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5/10
Kommissar#1: Kissing & Killing like James Bond
12 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: corner the gold market. Probably the most successful of the cheap European James Bond copies, with quite a few sequels. The hero (played by Kendall), detective Walker, resembles Sean Connery, especially when in a suit and hat, recalling the "Dr.No" days, and is more-or-less partnered with a police captain (muscular Brad Harris). The two buddies have a very healthy competition and the captain is more inclined to arrest Walker than fight alongside him at times. The plot involves the mystery of a couple of crime lords getting blown up; there are four top gangsters in all and it becomes obvious that one of them has decided to dissolve their partnership. The tone of the movie is quite cheerful throughout, almost carefree, with Walker very sure of himself and his way with the ladies, though he doesn't have all that much success, either in love or the chasing/gun battles. The film even spells out what franchise it's copying, with references to author Ian Fleming in the dialog. The first half of the film drags a little.

The copycat approach becomes very blatant in the 2nd half, when it switches to the master villain's secret base and becomes, essentially, a remake of Dr.No's 2nd half and "Goldfinger." As with many such action spy thrillers, the 1st half is a standard detective story and the 2nd becomes a sci-fi adventure. As in "Goldfinger," there's a private army of female soldiers, as well as the villain's preoccupation with, you guessed it - gold. One scene is a direct rip-off of James Bond's confrontation/seduction scene with Pussy Galore, followed by a sudden rebellion by all the females - I guess Walker does have a certain charm, after all. The production values aren't too bad in this climactic section and there's actually a minor sense of grandeur by this point, recalling Dr.No's finale, though the villain's demise is a bit lame. The next Kommissar adventure was "So Darling,So Deadly." Heroes:6 Villain:5 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:5 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:3 Auto:3 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:5
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3/10
Target: More Italian-style James Bond
11 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: steal that Uranium and develop an anti-nuke serum. Another among the innumerable cheap European James Bond knock-offs (see also the Italian "Danger! Death Ray" and "OK Connery") of the sixties, this one, like many of these, recalls "From Russia With Love" - but imitation is not a form of flattery here. This features a lead actor resembling Mike Connors (who starred in "Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die" around the same time). We're introduced to him on a golf course (shades of "Goldfinger") and immediately thrust into some of the most awful, cheesy dialog (dubbed?) of the decade. The plot involves a freighter crew getting massacred and uranium stolen; the secret agent is sent to Copenhagen, Denmark to sort things out or "before it gets too explosive" as his boss states. "The persons in possession of the uranium are going to use it for purposes which are not peaceful," the hero says with a straight face.

The pace is choppy at best and, with the exception of one movie-style karate combat scene in a hotel room, most of the action scenes are fairly lackluster. As in "Dr.No" and "From Russia With Love," the agent needs to acquaint himself with a new locale, avoid assassins and connect with the local law-enforcement bigshot. The criminal organization is named 'The Snake' - not quite as creative as Spectre. The climactic action involves the invasion of the villain's island base and now rips off the similar underwater action scenes in "Thunderball." I also got the uneasy impression that the sets in the climax are merely re-used from the other Bond imitation-films, such as "OK Connery" and the "Kommissar X" films. The only other plus I could see at this point is that the movie is pretty short (the version I watched was 85 minutes) and so the ending isn't dragged out. But, "it doesn't take much imagination to dope that out." Hero:4 Villains:3 Femme Fatales:3 Henchmen:2 Fights:3 Stunts/Chases:3 Gadgets:3 Auto:3 Locations:4 Pace:2 overall:3
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5/10
From Beneath They Will Get us
10 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
MASTER PLAN: tunnel underneath the USA with nuclear warheads and obliterate us. Take about the most outrageous James Bond-type plot against the free world you can imagine; act as if you're creating a comic book for sixties kids; now, make it even more unbelievable. That pretty much sums up this battle for the existence of the United States. This could have been really good but, for some reason, the plot usually veers into unwarranted silliness. This is evident in the very beginning, when the scientist-hero, the one who is the first to figure out the plot against the USA, is found by the cops ranting about ants underneath us; the scientist is carted off to the loony bin and, rightly so. Later, when the authorities are also aware of the plot, this guy is rational; what was all the business about him being a nutcase? I dunno. The primary hero, a military man (Matthews, best known as Sinbad) in the James Bond mold, ends up leading a squad of soldiers to confront the invading Chinese under our feet; the master villain is a Chinese general who got the idea to dig 3 tunnels underneath the Pacific Ocean and halfway thru the U.S. territory by the time the Americans find out. The premise is that while the U.S. was busy with outer space technology, the Chinese had developed heat ray weapons and a special rock-melting/boring machine. When the American soldiers fire their typical rifles, the invaders simply point what looks like a flashlight and *Ssssss* - *yahhhh!* The U.S. comes across as very limited in other ways: the squad of soldiers seems to be the extent of American military might in this movie.

The (probably unintended) subtext here is compelling: the free world concentrated on technology above us while the communists focused on below us - and they end up with the advantage; see also "The Time Machine" by H.G.Wells for another take on the subterranean vs. overhead existence theme. At one point, it's mentioned that the rate of progression by the Chinese is 8 miles per day so, conceivably, they could have accomplished their goal in 3 years. But, that's about all which is plausible. When I first saw this as a kid many years ago, I also wondered about the Caucasians who apparently took over the upper echelons of the Chinese; well, the filmmakers weren't able to use oriental actors, for some reason. The main villains look somewhat absurd here - like, out of a comic book. There's even a scene involving brainwashing, a possible sign that the writers watched "The Manchurian Candidate" a few times too many. The Chinese general has nukes all over the place - even, it's surmised, under Peking, where he holds power over his countrymen. Yet, all it takes is one nuke to put him out of business, even though the 3 tunnels are about 500 miles apart from each other. The heroes give themselves 10 minutes on foot to escape an atomic blast, which is obviously footage of tests out on the Pacific, while all the invaders, it's suggested, are wiped out. Forget logic - the combined outrageousness of these loopy scenarios results in some strange entertainment - it's kind of one-of-a-kind. Don't take it seriously or you'll end up in a loony bin. Hero:5 Villains:4 Femme Fatales:5 Henchmen:4 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:6 Machines:6 Locations:5 Pace:5 overall:5
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Hammerhead (1968)
5/10
A Human Shark Avoids the Germs
10 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: obtain the info on some secret papers. By this point in the late sixties, some filmmakers were getting a little carried away with all the psychedelia and decadence of the decade, including a few who jumped on the James Bond bandwagon. The first scenes seem to say that the director & his crew were dropping acid during the filming, though it turns out to be some bizarre performance art depiction. We're also introduced to Mr. Hood here (Edwards), the secret agent of the story, looking on bemused. He fits the profile - an American but working well within the British & other European locales as a handsome man of adventure. He's not all that impressive, however: though able to handle himself well in a fight, he does get knocked out a couple of times quite easily (one of these fights, in a dark garage, recalls a similar scene in "Deadlier Than the Male" of the previous year). As the very British girl who keeps popping up unexpectedly throughout the movie, Judy Geeson is an acquired taste and can be a bit annoying; I didn't blame Hood for wincing the 3rd time she reappears. I also kept thinking, what is she doing in this movie? This sense didn't change much for me by the end of the film. Much of the action at the forefront of this film takes place against the backdrop of the youthful generation doing their thing during those swinging sixties.

