New York chiama Superdrago aka New York Calling Superdragon (Giorgio Ferroni, 1966)
Superdragon is by turns silly and splendid. It is impossible to take seriously and yet it has moments of tension, surrealism and even sentimentality. The opening scene sets the tone with a pair of pink stilettos moving through the frame. The “suspense” music signals they belong to an assailant. Pan up to the pink pencil skirt, then pink jacket finally revealing Cynthia Fulton (Margaret Lee) as she picks up a knife. Brian Cooper aka Superdragon (Ray Danton) is deep into a yogic trance by the pool. She prods him in the belly with the tip of the knife. He doesn’t react. He only comes out of his heart stopped trance when she stops a nearby metronome. Cynthia is in fact an agent and former lover that has been sent to bring Superdragon out of retirement. From frolics in the pool and much flirting, the scene’s tone becomes very downbeat as Superdragon is told a friend has been killed investigating violent teenage acts in Fremont, Michigan.
The film then surges into kitsch teen rebel territory with a trip to a Michigan bowling alley where “strange” chewing gum is being handed out to the kids. Future Peroni beer pin up girl Solvi Stubing does the most energetic wild eyed and chest jutting dance ever seen. Her pink sweater clad gyrations are given maximum screen time playing out to the full length of the 45 on the jukebox. Danton watches in awe. At his next encounter with Stubing, she goes “psycho” starting a fight in a gymnastics class before passing out. Superdragon returns to the bowling alley to investigate the free gum. Before getting any information, the vendor is shot. It’s a bizarre theatrical scene with the bullet coming through the Venetian blinds from a passing car. Back in his hotel room Superdragon thwarts an oriental agent’s attempt to assassinate him in a violent battle. Abruptly, the enemy agent locks himself in the bathroom and kills himself. Whether director Giorgio Ferroni engineered these sudden shifts in tone or moments of surrealism or not they certainly add to the films’ cult appeal. The story becomes much more bizarre in Amsterdam.
A secret ultra violet message on a mirror from his former colleague tells Superdragon to follow an import receipt for some Ming vases to Amsterdam. Enlisting the help of Baby face (Jess Hann), Superdragon heads for Holland. He has a rendezvous with “Our Man in Holland” agent Rembrandt 13 in the Museum De Molen. She is fact a woman - the beautiful Charity Farrell (Marisa Mell). She leads Superdragon into the strange world of Plastifa Research – a truly weird organisation that deals in masked auctions, hidden lairs, strange drugs and global domination. Superdragon’s trip to a masked ball / auction is another wonderfully surreal sequence that is literally full of smoke and mirrors. Add to this the outrageous escapes Superdragon makes from certain death situations and the unique blend of surreal kitsch and spy genre that is “New York Chiama Superdrago” is complete
Benedetto Ghiglia gives us a classic Eurospy score. On Superdragon’s arrival in Amsterdam three of Ghiglia’s cues effortlessly play back to back. Indeed, Ferroni uses the score extensively throughout. There is a strident main theme utilising telephone sound effects, a terrific “mystery” theme comprised of suspended vibraphone notes and a Dutch musical box theme that is reprised on vibraphone, trombone and glockenspiel.
Danton cuts a dashing look in a black shirt and trousers with an array of sports jackets. His slim athleticism and dark good looks made him an ideal heroic spy of the sixties mould. After nearly twenty years in television he had a great range. As with his role in “Lucky, El Intrépido” he was able to carry humour with ease. In “Superdrago” he is deadly serious too, whether a knife is bouncing off his steel plated vest or a double agent is dying in his arm as in a later scene. The moment is quite tender and almost sentimental. The girl is raked with guilt over her duplicity. Danton gently absolves her whispering reassuringly “I always knew”. 8/10
Nuits rouges (Georges Franju, 1974)
Long before “The Da Vinci Code” came “Nuit Rouges”, the first contemporary templar crime film. An elegant, tongue in cheek, esoteric, fluid masterpiece of subterfuge, surveillance and style that has been hidden since it suffered a lazy Christmas release in 1974 Paris. “Nuits Rouges” is not a generic spy film; on the surface it is a super criminal thriller in the Dr. Mabuse mould. However it transcends its basic staring point as a homage to Fantômas and Feuillade. The super criminal is elevated to the sublime in a catalogue of bewitching scenes and poetic artifice that are a delight to any spy film afficiando. The unnamed “L’homme sans visage” and his accomplice “La Femme” employ disguise, gadgets, surveillance equipment, a private army and a mad scientist to obtain the ultimate goal – the treasure of the templars.
The villain’s nemesis is Le commissaire Sorbier played by Goldfinger himself Gert Fröbe. The role echoes Fröbe’s performance as Kriminal kommissar Lohmann in the late Dr. Mabuse films. Mabuse like L’homme sans visage is always one step ahead.
