Escape From Galaxy 3 (1981)

Original Title: Giochi erotici nella 3a galassia
Country: Italy
Director: Bitto Albertini
Starring: Sherry Buchanan, Fausto Di Bella (James Milton), Don Powell, Chris Avram
Music: Don Powell

First of all, despite some marketing campaigns, this isn’t really a sequel to Starcrash. It uses the same space ships and models, and the heroine is called Belle Star, which is just close enough to Stella Star that those with poor memories may just for a second believe they are watching the same character. Only a second mind you, after all, Stella was played by dark haired and curvy Caroline Munro, whereas Belle is played by blonde Cheryl Buchanan. Also Caroline Munro got around in a very fashionable black leather bikini, and Belle flitters between tight fitting body suits and nothing at all.

The film starts when Oraclon: The King Of The Night™ (Don Powell) sails into ‘Galaxy 3’ in his star ship shaped like a giant hand made from blue Lego®. You may remember the ship from Star Crash when it was the property of evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). You may also remember that Star Ship was destroyed at the end of Star Crash, which leads me to conclude that these super cruisers are assembly line build like your modern motor car. The Blue Hand model must have appealed to evil space tyrants who plan to take over the galaxy.

Masquerading as Starcrash 2

Anyway, Oraclon: The King Of The Night™ has been invading every planet and killing everybody in his path and now it’s planet Exalon’s turn. Exalon is ruled by benevolent King Zanor. Zanor also happens to be the father of Princess Belle Star. Zanor tries to fight off Oraclon, but his men are no match for Oraclon’s weapons. Zanor orders Belle Star and one of his trusted aides, Lithan (James Milton) to seek help in the Anteres System.

So Belle and Lithan flee in their space ship. Oraclon: The King Of The Night™ destroys Exalon and kills King Zanor. He soon discovers that Belle and Lithan have fled and sends ships after them. As they make their escape, a laser blast damages the controls, and they loose their navigation computer. Naturally Belle and Mithan escape, but have no idea where they are. They decide to land on the first planet they find.

The first planet happens to be earth, but not as we know it. Here the only population is a little village of primitive inhabitants. When they see the spaceship land, they believe it is a monster. When Belle and Mithan leave the ship, the inhabitants initially try to kill them by throwing rocks at them. But despite Belle and Mithan’s weird costumes and manner, their humanity shines through, and they soon make friends with the villagers.

During their stay, Belle and Mithan witness a weird ceremony where the female characters start dancing, what looks like a primitive version of the Bus Stop to the funky disco beat. This is the beginning of The Love Festival, of which soon Belle and Mithan are participants.

For a while things seem pretty good on the primitive planet. Belle Star and Mithan enthusiastically take lessons in love making from the villagers. You see, sex is a lost art form in Galaxy 3 and Once Belle and Mithan discover the fun that can be had – all they want to do is shag. There first attempt is ruined when one of Oraclon’s probe searches the planet for life. Their next tryst is interrupted when Oraclon’s men start shooting up the villagers. And finally, once they decide to leave the planet and get in their spaceship (their intergalactic shaggin’ wagon) and take off, when Oraclon catches up with them, they are at it again.

Half way through, this film veers off from your usual science fiction to (almost) softcore disco porn. It isn’t a porn film, but the story slows right down, the cheesy disco music is pumped right up and we see endless shots of Belle and Mithan pawing and caressing each other.

One of the things that lifted Starcrash above many of it’s other Star Wars rip-off competitors was the score by maestro John Barry. But Escape From Galaxy 3 takes a very different musical approach. Instead of sweeping strings and mellow horns, we get 80’s Disco. Actually it’s more like 70’s Space Disco. The music is provided by the villain of this movie Don Powell. Powell looks like he’d fit right in with George Clinton and Funkadelic. The strangest part of his appearance in this film is his beard. You know when (in your youth) you hit the town and drank everything that came your way, only to stagger home at six in the morning and pass out at your front door, while trying to find the right key – then you woke up several hours later to find that snails had blazed a trail across your inert form? No, I have never experienced that either, but if you did, I would imagine that you’d look like Don Powell. His beard looks like snails have been using it as a playground. I think it is supposed to look ‘silvery’ and futuristic, but it doesn’t.