The plot involves the machinations of the very Bondian uber-villain Hammerhead (Vaughan), complete with peculiar eccentricities, such as white gloves to keep the germs away and especially sadistic tendencies towards females. The actress Adams plays the more interesting female character, in a brief role. Oh, and, to make sure we understand that this bad guy is a sleaze, he also has interests in pornography. His dastardly plans are hinted at during Hood's briefing in a train cabin; there will be a special meeting of top men from NATO nations and one of these men has papers that Hammerhead wants a gander at, involving defense plans. This offers a good dual role for versatile actor Bates, who plays the target and one of Hammerhead's key henchmen. The film meanders a bit in the first half, even with the intriguing scenes on the villain's huge yacht, with everything moving at an easygoing pace, as if the filmmakers were unsure of themselves or the story. But, it does all come together in the final half-hour, when the details of the villain's subterfuge are played out (though why Hood and his girl aren't simply shot instead of that protracted scene in the coffin...never mind). Watch for Dave Prowse, soon to be in "A Clockwork Orange" and future Darth Vader, as the huge henchman - the strongest man Hammerhead knows. The climactic action, especially the unexpected end of the villain, will either irritate or enthrall you, depending on how much you like darkly ironic, satirical endings. I thought it was a bit out of left field. Hero:5 Villains:5 Femme Fatales:5 Henchmen:6 Fights:6 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:4 Auto:5 Locations:6 Pace:5 overall:5+
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4/10
Danger! Ray of Death for Italian-style Bond
10 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: get the death ray plans from a kidnapped scientist. Yet another in a long line of European James Bond knock offs during the swinging sixties, this piqued my curiosity due to the casting of Gordon Scott as the super agent - meet Bart Fargo! I was mostly familiar with Scott for his Tarzan portrayals of several years earlier, some of which were quite good; of course, he is also well known for his roles in Italian musclemen epics, playing mythical heroes named Goliath or Maciste. So, he has no problem depicting the physical aspect of being a hero - you have no trouble believing he can beat up a couple of henchmen. In fact, most of the entertainment value here stems from a wry sensibility developing by the time Scott is thrashing his 4th or 5th thug (Fargo is the target of several killers during the movie). By that 4th time, Fargo is barely trying - he merely taps a door into the bad guy and then starts slapping him around like a wet noodle. I thought, this is what happens when Goliath puts on a suit and pretends to be a secret agent. This was one of Scott's last leading roles after a career of over a decade and it's actually a shame he didn't get to do more of these, improving on the formula.

The plot begins with the kidnapping of a scientist - much gunplay and cars moving in the night. Fargo isn't introduced until a good 20 minutes in, awoken from his beauty sleep by a couple of babes. He has the now-familiar repartee with this film's version of M and Ms. Moneypenny - it's blatantly derivative. The problem with Italian pics such as these (such as "OK Connery" aka "Operation Double 007") is the dubbing; the voice actors obfuscate the speech patterns and you're guessing what Scott's performance was really like. The spoken dialog itself is terribly crude: a woman is painting some self-portrait and Fargo climbs into her apartment thru the roof; 'What's the matter?' she says. 'Haven't you ever seen an artist's studio?' This passes for sophisticated spy seduction talk here. Later, Fargo interrogates one of his attackers. 'Awright, talk!' Fargo demands, pointing his silencer. 'If I tell ya, the boss'll have me killed,' the guy answers, 'please try to understand!' Then, Fargo pauses and growls 'Listen, you tell me or you're gonna be in REAL trouble.' What's Fargo's threat? Kill the guy even more? Finally, the FX - oh, oh. Fargo is forced off the road at one point in his red European sportscar, falling off a cliff into the sea; only, it's obviously a tiny model car falling into a pond. I laughed out loud yet, at the same time, admired the filmmakers' audacity. They're telling the audience, hey, this is what you get; you don't like it, sue us. Hero:5 Villains:3 Femme Fatales:3 Henchmen:3 Fights:4 Stunts/Chases:4 Gadgets:3 Auto:4 Locations:4 Pace:4 overall:4-
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5/10
Running Around all Over Istanbul
10 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: kidnap scientists and keep the ransom money. The James Bond film this obviously calls to mind first is "From Russia From Love" but, besides the locations, there is very little actual similarity. Horst (the snot-nosed hothead member of the original "Magnificent Seven") stars as a well-known rascally adventurer who is forced to foil the dastardly schemes of a criminal organization after he's targeted as an initial suspect. Koscina offers support as the FBI agent sent in to figure things out; she was in a few such roles in the sixties (see "Hot Enough For June" and "Deadlier Than the Male"). The story jumps around and drags in the first half, as well as being hard to follow. It's also a bit too long at nearly two hours and, as mentioned elsewhere, only washed out prints of the picture seem to be available.

The action really picks up in the 2nd half, with Tony (Horst) doing a lot of running around in Istanbul, whether being chased or doing the chasing. At one point, he's thrown off a tower during a fight in the closest we get to a spectacular sequence. The best action bit, though, is when he uses a bulletproof glass table while an assassin takes potshots at him (the killer is played by Kinski in a small, yet memorable role). The action is sort of a mixture of slapstick and straightforward thrills which never really finds the right tone; a lot of it is presented as serious danger, yet Horst also winks at the audience a couple of times. He's probably a bit too cute for Bond fans, strictly for the girls. There's also some surprising (for mid-sixties cinema) bits of female nudity. Hero:6 Villains:5 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:4 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:3 Auto:3 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:5
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3/10
Dr. Goldfoot vs. the Buffoons
10 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: blow up key U.S. generals with booby-trapped girl robots. The diabolical Dr. Goldfoot is back, in this sequel to "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine"(65). No lie! How they talked Vincent Price into this, I'm not sure, though he was already hamming it up in the previous movie. Here he's joined by a couple of comics who were Italy's answer to Abbott & Costello. Teen heartthrob Fabian replaces teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon as an agent of S.I.C., oh, yes! Rather than simple theft, which he indulged in previously, here Goldfoot teams with the Chinese for probable world domination (those dastardly Chinese - see also "Battle Beneath the Earth" which came out around the same time). Goldfoot explains all this by speaking directly to the audience, breaking that 4th wall. He still uses a machine which manufactures female robots, all dressed in golden bathing suits and boots, which he sends to kiss various generals; an intense enough smooch sets off an explosion. The only general left standing is Goldfoot's double. All this is kind of incidental; the main plot has the two main leads/buffoons improbably/accidentally join up with S.I.C. as agents.

Goldfoot, of course, is a broad parody of the outrageous villains from the James Bond films. He has a swimming pool of killer fish, probably something like piranha, so, every now and then, a skeleton turns up, freshly cleaned. This also copies "Our Man Flint" a bit, with the latest IBM computer (Rita) sabotaged by Goldfoot when it selects the best agents for the job. The two comedians are not very subtle, with over-the-top mugging, and a lot of the action is sped up (undercranked) to give it that slapstick silent comedy feeling. Otherwise, much of the humor falls flat, though it does pick up near the end. I've written that the previous Goldfoot movie was the most ridiculous parody of the Bond craze, but this Italian take on the whole thing takes it to yet another level. The final half-hour gives a new meaning to the term 'absurdity,' involving a balloon trip by the heroes which touches off of heaven at one point and then chases down a supersonic jet plane! Laura Antonelli figures prominently in these last few scenes; she became a somewhat famous sex symbol in Italian sex farces in the seventies. My DVD version was in Italian, with optional English subtitles. Heroes:3 Villain:4 Femme Fatales:5 Henchmen:2 Fights:2 Stunts/Chases:3 Gadgets:3 Auto:2 Locations:3 Pace:3 overall:3
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6/10
Danger! Diabolical Thief at Large!
10 May 2008
MASTER PLAN: steal everything. Based on the Italian fumetti/comic strip, this was director Bava's follow-up to "Dr.Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs" and, at first glance, would seem merely a slight upgrade from that earlier unfortunate campy fiasco. But, with the availability of a decent DVD version, the picture's strengths become more readily apparent. Bava's ability with design and color enables a fairly successful transposition from comic books to movie screens. Many might point to "Dick Tracy"(90) as another such heartfelt attempt to capture comic strip ambiance on the screen, but that one was far more blatant & apparent. Bava's creativity due to a lack of a huge budget resulted in a more subtle interpretation of comic book action, as incongruous as that sounds when talking about an adaptation of a comic strip. Some of the images here, whether large buildings or close-ups, are startling - something seems a little off in the image but you're not sure what it is. When you think about it or view it again, you realize it's a comic book come to life. Bava was also fond of filming a frame within the frame, resulting in some intriguing compositions. This also invites comparisons to "Barbarella," released a little later. But, Barbarella's images are awfully static when compared to all the movement we see here - everything and everyone moves here - whether on foot, in a sports car or on motorcycles.

