The Blue Dulac (1989)

Director: Dennis Berry
Starring: Simon Dutton, John Astin, Camille Naud, Sabine Naud, Patricia Barzyk
Music: Serge Franklin (with additional music by Tony Britten)
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

Umbrella Entertainment have finally released the 1989 The Saint series on DVD. Now this series isn’t particularly good, unsure of whether it’s a comedy, or a gritty crime series. Thankfully this entry brings back some of the jet-setting glamour that was missing from other episodes. The Blue Dulac is set in France and features some grand homes and architecture. It at least looks like Simon Templar is living the high-life; rather than just being an average Joe with a penchant for theft and beautiful women.

The film opens in France. A young couple, Jack and Christine Coultar return to their palatial home only to find that is has been trashed. Red spray paint has been used on the painted art, walls and furniture; and all the mirrors, statues and vases have been shattered. The curtains and drapery have been shredded. The door to the safe lies open. Inside is a note saying that next time they come back when Christine is at home. Jack closes the door to the safe, but it has been wired to a bomb. The house is blown up and Jack and Christine killed.

The man that police believe is behind the atrocity is George La Force (John Astin – but he’ll always be Gomez Adams to me). La Force is a big time gangster who blows up anyone or anything that stands in his way. La Force looks like he’ll be brought to trial for the murder of Jack and Christine, but at the last minute, the Judge decides not to proceed with the case due to a lack of evidence. In fact though, La Force had a team of thugs hold the Judge’s family held at gunpoint. If the Judge had proceeded, La Force would have killed his family.

As so often happens in these Saintly adventures, Jack and Christine were friends with Simon Templar (Simon Dutton) AKA: The Saint. It is not long before The Saint is in France and attempting to bring down La Force’s empire of evil.

La Force has one weakness which Templar plans to exploit – it is a fondness, verging on obsession, for sapphires. Posing as a jewel thief named Lamont, Templar intends to steal The Blue Dulac, a priceless sapphire necklace, and apportion the blame to La Force.

Helping and hindering Templar in his quest are Sabine and Seraphin, a set of twins who’s father was killed in a bomb blast set off by La Force. As gorgeous as the twins are, their acting is sub-par. Bad acting seems to be a common fault in this series of The Saint. As likeable an actor as John Astin is, casting him as a bad guy in a movie set in France is doomed from the outset. I keep expecting him to say “Tish, you spoke French!”

Simon Dutton, as always, cuts a fine figure as The Saint. His hairstyle may have dated slightly, but he certainly isn’t painful to watch, unlike some of the actors and actresses in this show. For my mind, The Blue Dulac is a step up from The Software Murders (but that isn’t hard), but it is hardly core Saint material. If you’re a fan of The Saint then this maybe worth a look just to tick it off your list, but other than that I’d probably give it a miss.

The Blue Dulac (1989)

Sea Dragon

Written By Jim Lawrence
Illustrated by Yaroslav Horak
Originally published in syndicated newspapers in Europe 1977
Currently published in ‘Death Wing’ by Titan Books 2007

More James Bond comic strip mayhem. Titan Books over than last few years have been producing a series of Graphic Novels featuring the classic James Bond newspaper strips. Each of these books contains multiple stories. Starting in 1958, originally the James Bond strip started out as a serialisation of Ian Fleming’s stories, but by 1968 they had run out of source material and started to invent their own stories. Sea Dragon was one of the later stories from 1977, and it can be found in the Death Wing graphic novel.

The story starts at sea in the Bahamas. Sir Ivor Morlock’s boat is at anchor and he is doing a spot of marlin fishing. As he dangles he line over the side, James Bond, using a back-pack helicopter flies out and lands on the boat. He has a warning for Sir Ivor. Apparently death threats have been made against him, and Bond advices him to sail into port and come into protective custody. Sir Ivor shrugs off the threats and claims to be perfectly safe at sea, away from the general population.

Sir Ivor goes back to his fishing, and it appears he has a bite. A big one. But rather than reel in a Marlin, he reels in a topless girl with a scuba tank. Once freed from the fishing line, the girl immediately jumps back over board. Bond thinks this is pretty suspicious and dives in after her in pursuit.

The boat then explodes killing Sir Ivor and all those on board. It is surmised that the female diver was an assassin you had planted limpet mines on the ships hull.

Naturally Bond survives the blast, but wakes up in hospital. While recuperating, and assassin sneaks into Bond’s room with a knife and tries to kill him. Bond naturally, survives the attack, but suspects that the nurse who has been caring for him is actually behind the attempt on his life. How else would the attacker know when Bond would be alone.

Once out of hospital, Bond pays a visit to the nurse’s home. Inside he finds a small fertility statuette. Coincidently, the girl who blew-up Sir Ivor Morlock’s boat had the same fertility god tattooed on her thigh. Back in London, Bond does a little research. He finds out that the fertility godess in question is called the ‘Magna Mater’. Enquiring about the statuettes at an auction house, Bond finds out that they have all recently been sold to a company called ‘She Unlimited’ – a chain of companies, run by women, for women.

