Mission Bloody Mary/Agente 077 missione Bloody Mary (1965)

‘You’ve got a lot of first-rate distinguishing features, but I don’t see any moles.’

A top secret flight crashes in France, and the nuclear device it was carrying is missing from the wreckage. The CIA suspect the involvement of the criminal gang led by the notorious Black Lilly, a mastermind whose true identity has never been revealed…

The first in the trio of Eurospy films starring Ken Clark as top CIA agent Dick Malloy. This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is running around Paris, Barcelona and Athens at the prompting of director Sergio Grieco in this multi-national production from Italy, Spain and France.

When a US Air Force navigator stops to help a damsel in distress in the middle of the night on a rainswept Scottish road, it proves to be quite the bad idea. She stabs him with a retractable blade in her flashlight, and her compatriots switch him out with a lookalike to fly his latest mission. So it’s no surprise when the plane in question ends up wrecked on the French coast, and its nuclear payload goes AWOL. CIA Chief Heston (Philippe Hersent) gives his best man the job of cleaning up the mess and retrieving the ‘Bloody Mary’ device: Agent 077 Dick Malloy (Clark).

In Paris, Clark contacts Dr Elsa Freeman (Helga Liné), who works undercover at a suspicious plastic surgery clinic run by Professor Betz (Umberto Raho). A possible source of information is whistleblower Kuan (Mitsouko), but she turns up dead after her nightclub act. Clark is also a marked man, fighting for his life across the rooftops of Paris, on an overnight sleeper train and then on a cargo ship bound for Athens. The mysterious Black Lilly is planning to sell ‘Bloody Mary’ to the Chinese, and Clark must navigate his way through double and triple, cross a-plenty to stop him.

An efficient, if unspectacular, Eurospy that benefits from the fast pace injected by director Grieco, hiding behind his usual Americanised pseudonym of Terence Hathaway. He also contributed to the script and understood the fundamental building blocks of a successful entry in the genre; as much action as possible, sprinkled with plenty of beautiful women. As a result, there’s a significant amount of gunplay, an almost never-ending procession of faceless flunkeys who attack Clark every time things threaten to slow down a little and plenty of romantic interplay with the regal Liné and other assorted spy girls.

The pursuit across the Paris skyline is the undoubted highlight of the picture. Still, the action is generally well-staged, with the fight choreography better executed and more creative than in most examples of the genre. The plot is a little weak, however, often little more than an excuse to send Clark from one dangerous encounter to the next, and ‘Bloody Mary’ itself is simply a McGuffin. But, of course, intricate story mechanics and character development are hardly a priority in such an enterprise and Grieco’s film mostly hits its intended targets square on. Some production value helps no end, but, as was often the case with the better-financed Eurospy, the small-scale finish does betray the lack of a genuinely significant budget.

However, Clark makes a likeable secret agent, and his sparring with the ice-cool Liné is fun. At first, Mitsouko’s nightclub dance looks like it will be something traditional, what with her parasol and kimono. However, it quickly develops into her walking around the crowded tables with patrons removing pieces of her costume. Clark has no hesitation about joining in and finds a secret message hidden in her bra! Hersent’s secretary is played by an unrecognisable, pre-stardom Erika Blanc, who struggles to keep a straight face when telling her boss that Clark is ‘down the gym’, an obvious euphemism for some far more enjoyable physical activity.

Grieco was a busily employed Italian director in the 1960s who had been a prolific director of costume pictures and swashbucklers early in his career. He reteamed with Clark for the next in the Dick Malloy series, ‘From the Orient with Fury/Agente 077 dall’oriente con furore’ (1965) and worked, albeit without credit, on final instalment ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). Two other Eurospy projects starring Clark, ‘Tiffany memorandum’ (1967) and ‘The Fuller Report/Rapporto Fuller, base Stoccolma’ (1968), followed. Aside from Clark, he worked most frequently with American actor Roger Browne. Their films included more espionage action in ‘Password: Kill Agent Gordon/Password: Uccidete agente Gordon’ (1966), which co-starred Liné., and the wonderfully cheap and cheerful superhero antics of ‘The Fantastic Argoman/Argoman the Fantastic Superman’ (1967).

