Prisoner In The Middle (1973)


AKA: Warhead, Sabra Command, Mission Overkill
Directed by John O’Connor
David Janssen, Karin Dor, Christopher Stone, David Semadar, Art Metrano
Music (and Sound Effects) by Synchrofilm Inc.

Apparently The Prisoner In The Middle (and all the other names this film goes by), although made in 1973, was not released until 1977. That may indicate that it is a bit of a turkey, but it isn’t that bad. Sure it’s a pretty low to the ground effort, but I have watched worse (and I am sure will continue to do so in the future). The film opens with an active nuclear bomb sitting on desert sand, it’s parachute billowing in the wind. The bomb itself, looks like an accessory from the Bat Mobile. It is a very odd shape, black with fins, and has a giant, bulbous red light, which flashes instead of a nose cone. It’s not very aerodynamic at all.

To bring the viewers up to speed, and in typical spy film fashion, a typed message runs across the bottom of the screen. This one runs a little longer than most:
URGENT REPEAT URGENT! — CODED FROM PENTAGON TO AMERICAN EMBASSY ISRAEL — TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT — CODE NAMED “SUNBIRD” — B52 — ROUTINE FLIGHT NNR 743 — MECHANICAL PROBLEMS…OFF COURSE — ACCIDENTALLY JETTISONED NEW TOP SECRET NUCLEAR WARHEAD OVER JORDANIAN DESERT NEAR ISRAELI BORDER — IMPERATIVE LOCATE ANTHONY STEVENS — NUCLEAR ARMS EXPERT — ON LEAVE JERUSALEM AND ASSIGN TO MISSION —
There is more to the message, but I think you get the gist of it.

So naturally we are in Jerusalem, and here’s where we meet Anthony Stevens (David Janssen). As was the fashion at the time, he is wearing a beige safari suit. As he wanders around, checking out the tourist sites, he is approached by a C.I.A. operative. It’s time for Stevens to find out what we already know.

His mission: He has to parachute into Jordan alone, Find the bomb and destroy the detonator before anyone else can get their hands on it. No sooner than he has received his instructions, we see him parachuting down into the desert. Armed with a Geiger counter, he starts searching for the weapon.

On a desert road, in a bus, Lieutenant Liora Schulman (Karin Dor), an Israeli soldier, is traveling with a group of school children. She is assigned to protect them. The kids are singing and joking around. Hidden in the dunes, on the side of the road is a mortar, and it fires as the bus passes. The bus explodes and everyone is killed except Liora. The perpetrators are the Palestinian Liberation Army, who have slipped across the border to carry out the attack. As the PLA approach the bus, to check the results of their heinous handiwork, Liora picks up a machine gun and mows them down. All except one, their leader, Malouf (David Semadar), who looks like Frank Zappa. He escapes, driving off in a jeep.

Have you ever noticed, that in films where barbaric acts are perpetrated on children, how we rarely see the carnage? (this film shows a little bit.) What we are always shown is a doll or a teddy bear amongst the wreckage. Well, that happens here too. Liora picks up a teddy and stares almost blankly at it. She is in shock. Then the flood of tears start.

Malouf has fled back to Jordan and is in hiding. The Israeli army assemble a team of soldiers to go in after him. The team of sixteen, is headed by Captain Ben-David (Christopher Stone), and Liora is second in command. The team, armed to the teeth, cross the border and a mine field in search of Malouf.

Meanwhile, Stevens has found the bomb. But as he starts to deactivate it, he is captured by Malouf and his men. As the PLA load the missile onto a truck, Ben-David and his soldiers arrive at the scene. A gun battle takes place. Both sides are keen to possess and take control of the nuclear weapon. Stevens caught between the two warring armies, clearly is ‘The Prisoner In The Middle’.

