Detonator: Death Train (1993)

AKA: Death Train, Alistair MacLean’s Death Train
Directed by David S. Jackson
Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lee, Alexandra Paul, Ted Levine
Music by Trevor Jones

This film is often referred to as Alistair MacLean’s Death Train. Writer Alistair MacLean has a solid track record when it comes to espionage movies with successful versions of Guns Of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra and Puppet On A Chain based on his novels (to name a few). But be wary of Alistair MacLean’s Death Train. In fact it is Alistair MacNeill’s Death Train. Alistair MacNeill was the author who wrote a series on novels based on outlines left by MacLean at his death. So to begin with, we have a counterfeit MacLean story which the producers have chosen to base their film on.

As the film opens we witness a nuclear bomb being constructed. While this is happening, we hear the resonant tones of Patrick Stewart announce:
’Plutonium…the key ingredient in nuclear bombs.

This plutonium was stolen, gram by deadly gram, from a German power plant.

My organization, the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization, responds to nuclear terrorism.

So when Karl Leitzig used this stolen plutonium to construct two nuclear bombs, his creations became U.N.A.C.O.’s nightmare.’

Patrick Stewart plays Malcolm Philpott, head of U.N.A.C.O, and when a Russian General, Benin (Christopher Lee), oversees the creation of these weapons, Philpott has a crisis on his hands. The bombs are forcibly loaded onto a train in Bremen, Germany, by a group of mercenaries headed by Alex Tierney (Ted Levine). As well as the hijacked train, Tierney also has twelve hostages, and as the authorities try to interfere, he has no hesitation in killing them. Tierney orders the train to be re-routed across the Swiss border, and then to Belsano in Italy.

Once the train is on the move, U.N.A.C.O. prepares for action. Philpott prepares a crack team of operatives to resolve the crisis. Amongst the team members are Mike Graham (Pierce Brosnan), and Sabrina Carver (Alexandra Paul) who are the stars of the show. Other members of the team include a Russian Major, Gennadi Rodenko (Nic D’Avirro); a US/Kenyan, C.W. Whitlock (Clarke Peters), who happens to a nuclear physicist; and another Russian, Sergei Kolchinsky (Andreas Sportelli), a pilot. With such an eclectic group of team members, it will come as no surprise that one of them is not quite what they appear to be.

Philpott has his team assemble in Munich. On the flight over, he taps into the trains communications. Tierney justifies his actions this way:
’We define ourselves by who we hate!
And the USSR was a worthy adversary.
This New World Order thing, we can’t use that!
No, once you know who you hate, everything works!’

The first attempt to stop the train, features Carver firing a gas canister into the Locomotive’s cabin, while Graham, attempts some acrobatics hanging from the bottom of a helicopter. Tierney and his mercenaries were prepared for such an assault, and don gas masks and defend themselves with machine guns. Graham is forced to retreat with his tail between his legs. Naturally enough the team regroup and find another way to assault the train

Despite a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart and Christopher Lee this movie is pedestrian in every aspect. And the ending is so bad, it will have you throwing things at your television set. The film may not be quite as bad as I have made out, but it is far from great. It is however, light-years ahead of it’s sequel, which is one of the dreariest spy films ever made. For those of you, keen for more torture, I will attempt to get a review of Detonator II up in the next few weeks.

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Detonator: Death Train (1993)

Fantabulous Inc. (1967)

AKA: Il Donna, Il Sesso, Il Superuomo (The Woman, Sex And Superman)
Directed by Sergio Spina
Richard Harrison, Adolfo Celi, Judi West, Nino Fuscagni
Music by Sandro Brugnolini

Fantabulous Inc. is a strange little Italian film that has a bit of everything in it. It’s a thriller, it’s a super-hero film, it’s a spy film, and it’s an exploration on civil rights.

The super villain of this piece is Carl Maria Von Beethoven (Adolfo Celi), and naturally enough, whenever we hear his name we also hear a snatch of Ludwig Von Beethoven (Da Da Da Dum). He runs a clinic called Fantabulous Inc., which turns men into super-men.

The film opens in Geneva. Richard Vernon (Richard Harrison) is engaged in a bit of post-coital byplay with his girlfriend, Deborah Sanders (Judi West). But now he has to leave. He works as a banker, and has an important meeting in Milan. Leaving the apartment, he heads down to the underground carpark and to his car. Unfortunately for Vernon, it won’t start. The carpark attendant, who happens to be wearing sunglasses, refuses to help, and only laughs at Vernon’s predicament. Vernon assumes the car is out of petrol and walks around to the nearest petrol station. After an altercation with the attendant, who is also wearing sunglasses, Vernon gets his can filled and returns to the car. Upon his return he finds out that the petrol container has been filled with water.

