Espionage In Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)‘Every time I drink Martinis, I want to be a mermaid.’

An elderly scientist has developed an effective countermeasure to a new deadly weapon possessed by both the United States and Russia. He agrees to pass to his secret to the Americans, but an enemy agent has infiltrated their organisation, and he is assassinated. However, this is a blunder by the Russians as the formula is in code. When a top American agent arrives, the race is on to find the key to the cypher…

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is clean-cut American Brett Halsey, making a beeline for the usual mid-1960s mash-up of girls, guns and a couple of low-budget gadgets. This Spanish-French and Italian co-production was directed by Federico Aicardi and Tulio Demichili, with the latter on script duties with five other writers, including infamous Eurotrash filmmaker Jess Franco.

Isn’t it always the way? Secret agent 077 George Farrell (Halsey) is just about to grapple with latest flame Irán Eory when the powers that be call on the telephone, asking him to save the world. Again. He puts the meet off until the next day, but his masters know him only too well; almost immediately there’s a knock on the door and, just an hour or so later, he’s on his way to Lisbon. His mission is to contact renegade scientist, Professor Von Kelster (Rafael Bardem), but the old boy is hiding out at a top-secret location (his estranged wife’s art studio!)

And no wonder the boffin is worried. He possesses the only means to nullify this unnamed secret weapon which transmits ‘electronic waves at a velocity more than the speed of light.’ The vibrations it creates can blind people too! Sounds nasty. Oh, and don’t worry, about how the Professor calculated his formula or how he found out about the weapon in the first place or anything else really, because the movie never bothers us with such irrelevant information.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘I’m sorry, ladies, but my dance card is already full.’

So Bardem has hidden his formula within the musical notations in two books with a 4-letter cypher key needed to decode them. It’s a wise move because the Ruskies have already infiltrated the US spy network, thanks to double-agent Robert Scott (Daniel Ceccaldi). Bardem’s contact has been killed and replaced by beautiful assassin, Olga (Jeanne Valérie). She finishes off the boffin with her purse gun when he realises that she’s an imposter because she can’t read music. Halsey arrives on the scene after the fact but picks up the cypher key, thanks to some invisible writing on a mirror.

A replacement for the American side arrives in the shape of dark beauty Marilù Tolo, but rather than reveal they are colleagues, Halsey proceeds to flirt with her in that charming 1960s way that borders on sexual harassment. She’s a rookie, chosen for this vital assignment because she can read music and go undercover as a singer in a local club. Didn’t the entire US spy network have someone with more experience who could read music as well? Given that the Russians had to use Valérie whose lack of ability in this area blew her cover and, ultimately, costs them the mission, it would seem that this skill is a rare commodity in the world of espionage. Perhaps most spies are just tone-deaf.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘Have you got the latest Van der Graaf Generator LP recording?’

Of course, it’s up to Halsey to obtain the secret with Tolo’s assistance. They bond after disposing of the body of a dead foreign agent from her hotel room, and he does eventually reveal they are working together. I’m not sure when exactly, and why he didn’t tell her in the first place, but I guess those revelations may have been cut from the print that I viewed, which does seem to have lost approximately seven minutes from its original running time at some point over the years since. Even so, the first significant action arrives just over an hour into the film. That’s way too late for an audience to wait in an enterprise such as this. Although for cult movies fans, there’s always the early glimpse of Erika Blanc, appearing here as ‘Girl in Bikini’ under her initial screen name of Erica Bianchi.

In terms of gadgets, we are restricted to some non-standard surveillance equipment. Halsey has an electronic bug hidden in a remote-controlled bluebottle (geddit?), but it’s deployed only briefly. It may have been intended to use it far more, but it’s so poorly realised that probably the filmmakers didn’t care to linger on such a shoddy example of the FX technician’s art. Elsewhere, there’s a mysterious man in a suit, who identifies only as ‘Skylark’, who watches proceedings via a TV in a suitcase while sitting in hotel lobbies and cafés. It’s one of those magic ‘see all’ movie TVs that doesn’t need a camera at the other end to transmit pictures, although he spends just as much time perving on scantily-dressed women in their hotel rooms as he does following the main action. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the climactic gun battle in a deserted monastery. It’s an excellent location and the drama is well-staged, but it’s taken a very long time to get to that point, and a good percentage of the audience may not have stayed the course.