‘She Unlimited’ have a giant skyscraper in the centre of London. Bond decides to pay them a visit with a special helicopter devised by Q-Branch. At the flick of a switch, as Bond flies overhead, the helicopter appears to belch smoke and leak oil. Bond performs a mock emergency landing on top of the ‘She Unlimited’ building.

Bond, adopting the alias Mark Hazard, finds that the head of ‘She Unlimited’, Magda Mathers is most accommodating. She has her own team of mechanics attend to Bond’s helicopter while she entertains Bond in the palatial pool in the buildings penthouse suite. Bond hadn’t brought any swimming attire, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Magda Mathers who seems content to parade around naked anyway.

Once Bond’s helicopter is fixed, he is sent on his way. As there was nothing really wrong with the helicopter, Bond finds it rather suspicious that they had to carry out a series of lengthy repairs on the machine. Bond’s suspicions are correct as the helicopter has had a time bomb planted in it and it is set to explode. Luckily Bond is onto the ruse and leaps out over the Thames as the copter goes up in a ball of flame.

Meanwhile at sea, Max Goodstone is on his boat when it is attacked by a sea monster. The monsters head reaches up and grabs Goodstone and gobbles him up. It so happens that Max Goodstone and Sir Ivor Morlock were two of the three directions of a North Sea Oil Consortium, which Magda Mathers wants to buy into. The third director of the company is a Frenchman named Jacques Vizard. Bond figures that Vizard will be the next target for Madame Magda Mathers murderess ways. Bond flies to France but is too late.

The controlling interest in the North Sea Oil Consortium falls to Vizard’s daughter. Angelique, and now as you’ve no doubt guessed, Madame M is now after her.

Sea Dragon is a brisk and extremely entertaining Bond adventure. Like all the stories scripted by Jim Lawrence, Bond is written as a Cockney with plenty of ‘ere Luv type dialogue. At times he comes across more like Willie Garvin from the Modesty Blaise comic strip than the suave sophisticated James Bond. Despite this, Bond’s actions are still very Bond like, and the story has a great climax, which involves Bond battling the Sea Dragon.

Sea Dragon

Kiss Me Monster (1969)

Directed by Jess Franco
Janine Reynaud, Rosanna Yanni, Adrian Hoven, Michel Lemoine, Barta Barri,
Music by Jerry Van Rooyen (and Daniel White)

Kiss Me Monster is another Jess Franco film. This time I am not going to bombard you with information about how weird Franco’s films are. Those who have been paying attention already know that. For those that need a refresher, check out reviews of Lucky The Inscrutable and Future Women. For the rest of you who are brave enough – let’s move on. Kiss Me Monster is a sequel to Two Undercover Angels (AKA: Sadisterotica), which starred Janine Reynaud as Rosanna Yanni as two swinging female detectives, who run a detective agency called Red Lips.

The movie starts with one of the Red Lips, Regina (Rosanna Yanni) speeding towards the airport in her white sports car, but she is stopped by a car blocking the road. Alighting from the car is Maloo from Interpol. Maloo is dressed in a bright yellow suit. This isn’t a costume, this is his idea of fashion. If you think that is nonsensical wait till you hear his question for Regina. He says ‘There’s some kind of madman who is making human’s from tin cans or something like that – do you have any information’. Kind of vague, isn’t it? Regina says that particular case is now closed and she is heading to the airport to go back home. Maloo allows her to leave, but promises to follow on the next flight.

Diana (Janine Reynaud), the other half of the Red Lips and Regina catch their flight and leave the country. As the credits roll, we see their plane take off and land, and then there’s a black and white car chase with characters I don’t recognise. I don’t think it has anything to do with this film. But once the girls arrive home, Diana carries inside a big red box. This box is the Maguffin in the movie.

Barely have the girls had any time to unpack or undress, and there is a knock at the door. It is Maloo. He said he was going to catch the next flight. No doubt it left exactly three minutes after the girls flight because he has got there just as quickly. And he has brought a friend with him. This man is Inspector Kramer (Barta Barri), also from Interpol. Kramer wants to know all the details of the girls last case. Under threat of arrest, the girls flash back to how it all began…

It started at their house a few months back. On a stormy night, there is a knock at their door. Regina answers and finds a young man with a rolled up piece of sheet music. He says that the score is for the Red Lips. Before he can say too much more he is killed by a knife thrown into his back. Rather than reporting the murder, the girls put the body in their car and drive to some cliffs overlooking the sea. Then they toss the body into the water below.

