Kill, Panther, Kill! / Kommissar X – Die Blaue Panther (1968)

Kill Panther Kill (1968)‘Confucius say: He who has cheese for brains doesn’t think.’

A career criminal escapes custody so he can meet with his brother and reclaim the proceeds of a big jewellery heist. Police Captain Tom Rowland is on the case, but his old friend, and sometime rival, Joe Walker has been employed by an insurance company to recover the gems…

The fifth in the seven-film ‘Kommissar X’ series finds main man Tony Kendall doing the usual: running around the glamorous capital cities of Europe as ‘Bond on a Budget’ juggling the usual guns, gadgets and girls. Only it doesn’t. The last of the secret agent trappings departed with previous entry ‘Death Trip’ (1967) and, from this film onwards, it was strictly criminals targeting a profit motive, rather than world domination. Yes, spies were ‘out’ and international crime thrillers were ‘in.’ And, instead of Paris, Rome and London, the action is centred on Calgary and Montreal.

Unfortunately, without those Eurospy quirks or outlandish touches, the script is the definition of safe and predictable, and the finished item is more than a little mundane. All round bad egg Franco Fantasia stages a breakout that leaves his guards dead, and joins up with the other two members of his old gang, the smooth but nasty Siegfried Rauch, and the slightly wacky Gianfranco Parolini (who also directed under his usual alias of Frank Kramer). The swag was left with Fantasia’s twin brother (Fantasia, again) and a quick identity swap becomes necessary after the straight arrow refuses to co-operate. Rowland (Brad Harris) already has the hots for the twin’s wife (Erika Blanc), while Kendall is busy getting flirty with the man’s secretary (Corny Collins).

And so the stage is set for the usual round of double crosses, a bit of gunplay and some underwhelming fisticuffs. As per usual with this series, the storytelling is a little sloppy in places, but things hang together in a neater fashion than in some of the other entries. Kendall and Harris conveniently run across the members of a martial arts school, which provides an opportunity for Harris to show some of his moves and pepper the soundtrack with some of the most over-the-top punching sounds ever heard outside of a Kung Fu film. Oh, and the Panther of the title is actually a little blue statue, so there’s little chance of it actually hurting anyone unless someone drops it on their foot.

Rauch began his career in his native Germany and had already appeared in the third film in the series, ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966). He went onto major supporting turns in big Hollywood productions such as ‘Patton’ (1969), ‘Le Mans’ (1971) with Steve McQueen, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1976) and ‘Escape to Athena’ (1979). As of 2017, he’s still working regularly on Germany television at the age of 85. Blanc took the lead in Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby, Kill’ (1966), the title of which may have inspired the rather inaccurate name this project received on its U.S. release.

Kill Panther Kill (1968)

Brad Harris (1933-2017)

Unfortunately, whilst researching this post, l discovered that Harris passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 84. His daughter, Sabrina Calley, carries on the family tradition in the costume and wardrobe department, working on big hits like ‘Maleficent’ (2014)‘Salt’ (2010), and as set costumer on ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2017) with Hugh Jackman.

This film marks the point where the series moved from the Eurospy arena to the international crime thriller. The results are stubbornly unremarkable, but the series carried on for two more films anyway.

Not the worst of the ‘Kommissar X’ films, but probably the dullest.

The Three Fantastic Supermen/The Fantastic Three (1967)

‘Watch out! One of the three Supermen is following in a Yellow Cab!’

Two thieves who rob high-profile targets wearing special bulletproof costumes are joined by a third member for their latest heist. Their plan to rob a foreign embassy of millions of dollars goes off without a hitch, until they realise that their new colleague has his own agenda…

Cheerful 1960’s comedy-adventure that combines elements of the Superhero genre, James Bond and the caper movie. Producer-Director Gianfranco Parolini (hiding under his usual alias of Frank Kramer) had previously teamed actors Tony Kendall and Brad Harris in decent Bond knock-off ‘Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill’ (1966). That movie launched them in the successful ‘Kommissar X’ spy film series, which ran until 1971, but, in the meantime, Parolini put the performers together again here.

Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) is the leader of this criminal enterprise, always ready with a knowing smirk, smart chat for the ladies, and a useful pair of fists. Sidekick Aldo Canti is an acrobat who can’t speak but giggles hysterically throughout, in what is a somewhat puzzling artistic choice. Their schemes are backed by boffin Carlo Tamberlani, who has invented their bulletproof suits (and capes!), a self-driving car and a ‘Universal Reproducer’ (of which more later). He also has a pretty young niece, of course, played by Bettina Busch, which gives rise to all sorts of kidnapping possibilities for chief bad guy Jochen Brockmann and his gorgeous sidekick Sabine Sun. Kendall also runs a spy school for beautiful women, and may be an English nobleman working for British Intelligence (although, like a lot of plot points, that isn’t exactly clear).

When our heroic duo become a trio for their latest blag, they’re joined by American Brad Harris. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s an FBI Agent and he’s after their swag because he suspects it to be counterfeit (and a little bit radioactive). That’s because it’s been created by Tamberlani’s ‘Reproducer’ which has ‘fallen into the wrong hands’ as these great inventions always do. The villainous Brockmann doesn’t want to stop at such petty larceny though, conscripting Tamberlani (through the unexpected medium of kidnapping his pretty niece) to modify his device to create copies of people. Yes, he needs zombie soldiers for his army so he can conquer the world!

This is all supremely silly, of course, and the film proceeds at the sort of helter-skelter pace designed to both maximise the entertainment value and paper over the gaps in the screenplay, which is sometimes more than a little incoherent as well as deliberately ridiculous. Unfortunately, Parolini doesn’t have the sort of budget necessary to achieve the swashbuckling style he’s aiming for, with both fight choreography and action set pieces lacking in execution and thrills, although there is some decent stunt driving.

Three Fantastic Supermen (1967)

Audiences thought the ‘Dance Off’ was too close to call…

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the presence of Canti. Most of his acrobatic feats are performed in a mask, so it could have been a stunt double, but it does seem he had at least some gymnastic ability. Why is this a surprise? Well, apparently, Canti was a real-life criminal with ties to the Mafia. ln fact, he was a full-time resident of the local prison during production but was allowed out during the day to film his scenes!

Two sequels followed; ‘3 Supermen in Tokio’ (1968) and ‘Supermen’ (1970). Kendall didn’t appear in either, but Harris showed up for the last of the short series. Unsurprisingly, Canti was a no-show on both occasions too, his role being taken by Sal Borgese, who turns up here as an FBI Agent with a bazooka!

Good, undemanding fun if you can look at the other way and forgive the technical deficiencies.

Kommissar X Jagt Die Roten Tiger/The Tiger Gang/FBI: Operation Pakistan (1971)

KommissarX‘Take this and knit yourself a new car.’

Joe Walker is called in by a family in Pakistan to investigate a mysterious tiger attack, which has left a prominent man dead. At the same time, his old partner Captain Rowland is brought in by the authorities to investigate the local dope trade which may be run by an exiled Mafia kingpin.

By the time of this, the seventh and final entry, the ‘Kommissar X’ series had moved a long way from its origins as a ‘Bond on a Budget’ franchise, and had firmly entered the arena of the straightforward crime drama. There are no spies or gadgets here, although we do get some guns, and a couple of girls for star Tony Kendall to smarm over in the best ‘Bond’ tradition.

The formula was well established by now; Kendall and police captain Brad Harris would fetch up in an exotic locale for different reasons, and then reluctantly combine to take on a local secret society involved in organised crime. The main villain was always a mysterious figure to be unmasked at the climax, and the gang would have a name with an animal motif based on a dangerous piece of local wildlife; a serpent, a panther, etc. Here we get the Red Tiger gang, whose main area of activity is smuggling drugs across the border into Pakistan. ln the film’s only nod to creativity, their mules of choice are actually goats!