Espionage in Lisbon/Misión Lisbo (1965)

‘Are you looking at me, Daddio?’

Halsey had begun his screen career in small roles, sometimes uncredited, which included an appearance in Gill-Man sequel ‘Revenge of the Creature’ (1955). By the end of the decade, he’d worked his way up to be a featured supporting player in low-budget movies such as ‘The Cry-Baby Killer’ (1958) which marked the debut of a certain Jack Nicholson. Just a year later, the busy young actor took the lead in teen-drama ‘Speed Crazy’ (1959) and appeared with Vincent Price in the title role of ‘The Return of the Fly’ (1959). Bigger budgets meant smaller parts, so he turned his gaze to Europe and the lead in Italian-French swashbuckler ‘The Seventh Sword/Le sette spade del vendicator’ (1962). Many leading European roles followed, including appearing twice for horror maestro Mario Bava in two of the director’s lighter, more mainstream efforts: ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) and ‘Four Times That Night’ (1971). After that, he moved back to the United States where he became a regular face on network television right up to the mid-1990s, appearing on ‘The Bionic Woman’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘Knight Rider’, and several times on ‘Fantasy Island’ among many others.

A rather slow-moving Eurospy without the dynamism or outlandish flourishes that mark out the best of the genre.

Dr Orloff Against The Invisible Man/Orloff and the Invisible Man (1970)

Dr Orloff and the Invisible Man (1970)‘Visions are not uncommon to girls who live alone.’

The new doctor in town is summoned to the castle of the notorious Professor Orloff by his daughter. She’s convinced that strange things are going on and that they are connected with the scientist’s experiments. The truth turns out to be even stranger than she suspects…

lnfamous euro-auteur Jess Franco enjoyed his first success in the film business when he wrote and directed ‘The Awful Dr Orloff’ (1962), a film that starred Howard Vernon as a mad scientist taking inspiration from Georges Franju’s (far better) picture ‘Eyes Without A Face’ (1960). The character was such a hit that half a dozen sequels followed over the years, some involving Franco and/or Vernon, some not. Vernon does take the title role in this one; but writing and directing is in the hands of Pierre Chevalier.

The film certainly begins on familiar ground. Our local village’s new sawbones is the young and handsome Dr Garondet, played by a fairly wooden Paco Valladares. Most of the time he swans around in a ‘Dracula’ cape, which was probably left over from another movie. When he needs to get to Orloff’s castle (is he a ‘Doctor’ or a ‘Professor’ now? You decide), he’s met with the usual resistance from the local villagers, but manages to get a coach ride part of the way. Eventually, and, believe me it takes a while, he meets up with Orloff’s daughter Cecile, played by Brigitte Carva. She’s worried about mirrors that don’t reflect and chairs that move on their own. She was also buried alive six years earlier, waking up when her father’s servants were trying to rob her corpse! But let’s not worry about that, it’s fairly irrelevant (I think).

Anyhow, Valladares finds Vernon only too happy to talk about his work, which involves creating an invisible man who survives on human blood; the first of a race of super beings that he will use to take over the world. His master plan apparently includes lots of sleazy exploitation too; whipping a disobedient servant girl, and allowing another to be raped by the invisible man while he looks on as an interested spectator (a very lengthy and tasteless scene).

Dr Orloff and the Invisible Man (1970)

‘It’s not just the floating cigarette. We can’t afford the sinking seat cushions either…’

The invisibility SFX consist of a few moving chairs and naked footprints, and when the creature is revealed it turns out to be some bloke in a joke shop gorilla suit who is quelled by Valladares in the lamest way imaginable. Other joys include some gratuitous nudity for Carva, Valladares trapped in that room with the ‘walls that come together’ (brilliantly realised by the camera repeatedly zooming in closer and closer on some bricks) and the castle going up in smoke at the end (they obviously couldn’t afford actual fire).

Despite seeming to have a lot of plot, it’s all squashed into the last 20 minutes and it takes an age to get there, with director Chevalier unable to create even a tiny bit of atmosphere or suspense from the gloomy castle interiors. Additionally, Vernon apart, the acting is generally terrible, and not assisted by some awful dubbing.