The story itself is quite okay (in a Six Million Dollar Man kind of way), if a bit simple. Afterall, we are talking about a genre that prides itself on convoluted plots, with double and triple crosses. In this movie, everybody is exactly as they seem. Not being the plot, the weaknesses of this film are the casting, and the acting. Janssen is clearly too old (and possibly has one too many chins) to be playing this kind of role. And the acting in places is truly awful. But having said that, The Prisoner In The Middle is serviceable, but I wouldn’t put it high on your list of ‘films to see’.

This review is based on the Flashback Entertainment DVD

Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

AKA: Warhead, Sabra Command, Mission Overkill
Director: John O’Connor
Starring: David Janssen, Karin Dor, Christopher Stone, David Semadar, Art Metrano
Music (and Sound Effects) by Synchrofilm Inc.

Apparently The Prisoner In The Middle (and all the other names this film goes by), although made in 1973, was not released until 1977. That may indicate that it is a bit of a turkey, but it isn’t that bad. Sure it’s a pretty low to the ground effort, but I have watched worse (and I am sure will continue to do so in the future). The film opens with an active nuclear bomb sitting on desert sand, it’s parachute billowing in the wind. The bomb itself, looks like an accessory from the Bat Mobile. It is a very odd shape, black with fins, and has a giant, bulbous red light, which flashes instead of a nose cone. It’s not very aerodynamic at all.

To bring the viewers up to speed, and in typical spy film fashion, a typed message runs across the bottom of the screen. This one runs a little longer than most:

URGENT REPEAT URGENT! — CODED FROM PENTAGON TO AMERICAN EMBASSY ISRAEL — TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT — CODE NAMED “SUNBIRD” — B52 — ROUTINE FLIGHT NNR 743 — MECHANICAL PROBLEMS…OFF COURSE — ACCIDENTALLY JETTISONED NEW TOP SECRET NUCLEAR WARHEAD OVER JORDANIAN DESERT NEAR ISRAELI BORDER — IMPERATIVE LOCATE ANTHONY STEVENS — NUCLEAR ARMS EXPERT — ON LEAVE JERUSALEM AND ASSIGN TO MISSION —

There is more to the message, but I think you get the gist of it.

So naturally we are in Jerusalem, and here’s where we meet Anthony Stevens (David Janssen). As was the fashion at the time, he is wearing a beige safari suit. As he wanders around, checking out the tourist sites, he is approached by a C.I.A. operative. It’s time for Stevens to find out what we already know.

His mission: He has to parachute into Jordan alone, Find the bomb and destroy the detonator before anyone else can get their hands on it. No sooner than he has received his instructions, we see him parachuting down into the desert. Armed with a Geiger counter, he starts searching for the weapon.

On a desert road, in a bus, Lieutenant Liora Schulman (Karin Dor), an Israeli soldier, is traveling with a group of school children. She is assigned to protect them. The kids are singing and joking around. Hidden in the dunes, on the side of the road is a mortar, and it fires as the bus passes. The bus explodes and everyone is killed except Liora. The perpetrators are the Palestinian Liberation Army, who have slipped across the border to carry out the attack. As the PLA approach the bus, to check the results of their heinous handiwork, Liora picks up a machine gun and mows them down. All except one, their leader, Malouf (David Semadar), who looks like Frank Zappa. He escapes, driving off in a jeep.

Have you ever noticed, that in films where barbaric acts are perpetrated on children, how we rarely see the carnage? (this film shows a little bit.) What we are always shown is a doll or a teddy bear amongst the wreckage. Well, that happens here too. Liora picks up a teddy and stares almost blankly at it. She is in shock. Then the flood of tears start.

Malouf has fled back to Jordan and is in hiding. The Israeli army assemble a team of soldiers to go in after him. The team of sixteen, is headed by Captain Ben-David (Christopher Stone), and Liora is second in command. The team, armed to the teeth, cross the border and a mine field in search of Malouf.