Other familiar elements of the series are present and correct; the plot is muddled and choppy, there is some unspectacular gunplay, and a lot of local colour crowbarred in on behalf of the appropriate national tourist board. Some of the hand to hand combat is actually speeded up a little in the later stages here, although it’s unclear as to whether this is for comedic purposes or because it was so unexciting at normal speed. Even Kendall and Harris seem flat and lifeless, and their banter is half hearted at best. The villains also must have been tired, taking 25 minutes to make an attempt on the lives of our heroes, instead of the usual five or ten, although they do get points for originality as they try it with an exploding barrel.


If I upgrade my mobile now, I win half of Antarcita? That’s amazing!

The film wears out its welcome long before the credit roll, and, given that the first 6 films were made in a four year period ending in 1969, it does seem to be very much an afterthought. The only real surprise is that the director was Harald Reinl, who was the men behind the second wave of Dr. Mabuse films that came out of Germany in the early 1960s. Given the thematic similarities, it probably seemed that he was a good fit for this picture, but that certainly isn’t reflected in the final release.

At best a routine crime drama of little interest. A somewhat ignoble conclusion to a series that was entertaining on occasion if not regarded too critically.

Death Trip (1967)

Death Trip (1967)‘Welcome to the headquarters of the Green Hounds, Captain Rowland!’

A New York City police captain is delivering a canister of specially doctored LSD to allied forces in Turkey for safe keeping. Meanwhile, his erstwhile colleague Joe Walker is also in town, and has the local drug kingpins in his sights.

The fourth movie in the ’Kommissar X’ series sees the franchise leaving its ‘Bond on a Budget‘ origins behind, and making a definite move from the ’Eurospy’ genre to the ‘Euro-crime’ arena. It must have seemed a smart decision after tatty 3rd entry ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966), and the gamble paid off, giving the adventures of suave Tony Kendall and sidekick Brad Harris a much needed shot in the arm. Sure, things eventually deteriorated to a rotten finish with ’Kommissar X Jagt Die Roten Tiger/The Tiger Gang/FBI: Operation Pakistan (1971), but that was still to come and, in the meantime, this film is certainly the best in the series since opener ‘Kiss Kiss Kill Kill’ (1965).

There are several reasons for the higher level of quality, although it’s certainly not the script, which is hopelessly muddled in the early stages, as per usual. Nor is it theme song ‘I Love You, Joe Walker’ which had already overstayed its welcome by the previous film. Neither is it the science, which informs us this new strain of deadly LSD will put a whole city to sleep when introduced into the local water supply.

What raises this above many contemporary entries of a similar stamp is the action sequences. The fight choreography is endlessly inventive and quite witty, although obviously far removed from reality. This is the only real echo of the franchise’s more fantastic beginnings, but it really works, helping to provide a nice balance of humour and thrills.

Death Trip (1967)

‘I’m sorry I don’t know where the soap is…’

Local colour is also allowed to play its part without looking like a mini-advert for the local tourist board, and the location manager deserves huge credit for finding places for the company to shoot that are both visually interesting, and inform the action. Indeed, the climactic scenes and stunts in ‘The Valley of a Thousand Hills’ are simply the best work of the entire series by quite some margin.

Female lead Olga Schberovà seems to be cosying up to Harris rather than Kendall, which is a bit of a surprise, until you realise that she and Harris actually married in real life shortly afterwards. Schberovà enjoyed a brief spell of fame in the late 1960s as the first international star from Czechoslovakia, which even led to her appearance (as Olinka Berova) in the title role of Hammer’s ‘The Vengeance of She’ (1968). Unfortunately, Ursula Andress was an impossible act to follow, and the film was generally panned. It was a shame it killed her overseas career, as she’d certainly displayed some talent with comedy in the Czech Science Fiction gem ‘Who Wants To Kill Jessie?’ (1966).

Director Rudolf Zehetgruber is helped out by series regular Gianfranco Parolini (uncredited), and together they deliver a fast paced, undemanding and fun ride. It’s not a triumph by any means (and the U.S. dub track doesn’t help) but, amongst the sea of mediocre Euro-pudding of the 1960s, it certainly sits above the fold.

Island of Lost Girls (1969)

Island of Lost Girls (1969)‘Do you want to look at my crocodile?’