Enjoyable spy games if you’re in the right mood.

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 Red Headed Corpse/La rossa dalla pelle che scotta/The Sensuous Doll (1972)

‘Is it that my skin is like silk?’

An artist living alone in a rundown cottage struggles to sell his work. Some hippies leave a store mannequin on his property, and he brings it into his studio to work on it. After a while, it seems to turn into a beautiful woman, but is she just a manifestation of his increasingly fractured psyche?

Somewhat muddled Italian-Turkish Giallo from writer-director Renzo Russo that benefits from some good lead performances but little else. The Turkish financing leads to some aerial shots of Istanbul, but otherwise has little impact on proceedings.

John Ward (Farley Granger) is a long way down a slippery slope into alcohol dependence and mental instability. Most of the time, he sulks alone in his cottage studio, working on pictures he struggles to sell to gallery owner Erol Keskin. One night as he lies in a drunken stupor, a mysterious burglar breaks into his home but steals only a photograph of the artist with a young woman.

The next day Granger finds some hippies on his land, but they’re happy to move on after using his grounds as an outside toilet. They leave behind a battered old shop mannequin, which he takes into his studio. Interaction with local prostitute Mala (Ivana Novak) proves unsatisfactory, so Granger begins talking to the dummy instead, and he’s rewarded when it comes to life as the silent, smiling Subservient Doll (Krista Nell).

But this modern-day Pygmalion story takes a strange twist when the drunken Granger makes love to Nell on the rug in front of the fireplace. When he wakes up, she’s transformed into Erika Blanc (‘The Sensuous Doll’), who is anything but quiet and demure. While he’s off trying to sell his pictures, she starts a passionate fling with shotgun-wielding Venantino Venantini and entertains art buyer Aydin Tezel on Granger’s sofa. When he finds out, the artist’s thoughts turn to murder.

This is a strange, ambiguous piece that struggles to establish a coherent, consistent narrative. There is nothing wrong with non-linear storytelling, of course, but with events being further complicated by Granger’s deteriorating mental condition, it’s hard for the audience to get invested in the drama. On reflection, the inclusion of Nell’s character is a particular head-scratcher with no apparent payoff other than to demonstrate Granger’s fragile grip on reality.

The second act emerges as an extended flashback, triggered by the painter’s delusion of the mannequin coming to life. Granger and Blanc’s behaviour strongly suggests a long-term relationship, and she interacts with other characters when he is absent. However, this assumption is called into question by a couple of late twists, and the scenario is never entirely resolved.

The good news is that Granger and Blanc are both excellent. Neither of their characters is particularly complex, but both manage to exploit every nuance that Russo’s script can offer. The strong inference is that the Granger’s artist is impotent, which has driven him to the bottle and her to other men. He gives a fine, sensitive performance, hinting strongly at times at the good man who is still buried beneath the booze and the torment. Blanc shows us a woman who struggles to resist her impulses but can’t overcome her physical needs and the resentment she feels toward Granger. Later on, she becomes an active sexual predator as her repressions dissipate.

Unfortunately, apart from their work, the film has little to recommend it. Russo’s handling of his material lacks any real imagination and drive. These are significant problems when your story doesn’t have enough development to fill even a scant 78-minute running time. The project would probably work far better as an episode of a TV anthology rather than a full-blown feature.

Russo doesn’t try to play on audience sympathies when he presents his broken characters, which is admirable. However, more context, or past character history, might have helped to alleviate the effort that the audience has to make with such an ambiguous set of circumstances. The lack of information does make for a frustrating experience, especially on first viewing.

