Passport to Hell is in some ways a hard Eurospy film to review. This is primarily because it is pretty good. It eschews all the silly secret ray-gun weapon and underground lair tropes of the genre (which I love, by the way), and replaces them with a half decent spy story, which relies on cause-and-effect, rather than happenstance.
The film opens with a scared girl running down the road dressed in an overcoat. She runs into a tunnel, as a car comes from the opposite direction. Seeing that the girl is distressed, the driver stops and offers assistance. She says that men came to her house and tried to kill her — she escaped through a bathroom window. The driver offers to drive her to safety. Just as the girl thinks she is in the clear, the driver produces a pistol and shoots her. He then searches her dead body — well the overcoat really, but you know what I mean — and finds a microfilm.
Then the goons who were chasing her arrive, and screech to a halt in their vehicle. As they get out, they are reprimanded by the first driver for being clumsy idiots. It appears that these goons belong to a freelance spy organisation called ‘The Organisation’. The young girl was a CIA agent.
The film then cuts to the Soviet Embassy, and the CIA Chief, Taylor (Tom Felleghy) arrives to meet with Russian Colonel Dolukin (Fernando Sancho). Dolukin insists that it wasn’t his team that killed the girl, and proposes an uneasy truce between the Cold Warriors to investigate The Organisation. The man chosen to head the mission is Walter Ross (Georgio Ardisson), who is Agent 3S3 — a designation that means he is secret agent number three, of the third special division. It appears that they have one lead, and that is that they know who the top man in The Organisation is — that being Henryk d’Vorac. They don’t know where d’Vorac is, but they know his daughter, Jasmine (Barabra Simons) is. She is in Vienna, Austria, so that’s where Ross starts his investigation.
Ross get’s a pretty hot reception in Vienna. The Organisation has operatives watching Jasmine, and assigned to remove Ross. They attempt this with a finely executed Truck sandwich maneuver as Ross drives on some snowy backroads. There attempt fails, and a directive from the top comes down that now do they not only have to eliminate Ross, but Jasmine is to be killed too. As Jasmine’s father is the head of The Organisation, that sure is some ‘tough love’!
Of course, Ross doesn’t allow any misfortune to happen to Jasmine and the pair team up to find out what is really going on. This leads the couple to Beirut in Lebanon and into a whole new world of trouble.
Like many Eurospy films, Passort to Hell didn’t have an inexhaustible budget. And as such, when director Sergio Sollima was making the film he was faced with two options. The first was to go cheap on the setup of the story, and then throw all the money into the wham-bam climax. Or he could evenly disperse the money over the duration of the film. And that second option is what he appears to have done. The film is even throughout its running time. There is no silly, explosive finale. The film remains at the same pitch. Which for the learned film student is pretty good. As I said at the top, Passport to Hell is a fine film. But somehow a part of me craves the silly Eurospy tropes. I want to see underground lairs with armies of minions dressed in silver jump-suits with scorpion emblems on the back. I want to see rockets or laser cannons aimed at Washington or London. It is most likely a Pavlovian expectation I get when I sit to watch a Eurospy film – I expect spy-schlock, not LeCarre!
All in all, Passport to Hell is a good film, and of the hundreds of Eurospy films that were made in the sixties, it is possibly one of the best, buoyed by the sincerity of Ardisson’s performance and a script that refuses to collapse into goofy genre conventions.