Even though it is night, there’s a suspicious amount of men with sunglasses around. Vernon doesn’t appear to notice and phones the police to complain about the petrol station, but the police officer on the other end of the line, only abuses Vernon for his trouble. From the phone box, as he returns to his car, it is stolen in front of his very eyes. Luckily a police car happens to be passing as he chases his vehicle on foot. He lodges a complaint, but rather than pursuing the thieves, the police question Vernon at length, and then take him into custody. But rather than take him to the nearest police station, he is taken to the headquarters of Fantabulous Inc. In the Fantabulous carpark, he finds his car. Initially he is pleased, that now he can continue his journey to airport, and then Milan. But before he can do so, one of the police officers produces a hypodermic needle and injects Vernon. He wakes up in the middle of a strange medical procedure, which seems incredibly invasive and brutal (his arm appears to be shorn off).

Next we cut to Deborah, who is an aspiring actress and fashion model. She is engaged in a photo shoot, we she is interrupted by phone. It’s a call from the police. She has to go to the morgue and identify Vernon’s body. There, as his body is slid out of the drawer, it looks like Vernon’s face, but she is adamant, that the body does not belong to Richard.

And Deborah is right. Vernon is not dead. He wakes up in what seems like a hospital room. He is still in fact at Fantabulous Inc., a company that specialises in bio-chemical and bio-physical experimentation.

Behind Fantabulous Inc is Beethoven, who I mentioned earlier, who is the mastermind behind the whole operation. He arranges for the capture of appropriate physical specimens for conversion into supermen. He also is the marketing manager, who sells his creation to foreign powers to control the masses. Also working for Fantabulous is the mad Professor Cronin (Gustavo D’Arpe), who is the brains behind the process. It’s his experiments that have created the super-human beings. As with all good henchmen, Cronin has a physical deformity; he has metal pincers for hands.

Beethoven aside, the music and songs, by Sandro Brugnolini throughout Fantabulous Inc. are catchy and infectious; from gutsy soul based numbers that remind you of Ray Charles or Sammy Davis Jnr to piano driven conga-line numbers. The music certainly helps this film press forward when visually things slow down. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out the name of the vocalist on the soundtrack.

The first half of this film is incredibly entertaining and I challenge anyone to guess where it is going. But the second half gets pretty silly. There’s some not so subtle symbolism and quasi-political mumbo-jumbo about the misuse of power. To give the film it’s due, I am looking at it from twenty-first century perspective, rather than 1967, and maybe the ‘message’ in the last half, was more important back then. But as far as narrative and entertainment go, then or now, the second half veers very wildly from silly super hero cartoon heroics to rhetoric about discipline and authority.

Unfortunately this film only appears to be available on the grey market, (with copies that appear to be of a very poor standard) which is a shame, because I think it is film that will divide people. As I said above I didn’t like the end, but other viewers whose viewpoint is slightly more anarchististic than mine, may think this film is, er sorry, Fantabulous. But without a good DVD of the film on the market, for everyone to view and decide for him or herself, I am afraid it’s a little hard to debate the merits, or lack thereof, of Fantabulous Inc.

This review is based on the Video Search Of Miami USA video cassette transfer

Fantabulous Inc. (1967)

Blue Ice (1992)


Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Michael Caine, Sean Young, Ian Holm, Alun Armstrong, Todd Boyce, Bobby Short, Bob Hoskins,
Music by Michael Kamen
Featuring music by Charlie Watts and the Big Band

Blue Ice is a routine spy thriller from Australian director Russell Mulcahy. It is far from the worst film that Caine has done, but for a man that spy films are his bread and butter this is a token effort. In Caine’s autobiography, ‘What’s It All About’, he makes mention of how great it was to be working with Bob Hoskins again. But don’t believe it. Hoskins’ role is barely more than a cameo.

The film starts with a young American agent, Kyle (Todd Boyce), poking around the docks in London, but he is spotted by an unseen quarry driving a red mail van. He quickly flees and phones his ex-lover, Stacy Mansdorf (Sean Young). She answers her mobile phone whilst driving and ploughs into the back of Harry Ander’s car. Harry (Michael Caine), a jazz club owner, is not too enthused by the vandalism of his classic Jaguar Mk II, but still invites Stacy back to his club for a drink. It doesn’t take long for Stacy to get her kit off, and before you can say ‘Honey Pot Trap’, Harry has fallen for her, hook, line and sinker. Oh, did I mention that Harry used to be a spy? Of course he was, but he was forced out after a bit of unsanctioned rough-housing with a Czech agent.