The film was unsuccessful, and Russo never appears to have directed again. It was his first film in eight years, and, prior to this, he seems to have worked in the adult film market with titles like ‘The Kinky Darlings/Per una valigia piena di donne’ (1964) and ‘Europa: Operazione Strip-tease’ (1964) on his résumé. There is little biographical information on him and this, his most notable project, is still a little bit of an obscurity. Some sources even misidentify actor Tezel as a separate performer called ‘Aydin Terzel’.

Granger was a Hollywood star who failed to make a significant impact the first time around before re-signing with movie producer Samuel Goldwyn after the delayed release of Nicholas Ray’s low-budget but critically acclaimed ‘They Live By Night’ (1948). Several prestige projects followed, including two appearances for Alfred Hitchcock in ‘Rope’ (1948) and ‘Strangers On A Train’ (1950), the latter being the role for which he is best remembered today. Although the remainder of the decade found him regularly working in the big-budget arena, leading man status was never assured. On those occasions when he did achieve it, he was usually billed below his leading ladies, such as Alida Valli in Luchino Visconti’s ‘Senso’ (1954), his first brush with European cinema. By the early 1970s, he was living in Italy, his work in America generally confined to the theatre and the small screen.

Blanc was born in Lombardy as Enrica Bianchi Colombatto and has enjoyed a long and successful career in film and television, which continues to this day. She began with small parts in Eurospy features, such as ‘Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisboa’ (1965), before her obvious abilities led to more featured supporting roles in similar films such as ‘Spies Kill Silently/Le spie uccidono in silenzio’ (1966) and early Giallo ‘The Third Eye/Il terzo occhio’ (1966). Cult director Mario Bava cast her as the female lead in his classic ‘Kill, Baby… Kill!/Operazione paura’ (1966) that same year, and Blanc was on her way to a prominent cult movie career that included more horror, ‘Devil’s Nightmare/La plus longue nuit du diable’ (1971) and Gialli such as ‘So Sweet… So Perverse/Così dolce… così perversa’ (1969) and ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba’ (1971). There were also further spy adventures, comedies, crime pictures, and Spaghetti Westerns like ‘Vengeance is My Forgiveness/La vendetta è il mio perdono’ (1968) and ‘Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin/C’è Sartana… vendi la pistola e comprati la bara!’ (1970). After the 1970s, she mainly moved into television but won the award for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Sacred Heart/Cuore sacro’ (2005) at the Flaiano Film Festival.

The two leads elevate the material as far as it will go, but script limitations drag the movie down.

Human Cobras/L’uomo più velenoso del cobra (1971)

‘Here’s that Black Mamba that you asked about.’

A man with mob connections returns to New York from forced exile in Europe when his brother is murdered. His investigations bring him into conflict with the local syndicate, and a key witness meets a bloody end. The trail leads to a businessman in Nairobi, and he heads for Kenya, accompanied by his brother’s widow…

Multi-national crime thriller with just enough of the necessary elements to qualify as a Giallo. Unfortunately, this Italian-Spanish-Swedish co-production from director Bitto Albertini turns out to be more memorable for its filming locations than anything else.

Johnny Garden (George Ardisson) is shot by a sniper rifle at the big game, leaving his wife Leslie (Erika Blanc) behind with a tangle of dubious business deals. Twin brother Tony (Aridsson, again) lives in Europe, forced out of the Big Apple by syndicate boss Humphrey (Luis Induni), who’s not pleased to see him when he returns. Investigating his brother’s death, Ardisson links up with Blanc and begins chasing down leads and witnesses. One of these is the frightened Louis Mortimer (Luciano Pigozzi), who hints at drug deals involving a Kenyan-based business partner named George MacGreaves (Alberto de Mendoza). Before he can spill the beans, though, his neck meets the sharp edge of a straight razor.

