Kill, Panther, Kill! / Kommissar X – Die Blaue Panther (1968)

Kill Panther Kill (1968)‘Confucius say: He who has cheese for brains doesn’t think.’

A career criminal escapes custody so he can meet with his brother and reclaim the proceeds of a big jewellery heist. Police Captain Tom Rowland is on the case, but his old friend, and sometime rival, Joe Walker has been employed by an insurance company to recover the gems…

The fifth in the seven-film ‘Kommissar X’ series finds main man Tony Kendall doing the usual: running around the glamorous capital cities of Europe as ‘Bond on a Budget’ juggling the usual guns, gadgets and girls. Only it doesn’t. The last of the secret agent trappings departed with previous entry ‘Death Trip’ (1967) and, from this film onwards, it was strictly criminals targeting a profit motive, rather than world domination. Yes, spies were ‘out’ and international crime thrillers were ‘in.’ And, instead of Paris, Rome and London, the action is centred on Calgary and Montreal.

Unfortunately, without those Eurospy quirks or outlandish touches, the script is the definition of safe and predictable, and the finished item is more than a little mundane. All round bad egg Franco Fantasia stages a breakout that leaves his guards dead, and joins up with the other two members of his old gang, the smooth but nasty Siegfried Rauch, and the slightly wacky Gianfranco Parolini (who also directed under his usual alias of Frank Kramer). The swag was left with Fantasia’s twin brother (Fantasia, again) and a quick identity swap becomes necessary after the straight arrow refuses to co-operate. Rowland (Brad Harris) already has the hots for the twin’s wife (Erika Blanc), while Kendall is busy getting flirty with the man’s secretary (Corny Collins).

And so the stage is set for the usual round of double crosses, a bit of gunplay and some underwhelming fisticuffs. As per usual with this series, the storytelling is a little sloppy in places, but things hang together in a neater fashion than in some of the other entries. Kendall and Harris conveniently run across the members of a martial arts school, which provides an opportunity for Harris to show some of his moves and pepper the soundtrack with some of the most over-the-top punching sounds ever heard outside of a Kung Fu film. Oh, and the Panther of the title is actually a little blue statue, so there’s little chance of it actually hurting anyone unless someone drops it on their foot.

Rauch began his career in his native Germany and had already appeared in the third film in the series, ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966). He went onto major supporting turns in big Hollywood productions such as ‘Patton’ (1969), ‘Le Mans’ (1971) with Steve McQueen, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1976) and ‘Escape to Athena’ (1979). As of 2017, he’s still working regularly on Germany television at the age of 85. Blanc took the lead in Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby, Kill’ (1966), the title of which may have inspired the rather inaccurate name this project received on its U.S. release.

Kill Panther Kill (1968)

Brad Harris (1933-2017)

Unfortunately, whilst researching this post, l discovered that Harris passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 84. His daughter, Sabrina Calley, carries on the family tradition in the costume and wardrobe department, working on big hits like ‘Maleficent’ (2014)‘Salt’ (2010), and as set costumer on ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2017) with Hugh Jackman.

This film marks the point where the series moved from the Eurospy arena to the international crime thriller. The results are stubbornly unremarkable, but the series carried on for two more films anyway.

Not the worst of the ‘Kommissar X’ films, but probably the dullest.

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Assignment Skybolt/Operation Skybolt (1968)

Assignment Skybolt (1968)‘Without my head, I don’t talk so good.’

Special agent Dan Holland gets the case when a hydrogen bomb is stolen from a NATO facility in Turkey. lt would seem his brother his involved, but he was believed to have died in combat during the Greek Civil War. Holland’s investigations take him to.the seedy Mermaid Club…

This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is handsome Nicolas Kirk, who gets sent to Athens to try to locate the missing device, principally because he ‘knows the language and the country.’ It’s not all that surprising really, because Kirk – real name Nikos Kourkoulous – was actually born there! Yes, this seems to be Greece’s only flirtation with the Eurospy genre, and it’s directed by native Gregg G Tallas (real name Grigorios Thalassinos). He was back home from the U.S. after delivering ‘ls this supposed to be a comedy?’ classics ‘Siren of Atlantis’ (1949) and ‘Prehistoric Women’ (1950). He’d had previous experience with ‘Bond’ knock-offs too, directing the pedestrian Italian/Spanish ‘Espionage ln Tangiers’ (1965) a few years earlier. Sadly, this effort is probably even less remarkable.