Meanwhile, Stevens has found the bomb. But as he starts to deactivate it, he is captured by Malouf and his men. As the PLA load the missile onto a truck, Ben-David and his soldiers arrive at the scene. A gun battle takes place. Both sides are keen to possess and take control of the nuclear weapon. Stevens caught between the two warring armies, clearly is ‘The Prisoner In The Middle’.

The story itself is quite okay (in a Six Million Dollar Man kind of way), if a bit simple. Afterall, we are talking about a genre that prides itself on convoluted plots, with double and triple crosses. In this movie, everybody is exactly as they seem. Not being the plot, the weaknesses of this film are the casting, and the acting. Janssen is clearly too old (and possibly has one too many chins) to be playing this kind of role. And the acting in places is truly awful. But having said that, The Prisoner In The Middle is serviceable, but I wouldn’t put it high on your list of ‘films to see’.

This review is based on the Flashback Entertainment DVD

Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

Die Another Day (2002)


Directed by Lee Tamahori
Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench as M, John Cleese as Q, and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, Colin Salmon as Robinson.
Music by David Arnold
Title Song by Madonna
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming

Is Die Another Day the worst Bond film ever made? In a word, YES! That’s not to say it doesn’t have any good moments, like the sword fight sequence in Blades gentlemen’s club. The fight is one of the most muscular sword fight sequences ever filmed, and the equal to many of the classic fight scenes performed by the likes of Basil Rathbone (The Mark of Zorro), or Stewart Granger (Scaramouche) to name but two. But Die Another Day, as a whole, is a very patchy effort.

The film starts well enough with James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) impersonating a South African mercenary selling conflict diamonds to the North Koreans. Particularly to Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and Zao (Rick Yune). (For those unaware, conflict diamonds originate from African nations controlled by forces in opposition to their legitimate and internationally recognised government (such as Angola or Sierra Leone). These diamonds are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments. On 1 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, unanimously, a resolution which forbade the trade of rough diamonds originating in these areas, in the hope of breaking the link between the illicit trade in rough diamonds and armed conflict.. The recent film Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio shows why this resolution was put in place.)

Unfortunately for Bond, before he can complete his mission, his cover is blown. He escapes in a hovercraft, hotly pursued by the North Korean Army in their own flotilla of hovercrafts.

Ultimately, Bond and Moon end up wrestling on top of the same driverless hovercraft as it rushes towards a waterfall. The craft goes over the falls with Moon, but Bond leaps off at the last moment. His reprieve is short lived as he is captured by the North Koreans.

Here, dear readers, is where the films goes off the rails. Firstly, Madonna’s theme song is rubbish. This is not just a case of Madonna bashing on my behalf. I thought her song, Beautiful Stranger for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was a great pop song, but Die Another Day is sub standard.

Next problem is the title sequence. Bond’s torture at the hands of his captures continues throughout the titles. Daniel Klein, who took over the Bond title sequences after the passing of Maurice Binder, has proven himself over the past three movies. Let him do his job!

Once the film resumes, eighteen months has passed and Bond is still a captive. He is far from the suave, impeccably dressed agent we are used to. He is gaunt; his hair is long a matted and an unkempt beard adorns his face. But his incarceration period is over as he is swapped in a prisoner exchange, for Zao, who is now horribly disfigured with a diamond encrusted head.

Back in safe hands, Bond is not trusted. There has been an information leak and Bond is the obvious suspect. He is to be interrogated and locked up. Before this can happen he escapes. Clothed in a soggy set of pyjamas and with his hair still matted and tangled he marches into the foyer of an exclusive Hotel in Hong Kong. Of course, all the guests are disgusted at his appearance, but unperturbed, Bond walks up to the front desk and asks for his usual suite.

Within moments, Bond is cleaned up and back in a Tuxedo. Not long after that, he is in Cuba, tracking down Zao, the man he was traded for in the prisoner exchange. Bond traces Zao to Los Organos, a gene altering, transformation clinic. It is here that Bond meets C.I.A. agent Jacinta Johnson, A.K.A. Jinx (Halle Berry). Both agents are working on the same case but from different ends. But does this mean that they would pool their resources and work together? Not on your life. After a quick interlude, they go their separate ways.

