Requiem per un agente segreto (Sergio Sollima, 1966)
A truly dark and unique spy film that is most underrated. Stewart Granger’s turn as the cold hearted mercenary spy John Merrill aka Bingo and his journey to redemption is superb. The suave, cruel and vicious portrait of a real James Bond figure is pitch perfect. Underpinned by a tangible survival instinct born of WW2 and the Cold War, Merrill has learned to be a real bastard. He snaps arms, shoots women, uses torture and steals his partner’s girl. But Granger brings a human quality to Merrill that allows us to be fascinated by him and indeed drawn to him. The turning point in the film is Norwegian agent Erick Olafsson becoming the catalyst for Merrill’s moral epiphany. Granger is actually looking in the mirror as Olafsson forces him realise he is not the free spirited rule breaker he imagines but a cheap hired hand willing to do anything for cash.
The “requiem” of the title is a clear allusion to the catholic morality tale at the heart of the film. In a world of heartless espionage, the need for redemption is crucial. The fact that Merrill’s epiphany happens late in the film maybe considered a problem in maintaining the allegiance of the audience but the moral shift is more dramatic and a huge relief when it comes.
Sergio Sollima directs with an assured hand. Nothing is rushed but when the action comes it is realistic and dramatic. (He later refined this style in his classic Eurocrime films "Città violenta" and "Revolver".) Using the bright light of the Moroccan locations and the full width of the 2:35 aspect ratio, Sollima delivers a visually dynamic spy film. Adding to the look is the elegant cream and white tailoring of the leading actors suits. Peter Van Eyck (always excellent), Wolfgang Hillinger and Granger all look terrific. The female leads also are super stylish: spy queen Daniela Bianchi as beautiful as ever and sultry María Granada who has a bullfight projected over her body during her erotic night club dance.
Mention should also be made of Giorgia Moll & Giulio Bosetti who play Edith and Erick, the only innocents in the tale. They are the counterpoint to Merrill’s cynical bravado and domineering charm.
Piero Umiliani is at his best with the jangling guitar spy jazz that he perfected for this film. As the film progresses the strutting groovy score becomes more out of control much like the characters on screen.
“Requiem per un agente segreto” is a key Europsy text as it locks into the moral dilemma at the heart of the spy film genre: what is the consequence for both the protagonist and the viewer of sex and death without remorse? Sollima does not shy away from this confusion or gloss over it with Bondian fantasy. A masterwork! 10/10
Rembrandt 7 antwortet nicht... (Giancarlo Romitelli 1966)
“Mark Donen” sung by Peter Trevis and written by Aldo Piga sets the tone for this classic Eurospy with an overblown and Bond-like main title song. It ushers in a fast moving and complex spy story of doppelgangers, fakes and double agents that is lots of fun.
Lang Jeffries plays superspy Marc Donan who is on the trail of a gang of spies trying to develop a laser gun formula to sell to the highest bidder. The CIA , the KGB and the Chinese are all very interested in the invention of one Prof. Klaus Liebrich. Only problem he has sabotaged his own work and the key to his formula is hidden in a Rembrandt painting. And there are two of both of them; Rembrandts and Professors!
Lang has some serious globetrotting ahead. He joins the gang as a gun for hire in Malaga. They kidnap an airline pilot, take him to Italy and carry him across a river into Albania. Once in a safe house for the Chinese, Lang discovers the pilot has been turned into the professor. While the professor is shipped to Beijing for some heavy duty interrogation using traffic lights, its back to Venice, Malaga and Morocco for Lang. And so the Rembrandt mystery unfolds and a lot of people die.
Whilst the narrative is complex, “Rembrandt 7 antwortet nicht...” looks dynamite and moves with great pace. The range of exotic locations and characters is impressive as is the palette of Techniscope colours conjoured up by director Giancarlo Romitelli. The film looks modern and sharp lit by bright Mediterranean light. (Romitelli made few films but made another Eurospy the following year “Si muore solo una volta” with Ray Danton.)
Lang is great in “Rembrandt 7 antwortet nicht...” With his well tailored suit physique and serious demeanour he is the perfect super-spy. Indeed half of the roles Lang played were secret agents. It is sad and somewhat bizarre that once the sixties spy wave was over so was his career as an actor. (He drifted into selling real estate back in the US despite being married to a Getty)
Another somewhat tragic player in “Rembrandt 7 antwortet nicht...” is Mitsouko Maryse Guy. Mitsouko was a Eurasian who frequently played exotic oriental spies. Like Lang, she made nine spy films virtually back to back in the 1960s and then the work dried up. Mitsouko committed suicide in Paris in 1995.