The film opens with an American agent being beaten to death on an old boat. It’s a curious scene as the action is accompanied on the soundtrack by a gentle, Greek folk number; synchronised sound presumably being unavailable. We never see the original theft of the bomb; where it was taken from, or learn anything about the method employed. Kourkoulous gets the job of finding it, and his only clue is the dead operative’s connection with Mermaid Club, This is a seedy backstreet dive, which is featured so much in the early part of the proceedings that I began to wonder if the production had access to any other sets!

The Club is conveniently staffed by plenty of eye candy for Kourkoulous to wrap his lips around. There’s singer Anna Brazzou, balloon dancer Elena Nathanail and stripper Sonia Zoidou (who is also pretending to be American). Kourkoulous romances all three to some extent or other, of course, enjoying rough sex with Brazzou in her hotel room, a scene which involves him using his belt on her in a way which rings alarm bells these days. Although she does get her own back in similar fashion later on.

Assignment Skybolt (1968)

‘Are you alright, mate?’

What follows is the usual half-hearted brew of (unconvincing) fisticuffs, gunplay and a car chase on a mountain road that ends with the usual old wreck being pushed down a slope. For once, it doesn’t even explode. The coming together of the vehicles as the villains try to force Kourkoulous off the road is achieved by shaking the camera violently and playing some grinding noises on the soundtrack. It’s no surprise when we see our hero’s car unmarked in the next scene!

Other highlights include Brazzou singing a couple of rather boring songs, Kourkoulous having his testicles electrified by some random henchmen, and a climax on a pleasure yacht involving a portly Chinese agent. Oh, and Brazzou and Kourkoulous do some traditional Greek dancing, which is nice.

This is a very unremarkable and unambitious project. By the time we reach the denouement, it feels like we’ve been in Mr Kourkoulous’ company for an awfully long time.

Secret Agent Super Dragon/New York Chiama Super Drago (1966)

Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)‘Tell me, have you ever had a bath in electricity?’  

An ex-secret agent comes out of retirement when one of his old colleagues dies in a mysterious road accident. Taking over the operative’s last assignment means investigating some strange goings on a college campus in Michigan…

This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ running around continental Europe (well, Amsterdam and Michigan actually!) is U.S. actor Ray Danton, who tangles with guns, girls and gadgets in his efforts to thwart the dastardly schemes of super villain Carlo D’Angelo. The fiend has been road testing a behavioural modification drug called Synchron in small town, USA and it’s sending the kids like wild, man. Well, getting them to beat each other up if you want to be more specific, rather than something of a more psychedelic (or interesting) persuasion.

Danton recruits convicted lifer Babyface (Jess Hahn) as his bodyguard, which proves an astute choice as he turns out to be a kind of mobile ‘Q’ Division, furnishing our underwhelming hero with a series of gadgets, including a bulletproof vest, a model mini-submarine and a watch that activates inflatable buoyancy balloons (handy when you’ve been put in a coffin and dumped in the canal). Oh, and there’s a little torch, which allows him to read messages written on a mirror in what looks like lipstick (but probably isn’t). That’s about it on the gadget front, but Danton does get to tussle with a fine selection of lovely Euro-babes including Margaret Lee (England), Marisa Mell (Austria) and Adriana Ambesi (Italy).

