Password: Uccidete Agente Gordon/Kill Agent Gordon (1966)

Password Uccidete Agente Gordon (1966)‘You’re very sweet and one day I want you to meet my twin brother.’

The Western intelligence community suspects that a mysterious criminal organisation are supplying the VietCong with illegal weapons. When an agent investigating in Paris is killed, a top spy is sent to take his place and bust the gun smuggling operation wide open…

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is American actor Roger Browne (again!), top lining this Italian-Spanish co-production directed by EuroSpy veteran Sergio Grieco under his usual alias of ‘Terence Hathaway’ (brilliantly misspelled in the credits as ’Therence’!) But let’s ignore the first two elements of the usual Eurospy formula of Guns, Gadgets and Girls and go straight to the main attractions: Roslba Neri and Helga Liné. Both actresses had bags of experience in the genre and, together with Browne, constitute what could almost be regarded as a EuroSpy dream team! And with a safe, experienced pair of hands behind the camera, this just has to be good, right? Um…no.

Browne arrives in Paris where he’s kidnapped from a taxi at gunpoint before he’s had a chance to even check in at his hotel. Fast work by the enemies of democracy you might think! But no, it turns out that it’s just his boss who wants to brief him on the mission (this agency seems to have a peculiar idea of ‘covert operations’!) ln no time, Browne has identified his ex-colleague’s important contact, played by Neri. She’s part of some kind of cabaret act that are referred to throughout the film as a Ballet company! Their dance instructor has ‘generic villain’ tattooed on his forehead and some business ensues involving a vital microfilm (or something?)

Password Uccidete Agente Gordon (1966)

Q Division always came up with the most sophisticated new spy gadgets…

Then is off to Tripoli for the next stop on the dance tour, and Browne tags along as it seems to be the thing to do (for some reason). There he teams up with Russian agent Liné and both are kidnapped and tortured after running around quite a bit. The villains attempt to double cross each other, a suitcase explodes, people actually fire guns at each other (eventually!), and there’s a final twist that will only surprise someone who has nodded off a couple of times during the film (most people, probably).

But the main problem here is the plot. It’s completely underdeveloped, and often seems to be little more than a series of excuses to get Browne from one punch up to the next. These are quite energetic, if not particularly convincing, the realism not assisted by the intermittent introduction of a fairly obvious stunt double. And far be it from me to question the presence of the always luminous Neri, but her dance moves seem to consist of just teasing her hair and strutting about for a few seconds. That’s not really ballet, love. Actually, her role is rather brief, although there is a scene where Browne ties her up and tickles her with a feather (for purposes of information gathering, of course). Liné is wasted even worse than Neri, with almost her entire contribution to proceedings being to lend her car to one of Browne’s colleagues! The two actresses never share a scene, which may have been down to the logistics of filming, but is a crying shame (or even ‘Kriminal’ if you will). Rather brilliantly, the villains favour the old Hollywood cowboy method of shooting; one handed, hold the gun low and don’t bother to aim properly. Surprisingly enough, they never manage to hit anything. It really highlights some serious shortcomings in our villain’s recruitment policy and henchman training program.

But all these doings prompt an important question. ls this even a EuroSpy film at all? Ok, so we do have a semi-mysterious villain. What is his plan for world domination? He doesn’t seem to have one. ls there a secret base that explodes when you shoot out a control panel? Err…no. ls there a super- scientific weapon ‘that must not fall into the wrong hands’? Nope. But there is lots of ‘Tourist Board’ footage showcasing the local colour of the glamorous locations, right? No. Any action set pieces or notable stunt work? Not really. Gadgets! There must be gadgets? Um…there’s a wristwatch that explodes, does that count? Are there any outlandish trappings at all? No. Well, to be fair, Liné is tied to a table at the climax and some sparks fly about. So there is that.

