Red Sun (1971)

Ursula Andress FestivalAKA: Soleil Rouge
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Charles Bronson, Toshirô Mifune, Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capucine, Anthony Dawson, Luc Merenda
Music: Maurice Jarre

By the early seventies, the Spaghetti Westerns (which had revitalised the Western genre) were starting to run out of steam. The look, the feel, and the violence weren’t enough to attract audiences anymore. Westerns needed another twist, or an angle to put bums on seats again. Then somebody took the old saying ‘East meets West’ and twisted West not to mean ‘civilisation’ but the ‘old west’. And for a brief moment in time we had Kung-Fu and Samurai Westerns. Entries in this short lived cinematic movement include Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe, the TV series Kung Fu with David Carradine, and this film Red Sun (okay it was a very small movement).

The idea is simply a variant on the fish out of water story, but Red Sun added another nice twist on top of that – the casting of Charles Bronson and Toshirô Mifune. How is that special I hear you ask? Well Mifune was one of the Seven Samurai and Bronson was one of The Magnificent Seven. I like the correlation.

But the film features many fish out of water. It was filmed in Spain, and starred the American, Bronson; Japanese, Mifune; French, Alain Delon; and the Swiss actress Ursula Andress.

The film opens in 1870, and the Japanese Ambassador is travelling by train, accompanied by two Samurai guards, across the wild west to deliver the gift of a golden ceremonial sword to the President of the United States. Unfortunately for the Ambassador, this is the train that outlaws, Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) have chosen to rob with the help of their band of trusty outlaws. Well maybe ‘trusty’ is the wrong word. There is no trust. In fact Gauche double crosses Stuart and leaves him dead. Gauche also angers the Japanese Ambassador when he steals the ceremonial sword and kills one of the Samurai guards.

The Ambassador orders his other Samurai guard, Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) to track down Gauche, kill him and retrieve the sword. They figure the best man to lead Kuroda to Gauche is Stuart. So begins a journey for the two men. Wise-ass Stuart, has no intentions of staying with Kuroda, who is dressed in full Samurai gear. But Stuart does want to get to Gauche, and retrieve the money that is rightfully owing to him. But his attempts at breaking away from Kuroda aren’t too successful, as Kuroda is dogged in his determination to complete his mission – retrieving the sword – and if that means sticking with Stuart, then that’s exacly what he does.

Stuart and Kuroda aren’t too successful in tracking down Gauche, so Stuart adopts another strategy. He let’s Gauche come to him. Or more correctly, come to Christina (Ursula Andress). Christina is a prostitute, and also happens to be Gauche’s girlfriend. Stuart figures that sooner or later, Gauche is going to have the ‘urge’, and when he does, he’ll come for Christina; and Stuart will be waiting.

Red Sun, while being very enjoyable in it’s way, is quite an uneven film. After the train robbery and betrayal at the start, the film spends quite a bit of time with just Bronson and Mifune’s characters; and here the film works very well as almost a character piece. But plotwise, with only two men making a journey together, not much story progression is taking place. But that’s not to say it is boring – these are characters that are engaging.

For the second half of the film, once Ursula Andress’ character is introduced, the story does move forward, but it doesn’t really have any place to go.

The ending itself, is very reminiscent of Bandolero (and numerous other Westerns), where the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys have to team up to defeat a common enemy – here they have to battle a number of rather European looking Comanche Indians. I always think it is a clumsy plot device when fate steps in to turn the tables in favour of the hero. A real hero would ‘think’ or ‘fight’ his way out of trouble.

Ultimately Red Sun is not a great film, but it is an interesting one. It’s Samurai Western with a likeable International cast performing a variety of Swordplay, Gunplay, and if you count Christina’s seduction of Link, Foreplay.

Red Sun (1971)

Love in Four Easy Lessons (1976)

Ursula Andress FestivalSex With a Smile IICountry: Italy
Director: Sergio Martino
Starring: Ursula Andress, Barbara Bouchet, Johnny Dorelli, Aldo Maccione, Alberto Lionello
Writers: Sandro Continenza, Raimondo Vianello
Music: Enrico Simonetti
AKA: Sex With a Smile 2
Original Title: Spogliamoci così senza pudor

I am nothing if not predictable – and it appears, a glutton for punishment. It’s obvious that I have an obsession with Ursula Andress (one that stops only fractionally short of stalking), but recent viewing – The Sensuous Nurse and The Slave Of The Cannibal God – have not been among my my more rewarding film watching experiences. Foolishly, here I am again watching another Italian sex comedy, featuring Andress, this time directed by Sergio Martino – the man behind ‘Cannibal God’. I don’t know what strange force drives me towards these films when I should know better…but…!

Love In Four Easy Lessons, as the title may suggest is comprised of four unrelated segments. Three segments deal with adultery, and the other deals with er,… Soccer!

