‘It must be fun to court an electronic brain.’
A top French secret agent meets an old colleague in Berlin who has information regarding a major espionage operation. However, a sniper’s bullet intervenes before any vital intelligence can be exchanged. The agent begins his own investigation, uncovering a plot to undermine East-West relations and start another war…
Running around Europe as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ wasn’t much of a stretch for French actor Roger Hanin by the late 1960s. This Italian-West German-French co-production finds him tangling with the usual spying intrigues under the direction of Mario Maffei.
A meeting on a German barge goes south for French agent Julien Saint-Dominique (Hanin) when his old friend Felix (Edy Biagetti) bites an unexpected bullet in the middle of their conversation. Unfortunately, he’d provided little information before taking a header into the canal; just that something big was brewing. Outside his rented flat, Hanin rescues the beautiful Olivia (Margaret Lee) from a kidnap attempt in the street. The altercation turns out to be a novel (and pointless) way of inviting him to a conference with an American intelligence agent, Steve (Ivan Desny), who tells him to stay out of things and return to Paris.
Instead, Hanin starts to utilise his own contacts in Berlin; the elderly Von Rudolf, known as ‘Papillon’ (Ennio Balbo), and his blonde Girl Friday Frida (Brigitte Wentzel). He also saves Ingrid Richleau (Helga Sommerfeld) from an abduction attempt in the same place and by the same goons who seemed to be trying to snatch Lee. In a twist that will surprise no one, it turns out she’s the daughter of another of Hanin’s old friends and colleagues. What’s happened to him? He’s been kidnapped, of course! Berlin, eh? Not safe to walk down the street.
The case proves to be a tangled web, as Hanin finds himself followed, shot at, hiding in the funnel of a boat and sent over to East Berlin disguised as a Russian soldier. Eventually, events lead to a secret organisation using misinformation to stoke up trouble between the Superpowers. Hijacking communication channels from their secret underground base, they convince the Americans that the other side is planning to invade West Berlin through the sewers, setting the stage for the spark which will ignite global conflict.
Although all the ingredients are present and correct for a spy adventure on the more outlandish end of the spectrum, Maffei’s entry has a surprisingly serious tone, and the action is more grounded than in most similar vehicles of the time. There are no extravagant gadgets, flamboyant stunt work or quasi-science-fiction plot developments, with even the villain’s secret base looking reasonably sensible and fit for purpose. If that all sounds a little disappointing, then there is still some fun to be had, thanks to a capable cast and a brisk pace that helps to paper over the somewhat meandering plotline.
Hanin is a likeable leading man who can turn on the charm but also convince on the occasions that his character is required to display a harder edge. Lee also has a lot of fun as femme fatale Olivia, her loyalties in question throughout. She’s sexy and appealing on the one hand but ruthless and deadly on the other. The cat and mouse game that she plays with Hanin is the film’s most interesting element. Elsewhere Peter Carsten is excellent as the sadistic Günther, and there’s some nice work from Balbo and Hanin, who suggest a long-term friendship with just a few minimal gestures and facial expressions.
The story also takes an interesting direction when Hanin’s investigation takes him to Mexico to meet English spy Lord Kinsey (Jorge Rado). Within moments, Hanin has him pegged as an imposter and kills him, leading to a brief shootout with some of his men. Then he pops on a flight back to Berlin. In terms of the story, it’s completely pointless. However, it does allow Hanin to play tourist for five minutes of the runtime with yet another pretty blonde, Kinsey’s assistant Jill Garfield (Jane Massey). Including a splash of the wonderful local colour and Hanin hanging around some stunning locations may speak to some Mexican finance behind the production. There’s no other apparent reason for this sudden and relatively brief excursion.
Hanin and Lee had already teamed up in the far sillier spy adventure ‘An Orchid for the Tiger/Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite’ (1965). That was the second of two films where Hanin played secret agent Louis Rapière, known as ‘le tigre’. Presumably with an eye on the box office, this film was released in France as ‘Le tigre sort sans a mère’, the literal English translation of which is ‘The Tiger Leaves Without his Mother’. A pretty baffling title, to say the least, and the possibility that it was a nod to the character of Steed and Tara King’s spy boss on TV’s ‘The Avengers’ seems unlikely. Patrick Newell’s first appearance in that role wasn’t broadcast until September 1968 in the UK, and the film debuted in French theatres two months earlier. There was another ‘unofficial’ film in the series a year earlier when the Hanin-starring espionage thriller ‘Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8’ (1966) was retitled as ‘Agente Tigre sfida infernale’ for the Italian market.
Lee was an English actress, a Londoner born in Wolverhampton, whose beauty, natural screen presence and facility with languages saw her employed in films all over Europe in the 1960s. Equally adept at comedy and drama, she debuted as the heroine of Peplum adventure ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962) and took a similar gig soon afterwards in ‘Sansone contro i pirati/Samson and the Sea Beast’ (1963). Subsequently, she did her apprentice work almost exclusively in Italian comedies, working her way up to leads from supporting roles.
Eurospy adventure ‘From the Orient with Fury/Agente 077 dall’oriente con furore’ (1965) was the first of several similar projects that included ‘New York Calling Super dragon/New York chiama Superdrago’ (1966), ‘Our Man in Marrakesh’ (1966), ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die/Se Tutte le donne del mondo… (Operazione Paradiso)’ (1966) and ‘OSS 117 Murder for Sale/Niente rose per OSS 117’ (1968). She diversified into other genres over the next few years, appearing in films with notable stars like Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Rita Hayworth and George Sanders. She began concentrating on family life in the 1970s, and her final screen role was in 1983. In later life, she moved to California and began working periodically in the theatre.
Mildly entertaining espionage antics, elevated by the talented cast.