In the end, you can’t really say that Escape From Galaxy 3 is a good film. But it is an interesting time capsule, and if 70’s disco is your bag, man, then this may very well be your movie.

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Escape From Galaxy 3 (1981)

The Interrogator

Author: JJ Cooper
Publisher: Bantam
Release Year: 2009

I am a consumer and certainly not an expert on marketing by any stretch of the imagination. I do not know why ‘something’ sells, and why other things don’t. Therefore take my following comments with a grain of salt because I am not in a position to comment in an informative manner. However, when I look at the cover of JJ Cooper’s The Interrogator, I see a high-tech thriller in the vein of Chris Ryan or Andy NcNabb. The truth however, is that The Interrogator is actually a throwback to the sixties or earlier. At the risk of using a lazy comparison, at times The Interrogator reminded me of vintage Spillane – and not his Tiger Mann spy stuff, but the Mike Hammer books. And to me this is a great thing. I love hardboiled noir – Chandler, Spillane, Hammet – even Peter Corris. This story, while very definitely being a spy story,  has the type of characters who would inhabit a noir novel. But it puzzles me somewhat in the way this book was marketed – or more specifically, why this particular cover design was chosen. There are no characters running around with semi-automatic rifles – nor are there people rappelling from helicopters. The cover dumbs down the story. It is actually a very good labyrinthine thriller.

JJ Cooper
Author: JJ Cooper

I guess playing up the military aspect reflects more on author JJ Cooper than the content of the book. Cooper spent seventeen years in the Australian Army, at times as a member of the Australian Army Intelligence Corps.

The story starts with Jay Ryan, the Australian Army’s highest ranked interrogator in an interrogation room at a training base hidden away in the forests of the Gold Coast hinterland. But Ryan isn’t doing the interrogating. He is being interrogated. Brutally interrogated. He is wearing black-out goggles, handcuffs  as is tethered to a metal chair. He has been badly beaten and remembers very little about the night before. Standing before Ryan is a fellow interrogator named Primrose – and his interrogation methods are not quite ‘by the book’. He is savagely assaulting a fellow officer while his wife Catherine watches on.

You see, Ryan had an affair with Catherine, and now it is payback time for Primrose. In fact it goes a little deeper than that. Primrose wants more that a measure of vengeance, he wants Ryan to assist him in some shady dealings. Naturally Ryan doesn’t want to help, but Primrose was a few bargaining chips hidden up his sleeve. The first is video footage of Ryan with Catherine – which looks more like a rape than a consensual affair (a little bit of role playing in the bedroom – Catherine likes it rough!) Primrose threatens to release the footage to the police. His other bargaining chip is that he has kidnapped Ryan’s father, and if Ryan does complete the tasks requested of him, he’ll never see his father alive again.

Meanwhile in Canberra, SIS Agent Sarah Evans is interrogating a criminal named Lazarau who has been arrested for selling stolen military secrets. Her investigation yeilds one lead – Lazarau names Jay Ryan as a contact. From there, Sarah relocates her investigation to Queensland where she intends to ‘interrogate the interrogator’. Naturally she gets more than she bargained for.

I won’t say much more than that because I don’t want to give too much away in my synopsis, as it will only ruin the story for others. Also due to the twists and turns, it is almost impossible to strip down an overview to a few simple paragraphs and do the story justice. Needless to say, it is a wild ride.

I must admit, when the chase begins in the story, I like the premise of the main character being an interrogator. It gives the story a certain dose of reality that many spy stories lack. Think about it; most spy stories are about obtaining information of some kind, and who better to get it than a man who specialises in extracting information from people who are unwilling to divulge their secrets.

