Upper seven, L’uomo Da Uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces/Man of A Thousand Masks (1966)

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)‘We’ve got to weave through those infra-red beams; they set off the machine guns.’

Special agent Paul Finney foils a gold smuggling operation masterminded by the criminal Kobras, but the supervillain escapes to fight another day. Suspecting that he is involved with a covert Chinese operation in Africa, Finney teams up with a beautiful CIA agent to take him down once and for all.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is smooth operator Paul Hubschmid, fronting a surprisingly well-mounted co-production from studios in Italy and Germany (where were the Spaniards on this one?) Codenamed Upperseven, he’s knee-deep in the usual cocktail of guns, girls and low-level gadgets as he tangles with blonde iceman Kobras (Nando Gazzolo) and his bad girl sidekick Vivi Bach. There’s the usual tour around glamorous cities; this time the itinerary taking in Copenhagen, London, Basel, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rome, and a surprisingly explosive climax at Gazzolo’s secret base in Africa.

After an opening shootout at a burning factory, we find Hubschmid in London, getting his next set of orders and spending quality time with the beautiful Rosalba Neri. However, the talented Italian actress is woefully underused, her part seemingly existing almost solely to establish Hubschmid’s credentials in the bedroom department. She does get her guitar out and give us a song, but it’s hard to judge her musical abilities, as she’s obviously been dubbed by another actress. From there, our virile star moves onto American agent Karin Dor, who’s in town on her way to supervise a big money transfer in Switzerland. Hubschmid is happy to concentrate his working hours on tracking some stolen diamonds, but inevitably the cases are connected and Gazzolo’s hand is behind it all.

The film’s main gimmick is our hero’s use of masks. He makes them himself in a backroom in his flat, and they are so life-like they look almost like other members of the cast with their heads poking through holes in the furniture. In fact, they are the perfect disguise, even when they’ve been crumpled up and hidden in one of his socks for a few hours! Considering such items were such a major part of the arsenal of Peter Graves and his ‘Mission: Impossible’ crew, it’s interesting to note that this film was released almost a year before that TV show first aired.

Let’s consider the good stuff first. The film has more of a budget than many of its kind. This allows for some pyrotechnics at either end of the movie, a hidden underground base for Gazzolo and a refreshing lack of endless ‘tourist board’ footage crammed in to boost the running time. It’s good to see Dor getting in on some of the physical action too. Ok, so she’s not Buffy, the Vampire Slayer but she’s in the driving seat during a car chase, finishes one bad guy with a sharp knife throw and, briefly, handles herself well in a fight. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but it makes her more convincing as an agent than many of her female contemporaries.

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

🎵And you could have it all…My empire of dirt…🎶

Unfortunately, there a few negative aspects on show as well. To begin with, the plot is muddled and lacks focus, often feeling like a few second-hand ideas thrown roughly together. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and action, but it’s all a little undenuhelming and writer-director Alberto De Martino fails to endow proceedings with any real excitement or dynamism.

Although professional enough, none of the cast members invest their roles with any real energy or approach the creation of even a mildly compelling character. It’s simply hard for the audience to care about anything that happens to them. Hubschmid began acting in his native Germany in the late 1930s, and actually appeared in films sanctioned by the Nazi regime during World War Two. It may have been that which prompted him to try his luck in Hollywood in the late 1940s, although he maintained a screen presence in his homeland too. Stateside, he was renamed Paul Christian, and enjoyed a brief career as a leading man, appearing opposite Maureen O’Hara in ‘Bagdad’ (1949), in director Don Siegel’s ‘No Time For Flowers’ (1952), and as the heroic scientist in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953).

Dor met Bond for real in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), but her career stalled after appearing in the Hitchcock flop ‘Topaz’ (1969) and with Paul Naschy in monster train-wreck ‘Assignment Terror/Dracula Versus Frankenstein’ (1970). After a brief flirtation with television, she became a respected stage actress; still working almost up to her death in early 2017. Bach graduated to playing a Eurospy heroine in ‘Electra One’ (1967), and Neri went onto cult cinema greatness in a number of signature roles.