Bond catches up to Zao at the clinic, but Zao evades capture. But he does leave behind one clue. Diamonds. These diamonds are engraved with G.G. While Bond was in captivity a young entrepreneur, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), has started a diamond mine in Iceland and had struck it rich. Bond finds it suspicious, that Graves’ diamonds should have they same composition as African Conflict Diamonds. He decides to look into Graves operation more thoroughly.

Although Toby Stephens is a good actor, he was fantastic in Cambridge Spies, in this film his performance is particularly ‘hammy’. Admittedly, he got lumbered with some atrocious dialogue, and equally silly scenes to act out. He comes off as a rather petulant young pup. When compared to the Bond villains of the past, he simply isn’t a threat.

My two major gripes, of the many things that I didn’t like, were the editing and the sloppy CGI. Editor Christian Wagner has adopted an MTV style of editing where there is exaggerated speeding up and slowing down of the action to create a visual effect. But all this does is cause Bond to look less potent than he should. Rather than throwing a good hard punch, Bond’s actions are slowed down and stylised. It is almost visual castration.

And now onto the CGI. It was atrocious. If there is one thing us Bond fans have come to expect is that the stunts that are performed professionally and generally, where possible, actually in front of the camera. Think of Bond skiing of the cliff in The Spy Who Loved Me (and now think of it done with CGI – blah!) But in Die Another Day we are treated to some substandard effects as Bond rides a gigantic ice wave. I know it couldn’t be done in real life, but at least hire a team of professionals who can render this type of environment well. It looks like a video game.

I am not even going to talk about the invisible car! My thoughts on that are best not aired in public.

A quick word about the music: With the exception of Madonna’s title song, which I have already talked about, the Dave Arnold score is of a high standard. Particularly the Cuban rhythms which are not only infectious they creatively incorporate the James Bond Theme. Strangely, little of the Cuban music ends up on the Soundtrack CD. But my last gripe about the music used in Die Another Day is the inclusion of London Calling by The Clash as Bond returns to London. In any other film, I’d almost applaud the use of The Clash or Joe Strummer in a soundtrack but in a Bond film it is inappropriate.

After the success of this film, there was talk of a spinoff movie featuring Halle Berry as Jinx. Again it was to be directed by Lee Tamahori. It is rumoured that a script was prepared but he film never eventuated. Maybe we were lucky? Tamahori would later go on to destroy the xXx franchise.

Die Another Day was an unworthy swan song for Pierce Brosnan. Sure Brosnan will go on to make great films after his time as Bond, but I sort of feel, that his Bond films were wasted opportunities. He’s a good actor, and he had the charm and charisma to succeed as Bond, but unfortunately he got lumbered with some poor scripts, and crew members (Directors, Editors, and even Actors) who just weren’t up to the task. Thankfully for the Bond series, the producers went in a different direction for the next feature Casino Royale. Sure, it was sad to see Pierce go, but if the series was to survive, a new approach was needed. And thankfully we got it.

Die Another Day (2002)

My Name Is Modesty (2003)


Directed by Scott Spiegel
Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Raymond Cruz, Fred Pearson, Eugenia Yuan,
Music by Deborah Lurie
Based on Characters created by Peter O’Donnell

Time was running out for Miramax films, who held the film rights to the character Modesty Blaise. They had to make a film quickly or lose those rights. My Name Is Modesty is the result. It isn’t a ‘bad’ picture, but it is a low budget production which attempts to tell a small story about how Modesty, became Modesty Blaise. It is not a slam-bang action film. And in no way does it resemble the 1966 film, Modesty Blaise (and that is a good thing!) It was filmed in Romania and shot over a period of eighteen days…as you can see; it wasn’t exactly a labour of love…more of a contractual obligation.

