Upperseven, L’uomo Da Uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces/Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)‘We’ve got to weave through those infra-red beams; they set off the machine guns.’

Special agent Paul Finney foils a gold smuggling operation masterminded by the criminal Kobras, but the supervillain escapes to fight another day. Suspecting that he is involved with a covert Chinese operation in Africa, Finney teams up with a beautiful CIA agent to take him down once and for all.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is smooth operator Paul Hubschmid, fronting a surprisingly well-mounted co-production from studios in Italy and Germany (where were the Spaniards on this one?) Codenamed Upperseven, he’s knee-deep in the usual cocktail of guns, girls and low-level gadgets as he tangles with blonde iceman Kobras (Nando Gazzolo) and his bad girl sidekick Vivi Bach. There’s the usual tour around glamorous cities; this time the itinerary taking in Copenhagen, London, Basel, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rome, and a surprisingly explosive climax at Gazzolo’s secret base in Africa.

After an opening shootout at a burning factory, we find Hubschmid in London, getting his next set of orders and spending quality time with the beautiful Rosalba Neri. However, the talented Italian actress is woefully underused, her part seemingly existing almost solely to establish Hubschmid’s credentials in the bedroom department. She does get her guitar out and give us a song, but it’s hard to judge her musical abilities, as she’s obviously been dubbed by another actress. From there, our virile star moves onto American agent Karin Dor, who’s in town on her way to supervise a big money transfer in Switzerland. Hubschmid is happy to concentrate his working hours on tracking some stolen diamonds, but inevitably the cases are connected and Gazzolo’s hand is behind it all.

The film’s main gimmick is our hero’s use of masks. He makes them himself in a backroom in his flat, and they are so life-like they look almost like other members of the cast with their heads poking through holes in the furniture. In fact, they are the perfect disguise, even when they’ve been crumpled up and hidden in one of his socks for a few hours! Considering such items were such a major part of the arsenal of Peter Graves and his ‘Mission: Impossible’ crew, it’s interesting to note that this film was released almost a year before that TV show first aired.

Let’s consider the good stuff first. The film has more of a budget than many of its kind. This allows for some pyrotechnics at either end of the movie, a hidden underground base for Gazzolo and a refreshing lack of endless ‘tourist board’ footage crammed in to boost the running time. It’s good to see Dor getting in on some of the physical action too. Ok, so she’s not Buffy, the Vampire Slayer but she’s in the driving seat during a car chase, finishes one bad guy with a sharp knife throw and, briefly, handles herself well in a fight. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but it makes her more convincing as an agent than many of her female contemporaries.

Upperseven, L'uomo Da Uccidere:The Spy With Ten Faces:Man ofA Thousand Masks (1966)

🎵And you could have it all…My empire of dirt…🎶

Unfortunately, there a few negative aspects on show as well. To begin with, the plot is muddled and lacks focus, often feeling like a few second-hand ideas thrown roughly together. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and action, but it’s all a little undenuhelming and writer-director Alberto De Martino fails to endow proceedings with any real excitement or dynamism.

Although professional enough, none of the cast members invest their roles with any real energy or approach the creation of even a mildly compelling character. It’s simply hard for the audience to care about anything that happens to them. Hubschmid began acting in his native Germany in the late 1930s, and actually appeared in films sanctioned by the Nazi regime during World War Two. It may have been that which prompted him to try his luck in Hollywood in the late 1940s, although he maintained a screen presence in his homeland too. Stateside, he was renamed Paul Christian, and enjoyed a brief career as a leading man, appearing opposite Maureen O’Hara in ‘Bagdad’ (1949), in director Don Siegel’s ‘No Time For Flowers’ (1952), and as the heroic scientist in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953).

Dor met Bond for real in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), but her career stalled after appearing in the Hitchcock flop ‘Topaz’ (1969) and with Paul Naschy in monster train-wreck ‘Assignment Terror/Dracula Versus Frankenstein’ (1970). After a brief flirtation with television, she became a respected stage actress; still working almost up to her death in early 2017. Bach graduated to playing a Eurospy heroine in ‘Electra One’ (1967), and Neri went onto cult cinema greatness in a number of signature roles.

De Martino was a journeyman filmmaker at best, whose output slavishly followed popular trends. First, there were muscleman pictures in the early 1960s such as ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961) and ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963) before he jumped smartly onto the Spaghetti Western and Eurospy bandwagons. In the latter genre, he delivered ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) starring Sean’s brother Neil, and Ken Clark’s final outing as Agent 077 Dick Malloy in ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). His career M.O. carried on into the 1970s as he countered ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) with ‘L’anticristo’ (1974), ‘The Omen’ (1976) with ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and ‘Superman’ (1978) with ‘The Puma Man’ (1980), which remains one of the greatest bad movies ever made.

