Archive for Dr No

Forbidden Divas: The Four Angels of the (Eurotrash) Apocalypse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2022 by dcairns

The return of David Melville Wingrove —

“To me, you aren’t a man. You’re therapy!” – Ursula Andress, Anyone Can Play

If somebody told you they had seen a film starring Honeychile Ryder, Queen Catherine de Medici, the Goddess Minerva and Eva Kant, you might be forgiven for thinking they had lost the plot. But the key to understanding Italian films of the 60s is to realise that anything could happen and – at some point – probably did. A sort of Desperate Housewives all’italiana, Anyone Can Play (1968) is a gaudy and camp-tastic bauble of a sex farce about four friends who go to colourful and eccentric lengths to get a slice of la dolce vita.

According to the credits, our four leading ladies have other names. One of them is Ursula Andress, the archetypal Bond Girl from Doctor No – and star of later masterworks like Stick ‘Em Up, Darlings and The Mountain of the Cannibal God. Another is Virna Lisi, an Italian sex bomb who proved her mettle some decades later and won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for La Reine Margot. A third is Claudine Auger, a former Miss France who was cast in Le Testament d’Orphée by Jean Cocteau – largely if not entirely for her resemblance to an Ancient Greek goddess. (She too became a Bond Girl, to lesser effect, in Thunderball.) Last but by no means least is Marisa Mell, the star of Ken Russell’s first movie French Dressing and the sexy sidekick to a master criminal in Danger: Diabolik.

A dazzling array, I grant you. The question is…what are they actually to do? Not one of these ladies was used as much more than window dressing in the 60s. (Or, in the case of Andress, as a living and breathing work of art who seemed to be forbidden to act on pain of death.) It feels heartening – perhaps even vaguely subversive – to see them all cast together in a film that trades not only on their looks (which are breathtaking) but also on their sly wit and deadpan humour, their campy flair for self-parody and drop-dead sense of style. It is a rare achievement to make a frivolous and wholly inconsequential movie.  Especially one that does not insult its audience or the people who appear in it. But that is what Anyone Can Play contrives not to do.

It starts with Auger as Esmeralda, a strait-laced provincial housewife whose husband is constantly away on business. She works off her frustrations by racing cars at high speed and has her eye on the Monte Carlo Rally. It would be lying to say she did not also have her eye on a hunky mechanic – but then many a successful marriage is founded on lies. Bored with her spouse and his inattention, she decides to go to Rome and pay a call on her three close friends from way back. All of them live in sumptuous apartments that have a panoramic view of the Colosseum out the window. (In fact, it looks suspiciously like the same one.) Yet otherwise, their lives are in a truly parlous state…

Anna (Andress) is suffering from insomnia because she has a Nightmare on Elm Street-style terror of falling asleep. Every time she does, she has visions not of Freddy Krueger but of a hairy, muscular brute who chases her through a psychedelic glass labyrinth while she is naked apart from a long grey chinchilla coat. Hers is the sort of conundrum that Freud never encountered or, at least, never had the imagination to write about. One afternoon she is driving and falls asleep at the wheel. The traffic cop who comes to fine her (Mario Adorf) is – BINGO! – a dead ringer for the man in her dream. She is happily married to a handsome husband (Brett Halsey) but what’s a girl to do? As Oscar Wilde said, “the one way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

Her pal Luisa (Lisi) has fallen prey to blackmailers due to her extramarital indiscretions. A petty crook (Lando Buzzanca) has an audio tape of her making love to a strange man in a car. (Fear not, the car was parked this time.) The challenge she faces is twofold. First, to come up with some hush money before her husband (Jean-Pierre Cassel) can find out. She resorts to staging a burglary of her own home. Second, to work out which of her multiple lovers the man in questions actually was. For a lady with such a hectic sex life, that is more easily said than done. Lisi’s acting is by far the most polished of the four; she proves herself a high-style farceuse in the mould of Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy.