One of the lyrics in the sheet music convinces the girls to make a trip abroad to a place called Abilene. It seems that their arrival was expected though – by quite a few interested parties, including a group of amazons, a satanic cult, a few mobsters and some unorthodox scientists. For here on the girls start to unravel the clues and move to discover the whereabouts of Professor Bertrand who has found a way to clone people. When I say ‘unravel the clues’, I am being kind of generous because not much makes too much sense.
At one point Regina says ‘I just want to know what’s going on?’
Diana replies ‘You don’t need to know!’
I guess that sums up the whole film really. I wouldn’t spend too much of your time trying to work out the story. Just let the candy coloured visuals and the music sweep over you. As this is a Franco film, the music isn’t too bad. Say what you like about Mr. Franco’s directorial ability, but it must be admitted most of his films have pretty good jazz scores. This one is by Jerry Van Rooyen who also did Two Undercover Angels. In fact I think it’s the same score, but that doesn’t matter it’s enjoyable.

Speaking of recycling things from Two Undercover Angels, Kiss Me Monster has a groovy nightclub scene where young hipsters bump and sway to an un-named band. Intercut with this footage – and noticeably very different – is the strip club scene from Two Undercover Angels.

As you’ve probably guessed (then again maybe not, because the story is such a mess), the red box from the start of the movie contains Professor Bertrand’s cloning apparatus and all the varied criminals and organisations want to get their hands on it. But it has been hidden in Lo pagan in Spain. (I think Franco also went to Lo pagan for the ending of Lucky The Inscrutable – it must be cheap and have some nice restaurants!)

Kiss Me Monster doesn’t really have any monsters in it. There’s a few dumb clones, but no monsters. There is a kind of spy story running underneath here somewhere, but as I have said, the story doesn’t really matter at all. This film is for Franco fans, and people who like swinging sixties cinema no matter how vacuous it is.

Kiss Me Monster (1969)

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 3

Don McGregor and Gary Caldwell
Dark Horse Comics 1995
Cover painting by Christopher Moeller

Here we are, about to launch into the final book in The Quasimodo Gambit saga. So far, Bond has been in numerous fist fights and guns battles. He has been knocked out once. Has had to escape from a burning cane field and a whole slither of snakes. Then he had his mouth forced open and leeches placed under his tongue, which burrowed into the soft fleshy membranes beneath. Sure, Bond has survived much more than this, but he is a little worse for wear as we move forward. As this is the last book in a series of three, this micro review may contain spoilers. Naturally I won’t reveal the ending, but as this is a Bond story, it’s not hard to connect the dots from the various scraps of information I give you. But if you are willing to proceed, then read on.

When we last left James Bond, he had been tortured by Maximillian ‘Quasimodo’ Steel in Georgia. So he is a little slow to get back to where the action is. In New York City however, Nebula Valentine and Felix Leiter are on the job and are following Reverend Elias Hazelwood. Little do they realise that they too have picked up a tail, in the hunchbacked form of Maximillian ‘Quasimodo’ Steel. Nebula and Felix are led into a trap where they are surrounded by Quasimodo and his men. Both are given a good beating and left battered and bleeding on the street. Nebula requires hospitalisation.

Bond finally makes in to New York from the Georgia Swamps and is dismayed at the damage that Quasimodo has done to the beautiful young Nebula Valentine. This attack only strengthens Bond’s resolve to bring down Hazelwood’s whole organisation and to settle his own personal vendetta with Quasimodo.

In Hazelwood’s mind New York stands for everything that has become godless in the world. He intends to send out a message denouncing the Satan’s existence in the modern world. To do this, he has chosen to destroy a skyscraper – 666 Fifth Avenue, near Rockefeller Centre. Hazelwood is convinced he is on the side of the angels and this attack is the first in his war against the devil.

Quasimodo and Ernest ‘Light Touch’ Force are Hazelwood’s foot soldiers who will carry out this daring deed. They were both mercenaries once and know how to handle and use high explosives. They go to work planting their explosives in the ceiling of the Hackensack Novelty Company which has its offices of the fifteenth floor of the Three Sixes Building.

Teamed with Felix Leiter, who has made a quick recovery after the beating me took earlier in the day, James Bond has one lead left – a girl named Gretchen Blair has been linked to Elias Hazelwood, and she works for the Hackensack Novelty Company. Putting the pieces together – threats to destroy the beast – large amount of high explosives – plans of a New York skyscraper – a known accomplice who works in a building designated ‘666’ – Bond surmises that Hazelwood and his cronies intend to blow up the Three Sixes Building. He gets Felix to pilot a chopper up to the building so he can check inside with night vision goggles. Inside he sees Quasimodo and other Disciples Of The Heavenly Way transferring the explosives into the ceiling. Not one to wait around, Bond swings from the chopper and crashes through the window surprising the perpetrators inside.

And that’s where I’ll leave the synopsis dear reader. Naturally Bond has his hands full taking on a skyscraper full of terrorists.