Since this was the sixties, one also can't help but think of the James Bond craze of this period. The obvious difference between this and the Bond imitators is that the central character is a villain, not some agent-hero. Diabolik (Law) specializes in outrageous acts of thievery; at the point the film begins, the establishment (government & police) are well aware of him, to the point that they resort to unusual methods of transporting valuables in an attempt to avoid him; of course, they fail. Diabolik wears a weird comic book-styled suit, with a mask that covers the lower half of his face; yet, you can still see the outline of his mouth. He also has a weird, sinister laugh, though this is not over-indulged. He operates from a fantastic underground hideout, an expansion of the Batcave from the "Batman" TV show. Of course, he does not work with the authorities but against them, a rather subversive message in those pre-Watergate times, where-in the audience is placed in the position of rooting for this, at best, anti-hero; but, remember, this is from Italy (see Sergio Leone's 'Man-With-no-Name' western trilogy). Also, rather than hanging out with a younger version of himself, as Batman did, this guy gets it on with a cool chick; ah, yes, the villains do have all the fun. Keep in mind, though, his violence does extend to killing cops, so it's not just a laughing matter.

There's no 'main' plot line; the authorities make a deal with a local bigshot gangster (Celi, the villain from "Thunderball") to capture or eliminate Diabolik, but this plot is wrapped up way before the conclusion. The story switches to an attack by Diabolik on all the economic bastions of power, a rather direct act of terrorism (though there are no realistic repercussions, such as showing fatalities) and then there's some climactic action involving all the gold on a moving train. It's as if the filmmakers took several disparate plots from the comic strip and welded them together in one film; but, it holds together pretty well, against expectations. The ending is a little on the eerie side. Since this is, overall, an amusing and even silly take on the super-hero/super-villain genre, it may be why "Mystery Science Theater 3000" chose it as one of the films they made fun of, an honor they saved for the most silly movies out there. But, this has enough esoteric style and panache to place it above those clunkers and MSTK3 should have saved their efforts for some other truly dumb film. Anti-Hero:6 Villain:6 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:5 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:7 Gadgets:6 Auto:7 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:6
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3/10
Operation: Mimic Connery, M & Moneypenny
28 April 2008
MASTER PLAN: Operation Blackmail - controlling the world's gold reserves. A very calculated attempt to copy & make money off the James Bond craze of the sixties, this comes off as a silly joke, maybe intentionally. It's similar to "Licensed to Kill," the 'Charles Vine' Bond cheap copy, but less creative. The plot can be deduced from an alternate title, "Operation Double 007" - that's not a typo - the spy agency of the Bond world requests the services of 007's brother; hence, this is about 007's double (they never completely finish saying '007' out loud, always stopping short of voicing the '7' - ha). 007's brother is played by Sean Connery's real life brother, Neil, with a goatee and a talent for hypnotism. This starts off badly, with Neil Connery, playing a famous genius plastic surgeon, explaining his advanced techniques and how he combines them with Tibetan mind control - it's pathetic drivel - and then some mêlée breaks out. It's groan-inducing. But, the main attraction is for film buffs and Bond fans making all the connections with the real Bond films.

All the main actors (besides N.Connery, whose connection to Bond is already explained) in this one are from one or more James Bond movies. Celi, as the main villain, played a similar role in "Thunderball" (Celi, who looks like an overweight banker, was always playing villains or gangsters in the sixties). Bianchi, the femme fatale, was in "From Russia With Love." Dawson was in "Dr.No." Of course, Bernard Lee (aka M) and Lois Maxwell (aka Ms.Moneypenny) were from most of the Bond films of the sixties and seventies. They duplicate their roles from those here, though Maxwell gets a chance to run around shooting a gun, something she never had a chance to do with her 'receptionist' role in the Bonders. The villains seem to be SPECTRE, though they're referred to by another name, Thanatos, who plan to use some kind of magnetic waves to imbalance the world. The other strange and amusing aspect is that some of the main characters are referred to by their real names (Dr.Connery, Ms. Maxwell, etc.) rather than as Mr.Bond - get it? It's goofy, somewhat dull and a curiosity. Hero:3 Villains:3 Femme Fatales:4 Henchmen:2 Fights:3 Stunts/Chases:3 Gadgets:3 Auto:3 Locations:4 Pace:2 overall:3
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6/10
CIA Agent Loves 'em and Leaves 'em in Rio
26 April 2008
MASTER PLAN: infertilize the USA's population by eliminating the sexual drive (cripes!) via a launched satellite. This begins as an obvious spoof, showing some scientist getting shot in the jungles while exploring a local tribe's infertility problem, with satirical narration (by actor Michael Hordern, maybe?). It's a very goofy start. But, the action switches to Rio de Janeiro, a nice bit on Corcovado, in and around the famed statue, as an agent played by lead Mike Connors fights off a villain. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, a more sophisticated parody of the James Bond thriller than I first thought, in the vein of "Our Man Flint." There's the typical stuff: use of scorpions & piranha, the odd henchman and the main villain (Vallone) who has sinister grand plans for the world. Provine shows up as a femme fatale with a severely British accent. Terry-Thomas then pops up as an effeminate chauffeur who can handle himself very well in a fight.

The exotic locations in Brazil are pretty good; as mentioned in other comments, some of this, including some plot points, seems to have been copied by an actual later Bond film, "Moonraker," though one could argue this happened because this copies earlier Bond films such as "Thunderball" and "Dr.No." The story has some slow parts in the first half, meandering as the hero follows villains and vice-versa. This is reflected in the film's music score, which has a lazy, easy style to it, even during action sequences. As the hero, Connors also ambles his way through, usually laconic or sarcastic, depending on the scene, but projecting toughness. This was just before he began his 8-year run as tough TV private eye "Mannix." To give you an idea of the humor, there's a recurring theme of the hero's fondness for bananas. Things pick up in the latter half when the action shifts to the sci-fi stronghold of the villain. I've heard that this film is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino's. Hero:6 Villains:6 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:6 Fights:7 Stunts/Chases:6 Gadgets:6 Auto:4 Locations:7 Pace:6 overall:6
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5/10
Where the Bull Flies,off the Vine
25 April 2008
MASTER PLAN: steal a prototype airplane. It's a rather basic, nuts-'n'-bolts take on the superspy genre - think the James Bond films of the sixties with only a quarter of the budget and no star quality - there was nothing special to justify further films. In this follow-up to "Licensed to Kill" of the previous year, Tom Adams reprises the role of Charles Vine, the 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (2nd to Bond, of course). Adams actually warmed to the part here and the tone is slightly more satirical, but the plot is quite dull, even inconsequential. The actor Arnatt is also back as Rockwell, this film's version of M, the supervisor. Besides the slow pace, one scene is even baffling: during a meeting in Rockwell's office between Rockwell, Vine and a double agent, a cat is seated on Rockwell's desk; much of the scene is from the cat's perspective and we also see the faces of the 3 men superimposed over the eyes of the cat. I thought the meaning would be made clear later, but no such luck.