Another aspect of this book that I like is that it is Australian and also set in Australia – the beauty though, is that it does not slap you in the face with famous tourist attractions and landmarks as a backdrop – there’s no Harbour Bridge, Opera House or even the Big Pineapple. The settings are believable. The story could be set anywhere, and still pack the same punch.

From JJ Cooper’s website:

THE INTERROGATOR

According to Greek Mythology, Aphrodite had a wayward eye and a loyal son. When Eros gave Harpocrates a rose to keep quiet about his mother’s little indiscretions, the rose became a symbol for secrecy. This is a story Jay Ryan has never heard — until his hand is nailed to a table and a red rose tattooed onto his wrist.

Jay is an interrogator with a dark past and a tortured soul; he’s also the keeper of secrets Israeli spies will kill to get their hands upon. Renowned for his skills, he is used to commanding a certain level of respect amongst his peers. Then one day Jay is drugged, tortured, tattooed and accused of rape. He is forced to reveal information that could further destabilise fragile Middle East relations and plunge the entire region into war. They are secrets he has struggled to keep hidden for four years — proof that the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ knew Israeli Mossad agents removed chemical weapons from Iraq before the launch of the 2003 invasion.

After escaping his captors, Jay discovers that he is wanted for crimes he didn’t commit and that his father has been kidnapped by his own intelligence agency. No-nonsense secret agent Sarah Evans and lively retired security guard William ‘Bill’ Hunter join Jay on a quest to get his father back alive and avoid Israeli spies hell-bent on eliminating them all. Together they uncover the truth behind two spy agencies playing a high-stakes game of espionage with a ‘winner take all’ mindset. After Sarah goes missing, Jay must choose between hunting his father’s kidnappers or saving Sarah and exposing Israel’s involvement in the removal of chemical weapons from Iraq.

THE INTERROGATOR is a story of betrayal and nightmarish conspiracy firmly rooted in the highest levels of government across international alliances. The story rockets toward a shattering finale that will leave the survivors changed forever. Thriller fans will enjoy the colourful characters, twisting, turning plots and fast action. The authentic military details gives the story a chillingly real context, drawing the reader into Jay’s world and not letting us go until the very end.

Like so many people, when shopping for books (particularly new books), I like to know what I am going to get. I want value for money – don’t we all! Therefore at times I can be reticent to try out a new author. The problem with that though, is then I’d miss out on a lot of good fiction. JJ Cooper would be a case in point…as a debut author he hasn’t got ‘brand recognition’ like the big authors, but The Interrogator is a bloody good read. I recommend it highly and am eagerly waiting Jay Ryan’s next adventure.

The Interrogator

Zulu: Original Soundtrack Recording

Original Soundtrack Recording & Selection Of Zulu Stamps
John Barry (1964)

One Saturday morning, in the not so distant past, I was scrounging around the record bins at a local fete when I came across the Soundtrack to Zulu. Strangely, I wasn’t too familiar with the music. Why is this strange? For one, I am a huge fan of John Barry, and secondly, when I was at college, I shared a house with a bloke whose favourite film was Zulu. He’d drag out his old VHS copy at all hours. In the middle of the night, I’d wake up in terror, hearing strange chants emanating from the lounge room. To cut a long story short, I picked up a copy of the album. Hey, it was only two dollars!

Since that day, I have found out that there are all sorts of re-issues, and re-recordings of the Zulu Soundtrack. The one I am talking about here is the 1964 version, with narration by Richard Burton (well you’d want that, wouldn’t you?), and on the second side of the album, what is described as a selection of Zulu Stamps. Well they are not exactly ‘Zulu Stamps’. They are sixties pop reworkings of John Barry’s themes from the movie. They do have an African influence, but they are hardly traditional ‘Zulu’ music. Here’s a snippet from Cy Endfield’s liner notes.

