Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8/Agente Tigre sfida infernale (1965)

‘Sometimes changing some characteristics of a person is enough to deflect the suspicions of an overly curious eye.’

The niece of a foreign ambassador is persuaded to take a necklace through customs on her diplomatic passport. Afterwards, she finds out that it contained microfilm, and she is blackmailed into taking part in a plot to kidnap a scientist…

Serious-minded French-Italian black and white spy games from director Roger Vernay. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is Roger Hanin, although his adventures in espionage are a long way removed from the glitzy world of 007.

Diplomat’s daughter Eva Dolbry (Christiane Minazzoli) is living the high life in Paris. Sports cars, parties and eligible bachelors; playboy Serge Alerio (Antonio Passalia) and ‘man from the ministry’ Mirmont (Hanin). Her father, the Ambassador (Donald O’Brien), favours his colleague, of course, but Minazzoli finds the bespectacled Hanin to be a bit of a bore. She would much rather make time with the dashing Passalia. It’s also a thrill when he asks her to take a necklace through customs as a gift to an old friend who lives in Warsaw. Unfortunately, after she delivers the bauble to a nightclub singer, he tells her that she’s smuggled some secret microfilm.

Surprise, surprise, Passalia is an enemy agent and, having evidence on tape of Minazzoli handing over the necklace, blackmail is the order of the day. Sensibly, she confesses everything to security chief René Dary, who puts his best man on the case. In another huge surprise, this turns out to be Hanin, who turns into a top spy once he takes his glasses off. Passalia and his associates want Minazzoli’s help kidnapping family friend Professeur Wilkowski (Lucien Nat), whose latest secret formula looks to be a global game changer. So, she gets to play double agent with Hanin as her handler.

If audiences were expecting some spy antics in the vein of Sean Connery’s early outings as Ian Fleming’s secret agent, they likely left the theatre after this experience extremely disappointed. Vernay’s film drifts far closer to John Le Carré territory, with a dour, almost documentary feel. Action is limited to occasional gunplay, car chases and fisticuffs. The most notable combat takes place in the hull of a ship when Hanin is taking part in a search for the kidnapped scientist. Inexplicably, the vessel is then allowed to disembark, even though Hanin’s colleagues know exactly where he was, and he hasn’t returned!

The production’s lack of scale and ambition is the real problem here. It brings nothing to mind so much as television shows of the same period, although there’s no evidence that this was anything other than a big screen effort. However, this does mean that they are few points of interest. Minazzoli heroically wrangles a pair of false lashes that probably gave her eyelids a hernia and does her best to inject some life into the moribund proceedings. Aside from that, the scenes where vehicles are forced off the road are competently staged, and Vernay likes to put the backs of people’s heads in the corner of the frame to create some depth to his shots.

Whether this was an attempt to deliver a more grounded espionage drama is unknown, but it is possible. The presence of the kidnapped scientist and his invention of a synthetic substitute for oil are little more than incidental plot devices. They lead only to a standard hostage exchange and a hurried, anti-climactic shootout. The villains are a colourless bunch, too, without a gadget or secret base between them. Purists may prefer this more realistic approach to the more extravagant flourishes of a Bond-like adventure. However, such an approach needs a compelling story with some surprising twists and turns, and Vernay’s film has none of that.

This was almost the last example of a film based on a novel by French writer and occasional film director Maurice Dekobra. His work was regularly adapted for the screen from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s. Italian distributors added ‘Le Tigre’ to the film’s title on release, presumably to cash in on the spy character Hanin played in two other (much better) films of the time. The same trick was tried again a few years later when the multi-national production ‘Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse’ (1967) was retitled ‘Le tigre sort sans sa mère’ for French audiences.

Hanin was born in 1925 in Algeria, which was still a French colony at the time. After abortive attempts to study law and chemistry, he debuted on the Parisian stage and made his debut before the cameras in 1951. Minor supporting roles followed over the next few years, including a couple of films starring Jean Gabin, including the unusual crime film ‘Gas-oil’ (1955). A more significant part in Jean-Luc Godard’s critically-acclaimed ‘Breathless/À bout de souffle’ (1960) raised his profile, and leading roles followed almost immediately. He starred in several other Eurospy features in the 1960s, aside from his appearances as ‘Le Tigre’, and he remained regularly employed until a few years before his death in 2015. However, he is probably best remembered for his 17-year run as the Police Commissioner in the small screen crime drama ‘Navarro.’ He was buried in Algeria by special presidential permission.