A New York policeman visiting Thailand for a crime conference is engaged by an American tourist to find her daughter, who has disappeared. Somewhat reluctantly, he calls on old friend Joe Walker to help. Together, they uncover a sinister organisation operating a white slavery ring from a remote island.

It’s business as usual in the penultimate film in the ‘Kommissar X’ series. Tony Kendall and Brad Harris settle into their well-worn groove without breaking into any kind of a sweat. After five films, the audience certainly isn’t expecting any new character wrinkles or serious dramatic engagement. Instead, there’s the usual mix of light-hearted thrills, pretty girls, mild danger and smarm from Kendall.

He’s now a private investigator apparently rather than a secret agent; and it would seem a fair assumption that all the later films in the series follow a similar storyline to this entry. In fact, plot wise, this is almost a carbon copy of ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966); the 3rd entry. Harris is on business at an exotic locale, he gets roped into a local case, calls in his old friend to help and the two take on a local crime syndicate (in this case ‘The Three Serpents.’)

Island of Lost Girls (1969)

You know, I get the strange feeling this has all happened before…

The results betray gaps in narrative flow and logic and look loosely assembled. The impression is that the unit turned up on location with a working script and just ‘winged it’ from there. The climax arrives all of a sudden and is fairly idiotic anyway; villains and heroes wallowing about on mud flats after the cavalry turn up. Along the way we’ve enjoyed (endured?) a fair sprinkling of the usual clichés; death by blow dart, drugged cocktails, minor fisticuffs and a villainous dragon lady. It’s all fairly underwhelming really.

Although basing a thriller around the sex trade may seem a little ahead of its time; that element is really little more than window dressing rather than a major factor in the plot. What remains is a tatty scribble of a crime thriller; a typical product of independent European commercial filmmaking of the late 1960s and early 70s.

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)‘There’s a frightening monster there! I’ve heard how it breathes fire and big trees the size of houses are crushed by it. That’s why they call it Death Lake.’ 

A U.S. Police Captain is dragged into a local murder when visiting Singapore on assignment. Washington sends special agent Joe Walker to the scene and the two team up again to fight the bad guys.

Th third in the Eurospy ‘Kommissar X’ series moves a step away from straight James Bond knock off territory to embrace Martial Arts, probably at the prompting of co-star Brad Harris, who worked on the fight choreography for the series. So the film abandons much of the gadget play/super villain trappings for a crime story where our heroes take on the ‘Three Yellow Cats’, a local syndicate, whose aim is more plain old extortion than world domination. However, there is a definite nod to ‘Dr. No’ (1962) in some later scenes set in a ‘haunted’ swamp. The inclusion of Karate (the gang’s weapon of choice) is unusual and a little ahead of its time. It makes for the film’s standout scene; the climactic face-off between Harris and the gang’s chief assassin in a crumbling mountain temple. Sadly, this is immediately followed by ‘dummy falling off a cliff’ which is not quite so impressive.

And that’s about your lot really. This is drab, dreary stuff, so clumsily plotted that it never achieves any internal logical or real audience engagement. The story rambles lazily from one barely connected scene to another with characters being almost randomly introduced and then discarded as quickly. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the script was written ‘on the fly’ when the filmmakers arrived on location and saw what they had to work with. Story exposition is poorly delivered and dialogue is often clumsy, as if it were taken from an early draft.

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)_2

Kendall and Harris investigate another important clue…

The Singapore locations are different, which is nice, but that’s not much compensation for the general untidiness on display. Kendall is reliably smug in the lead and still tugs his right ear lobe a lot (I guess it was a character trait) and Harris is his usual stoic self. The two shared some screen chemistry but efforts at playing them as a light comedy duo here have little impact.

There were four more films in the series, but given the dip in quality here, it’s quite frightening to consider what the later entries might be like.

So Darling, So Deadly (1967)

So Darling So Deadly (1966)‘Alright, let’s stop talking about bananas.’

A secret agent and a police captain travel to Singapore at the request of a brilliant scientist. Surprisingly, the boffin has invented a device that ‘could be deadly in the wrong hands’ and international bad guys are after it.