Password Uccidete Agente Gordon (1966)

The rehearsals for ‘Swan Lake’ were going particularly well…

Grieco began his directing career with costume and muscleman features, before jumping on the Bond bandwagon with ‘Agente 007: Missione Bloody Mary’ (1965) (also with Liné) and ‘From The Orient With Fury’ (1965), before following up with this effort, and the underwhelming ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966) (with Liné again!). He also reteamed with Browne for gloriously cheesy superhero flick ‘Argoman, The Fantastic Superman/Incident ln Paris’ (1967) for which the world must always be truly grateful.

Browne himself had already done the EuroSpy thing for real on several occasions; partnering up with Liné for ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and with Neri for Umberto Lenzi’s ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965). As you may have gathered, Liné appeared in a truly heroic amount of films, especially in the 1970s, and, although her credits include a lot of comedies, notable cult films include ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and its sequel, ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, ‘The Vampire’s Night Orgy’ (1973), ‘Vengeance of the Mummy’ (1973) with Paul Naschy, and ‘The Lorelei’s Grasp’ (1973) for ‘Blind Dead’ director Amando de Ossorio. She also found the time to star opposite legendary silver-masked Mexican wrestler El Santo in ‘Santo Contra el Doctor Muerte’ (1973)!

Neri is perhaps best remembered as the rather naughty ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1971) and was unlucky enough to star in Jess Franco’s hopeless ‘The Castle of Fu Manchu’ (1969) with Christopher Lee. Actually, the actress worked in lots of different genres; principally Westerns and comedies, although more horror roles followed in the 1970s after her turn as the Baron’s daughter. Usually, in films where there appeared to be a limited budget for clothes.

If I’ve seemed to focus a little too much on the career history of our three principal actors, it’s mainly to emphasise what a missed opportunity we have here. All in all, this film is more of an international spy thriller than anything else; too vaguely silly to bear the stamp of Cold War realism but far too mundane to even be called a James Bond knock-off.

And a complete waste of everyone’s time.

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La Venganza De La Momia/The Mummy’s Revenge/Vengeance of the Mummy (1975)

The Mummy's Revenge (1975)‘That’s absurd, unbelievable! A mummy can’t come back to life!’

Tyrannical Pharaoh Amenhoptep is given poison to induce paralysis, then mummified and buried alive. Thousands of years later, at the beginning of the 20th Century, an expedition uncovers his tomb and take his sarcophagus to London. But the Mummy is stolen and soon afterwards, young women begin to disappear…

Euro-horror star Paul Naschy played all the classic ‘Universal’ monsters in his time (allegedly all of them in the woeful ‘Assignment Terror’ (1970)) but he was most famous for werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, who he played in an unconnected series of films over several decades. Here he’s a quadruple threat; playing the original Egyptian despot in flashback, the title monster, and a murderous modern day acolyte. And he also wrote the screenplay.

The film opens in Ancient Egypt and follows most of the usual beats associated with these sorts of goings on. Pharaoh Amenhoptep and favourite concubine Amarna (Rina Ottolina) spend the long, pleasant days by the Nile whipping beautiful virgins, slashing their throats and drinking their blood. Why? Well, it may be something to do with a search for immortality but you get the feeling that really it’s probably just because they can. Unfortunately, for our golden couple, his nibs should have been paying more attention to his kingly business and the latest military defeat on foreign shores pushes high priest Am-Sha to drastic action. Amarna is stabbed to death and her partner in crime ends up entombed alive with his name wiped from the history books.

This is all familiar ground, of course, and, rather unfortunately, it’s not well presented. This is supposed to be the court of the ruler of two kingdoms, a living god, but it looks far too much like a small set dressed with some gauzy curtains. Even the dividing wall doesn’t go up to the ceiling. The Pharaoh should probably have been torturing his architect and interior designers, rather than bothering with young girls! On the plus side, this is the only time that the film betrays a significant lack of budget.

