes (not the toe, so it’s totally original) and machine gun fire on the soundtrack with no sign of the weapons involved (though we do see some later). The invading forces of law and justice dress in white coats that make them look like waiters or ice-cream salesmen. Gadgets are limited to the usual low-budget communication and surveillance devices, and Russel disguises himself as the captured lieutenant by going for a coffee while the original actor fills in. Russel removes his ‘disguise’ with a quick cut courtesy of the editor and by pulling off a comedy beard.

If this all sounds like it might be a recipe for some cheesy fun, then think again. There’s a disheartening weariness about the whole enterprise, which translates into a highly tedious viewing experience. Even the clock counting down Russell’s life at the end during the climax can’t be bothered to keep good time. Perhaps the only way the film could have passed muster was with some charismatic leading performances, but, sadly, neither Russel nor San Martin brings anything much to the table. The former is capable enough, but the script gives him nothing but a generic action hero with no identifiable characteristics. Blanc does far better as the conflicted femme fatale, but she’s offscreen for long periods, and her character remains ill-defined.

It’s no great surprise that director Leonardi and co-writer Leonide have no other industry credits. Co-author Roman did work in Italian film for about a decade, though. She provided the original story for Christopher Lee vehicle ‘Crypt of Horror/La cripta e l’incubo’ (1964) and did script duty on the rather shabby ‘Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964). Her other Eurospy projects included ‘Goldsnake ‘Anonima Killers’ (1966) and some uncredited work on ‘Operation Poker’ (1965). She enjoyed greater success with Spaghetti Westerns but quit the film business in 1971.

Russel entered the world as Antonio Pietro Russo but was American born to an Italian immigrant family. After a stint in the US Air Force, he began studying drama at the University of Michigan and scored several uncredited bits in major productions such as ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘King Creole’ (1958) with Elvis Presley. Tired of the Hollywood grind, he packed his bags for the old country and found almost immediate success leading ‘The Last Charge/La leggenda di Fra Diavolo’ (1962). Similar swashbucklers followed, but Russel also found gainful employment in many other genres. There was the international crime thriller of ‘Secret of the Sphinx’ (1964), the romantic comedy ‘Honeymoon, Italian Style/Viaggio di Nozze all’italiana’ (1966) and the science-fiction adventure ‘The War of the Planets/I diafanoidi vengono da Marte’ (1966). He returned to the United States in 1967 but mostly found work only in television, taking guest slots on popular network shows like ‘The High Chaparral’ and Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery.’ Today, he’s probably best remembered as one of the actors who turned down Clint Eastwood’s role in Sergio Leone’s ‘Fistful of Dollars’ (1964) and as the lead in Antonio Margheriti’s bonkers pop art space opera ‘The Wild Wild Planet/I Criminali Della Galassia(1966).

One for Eurospy completists only.

The Spy I Love/Coplan prend des risques/Coplan, Agent 005 (1964)

‘Anyone with a mug like hers shouldn’t be allowed to listen to Bach.’

Enemy agents carry out a daring double robbery, stealing a revolutionary new ramjet from a missile plant and the fuel formula from the Technical Director’s home. The authorities put their top operative on the case, but his investigation threatens to expose some powerful men…

The first in a loose series of five Eurospy films featuring secret agent Francis Coplan, the literary creation of novelist Paul Kenny. Almost inevitably hijacked by film producers to take on the duties of ‘Bond on a Budget’, the spy takes his 1960s bow here in the person of French actor Dominique Paturel.

It’s all hands to the pumps after a midnight heist at the Viard missile plant. Persons unknown have snatched the prototype of engine SR7-12, and, even though the nightwatchman managed to kill one of the perps, the other is in the wind. Spymaster The Old Man (Jacques Monod) drops the problem in the lap of star agent Coplan (Paturel) and his partner, Fondane (Jacques Balutin).

It turns out that Paturel has a personal interest in the case. The au pair who assisted with the second half of the theft turns out to be Ingrid Carlsen (Virna Lisi), whose involvement in a previous incident led to the disgrace and resignation of Paturel’s friend, and promising agent, Legay (André Weber). She’s now the lover of industrialist Georges Rochon (Guy Kerner), whose ex-wife (Yvonne Clech) has reported his alleged espionage activities to the local police in the past.

This black and white French, Italian and Belgian co-production sits halfway between a serious spy drama and the familiar, world-conquering ‘Bond’ template. The box office successes of ‘Dr No’ (1962) and ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963) likely prompted the production in the first place and the effort to include a decent level of action. However, the global pop phenomena that birthed a wave of imitators only really kicked into gear with the release of ‘Goldfinger’ (1964), which arrived in theatres several months after this feature hit European screens.