Ardisson and Blanc head for Nairobi to meet with the affable de Mendoza, who lives in a luxury villa outside the city. The couple is already struggling with their feelings for each other. An early flashback shows them as lovers before Tony left for Europe and his brother came into the picture. Ardisson’s resemblance to his brother attracts a woman named Clara (Janine Reynaud) when he visits a local casino. She promises him crucial information about the murder, but she’s killed while he showers after sleeping together. Forced to dispose of the body to avoid the authorities, Ardisson becomes more and more convinced of de Mendoza’s guilt. Events come to a head when the trio go on safari to hunt elephants.

This project must have looked like a potential winner at the concept stage. A murder mystery spanning three continents, a series of brutal slayings, a script co-authored by Giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi and an experienced cast with screen presence to spare. However, the final results are a disappointment. It would be tempting to point the finger at director Albertini, whose filmography is less than impressive, but it would have taken a master hand to wring something remarkable out of such a lacklustre enterprise.

The main culprit is the screenplay, which is curiously half-baked and lacking in detail. A good example is the business relationship between Johnny and MacGreaves. Apart from one vague, passing mention of drug trafficking by Pigozzi, the audience never finds out what has led to their fabulous wealth. Similarly, the reason for Ardisson’s exile from America and the antagonism of mob boss Induni is never explained. None of that is essential, of course, but some context would have helped inform the characters and their actions. However, the biggest problem is with the reveals and twists of the third act. It’s easy to see them coming, and they are as uninventive as they are predictable. Also, it’s hard to imagine how the aftermath of the endgame could have been explained to the authorities without incurring significant jail time! It would be nice to think that the talented Gastaldi had only a marginal association with the script.

The film does have a few points of interest, though, principally the unusual globetrotting element. Ardisson goes from Europe to America to Africa over the 95 minutes, perhaps prompting the actor to think he was back in one of his 1960s Eurospy roles where he buzzed around the glamorous cities of Europe as ‘James Bond on a Budget.’ At times, the production looks pretty determined to prove these multi-national credentials, with multiple shots of Ardisson walking the streets of New York and de Mendoza providing the leading couple with a quick tour of Nairobi when he picks them up from the airport.

Unfortunately, none of the characters gets any context or significant backstory. We’re never allowed any insight into Ardisson’s criminal past, although he’s clearly not phased by the necessity of dumping Reynaud’s body. The actor’s personal charisma is helpful, though, and he makes an excellent showing in the film’s best scene, an altercation with some of Induni’s goons in a New York bar. The fight choreography is solid, and Ardisson is convincingly capable.

The rest of the cast don’t get much of a look-in, with the women in particular short-changed. Even veteran scene-stealer Pigozzi only appears in a couple of brief, though effective, scenes. Underplaying his role as the number one suspect, de Mendoza makes a little more impact, despite his distracting resemblance to legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros! Credit should also go to Fernando Hilbeck, who plays an almost wordless role as the assassin. For once, we see the killer’s face up close and personal right from the beginning. It’s not a question of putting a face to the murders, but rather one of the killer’s motives and who he might be working for.

Albertini remained firmly rooted in the second division during his almost 20-year directing career. His greatest success was the adult film ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975), starring Laura Gemser and also shot in Nairobi. He began as a cinematographer post-World War Two, eventually working on international epics such as ‘David and Goliath’ (1960) and ‘The Corsican Brothers/I fratelli Corsi’ (1961) before making his debut as a director in 1967. One of his first projects was the no-budget comic book adventure of ‘Goldface, the Fantastic Superman/Goldface il fantastico Superman’ (1967) before he became involved with the heroic comedy capers of the ‘Three Supermen’ series, for which he delivered three entries. After his success with ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975) and a couple of sequels, he remained in the adult market for the unofficial sequel to Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Starcrash’ (1978), most commonly known as ‘Escape From Galaxy 3/Giochi erotici nella terza galassia’ (1981). Its mashup of what seems initially to be a space opera aimed at children with softcore porn can still raise eyebrows today.

A disappointing production that fails to realise its potential.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba (1971)

‘I need a fistful of ash. That’s essential.’