The notes at the back of the book reveals an interesting aspect about the production of The Quasimodo Gambit.
’…The Quasimodo Gambit was essentially written in late 1989 and early 1990, and that storyline was not inspired by the frightening bombing of the World trade Centre, nor the violent confrontation between law enforcement officials and members of an obscure religious sect in Waco, Texas.’

It makes sense that the story was written in late 1989. Thinking back to 1988, that was the year that Die Hard was released at the cinemas, with Bruce Willis singularly taking on a skyscraper full of terrorists at Christmas time. This final section of The Quasimodo Gambit is also set around Christmas time, with the giant Christmas trees in Rockefeller Centre providing a backdrop for some of the action. There are other similarities to Die Hard, the most obvious of which you can see on the front cover image at the top, is some scrounging around in elevator shafts.

All in all, The Quasimodo Gambit is a very enjoyable read. It has many flaws though, like silly character names, and a few small pacing issues – like Quasimodo makes it to New York to beat up on Felix and Nebula, long before Bond gets there, even though Bond has the aid of the US Coast Guard and all of Felix’s connections. And Felix’s rapid recovery after having his lights kicked out by Quasimodo is a bit far fetched – the guy is pretty amazing, even though he has been beaten up he can still hold a chopper steady with his steel claw (he lost his hand to sharks in Live And Let Die) while battling fierce wind drafts swirling up between the skyscrapers. Ah, but this is Bond! We’ve all seen and read more ridiculous actions scenes than that, so it’s easy to forgive.

In Part one of The Quasimodo Gambit, I suggested that James Bond is a perfect character for a series of comic book adventures – as long as they were done right. I’ve got to say, that Dark Horse got most of it right. I am still not convinced with Gary Caldwell’s illustration technique which I believe is a little too stiff – for Bond anyway. Bond should be fluid. He should move like a cat. But the story is certainly acceptable and I thought the torture scene was great. It must be difficult to come up with new beasties for Bond to contend with – cinematically we’ve had Spiders, Snakes, Piranhas, Sharks, Tigers, Scorpions and Rats. In books we’ve had centipedes, killer ants, eels, mosquitos and the list goes on. The Quasimodo Gambit’s creepy crawly sequence works.

Graphic Novels and comics aren’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in alternative Bond stories, then The Quasimodo Gambit is acceptable fair. If you can track down copies, they are worth the read.

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 3

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 2

Don McGregor and Gary Caldwell
Dark Horse Comics 1995
Cover painting by Christopher Moeller

When we left The Quasimodo Gambit James Bond and fellow agent, Nebula Valentine had just had their asses kicked in Jamaica by a religious zealot, Reverend Elias Hazelwood, Ernest ‘Light Touch’ Force and Maximillian ‘Quasimodo’ Steel. At the end of the story they had made off with a semi-trailer full of weapons and C4 explosive.

Bond’s only lead is Elias Hazelwood, and his religious group, The Disciples Of The Heavenly Way. Bond decides to pay a visit to their Jamaican retreat. It is not so much a retreat, as a military compound. After scaling the walls and entering the compound, Bond discovers a shooting range, where The Disciples are being taught how to use semi-automatic weapons. Inside the building, Bond discovers a war room with a the plans to a New York building. He also finds the details of one of Hazelwood’s contacts. The man is Conan ‘The King’ Lash, and he is a ganga dealer.

While Bond’s snooping about, Quasimodo and Light Touch are meeting with Conan ‘The King’ Lash. He is preparing a shipment of bales of ganga to be smuggled into the United States. Quasimodo is arranging for bricks of C4 explosive to be hidden insides each of the bales. Quite simply, they are using ‘The King’ to smuggle their explosives into the United States at the same time as he moves his ganga.

Back at The Disciples Of The Heavenly Way’s compound, Bond is discovered and has to fight his way out. But Hazelwood’s men are not well trained (yet) and Bond escapes easily. Later he passes on the name Conan ‘The King’ Lash, to Nebula Valentine. She makes some enquiries and finds out where ‘The King’ has his ganga plantation. The Bond and Nebula decide to pay it a visit.

The plantation is hidden in the mountains and is quite a trek. Bond and Valentine decide to break up the trip with a sexual dalliance under a waterfall. Refreshed, they continue their journey to the plantation.

Upon arrival, Bond threatens to kill one of the guards unless he tells him about ‘The King’s’ next shipment. With a machete at his throat, the guard tells all. The delivery is to be made at a place called Twisted River in the Georgia Swamps. Bond then makes a call to his old friend Felix Leiter. Felix arranges for Bond to fly to the US, join a Coast Guard Patrol Ship. When the ganga delivery is about to be made, Bond and the Coast Guard intervene. ‘The King’ tosses his bales of ganga overboard and tries to make it out of the swamp and back out to sea and into international waters. As the Coast Guard purse ‘The King’, Bond dives overboard and begins to inspect one of the floating bales. Inside the ganga bale, he finds the block of C4 explosive.