Apart from that, it’s the usual round of double crosses, semi-convincing fisticuffs, and undercooked story elements. There’s some silly malarkey about a bunch of guys in silver masks buying Ming vases at a charity auction, and a rather muddled climax that arrives suspiciously quickly, probably due to the influence of an over-enthusiastic American distributor. Unfortunately, the film has absolutely no sense of dynamism or style, an accusation which could be easily be expanded to include Danton himself, who’s certainly no Sean Connery (or Tony Kendall, or Roger Browne for that matter!) On the plus side, it is better than Jess Franco’s ‘Lucky The Inscrutable/Agente Speciale L.K.’ (1967), another EuroSpy which starred Danton, although that’s not saying very much! What really sinks this enterprise is the unmistakable feeling that no-one’s trying very hard, including director Giorgio Ferroni.

Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)

The Green Hornet suspected that Kato had been skipping his sessions at the gym…

Danton began his career on TV in the 1950s and graduated quickly to supporting roles in big studio movies, such as ‘I’ll Cry Tomorrow’ (1955) with Susan Hayward, and ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ (1958) with Errol Flynn. He also took the title role in Allied Artists’ factually dubious ‘The George Raft Story’ (1961), but the film was not a success and he decamped to Italy a few years later. There he made a string of films; several in the EuroSpy genre. In the following decade, he headed back to the States, and many guest slots on network TV shows.

Mell sealed her place in film history as John Phillip Law’s leading lady in Mario Bava’s cult classic ‘Diabolik’ (1968), but also featured in Joe D’Amato’s appalling ‘Quest For The Mighty Sword’ (1990) at the twilight of her career. Sadly, she lost her fight with cancer just a couple of years later, at the age of just 53. Despite combining beauty with bags of screen personality, Lee never made it out of continental genre flicks, despite appearing opposite her namesake Christopher in ‘Circus of Fear/Psycho-Circus’ (1966). She also made a good showing in the brilliantly trashy ‘Dorian Gray’ (1970), which is still one of the best versions of the Oscar Wilde classic, but probably not a film to include on your CV if you’re trying to make it as a serious actress!

These half-hearted EuroSpy shenanigans are really for die-hard fans of the genre only.

The Three Fantastic Supermen/The Fantastic Three (1967)

‘Watch out! One of the three Supermen is following in a Yellow Cab!’

Two thieves who rob high-profile targets wearing special bulletproof costumes are joined by a third member for their latest heist. Their plan to rob a foreign embassy of millions of dollars goes off without a hitch, until they realise that their new colleague has his own agenda…

Cheerful 1960’s comedy-adventure that combines elements of the Superhero genre, James Bond and the caper movie. Producer-Director Gianfranco Parolini (hiding under his usual alias of Frank Kramer) had previously teamed actors Tony Kendall and Brad Harris in decent Bond knock-off ‘Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill’ (1966). That movie launched them in the successful ‘Kommissar X’ spy film series, which ran until 1971, but, in the meantime, Parolini put the performers together again here.

Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) is the leader of this criminal enterprise, always ready with a knowing smirk, smart chat for the ladies, and a useful pair of fists. Sidekick Aldo Canti is an acrobat who can’t speak but giggles hysterically throughout, in what is a somewhat puzzling artistic choice. Their schemes are backed by boffin Carlo Tamberlani, who has invented their bulletproof suits (and capes!), a self-driving car and a ‘Universal Reproducer’ (of which more later). He also has a pretty young niece, of course, played by Bettina Busch, which gives rise to all sorts of kidnapping possibilities for chief bad guy Jochen Brockmann and his gorgeous sidekick Sabine Sun. Kendall also runs a spy school for beautiful women, and may be an English nobleman working for British Intelligence (although, like a lot of plot points, that isn’t exactly clear).

When our heroic duo become a trio for their latest blag, they’re joined by American Brad Harris. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s an FBI Agent and he’s after their swag because he suspects it to be counterfeit (and a little bit radioactive). That’s because it’s been created by Tamberlani’s ‘Reproducer’ which has ‘fallen into the wrong hands’ as these great inventions always do. The villainous Brockmann doesn’t want to stop at such petty larceny though, conscripting Tamberlani (through the unexpected medium of kidnapping his pretty niece) to modify his device to create copies of people. Yes, he needs zombie soldiers for his army so he can conquer the world!