Vine is not very impressive in this story. At one point, he's captured by enemy agents, kept in an odd electrified room which mocks the usual Bond torture scenes and is also drugged, revealing a secret location. His escape is facilitated through the sacrifice of a female; enemy agents proceed to the location Vine gave up and kill the people on-site; Vine follows, punches out a guard - one of the good guys - and, after a long chase, fails to capture the villain. By this point, I was thinking Vine may be the 3rd or 4th best secret agent - maybe even the 5th. In fact, any success Vine enjoys in his struggles, right to very conclusion, stems from the ineptitude of the bad guys. Though much of this is lame, including the strained humor and weird giggling by the main villain, it does retain a bit of the charm of its predecessor. Towards the last half-hour, the focus seems to switch to how many ladies Vine can seduce rather than foiling the plots of the dastards. Dawn Addams, top-billed with Tom Adams, appears late and too briefly. There followed a 3rd film, "OK Y-"something, filmed in Spain, which almost no one has seen or heard of. Hero:6 Villains:5 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:4 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:4 Auto:5 Locations:5 Pace:4 overall:5
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6/10
The Retro-League of Justice and Secret Agents
27 November 2007
MASTER PLAN: take over the world, basically. This film captures a flavor, in a bottle as it were, of that brief period just after the Victorian Age and just before the 20th century modernization enveloped most of the world. The world here seems to be on the cusp of unveiling all sorts of modern marvels and gizmos, similar to the taste of, for example, "The Assassination Bureau" film of the sixties. Otherwise, there is very little similarity between the two films. This one also takes the later super-hero premise, wraps it with some James Bond-style action and, utilizing a lot of computer FX, retrofits the old heroes of the 19th century to fit the mold of their 20th century descendants; the old heroes, who were copied by the later super-heroes, are now revamped to imitate the 20th century super-heroes - a complete circle, as it were. This is based on the graphic novels (comic books) of famed writer Alan Moore, who had a more cynical and edgy take on these heroes. In his original version, old hero Quatermain had become an opium addict and prim Mina Harker did not hide her disgust at the hero's degeneration. By contrast, the film versions of these characters are more bland and more heroic - Peta Wilson is still very enticing as the now superhuman Mina but Connery, the ex-James Bond himself, evidently quite taken with his own heroic standing, refused to succumb to such a malady on film. And, indeed, such a fallen hero may have dragged down a 2-hour film; this is another instance of the so-called comic books presenting a more rich and layered version of a story (the "Daredevil" comic books vs. the film also come to mind), probably because they have the luxury of exploring the characters over the course of several months in a series of graphic issues.

On the surface, at least, much of what Alan Moore presented has been transposed faithfully to film: Quatermain is recruited, along with several other unusual gentlemen and one lady, for a mission to save the world. Captain Nemo and his wondrous sub-marine, the sneaky Invisible Man and the very brutish Mr. Hyde are all here, as well as a couple of others. One of them may be a traitor - this is somewhat new. But, they and the sleek sub are all marginally interesting. The main villain, the Fantom, who has unlimited resources of men and mechanical power at his disposal, turns out to be another infamous nemesis from famous literature. Some may think that Hyde was overdone with use of the FX, but he does resemble the graphic novel version - a retro version of the Hulk, huge and beastly - though he was not allowed to dismember as much on screen. No, the overuse of computer FX is in the spectacular scenes of destruction and ignorance of common physics - this is where it strays too far into silly comic book land. Connery as Quatermain, for example, is in good shape for his age and suitably heroic, but when he jumps from a fancy automobile which is moving at 50 mph, he lands on his feet as if he'd just stepped off a porch. So, you realize in such moments, you really are in some alternate universe, not in a stylized 1898 or 1899 as first presented. Viewed in such a context, it's an acceptable adventure, with enough thrills and climactic derring-do to keep a viewer at least slightly intrigued. I will say, too, the villain's ultimate goal was intriguing; I picture a platoon of invisible men, a brigade of Hydes. It made me wonder about a sequel, briefly. I was, however, more intrigued by the more sophisticated graphic novel version. Ah, well. Heroes:6 Villain:6 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:5 Fights:6 Stunts/Chases:7 Gadgets:6 Auto:6 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:6
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You Only Die Once (1993 Video)
2/10
Let it Die Just This Once - and Melvin, too
23 November 2007
MASTER PLAN: cripple male population with Scrotitis, then control world. Oh, boy. Oh, brother. Not your father's Bonder. A spoof of the superspy genre, specifically James Bond, this is at least meant to be intentionally funny, not an outrageous misfire intended as a genuine thriller. The question is how much actually works as a comedy. The title is an obvious play on such Bond titles as "You Only Live Twice." Instead of CIA agent Felix Leiter, there's Felix Heavier - ha! (lighter - heavier, get it?). Not quite as clever, instead of Mr. Bond, here we have Mr. Blond. Instead of a 'Dr.No' villain, there's a Dr.Yes. Not Blofeld here, but Blofelch. But, the real master villain is named Melvin, for no particular reason. This movie (or, video) is probably a case study of seeing the limits of what can be done when you have absolutely no budget (money). To me, the most amusing section is the 5-minute bw prologue, subtitled 'The Past' - and filmed way earlier than the movie proper, like 10 years earlier. It reminded me of Super-8 films I'd created as I was finishing high school and starting college, way back in the late seventies/early eighties. I tried to make them amusing and, to me, they were, but I had trouble being objective. Seeing these first few minutes took me back to those naive, gentler times, when there was no money even for costumes and everyone just wore whatever clothes they had on hand, like jeans & sneakers. The viewer has to do a little more than suspend disbelief to appreciate this as an actual James Bond parody. There's no actual acting, just kids trying to be funny on film. Oh, and the filmmakers are obviously Star Trek fans, probably of the original series (think the "Arena" episode), as indicated by some of the sound FX, the visuals and the locations, so these bits would be amusing to Trekkies. Most of the film was shot in Super-8 and 16mm.

