Inspector Clouseau (Bud Yorkin 1968)
Whether the “Pink Panther” films can be considered as “spy” is debatable. Whilst Clouseau is a detective of the sureté who does go abroad, the stories are invariably crime stories that make no use of spy film motifs. (The exception is “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” when Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) attains the status of deranged global master criminal employing a deadly laser in his mission to kill Clouseau.) It is Sellers’ inimitable slapstick, pronunciation gags and timing that are the films stock in trade rather than genre stylings.
The same can be said of the third and often forgotten Panther film “Inspector Clouseau”. Whilst the film does employ an espionage story presumably to chime with the fashion of the times (hence it’s inclusion here), it is the Clouseau gags that are the film’s raison d’être. Although Alan Arkin is a skilled and talented actor this film is proof that Sellers made the roll his own.
Despite colourful European locations and a bevy of top British character actors the film is laborious and forgettable. Even the superb score by Ken Thorne cannot save the film despite a super catchy main title piece that makes a grand leap to attain the heights of Mancini’s iconic “Pink Panther”.
Perhaps the fault lies with undistinguished director Bud Yorkin who has to carry the can for failing to corral the talent and giving us what should have been the “OHMSS” of Panther films. 3/10
Italian Secret Service (Luigi Comencini,1968)
Nino Manfredi plays Natalino Tartufato codename Cappelone, former resistance fighter and now well dressed but disillusioned Italian Secret Service agent. He is permanently connected to an ear phone that delivers his orders, whether he is in bed or bathroom. He ends up working with a bunch of his wartime friends and enemies on a plan to kill a neo-Nazi.
“Italian Secret Service” has its supporters whilst one cannot deny it is a well crafted and intelligent film, it is not for everyone. Whether you enjoy the film is down to your sense of humour and whether you like Manfredi’s deadpan central performance. The film plays on a series of madcap staccato jokes between the characters, a few sight gags and sending up the spy genre by ridiculing the gadgets, music, brainwashing and mad scientists.
The neo-nazi plot turns out to be a red herring with the real enemy being Coke Cola! So the film is also a political satire. “Italian Secret Service” is very Italian and was a big hit in Italy enjoying a re-release in 1971. 4/10
Killer per sua maestà, Un aka The Killer Likes Candy (Maurice Cloche, Federico Chentrens 1968)
Actor Kerwin Mathews and director Maurice Cloche made the lightweight but enjoyable “Le vicomte règle ses comptes” before making this slice of run of the mill Eurospy. “Un killer per sua maestà” is alright but it really doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. (Cloche’s “Baraka sur X 13” was much better.)
Following on from being an excellent OSS117, Kerwin does his leading man role effectively enough despite being nicknamed “Angel Face”. However, the continual scenes of conflict with the arrogant King he is assigned to protect, are tiresome.
Bruno Cremer is always excellent. Here his psychotic killer, Oscar Snell, is two dimensional making it hard to care about him. (A far cry from the towering and anguished performance in “Objectif: 500 millions” two years earlier.) The signature candy wrapper Snell leaves at the scene of each crime is really quite irritating.
The score by Gianni Marchetti, like his previous Eurospy soundtracks (Mister Dynamit - morgen küßt Euch der Tod and El magnífico Tony Carrera) is serious ricotta with a lot of vocal. If you like Italian cheese Marchetti’s your man.
The Venetian setting is well filmed by Fausto Zuccoli making good use of the architecture with plenty of sweeping camera movement. He had already shot a couple of Eurospy titles “Berlino - Appuntamento per le spie” and “Ray Master l'inafferrabile”. (He went onto film the masterful “Notturno” in 1982.)
There is also a great cast of Eurospy regulars including Marilù Tolo, Gordon Mitchell, Werner Peters and the ubiquitous Umberto Raho, all of whom do their bit.
So why is it all so average? It is director Cloche who must take the blame for this wasted opportunity. He co-authored the script which is the core problem with this Italian / French / West German Co-Production. 4/10
Kommissar X - Drei Bleue Panther aka Kill Panther Kill (Gianfranco Parolini, 1968)
The fifth KX film is lots of fun. Capt. Rowland is on loan to Montreal police to help apprehend escaped jewel thief Arthur Tracey (Franco Fantasia.) Walker is there to investigate a $53 million jewel robbery claim by Robert Tracey (the thief’s twin brother also played by Franco Fantasia.) And guess what – their cases are connected. So the stage is set for a full round of fist fights, womanising, chases, wisecracks and stunts. All standard KX fare but done with great pace and vigour by Gianfranco Parolini. Utilising Canadian locations to maximum effect, Parolini kicks off with a rodeo in Calgary (featuring a 007 style jetpack display.) The story shifts to the Montreal expo prominently featuring a monorail, modern architecture and cable cars. A cosmopolitan air is conjured by fast montages of country names that are exhibiting at the expo. (This is a nod to the trans-global motif of the spy genre while the story in fact takes place in just one country.)
Erika Blanc, queen of Eurospy support roles, plays Robert Tracey’s trophy wife Elisabeth. Tracey is murdered by his brother in the “skyride” at the expo and Arthur assumes his brother’s identity. Elisabeth discovers the switch that evening in their bedroom but has to do what Tracey says. From here it’s up to our boys to smash the jewel thief ring, chase the girls, upset the local police and beat up an entire judo club.