The first segment is The Detective which features Aldo Maccione as a private detective. This allows him to say, throughout the episode, “I’m a Professional Dick, y’now!” And by the end of the segment, you can’t help but agree with the guy. In the story, he specialises in cases of adultery. When a husband suspects his wife of having an affair, they come to him, and he proves it. Even if the wife isn’t having an affair.

The second story is The Ringer, and for me was the best story of the four. It’s a tale about a ladies soccer team, whose star player injures herself just before the finals. The coach, who stands to collect a 10 million lira bonus if the team wins the next game, makes a deal with a con man friend (Enrico Montesano) of his, to find a replacement. In a variation of Some Like It Hot, the con man takes on the role of female soccer star. This leads to some mildly amusing shower scenes, and a particularly painful conclusion as our cross-dressing hero tries to protect his, er….goal.

The third and weakest story, which features Barbara Bouchet and Alberto Lionello, is The Trojan Wardrobe. The wardrobe in question is delivered to the villa of a rich couple as they head off sailing for the weekend. The groundskeeper allows the delivery guys to place the wardrobe inside the villa. But these delivery guys aren’t your run of the mills delivery guys. In fact they are burglars. And their scheme involves hiding a man inside the wardrobe who can move about the villa freely at night and steal all the valuables. The burglar places the valuables in the wardrobe, and then waits to be collected the next day, when the delivery men return, and claim a mistake has been made, and take back the treasure laden wardrobe. Okay, the scheme is contrived, but in all the caper films I have seen, this scenario seems like a new one.

But naturally, it isn’t all as simple as that. Alberto Lionello doesn’t want to go on a sailing trip with his wife. He has arranged a dirty weekend with a French actress. Before the yacht sets sail, he fakes a telephone call from his office, claiming that there is a problem and he must return to Rome. He does so. Then picks up his French tart and heads back to the house. Meanwhile, the Trojan burglar, has to put back all the items he has stolen before he is discovered. Adding to the convolution, Lionello’s wife, Barbara Bouchet, didn’t go sailing either, and has returned home early.

One Step To Paradise, the final episode features Ursula Andress, and naturally the one I had been waiting for. The tale is actually quite similar to a forties style farce, but with boobs. That is, if you can picture Ursula Andress as a adulterous Katherine Hepburn, and Johnny Dorelli as a libidinal Cary Grant.

The story features Ursula Andress as a lawyer’s wife who is waiting for her secret lover, Johnny Dorelli to meet her for an afternoon in “paradise” on the fourth floor of the apartment building that she lives in. To get past the doorman, Dorelli pretends to be seeing the Notary who lives on the third floor. It just so happens that the Notary had a heart attack and died that morning, and Dorelli is mistaken for a dead man’s long lost bastard son.

I hate to admit this, but I kinda liked Love In Four Easy Lessons. It still is loud, over the top, arms waving Italian humour, with a lot of smutty puns. But at least by breaking it into four stories, the gags aren’t drawn out. Obviously in a production of this kind, there is nudity in it, but the film isn’t particularly sleazy. It is closer in style to a situation comedy. I wouldn’t spend too much time tracking the film down, but it is a pleasant enough diversion for 98 minutes.

To view the Italian trailer: click here

Love in Four Easy Lessons (1976)

The Zakhov Mission

The Zakhoc MissionAuthor: Andrei Gulyashki
Translated by Maurice Michael
Publisher: Cassell
Published: 1968
Originally published as Priklogyyeniyema na Avakum Zakhov (1963)

The first thing I must clear up is the relationship between Andrei Gulyashki’s books The Zakhov Mission and Avakoum Zahov versus 07. They are two different books. The original Russian version of The Zakhov Mission was written in 1963. Later it was translated into English by Maurice Michael and released in the United Kingdom in 1968 by Cassel Books (as pictured). It was also published in the United Stated for the Crime Club by Doubleday in 1969. If you search the internet you can find copies of The Zakhov Mission varying in price from around ten dollars to one-hundred and fifty dollars. Avakoum Zahov versus 07 on the other hand was written in 1966, and the only English language translation was published in Australia by Scripts in 1967 and is incredibly difficult to find.

It is often erroneously assumed that The Zakhov Mission is the English translation of ‘Avakoum Zahov versus 07’. Much of the misinformation can be attributed to Donald McCormick’s book Who’s Who in Spy Fiction (1977) which suggests The Zakhov Mission was serialised as Avakoum Zahov versus 07 in Komsomolskaya Pravda. Charles Helfenstein was the first to attempt to clear up some of the confusion about Gulyashki and Zahov in the debut issue of his fan magazine, Spies: The Secret Agent’s Magazine in 1992. In issue 2 (Oct 92) he even reprinted a 67 interview with Gulyashki, complete with a picture of him.

