Archive for January 5, 2022

I Don’t Spy with my Little Eye

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2022 by dcairns

I had fond memories of the poorly-titled De Laurentiis spy caper MATCHLESS from my childhood — mostly false memories, as it turns out, but the movie is still fun. Part of a trilogy of colourful Dino Bondian joints, culminating in the classic DIABOLIK. This one has Ennio Morricone music too.

The movie is an invisible man fantasy, revolving around a Tolkeinesque ring of invisibility. I remembered that much, but since the movie starts with the hero escaping a firing squad, I had mentally pegged it as starting out in some banana republic, not China, which is where it starts out. I’d also for years tried to find out what the film was (that title is so very unmemorable — Fiona said, “You just told me what it’s called but I’ll have forgotten by the next time I think about it”) and my memory told me it was a Terence Hill film. In fact the lead is Patrick O’Neal, which suggests that as a kid I had total prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces. Which does make sense of a few of my experiences back then. On the other hand, I had apparently recognised the film’s Italian origins, so add a couple of points there.

Not remembering the Chinese stuff, I naturally didn’t remember the racism. Embarrassing bit with Chinese spies who have been transformed by plastic surgery into Caucasians, and are being sent to the US with moronic Amurrican buzzwords and catchphrases drilled into their heads. The intent here is actually more anti-American than anti-Chinese, and the movie is rather bracingly dyspeptic about America, spies, the whole bit. But there’s still some considerable discomfort here.

“Perhaps -“

“I’ll do the perhapsing around here.”

Jack Pulman’s dialogue is often quite funny. He went on to do the BBC I, Clavdivs, and seems to be the last in a whole football team of scenarists, the rest of them Italians. And our director is the distinguished Alberto Lattuada, who gets in a few gibes at his former collaborator, F. Fellini.

Tortured by the Chinese, O’Neal (an amusingly dour double-oh-nothing) is rescued and then tortured by the Americans, who are busy turning American agents into Chinese infiltrators. Then he’s released, recruited and sent to spy on criminal mastermind Donald Pleasence, who has disappointingly little to do (no monologuing!) but does live in a Northumbrian castle full of robots. so that’s nice.

This is one of the few invisible man films that respects the notion that your clothes wouldn’t automatically disappear along with the rest of you, so it’s also one of the few sixties spy romps with more teasing male pseudo-nudity than female. O’Neal looks pretty good, though he has trained furniture following him around to make sure we don’t see too much of our invisible hero.

O’Neal is followed around by arch-nemesis Frank Henry Silva, the man whose cheekbones can kill, who gives a gloriously fullblooded comic performance, completely awful from beginning to end. But this works quite well, as you learn to hate him quickly. He explains his fondness for sneakery by saying that even as a kid he liked snitching on schoolmates. And that is kind of the film’s view of espionage: a dirty game played by assholes. O’Neal’s character is appealing because he can see through it, just as we can see through him.

The only other specific detail I remembered from BBC1’s Saturday Night at the Movies was lasers — a bank full of them. You assume they’re photo-electric cell type detectors, but in fact you can light cigarettes on them.

“Well, how about that. Here I am, locked in a bank, naked, alone, trying to save the world. Lot’s o’ luck.”

One of the rules is that O’Neal needs a ten hour break between bouts of unseeability, so the climax strands him, fully visible and at the mercy of the bad guys. So he does something rather brilliant — he strips nude, leaving his clothes in a heap, and PRETENDS to be invisible. The baddies find the clothes and assume they’ll never be able to catch him, and all the time he’s hiding, bollock naked, behind a nearby pillar, completely defenceless. Amid all the silliness and dumb jokes there are some quite smart moments.

List of ingredients: amphibious vehicle, absurd gown, gratuitous cheesecake shots, inane quips, eccentric millionaire baddie, figures badly matted into CCTV comms system, fancy cars, gloating, sinister Chinese element, sliding panels, exotic locales, villain’s lair, stagey punch-ups, colourful laboratory, rescue by aircraft, bondage, feats of escapology, List of ingredients: amphibious vehicle, absurd gown, gratuitous cheesecake shots, inane quips, eccentric millionaire baddie, figures badly matted into CCTV comms system, fancy cars, gloating, sinister Chinese element, sliding panels, exotic locales, villain’s lair, stagey punch-ups, colourful laboratory, rescue by aircraft, bondage, feats of escapology, black-tie reception, ring with hidden needle, fancy Rolls-Royce.

MATCHLESS stars Jason Cravatte aka Jason Caroll; Princess Irina Yusupov; Blofeld; Mr. Moto; Scarabea; General Bullmoose; Boss Hogg; Lewis Jordan, agente 777; Genghis Khan’s Lover; and La Saraghina.