The film starts off with a slick monochromatic title sequence, which uses pop-art colours. Since Modesty began her life as a comic-strip character, this seems appropriate. Then the story starts, somewhere in the Balkans…

In the middle of a war zone, a group of soldiers take a break from the carnage to eat. In the ruins is a young girl, Modesty of course, in tattered rags. It appears that her family is dead, and she lives amongst the rubble. One of the soldiers offers her a can of food, and asks her name. No reply. She takes it, and then is gone!

Eleven years later we are in a casino in Tangiers. Modesty Blaise (Alexandra Staden) is now one of the managers of the casino. She says:
“Everybody is born with a certain amount of luck. Some spend their luck on cards – some spend it at the roulette wheel – one in thirty-six chances – for the lucky, the brave or the foolish. One in thirty-six did I say? Actually no! One out of thirty-seven. Most people like to forget that the odds are stacked against them!”

Although Modesty is in charge of the casino, she doesn’t own it. Her boss is Henri Louche (Valetin Teodosin). Louche is planning some ‘big’ deal. We aren’t told what it is, but we know it is illegal and requires him to have a large amount of cash in the casino vault. As Louche, is chauffeured home, his car is ambushed and he is shot and killed.

Then the assailants burst through the door of the casino and shoot up the place. Naturally enough (in case you haven’t worked it out), they are after the money in the vault. Unfortunately for them, their itchy trigger fingers have killed all the people who know the combination. Well, except for one man, Garcia (Raymond Cruz) who has taken the evening off and is ‘entertaining’ a lady friend out of town.

The head of assailants, mercenaries if you will, is Myklos (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He is a blood thisty, shoot first – ask questions later kind of guy. He now finds himself in a predicament. He takes all the staff hostage and threatens to shoot one person at a time till he is given the combination to the vault. Modesty takes control and explains that only one man can open it. She calls him on the phone, with a gun at her temple, so she can’t warn him. Garcia prepares to make his way back to the casino, but it will take him a few hours to make the journey.

While the mercenaries and the captive casino staff wait for him to return, Myklos and Modesty engage in a game of roulette to pass the time. If Modesty wins three spins in a row, one of the hostages is released. If Myklos wins, he gets to ask Modesty a question about her past. Why is he, a cold-blooded killer, so infatuated with Modesty? Let’s just say it is one of the conceits of the script, so that we can see via flashback how Modesty Blaise became the person she is today.

If you can get over the ‘smallness’ of this picture, it almost succeeds. The idea of explaining the origins of Modesty’s character is a good one – and even the films structure, given it’s budgetry and time constraints is pretty good. The real weak link is Alexandra Staden as Modesty. She certainly looks the part, but in a small (there’s that word again) ensemble piece like this, you really need an actress who is ‘electric’ as Modesty. Staden does not have the charisma or the depth to bring Modesty to life. It is pivotal that she dominates her screen time, and this doesn’t happen.

Many other reviews for My Name Is Modesty are fairly scathing, which isn’t an accurate reflection on this film. It is very flawed, that’s for sure, but if you have an interest in Peter O’Donnell’s character then this movie is not a total waste of time. It presents a different insight into one of popular cultures most loved heroines.

Let’s hope that if another Modesty Blaise film is made, that they finally get it right.

This review is based on the Miramax Home Entertainment USA DVD

My Name Is Modesty (2003)

Half Past Dead (2002)


Directed by Don Michael Paul
Steven Seagal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule, Nia Peeples, Tony Plana, Claudia Christian, Linda Thorson, Kurupt
Music by Tyler Bates

Half Past Dead is a spy action film for generation Y or Z. In some ways it may not seem like a spy film at all, but Steven Seagal’s character is an undercover F.B.I. agent. Clearly that means it is a spy movie, but it is not in the classic style. In fact, when watching the film, we are not supposed to know who the ‘spy’ is, which is a key plot point and adds to the intrigue. At this point, you are probably saying, “why did you spoil it?” On the cover of the DVD I saw, it clearly states that ‘Half Past Dead sees Seagal as an undercover F.B.I. agent…’ No surprises left. Onto the movie itself.