A dreary, rather lifeless experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)‘Of course, without your American tanks, we could never have won at Stalingrad…’

A test pilot is disbelieved when he encounters an unidentified flying object during the inaugural flight of a new jet plane. He’s dismissed from his job, but further sightings follow and he is recruited by the US military to join a secret mission to infiltrate Red China. An identical craft has been reported hidden in the ruins of an isolated church…

Late 1960’s Cold War adventure spiced up with a science fiction gimmick and a surprising, if heavy-handed, message about international tolerance and co-operation. But that’s for later, the focus at the start is handsome, square-jawed top gun John Ericson shooting through the wild blue yonder and putting an experimental jet through its paces. There’s a lot riding on the flight; top military brass are watching and a big fat defence contract is almost a certainty. In fact, bossman Bartlett Robinson is so sure of success that he’s even had the plane fitted out with air force insignia and markings. That decision must have gone down well with writer-director Frank Telford. It meant that he could source lots of jet plane stock footage from a reasonably priced local film library.

But does Ericson really have the right stuff? When he panics due to sunlight reflecting off clouds (the best explanation for a UFO sighting ever!), and starts flying all over the sky, he’s persona non grata when he gets his boots back on terra firma. Of course, no-one believes his ridiculous story of being buzzed by a bright blue badly animated flying saucer so he’s out on his ear. After comrade Bill Mims is killed during another close encounter, Ericson gets the call from Washington where he meets stiff-necked army spook Dan Duryea. There’s strange rumblings in communist China and when Ericson confirms that a five year-old’s scribbled drawing is an accurate depiction of the alien craft that he saw (it’s not), he’s off to the Chinese outback (heroically played by a mis-cast Southern California) as part of Duryea’s investigative team.

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

‘Did you ever read my monograph of 1,001 uses for a toothbrush?’

To give Telford’s film credit, all these developments are crammed into the first half hour and seconds after landing on Chinese soil, our heroes run into some Russians on the same mission. The commies are led by suspicious Vincent Beck and include blonde scientist Lois Nettelton. She clashes with Ericson immediately, of course, and just as predictably they start making the old goo-goo eyes at each other minutes later.

Reluctantly agreeing to co-operate to avoid Chinese patrols, the mismatched teams reach the church and find the spacecraft with only half the movie gone! I’d expected an endless trek with their objective only reached in the closing stages. And here’s another surprise! It really is an alien spaceship, not a hoax or a Chinese super weapon. Sure, entry is gained by pointing an electric razor in its general direction (it’s the sound frequency, you see) and the extra-terrestrial crew died offscreen before the film even began, but nevertheless it is from out of this world, so it’s a legitimate science fiction film. Ok, the craft’s interior is painted silver and it’s just a round room with lots of knobs, levers and control panels that wouldn’t look out of place in any radio room of the time but at least it uses magnetic lines as its form of propulsion! I’m not sure if this is a scientifically feasible energy source but it might be because…you know…aliens!

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

‘Who’s flying that thing? Wily E Coyote?’

Unfortunately, the film sags after the initial discovery. Duryea and Beck don’t trust each other, there’s a local mother with a sick young baby, the enemies are forced to work together, and the Chinese turn up waving guns about near the end. But the ship does get off the ground and a dangerous outer space journey is completed using brains, rather than brawn. Which is nice. Just not very exciting.

This is a middling adventure at best, but with some very obvious good and bad points. Nettleton throws herself into her role and spends a lot of time acting as interpreter between Duryea and Beck. So much so in fact that I’m guessing that the Russian language used must have been genuine, although the frequent back and forth translations do slow things down quite a bit. Performances are decent enough with Duryea good value as ever, although Ericson does lack a little personality as a leading man. Unfortunately, there is an elephant in the room here, and that’s the SFX. Simply put, they are atrocious. The saucer is even animated when it’s on the ground and it looks hopelessly cheap and tatty. This was never going to be a great film, but it is a shame that wasn’t a sufficient budget for at least something a little better.