After some lengthy credits (with lame digital fire FX over titles) and switching to color, the plot follows agent Lames Blond, 00-0, awakening from a coma as an impotence-causing virus has been let loose by the villains (we never see the effects). The players are now older, but still with no acting ability. The hero spends a lot of time running from and after ninjas and assorted goofballs, including a henchman (Cowabunga, a parody of Scaramanga) who foams up his hand before killing his victims (as we all know, at least one Bond henchman had an augmented hand or arm to do his killing). The hero, at least, finally gets to wear a tux-styled suit; the ninjas, you would think, would be simple to costume, but they look like they're wearing some dark maintenance uniforms. To give you an idea of how really lackluster the budget was: towards the end, the hero is chased by about 8 ninjas, but you'll note you never see more than 3 in the same shot; care to guess why? Some of the main 'actors' also doubled up for secondary roles (picture Sean Connery playing both Bond AND Ms.Moneypenny). And, just when you start to think the filmmakers were clever, considering there was no money, you see dummies falling off cliffs - in slow motion; yes, to make it all even less credible, they filmed these in slow motion, to make sure we see that these are fake dummies. Was there a method to their madness? I'm not sure, but the main drawback for me was the soundtrack. Most of the bad guy characters are always grunting, snorting and making all kinds of annoying noises, to the point of tediousness and reminding me of a frat party gone to seed. The secret agent also, typically, enters a shot, looks around, and you can hear 'hmm' and 'Hm?' and 'uh?' ad nauseum. Some of the location shooting, however, tried to capture the feel of a bigger-budgeted picture. And, the major accomplishment is, of course, a DVD release, with 99 chapters (check out the deleted scene for a good laugh). Watching it with the director's commentary is actually a bit more interesting. But, as they say, sometimes living is not enough. Hero:2 Villain:2 Femme Fatales:2 Henchmen:1 Fights:3 Stunts/Chases:2 Gadgets:1 Auto:2 Locations:3 Pace:2 overall:2
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5/10
Everyone Kung Fu Fights in New Babylonia
18 October 2007
MASTER PLAN: eliminate free will and create a new kung fu race! The follow-up to "Kill or Be Killed" of the previous year again follows the pattern of the famous "Enter the Dragon" picture, meaning a small group of elite fighters enters the private kingdom of a slightly-insane master villain, who has his own private army and seems preoccupied with the ancient city of Babylon. This one's a little more tongue-in-cheek than "Kill or Be Killed" but is also slightly more entertaining, as a result. This features the return of Steve Chase (the lithe, acrobatic Ryan), South Africa's answer to Bruce Lee, as the best martial arts combatant in the world (he's given some award at the start of the film). In the previous movie, Chase was just caught up in the weird plans of the villain, whereas here, he's on assignment as a special agent (but, for a lot of money, not a salary). Chase is approached for a special mission, a la a kung fu version of the James Bond style, and then gathers a quartet of specialized fighters, all of whom he knows from some previous missions. A female fighter also tags along, claiming to be the daughter of the scientist who is held captive by the villain. So what we have here, besides the "Enter the Dragon" and Bond parallel, is another "Magnificent Seven" or "Dirty Dozen" kung fu take-off, albeit with only half-a-dozen special fighters.

Much of the entertainment stems from the odd group that Chase puts together. One guy is known as 'The Fly' (a real-life martial arts master, apparently) who, besides the obvious abilities, is actually able to levitate (unless it's some trick - Chase copies him at one point). Another just seems like overweight comic relief, but can throw a punch when he has to. Then there's Gorilla, played by Gampu, whom I remember from way back to the incredible "The Naked Prey" from the mid-sixties. It's not a bad cast for this type of picture. Even more comedy is provided, however, by the villain, which does go a bit overboard. His paramour or moll, a severely-fake redhead, calls him a bunch of pet names, like 'popsickle,' and he keeps telling her to stop it, to no avail. This does not impress or awe the audience. Plotwise, it's out of a silly comic book: the villain plans to use a drug which enslaves the populace to his will - and he actually sounds like he's doing the world a favor when he explains this. As the heroic group approaches his stronghold, he sends groups of fighters against them which get quickly pulverized. Then the heroes infiltrate his domain. At one point, they're under suspicion by the guards and talk to each other about their plan to break free within the obvious hearing distance of the armed guards! It culminates in the standard arena-type fights - guess who prevail? Yes, it's dumb, inconsequential, but kind of fun. Heroes:6 Villain:4 Femme Fatales:5 Henchmen:6 Fights:7 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:2 Auto:3 Locations:5 Pace:6 overall:5
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Karate Killer (1976)
4/10
To Kill, One Must First Fight...or something
11 October 2007
MASTER PLAN: have the winning team in a deadly tournament. One of several martial arts action pictures that attempted to capture the flavor of the famous "Enter the Dragon" from '73, this one is an effort from South Africa. The villain's stronghold is a bit different, appearing as a white castle-like fortress in the middle of the desert from a distance. The villain himself, a Baron or general, is a slightly more perverse version of the "Dr.No" or Han mold of master villainy, having strange flashbacks to the glory days of Nazi Germany. He does wear the full regalia Nazi uniform at some points. His main ambition in life is to hold an illegal martial arts competition/tournament against his Japanese rival, an extension of their complicity in the 2nd World War (my army is better than your army). It sounds silly and it is, though the suggestion of madness and crazed machismo almost works. The central hero, Steve Chase (Ryan), resembles a white 'Bruce Lee' character, having a similarly lean, lithe physique, though obviously not on the same level of martial arts expertise. I thought he would be some secret government agent here but apparently not. He and his girlfriend have joined the Baron's team of fighters, but decide to quit (what did they think they were getting into?). Of course, it's not that easy. There's an odd sequence of them escaping through the desert using a wrecked car with a rigged sail - those desert winds can do wonders for travel, it seems.

The plot kind of meanders in the 2nd half, as the hero joins the team of the villain's competitor and the girlfriend is held hostage by the villain in a cell, under threat of rape by the hero's rival. The most interesting character turns out to be Chico, a dwarf who is the villain's assistant; he's loyal to the Baron but is sympathetic to the plight of the hero. Much of the fighting utilizes the ballet-like capabilities of the hero, with a lot of leaping and slow motion. The sound FX are also amped up and exaggerated in an attempt to add more impact to the blows. There are a few good fights during the tournament towards the climax, but none really stand out. If one had to pick, I suppose the best involves the brutish muscle man-henchman of the Baron, introduced late in the story (he lifts the back of a car at one point). You wonder how the hero will take him out at the end, since the brute seems to shrug off most of the punches. The acting is very mediocre, descending into camp as far as the girlfriend, who tends to laugh for no reason, as if she's high on grass, though she is very cute. Some of the training scenes are also campy, especially all those guys running over or rolling down the desert sands. And, with such a title, there's surprisingly few actual killings. Ryan, as Steve Chase, returned as a traditional agent in the sequel "Kill and Kill Again." Hero:4 Villain:4 Femme Fatales:4 Henchmen:6 Fights:6 Stunts/Chases:4 Gadgets:2 Auto:3 Locations:5 Pace:5 overall:4+
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9/10
The Final Word in Martial Arts Mayhem
4 October 2007
MASTER PLAN: deal in opium, prostitution and recruit henchmen. 'An island fortress, really,' our hero is told. Indeed. When Chinese peasantry used an early form of martial arts to defend themselves, little did they dream it would culminate in this. Bruce Lee and his characters represent the peasants - the little man, seemingly innocuous - who can fend off Communist forces, groups of gangsters or melodramatic villains such as we see here, all with the power of an intercepting fist. Lee's character here is transplanted into an adventure derivative of a James Bond action thriller, so popular in the sixties and continuing into the seventies, with Lee the special agent. However, the story presents a trinity of heroes here to up the ante: a Chinese (Lee), a white man (Saxon) and a black man (Kelly). It's a simple yet so effective presentation and a wonder it's not done more often (probably because everyone knows it couldn't surpass what we see here, anyway). All three heroes have a lot of hubris: though Lee is on a mission, it's tainted by his need for revenge. Saxon, as Roper, is hedonistic, with a serious gambling problem, a target of the mob back home. Kelly, as Williams, as with many black heroes in the seventies, is a target of racist cops and probably wanted on various charges. These back-stories lend a bittersweet tone to the action and the whole thing comes across as a minor epic-like morality tale, the kind we would tell our grandkids 30 years from now and on.

The plot itself seems quite simple: all 3 heroes proceed to the island of master villain Han, who holds a martial arts tournament every 3 years. Han, again, is patterned on Bond villains such as Dr.No, having created his own private kingdom and beyond the law in most ways. Han has his own deadly henchmen: the brutal Oharra and the Herculean Bolo, who appear to be more than a match for the heroes. Yet, even in the progression of this plot, there are moments of surprising audacity; consider the early scene of Lee on the junker in the atmospheric Hong Kong harbor. A flashback begins with Lee and his uncle, who begins to tell Lee something; then, we're in a flashback within the flashback, which details the fate of Lee's sister. It's so smooth, so integrated, we don't even notice these transitions. Clouse is never given much credit as director, but he and his editor deserve some kudos; check out, as another example, the quiet arrival of the heroes to the island - the shot widens gradually and suddenly we're observing a hundred martial arts masters going thru their paces. The audience is plunged into an exotic, huge location, in a style reminiscent of those great epics of the previous decade, whether they be historical or war, and this flavor would continue throughout the film, especially in that early banquet scene. This was the big leagues of martial arts action and everyone knew what they were doing.

