That Man in Istanbul/Estambul 65 (1965)

‘Bogo, show Miss Babyfat out.’

The CIA exchanges a kidnapped atomic scientist for a ransom of one million dollars, but there’s a bomb on the transport plane, and the scientist is killed almost immediately. One agent pursues the matter unofficially, her main lead being a deported gangster and well-known playboy who lives in Istanbul…

The identity of this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is up for discussion in this Italian-Franch-Spanish Eurospy production from director Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi. Our agent in the field might be the glamorous Sylva Koscina, but most of the action falls to suave leading man Horst Buchholz.

CIA Chief George Rigaud is not a happy man. Not only did atomic scientist Professor Pendergast (Umberto Raho) go up in flames after the ransom payoff, but diplomatic sensitives (and an order from the President no less!) preclude any further investigation into the matter. This does not sit well with special agent Kelly (Koscina), who decides to follow up in Instanbul on an unofficial basis, with Riguad happy to look the other way. Clandestine photographs snapped at the exchange put handsome young nightspot owner Tony Mecenas (Buchholz) at the scene, so she secures a job at his club. Buchholz is an old hand at dealing with law enforcement, though, and he immediately sees through the charade.

From that point on, the two exchange the usual romantic barbs as they begin falling for each other, and he becomes sucked further and further into her investigation. She’s suspected from the first that Raho isn’t really dead and that the sadistic Gunther (Agustín González) and his cronies are taking orders from a secret mastermind. The challenge is to unmask the villain and rescue Raho as Buchholz runs all over Istanbul, dodging bullets and bad guys.

Isasi-Isasmendi’s movie may be formulaic plot-wise, but it has a playful, tongue-in-cheek approach that helps with the entertainment level. Buchholz makes for an athletic hero, aided by some decent stunt work, including some impressive high-speed driving on mountain roads. There’s a running gag that beautiful women know him wherever he goes, and there are even a couple of occasions where he breaks the fourth wall to address a remark to the audience. There’s also a direct romantic rival for Koscina after Buchholz rescues rich girl Elisabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier), who the gang have snatched off her father’s yacht.

What does derail proceedings to some extent is the length. Without a great deal of plot development, a two-hour run time almost inevitably leads to a saggy middle act, and the film begins to drift and drag as Buchholz makes one last-minute escape after another. The script also keeps Koscina off screen for long periods when more of the romantic back and forth between the pair might have provided the necessary sparkle and encouraged more audience investment in the drama.

Still, there is a surprisingly lively supporting cast of characters. As well as the afore-mentioned González, the rogue’s gallery of villains also includes award-winning German actors Mario Adorf and Klaus Kinski as assassins. Although they don’t share any significant screen time and Kinski is dreadfully underused, his face-off with Buchholz is one of the film’s undoubted highlights. On the side of the angels are the dry-witted Brain (Gustavo Re) and magician Bogo (Álvaro de Luna). Isasi-Isasmendi also finds slots for French actor Gérard Tichy, and familiar Spaghetti Western face Luis Induni in minor roles.

In terms of action, there’s enough bang for your buck, although it sometimes verges on parody. Surrounded by four speeding cars closing in for the kill, Buchholz manages to shoot out all their headlights in super quick time and make them all crash into one another. He also jumps from a crashing sports car onto the back of a truck in what would have been a fantastic stunt if we actually got to see it! Jazzing up all this nonsense with blaring horns and strident strings is a faux-John Barry score from composer Georges Garvarentz, which helps instil some dynamism when the mayhem is a little lacking.

Of course, Buchholz is best remembered as the youngest member of John Sturges’ ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) but enjoyed a film career of more than half a century. Through the 1950s, he worked his way up the ranks in the European film industry from short subjects and unbilled roles to leading parts in such prestigious productions as ‘Auferstehung’ (1958), a big-budget adaptation of the Tolstoy novel. Hollywood came calling with award-winning crime drama ‘Tiger Bay’ (1959), and his trip out west with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen followed hard on its heels. Joshua Logan’s romantic drama ‘Fanny’ (1961) and Billy Wilder’s excellent ‘One, Two, Three’ (1961) completed a formidable kick-off to his American career, but scheduling conflicts led to his being unable to take the lead in ‘West Side Story’ (1961) and another plum assignment on David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962). Instead, big budget flop ‘Nine Hours to Rama’ (1962) and poorly-received Bette Davis vehicle ‘The Empty Canvas’ (1964) hurt his prospects, and he returned to European films. Back in the US in the mid-1970s, he took roles in mediocre movies made for television, on network shows such as ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and appeared in the dreadful but hilarious mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). Back in Europe for most of the remainder of his career, he acted in such notable projects as Wim Wenders’ ‘Faraway, So Close!’ (1993) and Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning ‘Life is Beautiful’ (1997). He passed away in 2003.

A fun Eurospy, but tighter script control and a greater focus on the romantic elements might have made for something far more notable.

The Price of Death/Il venditore di morte (1971)

‘You’d have to be a millipede to satisfy everybody.’