Andrei Gulyaski - from the back cover of The Zakhov Mission

The Zakhov Mission begins with an attack on a sentry in the village of Momchilovo. He was guarding the geological survey headquarters for the area. Stolen from the headquarters was a map with vital military information on it. it seems the survey has found a deposit of a rare ore called leninite, which has military purposes. After fingerprints, a towel (with chloroform on it) and a cigarette butt are found at the scene of the crime, the local schoolmaster, Metodi Parashkevov is arrested.

Avakoum Zakhov is called into investigate and immediately suspects that the Parashkevov is innocent, and the clues have been conveniently planted at the scene of the crime to implicate the schoolmaster. Zakhov decides to go undercover in the town to find out who the real  culprit is.

Avakum Zakhov is not particularly a man of action. And although he is often referred to as a Balkan James Bond, he is in fact, more akin to Sherlock Holmes, and uses his deductive powers to solve the mysteries, rather than brute force. He is also keen to adopt a series of silly disguises over the course of his mission. Of course, Holmes was not adverse to a touch of theatricality.

The book itself is slow and plodding, with very little action, with the drama in the story coming solely from the investigative actions of Zakhov – and even they are deliberately cryptic to keep the reader wondering who and what is going on. To continue with the Holmes comparison however, if this story had been written by Conan Doyle, it would have been half the length, still hit the same high-points that this story does – but been pacier and more enjoyable.

One of my criticisms of Avakoum Zahov versus 07 was the use of flowery language – and I opined that Gulyashki could not possibly be such a bad of a writer – and The Zakhov Mission bears that out. There still is a lot of descriptive writing, but it is not flowery, but rather melancholy – in the sense it longs for the days and ways of the past. It is fair to say that this translation by Maurice Michael is far superior to the Scripts translation for 07. Gulyashki, in The Zakhov Mission spends a lot of time describing the old ways, and the simple life. For example, as Zakhov arrives at Momchilovo he has a choice of two restaurants to dine at. Gulyashki spends two pages explaining that one is slick and modern – but cold and emotionless, and the other is old and rundown, but is populated by the honest, hard-working ‘real’ people, and therefore the preferred option. The whole story is filled with this type of promotion for decent values and the simple way of life. Therefore a cynic – and far be it from me to be one – may suggest that this story is little more than a propaganda piece for the masses behind the iron curtain, extolling the virtues of a simple life, and not craving the capitalistic luxuries that may be found in the west.

Ultimately The Zakhov Mission is an interesting curio – in that it is a spy novel from the other side of the iron curtain, but as a thriller, it falls flat. Unless you are particularly interested in Gulyashki or the Zakhov character, I wouldn’t go hunting this book down.

The Zakhov Mission

Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

Ursula Andress FestivalAKA: Mountain Of The Cannibal, Primitive Desires, Prisoner Of The Cannibal God, The Mountain Of The Cannibal God
Director: Sergio Martino
Starring: Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Claudio Cassinelli, Antonio Marsina, Franco Fantasia
Music: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis

Those in the know will realise that Slave Of The Cannibal God is the cut version of this film. Apparently this version is missing some bestiality towards the end of the movie. Frankly I am not too concerned about the missing footage. The footage presented in this truncated version was enough for my weak stomach.

As the film opens a message flashes up on the screen informing us that:

‘New Guinea is perhaps the last region on Earth which still contain immense unexplored areas, shrouded in mystery, where life has remained at it’s primordial level.’

Then a jet lands at Port Moresby and Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) disembarks. Waiting for her is a gaggle of reporters all keen to know her intentions. You see, poor old Susan’s husband, scientist, Henry Stevenson has gone missing in the jungles of New Guinea. Ignoring the reporters, with her brother, Arthur Weisser (Antonio Marsina), Susan heads to the British Consulate and demands action. She wants her husband found. As he has been missing for three months, there isn’t much that can be achieved through official channels. So Susan decides to take matters into her own hands and organise her own expedition into the jungle to find her husband.

The man she chooses to lead the expedition is Edward Foster (Stacy Keach). It is Foster’s belief that Henry Stevenson went to the Island of Roka, and to the sacred mountain Ra-Ra-Me. Ra-Ra-Me translates as ‘Mountain of the Cannibal God’. With a name like that, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the mountain is home to the fearsome Puka tribe, who happen to be cannibals.

The film starts off all very King Solomon’s Mines with the brave adventurer leading the expedition into the wild, to find a loved one, but pretty quickly turns into a fairly intense jungle movie. There are quite a few very graphic animal killings by man and by beast. This film is not for the squeamish or those easily shocked.

Slave Of The Cannibal God is a film that over the years has garnered a reputation, but this reputation is not for the violence, animal cruelty of even it’s cannibal theme. The reputation is derived from one scene with Ursula Andress, where she is tied to a stake, stripped naked, and her body smeared with what looks like blood (but it could be radioactive mud). So once again we find ourselves in familiar territory – that of Ursula Andress cavorting around naked. And while watching Ursula cavort, can be a pleasant pass time, you’ve got to decide that if watching a violent cannibal movie is the vehicle in which to engage this pass time?