Bond paddles to shore, only to be discovered by Light Touch. The two men get into a fight, but Quasimodo sneaks up on Bond and knocks him out. Bond is taken prisoner.

When Bond awakens he is bound to a tree. Quasimodo decides to do a spot of interrogation and find out who Bond works for. Naturally Bond refuses to talk, so Quasi turns to more unconventional methods of persuasion. He uses leeches. He puts a few on Bond’s face and allows them to burrow, looking for blood. But this is not the worst of it. Quasi, then has Light Touch force Bond’s mouth open so he can place two leeches under his tongue. Then he seals Bond’s mouth with adhesive tape. I must say, even though the illustrations are not too explicit (apart from the cover, of course), this torture scene really plays well in the theatre of the mind. It is a well put together and at times excruciating passage in the book. It’s what we all expect in a Bond story – a bloody good torture scene.

As with all Bond stories, Bond manages to escape and makes it out of this rather intense predicament (As before, I’m not going to tell you the whole story – I’ll save some surprises).

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 2 doesn’t move the story forward a heck of a lot, but it does tick a few of the boxes we expect ticked in a Bond story. We get a sex scene and a torture scene. Can we ask more than that? I think not.

The story concludes in The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 3

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 2

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 1

Don McGregor and Gary Caldwell
Dark Horse Comics 1995
Cover painting by Christopher Moeller

In some ways it is very difficult to review a comic book or a graphic novel as most of the story is told in pictures, and a good illustrator can pack quite a bit of information into just a few pages. Reverting the images to a text format for review purposes is quite tricky, stopping short of reviewing each panel, the way it is drawn, the colour schemes, and the mood it evokes. But to do that, I’d end up with a full length novel. So treat this as a simplified overview.

Just by their very nature, comic book stories are full of action and incident. Leaping about, firing guns, driving fast cars, and bedding beautiful women is perfect fodder for this medium. As you may well know, James Bond, Secret Agent 007, excells at these pastimes. Therefore Bond is a perfect character for a series of comic book adventures – as long as they’re done right, of course! The Quasimodo Gambit is a three part series from the mid nineties, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

The story opens in Jamaica and the Undertaker’s Wind is blowing in. A girl with night vision goggles is checking out a warehouse when she is noticed by a brutish thug who is patrolling the area. He is about to do away with her, when down from the rooftops drops James Bond – Secret Agent 007 for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond takes care of the guard, but the noise brings another two out of the woodwork. Bond tackles one, and the second has his nose broken when the girl whacks him in the face with her night vision goggles.

The girl’s name is Nebula Valentine (Oh, c’mon! What kind of name is that? It makes Lovey Kravzit and Justine Lovesit seem poetic.) Anyway, Miss Valentine is a liaison officer for Jamaica House and Bond’s contact on the mission. It seems that an international arms dealer named ‘Rifle’ has a pre-arranged meeting at the warehouse later in the evening. Now all Bond and Valentine have to do is wait for him to turn up.

This provides and opportunity for a flashback to Bond’s initial briefing in M’s office. Bond is given a dossier on Jefferson Rifle, AKA: Elvis Sinatra, and Morecock Evans. Stop, Stop! Dear reader I am not making this stuff up. These are the character names listed in the story. I mean ‘Elvis Sinatra’ – you’ve got to be shitting me. It’s a joke name and not a very good joke at that. And ‘Morecock’ – groan… Maybe I should set up a library of stupid names for future Bond characters. That way, when an author is struggling for a good name they can select from a colourful catalogue full of gems such as; Geoffrey Trousersnake or Chrysanthemum Cleavage. Or how about Astyn Martyn – which people will think is clever because it sounds like the car, but it isn’t. Actually, Astyn Martyn is a young teenage girl – the illegitimate daughter of Lady Rose McCartin Martyn and James Bond. As the girl (and the affair with Bond) are an embarrassment to Lady Rose, young Astyn is sent to an all-girl boarding school where she gets into all manner of scrapes and mischief – that bad Bond blood, y’know! One day, while walking on the beach, young Astyn finds…I’ve gone too far, haven’t I? Maybe it’s time to get back to The Quasimodo Gambit.

So we have a bad guy named Jefferson Rifle. Riffle has a pock marked face caused by infection of childhood chicken pox scratched open by dirty fingernails. Not because he has a pock marked head and dirty finger nails, but because he is a dirty arms dealer, M assigns Bond to ‘stop’ Rifle.

Back to the mission in Jamaica: Bond and Nebula Valentine don’t have to wait long. Jefferson Rifle arrives at the warehouse ready to make his deal. Watching from the shadows are three men. The first is Reverend Elias Hazelwood – he is an American Tele-Evangelist and is the head of a religious order called The Disciples Of The Heavenly Way. Next to Hazelwood is Ernest ‘Light Touch’ Force who is a mercenary. The third and most imposing member of the trio is the giant Maximillian ‘Quasimodo’ Steel. Steel is called Quasimodo because he has a swollen hump of muscle and flesh on his back. Quasimodo used to be a real bad-ass soldier, but through Hazelwood has found God. Now Quasimodo only kills and maims in God’s name. These three characters are the buyers that Rifle is waiting for, and they have come to buy a shit-load of weapons.

