Assignment Skybolt/Operation Skybolt (1968)

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

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

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

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

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

Assignment Skybolt (1968)

‘Are you alright, mate?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Espionage In Tangiers (1965)

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

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

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

A completely forgettable entry in the Eurospy genre.

Siren of Atlantis (1949)

Siren_Of_Atlantis_(1949)‘Don’t pretend to hate me, your desire is as bright as the sun!’

Two French Legionnaires find the living remnants of the lost continent of Atlantis in the middle of the Sahara Desert. The kingdom is ruled by a Queen, whose beauty is only exceeded by her cruelty. Both men fall madly in love with her, but she doesn’t want one of them and murder and mayhem result.

Pierre Benoit’s 1913 novel ’L’Atlantida’ has been filmed at least eight times to date, although 3 of those versions were shot simultaneously and featured most of the same cast – just speaking different languages. The story’s similarities to H Rider Haggard ‘She’, published 8 years earlier, were entirely coincidental, of course, but were highlighted by some critics. Benoit was so incensed by the veiled accusations of plagiarism that he took one of his detractors to court for libel… and lost.

Unfortunately, the novel is long on dull, stodgy detail but slim on plot. Filmmakers have found it difficult to translate the clumsy prose and lack of action into an effective cinematic experience. This 1949 effort from director Greg Talas (or Gregg G Tallas if you prefer) is also a step down from earlier versions in terms of budget, although the elements on display do make for a much more entertaining tale than those rather ponderous efforts. Unfortunately, not for the right reasons!

This is unashamedly a b-movie; a melodramatic programmer designed to showcase the talents of the lovely Maria Montez. She was a model turned actress, who was often casts in exotic roles in films such as ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ (1944), ‘Pardon My Sarong’ (1942) and midnight movie classic ‘Cobra Woman’ (1944). Like Benoit, Montez also got a lot of grief from the critics. They said she simply couldn’t act, but she’s actually fine in the title role here, even if her dialogue is kept to a minimum. Yes, the part doesn’t require much more than for her to look amazing, but she manages that effortlessly, and she’s decent enough when the script demands a little more. But the real killer performance here, and the movie’s standout feature, is from French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont who plays one of our romantic leads.

Siren_Of_Atlantis_(1949)

‘Did you really have to eat so much garlic at dinner?’

Aumont and Montez were a married couple in real life, and he was a highly respected stage actor and war hero. His film credits include starring roles with Ginger Rogers in ‘Heartbeat’ (1946), Leslie Caron in ’Lili’ (1953) and Spencer Tracy in ‘The Devil At Four ‘O’ Clock’ (1961) and he was also prominent in Francois Truffaut’s ‘Day For Night’ (1973). So, the big question that must be asked is: what on earth was he up to here!?

Aumont had been acting in films since before the war, so it’s hard to believe he didn’t understand cinema and was playing to the gallery as a theatre actor might. Perhaps he just thought the film as high camp nonsense, and tailored his contribution accordingly? It’s impossible to tell, but what we get from him is a hilariously over the top performance. Eyes are rolled, arms waved about, and scenery chewed with delicious abandon. As his character becomes more inflamed by desire for the wicked, chess playing Montez, he gets progressively more and more ridiculous, until he resembles a villain from a silent serial. He’s quite demented. And simply wonderful.

Apart from Aumont’s hysterics, there’s not a lot else to capture the interest, though. The genuinely chilling Henry Daniell (always good value) is completely wasted, and the desert footage is simply library material lifted from the earlier versions of the story. Lengthy dancing sequences at court slow the action to a crawl, and, unsurprisingly, the budget doesn’t stretch to the occasionally impressive visuals that were one of the few memorable aspects of the most famous version directed by G W Pabst in 1932. Instead, the film is relentlessly studio bound and the sparsely decorated sets betray the lack of available finance. It’s hard to be impressed by a legendary lost kingdom rendered by a few hanging curtains and a smattering of cheap vases from the studio prop room.

But the overwrought, hopelessly dated, melodramatics do provide a good level of entertainment, and the unhinged performance of Aumont pushes proceedings firmly in the direction of a camp classic. And even if it never quite scales those heights, it’s still a fine slice of thick, juicy ham that’s suitable for all ages.

Prehistoric Women (1950)

Prehistoric_Women_1950Savage! Primitive! Deadly!

Women from an all female tribe kidnap some men for ‘procreational’ purposes.

Filmed in dirty ‘cinecolour’, this tale of prehistory is a curio indeed. The dialogue is rendered in simple grunts and a sober narrator over-explains the action on screen as if it were some kind of serious documentary. Is it actually supposed to be a comedy? I have no idea.

What we get is prime 1950s beefcake fooling around with nubile young starlets in skimpy costumes on Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan’s ranch in California. The only real surprises are that Corrigan doesn’t turn up in his ape suit (as he often did in films like this) and there is no dinosaur stock footage from ‘One Billion B.C.’ (1940).

The girls are certainly pleasant to look at (great hair and makeup for cave girls!) but their apparently ‘savage’ dancing might better be described as vaguely horny, although it is livelier than the ‘marriage ceremonial’ that features later on. Our main guy is Engor. He invents fire, the sunday roast and is chased by a speeded up elephant. He also gets the hots for Tigri (Laurette Luez), leader of the women. But their happiness is threatened by a 9 foot tall giant and something that I think is supposed to be a pterodactyl. I object to the bird, not just on the basis of total historical inaccuracy, but because it looks like a spastic flying chicken.

Dentistry and hairdressing were more advanced than was previously thought...

Dentistry and hairdressing were more advanced than was previously thought…

The resolution to all this is not as sexist as it could have been given when the film was made. The women do see the error of their ways but it does look as if these cave guys will treat them with respect, although probably all the gals have really got to look forward to is cooking, washing animal skins and sweeping out the treehouse. Star Luez actually married writer-director Greg C.Tallas (or Gregg G if you prefer) but their union lasted only 2 months. Perhaps she was just too hard to tame!

So, the final question. Is this a film a sly, knowing comedy about the battle of the sexes or is it a piece of dreadful, ham-fisted crappola? Ladies and gentlemen, I just don’t know.