There’s no a lot of point trying to make sense of the timeline of the Orloff character over the series of films. He’s kind of like the Peter Cushing incarnation of Dr Frankenstein; somehow surviving the rubout at the end of each picture, and turning up again with a new gimmick/line of research in the next one. Due to the many, and varied, cuts of the films for different territories, he sometimes isn’t even called Orloff anymore, actually appearing in one as Dr Jekyll!

This is little more than a series of scraps and half-formed ideas badly stitched together in a desperate attempt at forming a coherent narrative. A joy for any lover of bad film. See it if you can.

Lucky The Inscrutable/Agente Speciale L.K. (1967)

Lucky The Inscrutable (1967)‘Along with all my other talents, l happen to be a master of false bottoms.’

A suave, super spy is sent to less than exotic climes by his chief, Archangel, to break up a counterfeiting operation. On the way, he runs into a spot of bother with guns, girls and gadgets (without the gadgets) but a killer smirk and some half-arsed witticisms are just two of the weapons in his arsenal. Well, the only ones really…

Italian/Spanish spy spoof brought to us by cult director Jesus ‘Jess’ Franco, and starring Ray Danton as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’. Unfortunately, as it turns out, he’s on a very small budget indeed. Yes, instead of the usual round of Paris, Lisbon and Casablanca, poor Danton gets brief stopovers in London and Rome, before he’s sent to Tirana in Albania. And he never gets to leave. It’s not exactly the French Riviera, is it?

Actually, the film opens well, with a scene that evokes nothing so much as ‘West Side Story’ (1963)! A gang of cool cats wait in the street for their mark, girls coo prettily on the soundtrack, and the photography is quite gorgeous. Not that any of this helps the operative who meets his Waterloo at the hands of the gang and sets the film’s plot in motion. Such as it is. Yes, it’s bad. Everything heads around the u-bend immediately. The fight choreography is lame for a start. Ah, it’s supposed to be a comedy. Only it isn’t remotely funny. Slight problem that.

Actually, the film gets increasingly bizarre, frantic and desperate as it goes, the running time unreeling at the rate of the rapidly expiring production budget. Most of the so-called plot developments are simply an excuse for another ‘madcap’ chase scene, and these are executed with very little stunt work and a complete absence of wit or flair. The addition of ‘comedy’ music also means there’s a distinct echo of old two-reelers from the silent movie days!

Lucky The Inscrutable (1967)

‘Have you heard of something called deodorant?’

Are there any girls? Well, yes, there’s plenty of eye candy for Danton to smarm over, but none stick around long enough to make any real impression apart from the lovely Rosalba Neri. Typically, she’s wasted in just a couple of scenes as a sexy Albanian policewoman.

Are there any guns?  Yes, plenty. Sometimes it even looks as if the cast are firing them. We also get scratchy, black and white artillery emplacements firing on Danton’s private plane! Shame it’s a colour movie. Are there any gadgets? Well…no. Not really. None at all, in fact.

Director Franco went onto become something of a cult figure in Euro-cinema with a prodigious output of 203 features! It’s inevitable that the quality is all over the place, of course, but there’s no denying the sense of visual style that he brought to such projects as ‘She Killed In Ecstasy’ (1971) and ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1972). Unfortunately, his skills as a storyteller were less well developed, and that was a problem as he scripted most of his pictures. And with his habit of regularly knocking out more than half a dozen projects a year, there are some truly wretched examples of his work, such as ‘Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein’ (1972) and ‘The Castle of Fu Manchu’ (1969). The latter was a collaboration with Christopher Lee and the two also worked together on other, better films such as ‘The’Bloody Judge’ (1970) and ‘Count Dracula’ (1970), although these also suffered from a lack of production values. And this film is one of Franco’s real bargain basement efforts. The cheapness is even acknowledged in the film’s ridiculous climax, which is about as useless as it gets.

Spy spoofs were ten a penny in the 1960s, but you’d be hard pressed to find a worse example than this. The best aspect of the film is its brief length, but this is small consolation to the audience, as the film overstays its welcome in the first quarter of an hour.

Not recommended. Even for hard core Eurospy freaks.