Curiously flat ‘Bond’ knock-off that’s better presented than most, but of little real interest.

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Target For Killing/Das Geheimnis der gelben Mönche (1966)

Target For Killing (1966)‘Our secret agents in Pakistan and Vietnam communicate regularly by telepathy.’

A veteran special agent is assigned to protect a young girl who has been marked for death by a mysterious criminal organisation who work in secret from a monastery. He soon discovers that their leader is using ESP and a revolutionary brainwashing technique to further his mad ambitions…

Fast-paced Austrian/German/Italian Eurospy that features ex-Hollywood matinee idol Stewart Granger as this week’s rather silver-haired ‘Bond On A Budget.‘ Granger had some previous experience in these kind of shenanigans as the lead of ‘Red Dragon’ (1965) which often gets bundled in with this genre, although it was more of a crime thriller really. In fact, despite a new name, he is supposed to be playing the same character, as his exploits in the previous film are referenced by local Police Commissioner Rupert Davies.

The story opens mid-flight with ‘marked woman’ Karin Dor being chatted up by our handsome hero. He seems to be making progress, but can’t help noticing the flight crew heading for the back of the plane and, a few seconds later, their parachutes deploying below. How they managed to leave without compromising cabin pressure is a bit of a mystery, but we’ll let it pass. Luckily, Granger was a pilot in the war about twenty years earlier, so he’s able to land the plane with only a slight wobble. The control tower doesn’t even need to talk him down! Now, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here, but all someone without specific training will achieve in those circumstances is to pile up on the runway (if they’re lucky enough to make it that far). Yes, I know screen personalities as diverse as Doris Day in ‘Julie’ (1955), Karen Black in ‘Airport ’75’ (1974), David McCallum as TV’s ‘The Invisible Man’ and Lou Ferrigno as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ have all accomplished the feat without breaking too much of a sweat, but it’s simply not possible. You may as well expect to manage re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere after attending an open day at Cape Canaveral.

So some serious suspension of disbelief is essential here, and the script often does little to help the audience in that regard. There some silly business about Granger being scared of Davies’ pet snake (which he keeps in his office!) and super villain Curt Jurgens has a stable of scantily-clad babes draped all over the furniture at his HQ just because he likes the way they look. Associate Dr Yang (Luis Induni) can read people’s thoughts and turn them into mindless zombies. Although they do have to receive electric shocks and stare into an aquarium at the same time! There’s also a scene where Jurgens’ chief Lieutenant Scilla Gabel shoots off multiple rounds with her machine gun, then ‘blows it out’ and rubs the barrel of the weapon against her cheek. Now, we know her character gets turned on by pain, but burning your face off with hot metal might seem to be taking things a little too far! As it happens, it seems to have no effect on her at all. She must have thick skin, I guess.

Target For Killing (1966)

‘What do you mean I’m too old for this shit?’

The production also looks a little tatty here and there, but all these shortcomings can be forgiven when you consider the wonderful casting. For a start there’s Granger, still oozing Hollywood charisma in his 50s and fully committed in the surprisingly violent fight scenes. Dor went onto to tangle with the real thing in the shape of Sean Connery in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967) and Jurgens crossed swords with Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977).

Not enough for you? Minor villain and eventual rat fodder Adolfo Celi came out on the wrong end of another encounter with Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965) and the lovely Molly Peters was 007’s personal masseuse in the same movie! On top of all the Bond connections, we get Klaus Kinski as a conflicted trigger man, Davies who was TV’s ‘Maigret’ and Erika Remberg who appeared with Moore on the small screen in ‘The Saint‘. Director Manfred R Köhler was also responsible for an earlier example of the genre: ‘Agent 505 – Death Trap Beirut’ (1965) with Frederick Stafford.

Curiously enough though, with the notable exception of Granger, the most memorable performance here is from Gabel. Her only major credits are an appearance in Joseph Losey’s misfiring ‘007’ satire, ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966) and opposite Gordon Scott in ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959) (which featured support from a pre-stardom Sean Connery!) Here, she oozes a playful, dangerous sexuality in various tight fitting outfits, leaving little doubt about her character’s preferences and motivation. While Jurgen plots, she’s  always in the background, usually stroking some inanimate object or other in a suggestive way! Although, rather brilliantly, in one scene she’s just doing her knitting!

This is quite an entertaining Eurospy if you forgive the slightly uncertain tone; the film never really deciding how serious – or silly – it wants to be. Yes, there’s a bit of an age gap between our romantic leads, but who could blame a young woman like Dor getting her head turned by the handsome Granger? After all, he’s just so damn suave and capable! If ‘Bond’ had come along a decade earlier, he would have been on the shortlist for the role. No question about it.