”A number of these great traditional dance and song themes have been studied by the brilliant composer and arranger John Barry, who scored the film, and converted to a music so that all of us who listen to this record can do a little dancing of our own. If you learn the Zulu Stamp you will be doing some of the exciting, groovy dance movements that the Zulus themselves use.”

With an enticement like that, I am sure that many bored sixties housewives, while their husbands were at work, and their kids were at school, urged on by the primitive jungle rhythms would throw themselves around the lounge room doing the Zulu Stamp.

The music on the first side of the album, however is quite brilliant. Not that I expected anything less from Barry. It is good stirring stuff, that reflects the bravery of the men who held their positions at Rorke’s Drift as wave after wave of Zulu warrior swept down upon them. I know that sounds pompous, but those who have seen the film will know what I mean.

TRACK LISTING:
Side One: Original Soundtrack Recording
1. Main Title Theme – Isandhlwana 1879 (Narration by Richard Burton)
2. News Of The Massacre – Rorke’s Drift Threatened
3. Wagons Over
4. First Zulu Appearance And Assault
5. Durnfords Horse Arrive And Depart – The Third Assault
6. Zulu’s Final Appearance And Salute
7. The V.C. Roll and Men Of Harlech

Side Two: Selection Of Zulu Stamps
1. Stamp And Shake
2. High Grass
3. Zulu Stamp
4. Big Shield
5. Zulu Maid
6. Monkey Feathers

Zulu: Original Soundtrack Recording

Runaway (1984)

RunawayWriter and Director: Michael Crichton
Starring: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Kirstie Alley, Gene Simmons, Stan Shaw, G.W. Bailey
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

In the mid 1980’s three actors, who had made a big impact on television, playing detectives, were trying to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen. The three were Tom Selleck, who had major success as Magnum P.I.; Pierce Brosnan, who had a good run as Remmington Steele; and finally there was Bruce Willis, who’d played David Addison in Moonlighting. Well Bruce stumbled a couple of times, with Sunset and Blind Date, before landing on his feet with Die Hard. Pierce on the other hand started off okay with The Fourth Protocol but then had a string of stinkers. Well Tom’s rise to fame had been a bit slower than the others. He’d been acting since the late 60’s and had seen his fair share of flops. In fact he had been in 6 failed TV pilots before he broke through with Magnum. So now at the peak of his popularity, he attempted to break into movies.

It has been well documented, that Selleck was the first choice for Indiana Jones, but somehow that didn’t come to fruition. So it would seem strange that his first attempt to break it into the big time was in the Indiana Jones inspired High Road To China. I am sure it wasn’t a flop, but it wasn’t a run away smash either. Next up was Lassiter. I can’t remember much about it – it seemed boring at the time. That brings us to Runaway, Selleck’s third attempt at breaking into the big time.

Runaway is set in the not too distant future – that being the not too distant future in 1984 – but strangely in what now would be the past, many of the futuristic inventions in this movie have not come to pass. Anyway, in ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’ mankind has come to depend on robots in almost every aspect of daily life. There are domestic robots in the home, agricultural robots in the field, sentry robots in offices, and industrial robots on work sites. When these robots malfunction, the police are called…often because insurance companies will not let average citizens switch off the machines when they play up. The police have their own little department to deal with these ‘Runaways’. The department is headed by Sergeant Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck), and he has just been assigned a new partner, Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes).

Just to make the film a little more interesting, they have given Ramsay a slight impediment. He gets vertigo. And as we all know dear reader (if we’ve studied our Hitchcock), if the hero of a film suffers from vertigo, then the climax of the film has to take place in a high open environment, where the hero has an opportunity to freak out, or overcome his fears.