Author of the film, Jacques Champreux takes the lead role of “L’homme sans visage” playing it with goggle eyed intensity. That he manages to get so much intensity through two eye holes in his red balaclava is extraordinary. Less performing is required of his black balaclava clad army, zombified victims (pulse but no brainwaves) or his mannequin faux taxi driver.
Gayle Hunnicutt as “La femme” is allowed to equal the “L’homme”. The film slips into poetic reverie as she dons a cat burglar outfit and takes to the rooftops of Paris to kill Martine Leduc (Josephine Chaplin.) With a Morricone-esque vocal theme, La Femme glides across the skylights and into Leduc’s apartment where see mistakenly drugs Séraphin Beauminon (Patrick Préjean) with a syringe. She is pursued by the waiting police back on to the roofs. Time stands still as the vocal refrain continues and La Femme uses a poison dart blowpipe to knock out her opponents. It is a magic moment with Franju heightening the poetic with his lithe lead actrice, the artifice of the set and lighting, and the languorous pacing.
She is caught moments later by police and lets loose a feline snarl straight out of “Cat People”. Then she is freed by the waiting “L’homme sans visage” and his men who escape on colour coded motorbikes. Red for L’homme; black for L’armée. The motorcyclists like the Parisian rooftop scene are a reference to France’s greatest poet Jean Cocteau. (Franju had already made Cocteau’s strange and wonderful “Thomas L’imposteur” into a film.) Cocteau who devoured film noir would have loved this film and given it top marks. So do I. 10/10
O.K. Connery aka Operation Kid Brother (Alberto De Martino, 1967)
The one Danjaq let get away. The first “Casino Royale” and “Never Say Never Again” have been absorbed into the official Bond chronology whereas this miscreant of a film is still resolutely an outlaw. Which is strange as “O.K. Connery” really goes the distance in terms of budget, casting and bombast. The audacity of casting Sean Connery’s brother Neil in his only film role and then using his real name in the film is without precedent. To then surround him with five official franchise co-stars is genius. Italian marketing was forever trying to trick punters into the cinema with sound-alike actors and film titles. “O.K. Connery” took this tradition to a new level of high concept marketing. The James Bond credentials to “O.K. Connery” are such that you may watch it without realizing it’s a complete imposter.
Aldolfo Celi (Largo in Thunderball) is on a yacht full of female agents being massaged while watching a belly dance projected onto a girl’s back. Other Bond franchise co-stars soon appear; Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee (Moneypenny and M from the franchise) along with queen of spy films, Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana in “From Russia with Love”.) Enter Neil Connery – Urdu speaker, lip reader, Tibetan hypnotist and leading physicist. He is quickly press ganged into secret agent service by Bernard Lee.
Ana María Noé plays Lotte Krayendorf; a Rosa Klebb look-alike. (Klebb was the evil Russian KGB agent in “From Russia with Love” played by Lotte Lenya.) This Lotte has an arsenal of spy kit. She utilizes harpoons, trick knives, gas and wire pulleys for her kidnapping of Yushuko.
Anthony Dawson (From “Dr. No”) runs Thanatos, the enemy supercriminal organization. Punishment by death for failing one’s mission is a running joke. Director Alberto Di Martino turns up the spoof-o-meter as the film progresses. Daniela Bianchi’s hats and outfits get more flamboyant. There is torture by psychedelic lights, a wild winter coat party at Malaga airport and Neil Connery in Scottish national dress. The high point has to be Daniela Bianchi and a troupe of can can girls stopping a military police warhead convoy. They kill the guards with poisonous hat pin darts, change into cat outfits, transform the warhead truck into “The Wild Pussy Club” float and head off down the road.
It’s not all zany foolery. Neil plays it pretty straight and comes off rather well. There is plenty of spy action including a full scale attack on the Thantos base at the end with all the usual explosions, machine guns and a modicum of hypnotism. For an imposter of such grand proportions, “O.K. Connery” is certainly worth a viewing. 5/10
Operation Crossbow (Michael Anderson, 1965)
A solid WW2 espionage saga that details the development and launching of V-1 and V-2 rockets from the Peenemunde research laboratory in Germany. The film adds a fictional spy story to the shocking history of the flying bomb attacks on London.
Richard Johnson plays Baron Duncan-Sandys who was Chairman of a War Cabinet Committee for defence against German flying bombs. While his intelligence unit try to guess from surveillance data if Germany is developing a rocket, female Nazi test-pilot Hannah Reitsch (Barbara Rütting) is perfecting the flight of the V1 flying bomb.