Good fun if you’re not too demanding.

The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism (1967)

The_Torture_Chamber_of_Dr_Sadism_(1967)‘A mature person’s trip through the ultimate in horrific wickedness.’

Mass murderer Count Regula is executed in the town square when he is pulled apart by horses. Rather surprisingly, he curses all those responsible and their descendants. 30 years later a successful lawyer receives an invitation to visit a mysterious castle and find out the truth about his origins.

Fairly typical 1960s Euro-Horror starring Christopher Lee as Regula (who else?!) and square-jawed ex-Tarzan Lex Barker. Both were enjoying a lucrative career on the continent at the time so it’s no surprise to find them in this German production shot in Bavaria. Joining the cast is heroine Karin Dor (‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967), Hitchcock’s ‘Topaz’ (1969)) who was married at the time to the film’s director Harald Reinl. He’d directed the first two of the new cycle of ‘Dr Mabuse’ movies in the early part of the decade and had worked with Barker several times before.

Allegedly, proceedings are based on Poe’s classic tale ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, but, beyond the inevitable appearance of the swinging blade descending on Barker’s chest, there are no other similarities. Dor is along for the ride because she’s also got the dubious party invite but, as her mother betrayed Regula to the authorities all those years ago, she should probably have stayed in and washed her hair instead. An early highlight finds Barker asking for directions in a nearby village, only to be met with wild expressions and slamming window shutters. He might as well have been asking for directions to Castle Dracula – which, in a way of course, is exactly what he is doing!

The_Torture_Chamber_of_Dr_Sadism_(1967)

‘Ungawa!’

The most impressive section of the film by far is the final approach to the Castle through a gloomy forest, where the trees are hung with old corpses and skeletons. Director Reinl gives this real atmosphere, aided by some impressive photography. The local landscape is also shown to good advantage during the journey, being both beautiful but strangely creepy at the same time.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot less going on with the story than at first appears and, once our heroes get to the Castle, things fall a little flat. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere and the presence of a priest met on the road and Dor’s companion are quickly exposed for what they are – pointless padding. Lee isn’t given nearly enough to do, although at least he’s not dubbed by another actor this time – as was common in films made in Europe during this period. The filmmakers obviously recognised the importance of those cool, imperious tones!

A middling effort; worth a watch for both fans of the genre and of Christopher Lee. Poe devotees, however, will feel like they’ve seen it all before…

The Return of Dr Mabuse (1961)

Return_of_Dr_Mabuse_(1961)‘I have a suspicion that there are numerous criminal elements in your prison.’

Sometime after the supposed death of mastermind Dr Mabuse, detective Gert Frobe’s plans for a holiday are interrupted when a courier is murdered on a train. As corpses pile up, clues lead to a prison and supposed FBI agent Joe Como. But could Dr Mabuse be the driving force behind it all?

Legendary German film director Fritz Lang returned to his homeland to make films as failing eyesight brought his career to its end. One of them was a sequel to the films that made his name more than 30 years earlier. ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960) was critically panned (somewhat unfairly) but was successful enough to lead to a brief series of follow up pictures in Germany, of which ‘The Return of Dr Mabuse’ (1961) was the first. These were dubbed into English for the international market and Lex Barker (‘Tarzan’ from 1949 to 1953) was cast to help sell the films abroad.

This is a good, efficient thriller with atmospheric black and white photography. The plot appears initially simplistic but becomes quite tangled, whilst retaining a coherent narrative. Director Harold Reinl was no Lang but he capitalises on the swift pace and does evoke a sense of the omnipotence of Mabuse, which Lang had managed so brilliantly in his films. The expressionistic lighting around the appearances of the mysterious Doctor is also a welcome throwback to older German cinema.

Return_of_Dr_Mabuse_(1961)

Goldfinger had a sentimental streak when it came to remembering his adversaries.

The lack of large set pieces, gadgets and effects do betray a lack of ambition, or perhaps budget, but this is still a worthy inclusion in the series. Twists in the tale are clever without being too outlandish and Frobe, returning from ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse’ (1960), is an unusual, but charismatic, leading man. His performance overshadows the more conventional romance between Barker (hero or villain?) and Karin Dor. The final plot reveal is also pleasing for fans of the series.

Four more films of varying quality followed but this one is definitely worth seeking out. Probably best to avoid the poster art on the U.S. release, though:

‘He isn’t here, he isn’t there,
Yet his terror strikes everywhere!
He kills and kills without excuse, 
THE EVIL and FIENDISH DR. MABUSE!’

Ouch.