Ramsay and Thompson’s first job of the day is an agricultural pest controller that has run amok in a field of corn. They deal with this by blowing it up. Their next call isn’t so simple though. A domestic robot has gone mad inside a house. It has grabbed a knife and killed two people. Still inside the house there is a ten month old baby, and somehow, the robot has grabbed a gun. Ramsay decides to go in and rescue the baby. Incredulously, a TV cameraman decides to follow Ramsay into the house to film the thrilling rescue. But the robot has other ideas and shoots the cameraman. Eventually Ramsay out manoeuvres the robot and shuts it down. Ramsay exits the house with the child, but the child’s father, David Johnson (Chris Mulkey) has run off. He appears to be afraid of something or some one.

The following day, the killer robot is checked be the police department’s resident boffin, Marvin (Stan Shaw). Inside he finds a non-standard chip. The robot has been programmed to kill. The isn’t a robot gone mad. This is murder! Ramsay heads back to the house and searches for some evidence or a lead. As he checks the door recorder (it records footage of the people at your front door), he finds a portion of a partially erased message. It is a man claiming to be from the ACME Robot Repair Company, and he has come to repair the domestic robot. Ramsay deduces that this must be the guy who changed the chip inside the robot.

The man on the recording is Dr. Luther (Gene Simmons from the rock group KISS). Luther has been busy. He has had two men making him a batch of ‘evil’ chips that he can auction off to the mafia, terrorists or any other person with the cash and an unpleasant disposition. One of the men who made the chips just happens to David Johnson, the owner of the house where the robot went mad. It appears that Luther is tying up the loose ends. The robot was meant to kill Johnson too.

As Ramsay is a good police officer, he tracks down Johnson, who is hiding in a hotel. As he tries to bring him back to the station for questioning, Luther pops up and fires a gun at them. It is a special gun that fires special bullets. These are smart bullets that are a bit like heat seeking missiles, and they can go around corners.

The film surprisingly hasn’t dated too badly. There’s one or two 80’s haircuts on a couple of the girls, but generally this film doesn’t look like it was made nearly 25 years ago. The biggest hint to it’s age is the absolutely dreadful score by Jerry Goldsmith. Look I love Goldsmith’s orchestral work, but this electronic mess, which they proudly proclaim in the end titles was done on Yamaha Digital Instruments, is one of his weakest scores.

The acting in the film is better than it should be. Selleck conveys genuine emotion, and almost seems to ‘tear up’ when he has to let Luther go, because he is holding a hostage. Another sequence where the acting is good, is when Ramsay has to dig an unexploded mini-missile from Thompson’s shoulder. Surprisingly, Gene Simmons is okay too. Sure, all he has to do is glare and look menacing – but he glares rather well.

In the end, Runaway isn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t a blockbuster for Tom Selleck either. He never really became a big star like Bruce Willis or Pierce Brosnan. But he is a jobbing actor, and if you look him up on IMDB you can see that he has been consistently working since then. But for a second, he looked like he could have been the next big thing.

The trailer – uploaded to Youtube by: ChrisTaylorHungary

Runaway (1984)

Assault on a Queen (1966)

Director: Jack Donohue
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Virna Lisi, Tony Franciosa, Alf Kjellin, Richard Conte, Errol John
Music: Duke Ellington
Based on a novel by Jack Finney (and has a screenplay by Rod Serling)

Assault on a Queen is a caper film from Frank Sinatra, and let’s be honest, although we all enjoy Frank’s legacy of cool, in general his caper films weren’t too good. Ocean’s Eleven is almost impossible to sit through, and Robin And The Seven Hoods is only slightly better. Assault on a Queen starts off fairly promising. For the first hour of it’s running time, I’d even say it’s the best Frank caper yet, BUT somehow the story, which has a great premise, falls off in the middle and just does not deliver.

The film, which is set in the Bahamas, opens with a boat racing into port, with an ambulance racing to meet it. On board the boat are Victor Rossiter (Tony Franciosa) and Rosa Lucchesi (Virni Lisi); two fortune hunters, who have been searching for a sunken galleon carrying gold off the coast. Their deep sea diver’s, diving suit has burst while searching for the galleon and he has drowned. The ambulance and doctor arrive at the port, and the doc pronounces the diver dead.