This is all supremely silly, of course, and the film proceeds at the sort of helter-skelter pace designed to both maximise the entertainment value and paper over the gaps in the screenplay, which is sometimes more than a little incoherent as well as deliberately ridiculous. Unfortunately, Parolini doesn’t have the sort of budget necessary to achieve the swashbuckling style he’s aiming for, with both fight choreography and action set pieces lacking in execution and thrills, although there is some decent stunt driving.

Three Fantastic Supermen (1967)

Audiences thought the ‘Dance Off’ was too close to call…

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the presence of Canti. Most of his acrobatic feats are performed in a mask, so it could have been a stunt double, but it does seem he had at least some gymnastic ability. Why is this a surprise? Well, apparently, Canti was a real-life criminal with ties to the Mafia. ln fact, he was a full-time resident of the local prison during production but was allowed out during the day to film his scenes!

Two sequels followed; ‘3 Supermen in Tokio’ (1968) and ‘Supermen’ (1970). Kendall didn’t appear in either, but Harris showed up for the last of the short series. Unsurprisingly, Canti was a no-show on both occasions too, his role being taken by Sal Borgese, who turns up here as an FBI Agent with a bazooka!

Good, undemanding fun if you can look at the other way and forgive the technical deficiencies.

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You’re Dead (1965)

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)‘Someone’s Crazy! This is the third body in a month with the eyeball removed!’

After the death of a top research scientist, his daughter becomes the target of international spies after a secret formula. An American agent is sent to break her out of captivity on the other side of the Berlin Wall, but his boss has had a secret TV camera implanted behind his eye during what he believed was an operation to cure his sight.

Lacklustre Italian Eurospy doings that are most notable for a featured performance by ex-Hollywood leading man Dana Andrews. He’s the section chief responsible for this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ Brett Halsey, a handsome American actor who never really hit the big time back home. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to run around glamorous European capital cities, or wrestle much arm candy, although he does get to spend a little time in a hay barn in heroine Pier Angeli. In terms of gadgets, we do get a murderous waxwork of Napoleon, and a colleague who carries out a Quasimodo-like masquerade just so he can sometimes attack enemy agents with an unconvincing knife that comes out of his hump. The main villain’s lair also doubles as a doctor’s operating room, via an impressive mechanical set.

However, despite these implausible trappings, this is a much more grounded spy adventure than you would expect. It is more Sean Connery Bond, than the outlandish Roger Moore era. Unfortunately, it’s these gimmicks which are the only thing of interest in the film, and they are fairly peripheral to say the least. What we get instead is a hopelessly dreary 90 minutes of kidnappings, assassinations, cross and double cross, a few scenes with a helicopter and lots of men in suits talking in rooms.

Andrews gets a reliably authoritative performance, but he’s the best thing here by a long way, as none of the rest of the cast are able to invest their characters with any real personality. Similarly, director Vittorio Sala fails to bring a level of tension to the proceedings, and there is a complete absence of style or dynamism in his work. Andrews’ top line credentials were established with big studio hits like ‘Laura’ (1944), ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’ (1946), ‘Boomerang’ (1947) and, later on, the genuinely creepy ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957). Unfortunately, problems with the bottle accelerated a career decline which found him with an icebox full of Nazis in ‘The Frozen Dead’ (1966). But he cleaned up, went into real estate, made a fortune, and lived to the age of 83.

Blonde hero Halsey got his start in supporting roles at Universal in the late 1950s, even graduating to the lead in horror sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959). But, by the 1960s, he’d decided to try his luck in Europe and spent the next decade in ltaly, appearing in projects like this and the similarly themed ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965). He returned to the States in the 1970s and rounded out his career with many guest appearances on Network TV shows and the occasional character role in features, such as ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)

‘Be careful! You’ll have someone’s eye out with that!’

