Target: Harry (Roger Corman as Henry Neill, 1969)
Corman goes Eurospy with this Monaco / Istanbul based adventurer / spy flic that fails mainly due to scowling Vic Morrow’s turn as Harry Black. A shame as there is some real talent on board; Charlotte Rampling as Ruth Carlyle, Monte Hellman as editor and easy listening maestro Les Baxter doing the score.
There are a few semi-memorable moments such as an oiled up Turkish wrestler match, some good locations and Rampling in a wild orange dress and matching shades. There is a fun opening sequence using photographs and a Bondesque theme. But these are small pleasures lost in a lumbering narrative that does not engage. Endless tedium revolves around chief baddy Mosul Rashi (Victor Buono) and his evasion of the Albanian secret police.
Things may have been better without Vic Murrow stomping around pouting with a face like a smacked arse. He gives Mediterranean playboy adventurers a bad name. Poor! 2/10
Technica di un Spia aka Target Gold Seven (Alberto Leonardi, 1966)
“Technica di un Spia” begins with an English freighter being hijacked off Morocco. The uranium cargo is taken to an underground lair by an army of men in spy uniform. (Black polar neck and trousers with pin badges) Time to call special agent Alan Milner.
Tony Russel plays Milner. Russel was a minor league American actor who had only a few leading roles - a shame as his two spy outings (this and “La Sfinge sorride prima di morire - stop – Londra”) are rather good. His brooding good looks and rather dour demeanor make his spy characters edgy and attractive.
Milner heads to Copenhagen where the freighter was registered. He arrives at the shipyard to find the offices being ransacked and the clerk tied up. Milner shoots some of the attackers but the others escape. He finds a pendant with the mysterious Goldseven insignia on the wrist of one of the dead agents. He also learns the freighter was docked in Lisbon. He dashes out passing a knife to the trussed up clerk (“Sorry I’m in a hurry”) but is photographed as he leaves. On touching down in Lisbon, his portrait is in the hands of two enemy agents waiting in the arrivals lounge.
Groovy spy jazz from Piero Umiliani accompanies Milner as he is followed to his hotel. Milner catches Erika Brown (Erika Blanc) searching his room. She too has the Goldseven pendant. After slapping her around and ordering Dom Perignon ’55, Milner is attacked by another Goldseven agent giving Erica the chance to escape.
Umiliani’s terrific spy torch song “Play to Win” is being sung in the nightclub Milner visits that night. (The song was reworked with a new vocal for the main title of “Password: Uccidete agente Gordon” the following year.) Before a bearded agent can bump him off with a silencer, Milner is called to the phone. Luis Fisher (Paul White) of the Portuguese secret service whisks him through a secret door into his HQ. Together they tail the bearded assassin to the base of Gold seven operative Kare (Fernando Cebrián). After a shoot out, Milner and Fisher discover all the dead agents have Goldseven pendants.
Disguised as Kare, Milner goes to a Goldseven reception party and ensures he is filmed photographing secrets in the safe. Erica catches him but he drugs her champagne with powder from his cufflink. The real Kare is shot and Milner gets away. The pace quickens as Milner heads for the climax on Storm Island.
During the finale, Erica switches sides allowing Milner and Erica to fly out of Lisbon drinking champagne in the final scene. However, Erica drugs Milner and disappears during a stopover in Paris while he sleeps. “Touché” says Milner when he awakes.
A stylish and swift moving Spanish / Italian co-production written by María del Carmen Martínez Román who also penned “Operazione Poker” and “Goldsnake Anonima Killers” in the same year. Recommended. 7/10
Tom Dollar (Marcello Ciorciolini, 1967)
Despite Rocky Roberts’ cheesy pop title song, Tom Dollar is an effective Italian spy adventure. Maurice Poli is in the driving seat as Tom Dollar, a svelte looking spy who likes to start his day with a Kendo combat session against his manservant. Poli is sent to Teheran where the Iranian prince has been assassinated to derail a deal with America for uranium deposits. The plan is to protect successor Princess Samia (Giorgia Moll) by substituting her with a look-a-like. On arrival in Iran, Tom Dollar and his manservant are kidnapped and taken to the desert where more villains are waiting. (It’s an impressive location with vast Persian rugs baking in the sun.) After a big fight, they escape their captors and head to the US embassy.
Tom Dollar and his lover, Lady Barbara Crane (Erica Blanc) join Princess Samia and her entourage. Plastic surgery is completed on the shop girl doubling as the princess. Meanwhile, the villains in their basement lair are performing branding rituals on their brethren while sporting white masks.
They then break into the royal palace and kill the Princess’ double, but Dollar manages to catch one of them. Dollar lets him escape and follows him to a waxworks museum. The exhibits inside turn out to be the villains in white masks and Dollar soon finds himself in the branding cellar.
The action is fast and effective throughout Tom Dollar. The film features an upbeat vibraphone driven jazz score that certainly makes up for the title song.