Agent Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) and Captain Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) return in the second ‘Kommissar X’ spy caper/light-hearted Bond rip-off. The formula is pretty much unchanged since ‘Kiss Kiss… Kill Kill’ (1966) as two attempts are made to kill our heroes between the time they get off the plane and register at their hotel. More attacks follow before they even find out what it’s all about! The scientist has the obligatory beautiful daughter and the screenplay trots out all the other usual clichés without apology.

So Darling So Deadly (1966) 2

‘If you’re ‘The Golden Dragon’ why have you got a red bag on your head?’

Our villain is the Golden Dragon, a man who hides his obvious secret identity by wearing a red bag on his head. One of his main associates in the usual ‘white man in an Asian role.’ Kendall is too smug in the lead as before but, then again, we’re not seriously invested in the characters. This is pure escapist nonsense and not supposed to be anything more.  The budget doesn’t stretch to any big set pieces as such, but there is plenty of gunplay and the pace is quick enough that you can forgive the predictable plotting and lack of any original flourishes.

In the funniest scene, Harris cuts a mean rug at a hotel party before someone is killed with a dart gun poking out through a pair of curtains. How do assassins take aim in those circumstances? I’ve always wondered. Harris also choreographs all the action, mostly fistfights, and these are a cut above similar work of the period. Also, the explosive climax is surprisingly well realised. On the debit side, the jazzy soundtrack is too intrusive and a potentially great scene with Kendall trapped in a cage and menaced by falling blades is poorly executed.

This is a typical entry in the EuroSpy cycle of the 1960s. Although it avoids the worst aspects of the genre, it fails to achieve anything more than that.

Kiss Kiss… Kill Kill (1966)

Kiss Kiss... Kill Kill (1966)‘As for you, Mr Walker, you’re going to regret sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong really. It’ll be a pleasure watching you die…’

Secret agent Jo Walker and his police captain buddy Tom become involved in the mysterious murders of three businessmen, seemingly by a gang of beautiful women. It all turns out to be about a hidden cache of gold bullion.

The first of the ‘Kommissar X’ series of Eurospy movies of the mid-1960s. The film sets its stall out straight from the opening as handsome secret agent Tony Kendall speeds around picturesque mountain roads in his flash car while a lusty woman warbles a sub-Bond theme on the soundtrack. Some of the requisite fisticuffs follow but it turns out just to be a training exercise; the supposed bad guy is actually a police captain and Kendall’s unofficial sidekick, played by Brad Harris. Meanwhile, some top international businessmen are blown up in various ways.

Acceptable but fairly tepid spy games with the requisite number of guns, gadgets  and girls (most in silly wigs for some reason). Kendall (real name Luciano Stella) shrugs and smirks his way through the film, finding secret panels, unmasking the super villain and getting women to change sides just by using a smart suit and a smile. The film verges on a spoof but never quite takes the step into outright comedy. It’s all dreadful ’60s and dreadfully sexist, of course, although it’s pretty much impossible to ignore the charms of such beautiful women as Christa Linder.

Kiss Kiss... Kill Kill (1966)

The silliest wig contest had reached a crucial stage.

The businessmen have hidden the gold on a secret island and then contaminated it with radioactivity. One of them has decided he wants it all for himself, so he knocks off his partners and kidnaps a brilliant nuclear physicist to decontaminate it (why contaminate it in the first place you might ask). It’s never explained but then the film is badly dubbed so that plot point may have got lost along the way.

Of course, there’s an underground base and it actually looks quite impressive. Unfortunately, as per usual, you only have to throw one switch for it all to blow up. There is a notable absence of large action set pieces and stunt work, but, all in all, the film delivers an acceptable level of entertainment, provided you’re not expecting too much.

The adventures of Kendall and Harris didn’t end here. They returned for 6 more films, most with director Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer). He also wrote most of them and performed the same function on some of the ‘Sabata’ spaghetti western series, most often with Lee Van Cleef but once with Yul Brynner. Apparently, later films in the series do not follow the ‘Bond’ template so closely but few of them seem to be readily available.