De Martino was a journeyman filmmaker at best, whose output slavishly followed popular trends. First, there were muscleman pictures in the early 1960s such as ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961) and ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963) before he jumped smartly onto the Spaghetti Western and Eurospy bandwagons. In the latter genre, he delivered ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) starring Sean’s brother Neil, and Ken Clark’s final outing as Agent 077 Dick Malloy in ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). His career M.O. carried on into the 1970s as he countered ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) with ‘L’anticristo’ (1974), ‘The Omen’ (1976) with ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and ‘Superman’ (1978) with ‘The Puma Man’ (1980), which remains one of the greatest bad movies ever made.

Curiously flat ‘Bond’ knock-off that’s better presented than most, but of little real interest.

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Perseus Against The Monsters/Perseo L’lnvincibile/The Medusa Against The Sons of Hercules (1963)

Perseus Against The Monsters (1964)‘This claptrap has made you lose your head.’

Prince Alcaeus of Seriphus attempts to open trade routes closed by the hostile forces of Argos. Unfortunately, his party are decimated by a sea monster and the survivors are turned to stone by the legendary Medusa. His father attempts to forge an alliance between the warring kingdoms by offering his beautiful daughter Andromeda in marriage but the girl has other ideas, and just who is that handsome, square-jawed stranger on the beach?

More Greek Mythological tomfoolery, courtesy of the Italian/Spanish film industry, who roll out yet another ‘peplum’ in the wake of muscleman Steve Reeves’ star turn as ‘Hercules’ (1958). Yes, it’s the usual mixture of swords, sandals and togas, courtesy of director Alberto de Martino, who cheerfully throws in a couple of rubber monsters to keep things moving right along. The story is based on the same legends that gave rise to FX maestro Ray Harryhausen’s swan song ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1980), and the recent inferior remake, although this time out there’s no Kraken, which is a shame, or a ‘cute’ mechanical owl, which isn’t.

We join heroic Perseus (American actor Richard Harrison) just hanging at the beach, spearing fish, waxing his board and shooting the curl. Ok, maybe not; but it doesn’t look like teaching archery to a beautiful, but mysterious, woman is gainful employment either, especially as she’s probably a goddess (we never find out). But our beach bums’ days in the sun are numbered when evil Prince Galenore (Leo Anchéraz) turns up and spears his pet deer. It all kicks off, but the beautiful Andromeda (Anna Ranalli) plays peacemaker, proposing a contest between the two with herself as the prize. As it happens (and completely unexpectedly), Perseus turns out to be the long lost true king of Argos, although no one knows it (apart from the audience).

After the obligatory archery match, wrestling match and posing contest, Harrison is declared the winner, but he declines Ranalli’s hand due to the political situation. Instead he accepts a job as chief guard at the palace (for some reason). A quick snip of an over-enthusiastic editor’s scissors later and he and Ranalli are desperately in lurve (of course) and the dastardly Anchéraz is stroking his beard and hatching a kidnap plot. From there, it doesn’t take a genius to see exactly what’s going to happen next, what will happen after that, and then after that.

Perseus Against The Monsters (1964)

From the Prop Store It Came…

One thing you have to give the film is pace. There’s precious little time spent on our mooning lovebirds (hooray!) and a lot more on the action, although not much of it actually involves the monsters. Probably the best part of the film is the Medusa’s valley, populated the men she has turned to stone, but De Martino fails to make much of its creepy possibilities.

The Medusa herself looks like the long-lost cousin of Tabanga, the walking tree that starred in ‘From Hell lt Came’ (1957) and Harrison’s final tussle with it is seriously lame. The sea dragon is a much better example of practical FX, but it’s simply not very mobile and its’ high kill count pushes credibility beyond breaking point. Especially when it looks like it needs half a dozen prop guys to move it to its next target. So what we’re left with is an awful lot of sword fights. These are enthusiastically performed, but they’re not particularly well executed and some are even speeded up a little at the climax.