Maurice Poli, usually a supporting actor, handles being center stage well as the dashing agent. Eurospy regular Erika Blanc is always good to watch – she is blonde in this one. Frank Ressel plays his usual arch-villain role sporting a natty mauve nero style suit and shades Marcello Ciorciolini also directed the taught spy entry “Black Box Affair: il Mondo Trema”. 6/10
Top Secret! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker 1984)
“Top Secret!” is a breathless spy spoof from the makers of “Airplane” that is both loved and hated. Either you enjoy the breakneck assault of gags, puns, surrealism and slapstick or you don’t. The Zuckers / Abrahams approach is to keep the gags flying knowing some will stick. They throw away sight gags again and again such that “Top Secret!” aficionados speak of the joys of finding missed things on repeat viewings.
There are certainly memorable jokes right in the foreground including the cow disguise, an underwater bar brawl, a moving train platform, a backwards filmed bookseller scene and Lucy Gutteridge’s glowing breasts.
“Top Secret!” is more a madcap and silly joke fest than a spy genre spoof. Historical and geographical accuracy is out of the window. It is 1984 and East Germans are depicted as Nazis and there is a French Resistance behind the iron curtain.
Val Kilmer is impressive in his first screen role as Elvis-esque Nick Rivers doing some sexy and very silly moves during his musical numbers. The stack of great British actors that populate the film cannot help but impress: Peter Cushing, Jeremy Kemp, Ian McNeice, Warren Clarke. With a nod to the genre is the casting of Omar Sharif who plays a scene inside a car that has been compacted.
“Top Secret!” is not for everyone but if you don’t mind the covert racism inherent in relentless German stereotyping then this surf-spy-elvis genre mash-up will probably raise a smile. 6/10
Touch of Larceny, A (Guy Hamilton 1959)
An excellent early outing for a number of important British spy film regulars including director Guy Hamilton who later directed four Bond films and “Funeral in Berlin”. Here he creates a light piece of confectionary that is first rate. Writing with producer Ivan Foxwell (who later made “The Quiller Memorandum”) Hamilton sends up the admiralty of the 1950s. It is portrayed as an extended gentlemen’s’ club where work consists of the odd game of squash, reading the paper and planning amorous advances.
Central is arch - rake and snake in the grass is Commander Max Easton played by the greatest of all perennial spies James Mason. His ploy to bag the girlfriend of Sir Charles Holland (the equally fabulous George Sanders) involves getting irresistibly rich through “a touch of larceny”.
The espionage ruse he puts into motion is dastardly and clever causing all sorts of upset at the admiralty. Spy film establishment regulars Harry Andrews and John Le Mesurier get their knickers in a twist as James Mason gets a suntan.
To say too much will spoil the film’s gentle plotting that is effortless and well executed. Much like an Ealing comedy, “A Touch of Larceny” is a perfect Sunday afternoon film. 7/10
Traitor, The aka The Accursed (Michael McCarthy 1957)
An enjoyable whodunnit set in an English country house after the War. A French resistance unit meet for a reunion at the home of Col. Charles Price (Donald Wolfit). His man in Germany, Theodore Duchamel, calls to say he has discovered the identity of the traitor of the group who gave away their leader to the Nazis. He insists on identifying the traitor in person and arrives from Berlin on the night of the reunion.
Duchamel is bumped off on his arrival at Price’s country house by one of the guests. And then an American intelligence officer Major Shane (Robert Bray) turns up claiming his car has broken down…
A strong ensemble cast including acting legends Christopher Lee as Dr. Neumann and Anton Diffring as concert pianist Joseph Brezina make for a first rate game of Cluedo.
The whole film is set within the country home and could easily be a play. Although it is dialogue driven and action is minimal there is plenty of intrigue and drama making this worth seeking out. 6/10
Trunk to Cairo aka Einer spielt falsch (Menahem Golan, Raphael Nussbaum, 1966)
“Einer spielt falsch” is an early directorial effort by Cannon Films mogul Menahem Golan. Whilst the film offers a pleasing vista of the Middle East it is nothing more than a mediocre genre piece. Like several of Golan’s later productions this is an Israeli / West German project where the foregrounding of nasty Arab characters as villains is obvious. (See the underrated "Agenten kennen keine Tränen" and terrible "Mivtsa Yonatan”). Here the blatant Israeli propaganda is heavy handed and tedious. (It is useful to note Golan was a former Israeli fighter pilot.)
A lot rides on whether you enjoy the charms of Audie Murphy who plays lead Mike Merrick. His perky “little man” demeanour is not best suited to the role of a super spy. That said, it is perfect for being kidnapped and put in a trunk.
Contrary to the film title, the trunk in question is actually leaving Cairo with Murphy in it. The journey of the trunk is probably the film’s highlight.
Reliable George Sanders and Marianne Koch are cast here as the generic standard issue scientist and daughter duo although they do not have much to do outside their stereotypes.
Unlike other Eurospy films of the time, “Trunk to Cairo” does not have any joie de vivre to transcend its genre limitations. The film is more concerned with Arab bashing than being sexy or enjoying the scenery. So-so. 3/10