The saloon in Appleby is held up by three masked men on the same night as a young Mexican woman is brutally stabbed to death. Only one of the gang escapes the botched heist with his life. The blame falls on a local troublemaker, who is found guilty after trial and sentenced to hang. His lawyer hires a notorious gunman to help prove his client’s innocence…

Unusual attempt to spoof the Spaghetti Western from writer-director Lorenzo Gicca Palli, who throws significant elements of the Giallo thriller into his offbeat mixture. Genre stalwarts Gianni Garko and Klaus Kinski are along for the ride in this Italian production filmed at the Elios Studios in Rome.

It’s a busy night in the one-horse town of Appleby. Pretty young Carmen Morales (Franca De Stratis) is home alone making supper when she’s attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant. Over on main street, fun times at the saloon are on hold when three masked men burst in with guns demanding the evening’s proceeds. It looks like a bloodless heist until one of the patrons comes downstairs unexpectedly, and the bullets start to fly. Two of the gang are shot dead in the street outside by arriving Sheriff Tom Stanton (Luciano Catenacci), but the third escapes. The finger points toward local bad boy Chester Conway (Klaus Kinski), and in no time at all, he’s up before Judge Atwell (Alfredo Rizzo) and a jury of his peers. Convicted after a show trial, he is sentenced to hang.

Convinced of Kinski’s innocence, defence lawyer Jeff Plummer (Franco Abbina) hires old friend Mr Silver (Gianni Garko) to investigate and find the real culprit. The parents of the murdered girl have already retained his services as that crime has seemingly gone unnoticed by the official forces of law and order. From the start, Garko faces anger and resentment from the townsfolk and no co-operation from Catenacci. Everyone seems convinced of Kinski’s guilt, from sawbones Doc Rosencrantz (Luciano Pigozzi) to churchman Reverend Tiller (Giancarlo Prete), from fire and brimstone reformer Mrs Randall (Laura Gianoli) to her husband, Banker Randall (Luigi Casellato). The one person willing to help is saloon owner Polly Winters (Mimma Biscardi), and that’s only because she’s Kinski’s ex-lover and wants to hang him herself!

For a modern audience, this is an oddball film that never achieves a consistent tone with either its drama or its comedy. The opening murder is lifted straight out of the Giallo playbook, being shown almost exclusively from the killer’s point of view. We get hands clutching at De Stratis’ throat, her agonised, screaming face and her unsuccessful defence with a kitchen knife. Likewise, the heist and its gunplay are played as a straight action sequence.

Things start getting seriously weird at Kinski’s trial, which is presented as a farce. Blowhard defence attorney Abbina is constantly interrupted by the Prosecutor (Andrea Scotti), and Judge Rizzo repeatedly fines Abbina for protesting about it. Witness Biscardi gives her testimony dressed in a yellow trouser suit and big hair, looking like she stepped into a 1970s boutique on her way to the courtroom! All this is somewhat baffling to a modern audience. It’s a satirical dig at the judicial system, obviously, but it’s remorselessly heavy-handed, and there’s a suspicion that some of the humour may have been inspired by real-life events of its time. Whatever the intention, it comes right out of left-field after the serious opening.

Garko’s investigations lead to the exposure of further smalltown hypocrisy; everyone is sleeping with everyone else, and those that shout loudest for high moral values are the most guilty of sin. Uptight harpy Gianoli is bankrolling Biscardi’s bordello/saloon on the quiet because they are secretly sisters. The diary of the call girl killed in the robbery prompts a bidding frenzy amongst the town’s leading citizens when it’s publicly auctioned by Sheriff Catenacci. It’s highly probable that the writer-director had an axe to grind when it came to figures in authority, both those in the political arena and self-appointed guardians of public morals.

There’s some good potential for sly comedy here, but it’s so broad, overdone, and relentless that it quickly loses its impact. However, it’s only fair to reiterate that some of the satirical barbs may have been lost to the passage of time and the film’s journey across international boundaries. One example is when Garko’s mission takes him out of town to a gold mining camp where he rescues a man from a lengthy comedy beating. Who is he, and what is his function in the story? The audience never finds out because he is shot dead less than a minute after Garko gets him back to town, and he’s never mentioned again.

That’s not to say there are not some enjoyable moments here, just that they never coalesce into a coherent whole. It seems as if there may have been an intention at some stage to present a freewheeling satire of movie tropes and conventions of all kinds, but the finished product only hints at this possibility. When we first meet Garko’s Mr Silver, he is hanging out with two bikini-clad lovelies, and a cool drink in a tall glass in the same way James Bond might wait for the inevitable call to duty. He even works out with an uncredited Japanese martial artist who repeatedly throws him to the mat before a frustrated Garko lays him out with a straight right to the jaw. Again, none of this goes anywhere or comes up again in the rest of the film. Of course, this scattershot approach to comedy can work, but not when other parts of the story play as straightforward drama.