Slave Of The Cannibal God may not be as shocking as some of the other cannibal movies out there, but it is still fairly intense. Some of the feeling of imminent danger and claustrophobia that this film evokes can be contributed to the on location cinematography, which looks beautiful on one hand, and impenetrable on the other. Another element that creates a feeling of dread within the movie, is the soundtrack by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis. Utilising primitive drums, chimes and a strange sound that somewhat sounds like a warning siren, the music keeps you constantly on edge.

At the end of the day Slave Of The Cannibal God is not my cup of cocoa, but if you like cannibal films or even brutal jungle adventure, this film may satisfy.

Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

The Sensuous Nurse (1975)

Ursula Andress FestivalOriginal Title: (L’Infermiera)
AKA: I Will If You Will, The Nurse, The Secrets of a Sensuous Nurse.
Director: Nello Rossati
Starring: Ursula Andress, Jack Palance, Duilio Del Prete, Luciana Paluzzi, Marina Confalone, Mario Pisu, Lino Toffolo, Carla Romanelli
Music: Gianfranco Plenizio

I struggle with Italian comedy. True, my experiences have been limited to a few Franco & Ciccio films, but the experience has scarred me so deeply that I have no choice but to right off all Italian comedies. Against my better judgment I watched The Sensuous Nurse, which is an Italian sex comedy from the mid seventies. It takes something pretty special to make me overcome my prejudice, and in this instance the appeal is that Ursula Andress spends quite a bit of the movie’s running time cavorting around naked. In fact there is quite a bit of ‘cavorting’ from all the actresses in the film, including Lucianna Paluzzi and Carla Romanelli

As a bit of smut, I’d say The Sensuous Nurse delivers, but as a comedy, the film is a bit of a failure. It may be that the humour doesn’t translate too well, or it could be a generational thing too. I find myself quite bored with the British sex comedies from that era too (I wont say ‘bored stiff’ or you’ll start throwing things at the screen).

Count Leonida Bottacin (Mario Piso) is a lecherous old man and an old school wine maker. But he has a heart attack and is on his death bed. In the interim, the business is temporarily taken over by Benito Varotto (Duilio Del Prete). Benito makes a shady deal with American entrepreneur Mr. Kitch (Jack Palance), but this deal can only go through once the Count is dead.

Unfortunately for Benito, the unthinkable starts to happen – the Count begins to get better. And if he gets better, then Benito can not go through with his deal with Kitch. Now Kitch is not a man you can renege on.

So Benito hatches a plan, which he hopes will speed the old lecherous Count on his way to his maker. This plan involves employing a seductive nurse named Anna (Ursula Andress). She is to take care of the Count. Her nurses outfit and bedside manner is intended to raise the old Count’s blood pressure so much, that he will have another heart attack (and die). As this is a farce, all sorts of complications arise, but I didn’t think it was too funny. Some of the situations make The Benny Hill Show look highbrow in comparison.

The Sensuous Nurse probably isn’t worth your time and money, but if you are a huge fan of the James Bond films, and therefore a huge fan of Ursula Andress (Dr. No) and Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball), and you have money to burn, then by all means seek this out. I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy it, but you’re probably only watching it for the nudity anyway. Hey – that’s okay by me – it’s your life!

The Sensuous Nurse (1975)

ESPy (1974)

Original Title: Esupai
Country: Japan
Director: Jun Fukuda
Starring: Masao Kusakari, Hiroshi Fujioka, Kaoru Yumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Yûzô Kayama
Music: Masaaki Hirao

Every now and then I stumble upon a film that is a bit tougher to categorize and describe than most. ESPy is one such film. Firstly it is Japanese, and secondly as the title may suggest, ESPy concerns a team of secret agents who have ESP and other psychic abilities. They are like super spies. They can jam their enemies guns with a thought. They can plant other thoughts in their enemies heads. They can use telekinesis to move objects and they can hypnotize people and make them perform acts against their will. In fact, I guess if they put their mind to it, they could do anything – or at least make you think they can do anything. Which gives this film a very broad canvas on which to work.

As the film opens, the world is a pretty messed up place, and there is trouble in the European country of Baltonia. If Baltonia’s troubles boil over, then it looks like it could bring on the next world war. But there is hope. A United Nations mediation committee is on it’s way to help sort things out. The delegates of this committee are on their way to Geneva on board an express train.

Meanwhile, a a bad-ass named Tatsumi, is driving his Mercedes on a high road that overlooks the railway line. He parks his car and retrieves a sniper’s rifle. The train rushes past, but even though the blinds are drawn, and no targets can be seen, Tatsumi takes aim at a carriage. Tatsumi then uses his psychic powers – portrayed as some sort of x-ray vision to see inside the carriage. Seeing the delegates, he takes aim and fires – shooting each one of them in turn – right between the eyes.