Once they feel they are safe, Hazelwood, Quasimodo and Light Touch come out to make their deal. Rifle has the weapons loaded in a semi-trailer and hands over the keys. As the Reverend is about to hand over the money, Bond and Valentine spring into action. Of course it isn’t a simple arrest, and it turns into an armed confrontation. Light Touch tries to draw a pistol on Bond, but Nebula shoots him in the shoulder. Light Touch drops to the ground. The Reverend who is a stranger to armed confrontation freezes, while Bond heads around to the back of the semi-trailer and confronts Quasimodo. Rifle makes his way to the cab of the truck and tries to take off with the load of weapons not realising Bond and Quasimodo are in the back. In the moving truck, Bond looses his advantage and the two men end up wrestling in a avalanche of falling gun crates. Rifle has trouble controlling the truck at speed and swerves into a wall. His head goes through the windscreen rendering him temporarily unconscious.

Meanwhile Hazelwood regains his composure and tries to scarper. Nebula chases after him and wrestles him to the ground. Although injured and bleeding, Light Touch is back on his feet now and pulls Rifle from the cab of the truck and takes over the controls. He drives off with Quasimodo and Bond still slugging it out on the back. Rifle, who is dazed and blinded by a sheet of blood down his face, walks into the path of the truck and is killed.

With Light Touch at the wheel, the truck snakes it’s way out of the danger area and into a sugar cane plantation. Light Touch pulls up and both Bond and Quasimodo fall from the back of the truck. Bond quickly seeks cover in the cane. Now armed, Quasimodo and Light Touch begin searching for Bond. It’s slow work, so Light Touch decides to speed things up by setting fire to the cane. He does this by lobbing in a grenade. The cane goes up in a wall of flame. A wall that is heading directly towards Bond. And to make it a little more terrifying, it’s isn’t just the flames that are a threat, but also all the snakes that are driven ahead of the flames.

Needless to say Bond makes it out of this predicament (I’m not going to tell you the whole story – I have to save some surprises). But even though his initial target, Rifle is now history, it seems far worse that now a religious fanatic and a psychotic hunch-back now have their hands on a whole shipment of weapons.

But how Bond deals with this new threat will be revealed in The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 2.

This Bond adventure is a bit of a slow starter, but once the wheels start to turn, it’s not too bad. And the sequence in the sugar cane is exceptionally good. Obviously, I have a bit of an issue with the poor character names in the story, but on the whole Don McGregor’s script isn’t bad at all, and it appears that he has at least done a little bit of homework, alluding to Fleming’s literary world on a few occasions. If I have a criticism of the writing – and this may be sheer co-incidence – is that the name Valentine was used in John Gardner’s Bond continuation novel Scorpius, which was released in 1988. Scorpius features a dodgy religious leader called Father Valentine, who is the leader of a sect called The Meek Ones. It’s been quite a few years since I have read Scorpius and my memory is at best hazy, but the similarities seem obvious.

As for the art, while obviously Calwell is a very talented illustrator, his artwork is very stiff and static. Each illustration is like a frozen snapshot. There is little feeling of movement in each frame, and even less movement linking one frame to the next. He has a great feeling for mood, but is less effective in action scenes, which I would have though would be imperative when bringing Bond to life in a comic book format.

All in all, this is a pretty good little if somewhat flawed adventure. I’ll try to post the next two instalments over the next few days.

The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 1

Hotel Reserve (1944)

Directed by Lance Comfort, Max Greene, Victor Hanbury.
James Mason, Lucie Mannheim, Raymond Lovell, Julien Mitchell, Herbert Lom, Martin Miller, Clare hamilton, Frederick Valk, Patricia Medina, Anthong Shaw, David Ward, Laurence Hanray, Valentine Dyall, Hella Kürty
Music by Lennox Berkeley
Adapted from the novel ‘Epitaph For A Spy’ by Eric Ambler

A holiday…in France…before the war
…yet even then the plane-trees
and cypresses of the South cast
shadows in the sun.

It happened in August 1938”

I hate making throwaway statements like ‘they don’t make em like that anymore’, but the sad truth is that they just don’t. These days we get explosions and car chases at the expense of character development. And the classic spy films of the 30’s and 40’s gave you an abundance of characters to develop. This is partly because pre-Bond, spies were generally the bad guys – and quite often there was a ‘whodunnit’ aspect to the films. A lot of the fun was trying to guess which of the myriad of colourful characters is actually an enemy agent. Thankfully, Hotel Reserve is no different and serves up all the ingredients we have come to expect in a tight little package that is totally enjoyable from start to finish.