A troubled aristocrat is obsessed with the memory of his dead wife, Evelyn. He picks up lookalike prostitutes and introduces them to his torture chamber. Then he meets a beautiful woman at a party and falls instantly in love. The couple marries, and he plans to renovate his crumbling ancestral home, but his obsession with Evelyn remains…

Good-looking Giallo directed by Emilio Miraglia and co-written by him, Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru. The title suggests a straight horror film, but, despite some early hints of the ghastly and supernatural, it’s not likely that anyone would consider it as such.

The death of his unfaithful wife Evelyn (Paola Natale) in childbirth has seriously screwed with the psyche of eligible bachelor Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen). Rather than hit the dating scene, he prefers to frequent sleazy clubs and pick up prostitutes such as redheaded exotic dancer Susie (Erika Blanc). After surreptitiously changing the number plates on his car mid-journey (nothing suspicious there!), he gets them back to his cool pad: a suite of chic rooms in his tumbledown castle. Like all good ancestral homes, this comes with its own torture chamber, and good host Steffen is happy to give his guests the grand tour.

Concerned about Steffen’s brooding isolation, his cousin George Harriman (Enzo Tarascio) and psychiatrist Dr Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) encourage him to get out more. Tarascio takes him to an outdoor party where the moody noble meets the glamorous Gladys (Marina Malfatti). It’s love at first sight, and the two get hitched and move into the old homestead straight away. Steffen instructs estate manager Farley (Umberto Raho) to renovate the property and invites wheelchair-user Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davis) to stay. Also resident on the estate is ex-brother-in-law Albert (Roberto Maldera), who acts as caretaker and keeps a cage filled with hungry foxes. He also prowls around at night and accepts regular ‘cash in hand’ payouts from Steffen.

This is an intriguing setup, and the film’s first half builds quite nicely. Miraglia makes excellent use of some wonderfully overgrown locations, the first-class work of cinematographer Gastone Di Giovanni ensuring the daylight scenes carry as much menace as those at night. Most significant story developments occur on the grounds rather than inside, and this unusual emphasis results in some striking images and compositions.

The notion of initially presenting the audience with the apparent fact that Steffen is an insane serial killer and then slowly undermining it is an elegant idea. Although Steffen killing the girls in the first act isn’t shown, it’s heavily implied as Miraglia invites the viewer to fill in the gaps. However, later story developments start to suggest that something else might be going on and, at first, this is well-handled. However, Miraglia soon overplays his hand with a seance scene where the spirit of the departed Natale appears in mid-air courtesy of some camera trickery. This event suddenly opens up the possibility of the paranormal, which comes right out of left field, but it’s so heavy-handed that it signposts what’s really going on. Unfortunately, this is the first of a series of ridiculous plot developments which make less and less sense under close examination.

The most obvious example of this chaotic patchwork of contrived plot points centres around Aunt Agatha. To begin with, Davis (probably a pseudonym as it’s the actor’s only screen credit) looks no older than any of her male relatives, begging the question of just whose aunt she is supposed to be. It transpires later on that she’s having an affair with handyman Maldera, and she’s also faking her disability. She’s murdered a few moments after she gets out of her wheelchair, so we never find out why she was pretending to be an invalid. I guess the murderer kills her a few moments later because she’s fulfilled her function of ‘looking a bit suspicious’. The disposal of her body is also quite silly. I’m guessing that ‘falling out of a wheelchair and getting eaten by foxes’ doesn’t appear on many death certificates. Props also to the local constable who turns up for a few moments, frowns, licks the end of his pencil and proclaims her death ‘an accident’! Promotion to detective must be just around the corner.

The script ties itself in knots trying to make sense, and the director and cast aren’t up to the task of papering over the gaping plot holes. Steffen fails to conjure up any sympathy for our miserable sod of a hero as he sulks around with a face like a wet weekend at the seaside. He shares zero chemistry with Malfatti, which doesn’t sell the idea of an instant love story and immediate marriage. The only cast member to emerge with any credit is Blanc, who makes a lot out of her far too limited screen time. Some credit should also be reserved for composer Bruno Nicolai who delivers a solid and quietly appealing score.