Fortunately, the principal cast keeps things watchable, and Gicca Palli doesn’t allow a lot of time to ponder the many unresolved plot threads and general incoherence. Garko and Kinski were veterans of the Old West by this time, and both give reliably charismatic performances. However, Kinski enthusiasts may be disappointed by his role, as he spends almost his entire screentime ranting and raving in his jail cell. Similarly, Giallo fans are likely to find slim pickings here. Yes, there’s a string of murders committed by a hooded killer whose identity is revealed at the climax, but this part of the plot often feels strangely incidental.

The handsome Garko had been appearing on the Italian screen for almost a decade before his big break arrived with a leading role as Sartana Liston in Spaghetti Western ‘Blood at Sundown/1000 dollari sul nero’ (1966). The character name stuck, and his starring role in ‘If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death/Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte’ (1968) led to his leading three of the subsequent films in the series. By then, he had also played gunslinger Django and, later on, he made a one-off showing as supernatural gunman Holy Ghost in ‘Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo’ (1972), a character usually portrayed by Vassili Karis. In later years, as the genre declined, he moved increasingly to television, including an unlikely guest appearance in Gerry Anderson’s science-fiction series ‘Space: 1999’. Although his big-screen credits became more occasional, there were still leading roles in hamfisted space opera ‘Star Odyssey’ (1979), Bermuda Triangle close ‘Encounters in the Deep’ (1979) and opposite Lou Ferrigno in Luigi Cozzi’s wonderfully trashy ‘Hercules’ (1983).

A satirical mash-up between Spaghetti Western and Giallo presents possibilities, but what emerges is an unbalanced, unsatisfying experience.

Double Face/A Doppia Faccia/Liz X Helen (1969)

Double Face/A Doppia Faccia (1969)‘I had to convince them that you weren’t a cop, just a pervert looking for dirty movies.’

After meeting on a skiing holiday, a couple fall in love and get married. But, as time passes, she loses interest in him and takes a lesbian lover. Then she dies in a car crash, her body burned beyond recognition. He inherits her extensive business empire, but was the wreck an accident and was it her who was driving the car anyway…?

Late 1960s Giallo picture that rounds up some of the usual suspects, but gives them little worthwhile to do in a convoluted tale of murder, false identity and intrigue. Director and principal screenwriter Riccardo Freda was a man with experience to spare but the intricacies of misdirection and mystery seem to have eluded his grasp on this occasion.

The film opens with a thrilling car chase, the pursued vehicle ending up in a fireball after a close encounter with a speeding passenger train. Following are Police Inspector Gordon (Luciano Spadoni) and John Alexander (Klaus Kinski). As the wreck burns, we flashback to more than a year before when Kinski met and wed the gorgeous Helen (a criminally under-employed Margaret Lee) after a whirlwind romance. She’s a very wealthy woman indeed, whose business interests she leaves in the hands of her father, played by Sydney (son of Charlie) Chaplin. Lee cools on their union pretty quickly, becoming far more interested in sexy brunette Liz (Annabella Incontrera). Kinski still loves her, but another vehicular mishap later, he’s a widower with a big, fat chequebook.

Double Face/A Doppia Faccia (1969)

‘Why does the weirdo always sit next to me?’

On the night of his wedding anniversary, he finds mysterious blonde Christine (Christiane Krüger) using the shower in his palatial home. Although this would be just another day at the office if he were a secret agent, Kinski is rather put out by the whole business instead. Especially when she lifts his car keys and forces him to attend some kind of late 1960s ‘happening’.

This event features a couple of guys riding motorbikes in a room full of people, loud psychedelic music and an underground movie show. As well as lots of groovy guys and gals freaking out. Not an event likely to meet with the approval of the seriously uptight Mr Kinski, and his mood’s not likely to get any better when he sees that one of the sex films on show apparently features his late wife!

From there, Kinski increasingly finds himself entangled in some kind of a plot, but he can never be sure exactly what is going on. He gets beaten up going after a reel of the film in question and does start to believe that Lee is still alive. However, he can never lay his hands on evidence that will convince anyone else. It all culminates in a showdown in a church confessional and the car chase that opened the film.

‘…and these are from the weekend we spent down at Brighton…’

This is a middling Giallo at best with a labyrinthine plot that resolves itself in a rather ridiculous fashion. It’s hard to imagine a more unnecessarily complicated conspiracy to reach a required outcome than the one employed here. Kinski makes an uneasy hero too; director Freda deserving some credit for casting against type, but it’s hard to identify with such a cold, withdrawn leading man.

There’s also a problem with the film’s early stages. No effort is made to establish the initial Kinski-Lee relationship or the length of time that has passed when we switch to their early scenes in London. By then, the marriage is failing and Kinski is having an affair with secretary Alice (Barbara Nelli), but, although hinted at, the affair is only clear much later on in the film. It is nice that Lee and Kinski get to see ‘Red Alligator’ win the 1968 Grand National, though, even if that particular horse race is actually held 220 miles away from London at the Aintree course in Liverpool.