Akeido Master, Steven Seagal plays Sasha Petrosevitch, a career criminal, who specialises in stealing and driving fast cars. When we first meet Sasha, he is awoken by his employer, Nick Frazier (Ja Rule), and his boss, the head of the whole syndicate. It seems that the syndicate has an F.B.I. informer in it’s midst. Sasha is forced to undergo a polygraph test, which he passes with flying colours. He is in the clear, and free to continue his criminal activities.

That night, after Sasha and Frazier have boosted a car and taken it to a chop-shop to be altered, the F.B.I. storm the building. The F.B.I team leader, Special Agent Ellen Williams (Claudia Christian) tries to convince Frazier to surrender. Instead, Frazier keeps winking at her, and threatening to shoot it out. We, the viewers, are supposed to think that the ‘winking’ is some kind of code to the F.B.I., and that Frazier is the informant. It is in fact a nervous tick, and he continues to do it throughout the movie. But none-the-less, a nice red herring. Naturally enough the standoff between Frazier and his men, and the F.B.I. escalates and a firefight results.

In the gun battle, Sasha is shot. We next see the medics working feverishly in an attempt to bring him back to life. The monitor beside them shows a flat-line, and although not reflected in the movie, some twenty two minutes pass before he is revived. In this movie, dying and being brought back to life is called ‘Half Past Dead’.

The film skips ahead nine months, and Alcatraz Prison has reopened. It is now called New Alcatraz, and it houses the worst of the worst. The newest lot of arrivals include Sasha and Frazier. Although arriving at the same time, they have spent the preceding nine months in different prisons. They have not seen each other since the night of the shootout.

The film has many awkward moments, but surely the most surreal is when the new arrivals are marched through in single file to their cells. Seagal’s strut has to be seen to be believed. All the other young punks glide through the gates with attitude, but middle-aged Seagal’s head wobbles without rhythm, like a dashboard ornament in an old car. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a comedy routine.

In general, this film has a youthful edge. It was never made for my generation. It was made for fifteen year old boys. So it’s okay if I don’t like it. Every generation has their own thing. So why is a dinosaur like Steven Seagal doing acting with Ja Rule and Kurupt. Or more to the point, what do the youngsters want with Steven Seagal? I don’t have an answer, but Seagal’s attempt to be young, hip and ‘with it’, dude, are clumsy.

Anyway, back to the story. New Alcatraz has a brand spanking new execution chamber, and on this evening it is going to be christened. Lester McKenna (Bruce Weitz), a prisoner who has been appealing against his sentence for seventeen years is to be executed at midnight. But Lester has a backstory. All those years ago, he stole two hundred million dollars worth of gold bars. And in the time he has been in prison, he has never divulged their location to anyone. It seems like his secret is going to go to the grave with him.

One militant group of mercenaries, run by Donald Robert Johnson (Morris Chestnut) has other ideas. His team parachute into Alcatraz, eliminating the guards on the outside. Once inside, they systematically make their way to the execution chamber, killing anyone who stands in their way. Initially the inmates do not pose a problem, as they are happy to be freed from their cells and support any breakdown of the ‘system’. But all guards are shot.

Johnson and his mercenaries’ plan was simple. Parachute in. Get Lester. And then a helicopter, will meet them, and fly them to safety. Well it ‘was’ simple. Unfortunately for the merc’s, a violent storm hits San Francisco. The helicopter pilot, who was coming to retrieve them, was flying blind as he approached Alcatraz. As he attempted to land, he hit one of the guard towers, and the helicopter crashed.