Miraglia began his career as an Assistant Director in the early 1950s and worked his way up to solo directing duties on above-average crime thriller ‘Assassination’ (1967) starring Henry Silva. After another teaming with his star, Miraglia then delivered caper movie ‘The Vatican Affair/A qualsiasi prezzo’ (1968) starring Klaus Kinski, Ira von Fürstenberg and veteran Hollywood star Walter Pidgeon. Obscure Spaghetti Western ‘Shoot Joe, and Shoot Again/Spara Joe… e così sia!’ (1971) came after a three-year break, and his last film was another Giallo, ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times/La dama rossa uccide sette volte’ (1972). He left the industry shortly afterwards and passed away in 1982 at the age of 58.

Some excellent visuals are dragged down by a screenplay written without due care and attention.

So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

The Third Eye/ll Terzo Occhio (1966)

The Third Eye (1966)‘Life is no more than fleeting shadows. A wonderful fairy tale designed for idiots.’

A handsome Count plans to marry but his choice does not meet with the approval of his elderly mother or their live-in maid, who has designs on the family fortune herself. When both his fiancée and the Countess die on the same day, the Count’s fragile psyche begins to unravel. Things get a lot worse when his late girlfriend’s twin sister makes the scene…

Dark thriller from Italian director Mino Guerrini that’s often considered an early Giallo film, or at least one that contributed to the development of the genre. Although credited as based on the exploits of a real life serial killer, the plot was actually the invention of producer Ermano Donati. Franco Nero takes the lead as our troubled nobleman in the same year that he found fame as legendary gunslinger ‘Django’ (1966). The other major players are Gioia Pascal as the scheming servant and a young (and blonde!) Erika Blanc as the twins. The supporting cast is minimal with only Olga Solbelli as the Countess receiving any significant screen time.

The film opens with Blanc on a visit to the family villa, which is the film’s principal location and considerably more impressive than your average rental for a weekend getaway. She’s obviously bored with her intended, which is no surprise when it turns out that Nero’s character has all the charisma of a wet fish. Mumsie really isn’t happy about the impending nuptials either, and confides to Pascal that she’d do anything to stop the wedding. Later on, we find out that mother and son sleep in the same bedroom, so it’s probably not the healthiest of family dynamics!

The Third Eye (1966)

Nero’s audition for the ‘Land of the Giants’ was a complete triumph…

Anyway, (un)faithful family retainer Pascal takes her employer at her word and nips out to the garage where her big knife meets the brake lines of Blanc’s little runabout. In the meantime, Nero is practicing some fairly aggressive taxidermy on a dead bird in his basement laboratory! Ok, that is a lot more sinister than it sounds; after all, every man needs a hobby, right? Still it is a bit of a worry I guess.

When he find out that Blanc has flounced out in a bit of a huff, he jumps in his own car to chase her down, only in time to see her take a header off a mountain road. At the same time, Pascal and Solbeli have a bit of a barney at the top of the stairs, which ends up with the latter taking a tumble into the next life, courtesy of some violent post-summersault attentions from Pascal. All fair enough, but what follows stretches credibility to an unreasonable extent.

Let’s examine the police investigation, or rather the lack of one. Officers do turn up when the Countess croaks, but seem perfectly happy to put it down to an accident. The audience can just about give that a pass but their procedures in Blanc’s case seem a little slipshod to say the least. When Nero scrambles down the slope after her crack up, he’s too late; she’s dead and draped over the wreck which is lying upside down in shallow water. Now, we can accept that Nero manages to snatch the body without being seen, but what exactly happens to the car? Later on, Blanc’s twin tells us that the police are diving in the sea to look for her body. So I guess they found the scene of the accident? If so, then why isn’t it a murder investigation? Didn’t they notice that the brake lines on the car had been cut? Or did the car get washed away on a convenient wave? But, if that was case, why are they searching for her in the sea? These are not insurmountable problems to be sure, but the film just ignores them.