Fast forward to the Victorian era, and old bandage face is dug up by archaeologist Jack Taylor and his wife Maria Silva. They take him back to the Royal Natural History Museum where the exhibit is put in the care of crusty old professor Eduardo Calvo. He’s a widow but has a beautiful daughter, again played by Ottolina, which clearly signposts where the story intends to go. Sinister foreign antiquarian Assad Bey (Naschy, again) steals the Mummy and brings it back to life, assisted by his lover Helga Liné, and a reign of terror begins.

The main problems with the film are two-fold. Firstly, it isn’t very original. The script is by Jacinto Molina (Naschy, of course!) and it’s just a stew of very familiar elements in an unremarkable blend. The only remotely interesting touch is that the Mummy isn’t a mechanical tool of murder, but the one giving the orders. After all, he was a Pharaoh in better days, rather than just a renegade priest. He’s also a lot more nimble than Lon Chaney Jr when avoiding the London Bobbies, although his makeup isn’t particularly impressive. The other problem is the colourless supporting cast who struggle with underwritten roles, and fail to draw any emotional investment from an audience. On the positive side, there is some effective shooting on the dark London streets and some of the interior locations are very impressive.

The Mummy's Revenge (1975)

‘Tell me what you’ve done with my ceiling or else!’

Spanish horrors were profitable in the 1970’s and Naschy milked it for all it was worth, starring in a string of features, tangling with vampires, witchcraft, zombies, psychos and aliens. Most of the other players here (Ottolina apart) appeared in many of these vehicles, the frequency of their credits making them almost appear like a theatrical stock company!

The beautiful Liné (completely wasted here) was striking in the title role of Amando De Ossorio’s ‘Las Garras De Lorelei’ (1973) and kicked ass in the gloriously lunatic ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Taylor was an American, whose film career began in Mexico opposite wrestling superhero Neutron in pictures like ‘Neutron Contra El Dr Caronte’ (1963). In Spain he starred as ‘Agente Sigma 3’ (1967), in possibly the most boring James Bond ripoff ever made, but, by the mid-1970’s, he’d carved out a solid career as a mainstay of Spanish exploitation cinema, working many times with director Jess Franco, including opposite Christopher Lee as ‘Count Dracula’ (1970). He also worked with Amando De Ossoro a couple of times, notably on the director’s third ‘Blind Dead’ picture ‘The Ghost Galleon’ (1974). All a long way from his debut on an episode of the Jack Benny TV show in 1953, that also featured a young Marilyn Monroe!

This isn’t the worst example of 1970’s Spanish horror, nor is it the worst ‘Mummy’ movie you’ll ever see, but it is a rather unremarkable example of both. Perhaps the most memorable moment is when two of the characters discuss the situation on the banks of the Thames., and a motorised barge chugs cheerfully through the shot behind them. Now, I’m no expert on water-based transport, but I’d hazard a guess that it wasn’t going up and down the river in the days of the horse and carriage!

The Loreley’s Grasp/Las Garras De Lorelei (1973)

The Loreley's Grasp (1973)‘These pieces are anatomical. I get them from the hospital to carry out my experiments.’

A small town by the Rhine in Germany becomes the scene of a series of horrific murders. Fearing for their charges, the headmistress of a local finishing school for girls hires a hunter to kill the wild beast that everyone believes is responsible. However, he’s happier spending time with the strange, green-eyed woman who he meets down by the lake…

Rather messy, unsatisfying Euro-Horror from Spanish director Amando De Ossorio, who enjoyed his greatest success as creator of the ‘Blind Dead’ series. Those stylish horrors featured the murderous exploits of a band of Knight Templars coming back from beyond the grave in glorious slow motion. Here, he takes a crack at the myth of the Lorelei (spellings vary), a female beast who tore the hearts out of sailors and bossed a crew of sirens on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly, despite popular belief, the tale isn’t really a myth at all, having its origins in a ballad composed by Clemens Brentano as recently as 1801 and popularised by a Heinrich Heine poem just over twenty years later. So the character actually has no origin in folklore at all but that didn’t stop De Ossorio trying to tie it in with the epic tale of Siegfried, the legendary dragon-slayer.