This was Duryea’s final film, and it seems certain that he was already battling the cancer that killed him during its production. He was gone several months before the film even hit theatres and there’s a moment where he (unconsciously?) hitches up his trousers which seem suddenly at least a size too big for him. He’d only become an actor in the first place due to health issues, seeking out a less stressful profession after a heart attack in his twenties left him bedridden for a year. Advertising’s loss was the screen’s gain, however, and he enjoyed a long and successful career, mostly in noir pictures and Westerns, playing both heroes and psychotic villains with serious panache and charisma.

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

The Magnificent Seven…in space!

Writer-director Frank Telford provided scripts for many hit network TV shows over the years, including adventures for ‘T.J. Hooker’, ‘Police Woman’, ‘Gemini Man’ and the crew of ‘Hawaii Five-0’. He also wrote Jack Arnold’s rather damp underwater-science fiction comedy ‘Hello Down There’ (1969).

Considering the obvious lack of resources, this is a reasonable enough ‘B’ picture of its time, helped enormously by the prescience of both Duryea and Nettleton.

Operacion 67/Operation 67 (1967)

Operacion 67 (1967)‘As the chief of our organisation, I would like to say that our plan for world domination will proceed.’

After duplicating U.S. currency plates whilst in transit, a secret organisation plans to wreck the world economy by flooding the market with millions of new bills. A team of two top secret agents are assigned the task of foiling the scheme and taking down the villainous group once and for all…

So, who is this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ running around the glamorous capitals of continental Europe, tangling with guns, girls and gadgets? Why it’s our old friend, the silver-masked Mexican wrestler El Santo! Only his travel itinerary is limited to Hong Kong, the gadgets are just exploding wrist-watches and the babe action is mostly left to Jorge Rivero. Yes, our silver-masked hero has a partner, and it’s clear that he’s no sidekick, the two being equals throughout. This means that Rivero gets as much solo screen time, something which probably didn’t sit too well with fans of the great man.

Our two heroes are the best Interpol has to offer but, as the film opens, they’re just catching some rays on the sun terrace with their respective girlfriends. El Santo keeps his mask on throughout, of course, which I guess saves on sunscreen, but probably wasn’t all that comfortable. An emergency call comes in, the babes exit stage right never to be seen again, and a hip 60’s soundtrack blasts into action (just dig those cool horns, man!)

Operacion 67 (1967)

‘Don’t worry, Annette will never recognise me like this.’

In charge of the organisation’s dastardly plot is Elizabeth Campbell, keeping her minions in line via the medium of the afore-mentioned exploding timepieces. These are somehow ‘welded’ to her agents and can’t be removed (unless its convenient for the plot). In the closing stages, she sets out to seduce Rivero and falls in love with him! This development really looks as if it’s been tacked on at the last minute, maybe so more glamour shots could be included in the film’s trailer.

As per usual in these kinds of shenanigans, the villains target our heroes right from the get-go (even before they’ve been briefed on their mission) and their frequent efforts at assassination provide the clues required to break the case. After all, Santo and Rivero weren’t getting anywhere on their own. Their brilliant investigative strategy revolves around the inevitability that two of the gang will put their funny money into circulation by betting on major sporting events; specifically, the tag-team bout in which they are taking part! I have to acknowledge that this is an original plot development, if just a tad implausible.

Operacion 67 (1967)

‘You and whose army?’

Unusually for a Santo film, there’s full frontal nudity (a dancer doing a ‘geisha girl’ routine in a nightclub) and seemingly a more substantial budget than usual. Father and son directing team Rene Cardona and Rene Cardona Jr even throw in a vague homage to Hitchcock’s ‘North By Northwest’ featuring Rivero in a car, that comes with a handy bazooka.

Rivero’s handsome looks, good physique and an easy screen personality eventually landed him a plumb role opposite John Wayne in Howard Hawks’ ‘Rio Lobo’ (1970). Later, he co-starred with Charlton Heston and James Coburn in ‘The Last Hard Men’ (1976), but his star faded quickly, and, by the start of the next decade, he was top-lining Lucio Fulci’s dreary sword and sorcery adventure ‘Conquest’ (1983). Although American by birth, Campbell acted almost exclusively in Mexican cinema, finding national recognition for her role as the Golden Rubi, one of the ‘Wrestling Women’ in the popular series that also starred Lorena Velásquez. After a series of other leading roles in films of the 1960s, including ‘The Chinese Room’ (1968) for Albert Zugsmith and Mexican ‘Eurospy’ film ‘Peligro…! Mujeres en Acción’ (Danger Girls) (1969), she left the country to pursue her career in New York and dropped off the radar completely.