Angeli was an Italian whose big break came opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956), and was an early girlfriend of both James Dean and Kirk Douglas. Unfortunately, she could never capitalise on her initial success and ended her career, and her life (via barbiturate overdose), on the set of no budget monster snooze-athon ‘Octaman’ (1971).

Sala’s most noteworthy credit is probably ‘Colossus and the Amazons’ (1960) simply as it was the next film released starring Rod Taylor after his career making turn as H.G.Wells’ hero in ‘The Time Machine’ (1960). In the supporting cast, it’s always a pleasure to see Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, here appearing in a thankless role as a spy who plays both ends against the middle. If you’re interested in cult European cinema through the 1960s to the 1980s, you could do worse than check out Pigozzi’s filmography. He appeared in everything from ‘werewolf in a girl’s dormitory’ shocker ‘Lycanthropus’ (1961), to disasters like the idiotic ‘Devilman Story’ (1967), several appearances for horror maestro Mario Bava, including ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964), to classic guilty pleasure ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983).

If I’ve talked a great deal more about the careers of the major players here than the film itself, that should tell you all that you need to know. Dull, anonymous spy shenanigans with a few bizarre touches that turn out to be just window dressing and nothing more.

Espionage in Tangiers/S O77 Spionaggio a Tangeri (1965)

Espionage In Tangiers (1965)‘A plate like this, even if used by a child, would destroy the whole universe.’

A trio of scientists invent a disintegrating ray, which is immediately stolen by enemy assassins. One of the killers is identified by a U.N. operative in Tangiers and a special agent is dispatched to recover the device…

Eurospy films of the 1960s are not exactly noted for high levels of invention and creativity, and sadly there is nothing in this Italian/Spanish example to buck that trend. And that’s quite a disappointment actually, as it comes from director Gregg G Tallas, the man behind the ‘Is this a comedy?’ classics ‘Siren of Atlantis’ (1949) and ‘Prehistoric Women’ (1950). Sadly, there’s no evidence of the same level of entertainment here, not even a sign of the giggles provoked by his final film, the ridiculous schlock horror compendium ‘Night Train To Terror’ (1985).

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is Argentinian actor Luis Dàvila, who looks older than his 38 years, but still throws himself into the rounds of rather unconvincing fisticuffs with impressive levels of commitment. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to run around the glamorous capital cities of Europe having conversations beside world famous landmarks, but instead is confined to the narrow streets and dusty warehouses of Tangiers and Nice.

The story never really develops beyond the all-too familiar tropes relating to the ‘weapon that must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands’ and, of course, despite the seriousness of the situation, the authorities are quite happy to leave its recovery to just one man. The weapon itself resembles nothing so much as a battery for a mobile phone or the ‘waffer-thin’ mint fed to Mr. Creosote in ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ (1983). Insert it into a toy pistol, however, and it makes for a great solution to parking problems or putting out the barbecue in your fireplace.

So, what about the Guns, Girls and Gadgets? Well, despite her first name, our lead actress José Creci is a slim, attractive brunette. She ends up in bed with our hero after he slaps her around a bit, in a scene that rings a few warning bells in these more enlightened times. Creci also appeared in the similar ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) but was more likely to be found in ‘peplum’ pictures such as ‘Hercules Against The Barbarians’ (1964) and ‘Goliath and the Sins of Babylon’ (1963). Here she’s competing for Dàvila’s somewhat questionable attentions with shady nightclub owner Petra Cristal, who played in ‘The Awful Dr Orloff’ (1962) for notorious director Jess Franco, and in Paul Naschy’s ‘Fury of the Wolf Man‘ (1972), among many others.

Espionage In Tangiers (1965)

‘Seriously? That’s the best map you’ve got?’

ln the film’s most curious sequence, Dàvila picks up a motorbike from outside a building and exits stage left in pursuit of the bad guys. A brief chase through the night streets follows, made up of long shots and unconvincing, gloomy close ups. Then Dàvila rides the bike back into frame, to park it seemingly outside the very same building which he left only a few minutes earlier. Perhaps the owner of the bike simply didn’t trust the filmmakers more than a few feet at a time!