There’s also a problem with the rest of the story. Granted, events are traumatic enough to send Nero off the deep end, but why do they turn him into a serial killer? He picks up a stripper performing at a local club and then strangles her in bed next to the corpse of his beloved. A prostitute follows the same way. Does anyone report these girls missing? Do the police link their disappearances with the mystery of what happened to Blanc? Didn’t at least a dozen witnesses see Nero pick up the stripper from the club anyway? And just how much time has passed? Is it a week after Blanc’s death? A month? A year? Has he used his taxidermy skills to preserve her body? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions because the movie never tells us.

The Third Eye (1966)

Putting in his eyedrops was always such a performance…

What we have here is a film of parts that don’t come together. The serial killer aspect seems unrelated to the early murders; almost as if it were included to pass the time before Blanc’s twin arrives to kick the film into the final act. There’s also a violent murder with a knife that doesn’t fit with the killer’s previous methods, although it is a signpost to future films in the Giallo arena.

Performances are a mixed bag, with Nero mostly either blank or pulling silly faces, although there are a couple of scenes where he seems believably disturbed. The inexperienced Blanc is better as the bitchy sister than the innocent heroine, although the script’s complete lack of character development can’t have been helpful. The standout is Pascal’s scheming maid; the role is as one note as all the others but she does deliver a fine portrait of delicious villainy. It makes it all the more puzzling that she only made one other film, and that in a supporting role. Both Blanc and Nero went onto long and successful film careers, of course, and are still working at the time of writing.

The film was remade as ‘Buio Omega’/’Beyond The Darkness’ (1979) by prolific director Aristide Massaccesi, who made almost 200 films under many different names and in many different genres. He used Joe D’Amato for this one and it has quite the reputation for sleaze, nastiness and gore.

A rather muddled and frustrating film that has a few decent moments but is a rather unsatisfying experience.

Spies Strike Silently/Le Spie Uccidono In Silenzio (1966)

Spies Kill Silently (1966)‘Then you become an automaton, bending all of your willpower and intelligence to my will alone.’

When a top professor’s daughter is murdered, it provides confirmation that a mysterious villain is targeting the scientific community. His assassins are individuals in positions of utmost trust, programmed to obey him via a new hypnotic drug. The authorities send their best agent to bring the madman to justice…

Although it was not obvious at the time, it now seems clear that the Italian and Spanish governments signed an international treaty in the mid-1960s. Their intention was to take over the world by flooding the marketplace with endless cheap Eurospy films, thus bankrupting Hollywood and the western Military-Industrial Complex. It’s the only thing that makes any reasonable sense.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is Canadian actor Lang Jeffries as Michael Drum, an agent so brilliant that he only thinks to check his hotel room for electronic bugs after he’s explained his plans to local police inspector Craig (Jose Bodalo). He’s also happy to accept a colleague’s prompt identification of a cyanide pill, which he makes just by looking at it. Yes, we’re back in the fairly predictable territory of low-budget spy shenanigans, with a complete absence of big set pieces, stunts, gadgets and even car chases. Most of the action here is confined to the usual fisticuffs and a couple of gun battles. After one of those, Jeffries strolls down the street and fixes a beautiful woman’s car. When she asks for the keys back, he keeps them. ‘I’ll drive’ he smirks, taking her right back to his hotel room. Why does she just smile and go along with it? Because it’s the sixties, baby! Oh, and because she’s an enemy agent, which no-one could possibly have guessed.

In its defence, at least director Mario Caiano keeps things going at a decent pace and, although Jeffries is not over-blessed with screen presence, he’s a capable enough leading man. He enjoyed a very brief career on US TV in the late-1950s before being cast opposite Rhonda Fleming in Italian muscleman picture ‘Revolt of the Slaves’ (1960). He rarely worked outside of Europe after that, playing mostly in costume pictures and more Eurospy films. He even tried his hand at science fiction; appearing as literary hero Perry Rhodan in the hopelessly tatty but rather fun, ‘Mission: Stardust’ (1967).