This is one of El Santo’s more technically accomplished and well-presented features, although it does suffer from a very poor, small-scale climax. But, for all that, it’s more engaging that some of his other efforts at the spying game.

El Santo and Rivero were paired again in direct sequel ‘El Tesoro De Moctezuma’/The Treasure of Montezuma’ (1968).

Segretissimo/Top Secret (1967)

Segretissimo:Top Secret (1967)‘You swing too, don’t you?’

An ex-Nazi flying ace escapes a Russian prison camp and defects to the West. Doubts as to his real identity mean he is kept under observation, but he’s allowed access to his family’s estate. Once there, he retrieves some important documents and disappears. American agent John Sutton is tasked with tracking him down, but soon finds himself entangled in a complex conspiracy, involving more than one beautiful woman…

Ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott finds himself reprising his turn as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ only a couple of months after taking on the role for the first time in miserable time-waster ‘Danger! Death Ray’ (1967). This time, the spies’ tour takes in Casablanca, Rome and Naples as he wrestles with the usual low-budget mixture of guns, girls and gadgets (but without the gadgets). This is yet another Italian-Spanish co-production, which ticks all the usual boxes over a brisk 90 minutes. However, there is a difference. lt’s supposed to be a spoof. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not. The problem the film has is that it’s not any more outlandish than many other Eurospys of the time that were playing it (relatively) straight!

The story opens with our main villain (Antonio Gradoli) escaping from the barbed wire of the Red Army camp. Although it’s a perfectly reasonable sequence, it makes absolute no sense in terms of what follows and raises many questions that the film simply ignores. The jailbreak is certainly staged, at least to some extent, but if Gradoli is supposed to be a Russian agent then why is he planning to sell the secret documents to the highest bidder? And just who are all his confederates? They seem to be a large and well-organised criminal organisation. More importantly, what are the secret documents anyway? There are a lot of them in big boxes but we never find out! All this is probably part of the joke, of course, but, despite a couple of obvious gags and some wacky noises on the soundtrack, the film often seems to be no more a comedy than many other examples of the genre.

Segretissimo:Top Secret (1967)

‘So whatever did happen to Jane?’

However, on the bright side, Scott is a personable hero and shares an easy chemistry with leading lady Magda Konopka, which makes you wish their romantic banter had been sharpened and more heavily featured. She’s more than just the usual eye-candy as well, and there’s an inventive sequence where the two search each others’ hotel rooms at the same time. She can also put on a jacket while making a U-Turn in a truck on a busy highway. A very specific skill, but quite impressive!

Elsewhere, there seems to be a rather odd in-joke about smoking. Characters frequently start to light up before throwing their cigarette away when something happens. It’s so frequent an event that it’s obviously deliberate, but the significance of it is rather baffling! The more obvious gags see Konopoka stealing a truck from a service station with a tiger in the back (referencing an old Esso advertising slogan) and Scott interrupting a film crew shooting a movie called ‘Agent Secret 0077′.

Director Fernando Cerchio had a long career in cinema, working on comedies with veteran Italian star Toto, Westerns, Peplum (including ‘Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile’ (1961) with Vincent Price) and ‘ll Marchio Di Kriminal’ (1968). Konopka appeared as comic book villainess ‘Satanik’ (1968), had a supporting role in Hammer’s ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ (1970) and did some guest slots in UK TV in shows like ‘Department S’ and ‘The Persuaders!’ This turned out to be Scott’s last film, although the reasons for his retirement are unrecorded. He lived on until 2007 when he died of heart issues at the age of 82.

A cut above the usual Eurospy shenanigans. Not assisted by the predictably poor English dubbing, but a little more fun than most of its kind.

Golden Claws of the Cat Girl/La Louve Solitaire/The Lone She Wolf (1968)

Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968)‘Kill her first. I would prefer that she didn’t suffer.’