The most miserable of the four is Paola (Mell) who is married to a stuffy conservative politician (Frank Wolff). Her husband forbids her to have fun in any form – which is why, perhaps, she jumps at a chance to perform a striptease at a high-class charity concert. In a scorchingly erotic sequence, she parades about in a voluminous white mink cloak while unseen men reach out their arms from backstage and peel off her gloves, her stockings, her shoes. It is all in a good cause, naturally. But what will her husband say when her antics threaten to open up a whole new career? Mind you, even he cannot pretend the money would not come in handy…

The one weakness in Anyone Can Play is that its director Luigi Zampa – who also made the temptingly titled Tigers in Lipstick – does not show enough of these formidable women together as a team. Just think what might happen if they met up on the Via Veneto to knock back some Negronis and swap stories about the general inadequacy of men. This feels like a missed opportunity and it all plays a shade too much like one of those portmanteau films that enjoyed such a vogue in the 60s, only one where the editor dropped some LSD and accidentally spliced their four stories together.

Yet the film is still a delight. Given half a chance, any one of its leading ladies could knock out the cast of Desperate Housewives or Sex and the City with one elegantly gloved hand tied – with a Bulgari bracelet, naturally – behind her shapely Fendi-clad back. They did not let just anybody become a star in those days.

David Melville

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.


Zoning Out

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2017 by dcairns


Even though Joseph DR NO Wiseman’s lead character in the Twilight Zone episode One More Pallbearer is called Paul Radin, I could determine no reason why his building is called Radin Blog. (Note: I got it eventually.) I tweeted author Dean Radin, whose book The Conscious Universe is a good eye-opener, to say that it’s a shame he wasn’t writing a blog anymore as I had found the perfect banner for him.

I don’t think I ever want to run out of PG Wodehouse books to read, and in the same way I don’t want to run out of Twilight Zone episodes, although all the same i would hate to check out leaving any of them unenjoyed. This will need careful management.


One More Pallbearer is Rod Serling in atomic mode (see also: Carol for Another Christmas), which is usually good value, and he has the ideal star. As Dr. No, Wiseman played a scientist with metal hands, having lost his original flesh ones in an atomic experiment. That always struck me as improbable and a bit funny. This one suffers a bit from having no sympathy, really, for any characters, but the double twist at the end is a zinger and a half. Not quite two zingers, but still pretty good.

Kick the Can was remade by Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and Fiona suggested it might be illuminating to check out the original. It was — where Spielberg’s filmlet was cloying and annoying, the original is beautifully bleak. All the rough edges were smoothed off, and the result bathed in a honey-like amber glow. The old folks’ home where it’s set seems paradisical in the movie, and starkly deadening in the series installment. The ending, in which the inmates rejuvenate and run of into the night, leaving one bereft old skeptic, is stark and strange in the series: we don’t know how these kids will live, where they will go. Serling pops out of the bushes to say they’re in the Twilight Zone, which might as well mean they’re dead. It’s eerie, not reassuring.

In the Spielberg, having enjoyed their moment of second childhood, the oldsters return to their doddering, hip-replaced selves, because the status quo must, apparently be preserved.


I like Scatman Crothers fine, though as a “magic negro” figure he Uncle Toms it a bit in the Spielberg, encouraged by his director. There’s no such character in the series episode, just an old duffer who HOPES, but does not KNOW, that playing children’s games might cancel out the aging process. I was wracking my brains to identify the actor while I was watching, then realized it was old Ernest Truex, best known as the saccharine would-be poet from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (maybe they hired him to script the Spielberg), and also memorable in Preston Sturges’ CHRISTMAS IN JULY. Turns out he had a huge career, starting in silents, and they even tried him in lead roles during the pre-code era when such things seemed worth attempting. WHISTLING IN THE DARK, which pairs him, improbably, with Una Merkel, is well worth a look.