This was Ranalli’s only lead in a career of just half a dozen films, but Harrison soldiered on for years, relocating to Hong Kong in the 1980s to play Master Gordon in a seemingly endless series of low-budget action fkicks with titles like ‘Ninja Force’ (1988) and ‘Ninja Operation 6: Champion On Fire’ (1986). De Martino gave the world the iconic ‘Puma Man’ (1980), which is simply one of the best worst films ever made. He was also responsible for James Bond rip-off ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) which featured Sean’s brother Neil, Exorcist rip off ‘L’Antichristo’ (1974) and Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) which starred Kirk Douglas!  Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi had a long career in Italian cinema, both as writer and director, and delivered some interesting examples of the Giallo film as well as working with legendary director Sergio Leone and collaborating (uncredited) on cult science fiction satire ‘The Tenth Victim’ (1965).

Most movies in this genre that got released stateside gained a ‘Sons of Hercules’ tag, and this one was no exception, becoming ‘The Medusa Against The Sons of Hercules’ (1963). Of course, the result was the usual testament to really awful dubbing but did boast the excellent ‘Sons of Hercules’ theme song, which is worth a couple of dollars of anyone’s money!

Flat and rather perfunctory nonsense, enlivened every now and then by its silly monsters.

OK Connery (Operation Kid Brother) (1967)

OK Connery“Twin vibrators inserted!”

Europe’s counter espionage organisation recruit the brother of their top agent to foil a dastardly plot by a criminal organisation to control the world’s gold reserves.

Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil plays himself as a surgeon with hypnotic powers and a bum-fluff beard in this half baked Italian James Bond ripoff from 1967.

Along for the ride are the lovely Dianela Bianchi (From Russia with Love), Adolfo Celi (Thunderball) and Anthony Dawson (the original Blofeld). They all play basically the same roles as they did in the Bond movies. And in charge of the counter espionage outfit? Bernard Lee (‘M’) and Lois Maxwell (‘Miss Moneypenny’)! Actually Maxwell probably had a ball – she gets in on the action more than once and displays some serious machine gun skills. More exciting than making the tea, filing reports and indulging in lame sexual innuendo any day!

Apparently Sean wasn’t tremendously impressed by the whole business and Neil never went on to a stellar acting career. He was actually a plasterer by trade and went back to that afterwards, only surfacing for a couple of tabloid baiting drink driving convictions in the early 00’s. How was he in his only starring role? Well…’ok’ for want of a better word. He looked remarkably like his brother and handles the action competently enough but the family presence and charisma are completely missing. The same charge can safely be levelled at the work of director Alberto De Martino, who was far more astute at cashing-in on popular movie trends than making interesting films. Having said that, his ‘Superman’ (1978) rip-off, ‘The Puma Man’ (1980) should be celebrated by lovers of bad film everywhere.

OK Connery (1967)

Neil failed the audition for Robin Hood as well.

This film is a typical 1960s euro-pudding, featuring lots of beautiful women, bad dubbing and glamorous locations. It is tongue in cheek but not really a spoof, despite some ‘knowing’ dialogue nods to Bond. It’s quite possible these were added in the English dub later on anyway. There is one rather strange sequence where the villains’ gang of lovelies ambush a military convoy. To start with, they’re dressed as can-can girls, but then they strip down to pussycat costumes. For absolutely no reason at all. But such welcome lunacy is sadly absent elsewhere, and it’s pretty much Eurospy business as usual, even with the somewhat unusual presence of a Scottish archery team!

There’s nothing desperately wrong with the enterprise if you place it in the context of its time, and don’t take it too seriously, but a wittier script and a stronger central performance would really have helped.

Apparently the producer offered Neil’s services to the Bond people when Sean quit the role. They declined.