A beautiful real estate agent moonlights as an expert cat burglar. A police sting sees her fall into the hands of the authorities, but they’re not interested in sending her to jail so much as putting her to work. They team her with an expert lip-reader and order them to steal a mysterious package from the safe of a foreign embassy…

Glamorous and chic 1960s French-Italian co-production that offers a decent level of thrills and entertainment but seems a little unsure of its own identity. Our heroine is Daniele Gaubert, an ex-trapeze artist who quit the three-ring circus after her partners died in a car accident. Selling property doesn’t really provide the necessary adrenalin rush so she pursues an alternative career path using her high-wire skills to fleece posh homes while socialites dance the night away beneath her feet.

Unfortunately, despite meticulous planning, her activities have come to the notice of local police inspector Julien Guiomar and she gets caught red-handed. We never find out how he gets onto her, which is not that important in itself but is symptomatic of a rather careless script. Gaubert gets offered a deal; work with the authorities to take down all-round bad guy Saratoga, played with suave villainy by Sacha Pitoéff, or spend the next few years behind bars. The job involves stake-out duty alongside lip-reader Bruno (Michel Duchaussoy) and a daring robbery attempt. Unfortunately, Gaubert gets distracted by ready cash during the heist and her slight delay sets into a motion a series of events that prove to have fatal consequences.

And that’s where we have our first problem. Up until this point, the film has stopped short of being a romantic caper but it’s definitely been leaning that way with the handsome Duchaussoy working his charms on iceberg Gaubert. But after the botched theft, the expected series of plot twists, crosses and double crosses simply never materialise and the film turns into a rather flat and serious crime thriller.

The film’s other main shortcoming lies with our two main characters. Beyond a few basic biographical details, we learn little about them and the script provides no character development at all. By the finish, we realise that Gaubert has been underplaying her role but, with little spark between her and Duchaussoy, it’s hard for an audience to invest in their relationship and the result of the drama. Similarly, Guiomar and Pitoéff are simply cyphers; the dour, determined cop and the well-dressed criminal mastermind, whose schemes are disappointingly unambitious for a 1960s continental Mr Big.

Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968)

Tagging each other in Facebook was such a performance…

However, there are a couple of nice, subtle touches hidden in the generic script, one involving a diving watch and the other a plate of croissants but sadly such creative moments are few and far between. You could base a fine drinking game on the film, though; simply take a shot every time someone lights up a cigarette (remember, it is a French film!) Do that and l guarantee you’ll never make it to the end credits!

This was director Edouard Logerau’s second feature but he fails to put any kind of individual stamp on the material and it’s no great surprise that his career never really took off. Gaubert had a successful film career before marrying the son of the assassinated dictator of the Dominican Republic in 1963. After giving birth to their two children, they separated and she began her movie comeback in 1967. Despite a brief turn in Hollywood and the lead in somewhat notorious adult drama ‘Camille 2000’ (1969), she retired again after secretly marrying world famous skiing champion Jean-Claude Killy. Sadly, she died of cancer at the young age of 44.

Perhaps the film’s most disappointing aspect is Gaubert’s complete lack of ‘golden claws‘ but then you can’t really blame filmmakers for the misleading, alternate titles that US distributors think are good box office.

A stronger director and a more fully developed script could have made this one a real winner, but, as it is, there’s still a fair amount of fun to be had.

Matchless (1967)

Matchless_(1967)‘A spy plot as flawless as her beauty – as reckless as her body!’

A foreign correspondent gets into a bit of bother behind the Iron Curtain and ends up incarcerated in a Chinese prison. Luckily, his kindness to an ancient inmate results in the gift of a ring that allows him to become invisible. Recruited by the U.S. security forces, his first mission is to infiltrate the organisation of a megalomaniac who has put world domination high on his agenda.

Cheerful action comedy which walks the line between some serious Eurospy action and out and out spoof. This weeks ‘Bond on a Budget’ is American actor Patrick O’Neal who finds himself embroiled in the nefarious schemes of nasty rich businessman Donald Pleasance, who rocks a neat beard-tache combo and a pair of funky shades. We never really find out what he’s up to but there’s some vials of nasty looking chemicals in a bank vault in Germany and he likes to fix boxing matches using a ringside hypnotist. He’s just evil ok?

