Agent OSS 117 is sent on holiday by his superiors but finds himself confronted by assassins at every turn. After evading a number of murder attempts, he discovers that the killers have been hired by a sinister organisation who plan to destroy Cuba with aeroplanes full of insects…
The last in the five-ﬁlm 1960s series about superspy Hubert de Bounnasour le Bath finds handsome Italian actor Luc Merenda as this week’s ‘Bond On A (vanishing) Budget. Rather than just the usual cocktail of guns, girls and gadgets Merenda finds himself mixing it with far more dangerous foes; a threadbare plot that still manages to achieve almost complete incoherence and the stylistic choices of first-time director Pierre Kalfon. André Hunebelle, the creative force behind the series (as producer and usually director) is notable by his complete absence from the project.
The ﬁlm joins Merenda already on his hols, visiting his aunt (Edinge Feuillère) at her chateau in the rural French countryside. Almost immediately, a double turns up and tries to kill him. From there it’s off to Sao Paulo where there’s another attempt orchestrated by the sinister Santovesti (Sergio I Lingst). And then another. And another. Until we finally get a few exploding prefabs in a forest at the climax. By then, Merenda’s already hooked up (and abandoned) various lovelies, including Elsa Martinelli, Rossina Ghessa and Norma Bengell and participated in lots of poorly-choreographed fight scenes in near darkness.
Further discussion of the ﬁlm isn’t possible without some serious consideration of director Kalfon’s unusual approach. The most jarring element of this is his determination to introduce forthcoming characters by inserting split-second headshots when they are referenced in an earlier dialogue scene involving our hero.
This strange practice extends to buildings and locations as well! A quick run-down of the business interests owned by dodgy millionaire Balestri (Jess Moragne) results in a blur of stock footage images so fast they should carry a warning to photo-sensitive epileptics. It’s a technique that could work if it was sparingly employed, but it becomes increasingly present throughout the film and quickly wears out its welcome.
We also get several conversations spoken over library stock footage; including aerial shots of beaches, city streets, war ships at sea, spiders and insects, and close ups of cast members that look suspiciously like photography or make up tests. Rather bafflingly, there’s also a text crawl up a blank blue screen about halfway through for no real reason at all! Of course, this breaks one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking; ’show, don’t tell’ and, rather brilliantly tells us precious little we need to know anyway! Although, to be fair, this device could have been employed more often to explain what’s supposed to be going on!
Defenders of the film have apparently likened it to the French ‘New Wave’ cinema of the time, but I think the explanation is likely to be far more mundane. This looks very much like a production that simply ran out of money and was never properly finished, the end result being cobbled together from what they’d managed to shoot.
In those circumstances, some of what we see becomes only too understandable. Characters assume a momentary importance before disappearing from the narrative completely, some fight scenes look badly in need of a reshoot and the plot (such as it is) only arrives in one exposition dump near the end with no foreshadowing. Mention has been made that it’s supposed to be a spoof, and there are a few moments where that seems likely, but there’s no real sense of a definite comic approach. Obviously, that was successfully delivered in the far more recent iteration of the character, when he was played by Jean Dujardin in the late 2000s.
Merenda brings an impressive physique to the role, but has little of the charisma of predecessors Kenivin Mathews, Frederick Stafford and John Gavin. The acting plaudits mostly belong to veteran theatrical star Feuillère and Geneviève Grad, who gives a playful performance as Morgane’s bored mistress. Bengell also starred as one of the doomed spaceship crew in Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965).
Kalfon went onto make a handful of other ﬁlms, but they don’t appear to have been released outside France, and this one took many years to reach foreign shores, only appearing on television.
An ignominious end to a Eurospy series that was never high on creativity, but was always pretty slick and professionally presented. The exact opposite of the qualities we are offered here.