Archive for January 7, 2022

The Spy with No Face

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2022 by dcairns
There must be a Bond quip here somewhere.

On, then, to the COPLAN FX-18 series of eurospy eurotrash flicks, based on the pulp paperbacks of “Paul Kenny” (“Coplan” seems to rearrange the sounds of his name, but Kenny was one of those portmanteau nomme-de-plumes for a Belgian writing team). Coplan is French spook and they made what I suppose we have to call a series of six films about him, but he’s played by a different actor in every one of them. Picture a revolving door full of Lazenbies. Adding to the lack of continuity, someone called Jany Holt appears in two of them, but as different characters. The films are mostly directed by men called Maurice, but Riccardo Freda, a man, like De Sica, whose career can be explained by his gambling notes, did two. I checked out COPLAN FX-18 CASSE TOUT aka THE EXTERMINATORS (1965).

Does that title mean COPLAN FX-18 BREAKS EVERYTHING? I’m going to just say it does.

Coplan is a hardboiled sonnuvabitch, at least in this entry, where he’s played by a Brit, “Richard Wyler” — real name, which he sometimes acted under, Richard Stapley, a descendant of the bloke who signed Charles I’s death warrant, so maybe it’s hereditary. Coplan is partnered with an Israeli secret agent called, naturally, Shaimoun and the plot has something to do with nukes.

The toughness doesn’t amount to much, since any sense of gritty realism is undercut by the random plotting and disregard for cause and effect or basic continuity. The action scenes feature stunts too preposterous for a Roger Moore, made even less compelling by the fact that there isn’t a budget to allow them to actually be shown happening, as when our man lands his single-seater plane on top of a speeding truck. Suddenly it’s just there. Then, equally suddenly, it explodes, for no apparent reason.

Random explosions, a la THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, would have been a great feature if they’d kept it up, but apparently the budget didn’t exist for that either. A nocturnal meeting on a barge suggests the kind of noir atmosphere Freda would have been happier playing with, but mostly we’re on wet motorways, drab night clubs, and rather than the aspirational mayhem of a Connery, it feels more like a thuggish Le Carre without the brains, sensitivity, or logical connective tissue.

OK, so that’s what it is, let’s try to GET INTO IT.

Freda’s best films are distinguished by a certain craziness. This isn’t good Freda, but it still has touches of the demented.

Turkish settings, mostly. Sleazy music. Seems like a good choice, even when the soundtrack goes all drunken-warbly. Long bit of Sheimoun having trouble with a hotel door. It won’t open, then it won’t close. Promising. The kind of thing that couldn’t happen to Daniel Craig.

This film’s idea of a gadget is a proto-Travis Bickle wrist-gun. There’s no whimsy to that. The prop looks quite good except that it distinctly fail to deliver the handgun into the wearer’s hand. You’d need to be double-jointed. Good job Wyler-Stapley never actually tries using it.

Extras — in reality, unpaid citizens of Istanbul — gaze nakedly at the camera. The spy thriller as Lumiere Bros actuality.

Stapley could convincingly play the assistant managing director of a textile company. His drabness is more appropriate to a spy’s professional requirements than a Connery he-man. The screaming horns keep trying to convince us he’s dangerous. He has the tough guy killer stance of a man who might cut your Christmas bonus by 15%.

The decor seems to have been ordered for a Chinese film, or maybe that was the fashion in Istanbul in the sixties. Rugs with dragons on, big Buddhas.

OK, midway through, things pick up, and the film becomes unexpectedly spoofy. A sex scene — pan from frotting feet to a table laden with cigarettes, whisky, chic turntable and discarded revolver — then a paperback Ian Fleming is slid into view. A fight in a bathroom goes slapstick: slipping on soap, first flying into the lens, a gun in the bidet. Staggering from a punch, a henchman mounts an exercise bike and starts concussedly pedalling.

The approach becomes clear — silly comedy to make it clear that our director regards the foolish genre with contempt, brutality to make it clear that, if any of this were real, he would regard that with contempt too. The Bond thing is pushed a little in both directions, flip and nasty.

Big climax at the spectacular Cappadocia cave dwellings, and the best line, as arms dealers masquerading as archaeologists stab a female agent to death. “What extraordinary archaeologists!” But, from the surrounding context it isn’t actually clear this is meant to be funny.

At the end, after the heroine (who has less than ten mins screentime) tells Coplan that her father was the nuclear scientist killed earlier, inappropriately jaunty party music starts up and the two walk off, his arm around her, and where one would expect the end creds to appear, we instead get a static empty shot of the sea for about a minute, the jaunty music building to a climax of cheeriness. FADE OUT

I liked that bit, and not just because the film was over.

COPLAN FX-18 CASSE TOUT aka THE EXTERMINATORS stars Truck Driver (uncredited); Charlie Bank, le directeur de Superdisco; Casino Barmaid (uncredited); Petit rôle (uncredited); Old Man; Employee at Airport (uncredited); French Pilot Singing ‘La Marseillaise’ (uncredited); and Waiter.