Neal makes a refreshingly fallible secret agent, swapping smarm and self-assurance for more of a friendly ‘bull in a china shop’ approach as he lurches from one crisis to another, armed mostly with an eye roll and a ready quip. He has to disrobe for invisibility purposes, and some strategic camera angles add to the humour long before the similar, but more obvious gags in ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ (1997).

Matchless (1967)

‘Ladies, I can explain…just give me a minute…’

The story’s nothing special, betraying few original concepts or touches, but the action is decently staged, including a car chase late on which somewhat implausibly involves travelling by train. The supporting cast help proceedings along with Pleasance delivering a childish and spiteful villain, perennial bad guy Henry Silva laughing like a lunatic and sexy Nicoletta Machiavelli and Elisabetta Wu providing good value as a pair of femme fatales.

The most interesting player here though is heroine Ira Von Fürstenberg, birth name: Her Serene Highness Princess Virginia Carolina Theresa Pancrazia Galdina of Fürstenberg. Yes, she was a real life Italian Princess, going the reverse Grace Kelly route and, in fact, being romantically linked with Prince Rainier after Kelly’s death in the 1980s. Von Fürstenberg actually married for the first time (to a Prince, naturally) in 1955 at the age of 15, apparently against her wishes. Two sons resulted; one was a Mexican Olympian and the other died of massive organ failure in a Bangkok prison. Her acting career may never have reached the heights but she’s a lively presence here, and exhibits more screen presence than many a European beauty of the time, although she does look dubbed on the English print. She best remembered now for her role in Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls for an August Moon’ (1970).

Considering content and plot development, this runs a little long at 100 minutes, and some tightening in the editing suite would undoubtedly have helped with the pacing. But the cast is personable and, although it fails to rise above the pack of similar capers coming out of continental Europe at the time, it’s a pleasant enough ride.

Dimension Five (1966)

Dimension 5 (1966)‘From Out of the Depths of the Fifth Dimension —The Most Amazing Spy Thriller of All Time.’

A spy and his new partner take on a mysterious Chinese organisation known as ‘The Dragons’, who plan to blow up Los Angeles with a Hydrogen Bomb. Can the agents of Espionage, Inc. stop them or will they spend all their time eating steak in Chinese restaurants and talking in elevators?

The names of screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce and director Franklin Adreon are not ones to inspire a great deal of confidence in this science fiction spy thriller from the mid-1960s. Pierce had penned a string of unremarkable programmers with genre accessories: ‘Destination Inner Space’ (1966) (undersea monsters), ‘The Destructors’ (1968) (special rubies power a secret ray gun), ‘The Navy Vs. The Monsters’ (1966) (plant monsters), and several other low-budget entries, none of which offer anything more than predictable plot development and general mediocrity. Pierce had worked with director Adreon before on what was probably the best of his scripts; the Michael Rennie vehicle ‘Cyborg 2087′ (1966), but it was still little more than an adequate time passer. Adreon was a veteran of movie serials, starting out as a screenwriter himself before graduating to the director’s chair. His contributions in that role had included many TV episodes, and a lot of Westerns. His two science fiction collaborations with Pierce were to prove the last work of his long career.

Meet Jeffrey Hunter; heart-throb young stage actor who made a name for himself in pictures opposite John Wayne in John Ford’s classic ‘The Searchers’ (1956). He graduated from there to playing Jesus Christ in big studio production ‘King of Kings’ (1961), but his star was on the wane by the time he appeared here. Of course, these days he’s best known for something that wasn’t even shown at the times it was made. As Captain Christopher Pike, he was the first man to take command of the Starship Enterprise in the unscreened pilot of a little science fiction number called ‘Star Trek’.

Here, Hunter’s the usual ‘James Bond on a budget’ with an eye for the ladies and his fists at the ready. After all, this sinister spy network from the Far East are planning to do something rather naughty on friendly shores and it’s up to Hunter to stop them. Unfortunately, this time he’s been saddled with a sidekick in the rather lovely form of Hong Kong agent France Nuyen. ‘But I always work alone!’ he protests to suit and tie Donald Woods while the audience desperately struggles to stay awake.