This timing results in director Maurice Labro delivering a film with only a few of the era’s tried and trusted Eurospy elements. The gimmicky secret device serves as the plot’s MacGuffin, a chunk of electronic gear everyone is desperate to obtain. Tellingly, however, this is not a weapon in itself, and there’s no ‘Bond Villain’ using its possession to blackmail the governments of the world from his secret base in an outlandish location. Similarly, the action, save for a late sequence aboard a moving train, is almost entirely bereft of significant stunt work. As a result, a modern audience expecting some Bond-type shenanigans is likely to be severely underwhelmed. However, without those expectations, what emerges is an enjoyable espionage thriller.

Coplan, as portrayed by Paturel, is an interesting contradiction. On the one hand, he is highly personable and quietly charismatic, encouraging the audience’s investment in him as the hero. Sidekick Balutin is obviously a long-standing friend and colleague, and the natural chemistry between the two actors really sells this relationship. Yet Paturel is quite happy to stand by gun in hand, looking amused while his buddy has the tar kicked out of him. In the same way, he has no compunction in knocking Lisi about when she doesn’t cooperate, and it’s indicated that the violence is a manifestation of the sexual tension between the two. Similarly, Paturel and Balutin indulge in a fair bit of casual sexism and objectification of women, which is likely to be unpopular with some modern audience members. It would be interesting to know whether this was simply a reflection of contemporary attitudes or whether the filmmakers were making a point about the dehumanisation that inevitably results from working in the espionage trade.

The plot is also pleasingly stuffed with characters and incident. The spy ring is linked to the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service active in World War Two. Paturel begins to suspect that some figures now prominent in the French business world worked for the organisation during the conflict and are still enemies of the free world. Suspects include smooth-talking executive Pelletier (André Valmy), American ex-pat Stratton (Tommy Duggan), who has links to the FBI and distinctly shady criminal type Bianco (Roger Dutoit). Paturel wades through a series of faceless goons and hardmen using his expertise in martial arts as the conspiracy slowly unravels.

The film’s standout sequence comes when Patruel and his team of friendly agents are trapped in a cellar with the air running out. There seems to be no way out until they hit on the idea of a literal pipe bomb and blast their way to freedom. These events occur at the end of the second act and seem to promise a thrilling conclusion, but, unfortunately, the film never lives up to it, despite the late combat on the train. Instead, the final act is a bit of a disappointment, with the unmasking of the main villain a non-event and matters settled with a simple face-off with drawn guns, the arrival of the authorities in force and some subsequent arrests. It’s not much of a spectacle, to put it mildly.

The name of Coplan’s literary creator, Paul Kenny, hid the identities of two writers, Belgians Gaston Van den Panhuyse and Jean Libert. The character appeared in over 200 novels from 1953 to 1996, with Van den Panhuyse assuming sole authorship after Libert’s death in 1981. After he passed on in turn, later episodes were penned by Serge Jacquemard. Coplan first appeared on the screen in the feature ‘Action immédiate’ (1957), also directed by Labro, but this predates Bond and the advent of the Eurospy genre. After his incarnation as Patrol, four other actors essayed his 1960s adventures; Ken Clark in ‘Agent Secret FX 18/FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)’, Richard Wyler in ‘Coplan FX 18 casse tout/The Exterminators’ (1965), Lang Jeffries in ‘Coplan ouvre le feu à Mexico/Mexican Slayride’ (1967) and Claudio Brook in ‘Coplan Saves His Skin/Coplan sauve sa peau’ (1968). A short-lived TV series starring Philippe Caroit screened in 1989.

Good performances elevate these spy escapades, but comparisons with the glitzier world of Bond are not advised.

Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse/Le tigre sort sans sa mère (1967)

‘It must be fun to court an electronic brain.’

A top French secret agent meets an old colleague in Berlin who has information regarding a major espionage operation. However, a sniper’s bullet intervenes before any vital intelligence can be exchanged. The agent begins his own investigation, uncovering a plot to undermine East-West relations and start another war…

Running around Europe as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ wasn’t much of a stretch for French actor Roger Hanin by the late 1960s. This Italian-West German-French co-production finds him tangling with the usual spying intrigues under the direction of Mario Maffei.

A meeting on a German barge goes south for French agent Julien Saint-Dominique (Hanin) when his old friend Felix (Edy Biagetti) bites an unexpected bullet in the middle of their conversation. Unfortunately, he’d provided little information before taking a header into the canal; just that something big was brewing. Outside his rented flat, Hanin rescues the beautiful Olivia (Margaret Lee) from a kidnap attempt in the street. The altercation turns out to be a novel (and pointless) way of inviting him to a conference with an American intelligence agent, Steve (Ivan Desny), who tells him to stay out of things and return to Paris.

