Archive for January 4, 2022

Depressing Escapism

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2022 by dcairns

There’s nothing more dispiriting than cut-rate escapism, made without love. I felt like watching some Italian nonsense, and stumbled upon the eurospy adventures of Kommissar X. A number of this popular series of Italian-German espionage romps were helmed by Gianfranco Parolini, whose SABATA films I quite enjoyed, and it seemed that in those movies he was already trying to take the spaghetti western into James Bond territory, so I figured he must be at home in the genre.

Well, actually the first one I looked at — I didn’t WATCH any of them, I’m not mad, but I did TRY to watch several, I am mad — was directed by Harald Reinl, whose krimi films are fairly enjoyable, in their limited way. (Krimi films always feel to me like gialli whose voices haven’t broken yet.)

FBI OPERATION PAKISTAN aka THE TIGER GANG but more properly KOMMISSAR X JAGT DIE ROTEN TIGER (1971) begins with a a bunch of local colour and a bunch of exposition and then there’s an assassination, but rather than being carried out by a laser or a steel-rimmed bowler hat or a specially-trained viper, they drop a brick on the guy. A BRICK. That seemed like a measure of the film’s ambitions.

And then, since this film is going to be “about” the drug trade, we “go” to a stock helicopter shot of New York and then to a flagrantly European rooftop for horrifyingly realistic or “realistic” shots of junkies on a roof — lots of eccentric styles of pot-smoking, cupping their hands to make organic bongs as they huff on their Camberwell carrots, which may be authentic for all I know, and then an actual needle entering a messed-up vein. Not what I was expecting. It is, perhaps, a shrewd way to revise the audience’s expectations — you came in search of immaculately-dressed ubermensches killing without compunction in paradisical jetset environments, and all you got was this lousy hepatitis.

Still, I guess it’s a novelty to get a mash-up of Bond and mondo movie… bondo?

Reviewing films you haven’t watched properly is, of course, verboten. Or vietato. Not something I’ve done before. So this shouldn’t be considered a review, an informed opinion, or anything definitive or meaningful. It’s merely a scientific record of what happens to a human person watching ten-minute bursts of KOMMISSAR X films.

These things all seem to star Tony Kendall and Brad Harris. The limited budgets of the movie (each one tends to have just the one exotic locale) would normally mean a change in leads at some point, but evidently these guys were cheap enough that they could always be afforded, even though they would presumably have had a bit of leverage having starred in previous entries. “Go ahead, go back to your ‘careers’!” the producers may possibly have scoffed, before cutting the salaries by 10%. Actually, both these pseudonymous hunks lunks had thriving, throbbing careers in peplums, spaghetti westerns, gialli. I’d seen each of them in different genres but they never lodged in the memory banks.

KOMMISSAR X – IN DEN KLAUEN DES GOLDENEN DRACHEN aka AGENT JOE WALKER: OPERATION FAR EAST (1967) is a Parolini. It begins with the rattiest stock shot of New York I’ve ever seen, as if Manhattan had been dug up from somebody’s garden, and then suddenly it’s night and definitely not Manhattan, so the establishing shot has established the wrong time and place. There’s a shoot-out in an undertaker’s, which is a VERY Sabata idea, but it’s terribly uninspired and SMALL in its staging. Parolini gets enthusiastic about transplanting Bondian gadgets and nonsense into the west, but handed the real thing he forgets to have any fun at all.

It felt appropriate to be watching these things over the holidays — all this secret underground lair stuff that would have been, presumably, entertaining to me as a kid, all seemed horribly stale, an analogue of human frustrations, the disillusionment of adulthood.

KOMMISSAR X – DREI GOLDENE SCHLANGEN aka THREE GOLDEN SERPENTS (1969), set in Thailand, begins with a cockfight. Great. The last act is full of tits. The idea of a Bondian caper with naked ladies isn’t particularly awful, though to me the thing about Bond is that it’s a child’s idea of an adult story. Not even adolescent, really.

The tits are all non-white tits, the kind the censor might allow in a spirit of National Geographic ethnology.

There are paler bosoms in KOMMISSAR X – DRIE GRUNE HUNDE aka KILL ME GENTLY aka DEATH TRIP. The bosoms are really fleeting, which always seems more exciting than the long lingering kind, maybe because when I was a youngster getting interested, they only seemed to turn up for a maddening glimpse, until I finally saw THE WICKER MAN on Grampian Television with a fuzzy picture on the b&w portable TV. DREI GRUNE HUNDE begins with a barroom brawl, very western-style, but not particularly spaghetti-western-style. Again pointing to some very earthbound imaginations being at work, and considering it AS work.

Most of this one is shot in Istanbul, a city which does project just about enough exotic glamour to sustain a feature. It feels very unkind to say that setting your spy movie entirely in Pakistan, or Canada, lacks the required va-va-voom. I would like to suggest that if you can’t have three different locales in your film (the world “exotic” becomes redundant — locales are ALWAYS exotic) then you should fake it with stock shots and potted palms. It is, quite literally, the least you can do. But these dystopian epics always manage to do less than the least.

The limited locations are made even more claustrophobic by the dubbed soundtracks. What should be spread over several continents is confined to one city and some hills, and at the same time is all happening in a soundproofed booth. Join the secret service and see the world from the inside of a darkened room.

Welcoming in 2022

I find myself dazzled by the lack of star charisma AND chemistry exuded by Kendall and Harris. Their loutish characters are worse than Bond in sexism terms. Connery always said that Bond, if you met him, would have seemed rather a boring sort of policeman. It’s the colourful crazy world he moves in which makes things seem interesting, but Bond is never amazed or impressed by anything. The villains explain their plans, childishly expecting him to be as dazzled and delighted as they are, and he always disappoints. I don’t think a Blofeld would even bother explaining himself to “Joe Walker” and “Tom Rowland,” our uninspiring heroes here. He’d just hit them in the throat with a lead pipe and shamble off, an embittered man without hair.

And, having done the same thing in metaphoric terms, I bid you a very good day. More spies later this week.