Echo of Diana (Ernest Morris 1963)
Another one hour Butchers Film Production designed to fill out cinema programs. “Echo of Diana” is about distraught widow Joan Scott (Betty McDowall) who discovers her husband’s mysterious death in a plane crash is not what it seems. With the help of her friend Pam Jennings (Clare Owen) she discovers the involvement of an espionage ring. The film is not very ambitious or very engaging. Even with it’s short running time it seems to take a long time to finish with a lot of talk and overwrought performing. Even the rather nice Jazzy score by Martin Slavin does not really help. “Echo of Diana” is more like a weak episode of “The Saint” without Roger Moore. 3/10
El Magnífico Tony Carrera (José Antonio de la Loma, 1968)
Tony Carrera has some intriguing elements (race driver motor racing chic, caper-spy genre crossover, Amsterdam locations) but somehow feels a little too thin to get truly excited about. That said, it is still a reasonable espionage tale worthy of consideration.
Thomas Hunter is Tony Carrera, race driver and former safe cracker. The film starts as Carrera tests his new Fortuna 2 exuding the Joe Siffert race driver style so favoured by Steve McQueen. Carrera has chiseled good looks and is very low key. He is engaged to marry Antonella (Erika Blanc.) Erika played a wide variety of supporting roles in spy films; from femme fatales (“Drei Bleue Panther”) to “regazza in bikini” (“Misión Lisboa”). Here she plays the spoilt daughter of car factory and racetrack owner Arnaldini. Carrera is kidnapped, drugged and taken to Amsterdam by Ursula. Ursula (Gila von Weitershausen) works for Serge (Gérard Tichy), a criminal mastermind who wants to use Carrera’s safecracking skills to steal some nuclear prototype documents. Fernando Sancho plays Einstein the technical adviser and renegade nuclear scientist. Despite an escape attempt through the canal ways of Amsterdam, (well-filmed) Carrera settles down into co-operating on the theft. And so the caper begins.
The documents are to be housed in a metal crate inside the safe of an impregnable fortress. How Carrera gets inside is a large part of the fun of the film. Carrera is double crossed, and his picture appears on the cover of all the papers. A deal with a visiting American senator to get the documents back is Carrera’s only way out.
Whilst good looking and agile, Hunter doesn’t leave much of an impression as a leading man. (He proved a much better writer penning tough espionage revenge movie “The Human Factor” in 1975.) Gérard Tichy who plays Carrera’s nemesis Serge was a much better spy hero fourteen years earlier in “Malaga”. He was a reliable and efficient character actor in a dozen spy films throughout the 1960s. All in all “El Magnífico Tony Carrera” is a lightweight time filler with a fun easy listening score by Gianni Marchetti. 5/10
Espions à l'affût aka Heat of Midnight (Max Pécas 1965)
A truly strange erotic spy adventure from France that is quite unique. The depiction of lesbianism and fetishism is unusual to say the least. Director Max Pécas had already been a transgressor in the spy genre by coaxing Elke Sommer to be the first nude spy in "De quoi tu te mêles, Daniela" (aka "Daniela By Night") and later went onto make fully fledged hardcore. With “Espions à l'affût” his concoction of the crime / spy genre with the erotic produces a smouldering and disquieting piece that could be viewed in an arthouse context rather than as a low brow cross genre piece.
The English dub of the film has some hideous performances that put the film squarely in the trash category. By trying to imagine the film in its original version, one starts to get the sense that this is more than simple exploitation. The extended montage of close ups of parts of the female anatomy during a love scene is almost identical in its formal construction to a scene in Alain Resnais’ highbrow “La Guerre est Finie”.
The story revolves around a cache of stolen diamonds. Insurance investigator Max Savelan (Jean Claudio) describes himself as “something like James Bond and Dick Tracy”. He is following thief Fred Langlois (Jean Vinci) who is having a crisis of conscience after stealing the diamonds and being forced to kill his accomplice in self defence. Langlois goes to his estranged wife’s house in the country to hideout. His wife Fabienne (Claudine Coster) is now living with Sybil (Anna Gaël).
Accompanied by a sparse jazz score, Pécas takes us on a voyeuristic and at times sadistic journey of eroticism and espionage. Jesus Franco travels a similar trajectory in his spy outings, but Pécas takes a low key approach avoiding the camp hysteria and wilful anarchism that makes Franco unique. The extended stripping, rough spanking and torture featured have a realism that makes the whole experience all the more bizarre.
With a violent and exciting finale involving severed power lines, Espions à l'affût is a strange and outlandish curio that is certainly never dull. A revisit in its original version is essential. 7/10
F.B.I. operazione Baalbeck aka Last Plane to Baalbeck (Marcello Giannini 1964)
“F.B.I. operazione Baalbeck” is a neat example of early Eurospy. Many of the essential ingredients are there – modernity, chic, well dressed men and women, a cool jazz score, lots of travel and exoticism. It also has a dark side and resolution that may account for its relative obscurity. The fact that the film was co-produced by a Lebanese production company may account for the authentic feel the film has. The film boasts locations a foreign location scout would probably not find or gain access to.