Assault on a Queen Novelisation
Assault on a Queen by Jack Finney

Later that evening at Blackbeard’s Tavern, Mark Brittain (Frank Sinatra) and his partner, Linc Langley (Errol John) are seated at the back, drinkin’ gin and playin’ gin. Entering the bar are Rossiter and Lucchesi. They are looking for a new diver and have been recommended Brittain. They approach him and make him an offer. Rossiter and Lucchesi believe they have a map that shows them the exact location of the sunken galleon. Brittain has heard all the stories before and is not interested. Brittain and Langley are fishermen, not treasure hunters. Rossiter and Lucchesi leave still requiring a diver.

After the tavern is closed, Brittain and Langley return to their boat, only to be blocked by the harbour master. He will not allow them on their boat as they owe over $600 in dock fees and for other supplies.

The next day, to get his boat back, Brittain goes to Rossiter and Lucchesi he agress to take the diving job. At this time, Brittain also meets Rossiter’s other partner, Eric Lauffnauer (Alf Kjellin). Lauffnauer is a German, who used to be the captain of a U-boat in World War II.

When we next see Brittain, he is all kitted up in a deep sea diving suit. He drops over the side and drifts down to the bottom and begins to search for the elusive galleon. After an hour on the bottom he hasn’t spotted anything. Just as he is about to return to the boat, he sees a sunken World War II German submarine. It appears to be intact.

Assault on a Queen

Rather than continue to scour the seabed for a treasure that may or may not be there, Rossiter and Lauffnauer come up with a new scheme to make them all rich. It is to raise and refit the old submarine, and then become pirates on the high seas. Their target: the ocean liner, Queen Mary.

Assault on a QueenWith a film of this kind, you really have to suspend disbelief, because it really is quite silly. And the acting is paper thin. There is no reason why Brittain should go along with Rossiter, Lauffnauer and Lucchesi’s hair brained scheme. Sure, there’s the lure of money, but it ain’t ‘easy money’. As I mentioned at the top, the film really loses focus in the second half. We know what the gang are up to, and even how they intend to do it, so we spend a great deal of the second half, just waiting for them to get on with the job.

The film features a great musical score by Duke Ellington. It’s jazzy (of course), with a hint of calypso, and over the top there’s a cool line in funk flute. But as good as the music is, it sometimes doesn’t follow the story.

Sadly this film is a misfire, but it is a good example of sixties Jet-Set cinema. It stars an American, Two Italians, and a German, in a story set in the Bahamas. You can’t get much more international than that. Just before signing off on this one, a quick bit of trivia: Reginald Denny who plays the Master-At-Arms on the ship was Algy, Bulldog Drummond’s dim-witted buddy in the film series from the 1930’s. And more interestingly, Virna Lisi, who looks fantastic in this film I might add, was originally cast to play Barbarella but turned it down.

Assault on a Queen (1966)

Ratcatcher

Author: James McGee
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Year: 2006

You don’t send a gentleman to catch vermin. You send Hawkwood.

Ratcatcher while being quite enjoyable is a ‘Goldfinger’ book. Have you ever watched Goldfinger? Have you noticed that James Bond doesn’t really do anything. He falls into nearly every trap, and in the end, one of the other characters (Pussy Galore) saves the day. Okay, Bond was the catalyst for Pussy’s change of allegiances, but really Bond didn’t do to much. That brings us to Ratcatcher by James McGee.

Ratcatcher is a historical adventure novel set in London, during the early 1800’s. The hero of the story is a Bow Street Runner (an early policeman) called Matthew Hawkwood. Hawkwood appears to be almost an extension of Bernard Cromwell’s Sharpe character (I am sure many of you have read some of the Sharpe novels, or at least seen some of the tele-movies starring Sean Bean as Sharpe). Hawkwood’s history appears to be almost identical to the Sharpe stories – previously he was a military man – a good ‘thinking’ officer, but he is ordered to do something stupid by a superior officer who is a buffoon that comes from a life of wealth and privilege. This causes conflict and Hawkwood is dishonorably discharged. If you can imagine if Sharpe became a Bow Street Runner, then you’ve got Hawkwood.