In short, this is all a bit messy and, what with some truly atrocious model work trying to pass for one of the car accidents, this has the feel of something that’s been rather slapped together. The warehouse party continue for far too long as well, the scene desperately needing the attention of an editor’s scissors. If all this gives the impression of a film that has been re-edited since its original release, then that appears not to be the case; the cut I saw ran the 88 minutes that is listed as the official version. Some of the raunchier scenes were removed for US television and newly filmed sex scenes added when the film was released in France, but it doesn’t seem likely that any of those changes would have substantially improved the coherence of the final product.

Double Face/A Doppia Faccia (1969)

‘Here’s Klaus!’

Freda was a veteran of Italian cinema, most known in cult film circles for his work with Mario Bava on ‘I Vampiri’ (1957) and ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959). In the 1960s, he delivered ‘The Terror of Dr Hichcock’ (1962) and ‘The Ghost’ (1963), both starring Barbara Steele, and two Eurospy adventures featuring Secret Agent Francis Coplan. He was also behind the typewriter for most of his projects and contributed the original screenplay here, although four other writers (including fellow director Lucio Fulci) are credited with the story.

The film’s advertising also made much play of the fact that it was based on the work of thriller novelist Edgar Wallace, who enjoyed a huge revival of popularity in Europe in the 1960s. In fact, the box office failure of this film put paid to adaptations of his work for a short time. This was ironic, considering the film actually has nothing to do with Wallace at all! It was just marketing.

Sporadically interesting Giallo picture that looks rushed at times and would have benefitted from a stronger story.

Titan Find / Creature (1985)

Titan Find (1985)‘l saw a movie once where a group of people were trapped in an ice station by a carrot from another planet.’

A team of archaeologists are sent to Titan to investigate artefacts found by a previous expedition from which no-one returned. After crash landing, they meet the sole survivor of a rival team who warns them that the find is a zoo of alien creatures, one of which is still very much alive…

Although some commentators have offered the opinion that this is not a knock-off of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979), it is hard to imagine the film existing without that earlier masterpiece. Matters open with helpful captions explaining that space exploration in the future is in the hands of two rival corporations, one from America, one from West Germany (I guess unification didn’t work out in the end). But it’s the Americans who have an expedition on Titan from the get-go, with two astronauts taking a few holiday snaps while sitting on the strange alien caskets they have uncovered. Shining a light into one of them reveals a being with far too many teeth and in urgent need of orthodontic assistance, but not to worry, it’s been lying there for centuries, so it must be dead, right? Umm…no. The last man standing after these gory shenanigans manages to escape being turned into lunch but flies his spacecraft into a model from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) instead.

Dispatched to Titan to pick up the pieces is Captain Mike Davison (Stan Ivar) and his crew of working stiffs, most of whom are archaeologists. Ok, senior company man Lyman Ward is also along for the ride and he has brought security expert Diane Salinger with, but it does seem as if they could have had a few more military types, given the mysterious demise of the first expedition. Ward isn’t sinister at all, of course (he might as well have ‘hidden agenda’ stamped across his forehead) and orders Ivar to land the ship without carrying out any surveys or safety procedures. This turns out to be sound leadership indeed, as the ship falls part-way through the moon’s fragile crust and is seriously damaged.

Titan Find (1985)

‘What did Werner call me?’

On their way in, they’d noticed a rival West German vessel, so it seems like a good idea to nip over for tea and maybe scrounge a few spare parts. Unfortunately, there’s a strange and dangerous lifeform on the loose; a halfway demented survivor of the German crew. Or perhaps he’s completely sane. As he’s played by Klaus Kinski it’s kind of hard to tell. Oh, and there’s that monster thing with far too many teeth that I mentioned earlier.

This production is a fairly typical example of what you would find at your local video rental store in the 1980s. Ok, this feature did get a theatrical release in many markets but, really, it’s only the presence of a name like Kinski and some decent model work that make it stand out from dozens of similar projects of the time. The creature itself is not badly realised, and its method of reanimating its victims to kill everyone else is a clever notion, especially given that the man in the monster suit doesn’t look too mobile. Actually, the film’s main FX team went onto work on ‘Aliens’ (1986) just a year later, and it is possible that it was their contribution here that caught the eye of director James Cameron. After all, he started his own career doing production design and visual effects in low-budget science fiction flicks, such as ‘Galaxy of Terror’ (1981).

Titan Find (1985)

The neck massage        therapy was not a great success.

So, technically the film is a little above average. The main problem here is the script and dialogue. The situations are familiar, and the characters flat and uninteresting. There’s almost nothing for the actors to work with and the audience has no-one to invest in. There is a pleasing repetition of the blue collar aesthetic of the Ridley Scott movie, particularly in the spacecraft’s functional interiors, but it’s really just for show; the crew never really engage in any ‘work’ as such, although some effort is made to give them specific roles within the team.