The Diabolical Dr Z / Miss Muerte (1965)

The_Diabolical_Dr_Z_(1966)‘Your magnificent nails make deadly weapons.’

A convicted murderer escapes on the eve of his hanging, but becomes the experimental subject of neurologist Dr Zimmer. When the mad medico’s theories are ridiculed at a conference of his peers, he has a seizure and dies, but his daughter is only too willing to carry on his dubious work…

There’s a twisted mixture of mutilation, sadism and murder in this black and white French/Spanish co-production from cult director Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco. It’s cut from the same cloth as his early hits ‘The Awful Dr Orloff’ (1961) and ‘The Secret of Dr Orloff’ (1964). The three films are not directly related (despite the titles!) but share a lot in terms of both plot and theme.

For a start, we have the scientist who ‘meddles in things that man must leave alone’, on this occasion the blind Dr Zimmer, portrayed by Antonio Jiménez Escribano. He’s trying to isolate ‘good’ and ‘evil’ impulses in the brain, with many of the same aims as another famous researcher, the late unlamented Dr Henry Jekyll. Of course, Zimmer is a genius too, but, just as predictably, his methods alarm the conservative medical establishment led by Howard Vernon (already a regular in Franco’s pictures). When Zimmer pops his clogs, daughter Irina (the striking Mabel Karr) vows to get even with Vernon, as well as jeering ‘experts’ Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui and Cris Heurta. It’s hardly an original plot, and was allegedly based on a novel by co-screenwriter David Khune (actually Franco himself). Indeed, the director liked the basic storyline so much that he recycled it almost note for note in one of his best regarded pictures ‘She Killed In Ecstasy’ (1971).

Karr’s methods here involve killing a blonde hitchhiker (Ana Castor) in order to fake her own death (somewhat unconvincingly), getting her face burned in the process (somewhat pointlessly) and then using nightclub dancer Estella Blain to carry out the assassinations using her long, poison-tipped fingernails. Anyone with a knowledge of Franco’s work will see plenty of familiar elements; in some ways the film serves as a template for many of his later productions. Blain’s nightclub act as ‘Miss Death’ involves dressing in a black body stocking and writhing about on stage with a tailor’s dummy, characters are restrained before being penetrated by needles and other devices, and there’s some implied lesbianism in Karr’s relations with both Blain and Castor. The fact that it’s only implied probably had far more to do with the censors of the time than anything else, given Franco’s comments regarding the restrictions on his films of the period. Yes, it’s not hard to tell what Franco liked!

The_Diabolical_Dr_Z_(1966)

‘Just a little lower…to the right a bit…yes, that’s it!’

Considered as a horror thriller, rather than a window on the director’s psyche, this is far better assembled than a lot of his subsequent projects, with decent production values and good black and white cinematography from Alejandro Ulloa. The photography in particular makes for some excellent sequences set in narrow, mist-filled backstreets and helps to convey a sense of credibility which perhaps the hokey and formulaic ‘revenge’ plot doesn’t really deserve.

Still, the story is well-paced and Karr delivers the sort of performance which allows the audience to overlook the less than interesting work of her fellow cast members. The script gives Dr Orloff an early namecheck, which is a nice touch, but the scene where two detectives discuss the professional details of their murder case in front of a man who logic dictates would be a major suspect, can’t help but raise the eyebrows and a smile.

Pretty standard mid-1960s Euro-Horror that nevertheless has some interesting aspects and is certainly essential for fans of Franco’s work.

Attack of the Robots (Cartes Sur Table) (1966)

Attack of The Robots (1966)‘There’s a corpse in the bathtub, it’s keeping me from taking a shower.’

World leaders are assassinated by mysterious grey-skinned men in business suits and sunglasses. A secret agent is brought out of retirement to track down the evil genius who is responsible.

Disappointing and mundane James Bond spoof that never establishes a sufficiently quirky tone or offbeat sensibility. Surprising, considering it was directed by Euro-low-budget auteur Jess (Jesús) Franco. In a career spanning almost 60 years and 203 directing credits, his output varied wildly in quality, from skin flicks such as ‘The Lustful Amazons’ (1974) to critically admired ‘art horror’ like ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1972). He’s credited with 11 releases in 1971 alone!