On the French coast, Hotel Reserve is a modest holiday resort with a mixed collection of guests staying over. Among them is Peter Vadassy (James Mason) who has been studying medicine in Paris and intends to take up a position at a hospital once his naturalisation papers come through. You see Verdassy has an Austrian father, but a French mother. The family left Austria for France when Hitler came to power.

Other guests include Robert Duclos (Raymond Lovell) who is a Frenchman who is quick to voice his opinion on anything and everything in a very loud manner. Then there’s honeymooning couple Andre and Odette Roux (Herbert Lom & Patricia Medina) who ignore the other guests and want to be left in peace. Paul Heimberger (Frederick Valk) is a mysterious German with a secret, and Belgian Henri Asticot (David Ward) is an experienced world traveller. Representing the USA, there’s Warren and Mary Skelton (Valentine Dyall & Mary Skelton) and from Switzerland Walter and Hilda Vogel (Martin Miller & Hella Kürty). And rounding out the ensemble is the Englishman, Major Anthony Chandon-Hartley. As you can see, there’s a lot of characters and they all have their story to tell and their red herrings to sell. It may seem like there is a lot of characters to get to know in a very short space of time, but don’t worry – this film is kind enough to put inter-titles over each of the characters so you quickly know who is who.

The film opens with Peter Vadassy running into town to pick up a roll of film he had shot the previous day. When he arrives at the pharmacy, the shop keeper says it is not ready. As Vadassy makes arrangements to collect the film later, two police officers enter the pharmacy. They insist that Vadassy has a problem with his passport and take him to the police station for further questioning.

Vadassy is taken before Inspector Beghin (Julien Mitchell), a dour man who is the head intelligence officer in the region. There is nothing wrong with Vadassy’s passport. It is the photos on his roll of film that are of interest to the police. At the end of the roll, there are the shots that Vadassy had taken, but at the beginning there are some photographs detailing local military installations.

Luckily for Vadassy, the camera he has taken the shots with, has a different serial number to the one he purchased. It appears that someone has switched cameras with Vadassy. Whoever made the switch is an enemy spy, and most likely will wants the camera negative back. And even more likely, the traitor is also staying at Hotel Reserve, watching and waiting for an opportunity to switch the cameras over once again. Inspector Beghin insists that Vadassy finds out who the real spy is, or he will be deported from France.

This film often gets compared to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, but it isn’t quite in that league, but none-the-less it is still very entertaining. If you enjoy classic espionage thriller like Journey Into Fear, Ministry Of Fear or Sleeping Car To Trieste then you’ll find a lot to like in Hotel Reserve. The novel ‘Epitaph For A Spy’ by Eric Ambler, which is the basis for this movie, was also adapted twice for British television. The first was in 1953, with Peter Cushing as Vadassy, and then in 1963 with Colin Jeavons taking on the role. It seems virtually impossible to find either of these series, but it goes to show that this is a much loved espionage story.

Hotel Reserve (1944)

Secret Mission (1942)

Directed by Harold French
Hugh Williams, James Mason, Michael Wilding, Carla Lehmann, Karel Stepanek, Herbert Lom, Nancy Price, Roland Culver, Walter Gotell
Music by Mischa Spoliansky

One of the writers credited for Secret Mission is Shaun Terence Young – better known to spy fans as plain old Terence Young, who would later direct three of the early James Bond films, as well as Triple Cross and Jigsaw Man.

Made in 1942, of course, this is a war time propaganda piece. It’s all about fighting the good fight for the just cause, but not much fighting actually happens. In the film four men stationed in England are sent on a mission to St. Antoine in German occupied France. The men are Major Peter Garnett (Hugh Williams) who is leading the group. Next we have Captain Red Gowan (Roland Culver). Then we have ex-patriot Frenchman, Raul de Carnot (James Mason), whose family lives in St. Antoine. And bringing up the rear is cad, Private Nobby Clark (Michael Wilding), who has a French wife in St. Antoine who he is not too keen to see.

The men are ferried across the Channel, through the mines, until they are just off the coast of France. From there, they have to make their own way in a dingy. Once on French soil, Garnett and Raoul hide out at Raoul’s family home, and Gowan and Clark hide at Clark’s wife’s home.

The real weakness of the film is the mission itself, which is ill-defined. It seems like a case of ‘let’s go see what Jerry is up to!’ While intelligence gather was no doubt very important during the war, in this instance it doesn’t really add up to a ‘Secret Mission’ as we’d expect in a spy film today.

The story is also riddled with subplots involving the loved ones of Raoul and Nobby. While Nobby’s plight is mostly comic relief, poor old Raoul plays the serious and dour, but at the same time righteous and patriot Frenchman, who fights to get his country back. With German occupation in his hometown, this only causes conflict between him and his family. Maybe Raoul would have been a far more sympathetic character had he not been hampered by Mason’s dodgy French accent.

