Agent Z55: Desperate Mission (1965)

Country: Italy / Spain / France
Director: Roberto Bianchi Montero (credited as Robert B. White)
Starring: German Cobos, Yoko Tani, Gianni Rizzo, Susan Baker, Milton Reid, Anthony Blade, Paco Sanz, Leontine May
Music: Francesco De Masi

Just to confuse you, Agent Z55: Desperate Mission is a Eurospy film with a distinctively Eastern flavour. The film opens with some murky scenes in a leafy security compound in Red China. Three masked Japanese agents break into the compound and rescue Professor Larsen, a nuclear scientist who had been kidnapped in Hong Kong. Of course, we find these details out later and left baffled as to what is going on and why. At least it gives us something to ponder over the nifty animated title sequence.

Returning to the action, we are in Hong Kong and in the Hotel room of Agent Z51’s. Unfortunately the viewer isn’t the only intruder in Z51’s room. An assassin with a trick knife also makes his presence felt and quickly dispatches poor old Z51.

We then move across the world to a meeting of US Security chiefs. They quickly assign their best operative, Robert O’Connor – Agent Z55 (played by German Cobos – who bears a passing resemblance to a young Sean Connery), who is in Barcelona reconnoitering a beautiful brunette as she gets out of the shower. But duty calls… and so O’Connor heads off on his mission.

Agent Z55 arrives in Hong Kong, under the assumed name, Manning. At the airport he is called into Customs Control where his suitcase has been searched. Inside, hidden in the base of a souvenir statuette, are a cache of valuable gems. Obviously planted, O’Connor (or Manning) is to be arrested for smuggling. But rather than surrender to the authorities, as they are obviously corrupt, he chooses to leap through a glass window – a pretty fake looking glass window – and hoof it. Out the front, he finds a truck with the keys still in it, so he ‘borrows’ the vehicle – leading to the films second car chase, this time through the streets of Hong Kong.

With the Hong Kong police hot on his trail, Agent Z55 weaves through the traffic and down the major thoroughfares of the city. The police even send up a helicopter to pursue him – providing an opportunity for some travelogue style aerial footage. As with many spy films of its era, Desperate Mission milks its location footage for all it is worth – and no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a visit to HK harbour – so rather appropriately, as the police close in, Agent Z55 ditches his truck, and steals a boat. The chase continues on the harbour, until our hero finally manages to slip away.

But that’s not the end of the travelogue footage – we haven’t done Hong Kong by night – so the films picks up O’Connor in a taxi, on the streets at night – which is a blur of neon signs – which appear to be filmed with a camera poking out a car window. I guess it’s a fascinating snap-shot of the city at that time.

O’Connor is taxied to the hotel where Agent Z51 was staying, and he asks for the same room. Within minutes of his arrival, the police turn up at the hotel. Agent Z55 quickly seeks refuge in the room next door. Of course it houses a beautiful woman named Sally (Susan Baker) – and as you would have guessed – it is no coincidence that she is staying in the room next door. But is she a good girl or a bad girl?

Next day, Z55 follows a beautiful Asian girl, Sue Ling (Yoko Tani) to a club called The Cherry Bar. He chose to follow her because she smiled at him in the hotel lobby. His pursuit leads him directly to the number-two Red Chinese spy in Hong Kong, played by Milton Reid. You may remember Reid as one of Dr. No’s henchman, or as Sandor from The Spy Who Loved Me. After a short altercation – which O’Connor ends, when he pulls a pistol, he leaves. The plan however, had been to coerce O’Connor into finding Larsen for them.

That evening, O’Connor goes to dinner with Sally, who says she will introduce him to a local entrepreneur who could use a man with his skills. This man is known as The Baron (Gianni Rizzo) and he controls the evil oranisation that originally kidnapped Larsen for the Red Chinese. But now, that Larsen has been stolen back by the Japanese, the Red Chinese want The Baron, to get the scientist back. In fact, they believe that The Baron was responsible for the Japanese stealing Larsen back, so he could charge his fee twice. Yeah it’s a complicated mess. But it doesn’t matter…the long and the short of it is that everybody is looking for Larsen.

It must be said that Robert O’Connor is not a very good secret agent. He only gets anywhere because he follows all the good looking women who cross his path. Sure, in this instance they happen to be spies – both Sally and Sue Ling – but if they weren’t, then his skirt chasing would lead no where.

The aspect of this film that intrigues me, is that it is clearly a European production, which has chosen to utilize Hong Kong as the backdrop for the action on display, but really beyond the opening travelogue shots, it could be set in any city at all. Furthermore, if you compare this European Hong Kong film with the Shaw Brothers spy films which were being filmed at the same time, then Desperate Mission falls well short in colour and action, and most importantly style.

Agent Z55: Desperate Mission is a perfectly acceptable Eurospy film. It is fast paced, has a cool jazz score by Francesco De Masi (it’s more like ’50s cop show jazz, than spy jazz – but it is cool, none-the-less), and has a few good fight scenes. But beyond that, there is little to differentiate it from the other hundreds of Eurospy productions. There’s no villains lair, it doesn’t feature any outlandish set-pieces or crazy spy gadgets. The film plays it straight, with only one sequence – death by a giant plunger designed to crush rocks on the sea bed – providing any hint of originality.

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Agent Z55: Desperate Mission (1965)

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