Lighting is also an issue. Whether it was down to practical limitations or budget, the action largely takes place in shadows and semi-darkness, which may be good for atmosphere but becomes a little wearing over an hour and a half. Unsurprisingly, the only cast member to make a real impression is Kinski, even though he’s little more than a generic ‘nutter’ and probably filmed all his scenes in a couple of days. This was probably good news for everyone else, as his questionable behaviour on film sets was notorious. The only example here is the scene where his character heavily gropes Salinger, something that was not in the original script. Pleasingly, she gets her own ‘Ripley’ moment late on, which is probably the highlight of the entire film.

The post-release history of the film is a little curious. VHS and DVD releases by different companies over the years seemed to infer that it had fallen into the public domain, but director William Malone released a Blu Ray in 2013, apparently believing that he owned the rights. Unfortunately, MGM’s legal department disagreed, and the release was withdrawn, meaning second hand copies now fetch high prices on the internet. This is probably because Malone released a longer, widescreen director’s cut, which added at least 5 minutes to the running time. I have not seen this version, but its existence might explain a few disjointed moments and odd editing choices during the climactic action scenes. Malone went on to direct the interesting (and unfairly maligned) remake of ‘House On Haunted Hill’ (1999), but followed that with the execrable ‘Feardotcom’ (2002).

This isn’t a bad variation on the horror/science fiction template pioneered by Ridley Scott, but neither it is a particularly remarkable one. A watch of Malone’s own cut would be desirable, of course, to give a more informed opinion. But who doesn’t want to see Kinski as a living dead astronaut on a murderous rampage? There’s always that.


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.

Scotland Yard Vs Dr. Mabuse/Scotland Yard Jagt Dr. Mabuse (1963)

Scotland Yard Vs Dr Mabuse (1963)‘You’re a plucky old bird alright, you’re stronger than any apparatus.’

The chief of a hospital takes on the spirit of Dr Mabuse after the famous criminal mastermind dies in his care. Relocating to England, he plans to take over the country by kidnapping a royal princess and using a machine that can hypnotise innocent people into committing criminal acts…

Famous film director Fritz Lang returned to his native Germany after roughly a quarter of a century in Hollywood to revive his most famous character. The resulting film, ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse’ (1960) was apparently not a critical success, but kick started a new series of five homegrown pictures, beginning with ‘The Return of Dr. Mabuse’ (1961). The film in question here was the fourth of the series and featured several of the cast who had appeared in previous instalments, although, somewhat confusingly, they play essentially the same characters just with different names. Continuity was obviously not a major consideration for the producers.

Having said that, Walter Rilla returns as Professor Pohland from ‘The Testament of Dr. Mabuse’ (1962) and also appeared in final entry ‘The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse’ (1964) in the same role, so that’s straightforward enough. However, Peter van Eyck was in ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse’ (1960), this film and ‘The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse’ (1964) and, although he’s the blonde hero in all three, he’s Henry B Travers in the first one, Bob Anders in the second and Bill Tern in the third. Werner Peters appears in four different entries but plays a different role each time. I could go on. All clear so far?

This time out, the dead Mabuse transfers his will into Professor Pohland, who immediately (and without any apparent difficulty) takes over the criminal organisation of the late mastermind. He quickly identifies a ‘device that must not fall into the wrong hands’ which, on this occasion, is a hypnotising machine invented by Professor Masterson. Predictably enough, Masterson’s lab possesses zero security and he has the obligatory pretty daughter (Sabine Bethmann). Brilliantly, Rilla orders Masterson liquidated before the machine is perfected which causes problems, but at least the prototype comes in a nice size so it can be disguised as a hand held movie camera (and save a little on the production budget).

Scotland Yard Vs Dr Mabuse (1963)

Has Kinski been hypnotised yet? You decide…

So far, not so bad, but it’s pretty clear from the beginning that the film has problems. For a start, van Eyck’s entire success as a detective, previously and in this case, rests entirely on his elderly mother (Agnes Windeck)! Yes, her uncanny leaps of intuition are always 100% accurate and acknowledged but never explained. In practical terms, they’re a crutch for the screenwriter every time he needs to move things on, and events develop in ways that rely increasingly on coincidence and illogic.

At one point, rather than simply overpower one of Rilla’s hypnotised goons (they have a gun), van Eyck and Peters apparently jump from a road bridge into a river. That kind of act is potentially fatal, of course, but we never actually see the stunt and the only consequence is sitting around a heater for five minutes afterwards. Why do they do it? To convince Rilla they are dead (for some reason). By the time we reach the climax, suspension of disbelief is almost impossible and there’s a suspicion that the film might even be playing it for laughs.

After all, Rilla’s grand scheme to take over England is to hold a princess to ransom (named Diana curiously enough), and hole up in a farmhouse with a handful of goons. Sure, they now have about a dozen hypnotising machines, but I’m not entirely convinced his plan has a great chance of success. Even if one of his minions is former policeman Klaus Kinski, who manages to look pretty suspicious even before he’s hypnotised! Luckily for the forces of truth and democracy, van Eyck has discovered that the infernal machine’s hypnotic influence can be countered by wearing a hearing aid (seriously?), although he hasn’t bothered to procure any for his colleagues. Luckily, his mother turns up at the climax with a smile and a boxful of spares!