Now Johnson and Co. have no way out. They take everyone hostage, including Lester and the High Court Judge, Jane McPherson (Linda Thorson- Avengers fans will remember her as Tara King), who is attending the condemned prisoner’s execution. Once the hostages have been taken, it is a different ballgame, and it is up to Sasha and a group of misfit prisoners to take back the prison and free the hostages. Yep, it’s a lot like Seagal’s hit film Under Siege, and with the Alcatraz setting, there is a bit of The Rock in there too. But Half Past Dead is not up to their standard.

If you take Half Past Dead for what it is, a loud, noisy action flick, aimed at the youth market, then it isn’t too bad. But more seasoned viewers will find that they have seen this all before, and performed by much more charismatic actors than we have on display here.

Apparently a sequel has been made to this called (funnily enough) Half Past Dead 2. Steven Seagal has opted out on this one, and Bill Goldberg plays the lead.

This review is based on the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Australia DVD

Half Past Dead (2002)

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)


AKA: The Invisble Claws Of Dr. Mabuse
The Invisible Horror
Directed by Harald Reinl
Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Siegfried Lowitz, Wolfgang Preiss, Rudolph Fernau, Werner Peters
Music by Peter Sandloff

An appreciative audience has gathered at the Metropol Theatre to witness an Operetta. As the musical performance proceeds, in a viewing box at the back of the theatre, a set of binoculars follows the performers on stage – only these binoculars appear to be floating, as if an invisible man was holding them. No prizes for guessing who? So begins The Invisible Dr. Mabuse, a 1962 production, once again featuring Lex Barker as FBI agent Joe Como (Barker also appeared in The Return Of Dr. Mabuse, as Como). Como is a big lug. he seems to walk into more traps than he sets, but with sheer brute force, he manages to slug his way out of trouble.

Back at the Metropol; after the show, Nick Prado, an FBI agent snoops about backstage. One of Mabuse’s henchmen, Clown Bobo (Werner Peters – who managed to survive at the end of the last Dr. Mabuse picture) releases a trapdoor underneath the agent. The agent falls to a lower level of the theatre. Soon he is surrounded by Mabuse and his goons. We don’t actually see Mabuse; we see his shadow on a wall. The agent is questioned about the creatively titled ‘Operation X’. He says nothing and for his trouble is tortured and killed.

Mabuse’s henchmen dispose of the body clumsily on a wharf, and soon the police are involved. And in from America, the FBI send Joe Como to replace the dead agent. As the German connection, this time we don’t have Inspector Lohmann (maybe he finally got to go on his fishing trip?), and instead have Inspector Brahm (Siegfried Lowitz). Brahm is a bit more clandestine than his predecessor. He doesn’t have an office at police headquarters; he is located secretly at the back of an optometrist. Como immediately suspects Dr. Mabuse, but Brahm is skeptical. Everybody knows that Mabuse died at the end of the last film.

At the heart of this mystery, is ‘Operation X’, which is a top secret experiment being conducted by Professor Erasmus (Rudolph Fernau). Nobody has seen the professor in months because he keeps himself locked in his laboratory. No prizes for guessing what type of experiments he is working on. Yep, invisibility. And the authorities are now concerned that Mabuse (or some madman pretending to be Mabuse) has now acquired the Professor’s secret.

All the clues lead back to the Metropol theatre and seem to centre around the leading lady, Liane Martin (Karin Dor – Bond fans will remember her as the wicked Helga Brandt from You Only Live Twice“Mr. Osato believes in a healthy chest!”) In this picture she is the object of everyones affection and attention. Professor Erasmus has fallen in love with her and goes to see her perform every night. Dr. Mabuse wants her, because through her, he can control Erasmus. And finally Joe Como wants her because…well, he’s the star of the movie. the big lug has to get the girl at the end.