Saxon's experience and Kelly's fresh energy as actors served them well in their edgy heroic roles and they're very good but, as we all know, the one who emerged as the most dynamic superstar of the decade was Lee. He set new standards, such as being a coiled spring on screen, and has yet to be equaled on those terms. This also instructs us all on what it takes to become a Chinese superstar in cinema: physical near-perfection and nearly superhuman abilities. But even this might only make one a good fighter and not much else; Lee radiated charisma and feral intensity on screen. It's amazing that American audiences of '73 were probably most familiar with him as just the Green Hornet's sidekick on TV. Here, he's the undisputed leader. And, what places viewers on notice is the unsettling possibility that he really is lethal, not just an actor; watching him in action on film makes us all wince at least once, when we're not wide-eyed. No one, before or since, could do great fight scenes on film like Lee - no one. There probably would have been sequels to this had Lee not gone into legend, more missions for the invincible Dragon-agent; as it is, this instant classic spawned a parody - 'A Fistful of Yen' - in the "Kentucky Fried Movie" and imitations such as "Kill or Be Killed." Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say. Heroes:10 Villain:9 Femme Fatales:8 Henchmen:10 Fights:10 Stunts/Chases:8 Gadgets:6 Locations:9 Pace:9 overall:9
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6/10
The Definitive Spy Picture, Authored by Woody Allen
1 October 2007
MASTER PLAN: must get recipe for egg salad. The premise is simple enough: take a standard movie thriller from Japan and remove the original sound track. Then, dub in your own wacky dialog. This ends up as the most unusual parody of the James Bond-type spy action of the sixties, with Japanese actors of the time voicing silly, inane sentences, usually in an overly silly style. One sinister henchman, for example, speaks in the style of a bad Peter Lorre imitation, way over-the-top. The whole thing is hit-or-miss: if you're really into awful Lorre imitations, you'll probably be giggling; if not, you'll just find that aspect, well, kind of stupid & tiring. A lot of the intended humor stems from just listening to some weird, juvenile guttural sounds or snickering seeming to emanate from the actors on screen; of course, that's the illusion: the actors you see had nothing to do with all the strange noises you hear. So, the main question is how clever was Woody Allen and his 'staff' of voice actors in adding on their interpretations of what passes for funny? It was hit-or-miss, about 50/50. There's also the problem of all those insertions of The Lovin' Spoonful singing for no reason except to fill up time. That doesn't do much for the pace of the film.

The film begins with a standard action scene from the original Japanese film and it's not that bad, involving a flame thrower and then a 'lady-in-peril' scene, with some exciting fights. It actually looks like the conclusion of the film. We suddenly switch to Woody Allen, seated in a nice office with an interviewer, as he explains his vision of re-authoring a film. Allen's one big scene is pretty amusing and he pops up briefly later, as well as at the conclusion. The movie itself doesn't make much sense and is hard to follow. The hero, some kind of agent, encounters femme fatales and various villains, all in the pursuit of a code describing the ultimate egg salad recipe. The hero gets into some fights, always yelling stuff like "Saracen Pig!' and 'Spartan Dog!' It may sound funnier than it actually is. He's also good at pulling carpets out from under the feet of bad guys, which may have been funny in the original film, as well. Many of the more clever bits involve the dialog of the villains, who put a very strange spin on some of the threats they make, such as a special camera that takes pictures which removes the clothes from the subjects. The ending has some genuine thrills. The main connection to the Bond films, however, is that two of the actresses here also appeared in "You Only Live Twice" a couple of years later. Hero:6 Villains:7 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:5 Fights:7 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:3 Auto:4 Locations:7 Pace:6 overall:6
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5/10
Robot Females and Stupid Males
14 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: marry off rich bachelors to female robots and get rich. Of all the films attempting to capture the absurdity and success of the James Bond craze of the sixties, this one is the most ridiculous. This one combines the weird plots of the Bonders with some elements of the stupid beach movies and campy horror of the decade, complete with dungeons and threat of torture (genuinely if mildly amusing). It's an odd mix, to be sure. Then-popular teen idol Avalon, most famous for his beach blanket bingo pics, is an agent (number 00 & 1/2) of S.I.C. (Secret Intelligence Command), based out of my old hometown of San Francisco - nice location long shots and a focus on the winding Lombard street. He's a hapless dope who becomes involved with a femme fatale robot (Hart) accidentally. She's one of several creations originating from the warped brain of Goldfoot (Price), the mad doctor of the title. He's somewhat typical of a Bondian villain wannabe, but Price is best known for his mad scientist roles in typical horror films of that time, so he's kind of a combination of both. Though a mad genius in the comical sense, his goal is nothing more than making some bucks off his robots, so he's actually a futuristic pimp, running a wild & crazy con artist/prostitution ring.

The plot is pretty amusing and Price hams it up shamelessly, mugging for the camera and even indulging in that cliché - the sinister mad chuckle. His assistant, Igor, is a complete idiot, a further parody of the mad scientist's aid from the "Frankenstein" movies, existing solely as an ego-boost for the mad scientist, to make him look even smarter - presumably why Goldfoot 'returned' him to life (see also the Luthor/Otis relationship from the "Superman" movies). How much a viewer likes any of this depends on how much patience one has for all the slapstick stunts and silly overplaying by the actors. Igor is the most extreme example, but everyone else also behaves like an idiot. The one surprise is actress Hart, who, besides being easy on the eye, proves to be quite talented, required to act with several different accents, besides other things. She virtually disappeared from the movie business soon after this, unfortunately. The entire premise of robotic babes, a commentary on male attitudes of that period, was repeated in later similar fare - "Some Girls Do" for example, not to mention the obvious "The Stepford Wives" in the seventies. Also note the use of musical sound FX in one scene from a couple of famous sci-fi pics of the fifties, "War of the Worlds" and "Forbidden Planet." Goldfoot and S.I.C. would return in the Italian "Dr.Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs" the following year. Hero:4 Villain:5 Femme Fatales:7 Henchmen:3 Fights:3 Stunts/Chases:4 Gadgets:5 Auto:4 Locations:6 Pace:5 overall:5
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Agent 8 3/4 (1964)
6/10
The Case of the Incidental Spy
9 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: capture that spy! A restrained yet witty, surprisingly entertaining parody of the James Bond/spy genre so prevalent during the Cold War of the sixties. Keep in mind that the connection to Bond may be based on the fact that agent 007 was killed at the end of the original novel version of "From Russia With Love." The hero and main character (Bogarde) is not actually a spy - that is, trained for or knowledgeable of the arcane profession. He's actually a bit of a layabout, an unpublished writer content with collecting unemployment to get by. He's not even truly interested in getting a job, but when the prospect of a good salary unexpectedly comes up, he's unable to resist the offer. He thinks, based on his meeting with his new boss (Morley), that he's being sent to Prague on typical corporate business and because he understands Czech. Some warning signals go off in the back of his mind with the thought of going behind the dreaded Iron Curtain and using a code phrase (the title of the film) as part of his instructions. Well, he should have heeded those signals more. It's intriguing that he doesn't know who his contact is - the return code phrase has something to do with September - and this sets up some amusing scenes.