As he explains to Stacy:
HARRY: “…..I took him up to the roof.”
STACY: “What happened then?”
HARRY: “The Czech bounced!”

Hardly subtle, but good fun. Now, coincidentally, Stacy needs a man to discreetly track down her ex-lover, who has gone missing, and an ex-spook like Harry seems just the man for the job.

Harry starts his investigation with a visit to Scotland Yard and an old friend Osgood (Alun Armstrong). For a fee, three hundred pounds, ‘Ossy’ is willing to help. Later at the jazz club, Harry receives a phone call. Osgood has tracked Kyle down to a seedy hotel in South East London. Harry whizzes over there. ‘Ossy’ points out Kyle as he enters the Hotel. Harry asks ‘Ossy’ to keep watch while he makes a quick phone call to Stacy. When Harry leaves the phone box, ‘Ossy’ has disappeared. Cautiously, Harry enters the hotel and goes up to Kyle’s room. There’s still no sign of ‘Ossy’ but Kyle is in his room, but with a bullet hole in his forehead. The window is open, so Harry steps outside and up onto the roof. The killer is fleeing the scene. He fires a shot at Harry, who takes cover behind a chimney stack. Behind the chimney, Harry also finds ‘Ossy’s’ dead body. Harry is pretty upset at the death of his friend, and relentlessly pursues the killer.

Down on the street now, after a near miss on the railway tracks, Harry catches up with the killer, and hopes to get some answers. As Harry starts his line of questioning, out of nowhere, the dreaded red mail van appears and clips Harry, sending him crashing into a pile of garbage. The killer gets away, and Harry has no answers, but a lot of trouble.

Now Harry is up to his neck, not only with a double homicide, but also with something far bigger that may or may not involve Stacy Mansdorf.

Caine seems to be enjoying himself, even though he is clearly too old for the role. Sean Young, on the other hand is as cold as ice. She is undeniably attractive, but hardly register’s on the human emotion scale. It’s almost as if she is recycling her android character from Blade Runner.

The film’s tone shifts very wildly at the end, and it just doesn’t fit in with the scenes that have gone before. The problem is not the usual espionage twist at the end, but a poorly acted character twist. One of the players flip and becomes a psychopath. It is a shame, because up until that point, the film had been half decent – far from perfect – but enjoyable.

The soundtrack to Blue Ice by Michael Kamen is pretty good if you like Bee-Bop jazz. It doesn’t really follow the film, but it is pretty cool anyway. And it features Charlie Watts (from The Rolling Stones) and the Big Band. Musicans include Bobby Short (who plays Buddy in the movie – Piano), Dave Green (Bass), Anthony Kerr (Vibes), Gerald Presencer (Trumpet), and featured musicians Pete King (Alto Sax), and Steve Williamson (Tenor Sax). Oh yes, and Charlie Watts (Drums).

At the end of the day, Blue Ice isn’t a great spy film. It tries hard, but fails due to an uneven script. Any joy that comes from the film, is derived from watching Michael Caine in a role that he has been playing for years (another Harry), This film is for Caine fans only.

The credits claim that Harry Anders is based on a character created by author Ted Allbeury. I have tried to do a little research, but this is as much as I have ascertained.

Allbeury created a Polish-British agent called Tad Anders who appeared in three novels, Snowball (1974), Palomino Blonde (or Omega-Minus in the US) (1975), and The Judas Factor (1984). I have never read these books. Maybe ‘Harry’ is a son?

Please feel free to drop me a line or post a comment if you know more about the history of Harry Anders!

This review is based on the HBO Video DVD USA


Blue Ice (1992)

Blue Ice (1992)

Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Michael Caine, Sean Young, Ian Holm, Alun Armstrong, Todd Boyce, Bobby Short, Bob Hoskins,
Music by Michael Kamen
Featuring music by Charlie Watts and the Big Band

Blue Ice is a routine spy thriller from Australian director Russell Mulcahy. It is far from the worst film that Caine has done, but for a man that spy films are his bread and butter this is a token effort. In Caine’s autobiography, ‘What’s It All About’, he makes mention of how great it was to be working with Bob Hoskins again. But don’t believe it. Hoskins’ role is barely more than a cameo.

The film starts with a young American agent, Kyle (Todd Boyce), poking around the docks in London, but he is spotted by an unseen quarry driving a red mail van. He quickly flees and phones his ex-lover, Stacy Mansdorf (Sean Young). She answers her mobile phone whilst driving and ploughs into the back of Harry Ander’s car. Harry (Michael Caine), a jazz club owner, is not too enthused by the vandalism of his classic Jaguar Mk II, but still invites Stacy back to his club for a drink. It doesn’t take long for Stacy to get her kit off, and before you can say ‘Honey Pot Trap’, Harry has fallen for her, hook, line and sinker. Oh, did I mention that Harry used to be a spy? Of course he was, but he was forced out after a bit of unsanctioned rough-housing with a Czech agent.