It’s a messy film all told. It has good moments, in particular a heist from a mail train (even if the robbery is somewhat unrelated to everything else), but these are far outweighed by the disjointed nature of the narrative and its’ serious lack of credibility. There’s also no sense of the Doctor’s vast criminal network or his pervasive, subtle influence on evolving events. Pretty much staples if the film wants to bare comparison to Lang’s original classics. It is better than series closer, ‘The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse’ (1964), but that’s really not saying much.

An adequate first act that quickly disintegrates into a slapdash and unsatisfying production.

Slaughter Hotel/Cold Blooded Beast/La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (1971)

Slaughter Hotel (1971)‘It’s just that your desire to make love is obsessive compulsive. Go and take a shower.’

A masked figure stalks the halls of a private hospital for wealthy young women with emotional problems. Making use of medieval weapons, he begins a killing spree by decapitating a nurse out in the grounds…

Softcore giallo from writer-director Fernando Di Leo, who was obviously far more interested in the former elements of his tale than the latter. The story takes place in an isolated, old manor house which is now home to Professor Osterman (John Karlsen), assistant Doctor Clay (Klaus Kinski), and their small team of orderlies and nurses. The clinic caters to patients with psychological problems, on condition that they are rich young women who look great with their clothes off.

But what a strange institution it is! Far be it from me to criticise the practices of a seasoned medical professional like Karlsen, but, for a start, he seems to have a slightly cavalier attitude towards health and safety. Rather unusually, one corridor boasts an actual real life iron maiden, this torture device being secured by a chain that looks inadequate to protect a tricycle. What’s it doing there? I have no idea. It is a creepy old house, I suppose. But I have to flag him for another minor code infraction because close by is an open display cabinet filled with medieval weapons! There’s a big sword, a dagger, a crossbow, a mace and a noose. The last item is a slight concern as the patients are allowed to roam freely and we’re told at least a couple of them have attempted suicide in the past.

Slaughter Hotel (1971)

The auditions for ‘Men In Black 4’ were not progressing as planned…

And then there’s the good Professor’s clinical practices. He doesn’t seem to have any. The only medical advice he offers throughout the entire film is to tell nymphomaniac Rosalba Neri to go take a shower! Predictably her issues are the only ones we find out anything about; all the other women have cheerfully vague problems, such as Margaret Lee’s overwrought nerves, and Gloria Desideri’s occasional homicidal urges.

Di Leo admitted than he did zero research into mental health issues or institutions before he penned his script, and it really shows. Because that’s not what we’re here for, is it? We’re here for naked babes in deadly peril! Both Lee and Neri are drop dead gorgeous and we see a lot of both of them; everything in Neri’s case, although a double may have been used for some shots. I’m certainly not complaining, but they get to do very little else, and it is frustrating to see two such talented actresses being exploited like this, although hopefully they understood the nature of the project when they signed on and were decently paid. We also get perky redhead Monica Strebel as a naughty nurse with a very ‘hands on’ approach to black patient Jane Garret (in her only film). They’re about to indulge in some distinctly unprofessional activity when they stop to dance to the radio in Garret’s room. For about five minutes. At this point, there’s not a lot of the movie left. Shouldn’t we be building up to some kind of a climax (pun intended)?

There are a few killings along the way in all this, of course, but there’s no creativity to the staging or execution and no real effort is made to bring the audience into the mystery. Two policeman turn up in the last quarter of an hour and, instead of waiting for the reinforcements that are on the way so the clinic can be thoroughly searched, they set Lee up as bait for the killer! She’s happy to agree to this ludicrous plan, probably because it finally gives her something to do and, considering she’s second billed in the cast, it’s about time. But even this is a seriously damp squib with the killer initially revealed to have a serious, legitimate motive, as in most giallos, but then just going on a demented rampage with the mace! Lucky, one of our lawmen has that gun with an inexhaustible supply of bullets, which is always handy in such situations.

Slaughter Hotel (1971)

The croquet match was about to get interesting…

Di Leo began his film career in westerns as an uncredited contributor to the script of Sergio Leone’s classic ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964). He was involved with several of the spaghetti westerns that followed, including ‘Django’ (1966), and he wrote ‘Navajo Joe’ (1966), an early vehicle for Burt Reynolds. His career as a director was somewhat less distinguished and, if this example of his work is anything to go by, that’s no surprise.

The plotting is lazy, the musical soundtrack distracting, and the cast get nothing to work with at all. Kinski just hangs around looking vaguely odd and suspicious (pretty much his default setting!) and a lot of the supporting cast seem flat and disinterested. Even the usually excellent Lee seems unable to drum up much enthusiasm for once (and no wonder!) Only Neri seems to be really giving it her best, but her role is barely two-dimensional, and she can’t have been under any illusions as to the reasons that she’d been cast.

It’s quite an achievement to waste such a beautiful and talented cast so completely, but Di Leo takes up that challenge and succeeds effortlessly. For fans of the leading ladies only.