The story starts with the highway robbery and murder of a naval courier. Hawkwood is assigned to find out why, and retrieve the missing papers. As this is a historical novel, this leads him to all the extremes of this era. He gets to attend a Grand Ball, meet a gorgeous lady named Catherine de Varesne, and shag her. Unfortunately his encounter with de Varesne also gets him into a pistol duel with the son of a wealthy Lord.

The story also sends him into seedy dens packed with cut-throats. One of these cut-throats happens to be Nathaniel Jago, who previously was a soldier under Hawkwood’s command. Even though, now they are on opposite sides of the law they team up to sort out the puzzle.

Towards the end the story moves into ‘Tin Tin’ or ‘Biggles’ territory. Not that that is a bad thing. This is where the story picks up pace and becomes solid entertainment. Following the clues, Hawkwood and Jago discover a plot by the dastardly French to kill the Prince Of Wales. This involves a new invention (or secret weapon, if you prefer) called a submarine.

Earlier I mentioned that Ratcatcher was a ‘Goldfinger’ book. That’s because Hawkwood falls into more traps than he sets. Sure, it’s his intervention that stops the evil plan succeeding, but really he doesn’t do as much as I had hoped at the outset. I wanted a bit more swashbuckling. The pistol duel was a good sequence, but it needed more. But despite my little digs or grievances with the story, and the character, Ratcatcher was never meant to be a piece of high art. It is meant to be fun, and on that level it really succeeds. It is very enjoyable, and I for one, am looking forwards to Matthew Hawkwoods next adventure.

Ratcatcher is the first in a series of books featuring Matthew Hawkwood. The other books are The Resurrectionists and Rapscallion.

Ratcatcher

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Director: Blake Edwards
Starring: Peter Sellers, Hebert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley Anne Down, Omar Sharif, Richard Vernon
Music: Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is the fourth film in the series, which I know, I know, is not a spy film. But it includes so many spy film tropes, and actors who are associated with spy films, I thought it was well worth inclusion here. And is it just my imagination but does Mike Grell’s Bond comic Permission to Die bear are passing resemblance to this film? I know Permission to Die also borrows heavily from The Phantom of the Opera too – and how co-incidental is it, that Herbert Lom should play the Phantom in Hammer’s film version of The Phantom. Of course, Lom plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus in this film (or should I say ex-Chief Inspector).

As the film starts, ex-Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is in an asylum for the clinically insane. But the good news is, he is almost ready to be released back into polite society. But first, unbeknownst to him, he has to pass one last test. That test arrives in the form of newly appointed Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sureté. For the one or two people in the world that are not familiar with Clouseau, let me explain that he is a walking disaster just waiting to happen. He’s the type of guy who, when entrusted with a simple task of vacuuming a room, ends up naked in another country, covered in raspberry jam with a poodle gaffer taped to his chest – or something like that (maybe that’s a past-life regression thing I shouldn’t be talking about). Needless to say, when Clouseau is around, the simple becomes complicated, and things are never quite the same again. However, most of the world seems obvious to the disaster that Clouseau seems to conjure up. Only Dreyfus appears to be able to see the disorder and destruction of Clouseau’s actions. And therein lies the rub, and how Dreyfus ended up in an asylum. Actually Dreyfus ended up in an asylum because he went mad and tried to kill Clouseau, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that if Clouseau was dead, a great many of the world’s ills would be alleviated. Anyway, that’s enough backstory – if you want to know more, track down a copy of A Shot in the Dark (in my opinion the best of the Pink Panther movies…although Pink Panther doesn’t appear in the title – nor the Pink Panther diamond in the story).