This was virtually the only film made by director Marcello Giannini which is odd as it is so good. Producer Enrico Bomba went on to make the two Agente segreto 777 adventures; “Invito ad uccidere” and “Operazione Mistero”.
“F.B.I. operazione Baalbeck” boasts a strong cast: Rossana Podestà as Isabel Moore is very Italian, beautiful and stylishly dressed. With jet black hair and big mournful eyes Podestà is well cast to project the duplicity of being a drug addicted air stewardess with secrets. Jacques Sernas as Nick Mann plays a special agent out to get to the bottom of a gunrunning outfit in Beirut. Sernas is dashing in his well cut suit but has a coldness and tight lipped demeanour that is perfect for the serious edge of the film.
Running the arms trade ring are two Eurospy regulars: the authoritative and wonderful George Sanders as blind Prince Makowski and super-cool Oriental femme fatale Yoko Tani as “Asia”.
The gritty and corrupt atmosphere of Lebanon that director Giannini creates is offset by the light and fun jazz score by Marcello de Martino. Folco Lulli as Sernas’s partner John Volpi also adds a cheerful note with his walrus whiskers and bonhomie. He played the same role opposite Kerwin Matthews in “Le vicomte règle ses comptes” and made a hilarious master criminal in “Operación Goldman” aka “Lightning Bolt”.
The film picks up the pace for the last third of its running time with a great deal of aviation action and machine gun combat. The final scenes in the amazing Roman ruins of Baalbeck in the Beeka Valley are spectacular. All in all “F.B.I. operazione Baalbeck” is formidable precursor to the Eurospy wave that was about to engulf Italy. 8/10
Fauve est Lâché, Le aka The Beast is Loose (Maurice Labro, 1959)
A gripping example of “Espion - Noir” – 1950s French spy films with a film noir edge. Former criminal and resistance hero Paul (the mighty Lino Ventura) is happily running a bistro when service secret agents blackmail him into spying.
They set him up by planting illegal dollars in his apartment and then arrest him as a trafficker of illegal currency. To clear his name he has to hang out with former crime buddy Raymond and get close to a spy network selling secret documents. Things hot up as Raymond is gunned down and Paul follows the spies to Le Harve. Impressive cliff top locations and a thrilling escape by Paul through a tide filled cave rack up the tension. This is vintage Ventura with his intense presence filling the film. His physicality is also very evident here coming to the fore in the angry climax as his family is threatened. (Clearly espion – noir was Maurice Labro’s metier – he also made Action immédiate, Le Gorille a mordu l'archevêque, Coplan prend des risques, Corrida pour un espion & Casse-tête chinois pour le Judoka) 8/10
Feuer frei auf Frankie aka Target Frankie (José Antonio de la Loma 1967)
Casting Joachim Fuchsberger and Eddi Arent in this easy going spy adventure is clearly an attempt to emulate the success of the German Edgar Wallace franchise. Both actors were key players in the huge roll call of Wallace Krimi films. Like Arent, Fuchsberger was still a box office draw in Germany
Kicking of with a fun pop art cut out animation sequence the film zips along with a jolly Piero Umiliani score. Professor Peers (Charles Fawcett) is killed and his assistant Dr Werner Bargher (Fuchsberger) is wounded by an international organisation “Rainbow”. CIA agents Maud Taylor (Erica Blanc) and Kaiser (Eddi Arent) are sent to find his playboy brother to impersonate him. Fuchsberger is to be found on the sky slopes of Switzerland. By employing him they can draw out the enemy whilst protecting his brother.
Fuchsberger plays both Frankie Bargher and his brother Dr Werner. The Doctor is a more distinguished and older version of Frankie. Although only forty when he made “Feuer frei auf Frankie” exudes the assured maturity and charm of an older man without seeming “past it”. This rock solid and reliable quality was also evident in his many Wallace films and was an important part of his appeal.
Fuchsberger has to fend off assassination attempts not to mention sultry Elena (Rosealba Neri) and her red sports car. There is plenty of action -double crossing, helicopter pursuits, kidnapping, gas, machine guns and visionary science. (Chinese scientists include E=MC2 in their calculus to work out the Peers formula.) “Feuer frei auf Frankie” is a worthwhile and overlooked Eurospy entry that has an upbeat feel and plenty to enjoy. 6/10
Forbidden Cargo (Harold French 1954)
In “Forbidden Cargo” Nigel Patrick is Michael Kenyon; a customs officer jetting around Europe chasing smugglers. It is a world of catwalks, speedboats, glamorous women and the Riveria. That is when he is not on the beaches of the English Channel following up leads.
One such lead comes from blue blooded birdwatcher Lady Flavia Queensway, (inimitable Joyce Grenfell) who Patrick meets on the sand dunes of Kent. Fake naval manoeuvres by smugglers are interfering with her rare species – confound them!
The film was written by Sydney Box who like his sister Betty Box had a taste for espionage films. Sydney produced The Prisoner (1955) and The Treasure of San Teresa (1959) before collaborating with Betty on Eurospy masterpiece Deadlier Than the Male (1967).
