Agent Secret FX 18/FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)

Agent Secret FX 18/ FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)‘You’re much too beautiful to bother your head with such things.’

A painter is killed with a blow dart, and his apartment destroyed in an explosion. The special operative sent to investigate disappears, so top agent Francis Coplan is called back from vacation to undertake the mission…

Dire Italian-Spanish Eurospy effort with American actor Ken Clark as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ carrying on in Rome, Marseille and on the island of Majorca. Guns, Girls and Gadgets? Well, yes…but only the girls appear with any frequency. Actually, it’s painfully obvious that this is an early example of a ‘007’ knock-off. The well-worn formula isn’t clearly established, and proceedings often resemble a simple international crime thriller, rather than anything else. Gadgets are restricted to a ‘cigarette’ blow gun, a trick gun and a toy radio antenna which allows transmission of coded messages inside a military zone.

Agent Secret FX 18/ FX 18 Secret Agent (1964)

‘Don’t look at me; I haven’t got a clue what’s going on either…’

This all makes more sense when you realise that Coplan was an existing literary character, created by Belgian authors Gaston Van Den Panhuyse and Jean Libert (writing as ‘Paul Kenny’). He’d already appeared on screen, being played by Henri Vidal in ‘Action lmmédiate’ (1957), and it seems obvious that he was simply co-opted as a convenient ‘Bond’ stand-in as a way to ride the wave of Connery’s global juggernaut.

So, how does it differ from the usual hi-jinks that became so familiar in the years that followed? Well, for a start, Clark is not a lone wolf. He has a team, as allocated by boss La Vieux (Jacques Dacqmine). This includes ‘stand-in’ wife Jany Clair and ‘comedy’ sidekicks Jean-Pierre Laverne and Lorenzo Robledo, who are given far too much screen time. At one stage, Clark’s under threat of getting completely sidelined by their laboured routines, which include a ‘hilarious’ knockabout fight sequence accompanied by music you might expect to hear in a two-reeler from the silent days. The IMF these guys are not.

There’s also a problem with our bad guys. To put it kindly, Noreau (Daniel Ceccaldi) and Barter (Claude Cerval) are completely anonymous, and we get no real idea about what they’re up to either. Their secret HQ is an ordinary private yacht, crewed by bit part thugs and pretty girls Cristina Gaioni and Margit Kocsis. Clair’s character is also a bit of a puzzle. To begin with, she’s an iceberg and rebuffs Clark’s smarmy advances, but, in the blink of a false eyelash, she’s in love with him! At times, it seems she’s in the film simply to be slapped around and tortured, but she does get to prove her spy credentials late on, via the twin mediums of Landrover and machine gun.

Coplan returned for 5 further big screen adventures in the 1960s; played by a different actor on each occasion, including Englishman Richard Wyler in ‘Coplan FX 18 Casse Tout’ (1965), which saw Dacqmine reprise his role and Clair return as a different character. We also got Lang Jeffries in ‘Coplan Ouvre Le Feu A Mexico (1967) which also starred Sabine Sun, who has a small role here. Co- writer/director Maurice Cloche did it all again with the unrelated ‘Agent X-77 Orders to Kill’ (1966), which was a little better, and Clark ranked up a trio of appearances as Dick Malloy, beginning with ‘Agente 077 Missione Bloody Mary’ (1965).

This is an unfocused, dreary slog through one of the dullest espionage adventures imaginable. A truly lousy viewing experience.

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Agent X-77 Orders To Kill/Baraka Sur X-13 (1966)

Agent X-77 Orders To Kill (1966)‘I was probing to assess his resistance capacity.’

Enemy agents attempt to steal a top scientist’s research and then assassinate him by sabotaging a commercial airliner. The plane crashes but the Professor survives, and various espionage operatives clash in their efforts to acquire his secrets, including French Secret Service man Agent X-77…

Rather dreary, run of the mill Eurospy shenanigans, with the only noticeable twist being the involvement of a French film company in its production, along with the inevitable collaboration of Italian and Spanish studios. The Gallic influence means this week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is actor Gérard Barry, who demonstrates the necessary charm and the usual ability to shot someone dead from a great distance without aiming his gun properly. Having said that, there is an effort to ground his adventures in a more realistic way that many of his contemporaries, although the lack of big sets, stunt work, gadgets and set pieces may have been as much to do with budget limitations as anything else.

The lack of production resource is pretty obvious from our opening sequence. The plane disaster is rendered through the tremendously convincing medium of two characters hearing a distant explosion and when Barry, posing as an accident investigator, visits the crash site all we see is the disordered interior of the passenger cabin and a few extras playing dead. Much of the subsequent action is centred on the hospital where the Professor is admitted and a series of less than stellar plot developments that seem merely designed to pad the run time to feature length.

These include the introduction of our faceless villains, their tacked-on plan to blow up a factory that’s supposed to be producing the Professor’s invention (whatever it is!), and Barry’s romance of sassy nurse Sylva Koscina, who falls for him after just one date at a restaurant cum-nightclub that bares an unfortunate resemblance to a poorly dressed film set. He also spends a good deal of time driving around in his little red car, constantly accompanied by a jangly zither on the soundtrack. Now that musical accompaniment worked magnificently in ‘The Third Man’ (1949) but here it’s just annoying. Extremely annoying. Especially when it plays over lengthy shots of tape reels spinning on the kind of computer that used to take six hours to add two and two.

Barry’s performance is from the Sean Connery school of Bond. He may smile and romance the ladies a little, but he’s all business really and is pleasingly cold blooded on a couple of occasions, particularly when he gasses a fellow agent who has switched sides for love. But action is at a serious premium here, with just a few bouts of unconvincing fisticuffs, a bit of gun play, some decent stunt driving and a couple of explosions. The plot is cheerfully vague throughout and simply disintegrates into some running about and the attempts of various agents to kill each other. Exactly what the Professor has invented is never really made clear. If it is some kind of amazing, brand new rocket fuel, then how come this anonymous factory outside Trieste is already making it? The script simply doesn’t bother with such trivial exposition.

Agent X-77 Orders To Kill (1966)

The audience were less than thrilled with the in-flight movie…

Directing duties here were appropriately split between Italian Silvio Siano and Frenchman Maurice Cloche, who it could be argued made a loose Eurospy trilogy with ‘Agent FX18’ (1964) starring Ken Clark and ‘Le Vicomte Regie Jes Comptes’ (1967) with former ‘Sinbad’, Kerwin Matthews.

Barry was a hero of French adventure films at the time, and later had a major role in ‘Open Your Eyes’ (1997), which was remade (poorly) in the U.S. as ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001) with Tom Cruise. Koscina is best remembered as Steve Reeves’ better half in cheesy Italian muscleman epics ‘Hercules’ (1957) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959) but had a significant career in more respectable cinema, appearing in Georges Franju’s ‘Judex’ (1963) and ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ (1965) for Ferderico Fellini. Also in the cast is Gérard Tichy, who was the title villain in ‘Superargo Vs. Diabolicus’ (1966) but also appeared in big budget productions like ‘Dr Zhivago’ (1965) and ‘King of Kings’ (1961), as well as Mario Bava’s impressive horror ‘Hatchet For The Honeymoon’ (1970).

There were certainly worse pretenders to 007 crown, but that market was seriously oversaturated by the mid-1960s and, without any remarkable elements, it’s inevitable that this example simply got lost in the shuffle.