But back to Dreyfus’ test. Clouseau turns up at the asylum and joins Dreyfus in the idyllic grounds beside the lake. Dreyfus is distressed to see Clouseau but refuses to allow his arrival to interfere with his imminent release. But Dreyfus’s stoicism can only go so far, and after Clouseau has inadvertently dumped him in the lake three times and had him raked in the face (hey, it happens to all of us…ask Sideshow Bob), Dreyfus reverts back to an insane maniac and tries to kill Clouseau.

After a nifty animated title sequence Clouseau returns home, but little does he know that Dreyfus has now in fact, escaped from the insane asylum and has broken into the apartment below Clouseau’s. Plotting revenge, Dreyfus drills through the roof of the apartment he is in (or through the floor of the apartment Clouseau is in) and with a miniature periscope spies on Clouseau as he searches his house. What is he searching for? He is searching for Cato (Burt Kwouk), his manservant. Cato has been given instructions to attack his master when he least expects it – this is supposed to keep Clouseaus skills honed and his wits sharp. Well, that’s the theory – it usually ends in chaos.

After their usual fight routine, Clouseau receives a phone call from the Commissioner explaining that Dreyfus has escape and may try to kill him. Clouseau decides that positive action is required and chooses to adopt a cunning disguise…as a hunchback, with an inflatable hump! A diversionary phone call from Dreyfus (with disguised voice – peg over nose) distracts Clouseau as he is inflating his hump. As he talks, the hump continues to inflate, and then, like a balloon, lifts Clouseau off the floor and out the window. As he is so caught up in himself he doesn’t notice that he has drifted outside, but in a way it is a godsend. Dreyfus wanted Clouseau near the phone as he has a bomb prepared to kill Clouseau once and for all. But as Clouseau is actually outside, floating away, he isn’t at home when the bomb blows. Dreyfus is foiled once again. Out of frustration Dreyfus chooses to adopt a rather elaborate and grand scale approach to his Clouseau problem.

Now an evil mastermind, Dreyfus starts organising a series of audacious schemes. First Dreyfus arranges the escape by one of France’s leading criminals, Jean Sauniere. Dreyfus needs Sauniere for his next plan, which is to rob twenty-million France from the Paris Credit bank. Why does he need the money? To finance his biggest and boldest scheme which is to kidnap brilliant scientist Professor Fassbender (Richard Vernon). Now why does Dreyfus want Fassbender? Fassbender is required to invent a ‘Doomsday Weapon’ so Dreyfus can control the world. The weapon being a giant laser. But deep down, Dreyfuss doesn’t want to rule the world, he simply wants to kill Clouseau. So after the ‘Doomsday Weapon’ has been created, Dreyfus interrupts the television broadcasts around the globe and delivers his ultimatum. It’s simple – he wants Clouseau or he will destroy the world. To prove he is serious, he aims the weapon at the UN Building in New York and vaporises it. Once again, Dreyfus delivers his terms – the world has seven days to deliver Clouseau dead or alive or next time he will destroy an entire city.

Dreyfus’ ultimatum sends teams of assassins from every organization and corner of the globe to Munich (which is where Clouseau’s investigation has lead him) to ‘Kill Clouseau’. But of course, Clouseau is not an easy man to kill. Not because he is clever and resourceful, but because he is inept and unpredictable. In the end, many assassins die in grotesque and mildly amusing fashion.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of the better entries in the series. It’s not right up there with the best, but those who have seen the dregs that Blake Edwards served up towards the end of this series (I don’t count the recent Steve Martin films), will know that this provides some classic Sellers madness and comedy routines. Which film was it that featured Roger Moore and for Sellers scenes simply used out-takes from this film – was it Trail of the Pink Panther? Man, that was one abhorrent piece of entertainment (the word being used very loosely, of course). I haven’t seen it in about twenty-five years, and I rightly don’t think I want to.

But this film has its moments (does your dog bite), and some classic scenes where Clouseau attempts to storm Dreyfus’ castle in Bavaria – the first hurdle being the drawbridge. What can I say – comic genius!

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)