Instead, Hanin starts to utilise his own contacts in Berlin; the elderly Von Rudolf, known as ‘Papillon’ (Ennio Balbo), and his blonde Girl Friday Frida (Brigitte Wentzel). He also saves Ingrid Richleau (Helga Sommerfeld) from an abduction attempt in the same place and by the same goons who seemed to be trying to snatch Lee. In a twist that will surprise no one, it turns out she’s the daughter of another of Hanin’s old friends and colleagues. What’s happened to him? He’s been kidnapped, of course! Berlin, eh? Not safe to walk down the street.

The case proves to be a tangled web, as Hanin finds himself followed, shot at, hiding in the funnel of a boat and sent over to East Berlin disguised as a Russian soldier. Eventually, events lead to a secret organisation using misinformation to stoke up trouble between the Superpowers. Hijacking communication channels from their secret underground base, they convince the Americans that the other side is planning to invade West Berlin through the sewers, setting the stage for the spark which will ignite global conflict.

Although all the ingredients are present and correct for a spy adventure on the more outlandish end of the spectrum, Maffei’s entry has a surprisingly serious tone, and the action is more grounded than in most similar vehicles of the time. There are no extravagant gadgets, flamboyant stunt work or quasi-science-fiction plot developments, with even the villain’s secret base looking reasonably sensible and fit for purpose. If that all sounds a little disappointing, then there is still some fun to be had, thanks to a capable cast and a brisk pace that helps to paper over the somewhat meandering plotline.

Hanin is a likeable leading man who can turn on the charm but also convince on the occasions that his character is required to display a harder edge. Lee also has a lot of fun as femme fatale Olivia, her loyalties in question throughout. She’s sexy and appealing on the one hand but ruthless and deadly on the other. The cat and mouse game that she plays with Hanin is the film’s most interesting element. Elsewhere Peter Carsten is excellent as the sadistic Günther, and there’s some nice work from Balbo and Hanin, who suggest a long-term friendship with just a few minimal gestures and facial expressions.

The story also takes an interesting direction when Hanin’s investigation takes him to Mexico to meet English spy Lord Kinsey (Jorge Rado). Within moments, Hanin has him pegged as an imposter and kills him, leading to a brief shootout with some of his men. Then he pops on a flight back to Berlin. In terms of the story, it’s completely pointless. However, it does allow Hanin to play tourist for five minutes of the runtime with yet another pretty blonde, Kinsey’s assistant Jill Garfield (Jane Massey). Including a splash of the wonderful local colour and Hanin hanging around some stunning locations may speak to some Mexican finance behind the production. There’s no other apparent reason for this sudden and relatively brief excursion.

Hanin and Lee had already teamed up in the far sillier spy adventure ‘An Orchid for the Tiger/Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite’ (1965). That was the second of two films where Hanin played secret agent Louis Rapière, known as ‘le tigre’. Presumably with an eye on the box office, this film was released in France as ‘Le tigre sort sans a mère’, the literal English translation of which is ‘The Tiger Leaves Without his Mother’. A pretty baffling title, to say the least, and the possibility that it was a nod to the character of Steed and Tara King’s spy boss on TV’s ‘The Avengers’ seems unlikely. Patrick Newell’s first appearance in that role wasn’t broadcast until September 1968 in the UK, and the film debuted in French theatres two months earlier. There was another ‘unofficial’ film in the series a year earlier when the Hanin-starring espionage thriller ‘Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8’ (1966) was retitled as ‘Agente Tigre sfida infernale’ for the Italian market.

Lee was an English actress, a Londoner born in Wolverhampton, whose beauty, natural screen presence and facility with languages saw her employed in films all over Europe in the 1960s. Equally adept at comedy and drama, she debuted as the heroine of Peplum adventure ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962) and took a similar gig soon afterwards in ‘Sansone contro i pirati/Samson and the Sea Beast’ (1963). Subsequently, she did her apprentice work almost exclusively in Italian comedies, working her way up to leads from supporting roles.
Eurospy adventure ‘From the Orient with Fury/Agente 077 dall’oriente con furore’ (1965) was the first of several similar projects that included ‘New York Calling Super dragon/New York chiama Superdrago’ (1966), ‘Our Man in Marrakesh’ (1966), ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die/Se Tutte le donne del mondo… (Operazione Paradiso)’ (1966) and ‘OSS 117 Murder for Sale/Niente rose per OSS 117’ (1968). She diversified into other genres over the next few years, appearing in films with notable stars like Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Rita Hayworth and George Sanders. She began concentrating on family life in the 1970s, and her final screen role was in 1983. In later life, she moved to California and began working periodically in the theatre.