Footprints/Footprints On The Moon/Le Orme (1975)

Le Orme (1975)‘Must attempt operation alpha on the next one’s brain to totally neutralise his emotional circuits.’

A translator has a vivid dream of an astronaut being left to die on the moon and finds a mysterious postcard in her kitchen when she wakes up. Going into work, she discovers that she has lost two complete days out of her life. Trying to recover her missing memories, she travels to the destination on the postcard, but the visions of the astronaut just keep getting stronger…

Atmospheric and intriguing mystery from Italian director Luigi Bazzoni that stars Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan. Proceedings open with the first of Bolkan’s dreams; a monochromatic vision of a lunar module touching down, an astronaut being dragged across the moon’s surface and the craft leaving. lt‘s weird, but not as weird as things are about to get. She thinks it’s a Tuesday morning, but it’s actually Thursday and a torn-up postcard of the island of Garma is the only clue as to what’s been happening. She’s gripped by a strong sense of déja vu as soon as she gets to this beautiful holiday destination and interaction will the locals seems to prove that she spent her missing time there hiding out in disguise from mysterious forces…

Technically, this is quite the tour de force. Director Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storarro create a dream-like atmosphere, perfectly reflecting Bolkan’s increasing isolation and apparent paranoia. Invaluable assistance comes from the striking locations, with the white stone architecture of the island’s old buildings a perfect contrast to the desolate beach and sinister woods. Interiors are gorgeous as well; the hotel providing a sense of faded glamour and timelessness, and handsome islander Peter McEnery’s house all large, open spaces, wide stairways and stained glass. Visually, the film is stunning.

The story itself seems to be an intricate jigsaw puzzle, with Bolkan tracking down clues that just won’t fit together. Ambiguous conversations hint she’s the victim of a strange conspiracy, but just what do her visions of the moon and mission controller Klaus Kinski have to do with anything? Could her work as a translator at a scientific conference be involved? As more and more questions pile up, the audience is truly invested in Bolkan’s plight and its resolution. And then, in the last few minutes, it all falls apart. To call the climax ‘disappointing’ is about the kindest description that can possibly be applied. It was plainly a situation where scriptwriters Bazzoni and co-author Mario Fanelli created a mystery and then had no idea how to solve it. It really is a massive let-down, especially when you consider their script was actually based on an original novel by Fanelli. I hope that had a better ending.

Le Orme (1975)

Not all planets turn out to be ‘M’ class…

This was Bazzoni’s final international feature, after which he had a couple of ‘assistant’ gigs in the 1980s. His brief filmography with the megaphone comprises a couple of unusual spaghetti westerns, including ‘Man, Pride & Vengeance’ (1967) which starred Kinski along with Franco Nero, and a couple of giallo thrillers; ‘Possessed’ (1965) and ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971) which again starred Nero. He had co-writing credits on those projects as well.

Storarro subsequently worked on many more features, including higher profile projects such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) for Francis Ford Coppola, ‘Reds’ (1981) for Warren Beatty and ‘The Last Emporer’ (1987) for Bernado Bertolucci. He won Academy Awards for all three.

Bolkan starred in notorious ‘nunsploitation’ picture ‘Flavia the Heretic’ (1974) but is probably best known as co-star of well-reviewed crime drama ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’ (1970). She was still a fixture in ltalian cinema over 30 years later, although her last credit to date was in 2005. UK actor McEnery was familiar to British audiences from such films as ‘The Moon-Spinners’ (1964), ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ (1970) and the title role of ‘The Adventures of Gerard’ (1970), which was based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By the latter part of the 1970s, he had mostly switched to television, taking the leads in both historical drama ‘Clayhanger’ and unusual thriller ‘The Aphrodite Inheritance.’ Kinski began as a henchman in German crime thrillers before forming a toxic partnership with director Werner Herzog, which led to international acclaim for ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ (1972), ‘Nosferatu The Vampyre’ (1979) and the infamously troubled ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982).

In the final analysis, this is a very frustrating film. lt’s a high quality piece of work until the last five minutes. Then all the intricate plot threads are tied up with a terribly banal and lazy denouncement.

What could have been a minor classic falls on its face at the last hurdle.

Die Blaue Hand / Creature with the Blue Hand (1967)

Die Blaue Hand (1967)‘It’s an ancient drawing of the secret passage; really simple to open, sir.’

A young nobleman is convicted of murder and sentenced to permanent incarceration in an asylum. One night someone helps him to escape and he flees to his ancestral family home. Meanwhile, a series of killings is being perpetrated by a cloaked figure using a mechanical blue hand…

There was a tremendous upsurge in the popularity of thriller writer Edgar Wallace in Germany in the 1960’s. Film producers flocked to turn these crime dramas into films, and quite often recruited director Alfred Vohrer for the job. Between the years 1961 and 1969, he made a series of 14 films based on the author’s work and often recruited the same actors to take part. Here we get regulars Harald Leipnitz as the police inspector and Klaus Kinski as both the prime suspect and his twin brother! Given that this was one of the later entries in this unofficial series, there is efficiency and a smart professionalism to the work, but there’s also the inevitable feeling of ‘production line’ entertainment.