Before his thirty year stint as good old fashioned copper “Dixon of Dock Green”, Jack Warner played Nigel Patrick’s superior and colleague. Solid and dependable, rather like John Wayne on the beat.
It’s not a bad timewaster and a nice attempt at glamorising the world of customs men. 5/10
Fünf vor 12 in Caracas aka Countdown to Doomsday (Marcello Baldi, 1966)
A low budget German affair that’s greatest asset is Georgio Ardisson in the lead role. One of the best moments is the opening titles static close up of Ellen Remington (Christa Linder from the Kommissar X films): unconscious in the back of the villains car having been kidnapped and looking fabulous. The kidnappers have bad wigs and mustaches but at least they get there orders from a hidden female voice on a loudspeaker. This Mabuse-esque touch is one of the few pleasures in this detective story set in Venezuela. Another plus is reliable Eurospy villain Horst Frank as bent police scientist Dr. Nielson. And that’s about it.
Despite the exotic location, “Fünf vor 12 in Caracas” spends most of its time indoors with dull camera shots and ponderous dialogue. The Umiliani score is heavy on the cheese, the actions scenes poorly executed, the English dub is not well acted and the special effects are dreadful. Whilst these qualities are much loved in the Eurospy genre, this is more a stale ricotta rather than a ripe Roquefort. 3/10
Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117 (André Hunebelle 1965)
When Kerwin Matthews got too expensive, André Hunebelle sought out a new actor to play OSS117 aka Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath. Frederick Stafford an unknown pharmacist from Switzerland got the job. Stafford was a perfect choice with his suave good looks and physique. With a nimble stride, easy gait, serious expression and a well cut suit Stafford was a credible French alternative to Bond. He made several spy films (including taking the lead in Hitchcock’s “Topaz”) before his premature death in a plane accident in 1979.
OSS117 is sent on a mission to Rio to find the source of a drug used to “condition” assassins. Despite borrowing a baby to disguise himself in the arrivals lounge, OSS 117 is in trouble from airport. He is picked up by a false contact, the lovely Consuela Moroni (Perrette Pradier) which gives Hubert the chance for some heavy flirting before she drops him in the port for a six man strong ambush.
Naturally Hubert de la Bath deals with them and with aplomb. He is ready for all eventualities. When the false Consuela has to be given the impression that Hubert is in the bath, he opens his attaché case library of pre recorded quarter inch loop tapes, selecting “singing, whistling & sounds of washing” before exiting through the window. (Other titles include “at the tobacconist”, “sleeping with snores” and “telephone conversations”. Well prepared!)
Hunebelle was in the midst of his Fantômas trilogy and bought his charming leading lady Mylène Demongeot over to the OSS 117 camp. He also employed the voice of Fantômas Raymond Pellegrin as Neo Nazi Leandro.
The whole mise en scene of “Furia à Bahia” is quintessential OSS117. The widescreen framing, the fights, villains, ladies, back projection, exotic hotels, beach scenes and cars, and the latin tinged Michel Magné score are all recreated to the letter in the 2008 spoof “OSS117 Rio Ne Repond Pas.” Whilst Jean Dujardin’s Hubert is a blundering, cocksure racist (and wonderful for it), Stafford’s Hubert simply is not that awful. The dialogue may be cheesy and the heroics absurd but it’s done with a straight face, a reasonable budget and lots of fun. “Furia à Bahia” is a high point in the OSS 117 cycle and an inspiration for the films that followed.
Furia a Marrakech (Mino Loy, Luciano Martino 1966)
Master criminals in Marrakech have a cache of five billion counterfeit Nazi dollars ready to flood the currency exchanges of the world. Monique (Dominique Boschero) steals a sample of the funny money from lusty Ahmed and starts spending it in New York rousing the interest of the CIA. Calling Bob Fleming! (re-named Bob Dixon for the American dub). Once bad spy girls Greta and Ulla have dispatched Ahmed they kidnap Monique and set about blowing up Bob Fleming / Dixon (Stephen Forsyth) on his arrival in Marrakech.
And such is the rampant pace, fun and style of “Furia a Marrakech”. Quintessential Eurospy that looks wonderful, “Furia” has a classic Carlo Savini spy jazz score, a colourful widescreen palate, bags of energy and a cheeky smile throughout.
Directors Mino Loy and Luciano Martino did not do much directing but both went to onto be very successful producers. Together with writer Ernesto Gastaldi they made three Bob Fleming adventures. They co-directed this, the previous Bob Fleming outing “Le Spie Uccidono a Beirut” and produced “077, sfida ai killers”. The team also produced “Flashman” and “Duello nel mondo”. (Gastaldi wrote several Eurospy films including “Cifrato speciale”, “Le carnaval des Barbouzes” and “Operazione Goldman”.) Once they had done with the spy genre all three men made dozens of classic Italian genre films.
This film has the best spies, cars, girls, gadgets, clothes, locations, grooves all in the free wheeling Italian mode. If you don’t like “Furia a Marrakech” you don’t like Eurospy. 8/10