Archive for the MUSIC Category

Shoe Leather

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2022 by dcairns

My week-long adventures on Shadowplay always overrun, don’t they? Don’t worry, not too much spying left to do.

Superspies go east in both MISSION TO TOKYO aka TERROR IN TOKYO originally ATOUT COEUR A TOKYO POUR OSS 117 and Koroshi, a feature-length edition of the show Danger Man AKA Secret Agent. The latter is really just two episodes of the show cobbled together. Cobbling and cobblers are much in evidence throughout.

The French movie is part of a series produced by Andre Hunebelle, he of the unfunny FANTOMAS films of the sixties, which could have played like Francophone DIABOLIKs, but were instead almost complete cobblers. There were eventually eighty-eight OSS-117 novels, By this point in the adventures of Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath, who started off as Ivan Desny, became Kerwin Matthews, but was soon Frederick Stafford (who would get headhunted for Hitchcock’s TOPAZ, with underwhelming results), with John Gavin and Luc Meranda later stepping into his shoes for one outing each. At this point in the rather logey series, there seems to have been a realisation that an infusion of genuine Bondian derring-do was needed, so they’ve hired Terence Young as co-writer.

This was, arguably, misguided, for a couple of reasons, and amusing for a couple more. Firstly, Young was more a director than a writer (though he did have a surprising number of early writing gigs, and maybe had a hand in DR. NO) so it’s uncertain whether they’d have been better off with, say, Richard Maibaum. Secondly, I don’t know how good his French was. The whole situation amuses me because of how little loyalty Broccoli & Saltzman earned from their 007 team: Young had just directed his third Bond picture, but apparently thought nothing of working for the competition. The hilariously awful Bond knock-off OK CONNERY aka OPERATION KID BROTHER managed to dragoon not only Sean Connery’s non-actor sibling Neil, but M and Moneypenny and Tatiana Romanova and Professor Dent/Blofeld AND Largo.

With Young advising, this OSS entry gets off to an action-packed start, but it’s just a car chase. The action soon shifts to Tokyo, and they really went there, for once. Unlike the exotic orientalism of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (still in Bond’s feature) the environments are pleasingly ordinary, like an Ozu film stretched into widescreen and peppered with punch-ups. It’s all quite low-key and lived-in, even in its culturally-specific quirks — there’s a scene at a kind of photography bar where strippers pose for raincoated salarymen — Our Man Hubert is issued a camera at the door. Everyone looks like a tourist in their own land.

An assassin takes aim at Hubert through a spyhole built into a bit of ad signage, a detail which would turn up, modified, in BRANDED TO KILL, a genuine Japanese movie, the following year.

Stafford is paired with a proper actor as leading lady: Marina Vlady. Her backstory is that she’s been drugged, date-raped and blackmailed into working for some unknown enemy power — after one scene, though, she’s over any trauma and is flirting cheerfully with OSS 117. I don’t blame Vlady, I blame the writers. But it IS nice the way she’s not too impressed with her dashing master-spy.

Even in a desultory and dubbed spy caper (the Japanese roles are voiced in a markedly more racist way in the English dub, as opposed to the French and German versions), a good actor can make a difference. Vlady and Jitsuko Yoshimura from ONIBABA are fine, but when Henri Serre, Jim from JULES ET JIM, shows up, things improve. Serre should have played the lead, he’s incredibly refreshing. The uncanny Valery Inkijinoff (magnetic in Duvivier’s LA TETE D’UN HOMME), who spent most of his latter years playing yellowface, quite convincingly owing to his genuine Asiatic appearance, is also valuable.

Michel Boisrond directs; the plot involves miniature fighter planes — drones, avant la lettre; the fights are actually well-staged, with Hubert proving a master of turning furniture into weapons, Rudy Rassendyll style. The music, by Michel Magne, takes a back seat too often. This kind of adventure should be brassy vamping from beginning to end.

The real problem with all this is that, with fewer and smaller action scenes than a Bond romp, Hubie’s work seems mostly to be of the leg variety — strictly shoe-leather. He pads amiably about from one scenic locale to another, The Mikado cabaret to neon-dappled boulevard, ryokan hotel to picturesque temple, in his winkle-pickers, slipping them off to go indoors of course, asking questions, looking a bit wry. At one point, avoiding a dart gun, he substitutes himself with an inflatable dummy, and though it would be unkind to say you don’t notice any difference, the ruse is worryingly successful.

Frederick Stafford

Stafford isn’t bad — he’s just David Farrar. Agreeable but dull. And. without the panther prowl and ironic sang-froid of Connery, or the bizarro pop art trappings, the going becomes a touch turgid. Still better than Coplan FX-18 or, God knows, the wretched Kommissar X films. OSS-117 has enjoyed a more recent revival, though, as the spoof series with Jean Dujardin, which isn’t exactly great but IS pretty funny.

