Circle of Deception (Jack Lee, 1960)
Circle of Deception is a scathing attack on psychoanalytical profiling and the callousness of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during WW2. Paul Raine (Bradford Dillman) is the man chosen for an allied mission to occupied France. His psychological profile suggests he will break under torture and so can divulge false information: a neat premise from the pen of Nigel Balchin (who also gave us the classic Powell & Pressburger WW2 tale “The Small Back Room”.)
Tricked by the beautiful Lucy Bowen (Suzy Parker) and Capt. Rawson (Harry Andrews) into taking the mission, Raine is in trouble from the moment he lands on French soil. There are a series of exciting scenes on railways, gruelling torture scenes and a terrific twist in the plot involving a cyanide pill.
The post war Tangers malaise that is conjured up for the final scenes is memorable.
Dillman is very effective in the lead role with just the right degree of vulnerability and strength. The whole cast is excellent. Paul Rogers as the Gestapo interrogator is chilling and Suzy Parker is splendid in her desperation as she wrangles with her ethics. Harry Andrews plays the same persona as in “Danger Route”; a ruthless and powerful head of operations.
“Circle of Deception” is a first class depiction of post war trauma and moral confusion. (A nice footnote is that Dillman and Parker married after making the film) 8/10
Colpo maestro al servizio di Sua Maestà Britannica aka Master Stroke (Michele Lupo, 1967)
Master Stroke is a popular Eurospy film with many hallmarks of the Italian spy film. Basically a caper story merged with espionage elements, Master Stroke actually starts as a spaghetti western. The gunslinger scene that opens the film is revealed to be a movie set and introduces actor Richard Lang (Richard Harrison). This sets the style of the whole piece where nothing is as it seems and double crosses abound.
Lang is taken to Paris to meet a film producer for a great part. The film producer turns out to be gangster Mr. Bernard (Aldofo Celi) and there is no film role. Lang is hired to use his abilities to impersonate high security bank official Arthur Owen. The plan is to replace some priceless jewels with fakes in a top vault in London.
The gang’s arrival at London airport has a great music cue from Francesco De Masi. The entire soundtrack is quintessential Eurospy with a terrific main theme that has a groovy “Peter Gunn” riff with a hushed female vocal and Hammond organ on top.
From here the film twists and turns in a sea of double crosses. Celi turns out to be a secret service chief testing security for the General Diamonds Company, but that is just the beginning.
In many ways, it’s Adolfo Celi’s film. We are more used Celi as the typecast villain he played in so many spy films (such as “Thunderball”, “Slalom” and “OK Connery”) Here, he is centre stage pulling the strings. Margaret Lee and Gérard Tichy, both Eurospy regulars, are always good to see. Good old Richard Harrison is as reliable as ever.
Whilst not doing anything very innovative, what “Master Stoke” does, it does very well. It has plenty of pace and excitement with a great gun chase at the finale. A solid representative of the genre. 7/10
Cobra, Il aka The Cobra (Mario Sequi, 1967)
To avert a Chinese opium invasion in the USA, Captain Kelly (Dana Andrews) has to locate and stem the supply coming from Turkey. This is a job for denim clad bad-boy and former agency operative Mike Rand (Pietro Martellanza aka Peter Martel.) Rand lives in Istanbul in an alcoholic stupor with his girlfriend. He has hocked his gun for liquor.
It is Dana Andrews who is in fact the real alcoholic in this picture, mumbling and stumbling through his lines. His drunk performance is in keeping with the general sloppiness of this picture. (Mario Sequi made a much better spy entry three years later with “The Night of the Assassin” starring Klaus Kinski.) Here Sequi seems to be all over the place. The editing is often really clumsy and the English dialogue is terrible.
It’s all a bit of a waste as the last twenty minutes are not bad. Set in an oil refinery where opium arrives in canisters from oil pipes, Kelly and Rand have to take on “the cobra” and his mini army. Cobra is a silhouette figure in a faceless black mask who looks great - a precursor to the red masked villain of Franju’s masterpiece “Nuits Rouge”.
Like everything else, the highlights of the film are alcohol related. There is a revolving bar booth for capturing inquisitive agents (as later seen in “Live and Let Die”.) We also visit an Istanbul bar that has underwater views of a swimming pool which of course is full of bikini clad ladies.
There is a groovy easy listening score from Antón García Abril that helps a bit but it is not enough to save “Il cobra” from a low level spy score. 4/10
Come rubare la corona d'Inghilterra aka Argoman (Sergio Grieco, 1967)
Fumetti Nero (black comic) refers to Italian comic books with a dark side. They often feature masked men. Diabolik, Kriminal and Killing are some of the best known. Fumetti cinema evolved throughout the 1960s as the comics grew in popularity. By 1965 the all consuming spy wave merged with fumetti giving birth to a score of cross genre entities. The best known today is Mario Bava’s “Diabolik” but this was quite a late entry and many fumetti spy films had paved the way. For example the year before Roger Browne and Sergio Grecio made “Come rubare la corona d'Inghilterra” aka “Argoman”.
Delirious fun from start to finish, Argoman is off the clock. Everyone is camping it up to the max; Dario De Grassi as the fey Detective Lawrence, Dominique Boschero as the “self styled queen of the world” Jenabelle and not least Roger Browne as scientist spy Sir Reginald Hoover and his alter ego Argoman. Argoman has super human powers, lives in a futuristic complex on a desert island and sports a shocking yellow all in one suit.