As you have no doubt guessed, Tatsumi is a bad guy, and he works for an evil organization called – wait for it – ‘Anti-ESPY’. Anti-ESPY, who are also psychics, are dedicated to taking over the world and killing all the ordinary people – because they (we) are a sub-species.

Next we meet race-car driver, Miki Jiro, (Masao Kusakari) and he is fangin’ around a test track. As he rounds a bend, he sees three pigeons on the track. Rather than run them down, he turns the wheel sharply and spins out of control. Just as his car is about to hit the barriers, he uses his psychic powers to move the car backward out of harm’s way. But Miki is being watched, and later he is collected by some mysterious people and taken to the W.P.P.O (International Polution Research Centre – it seems to lose something in translational there!). Miki is introduced to Chief Hojo – but doesn’t understand how he can help with pollution. Hojo explains that the pollution thing is just a cover – they are really the International Psychic Power Group and they work for the United Nations (and are known as ESPY). I guess in today’s world, suggesting that an anti-pollution organization is just a front for an intelligence organization would be seen as ‘bad show’. Imagine if Greenpeace weren’t actually concerned with environmental issues and were really a front for a group of super-psychics!

Anyway, Miki is recruited to ESPY, and his first mission is to assist in the protection of the Baltonian Prime Minister. After the assassination of the U.N. Delegates, the Baltonian Prime Minister has agreed to meet with the US President in Japan to sort out a peace plan. It is assumed – correctly I might add – that Anti-ESPY will make an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life.

Miki is introduced to the rest of the ESPY team – but the two agents he will work closely with are Tamura (Hiroshi Fujioka) and Maria (Kaoru Yumi). These agents have a psychic bond with each other and can read each other thoughts and can sense when each other are in danger.

ESPy is a strange little sci-fi espionage thriller. What makes it interesting is, that for just a second it veers towards being an exploitation picture. There is a sequence where Maria is captured and Tamura, using his psychic ability, tracks her to the villains lair, which happens to be a strip club. Tamura takes a seat, and immediately iron cuffs ensnare his wrists and ankles. He is trapped in his seat. Then the next performer comes on stage. It is Maria, and psychically, the villain is forcing her to perform a routine. Maria begins to dance and gyrate to the music. Tamura is frustrated because he is trapped and cannot stop her. Then a dark skinned minion walks on stage – just to provide a bit of inter-racial tension (you’ve got to remember this was made in the ’70s – and the sequence was clearly designed to provoke such a reaction). Maria continues to dance, and he rips off her top exposing her breasts. Now by today’s standards, this scene is quite tame, but in the film it is clearly used as a bit of exploitative titillation. The scene is even replayed in flashback later in the film, just so the viewer can relive it.

The thing is, later Maria considers quitting ESPy, because she feels that she has degraded herself. Now I realise Japanese culture places a greater emphasis on saving face, than western culture, so Maria’s embarrassment may culturally be appropriate – particularly for a film made in 1974 (then again, with all the Pinky Violence films being made at this time, it may be a mute point). But the thing that fascinates me, and where this film could have really stood out from the crowd, is if it had delved more into the psycho-sexual arena. And just so you don’t think I’m being a randy old pervert once again, if you compared the film to Brian DePalma’s Carrie, released two years later – which lives in the hormone fuelled world of teenagers – then ESPy which is happy to flash some breast, doesn’t have the courage of its convictions, and is afraid to delve into the psychology of the average person. Even the new Harry Potter film – Deathly Hallows, in its treatment of Ron’s jealousy – suspecting that Harry and Hermione are having a sexual relationship behind his back (aided by some magical manipulation by the Dark Lord)  – shows it has a more sophisticated grasp of the human psyche than ESPy.

But maybe I am expecting too much from the film. It is directed by Jun Fukuda, who directed a goodly number of Godzilla films in the 1960s and early ’70s. Most likely Fukuda’s talents lie elsewhere, and it must be said that the sequences of destruction are particularly well handled, such as the destruction of the villains lair, and the ‘earthquake’ sequence at the peace conference. Fukuda obviously knows how to shoot models to good effect.

Overall, the film see-saws between plodding exposition scenes and wild crazy action scenes. But despite this un-eveness, I still found it to be an interesting film, with a few good ideas lurking underneath, but not really given their full reign. But for those who like their spy films, sprinkled with a healthy dose of science fiction, then ESPy is an interesting diversion, and certainly very different to the majority of spy films being made in the early ’70s. You may find it worth a look.

Thanks to MY

ESPy (1974)

The Berlin Memorandum

Author: Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor)
Publisher: Collins
Published: 1965
AKA: The Quiller Memorandum

The Berlin Memorandum, or The Quiller Memorandum as it is also known, is the first book in the twenty book Quiller series, written by Elleston Trevor under the pen name of Adam Hall. The Quiller series is highly regarded by the spy-fiction community, and as strange as it may seem – because I have had most of the books for years – I have never actually read them. I thought it was time to rectify that oversight, and start at the very top.