At first, things develop along fairly predictable lines. A young bride-to-be is slaughtered when a strange creature smashes its way into her bedroom the night before the wedding. The killing is pretty gory as the victim has her heart torn out, and De Ossorio doesn’t skimp on the claret. As a result, hunter Tony Kendall gets the gig of guarding the local girl’s school, an appointment that doesn’t meet with the approval of uptight teacher Sylvia Tortosa. Just for once it would be nice to see a film where the roguish charmer and the stunning ice-maiden don’t end up making goo-goo eyes at each other before the final credits roll but, predictably enough, this isn’t it.

The course of true love doesn’t run smooth, though, as Kendall starts a thing with the mysterious Helga Liné, who favours a skimpy dark-green bikini with tassels and hanging around in damp places. Although we suspect this relationship is not going to end in a church wedding and Sunday morning trips to the garden centre. De Ossorio’s script also throws in a scientist researching cellular mutation, a torch bearing mob who give up after a couple of minutes, a blind violinist who seems to know more than he’s telling (he doesn’t), and the Lorelei getting all gnarly and eating hearts during a cycle of seven full moons (is she a werewolf then?)

‘Wanna go for a swim, babe?’

In puzzling developments, Kendall is the reincarnation of Siegfried (I think!) and a trio of sirens wrestle for his affections. The mayor admits they should ‘probably start an investigation’ after his town suffers the fourth brutal murder in as many days. Where are the police? I have no idea. Still, we can leave it all to Kendall who rocks a white suit, rifle and motorbike combo, following up with a bare chest and blue & white striped flared trousers that he stole from a fairground.

The girls at the school show some skin at the swimming pool, fawn over Kendall, and form an orderly queue to be the next victim while poor Liné freezes her bits off attempting to exhibit grace and poise gallivanting about half naked and barefoot on a muddy lakeshore. Toward the climax, the Lorelei (Loreley?) talks about spending eternity with Kendall in Valhalla (perish the thought!) but, hang on, isn’t that Norse mythology anyway? Finally, everything comes to a rather soggy and abrupt conclusion, courtesy of everyone wanting to get back inside in a hurry where it’s nice and warm.

It’s fair to say that De Ossorio’s strengths were in his visual style, rather than his scripts, but even that seems to have deserted him here. There are a few good shot compositions (particularly the landscape down by the lake) but, most of the film betrays little of his talent in that regard. Together with the hopelessly muddled storyline, there’s more than a little flavour of a project hurried into production before everything was ready. The tale had been tackled on the big screen before (a 1927 German silent) and it has potential, but sadly this is little more than a mash-up of old horror tropes and half-formed ideas.

The Loreley's Grasp (1973)

‘You do remember my ‘safe word’ right?’

De Ossorio returned to his ‘Blind Dead’ series, the second of which ‘Return of the Evil Dead’ (1973) also starred Kendall in the lead. In fact, several of the cast appear in both films and, as locations in and around Madrid are another common factor, it’s quite possible that the two projects were shot back to back. If so, it’s pretty obvious where De Ossorio’s heart lay (and even the attentions of the Lorelei couldn’t change his mind!)

Arguably, Kendall and Liné both left their best days behind them in the previous decade; Kendall as James Bond wannabe ‘Kommissar X’ and Liné in other Eurospy projects and two films featuring supervillain ‘Kriminal’. Having said that, the German-born actress remained very active in Spanish film and television until 2006. Although less regularly employed, it’s pleasing to report that Tortosa is still working, and is currently attached to a forthcoming project starring Alexander Siddig; familiar to ‘Star Trek’ fans for his regular role on ‘Deep Space Nine.’ And who can forget that she took a ride on the stylish ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and a wildly overacting Telly Savalas?

Not a terrible film by any means, but one that squanders a potentially interesting idea and delivers instead an occasionally entertaining but rather generic experience.