Mildly entertaining espionage antics, elevated by the talented cast.

Ypotron/Operation ‘Y’/Agente Logan – missione Ypotron (1966)

‘A bulletproof vest under a tuxedo? My tailor would never OK that.’

A top scientist working at a missile plant is kidnapped just as he is about to complete his life’s work. The authorities send in their best agent to crack the case, and he soon discovers that the scientist’s beautiful daughter is being blackmailed into handing over a mysterious briefcase…

Standard Eurospy shenanigans with Argentine actor Luis Dávila fighting the good fight as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget.’ This Italian-Spanish-French co-production comes from co-writer and director Giorgio Stegani, who spices up the action with some timely elements of the space race.

It’s happy holiday time for super spy Lemmy Logan (Dávila, wonderfully billed as Luis Devil), who is running around exotic Acapulco juggling a choice selection of beautiful women. Sadly for him, his fun is interrupted by his killjoy sidekick Wilson (Jesús Puente), who delivers the inevitable news that he’s needed back home. Missile expert Professor Morrow (Alfredo Mayo) has been kidnapped, something that comes as no surprise to any audience member who noticed that his chauffeur, Strike, was being played by ubiquitous villain Luciano Pigozzi.

Mayo has been working on a mysterious project for smooth-talking industrialist Revel (Alberto Dalbés) called ‘Operation Gemini’, but Dávila prefers to pursue a more attractive prospect. The lead in question is Mayo’s beautiful daughter, Jeanne (Gaia Germani), who Pigozzi and his criminal gang have already contacted. The price of her father’s ransom is a mysterious briefcase, but the situation is complicated by the presence of the beautiful Carol (Janine Reynaud), who seems to be playing a game of her own.

This is pretty much a by-the-numbers, low-budget spy game of the mid-1960s. There’s the dashing hero who looks sharp in a suit and is handy with his fists, the kidnapped scientist with the super weapon, his beautiful daughter and the usual parade of faceless goons for our main man to work through before he unmasks the true evil mastermind. These minions include the giant Goro (Fernando Bilbao), whose only weakness turns out to be getting a burst of hot steam to the face. The gadgets are nearly all of the surveillance variety, including a tracking radar hidden inside a bible and one that can take photographs from inside a closed suitcase. A handy little device can also make telephones ring from across the room.

Unfortunately, the film only seems to be available with a rather careless English dub track, which may be responsible for some of the apparent inconsistencies in the story. It also turns Dávila into ‘Robbie Logan’ and makes it difficult to assess the cast’s performances, although Pigozzi delivers another of his trademark creepy villains. As with many similar endeavours, the lack of budget really begins to show through in the final third when Dávila and Germani reach the villain’s lair. This hi-tech headquarters turns out to be little more than the maintenance level of a typical high-rise, complete with steam pipes and boiler room. Not forgetting the model rocket sitting in the desert on top, of course. Inevitably, the action also lacks scale, and the fight choreography is workmanlike at best, but director Stegani does create a couple of memorable sequences. The first sees Dávila trapped in a wind tunnel at the missile facility, and the second involves the abduction of Germani from a nightclub. This snatch takes place during a striptease act and is surprisingly effective.

There are also some enjoyably cheesy moments. Although initially distrusting Dávila, Germani comes on board immediately when he tells her he’s a secret agent working for NASA with the codename of ‘Cosmos 1’ (stop laughing at the back!) It’s also fortunate that Reynaud can blink in morse code and that Puente’s in contact with stock footage of a navy destroyer in the middle of some ocean or other. Oh, and a word for all you budding film producers out there. If you want to use an invented word as the title of your movie, probably best to come up with something that doesn’t need a pronunciation guide!

Stegani began as a writer and worked uncredited on Giorgio Ferroni’s remarkable ‘Mill of the Stone Women/Il mulino delle donne di pietra’ (1960). He doubled as Second Unit Director on his next writing gig and received his first full directing credit for the ‘Italian Version’ of ‘Operation Hong Kong/Weiße Fracht für Hongkong’ (1964), although this may have been for quota purposes only. However, he was in full charge as writer and director of Spaghetti Western ‘Adiós gringo’ (1965) before he moved into the world of the Eurospy. More tales of the Old West followed, including ‘Beyond the Law/Al di là della legge’ (1968) with Lee Van Cleef, but after the end of the decade, he worked only sporadically.

Unremarkable spy games, but fans of the genre will probably find some things to like.