The film’s star is cult French actor Eddie Constantine (who played a similar role in Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Alphaville’ (1965) the same year). He’s our 007 substitute, Al Peterson, and his deadpan delivery is easily the best thing on show. Predictably for a Franco flick, he’s ably supported by some fine eye candy, in the form of Françoise Brion and Mara Laso and the villainous Fernando Ray is also good value. But, unfortunately, the talented cast can’t overcome a lacklustre script (co-authored by Franco) and a saggy second act which tries the patience.

Attack of The Robots (1966)

‘If you’re going to wear sunglasses indoors, I’m keeping my hat on.’

It’s a shame as there are promising, if not particularly original, elements on display such as mind control by sunglasses. Plenty of fisticuffs and lots of gunplay are present and correct, but it’s all falls a bit flat, and the lack of action set pieces makes it hard for the picture to grab the attention. That was probably down to the limited budget available but, in that scenario, then the audience needs something else to hang onto, and there’s precious little intrigue and mystery to provide it. The title also must have left paying customers feeling a little short changed.

An English-speaking audience is also not assisted by the atrocious dubbing, which is slapdash at best. Curiously, it was filmed in colour, but only released in black and white, possibly due to the increased negative costs involved, as opposed to the likely profit to be realised.

It’s a disappointing picture overall, with nothing to distinguish it from the ten a penny Bond knockoffs and spoofs that were infesting the European film industry at the time. And it’s more than a little dull.

The Girl From Rio (1969)

The Girl From Rio (1969)‘If one of my girls isn’t perfect, she must die.’

Sumuru and her army of beautiful women plan to take over the world. She accumulates vast wealth in Femina, a city she has created near Rio De Janeiro. A handsome crook arrives from the U.S. with a suitcase containing 10 million dollars but she isn’t the only one with an interest in the money.

Sequel to ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ (1967), which again stars former Bond Girl Shirley Eaton in the title role. This time she pits her feminine wiles against an ageing George Sanders and hunky Richard Wyler. Producing again was Harry Alan Towers, who often funded cheap pictures made in exotic locations and wrote a lot of them under the name Peter Welbeck (as he does here). Eurotrash auteur Jess Franco (‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1971)) is in the director’s chair so the stage is set for some guilty pleasure. At least you would think so. What emerges instead is a relentlessly dull, tepid spy flick, which is terribly underwritten and often displays its obviously limited budget.

The Girl From Rio (1969)

The fashion police were on the way.

Franco and Towers had already adapted novelist Sax Rohmer’s most famous creation for the screen, delivering the distinctly underwhelming ‘Blood of Fu Manchu’ (1968), the fourth movie in the well known series starring Christopher Lee. They also shot the tatty, incoherent bits and pieces that were stapled together by a blind man as ‘The Castle of Fu Manchu’ (1969). Not surprisingly, that effort ended the series.

This film, sometimes titled ‘Rio 70’, ‘Future Women’ or ‘Mothers of America'(?!), has potential but some kind of script would have helped. All we get are some tiresome chases, very badly executed fist fights and an explosive climax rendered by throwing some canisters of yellow smoke about and shaking the camera. Very vigorously. Franco throws in some lesbianism late on but it’s far too little too late as all the promised sexual politics and action is thrown aside in favour of having lots of beautiful women in tame fetish gear who just stand around a lot.

Eaton was actually very good in ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ (1967), a film sunk without trace by the ‘comedy’ stylings of heroes George Nader and Frankie Avalon(!) but her heart really doesn’t seem to be in it here. In fact, she retired after this film and hasn’t acted since. Sanders wears scarlet trousers, fondles gorgeous 33-year old Elisa Montes (he was 62 at the time!) and hangs around for his paycheque. In one scene he reads a Popeye comic whilst a girl is tortured. But the worst performance in the picture goes to leading man Richard Wyler, a man with the screen charisma of wet cardboard.

There’s the inevitable footage of the Rio carnival (actually quite good so probably shot by someone else) and the climax features a helicopter attack on Femina, which was actually a local art museum. This spectacular set piece features lots of extras falling over several times and shaking their prop guns to simulate machine gun fire.

And why couldn’t they get Sumuru’s name right? Sumander? Sunander? Sumitra? What was it again?