They left behind a stylish and very 1960s slice of Eurospy with” Rembrandt 7 antwortet nicht...” It’s a colourful, trashy and splendid ride that serves their memories well. 8/10
Return of Mr. Moto, The (Ernest Morris 1965)
“The Return of Mr. Moto” was the last film directed by Ernest Morris and it is a presentable piece of espionage hokum. Morris had spent years making low budget UK program fillers for companies like Butchers including a couple of mediocre spy films “Echo of Diana” and “Shadow of Fear”. He also worked on “The Saint” TV series for Lew Grade. “The Return of Mr. Moto” does have a feel of a “Saint” episode. It is a small film with few locations and a simple, undemanding scenario. The story is about a unprincipled group using espionage to gain a Middle Eastern oil concession. That said, it is tightly put together and at a slim seventy minutes there is little time to loose interest.
The character of Mr. Moto was created by the American author John P. Marquand in 1935 for the Saturday Evening Post. (The paper was seeking stories with an Asian hero following the death of Charlie Chan's creator Earl Derr Biggers.) The six books he wrote were made into films starring Peter Lorre as the Japanese secret agent.
One of the big positives in “The Return of Mr. Moto” is the casting of heavyweight Henry Silva in the lead role. Although Silva himself spoke of not having the right racial features to play a Japanese, his powerful presence gives the film real gravitas. Silva has a piercing deadpan stare that is both mesmerising and scary – like a shark. Silva spent many years making films in Europe thanks to his flair for languages. He took the lead in the excellent spy film Emilio Miraglia’s "Assassination" giving the film its teriffic poignancy.
“The Return of Mr. Moto” is an enjoyable and intriguing addition to the Henry Silva filmography and certainly an engaging piece of British genre filmmaking. 6/10
Riffraff (Ted Tetzlaff 1947)
“Riffraff” is a high quality film noir that makes it into the espionage genre by featuring oil company agents chasing an oil field map. The exotic setting of Panama also adds a note of foreign intrigue. Otherwise the film is really a straight Private Investigator story.
Director Ted Tetzlaff was a respected Hollywood cinematographer with a hundred films to his name. The year before making “Riffraff” he was cameraman on another spy story set in Central American: the Hitchcock masterpiece “Notorious”.
Some of the master’s magic rubbed off on Tetzlaff; “Riffraff” is a very well crafted film that uses film language (camerawork, music, sound & editing) as much as dialogue and plot. The impressive opening non dialogue sequence on a Peruvian airstrip is a case in point.
Pat O'Brien as P.I. Dan Hammer is a chunky and unlikely leading man making his role as a world weary down at heal detective in Panama more convincing. (He looks a bit like writer J.G. Ballard) Leading lady Anne Jeffreys calls him “unpolished but smart”. Jeffreys as fresh faced and duplicitious Maxine Manning also fits the bill and does just fine.
Percy Kilbride does a nice turn as “Pop”; taxi driver, personal assistant and friend. He is another washed up American in Central America; Hammer twenty years later. Jason Robards also makes an appearance as police chief Mr. Domingues.
“Riffraff” is smart, punchy piece of American filmmaking that is well worth a look. 8/10
Rififi ad Amsterdam aka Rififi in Amsterdam (Sergio Grieco, 1967)
A fun and fast paced spionaggio from the rewarding Sergio Grecio and Roger Browne partnership. Roger plays Rex Monroe, an undercover agent working for a gang of diamond thieves run by Wladeck (Umberto Rho). The diamonds they steal in Amsterdam are to be used in a laser installation by Wladeck’s boss Ethel Fisher (Evelyn Stewart aka Ida Galli). Roger gets the job of trading the diamonds in Spain. An unscheduled test flight drops him in the Mediterranean, where he is picked up by Fisher’s yacht which is patrolled by babes in bikinis with submachine guns. The diamond trade takes place in the Alhambra in Andalusia but it’s a trick leaving Browne to be pursued by the FBI. Making an amazing leap from his hotel room into the pool, Browne escapes. He tracks down Wladeck who is testing the laser in the Andalusian plains. A thrilling helicopter chase leads Browne to the true villain in his underground lair (Frank Ressel with leather gloves and mad eyes.)
Piero Umilliani’s frenetic score sets the pace with a fast “be,be,de,be,be” vocal syncopation. There isn’t a dull moment as Roger zips around Holland and Spain with the agility and physicality that makes him one of the best Eurospies. Umberto Rho and Frank Ressel are both excellent villains – roles they played in numerous Eurospy outings. The film is filled with dynamic women: Browne is partnered by tennis ace Oriana (Aida Power) and is saved by Spanish beauty Ángela Alargunsolo who switches sides when she realises “Fischer is crazy – a monster – I made a mistake.” Two deadly females with a poison dart camera and the crew of Fisher’s yacht complete the cast of super spy girls.
Making great use of the Dutch and Spanish locations, a strong cast and score Rififi Ad Amsterdam fires on all cylinders. An exuberant and entertaining film to be cherished by Eurospy enthusiasts. 8/10