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot more to say about such a generic, by the numbers enterprise. Perhaps Dàvila has a little more edge than some of his contemporaries, but that’s really all you can take away from this one. Does he have any gadgets? Um…no. Not really. Apart from a gun, which he uses a few times. One of the villains does have a carphone, though, and it comes with a TV screen! Some of the scenery is quite nice too.

A completely forgettable entry in the Eurospy genre.

Lucky The Inscrutable/Agente Speciale L.K. (1967)

Lucky The Inscrutable (1967)‘Along with all my other talents, l happen to be a master of false bottoms.’

A suave, super spy is sent to less than exotic climes by his chief, Archangel, to break up a counterfeiting operation. On the way, he runs into a spot of bother with guns, girls and gadgets (without the gadgets) but a killer smirk and some half-arsed witticisms are just two of the weapons in his arsenal. Well, the only ones really…

Italian/Spanish spy spoof brought to us by cult director Jesus ‘Jess’ Franco, and starring Ray Danton as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’. Unfortunately, as it turns out, he’s on a very small budget indeed. Yes, instead of the usual round of Paris, Lisbon and Casablanca, poor Danton gets brief stopovers in London and Rome, before he’s sent to Tirana in Albania. And he never gets to leave. It’s not exactly the French Riviera, is it?

Actually, the film opens well, with a scene that evokes nothing so much as ‘West Side Story’ (1963)! A gang of cool cats wait in the street for their mark, girls coo prettily on the soundtrack, and the photography is quite gorgeous. Not that any of this helps the operative who meets his Waterloo at the hands of the gang and sets the film’s plot in motion. Such as it is. Yes, it’s bad. Everything heads around the u-bend immediately. The fight choreography is lame for a start. Ah, it’s supposed to be a comedy. Only it isn’t remotely funny. Slight problem that.

Actually, the film gets increasingly bizarre, frantic and desperate as it goes, the running time unreeling at the rate of the rapidly expiring production budget. Most of the so-called plot developments are simply an excuse for another ‘madcap’ chase scene, and these are executed with very little stunt work and a complete absence of wit or flair. The addition of ‘comedy’ music also means there’s a distinct echo of old two-reelers from the silent movie days!

Lucky The Inscrutable (1967)

‘Have you heard of something called deodorant?’

Are there any girls? Well, yes, there’s plenty of eye candy for Danton to smarm over, but none stick around long enough to make any real impression apart from the lovely Rosabela Neri. Typically, she’s wasted in just a couple of scenes as a sexy Albanian policewoman.

Are there any guns?  Yes, plenty. Sometimes it even looks as if the cast are firing them. We also get scratchy, black and white artillery emplacements firing on Danton’s private plane! Shame it’s a colour movie. Are there any gadgets? Well…no. Not really. None at all, in fact.

Director Franco went onto become something of a cult figure in Euro-cinema with a prodigious output of 203 features! It’s inevitable that the quality is all over the place, of course, but there’s no denying the sense of visual style that he brought to such projects as ‘She Killed In Ecstasy’ (1971) and ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1972). Unfortunately, his skills as a storyteller were less well developed, and that was a problem as he scripted most of his pictures. And with his habit of regularly knocking out more than half a dozen projects a year, there are some truly wretched examples of his work, such as ‘Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein’ (1972) and ‘The Castle of Fu Manchu’ (1969). The latter was a collaboration with Christopher Lee and the two also worked together on other, better films such as ‘The’Bloody Judge’ (1970) and ‘Count Dracula’ (1970), although these also suffered from a lack of production values. And this film is one of Franco’s real bargain basement efforts. The cheapness is even acknowledged in the film’s ridiculous climax, which is about as useless as it gets.

Spy spoofs were ten a penny in the 1960s, but you’d be hard pressed to find a worse example than this. The best aspect of the film is its brief length, but this is small consolation to the audience, as the film overstays its welcome in the first quarter of an hour.

Not recommended. Even for hard core Eurospy freaks.