As the novel begins, we meet Quiller at the theatre. His evening of merriment is interrupted when a man enters his viewing box. The man’s name is Pol, and he has a new assignment for Quiller. Actually it’s an old assignment, but the person who had been on the case has been killed. Pol (meaning ‘Control’) wants Quiller to take over the assignment. It appears that there is a group of neo-Nazis in Berlin who are planning a major operation. Control want to know what it is. Quiller reluctantly agrees to take over the assignment, but he has one condition. He wants all cover called off. He wants to go in alone – no watchers or assistants – just him.

During the first hundred odd pages of The Berlin Memorandum, not too much happens. The story fleshes out Quiller’s background – and how he has been rounding up Nazi war criminals since the end of the war. It also lays down quite a bit of trade-craft, showing how Quiller thinks, acts and communicates with his superiors. At this stage of the book, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Berlin Memorandum is just another spy story – another Nazi hunting spy story… and you’d probably be correct. But, it what happens at this juncture – where Quiller is taken captive by the neo-Nazis – that kicks this story up a notch and moves the book to a higher level.

Pages 124-125 Collins 1965

So it wasn’t pentothal. It was the sleep-kick trick: gradual narcosis with sodium-amytal then a shock dose of benzedrine or pervitine to kick the sleeper awake. My brain was so clear that I could remember the exact words my lecturer has used in 1948: the brutal awakening makes the verbal objectivisation of psychic contents most urgent, so that they come into the speech phase with an explosive force hitherto unknown.

The psychological sparring between Quiller and his captor, Oktober is gripping reading. As the story progresses, it becomes more fascinating with each subsequent attempt to make Quiller talk. Almost like a chess game. Sometimes Quiller falls into a trap and has to tough it out. On other occasions, he manages to outwit his enemies. And as much as Oktober (and Uber-Nazi, Zossen) and his minions are the primarily objective for Quiller, the real driving force in the story is the very unusual relationship that Quiller enters into with Fraulein Inga Lindt. Inga was a child of only nine years old when the war ended – but she had a rather different view of the end – or at least the end for Adolph Hitler – because she was in the Fuhrerbunker when Hitler killed himself.

Inga worshiped Hitler as a god – and she became a staunch neo-Nazi. But then she fell in with a bad crowd called Phonix. Now she wants to get out. The thing is, as you could imagine in anyone who had lived in such a dark world, surround by death, she is now, what would be euphemistically called ‘damaged goods’. Why Quiller is drawn to her, is never really explained, but at the same time, with the snippets of his own background story which we are afforded, you could possibly see why he would be attracted to such a woman.

As you have no doubt guessed, this group Phonix, that Inga used to belong to, are the neo-Nazi organisation that Quiller is after, and through her, he sees a way in. Of a kind anyway. Quiller had been making enough waves – and scoring media attention – arresting neo-Nazis, that sooner or later the bad guys were going to come looking for him.

Many readers may have seen the film The Quiller Memorandum, based on this book. I actually think it is one of the better spy films made in the sixties, but despite a few scenes retained from the book, they are two very different beasts. The film is essentially a wafer thin palimpsest of the book – and I must admit I don’t know how good the film would be if it were faithful to the novel. Firstly it would have to be twice as long, and most likely have to have a voice-over narration explaining Quiller’s though processes. For example, there’s a passage in the book, where Quiller, while being interrogated, induces himself to faint. In a film, that sequence would take about three seconds and make very little sense – except to paint the character as a weaker man than he actually is. Anyway, the thing to take from this, is not to dismiss the film, but to suggest to those who have seen the film, that they are not being presented with the full story. And therefore, I recommend tracking down a copy of book.

As I said at the start, this is essentially my first Quiller novel. And I would suggest reading it, is a bit like going for a swim on a cloudy day. When you first put your foot in the water, your first reaction is that it is cold, and you don’t really want to go in. But then you persevere, and then once you’re in, you actually find that the water is warm and comfortable and you don’t really want to get out – because it seems colder outside the water than in. That’s The Berlin Memorandum – it has a bit of a cold start, but once you’re in, you don’t really want to get out.

The Berlin Memorandum

FX-18 Superspy (1965)

Original Title: Coplan FX-18 Casse Tout
AKA: Agent 077 Summergame, Agent 777 Mission Summergame, The Exterminators, Coplan FX 18
Country: France / Italy
Director: Riccardo Freda
Starring: Richard Wyler, Robert Manuel, Jany Clair, Valeria Ciangottini, Maria-Rosa Rodriguez
Music: Michel Magne

To confuse things, a lot of Eurospy movies called them self ‘077’ movies, but in reality there are only three official movies in the series, and they all feature Ken Clark as Dick Malloy Agent 077. So FX-18 Superspy, even though it is sometimes called Agent 077 Summergame isn’t an official ‘077’ film, but it is an official entry in the Coplan series. The  series consists of six films: To Catch a Spy (1957), Coplan Agent Secret FX 18 (1964), Coplan prend des risques (1964), FX-18 Superspy (1965), Mexican Slay Ride (1966), Coplan Saves His Skin (1968).