After his trial, something is definitely a little off about the asylum where Kinski is sent to be held under the benign care of Dr Mangrove (Carl Lange). When Kinski’s pretty sister (Diana Körner) disappears, it becomes obvious that something far more sinister is going on than just a deranged Kinski having murdered the family gardener. Unfortunately, the plot lacks logic and loses focus when it decides to concentrate on Leipnitz’s investigation, rather than Kinski’s situation. Also later story developments push credibility beyond the point where the audience can successfully suspend their disbelief. Just how did Kinski get convicted in the first place? I hope Leipnitz wasn’t in charge of the original investigation!

Performances are generally good and Vohrer does manage to create some atmosphere with the gloomy interiors of the old dark house where the vast majority of the action takes place. However, the entire ‘blue hand’ element of the story comes over as little more than a gimmick, and the scenes with Körner trapped in a cell with rats and snakes may be the best thing here, but they look like they belong in a different film.

Die Blaue Hand (1967)

🎵Pleased to meet you… Hope you guess my name🎶

Perhaps those adapting Wallace were to blame but he was mostly active from 1921 to his death in 1933, so it may simply be that his work hasn’t stood the test of time. Also he was incredibly prolific, writing over 170 novels, and 900 short stories as well as 18 stage plays! So quality control may have been an issue… I can’t claim to have read any of them myself but, after having watched several of these film adaptations coming out of Germany in the 1960’s, l’m not in any hurry to start…

20 years after its original release, father and son Walter F Disbrow (Snr & Jnr) added extra scenes and put it out as ‘The Bloody Dead’ to general disappointment and derision. Kinski went onto fame (and some level of infamy!) after career making turns working with director Werner Herzog, including the title role in ‘Nosferatu, the Vampyre’ (1979). Körner landed a major supporting role in Stanley Kubrick’s gorgeous but sterile ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975). As for Wallace? Well, the movie production line may have slowed down a bit over the last half century, but there’s still an occasional adaptation, and having written the script for the original ‘King Kong’ (1933), he still gets a credit each time the giant ape roars across our screens…

A middling Euro-thriller with some interesting elements but let down by a script that pushes the credibility envelope a little too far…

The Devil’s Daffodil (1961)

The_Devil's_Dafodil_(1961)‘You are hot for that little goose in your office.’

Detectives working for an airline suspect a club owner of smuggling heroin in consignments of artificial flowers. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard are investigating a series of killings of young women associated with the club, all the bodies being found along with a handful of plastic daffodils…

Somewhat convoluted West German production based on a story by 1930s mystery writer, Edgar Wallace. His works enjoyed a massive surge in popularity in Europe from the late 1950s, mostly due to the efforts of his son, and many were adapted for the silver screen, but only as low budget crime thrillers and programme fillers.

Our leading man is Joachim Fuchsburger, chief agent of the airline, who teams up with Inspector Whiteside of the Yard (Walter Gotell) in order to investigate the sinister Cosmos Club, run by shady entrepreneur Albert Lieven. After all, it’s blindingly obvious that the ’Daffodil Killer’ and his activities are tied up with the drug ring. So much so, in fact, that you can’t help but wonder what the criminals are playing at! Do they want to get caught?

Also on the case is Chinese detective Christopher Lee, a trench-coated Charlie Chan who sports a natty bow-tie and a nice line in ancient proverbs, which he freely admits to making up himself. A little eye makeup is apparently sufficient to bestow an oriental origin, and unconventional police procedure involving the torture of suspects also gets the alarm bells ringing regarding racial stereotyping. However, the character is given sufficient motivation for this rather over-enthusiastic approach. Indeed, it’s a blessing Lee’s in the picture at all as it drags unmercifully when he’s off-screen and we’re left in the company of the rest of the cast, who are colourless at best. The one exception is a young Klaus Kinski, giving another version of the wide-eyed, scary henchman that was his stock in trade in the first few years of his career.


Coming home early from work wasn’t always a great idea…

Highlights are few and far between in this mediocre stew of familiar elements, but a slaying in the middle of Piccadilly Circus stands out, and Ingrid van Bergen’s slightly risqué nightclub act is good for a giggle. In fact, the latter sequence seems to have been included almost solely for the purpose of proving the establishment’s credentials as a nightclub, because, apart from that, it just seems to be a bar with a single fruit machine and a ‘hidden’ entrance to the owner’s office.

Location filming in London does help, although some weak process work perhaps indicates ‘pick-up’ material shot when cast and crew had returned to Germany. Some of the players, including Lee and Kinski, reconvened for ‘Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee’ (The Secret of the Red Orchid) (1962), another crime picture from the pen of Edgar Wallace.

An adequate time-passer if you can suspend disbelief sufficiently to embrace the convoluted mechanics of the implausible storyline. Lee’s next oriental excursion was ‘The Face of Fu Manchu’ (1965).