But wait! What’s this? The good guys have got something extra special up their sleeves (or around their waists really). Yes, time travel belts! Hunter and Nuyen can pop around in time and save the day! But the potential for excitement or any significant level of interest remains sadly unrealised, as Hunter gives Nuyen a little lecture about the possibility of changing the future, and they only use the belts a couple of times. What we get instead is a series of dull face-offs in offices and nightclubs involving some severely under-rehearsed wrestling matches, lame fisticuffs, and a little bit of tepid gunplay. lt’s all very cheap, very dull, and totally lifeless. The climax is wonderful though, as a random bit part player gets fed up with being part of the furniture and decides to take a hand! Who is she? Search me. Why does she do it? Perhaps she’s bored, and wants to get it all other with. Understandable really.

Dimension 5 (1966)


The only bright spark here is the performance of Nuyen, who gives her character a pleasingly laconic delivery, and livens up the terminally dull dialogue with a touch of sarcasm. Hunter is as generic a hero as they come, and Harold ‘Oddjob’ Sakata fails to register as main bad guy Big Buddha. Apparently, all his lines were dubbed in by another actor. With the exception of Nuyen, everyone here is strictly on autopilot.

Hunter made a few more films and TV shows before his untimely death in 1969 from a combination of a stroke and the resulting fall. Sakata went on to an undistinguished career playing the heavy in a series of low-budget exploitation movies. Nuyen deservedly fared a little better; her long career taking in featured roles in films such as ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’ (1972) and ‘The Joy Luck Club’ (1993), as well as a recurring role on TV’s ‘St. Elsewhere’ in the 1980s, and, somewhat ironically, a guest slot on ‘Star Trek.’

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film was that, when it was originally released in the UK, the title was rather curiously changed to ‘Dimension Four’. Yes, it really is that exciting, folks!

Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966)

Agent_for_H.A.R.M._(1966)‘Minnie’s got the biggest feet in town’.

A biochemist escapes from deep behind the Iron Curtain and settles near San Diego to carry on his (unsupervised!) research into deadly bacteriological weapons. When his assistant dies in mysterious circumstances, the government send top agent Adam Chance to investigate.

Oh dear. Sub-James Bond TV pilot that didn’t sell and was sent out briefly to die on cinema screens. Peter Mark Richman (a familiar face if not a name) heads up matters as our 007 substitute and Wendell Corey plays his boss. Unfortunately, what Richman probably intended as suave sophistication merely comes across as smug and Corey remains resolutely office bound, which seems to have been a contractual requirement at the end of his career. The lust interest is provided by the gorgeous Barbara Bouchet but the acting plaudits (such as they are) go inevitably to Martin Kosleck as the villain of the piece.

We realise we’re in for a pretty rough ride fairly early on. Chance is hanging out on the training ground with sexy Aliza Gur (‘From Russia With Love’ (1963)) when he suggests she had ‘better get back to the Judo range.’ Later on, he displays brilliant tactical awareness when he garrottes one bad guy from behind whilst the villain is driving, sending their vehicle crashing down a cliff side. He’s just as useless at the romantic stuff too, allowing Bouchet to exchange guns whilst they’re enjoying some extended tonsil hockey. However, it doesn’t help that her secret 3rd arm provides particularly useful for this purpose.

Agent For H.A.R.M.(1966)

Smug? Me?

In the only vague piece of invention in the script, the enemy agents use spore guns, which literally fire a lethal disease at their victims. Chance takes them on because he works for H.A.R.M., which stands for ‘Human Aetiological Relations Machine’.  Fair enough, but shouldn’t the fight against biological weapons have some scientific input, rather than just be left to a bunch of spies occasionally pointing guns at each other?

Action sequences are limited to a shootout at a private airport near the end (when we are just sooo past caring) and Richman flouncing around on his motorbike a bit. Gadget play is just some hidden microphones and the plastic spore guns. There are no big set pieces and very minor stunt work. All these are elements that could be considered crucial to this kind of an enterprise. Director Gerd Oswald also made the excellent noir ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ (1956) but obviously 10 years is a long time in Hollywood. It all makes for a seriously dismal 84 minutes.

Adam Chance never returned in something or other. Bloody good job too.