The film has one or two lighter moments. One of them is when Garnett and Gowan, posing as Champagne salesmen talk their way into German Intelligence headquarters for the region. The Germans realise that the men are frauds, but believe that they are from the Gestapo checking up on them. The scene is a breath of fresh air in a rather drab film.

Generally this type of film enthrals me. I love the old character driven pieces from the thirties and forties, but unfortunately this one just doesn’t stack up.

Secret Mission (1942)

The Saint In London (1939)

Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Starring: George Sanders, Sally Gray, David Burns, Gordon McLeod, Athen Seyler, Henry Oscar, Ralph Truman, Ballard Berkeley, John Abbott
Music: Marr Mackie
Based on the short story, ‘The Million Pound Day’ by Leslie Charteris

In some ways, The Saint In London is one of The Saint’s most espionage based stories, but to tell you why and how would ruin some of the twists and turns that this story has to offer. As The Saint films of this era where barely more than B-grade programmers with rather stripped down stories, to reveal the twist would be criminal, so I’ll refrain.

You know, I like George Sanders as The Saint. He only made five Saint films, and then went on to become The Falcon (much to the chagrin of Leslie Charteris, who sued RKO claiming that The Falcon was The Saint in all but name). But Sanders as The Saint is very effective, even though some of the stories used (or the adaptations at any rate) were sub standard. Sanders shines through. He was a class act, and this shows through in his portrayal of the character.

The film opens with Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (George Sanders) arriving by car at the exclusive Restaurant Maxy. As he is about to enter, a man at the door asks for a cigarette. The Saint obliges, but as he lights the cigarette, the man who happens to be a thief, lifts Templar’s watch. As he does so, a police officer notices and tries to intervene on Templars behalf. The Saint protests that the officer must be mistaken and produces a watch from his pocket. It is in fact the pickpockets watch, which The Saint had swiped, as recompense for the pickpocket taking his.

Once inside the restaurant, The Saint orders a drink and a meal. Then rather sheepishly, the pickpocket makes his way into the restaurant and to The Saint’s table. He introduces himself as Dugan (David Burns), and trades watches with The Saint. The Saint offers Dugan a meal and a job as his valet. But Templar isn’t at the restaurant to meet Dugan. He has a prearranged dinner engagement with old chum Richard Blake (Ballard Berkeley). Berkeley has been having a spot of bother with a gentleman named Bruno Lang (Henry Oscar). And it turns out with good reason. Lang is in fact an underworld mob boss. Templar agrees to help Blake and arranges to meet Lang at a party. Along with Lang, he also meets Penny Parker (Sally Gray), who realises that Templar is up to something, and the ‘nosey’ side of her nature wants to find out what it is.

Templar first notifies Bruno Lang that he is on to him, by leaving a calling card on the steering wheel of Langs Car. The card say ‘Bruno Lang Vs. The Saint’. Lang shrugs it off as a joke, but Templar makes his way to Lang’s home, breaks in and riffles through the documents in the safe. He finds what he is looking for, and then makes a hasty exit. On his way out, he runs into a security guard who has been walking the perimeter of Lang’s estate. Templar knocks the guard down and makes a run for it.

Luckily for The Saint, the very, very nosey Ms. Parker has followed him to Lang’s. She hears the gunshots as the guard fires after Templar. She gets into Templar’s car and starts the engine. By the time Templar comes bounding out, the car is moving and he hitches a ride on the running boards.

As they speed along the road, away from the scene of the crime, they come across a beaten man running down the road, fearing for his life. Templar offers assistance, firstly by hiding the scared man in his car. And then by secondly raising his boot into the chest of the goon who was chasing the poor guy.

Templar and Parker take the man to a hotel and The Saint arranges for a doctor to come and see the man. Once he is patched up, the man reveals himself to be Count Duni. Duni is a foreign diplomat who was sent to England to oversee the printing of new currency for his country. Unfortunately he had been captured by some of Bruno Lang’s goon and was forced to sign over for the printing of an extra million pounds. Lang and his mobsters intend to ruch this new money into circulation as the new currency is released. That way it would be untraceable.

As complicated as all that seems, it is even more so. You see, when Templar rescued the Count, and clobbered Lang’s goon, a police officer noticed. Well he noticed Templar clobbering the goon then making a quick getaway. The officer wrote down the car number plate and passed it onto his superiors. It isn’t long before it crosses the desk of Inspector Claud Teal (Gordon McLeod) of Scotland Yard. Naturally Teal has been trying to catch The Saint for years, and is soon investigating.

The Saint In London is a pacey little thriller with a fine resolution. The one strange thing about this episode, is usually a character like The Saint, has one ‘hanger on’ who acts as comic relief. In this episode, he has three – Penney parker, Dugan, and even Inspector Teal. I suppose this only serves to make The Saint seem even more dashing. All in all, this is not bad.

The Saint In London (1939)