Bogarde is excellent as the slightly naive but nevertheless intelligent, quick-on-his-feet dupe. The story bogs down just a bit as he acquaints himself with the new locale but it really kicks into full gear when he's finally targeted by the enemy (headed by McKern). The audience and the character himself find out that he's actually pretty well suited for the cloak-and-dagger business, much to our astonishment. The actress Koscina had a more flamboyant role in the similarly imitative "Deadlier Than the Male," but she exudes a lot of sultry appeal here. And old pros Morley and McKern show how such experienced thespians can add much to such a film. Since much of the story's premise points to the pointlessness and 'running-about-in-circles' of the espionage business, this translates into a rather frivolous, pointless overall scheme for the film, but you're engaged while viewing it. Also, this early in the decade, this was more derivative of the early "From Russia With Love"-style of the 007 thrillers, rather than the 'world-threatening/domination' plots of later imitators, such as Flint and Matt Helm. And, I'm still trying to figure out the meaning of the alternate title, "Agent 8&3/4." Hero:8 Villain:7 Femme Fatale:7 Henchmen:6 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:4 Auto:6 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:6
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6/10
The Name is Vine, Charles Vine
7 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: assassinate a scientist who has a new formula. This isn't really a parody of the James Bond secret agent thriller, more like a copy of the already slightly absurd sub-genre. It's more direct in this respect than the other imitators of this decade because this depicts the same covert agency of the Bond universe, not the new worlds of, say, 'Flint' or Matt Helm. The double-0 agent here (Adams) isn't some fumble-witted fool like, for example, the "The Liquidator," who hates to kill anyone; no, this Vine character really is the 2nd best agent, able to kill bad guys left & right quite effectively. The tone and plot are not ridiculous, containing only some subtle satirical jabs here & there - the most outrageous is probably in the teaser, depicting a strange assassination. Then Sammy Davis Jr. sings the somewhat over-the-top title song ("The 2nd Best Secret Agent..."). There's an amusing copycat scene of Bond's first meeting with M from "Dr.No," Vine has a similarly fluid way to Bond with the ladies in bed, there's a sly reference to "Goldfinger" and he uses a silencer gun with an extra-long barrel, which I'm sure sent a signal to some viewers on the meaning. But, other than that, the action is pretty straightforward, with the agent's main mission protecting a scientist who has invented a new gravity formula (or anti-gravity; depends on how you look at it). See also "The Glass Bottom Boat" for another sample of the preoccupation with gravity formulas around this time. The writers included some dialog that even explores and attempts to explain such a secret agent's approach to life and his job, a commentary on the whole Bond outlook, which may or may not ring true. This was always left to the imagination in the Bond films, not spoken outloud.

There's a repetitive quality to the story, which may strike some as a weakness. There are several attempts by assassins on the life of the scientist; these bits usually take place on a road somewhere - the heroes are tricked into stopping the car and then Vine has to demonstrate why he's still alive and almost the best in the business. There's even a weak instance of the assassins delaying their termination of Vine and the scientist for no reason, including even the lame 'last cigarette gambit' by Vine, but most of the scenes do contain elements of tension and excitement. There's even some suspense regarding the motivations and true goals of the scientist. Probably due to a small budget, the film steers away from any spectacular set-pieces of the later Bond films of "Goldfinger" and after, but this just means it resembles the basic espionage plot lines of "Dr.No" and "From Russia With Love." Don't expect huge explosions or sets, just some standard gun-play and tepid auto chases. The writers also threw in a doppelganger subplot towards the end, which builds on the 'false death' scenarios of a couple of Bonders. There are no really memorable villains, with mostly some Cold War Soviet intrigue behind-the-scenes, including actor Bull from "Dr.Strangelove" in a similar role. As Vine, Adams is adequate; he certainly lacks the charisma and presence of Connery, and he's almost too humorless in the role. It's probably better that he didn't stray into tongue-in-cheek silliness, but his lack of expression throughout was a bit too stiff and a little on the dull side. He would return once more in "Where The Bullets Fly." Hero:6 Villains:6 Femme Fatales:5 Henchmen:6 Fights:6 Stunts/Chases:6 Gadgets:4 Auto:5 Locations:5 Pace:6 overall:6
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5/10
Beware the Processed Fishmen of the Sea
5 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: convert people into sexless fishmen, as prep for underwater kingdom and so on. Described as a Saturday matinée treat, this has elements of a James Bond thriller combined with Japanese Sci-fi of the sixties. Indeed, this begins as a typical Bondian teaser on a submarine, with the Navy testing a new kind of torpedo. Although it's a Japanese production, most of the cast is Caucasian, with the notable exception of Sonny Chiba. He and cute blonde Peggy Neal play a couple of intrepid journalists who go scuba diving in the wrong area. They're scared off by a fishman, a poor cousin of "The Creature From the Black Lagoon," but lose the photographic evidence. Hence, being reporters, they go back and soon venture into the wrong caves, where there are now a lot of fishmen. It's all just a prelude to the reveal of an undersea installation (3,000 feet below!) headed by a mad scientist who has perfected the 'processed man' formula & procedure - the method by which people are turned into fish people (or, 'water cyborgs,' as the gloating mad doc calls them).

Most of this is harmless fun, with most of the actors, perhaps due to poor dubbing, seriously overacting; a lot of the dialog is shouted when they should be speaking in a normal manner. This is especially evident with the two navy commanders, who always seem way over excitable. The mad scientist is strictly out of the 'sneering, cackling school' of nutty villains. The actress Neal also tends to scream or whimper during most of her scenes. Of course, when we get to that eerie conversion process, which is demonstrated slowly to the reporters before they themselves are victimized by it, one can scarcely blame her. This is where it gets a little creepy, another example of the Japanese preoccupation with mutating the human body in film. The pace is a little slow in the first half, especially with all the underwater scenes, but there's lot of action towards the climax, with the Navy submarine attacking and all hell breaking loose as the fishmen go out of control. The FX are low budget and the fishmen suits are not very convincing. Chiba makes a pretty good leading man here, a full 8 years before his famous "Street Fighter" role, though don't expect the same fighting ability from him here. Hero:6 Villains:5 Femme:5 Henchmen:4 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:5 Machines:6 Locations:5 Pace:5 overall:5
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1/10
A Double Dose of Swinging Ineptitude
3 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
MASTER PLAN: run a heroin ring, avoid the breasts. There's a special agent out there, this film tells us, who has mammoth breasts and can kill criminals rather effortlessly. She's sent in, taken away from her relaxing vacation, to break up a heroin ring. Her boss has a camera implanted in her...left breast, so she can take photos of her targets, usually after they're dead. The agency is looking for the criminal mastermind, who has a t-shaped scar on the right side of his face. Yes, there is an actual plot to this, but it proceeds at such a limp pace, I feel they should have concentrated more on meaningless sex scenes. In fact, when the two main characters get down and do it, the scene cuts just as they start, a baffling methodology of the director and editor for a supposed sex spoof. The filmmakers are more intent on letting the movie camera linger on those huge breasts, whether the character is speaking on the phone or whatever. The director also likes to concentrate shots on arbitrary objects in the scene, or a little dog on the grass, for no reason. This could be instructional for film students on how not to shoot and edit a film.