The film has a terrific European cast: Sophie Loren, Lilli Palmer, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Richard Todd, Anthony Quale, Tom Courtney. The list goes on and on. George Peppard has the lead role as one of three allied agents sent to infiltrate the German base and send back intelligence about the `Vergeltungswaffen' ('revenge' weapons.)
The film has a menacing and formidable atmosphere that is quite gripping. The flying bombs soaring over the cliffs of Dover is a truly terrifying image given further gravitas by the spectacular scenes of carnage as the bombs hit London. A sense of the darkness of WW2 pervades the film. Leading players are executed suddenly in the middle of the film; methods on both sides are cold and calculated. There is none of the jingoistic self righteousness seen in so many war films. Authenticity is given a further boost by the German language being used throughout.
Michael Anderson also made the great Cold War spy story “The Quiller Memorandum”. Erwin Hillier was director of photography on both films using widescreen frame composition to great effect in both. Great Italian producer Carlo Ponti gave high production values to the film, culminating in a spectacular attack on an underground laboratory that is impressive.
All in all, “Operation Crossbow” is a worthwhile reminder of the level of technological psychopathy the human race attained towards the end of WW2. 8/10
Operazione Poker aka Operation Poker (Osvaldo Civirani, 1966)
Roger Browne as Glenn Forest in a pacey trans-world spy story by Osvaldo Civirani who made the equally tight “L’affare Beckett.”
The gentle tones of Stefania singing Bardotti Polito Umiliani’s “Per Lui” opens the film as Roger Browne takes Helga Liné waterskiing. Browne is in the middle of Operation Poker. This involves spying on former research scientist Johnny Parker who keeps winning in the casinos of the Mediterranean. Parker worked for Professor Novic who was not only in the pay of the Soviets but was onto a big discovery. The palpably warm Riviera climate gives way to London chill as Browne whisks off Helga in his private jet amidst a flurry of Russian bullets.
Helga Liné (who has no character name) is bumped off by Russians in her hotel room but Roger quickly discovers a new amore in Geneva who is called…Helga (José Greci).
Browne learns that five international agents assigned to watch over Chinese defector Yung Tao are being killed off. Carlo Calò, a mysterious Russian agent, is moving quickly between Sydney, Paris and Geneva to assassinate them. Browne has to move fast to get to Liz in Casablanca before she is next.
Casablanca provides an exotic backdrop for a melange of rooftop gun chases, Kasbah fighting, casino intrigue and trysts with Sodium Pentathol (the truth drug). Johnny Parker is here too – winning more poker chips, till Browne discovers his secret. Professor Novic’s X-Ray contact lenses – essential casino kit.
Browne and Greci are then off to Copenhagen where Yung Tao is apparently alive and well and hiding in the Tuborg beer factory; the location for the final shootout. Browne sends Greci back to Geneva as his next assignment is in Hong Kong. At the airport he meets Rosemary who happens to be going to…Hong Kong.
A great example of the genre that doesn’t hang around and ticks all the Eurospy motif boxes. Roger Browne is once again athletic in his fight scenes and smooth in his gambling and espionage operations. A great score by Piero Umiliani to boot. 8/10
OSS 77 - Operazione fior di loto (Bruno Paolinelli, 1965)
Although no English language version is available, this very hard to find Eurospy title is easy to follow and worth the effort. The youthful Sandro Moretti plays the lead role of Robert Kent, an American agent sent to Rome to safeguard a defecting Chinese scientist. Moretti was relatively unknown so the distributors used his character’s name, Robert Kent, to sell the film. The title too is an attempt to attract audiences by alluding to the successful French OSS117 series (and by default 007) As Alberto De Martino said “The audience could believe that agent 077 was part of the same squad of 007.A trick of the producer.”
In “OSS 77 - Operazione fior di loto”, the codename is not Robert Kent’s. It is left written on a piece of paper by Kent’s colleague in Rome before he is killed by Russian agents. Kent has it checked back in Washington to find OSS 77 is not an agent but stands for “Organizzazione Silos Sabaudia” – the name of a hospital where the Chinese scientist is hidden.
The whole film is slickly made and moves at a pace. There are three great Eurospy actresses on board to spice things up. Dominique Boschero is a nightclub singer who has dubious playback sync but looks divine in Moretti’s bed martini in hand. Moretti also has gorgeous Gaia Germani to play with and if that isn’t enough, Yoko Tani is his adversary. Tani is a whip wielding dominatrix in her typecast role of Chinese enemy agent.
There are many good scenes such as Kent hitching a lift on a crane up to Yoko Tani’s bedroom, a false leg with a machine gun built in and several speedy car chases in a Citreon DS (the classic spy car.) This is a really good Eurospy entry that deserves a wider audience. 8/10