Joe solves the twin brother case by opening a bible and reading about Cain and Able. For Kommissar X being a secret agent is effortless. Joe Walker seems to know he is invincible as he casually walks away from a stream of harpoons. While Rowland is becoming infatuated with the femme fatale of the film, Walker beds everyone. At one point, a blonde appears from nowhere, offers herself to him while the zip of her dress simply falls out. Drei Bleue Panther is male fantasy from start to finish.
The film slips into slapstick for a fight at the railway yard with a gang of thugs. The sequence is a montage of crazy antics; Big Tom gets into a massive tyre to roll into battle, Joe hides in a mud pit as a digger drives over him, toes are stamped on and the beaten gang are stacked in a railway truck and dispatched down the tracks. Shameless and enjoyable macho nonsense.
More humour comes in the shape of messages from Joe being found in places he has got to before anyone else. On one occasion it’s his own photo displaying the perpetual Joe Walker grin. Walker always has the edge and is always very pleased with himself. It is left to Rowland in the closing scene to stuff a massive cigar in to Walker’s self satisfied mouth with the words “You’ve said enough”. 6/10
Kommissar X - Drei grüne Hunde aka Death Trip (Rudolf Zehetgruber, Gianfranco Parolini, 1967)
Plenty of fun with Jo Walker and Tom Roland strutting their stuff in Istanbul. The plot is ludicrous. Roland is a courier for the US military and is charged with bringing a canister of LSD over from the States - enough to trip out an entire nation. The evil “green hounds” gang want it and don’t care who they drug to get it.
The film makers’ knowledge of LSD is severely lacking. Jenny Carter (Rossella Bergamonti) lies in bed moaning in her sleep. Apparently she has been made to look like she committed suicide just by taking LSD. Luckily Joe Walker has a greater tolerance to the drug - he just looks a bit drunk and stumbles around a bit after being spiked. The drug silliness just adds to the fun. It also puts the film into the tiny 1960s sub-sub genre of the “psychedelic spy film”. (See “LSD - Inferno per pochi dollari” aka “LSD Hell for a Few Dollars More” or “Sebastian”.)
The film looks good. The Turkish locations are splendid not least the “Valley of a Thousand Hills”. Filmed in the Bin Tepe region, the breathtaking lunar - like landscape provides a hideout for the green hound gang and stunning location for the film’s finale. Istanbul is also utilised to great effect with the Galata Bridge and the city’s minarets filling out the widescreen. It was cinematographer Angelo Lotti’s only KX film but he had spent the previous year shooting Eurospy films ("Misión Lisboa", "Nuestro agente en Casablanca" and "Kriminal").
The film is credited to Rudolf Zehetgruber but was made with KX mainstay Gianfranco Parolini (presumably uncredited for tax reasons). The score by Francesco De Masi is top draw Eurospy jazz – it is light hearted, fun and very groovy. Leyla Kessler (Olga Schoberová) and Gisela (Christa Linder) both add sumptuous eye candy to the nonsense. Brad Harris directs his own stunts with the usual draw dropping results. (Of note is his awesome leap from the back of Jo Walker’s motorcycle onto a speeding convertible.)
All in all “Drei grüne Hunde” is a very silly and enjoyable piece of spy cinema. 7/10
Kriminal (Umberto Lenzi, 1966)
Fumetti is a genre in its own right. Masked super criminals with a taste for sex and death are the currency of the fumetti and are ripe for genre crossover with the spy film. Master criminals have been at the heart of spy films since Fritz Lang’s made “Spione” (1928) and his towering Dr. Mabuse series. When Italian comic books came to be adapted by filmmakers in the 1960s, the spy wave was at its height. Umberto Lenzi had just made four spy films in a row before “Kriminal” and the spy influences are undeniable. Lenzi had wanted to make “Diabolik” (the daddy of fumetti) but Dino De Laurentiis had the screen rights. Instead he made “Kriminal” and broke much new ground. He directly mixed1960s spy motifs with fumetti comic book stories in a more prominent way than anyone had before. Also Lenzi was one the first filmmaker to literally morph the comic graphics into the live action. Indeed, the finale of the film bravely reverts to comic strip for the last few shots.The result of Lenzi’s talent is a highly original, fun crime story about a man who dresses up as a skeleton.
The super-criminal, not the super-spy, is the central character in fumetti. Special agents and police are there to catch them. Here Inspector Milton from Interpol (Andrea Bosic) is hell bent on catching Kriminal (Glenn Saxson.) Saxson cuts a dashing figure when unmasked. With a thatch of blonde hair, a well cut wardrobe and good physique he zips from London to Madrid and Istanbul with all the style of James Bond. His terrain is similar too: airports, nightclubs, casinos and speeding trains. In addition to his skeleton suit, Kriminal is a disguise master, has sharp detective skills and plenty of cunning.
Lenzi daringly cast Eurospy queen Helga Liné in two roles as both Inge and Trude. She looks fabulous bringing her trademark femme fatale glamour to the film. There is much bravery from the stunt department too with some breathtaking stunts including jumping off buildings and railway bridges.
Romano Mussolini (son of Bentio) provides a great easy listening jazz score that is upbeat and very “spy”.
“Kriminal” is not as dynamic as “Diabolik” and Glenn Saxon is not John Philip Law but Lenzi did it first. There is a lot to enjoy here. 7/10