When he hears Boschero passing 10 miles away in her hovercraft, Sir Reginald forces her to land on his beach and whisks her off her feet and into his lap using telekinesis. She is more than a match for his superhuman powers – the design of her villain’s lair is just as wild as his but her outfits win hands down. Costume designer Gaia Romanini is clearly having a ball – Boschero wears a stunning new outfit in every scene.
Jenabelle blackmails the French government into handing over the Muradorff A4 - the biggest diamond in the world. When not employing superhuman powers, Argoman uses spy gadgets to track down Jenabelle. These include radioactive cigarettes, a Geiger counter ring and phosphorous paint.
Confronting Jenabelle in her lair, Argoman quips “You look marvellous Jenabelle, black is certainly your colour. Marvellous place, but I don’t see the bar.” But my favourite line is at the finale when Jenabelle’s doppelgangers prompt Argoman to say; “She tricks me with these doubles.” 8/10
Conspiracy in Tehran aka Teheran (William Freshman, Giacomo Gentilomo
An entertaining Italian / British Co-Production about a WW2 plot to kill Roosevelt in Tehran. The film plays in flashback as Military reporter Pemberton Grant (Derek Farr) recounts his love affair with a Russian ballet dancer Natalie Trubetzin (Marta Labar).
In Rome1938 Trubetzin is fired from the National Ballet on the eve of her major debut for being a threat to national security. Journalist with attitude, Grant, decides to use her story to highlight the rise of fascism. This makes her plight much worse as she is arrested. After getting her out and an attempt to hide her, she disappears.
In Persia 1943 she reappears; a changed woman. She is at the centre of an espionage ring and Grant has to come to her rescue.
“Teheran” has an authenticity common in films made just after the War. The overwrought intensity of the chaos is still echoing. This film also had some basis of truth in that there was a plot to kidnap Roosevelt in Teheran. (It was uncovered by a Russian counterspy infiltrating the espionage ring.)
“Teheran” is worth a look. 5/10
Coplan ouvre le feu à Mexico (Riccardo Freda 1967)
The two Coplan films by Italian maestro Riccardo Freda are both terrific Eurospy flicks. The second film “Coplan ouvre le feu à Mexico” is full of plot holes but it does not matter – there is great visual flair, fine action sequences, lots of pace, a groovy vibraphone spy score by Jacques Lacome and top Eurospy actor Lang Jeffries in the lead role.
Jeffries is excellent as French superspy Francis Coplan. Lean, mean and matter of fact, Jeffries always plays it straight even when jumping out of an aeroplane into a moving car; a Roger Moore “eyebrow moment” if ever there was one.
Coplan discovers a roll of microfilm that proves the existence of paintings thought lost to the Nazis. He is sent to an auction to try and trace the source where he meets one Countess Labrange who is impressed by his flamboyant bidding. He beds her, chloroforms her, and discovers she has a secret cellar full of art, cash and enemy agents. After a violent fight, Coplan burns the agents to death while the countess makes a quick exit to Mexico. Coplan follows posing as a geologist.
Surviving violent car crashes, a shrinking room (It is never explained how he gets out), a sabotaged plane, a flame throwing cane and a Wagner playing villain, Coplan keeps ice cool throughout.
An Italian / Spanish / French co-production, “Coplan ouvre le feu à Mexico” has reasonable production values with location shooting in Mexico, Spain and France. The fifth Coplan adventure is top Eurospy action. 7/10
Count Five and Die (Victor Vicas 1957)
British WW2 spy yarn allegedly culled from OSS files.1944, London: OSS field agent Captain Bill Ranson (Jeffrey Hunter) and British Intelligence officer Major Julien Howard (Nigel Patrick) team up to set up a Dutch resistance liaison organisation. The plan is to trick German spies in London into thinking the second front will be aimed at Holland.
Rolande Hertog (Annemarie Düringer) is a Dutch radio operator brought over to assist the operation. Much of the film is devoted to deciding whether she is a double agent or not.
Performances are all convincing; Jeffrey Hunter is good looking and clean cut with a serious demeanour, Nigel Patrick is reliably authoritative, exuding officer class and the necessary emotional detachment to issue grim orders. Annemarie Düringer is attractive and compelling – good to see her in an early role.
All in all, the film is a solid, low-budget espionage story that does not flinch from the dark side. Indeed, the title refers to the cyanide pills taken by agents if captured. 5/10
Counterspy meets Scotland Yard (Seymour Friedman, 1950)
Short snappy spy story lifted from the long-running “Counterspy” radio program created by Philips H. Lord. Counterspy aka David Harding (Howard St. John) is a proto Mr. Waverley directing operations for US intelligence. Here he teams up with Scotland Yard colleague Agent Simon Langston (Ron Rendell) to uncover a security leak. Trusted and high security cleared Karen Michelle (Amanda Blake) is under the hypnotic spell of an enemy spy cum rogue doctor. Anyone getting close to the truth is wiped out.
Clocking in at less than seventy minutes the film is quite nimble and engaging in an old school way. The radio plays ran during from 1942 to 1957 with many of the stories set during WW2. Although this is the Cold War, the presence of the WW2 informs the whole atmosphere of the piece. St. John plays Harding as a serious and commanding presence that has been forged by WW2 military intelligence.
Australian actor Ron Randell is a little hammy as the British agent Langton but he gets better once he’s out in the field and wearing a disguise.
All in all, a punchy little programmer that is not a bad diversion. 5/10