This movie (if you don’t mind old black and white films from Germany), is perfect popcorn fare. It has everything you could want, from punch-ups, gun play, a damsel in distress, mad scientists, and an invisible army of men attempting to change the fate of the world. There’s even a hint of Phantom Of The Opera to it, with much of the action taking place within the depths of the theatre. I enjoyed this very much, and although not to everyone’s taste, if this sounds like your cup of tea, I would recommend this entry in the Dr. Mabuse series.

Director Harald Reinl, scriptwriter Ladislas Fodor, and actors Karin Dor and Rudolph Furnau would work together again of the Bryan Edgar Wallace ‘krimi’, The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle, which too, is a great deal of fun.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961)


Directed by Harald Reinl
Gert Frobe, Lex Barker, Daliah Lavi, Fausto Tozzi, Wolfgang Preiss
Music by Peter Sandloff

An undercover police officer sits alone in a compartment on a train. A suitcase is chained to his wrist. He is transporting some valuable documents from the USA to Germany that incriminate the mob.

A handicapped man with a wooden leg enters the train compartment. The officer insists that he sits elsewhere as he is in a restricted compartment. The handicapped man complains that his wooden leg is causing him discomfort. The officer relents and allows him to be seated. Soon after, the train rushes through a tunnel (no sexual symbolism here). When the train exits the tunnel, both men are gone and the window is open.

Next we meet Inspector Lohmann (Gert Frobe – most people will recognise Frobe as Goldfinger, from the film of the same name). Lohmann is about to go on leave; an extended fishing trip. But as he is about to head off, wouldn’t you know it, the phone rings. Lohmann is called back to duty, to investigate the murder of the police officer whose body was found by the railroad tracks.

Lohmann’s investigations lead him to some interesting characters. The first is Joe Como (Lex Barker). Como is supposed to be an FBI agent sent to infiltrate the Mob. But he may be Nick Scapio, a Mafia hoodlum posing as Como. We also meet Maria Sabrehm (an incredibly youthful Daliah Lavi). She is the daughter of a scientist, who was falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Her father, Professor Sabrehm (Rudolph Forster), is now serving time in the local prison. That brings us to the prison doctor Bohmier, (Werner Peters), who have some unusual methods for rehabilitating the inmates.

What about Dr. Mabuse himself? He isn’t seen for most of the picture, but we hear his voice over the phone, and through microphones that seem to be planted all over the city. Somehow, Mabuse is controlling the inmates at the prison with an injection that turns them into mindless goons. Once the prisoners are attuned to Mabuse’s commands he sends them off, outside the prison walls, to do his bidding. In this instalment in the Mabuse series, his goal is to take over the cities nuclear power plant.

Initially Lohmann belies that the Warden is somehow involved in the crimes that are being committed in the name of Dr. Mabuse, but after the Warden’s car is blown up in the main street, his suspicions have to divert elsewhere.

This film features one great set piece, where Como and Maria are trapped in a generator room at the prison. Mabuse opens a series of water valves and the room begins to flood. We’ve all seen this scenario before (Espionage In Tangiers, springs to mind, and I seem to remember an episode of Get Smart, where Max was trapped in a phone booth that began to fill with water). But Como’s solution to this problem is better than most.

Another great element to this film is the music by Peter Sandloff. I must confess I don’t know much about Sandloff, but his hot stompin’ jazz score to this film is fantastic. There is a great catchy saxophone riff that once you have heard it, it will get stuck in your head for days.

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse is barely more than an amplified crime film, but it’s enigmatic villain, with his hidden microphones and cameras is clearly a Super Villain. He is one of the templates for the cinematic Blofelds of the world and is worthy of inclusion on this blogsite.

This film won’t please everyone, firstly because it is in German, so you’ll either have to watch a dubbed copy or read subtitles. Secondly it is in black and white. And third, by today’s standards, it is light on for action and the special effects, aren’t that special. But, if you are interested in the evolution of spy films to this day, this film will be of great interest, and provide solid entertainment. It may not be as canonical as some of the other Mabuse films, but it is definitely worth a look.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961)