In this film, Francis Coplan is played by Richard Wyler. Wyler has a fine spy pedigree appearing in the TV series Man From Interpol, and the films Dick Smart 2.007 and The Girl From Rio. I even recall him turning up in a role from The Return of the Saint.

As the film opens, Coplan is in a nightclub in Istanbul, and an exotic dancer is performing a semi-strip routine. As she dances through the crowd to Coplan, she passes him a rose, and then moves on. Written on the inside of one of the petals, is the name of the man who is Coplan’s target tonight – you see, he is here for a bit of wet-work. There’s nothing subtle about Coplan – at least in the manner that Wyler plays him. In fact he is a ruthless bastard. Before the end of the film, not only will he shoot his target for this evening (which I’ll talk about in a moment), he also stubs out a cigarette on a minions hand, drowns another minion in a hand basin, and orders his assistant to shoot at point-blank range, a man he has pinned to a wall. Coplan is not a gentleman spy – but a cold-hearted professional.

Back to the film: the dancer continues her performance, and Coplan draws his pistol (with silencer) under the cover of the table cloth. The tempo of the dancing and the music increase. As the music is reaching its crescendo, Coplan takes aim and fires at a waiter – just as he has popped the cork on a bottle of Champagne (or is that Methode Champenoise now?)

After the victim falls, Coplan rushes to the man’s side pretending to be a doctor – but in fact he is secretly searching the man’s pockets. He finds a notebook which he discretely tucks away. Later, back in his hotel room, he goes through the pages and finds a note written in code. It only takes Coplan seconds to crack it (later he tells a girl it was very difficult to crack – I am not sure if he was being facetious, or it was a clumsy plot point. Wyler is not too good with the jokes). The code steers him in the direction of a delivery truck that travels from Istanbul, through Athens and then finally to Paris.

As this van traverses its route, a light plane flies overhead. It’s enough to give the guard in the back of the truck the heebee geebies, and he draws a machine gun and starts firing away. Of course, Coplan is flying the plane, and somehow he returns fire. I couldn’t tell how on the print I was watching. The plane didn’t appear to have machine guns, so I guess, Coplan just fired a few shots from his pistol out of the window as he flew by. He kills the guard. What a marksman! Then, and you’ve got to see this to believe it, Coplan lands his plane on the roof of the moving truck. This isn’t a semi-trailer or anything like that – just an ordinary truck, but he manages to land smack dab on top of the vehicle. Then he leaps out of the plane, just as it is shaken loose, falling beside on the road in a bright orange fireball. Coplan scampers across the roof; leaps through the passenger side window; clobbers the driver; and then takes control of the truck and brings it to a halt.

Coplan gets out of the cab and inspects the cargo. Inside one of the crates he finds the dead body of Professor Herman Boltz. Professor Boltz and his partner, Professor Bruno Schwartz, were actively engaged in building a French rocket. Now Boltz is dead (he went missing in Rome we are told), and Schwartz is missing – kidnapped in Paris.

Coplan is assigned to find Professor Schwartz, and he is partnered with two agents from the Israeli Intelligence Service – Gelda Lieber (Valeria Ciangottini) and Shaimoun (Gil Delamare). The Israeli theory is that the Egyptians are up to no good, and are attempting to build their own rocket. In Paris, Gelda makes contact with some men who she thinks can lead her in the right direction. And she is correct, but instead they kidnap her, torture her and then kill her. But before she died, she somehow managed to leave a message on her baby doll. It’s one of those ones, that you pull a string at the back and it talks. Coplan and Shaimoun retrieve the doll, and the message from Gelda sends then onto the next leg of the mission in Istanbul.

Earlier I mentioned that it was hard to tell when Wyler as Coplan was serious or not (and that may have something to do with the dub too). But that would be the major flaw with this film. It lacks a sense of humour except in the general conceit of its story, which like many films of its ilk, is pretty goofy. Despite this goofiness, the story is played stoney cold straight – not that I expect, or even want, a smirk with every incident that occurs – but hey, when you’ve got your hero strapped to a nose cone of a rocket that is aimed at the heart of New york, well you’d like to think that the actors realised that this was all in fun…Coplan FX-18 Superspy never acknowledges that absurdity.

But still, this film is a pretty spirited adventure with a certain amount of style. It features decent action and stunt sequences – a standout being a chase where Coplan on motorcycle chase some minions in a red sports-car. There is practically no rear projection or models – so most of the action is happening in front of the camera – so a reasonable budget was allocated to this film. As with so many Eurospy films, it cannot compete with James Bond for spectacular action set-pieces – but the film features enough moments of originality to ensure that it is not just another Bond knockoff.