This is, of course, a continuing attempt to capitalize on the James Bond-type spy thriller, going all the way back to such female Bonds as "Modesty Blaise" and the similarly no-budget "Girl From S.I.N." Agent 73, as played by Chesty Morgan, does assassinate various characters, but she acts out the killings in such a lifeless manner, beyond just being casual, you get not so much as a chill as just a sense that the actress can't act worth a damn. She previously used her breasts in "Deadly Weapons," actually smothering people to death; here, it's more standard, like garroting someone with a cord, though there's one scene involving ice cubes which is different, if still dull. In the end - and here is the spoiler - she finds out who the master villain is and, with the usual lack of emotion, shoots him as he asks her to marry him; my only thought was, why would this guy want to marry this freakish zombie-lady? At this point, the film lost all credibility, ha-ha. Also, to get any enjoyment out of this movie, you have to be the type that really appreciates overweight women who keep swinging grotesquely pendulous breasts in your face, ad nauseum. Heroine:1 Villain:2 Femme Fatales:1 Henchmen:2 Fights:1 Stunts/Chases:1 Gadgets:0 Auto:1 Locations:1 Pace:1 overall:1
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2/10
Beware PoonTang - get it?
3 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: get naked and invisible! This is one of those no-budget nudie sex pics from the sixties, with this one also attempting to spoof & capitalize on the James Bond spy thrills of that decade. It looks like it was all filmed in the same apartment building, redressing a couple of the apartments to give an illusion of variety. The first sequence depicts a lady stripping slowly (very slowly) in preparation for seducing a 'client' and this drags on for 8 minutes(!) until she finally assassinates him. Then the credits begin! The filmmakers just left the camera on, focusing on shots of the guy's toes, for example - it's quite awful - but if you can sit through this first sequence (or just fast forward thru), you'll see some amusing bits later. There was no budget, even, for an audio track/a soundtrack - all you get is a narration to explain what is happening. This gives it a strange documentary feel in the beginning, but soon the narrator begins to make lewd and suggestive comments, so you know you're watching some sex spoof.

The plot, such at is, involves a mafia hood arriving at the master villain's lair - an apartment. The villain demonstrates his power by having his femme fatale, PoonTang, do a belly dance and then show her other skills by defeating a much larger opponent using some kind of karate (sound FX would have helped here). Then we switch to a scientist-type in another apartment who has invented an invisibility formula - we see this when a mouse disappears, using a clumsy jump-cut. His secretary panics when the mouse escapes and makes herself invisible to avoid the mouse - makes sense, right? The best scenes, and the ones you've been waiting for, are later, with the secretary stripping before making herself invisible, to then attack the intruding henchmen of the villain. I've always thought later movies involving invisibility always wasted an opportunity to show scenes such as this - strip the female before she becomes invisible - and that's why this gets a 2nd star from me. Such a premise continues to this day (as in the "Fantastic Four" films with the Invisible Woman). Other than that, the lack of a budget and the incredibly slow pace of some scenes make this barely watchable. Beware, for example, of a photo shoot scene with the nominal hero which also drags on for 5 or 6 minutes. Hero:2 Villain:3 Femme Fatales:3 Henchmen:3 Fights:2 Stunts/Chases:1 Gadgets:1 Auto:1 Locations:2 Pace:2 overall:2
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4/10
Those Deadly Dolls of Destruction
3 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: blow up rockets, get a microfilm and spread a bubonic plague - whew, the villain is busy in this one. Though a fan of seventies cinema, I've missed seeing this film until now and it really does seem like an earlier version of "Charlie's Angels," beating the TV series to the screen by a few years. But, this is much more violent compared to that safe TV style; in fact, there's also more of that seventies brutality here when comparing this to the James Bond films, the other franchise this movie sort of emulates. Neither side in this film, meaning the good gals and the bad guys, messes around. In an early sequence of scenes, the villain (Ansara) sends some assassins for a preemptive strike against the squad; one assassin shoots a squad member twice in the head at point blank range and still checks to make sure she's dead. Meanwhile, the Dolls deal with the villain's guards by having them swallow pills which literally make them explode. The squad's leader avoids her own assassination in a particularly heated fashion. These babes are brutal, in that cheap thrill sort of way, and terming them as a 'Doll Squad' is actually a bit insulting.

Most of the complaints about this film have to do with it being dull and, yes, there are a few slow spots, but, despite the obviously cheap quality of this Bond-wannabe, it's surprisingly entertaining. Just as in the first Flint film "Our Man Flint," a computer selects the ideal agents for the mission, requested by a senator & intelligence supervisor (Eisley); this also reminded me of the "Mission:Impossible" TV series. There had been other female Bond films, such as "Modesty Blaise;" this one presents a whole team. Most of the plot involves their plans to raid the villain's stronghold where, in the tradition of villains with unlimited funds, he employs his own private army. The last third is the actual attack, and there's much gunplay and karate chopping, not to mention explosions matted in optically (real explosions were probably too expensive, but there's a certain charm to these FX). The squad leader (York) has a personal history with the villain, who delays killing her because of this. York is pretty good in the role, not just a talentless bimbo, while Ansara excelled in these melodramatic larger-than-life roles. This also features a unique film appearance by Satana, who became a cult star in "Faster Pussycat..Kill!Kill!" but appeared in very few movies afterward. The climax even resembled the climactic action of "The Dirty Dozen" - femme fatale style, of course. Heroines:6 Villain:6 Male Fatales:5 Henchmen:5 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:4 Gadgets:3 Auto:3 Locations:3 Pace:4 overall:4+
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Caprice (1967)
5/10
Corporate Espionage for the Dizzy Day Dame
1 September 2007
MASTER PLAN: steal a formula for water resistant hairspray. The director and star of "The Glass Bottom Boat" returned for another stab at comical intrigue. This one starts as a seemingly serious thriller about someone getting killed on the snowy Alpine slopes and others involved in some sort of espionage in Paris; the ski chases even precede the ones in the James Bond thriller "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"(69). But, we soon find out it involves corporate espionage, not the other kind; it's all about stealing formulas for perfumes and fragrances, with Doris Day playing a private secret agent in the employ of a tycoon (Mulhare). We're not sure who Richard Harris works for; he might be working for Mulhare's character; or, for one of his enemies; or, both; then again, he might be working for someone else entirely. Walston (of "My Favorite Martian" and "Picket Fences" TV shows) is the intense chemist and odd ladies man, obviously a little sinister. They all take the proceedings quite seriously, as if he who ends up with the special formula for hairspray shall rule the world. I found it difficult to get too excited as the story wore on, especially since I was expecting to laugh for a good portion of it. There is some mystery attached, I will give it that, as we wait for everyone to reveal what they're really doing by the conclusion.

This is a bit more stylish than "The Glass Bottom Boat" and has some real nice sets, trying to capture the elegance of a James Bond-wannabe suspensor, but it also lacks the breezy qualities of the previous Doris Day comedy. Since it is supposed to be a comedy when all is said and done, it fails to capture that easygoing tone of the better laughers, with barely any chuckle-inducing scenes, despite some silly slapstick involving Day's clumsiness (again). This is probably because it has trouble deciding what it wants to be - a comedy or a thriller - and the two tones scrape against each other uncomfortably rather than jell. Day and Harris have no chemistry and Harris was obviously miscast - this type of role is for Rock Hudson, James Garner or Rod Taylor to breeze through; Harris is known for his intense dramas & realistic thrillers, and his intensity still seeps in despite his efforts to be carefree. When he and Day are telling the audience that they've fallen in love in the last act I didn't buy it for a second; I expected him to start slapping her or just shoot her as the movie was ending. There's also not much surprise as to who the real villains are; Mulhare, for example, was best known for his dastardly role in "Our Man Flint" at this point. The actress Tsu was quite cute in a secondary role and it's too bad she didn't have a bigger career. Watch for actor Pollard ("Bonnie and Clyde") hamming it up as Tsu's boyfriend in one scene. The filmmakers also broke a fourth wall here by having Day's character in a theater which is playing the movie "Caprice." This was the one genuinely amusing moment. Heroine:6 Villain:6 Male Fatales:5 Henchmen:4 Fights:4 Stunts/Chases:5 Gadgets:5 Auto:5 Locations:6 Pace:5 overall:5
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