As he explains to Stacy:
HARRY: “…..I took him up to the roof.”
STACY: “What happened then?”
HARRY: “The Czech bounced!”

Hardly subtle, but good fun. Now, coincidentally, Stacy needs a man to discreetly track down her ex-lover, who has gone missing, and an ex-spook like Harry seems just the man for the job.

Harry starts his investigation with a visit to Scotland Yard and an old friend Osgood (Alun Armstrong). For a fee, three hundred pounds, ‘Ossy’ is willing to help. Later at the jazz club, Harry receives a phone call. Osgood has tracked Kyle down to a seedy hotel in South East London. Harry whizzes over there. ‘Ossy’ points out Kyle as he enters the Hotel. Harry asks ‘Ossy’ to keep watch while he makes a quick phone call to Stacy. When Harry leaves the phone box, ‘Ossy’ has disappeared. Cautiously, Harry enters the hotel and goes up to Kyle’s room. There’s still no sign of ‘Ossy’ but Kyle is in his room, but with a bullet hole in his forehead. The window is open, so Harry steps outside and up onto the roof. The killer is fleeing the scene. He fires a shot at Harry, who takes cover behind a chimney stack. Behind the chimney, Harry also finds ‘Ossy’s’ dead body. Harry is pretty upset at the death of his friend, and relentlessly pursues the killer.

Down on the street now, after a near miss on the railway tracks, Harry catches up with the killer, and hopes to get some answers. As Harry starts his line of questioning, out of nowhere, the dreaded red mail van appears and clips Harry, sending him crashing into a pile of garbage. The killer gets away, and Harry has no answers, but a lot of trouble.

Now Harry is up to his neck, not only with a double homicide, but also with something far bigger that may or may not involve Stacy Mansdorf.

Caine seems to be enjoying himself, even though he is clearly too old for the role. Sean Young, on the other hand is as cold as ice. She is undeniably attractive, but hardly register’s on the human emotion scale. It’s almost as if she is recycling her android character from Blade Runner.

The film’s tone shifts very wildly at the end, and it just doesn’t fit in with the scenes that have gone before. The problem is not the usual espionage twist at the end, but a poorly acted character twist. One of the players flip and becomes a psychopath. It is a shame, because up until that point, the film had been half decent – far from perfect – but enjoyable.

The soundtrack to Blue Ice by Michael Kamen is pretty good if you like Bee-Bop jazz. It doesn’t really follow the film, but it is pretty cool anyway. And it features Charlie Watts (from The Rolling Stones) and the Big Band. Musicans include Bobby Short (who plays Buddy in the movie – Piano), Dave Green (Bass), Anthony Kerr (Vibes), Gerald Presencer (Trumpet), and featured musicians Pete King (Alto Sax), and Steve Williamson (Tenor Sax). Oh yes, and Charlie Watts (Drums).

At the end of the day, Blue Ice isn’t a great spy film. It tries hard, but fails due to an uneven script. Any joy that comes from the film, is derived from watching Michael Caine in a role that he has been playing for years (another Harry), This film is for Caine fans only.

The credits claim that Harry Anders is based on a character created by author Ted Allbeury. I have tried to do a little research, but this is as much as I have ascertained.

Allbeury created a Polish-British agent called Tad Anders who appeared in three novels, Snowball (1974), Palomino Blonde (or Omega-Minus in the US) (1975), and The Judas Factor (1984). I have never read these books. Maybe ‘Harry’ is a son?

Please feel free to drop me a line or post a comment if you know more about the history of Harry Anders!

This review is based on the HBO Video DVD USA

Blue Ice (1992)

Requiem For A Secret Agent (1967)


Directed by Sergio Sollima
Stewart Granger, Daniela Bianchi, Peter Van Eyck, Giulio Bosetti, Maria Granada, Gianni Rizzo, Georgia Moll
Music is credited to Antonio Perez Olea, but in fact was composed by Piero Uniliani
The song, ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’, is performed by Lydia McDonald

Requiem For A Secret Agent is a pretty good Eurospy production, which stars Stewart Granger as John ‘Bingo’ Merrill, an agent for hire. The film is good, but it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. You see, ‘Bingo’ is a cold-hearted bastard, and as such it’s hard to cheer for a character you don’t like. But he is human and does make mistakes. It’s one of these mistakes, involving Evelyn Bressart (Daniela Bianchi) that will turn some people off his character and ultimately off the movie. Sean Connery never acted this way!