I get the same disengaged feeling from Danger Man’s eastern adventures. The show’s makers didn’t even pay up for foreign travel — zero views of Mount Fuji here — they just hired Burt Kwouk and some background plates. A fair bit of yellowface too. But the show is oddly appealing — if I were a dope-smoker I could undoubtedly chill out to it. Watching Patrick McGoohan go into rooms and ask questions would be entertaining enough. The show always looked nice, maybe even more so when it was in B&W. And it did give us The Prisoner, which took the elements of pop art, op art, surrealism and cod-expressionism that were creeping into Bond and his many imitators, and put them front and centre with a touch of Kafka and existentialism and all that good stuff.

The first episode that makes up Koroshi features Amanda Barrie, a wonderful actor who ought to have been a massive star — but in what? Amazingly funny in Carry On Cleo, she apparently didn’t fit in with producers’ plans, and only became a fixture in soap opera land later, where she outclassed everyone around her.

The second episode, Shinda Shima, is graced with future Prisoner co-stars Kenneth Griffith and George Coulouris, who has a machine gun built into his desk (“Hit me with a sled, will you?”)and is directed by Peter Yates, a good action director who seems like he SHOULD have been shoehorned into the Bond films but somehow never was. Yoko Tani appears in both episodes, as different characters.

MISSION TO TOKYO aka TERROR IN TOKYO originally ATOUT COEUR A TOKYO POUR OSS 117 stars Andre Devereaux; Kate Percy; Kichi’s Wife; Radek; Jim; Alexandre Dumas; and Rear Adm. Chuichi Hara.

Danger Man AKA Secret Agent stars Number Six; Leader of the Lystrians; Cleopatra; John Bray; Kato; Pennyways; Adolf Hitler; the Duchess of Argyll; Walter Parks Thatcher; Assassin in Bedroom; and Capungo.

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Of bannisters and beer

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2022 by dcairns

“The time has come,” Satanik said / “To speak of hope and fear / Of spies alive and spies quite dead / Of bannisters and beer.”

SATANIK (1968) is a kind of crossbreed of DIABOLIK and A WOMAN’S FACE, or maybe THE WASP WOMAN. Like the Bava film, it’s based on a fumetti, like the Cukor and Corman, it deals with a disfigured woman whose beauty is restored, but in a manner that thrusts her into CRIME!

In fact, Dr. Marnie Bannister (yes, we kept calling her “Minnie,” and spoke to each other in Goon Show voices throughout) is already evil, stabbing the discoverer of the youth-and-beauty formula just because he wants to do more tests before allowing her to munch his magic crystals. Probably her really dreadful monster makeup has driven her crazy.

The film is really a crime movie, but it has a spy movie vibe — DIABOLIK, after all, is just a crime movie with a supercool espionage flavour. Unfortunately, SATANIK isn’t supercool, despite varied locations in Spain and Switzerland and a reasonably snazzy credits sequence. Our girl only dons the catsuit and mask to do a striptease; she’s not a likable or even clever protag; the cops chasing her are bores.

But it’s amusing the way director Piero Vivarelli (also a songwriter!) keeps framing her with or through bannisters, as if to remind us of her name. Even when the cops are discussing her crimes, there’s a bannister. The organized crime guy she takes up with has a totally weird horizontal bannister dividing his room in two. Can you call it a bannister when it has no stairs and doesn’t go at an angle? Wouldn’t that be a fence? But who has a fence in their lounge?

Slightly better, but only slightly, is LIGHTNING BOLT, aka OPERAZIONE GOLDMAN. Directed by Antonio Margheritti, with extra cheese, it’s at least a proper spy film, with some terrific sets including a really impressive control room, it has lots of people in black catsuits (but no red one: the poster lied), rocket ships, cryogenic freezing (not QUITE women in tubes, but near as makes no difference) and hilarious model shots — you can spot a tiny paper cutout of a man folding over as the red paint “lava” bursts in, with a dubbed “Aargh!” to make us believe in him. It’s extremely touching.

One of the main action sequences consists entirely of NASA stock footage, a tiny model car wobbling across a diorama, and rear-projection shot of the hero jerking his steering wheel: a kind of holy trinity of cheapniz.

The English dub shows signs of trying for laconic hardboiled wit, but on the other hand they spell the composer’s name wrong (“Ritz” Ortolani). Margheriti hides behind his Anthony M. Dawson pseudonym as usual.

Anyway, the villain owns a brewery, and his product forms a kind of light beer leitmotif throughout, established far earlier in the film than in needs to be, proving that somebody, maybe talented screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, actually thought about this. Which was arguably a waste of his time and talent, but nevertheless I salute him, if it was him.

When the redheaded villain falls to his death, the redheaded hero quips, “I didn’t like your beer either.”

SATANIK and LIGHTNING BOLT star nobody at all.

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.