Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966)

Agent_for_H.A.R.M._(1966)‘Minnie’s got the biggest feet in town’.

A biochemist escapes from deep behind the Iron Curtain and settles near San Diego to carry on his (unsupervised!) research into deadly bacteriological weapons. When his assistant dies in mysterious circumstances, the government send top agent Adam Chance to investigate.

Oh dear. Sub-James Bond TV pilot that didn’t sell and was sent out briefly to die on cinema screens. Peter Mark Richman (a familiar face if not a name) heads up matters as our 007 substitute and Wendell Corey plays his boss. Unfortunately, what Richman probably intended as suave sophistication merely comes across as smug and Corey remains resolutely office bound, which seems to have been a contractual requirement at the end of his career. The lust interest is provided by the gorgeous Barbara Bouchet but the acting plaudits (such as they are) go inevitably to Martin Kosleck as the villain of the piece.

We realise we’re in for a pretty rough ride fairly early on. Chance is hanging out on the training ground with sexy Aliza Gur (‘From Russia With Love’ (1963)) when he suggests she had ‘better get back to the Judo range.’ Later on, he displays brilliant tactical awareness when he garrottes one bad guy from behind whilst the villain is driving, sending their vehicle crashing down a cliff side. He’s just as useless at the romantic stuff too, allowing Bouchet to exchange guns whilst they’re enjoying some extended tonsil hockey. However, it doesn’t help that her secret 3rd arm provides particularly useful for this purpose.

Agent For H.A.R.M.(1966)

Smug? Me?

In the only vague piece of invention in the script, the enemy agents use spore guns, which literally fire a lethal disease at their victims. Chance takes them on because he works for H.A.R.M., which stands for ‘Human Aetiological Relations Machine’.  Fair enough, but shouldn’t the fight against biological weapons have some scientific input, rather than just be left to a bunch of spies occasionally pointing guns at each other?

Action sequences are limited to a shootout at a private airport near the end (when we are just sooo past caring) and Richman flouncing around on his motorbike a bit. Gadget play is just some hidden microphones and the plastic spore guns. There are no big set pieces and very minor stunt work. All these are elements that could be considered crucial to this kind of an enterprise. Director Gerd Oswald also made the excellent noir ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ (1956) but obviously 10 years is a long time in Hollywood. It all makes for a seriously dismal 84 minutes.

Adam Chance never returned in something or other. Bloody good job too.

 

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

The_Flesh_Eaters_(1964)‘Behind this membrane…you will be driven to a point midway between life and death!’

A private plane is forced down on an island off the U.S. coast where pilot and passengers find a mysterious marine biologist and lots of dead fish.

This film really shouldn’t work. It was shot almost entirely on a single stretch of empty beach apparently across two consecutive summers. There’s almost no budget and, when they finally arrive, the SFX are truly appalling. And yet – it does work – and that’s basically down to talent, creativity and a lot of hard graft.

Its biggest asset is Martin Kosleck. He was a featured Hollywood character actor back in the studio days, who brought a delicious touch of the creeps to many a dark horror or twisted noir. Want someone to brew Tana leaves in the Temple of Karnak and raise Lon Chaney Jr as the Mummy? Someone to throw a knife through a porthole at Basil Rathbone’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’? Play a mad sculptor who befriends Rondo Hatton? Then Kosleck was your man. He also played Nazis. Lots of ‘em. In real life, he was a Polish Jew who narrowly escaped an SS death squad when he fled Germany just before the war. Asked if he minded playing vicious Nazis on screen, he said it was his ‘small way of paying them back’. Here, he brings a wonderful mixture of chills and charm to the role of the lone scientist on the otherwise deserted island. We suspect he’s up to no good of course but we are never sure just how black hearted he might be until the final reveal. It’s a superb, charismatic performance, aided in no small part by tight close ups of his lined and aged face.

And that brings us to the film’s next great virtues; the cinematography and the shot composition. Now, I’m no great one for the technical side of things but I know artistry when I see it. Despite little experience, these film makers knew their stuff. Some of the frames are beautifully assembled; one striking shot has the pilot’s profile almost filling the screen and the other characters in the distance behind him. Both images are crisp and clear, perfectly focused. All this gives the film a stamp of quality way above its lowly origins.

'He's dead, Jim.'

‘He’s dead, Jim.’

Finally, we come to the story. Little can be done to ‘open it out’ because of budgetary restraints but there are ideas here and an unusual premise that shows some real imagination. Yes, it’s disappointing when they opt for the ‘big monster’ climax but this is commercial cinema, not an art film. And, although I’ve singled out Kosleck for particular praise, the rest of the cast are also fine. The only real misstep is the addition of another castaway; a dim beatnik who spouts the usual hipster garbage but fortunately he doesn’t get too much screentime.

‘The Flesh Eaters’ (1964) is certainly no undiscovered classic but it does show that hard work and talent can get the job done. It’s just a shame that it didn’t lead to anything for the people responsible.

Recommended – just don’t expect very ‘special’ effects!

Buy ‘The Flesh Eaters’ here

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

The_Frozen_Ghost_(1945)“Pleasant dreeeeaams, hmmmmm?”

A stage hypnotist quits on the verge of national stardom when a member of the public dies during his act.

The anthology show ‘Inner Sanctum Mystery’ was a huge radio hit in the 1940s and Universal picked up the movie option with a series of 5 b-pictures. The films were introduced by a disembodied head in a crystal ball and were unrelated tales that verged on the supernatural. Taking a break from the bandages and the wolf bane was Lon Chaney Jr, recruited to front these bottom of the bill thrillers.

‘The Frozen Ghost’ (1945) came out the same year Chaney wrapped up work on the Classic monster series as Wolf Man Lawrence Stewart Talbot. Indeed, he plays a similar role here; a man who feels cursed by a strange power and is tortured by guilt and remorse. After quitting his hypnosis act, Chaney needs to get away for a while and take it easy so what does he do? He goes to live in a wax museum run by creepy Martin Kosleck!

Should have gone to SpecSavers...

Should have gone to SpecSavers…

Apparently, it took 3 sets of writers (half a dozen in total) to come up with this and it does play like some half-baked ideas welded together. But the joy here is spotting Universal’s sterling roster of character players; Kosleck was usually found brewing the tuna leaves in the Temple of Karnak with George Zucco and cute Elena Verdugo last had the hots for Chaney as the gypsy girl in ‘House of Frankenstein (1944).

We also have Evelyn Ankers and Milburn Stone who had co-starred in ‘Captive Wild Woman’ (1943) and both had also appeared in the Rathbone-Bruce ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series. Another refugee from 221b Baker Street was Leyland Hodgson, who appeared in 7 of those films in various bits. Here he has an unbilled role as a doctor.

Director Harold Young does manage to create a spooky atmosphere with some nimble camera moves and Kosleck is deliciously weird as ever but the story really is nothing to write home about. Perhaps the most memorable thing is that the movie is introduced by a floating head. But it’s a shame he doesn’t reappear for the ‘wrap-up’ and utter the radio show’s famous catchphrase: “Pleasant dreeeeaams, hmmmmm?”