The film opens in Tangiers, and Agent A139, John O’Brien is whizzing through the streets in a sporty blue convertible. His car is being tailed by a group of thugs in a red and white saloon. O’Brien stops, gets out of his car and walks to the crowded city square. Along the way, he purchases a rug form a street vendor, which he folds over his arm, and discreetly, hides his pistol underneath it. Then he joins a crowd of people who are watching a musical troupe performing. One of the thugs has followed O’Brien and sneaks up behind him. As the music reaches a crescendo, O’Brien fires his discreetly hidden firearm, and the thug slumps to the ground dead. In the commotion, O’Brien disappears into the crowd.

Next we cut to Betty Lou (Maria Granada), who is a strip tease artist. She is performing in front of a projected image of a bullfight. As she removes each layer of clothing, more of the projected image is revealed (as well as her body).

At this point, only a few minutes into the film, I can’t help but thinking I have seen these scenes before. Maybe slightly different, but similar none-the-less. The death of the thug as the musical troupe performed, reminded me of the death of Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) in Thunderball. And the projected images (for a spy movie, at least), look no further than Robert Brownjohn’s title sequences for From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. But I’ll talk more about this later.

But back to the synopsis. As the stripper retires backstage, a middle aged man, Felix Bressart (Luis Induni) is waiting for her in her dressing room. Felix showers Betty Lou, who is obviously a lover, with jewellery, before telling her that he has to go away. It appears that Felix has gotten himself into a spot of bother.

But before Felix leaves, he has arranged to meet agent O’Brien back at his house. O’Brien turns up at the designated time, but finds the door to the house open, and Felix dead. Before O’Brien can act, the lights go out. An unknown assailant stalks O’Brien as he tries to make it out alive, and as he tries to escape through a window, the assailant guns him down.

Moran, the Section Chief for Intelligence in this part of the world needs a replacement for O’Brien. For his trouble he is assigned a free-lance S.O.B., John Merrill, also known as ‘Bingo’.

When we first meet ‘Bingo’ he is in Berlin helping a Professor and his family over ‘the wall’ and into the West. It’s here that Moran meets ‘Bingo’, pays him off, and sends him to Tangiers.

After his flight, as he passes through customs, he meets Evelyn (Daniela Bianchi). Foolishly, she is trying to smuggle a pistol into the country. Ever the professional, ‘Bingo’ smuggles it through for her – albeit without her even releasing that he has removed the gun from her. Little does he know that Evelyn is Felix Bressart’s ex-wife, and she has arrived in town to track down his murderer. Naturally enough, their paths cross again later in the film; – the cold-hearted professional, and the naïve amateur – it can’t end well!

I liked Requiem For A Secret Agent and I think it is well worth seeking out, but only if you are prepared to watch a spy film, where the hero is not suave and sophisticated, and on occasion treats the female characters quite disrespectfully. But that a reflection on real life, I’m afraid. I am sure you have met people who don’t treat women right, or at least have read about them in the newspapers. Then again, maybe that’s why you wouldn’t want to see this film. There’s enough degradation of women in real life, without it being served up to the viewing public as entertainment. But I am please to say, the film does not glorify the misogyny it depicts. The other characters in this film, who are privy to ‘Bingo’s actions are all equally appalled as the viewer is.

Earlier in the review I mentioned how I thought some of the opening scenes appeared to be very similar to scenes in a few Bond movies. The spy film genre is a strange beast that seems at times to feed upon it self. For the projected image sequence, I could have easily mentioned Operation Kid Brother (O.K. Connery) and for the killing of the thug I could have mentioned A Shot In The Dark (although it’s not really a spy film). But what I am clumsily saying is a lot of set pieces in spy movies get repeated again and again. There’s a scene towards the end of Requiem For A Secret Agent that fans of the new Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale may find familiar. One of the characters, Rubech (Peter Van Eyck) walks into his office. Hiding in the shadows is ‘Bingo’ Merrill. He surprises Rubech. Rubech then makes his way to his desk and sits down, all the while keeping ‘Bingo’ talking. As the conversation continues, Rubech discreetly open his desk drawer and retrieves his pistol. He then levels the gun at ‘Bingo’ and then fires. Nothing. ‘Bingo’ then shows Rubech the clip he had removed from the gun earlier. Once upon a time, the knock-offs imitated the Bond films, now days, the Bond films imitate the knock-offs. It has all come full circle.

Requiem For A Secret Agent (1967)