Spies Kill Silently (1966)

The Three Stooges were trying out some edgier new material…

Elsewhere in the cast we find the lovely Erika Blanc, who brought beauty to a number of notable cult pictures in the 1960s, including Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966), and several Eurospy films like ‘Espionage in Lisbon’ (1965). She also steamed up the screen in horror ‘The Devil’s Nightmare’ (1971). She’s still working as of 2017 at the age of 75.

What lets this film down in the final analysis is the fragmentary script, which is little more than a hodgepodge of half realised ideas that were already becoming a little too familiar by the mid-1960s. Character motivation is never a major concern; the most obvious example being that of our supervillain Andrea Bosic. Why is he killing off all the scientists who are working on projects to help the human race? Well…umm…we don’t really know. He never really explains himself, beyond some vague declarations about taking over the world. He even unveils a super weapon toward the end of the film that he’s had all along but never mentioned!

Cookie-cutter Eurospy which benefits from good pacing and professionalism all round, but the only thing likely to live in the memory is the shortcomings of the script.

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.

Devil’s Nightmare/La Plus Longue Nuit Du Diable (1971)

The_Devils_Nightmare (1971)‘Exorcism! The one last hope for the possessed…but this time the devil wins!’

A bus filled with tourists loses its way in a remote part of Bavaria. It seems a stroke of good fortune when they find a place to stop for the night, but the old castle concerned isn’t on anyone’s list of recommended holiday destinations…

Passable Euro-Horror that opens in Berlin at the end of World War ll with the ritualistic killing of a baby, before moving forward to contemporary times, and our stranded holidaymakers. They’re a fairly typical bunch pf movie stereotypes; the sleazy tourist guide, the doubting priest, a couple of young hotties, a bitter old man, and a middle-aged couple with marriage problems. Indeed all the tensions and emotional conflicts within the group are painfully predictable, which doesn’t help with audience engagement in the drama.

lt’s plain that none of this motley crew have seen many horror films either, as they don’t run for the hills when sinister butler Hans (Maurice De Groote) plays a creepy harmonium during dinner, and regales them with a succession of cheerfully gruesome tales as he shows them to their rooms. There are also the inevitable dark mutterings about an ancient family curse. It all turns out to be involve a deal with the devil and a very naughty succubus (Erika Blanc) who tries to get her wicked way with everyone, men and women alike.

The_Devils_Nightmare (1971)

‘And just passing by on your right is an ancient castle where Satan is waiting to claim your souls…’

This was a Belgian-Italian co-production, which never really catches fire, but does have some points of interest. Our roll of murder victims are undone by their own desires; Blanc’s revenge spree based thematically on the seven deadly sins. Director Jean Brismée is partially successful in his attempts to create some atmospheric chills, but the slow pace of proceedings and the lack of any real story and character development are tough obstacles to overcome. It was his only feature film.

Star Erika Blanc was certainly a striking looking woman and displays both personality and other feminine attributes in some revealing costumes. She’d already appeared in Mario Bava’s unsettling ‘Kill Baby Kill (Operazione Paura) (1966) and is still acting today after a long career in European cinema. In terms of performances, she’s head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, who are workmanlike at best. Even Jean Servais, who had tasted international stardom thanks to heist classic ‘Rififi’ (1954), fails to make much of an impression here, although Daniel Emilfork has a couple of good moments as Satan. The film sat on the shelf for a little while before being released in the US in 1974, along with a tagline included to reference ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).

The twists and turns of the plot may have been uncommon when the film was made, even if they weren’t exactly original, but they’ve been done to death a million times since and that really doesn’t help the level of enjoyment for a modern day audience. A very middling continental horror.