Operazione Poker (1965)

Operazione Poker (1965) ‘With your foolhardy actions, you have signed your own death warrant!’

A secret agent is sent on a mission to ensure the safe arrival of a high-ranking Vietnamese official in central Europe. Other agents involved earlier on have started to disappear, and suspicions are forming in the highest circles that the mission is compromised…

The name’s Glenn. Glenn Foster. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is Roger Browne (yet again!) who visits various glitzy European capitals in search of an AWOL diplomat who has some important documents about something or other. Gadgets? A tracking device he puts on a dog. Guns? Yes, the bullets fly from time to time, particularly around the barrels at a Tuborg Brewery in an extended bout of deadly product placement. Girls? The lovely Helga Liné from the ’Kriminal’ films.

Actually, to be completely fair, there is another gizmo that you can wear as a tie-pin which gives you x-ray vision via a pair of contact lenses but, rather than belonging to Browne’s cache of spy equipment, it’s being used by a playboy to cheat at cards. Browne does get to use it later on, however, when he spies on his girlfriend in bed, thus reinforcing his macho/creepy credentials.

Operazione Poker (1965)

‘No, I don’t want to hold for the Retentions Team…’

Browne’s mission takes him to the usual Tourist Board destinations: Geneva, Vienna, Casablanca, Copenhagen, Paris and Malaga as the weary plot grinds on, throwing up its entirely predictable twists and turns.

 

Browne, who starred in the rather brilliant ‘The Fantastic Argoman/Incident in Paris’ (1967) is an acceptable enough leading man, but the film itself charts waters so familiar it might almost be the dictionary definition of ‘formulaic’. There’s some card play that echoes Daniel Craig’s celebrity poker movie ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) and a car that splits in half at the touch of a button, thereby ejecting unwelcome backseat drivers.

Director Osvaldo Civirani also provided the story for this less-than-thrilling escapade, and remained active in the European film industry for another decade with his final product of note being the subtly titled ‘Voodoo Sexy’ (1975). Browne’s career toddled on until the early 1980s. Despite being American, he appeared almost exclusively in Italian cinema.

An anonymous example of the Eurospy genre.

ll Marchio Di Kriminal/The Mark of Kriminal (1968)

Il_Marchio_Di_Kriminal_(1968)‘Why don’t you take off that stupid costume?’

After escaping from prison in Istanbul, super crook Kriminal has re-established himself in London as head of a care home, whose heavily insured residents have a habit of dying. A chance reveals that a fortune worth millions is buried on an archaeological site in the Lebanon, but a map showing its exact location has been split into four pieces and hidden in identical statuettes of Buddha…

It’s business as usual for the skeleton-suited master villain as he becomes embroiled in a plot that owes a heavy debt to the Sherlock Holmes tale ‘The Six Napoleons’ and pretty much every ‘hidden treasure’ tale since. Most of the principals return from the original ‘Kriminal’ (1966) with handsome Glenn Saxson thinking on his feet to stay one step ahead of nemesis Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic), now head of Scotland Yard. On his way, Saxson beds the usual quota of beautiful women, and removes anyone who stands between him and his objective; in this case two ‘lost’ old masters by Rembrandt and Goya. Helga Liné also returns as our leading lady, playing a completely different part from the first film, although her character is much the same. There’s the usual whistle stop tour around continental Europe too; although credit must be given to the location manager who came up with some very impressive ruins in the Lebanon to be used for the film’s climax.

The sleek, expensive look of the film is also assisted by the excellent crisp colour photography by Emilio Foriscot and Angelo Lotti. What is lacking, as in the first outing, is any sense of a real personality; to either proceedings in general, or our leading man in particular. Saxson isn’t bad in the role by any means, but a bit of charisma would have gone a long way, although perhaps it was a conscious decision to ‘play down’ any emotional traits, given the amoral nature of the character.

Il Marchio Di Kriminal (1968)

‘Hi Honey, I’m home.’