FX-18 Superspy (1965)

Mexican Slay Ride (1967)

Mexican Slay Ride PosterOriginal Title: Coplan ouvre le feu à Mexico
Country: France /Italy / Spain
Director: Riccardo Freda
Starring: Lang Jeffries, Sabine Sun, Frank Oliveras, Silvia Solar, Luciana Gilli, Guido Lollobrigida
Music: Jacques Lacome

Mexican Slay Ride (and the many other names this film travels under) is the fifth in the series of Coplan films based on the novels by Paul Kenny.

In Mexico, some guys in a work van pull up on a remote road in the countryside. They set up a roadblock and then rather than going to work, they have a spot of lunch. Then a jeep whizzes around the road towards them. The workmen stop feeding their faces, and one of them grabs a mini bazooka. As the jeep gets closer, the workman fires and the jeep and its occupant – who happen to be geologists – are destroyed.

One week later in Paris, and Francis Coplan (Lang Jeffries) receives a Telephone call from a woman named Christine. Christine happens to be a secret service operative like Coplan. and she is in danger. She has stumbled onto a conspiracy plot, and killers are after her. Coplan wastes no time. he retrieves a pistol from the desk drawer and heads off to assist her.

Coplan arrives at Christine’s apartment, but she doesn’t answer the door. So he picks the lock. Inside he hears a tap dripping. He goes to the sink, only to find it isn’t water dripping, but blood falling from the ceiling. Christine is dead upstairs. He is too late. But luckily, he knows where she keeps her secrets – in the high-heel of one of her shoes. He snaps off the heel and retrieves a piece of microfilm.

The microfilm shows a series of rare paintings – paintings that disappeared during the WWII – believed to be stolen by the Nazis. And one of these paintings is now due to go to auction. Coplan and his partner, Fondane (Frank Oliveras) attend the auction. After the auction, Coplan allows himself to be picked up by Contessa (Sabine Sun), a rival bidder. He heads back to her apartment for some, er … refreshment. Afterward, Coplan feigns an allergic fit, but it is simply a diversion so he can drug Contessa.

Once she is unconscious, Coplan uses the opportunity to search the house. Not only does he find a caché of paintings hidden in a secret room, he also find a pack of goons out to kill him. Naturally, Coplan manfully kills all the thugs, but allows Contessa to escape. Of course, unknowingly, she is followed by other secret service agents — because the service aren’t after the small fish. They want to know who is behind it all. After reporting to HQ, Coplan and Fondane fly out after her – to Mexico.

Upon arrival, they are run off the road by a giant truck which forces their rented VW into a tree. I have to tell you about this scene, because it is quite laughable. First, let me say that I have nothing against the use of miniatures or models in films. In fact, I prefer them to crap CGI, but if you’re going to use models, a small measure of realism should be attempted. Here we have little more than two childrens toys crashed into each other with some loud sound effects over the top (This makes the model work in Antonio Marghariti’s Lightning Bolt look first rate!)

The film features a few more instances of ‘toy destruction’, such as a aircraft that ploughs into the ground, and a Merc that blows up.

The trail leads Coplan to a cultural historian living in the area named Don Felipe. Felipe administrates an old Aztec temple, and also owns an old uranium mine. He is also a neo-Nazi, and the caretaker of the horde of fabulous art treasures stolen by the Nazis during the war. He is now arranging for the artwork to be sold, and the funds used to build bases – almost underground cities – that the neo-Nazis will launch their scheme for world domination. Insert maniacal laughter here!

Lang Jefferies as Coplan, has a rather brutish demeanour, which is fine for the rough-house sequences, but when he is required to be refined and romantic, it just doesn’t come off. I don’t know how this stacks up to the character in the novels. It’s so strange because there are quite a few womanising scenes in the film. The film-makers throw a bevy of beautiful women at Coplan – I have already mentioned the Contessa – who is the bad girl who wants to go good. Then there’s Francine Labout, a French geologist conducting some surveys in the area. A series of infra-red photos taken by her, in the course of her research reveal the extent of the neo-Nazi plot. Then finally there is Maya, Don Felipe’s promiscuous daughter.

Ultimately, Mexican Slay Ride is a vigorous little spy thriller, thanks primarily to the brooding, forceful performance (but not romantic) by Lang Jefferies as Francois Coplan. Earlier, I may have had a dig at this film’s model work, but at least by using models, the film-makers were trying to tell a story with some big scale set-pieces (obviously too expensive to be filmed for real). Of course it cannot compete with a Bond movie in terms of big screen thrills, but there are car chases, gun fights, gadgets, some overly planned elaborate death scenes – including a roof coming down to crush its victim – and pretty good finale in the villains lair – everything you’d want in a ’60s spy film.

Mexican Slay Ride (1967)