Saxson’s only other role of note was as western anti-hero Django in 1966 but, after a few parts in minor films, his career fizzled out in the mid-1970s. Director Fernando Cerchio specialised in ancient Egyptian epics, including ‘Nefertite, regina del Nilo/Queen of the Nile’ (1961), which starred Vincent Price as the villain.

There were lots of masked supervillains coming out of Italy in the 1960s; so many in fact that it’s difficult to pinpoint who came first, although the origins of all lay in the country’s popular comic book culture. Kriminal made it onto film twice, which was more than most, although a leading character whose main claim to fame was the faintly ridiculous notion of committing crimes while disguised as a skeleton probably didn’t help his longevity on the silver screen.

Worth a look if your expectations are not too high.

Kriminal (1966)

Kriminal_(1966)‘As a woman, I do not have the habit of accepting diamonds, Mr. Boss…’

International master thief Kriminal is about to meet the hangman’s noose in London after stealing the Crown Jewels. lnstead, the Inspector in charge of the case arranges a dramatic escape, in the hope that the villain will take him to the stolen crown. But Kriminal outwits him and flees to the continent…

There is a long tradition of masked super villains in Italian comic books and Kriminal was one of the most popular. Created by artist Magnus and Max Bunker, he was amoral, ruthless, and brilliant. He also dressed in a stylish one-piece skeleton suit, was quick with a gun, and even quicker with the ladies. Given the global success of James Bond, and the myriad of copycat agents running around continental Europe in the mid-1960s, it was probably inevitable that Kriminal would get in on the act, copying the popular formula of ‘girls, gadgets and guns’ but with an emphasis on crime, rather than espionage.

We begin with Kriminal escaping the gallows thanks to the intervention of Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic), who is soon looking for new job opportunities when the mastermind slips through his fingers. Fortunately, Kriminal returns the stolen crown by parcel post anyway, presumably having only stolen it for a bit of a lark. It’s is an excellent opening, exhibiting a sense of playful fun and quirkiness that promises for an entertaining ride. On the continent, Kriminal gets involved with a pair of beautiful twins, both played by Helga Liné, and a plan to relieve the rich husband of one of them of his stash of diamonds.

Unfortunately, despite a series of ongoing plot twists, the tale is never very gripping and rather humourless, the potential of the main character never realised. Our blonde, chiselled hero is Glenn Saxson, a Dutch born actor who made few features; his only other notable turn being as Django in ‘He Who Shoots First/Django Sparo Per Primo (1966). There’s a suspicion that it may have been his good looks that got him these roles, rather than any great acting ability. He’s not exactly bad, but brings little personality or star quality to the table, and that’s rather a drawback when he’s so heavily featured. Thankfully, Liné is certainly pleasant to look at, and Bosic provides a halfway decent foil as the perennially frustrated policeman, chasing Kriminal halfway across Europe only to be regularly outwitted.

Kriminal (1966)

‘How many rounds of toast would you like for breakfast, dear?’

Double cross piles up on double cross, there’s real diamonds, fake diamonds, disfigurement, disguises, and even an unpleasant type of aftershave that comes out of a spray can, but it all fails to ignite, making for a very middling film that doesn’t linger long in the memory. The signature skeleton suit gets only a brief workout, although it is hard to establish credibility for it as a disguise, given that it’s almost exclusively used at night. It’s not exactly great camouflage.

Copyright law was not strictly enforced in mainland Europe back in the 1960s, so there were similar characters taking on Interpol in both comic books and on film during the period; ‘Diabolik’ for example. So many were there, in fact, that there are different schools of thought as to who came first, and who was a copycat! An obvious rip off of ‘Kriminal’ was Turkish super fiend ‘Kilink’ who never appeared without his skeleton suit, and appeared in a series of movies all the way into the 1970s. They were cheap, cheerful productions, and very, very silly, but had a sense of style and humour that would have helped ‘Kriminal’ no end.

A sequel ‘The Mark of Kriminal’ (1968) followed.