Liner Notes: Vic Flick

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am digging into the P2K vaults, and re-posting and interview I did with guitarist Vic Flick in May 2009. Enjoy!

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Vic Flick. You may not know the name but you have heard his guitar sound on film and television soundtracks and some of the most famous pop songs of all time. Vic plied his trade on ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, by Dusty Springfield, ‘Anyone Who Has A Heart’ by Cilla Black, ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ by The Walker Brothers, and Engelbert Humperdink’s ‘The Last Waltz’, amongst many, many others. Now for most musicians that would be a fine body of work in itself. But Vic has one more claim to fame. He was the man thwacking the strings on John Barry’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. The authorship of the James Bond Theme has always been controversial (and possibly litigious ground to step on), so we’ll leave that alone. But one thing is certain – It was Vic Flick on a Clifford Essex Paragon De Lux guitar that played that famous riff.

In 2008, Vic released his autobiography, ‘Vic Flick: Guitarman’. The book covers everything from his first tentative steps into the music industry, moving through the heady days of the British invasion of the mid to late ’60s, and the belated critical re-assessment of his work in recent years. Today I have the privilege of presenting an interview with Vic, where I ask him a few questions about his book, the work on the Bond series and some of the famous people he has shared studio floor with over the years.

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DF: I’m going to jump right out of the gate here and ask you about a section of the book that had me fully engaged and hungry to learn more. In your book you talk about being called into a recording session with Eric Clapton, who was working with composer Michael Kamen on the title track to License To Kill. What happened?

VF: It was a phone call out of the blue. Michael Kamen wanted a dark guitar sound to compliment the melody and extemporization Eric Clapton was going to do on their composition. So, knowing of my penchant for low string guitar playing, he called me for the sessions. It was good to see Eric again after many years and it was wonderful to work with those two gifted musicians. Eric played some amazing guitar on the track and Michael worked out a fine arrangement. I did my thing with a counter theme in the low register. The title turned out very good and the following day we went to a loft in the wharf area of London to shoot the video. What little I saw of the video was great. The video was then submitted to the Bond producers who had commissioned the project. I waited, Michael waited and Eric was off doing his thing somewhere in the world. After two weeks came the news that the Bond producers wanted a song as a theme and commissioned Gladys Knight and the Pips and blew out the track that Michael, Eric and I submitted. I did well out of the sessions financially but would have like everyone to have heard and seen the video. That video is now the Holy Grail of Bond aficionados and he who finds it will see the golden light!!

DF: So, to your knowledge, these recordings and video have never seen the light of day?

VF: Again, no one knows where the video is. The one person who I thought knew, Michael Kamen, has since passed away so the secret has passed with him.

DF: You have worked with quite a few people who are household names – especially for spy fans – names like Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, and the list goes on. You also worked with Shirley Bassey on a few occasions. What are your recollections of Shirley?

VF: Shirley Bassey is an amazing artist. She gives her all when singing, both on stage and in the studio. She can be volatile with mood changes that happen within seconds. If anything goes wrong it will never be our Shirley’s fault – even if she misses an entry. In such a case the sound wasn’t correct or she thought she heard a musical mistake or she hadn’t said she was ready and so on. Everybody would sit with blank faces waiting for Shirley to come back to earth. Musical Directors have suffered at her hands, one of them having a nervous breakdown.

DF: You also worked with Michael Legrand, who did the score for Never Say Never Again. You worked on Yentl, with Barbara Streisand. What were Legrand and Streisand like to work with?

VF: It wasn’t a relationship that was made in Heaven even though both think that’s where they are a gift from. Certainly they are great talents but the person putting them together for Yentl, for instance, took a chance.

DF: I am going to step away from spy film questions for a moment, and ask you about Brian Forbes’ Deadfall, which starred Michael Caine. The concert sequence, which is juxtaposed against a daring robbery, is looked back upon as a piece of bravura filmmaking. You had a hand in putting together that musical composition didn’t you?

VF: John Barry was commissioned to write the score for Deadfall and he did a great job, catching the atmosphere of the film. However, the concerto featured classical guitar played by Renata Tarrago, a renowned classical guitarist. I got a call from John Barry asking me to go to his Villa in Spain where he had set up shop to write the music. He wanted some advice on the guitar part in the concerto. It finished up with me scoring the guitar part for Renata Tarrago to play. I was pleased, and at the same time dismayed, to read a review of the musical score applauding John Barry for his mastery of writing for guitar. That’s Show Business!

DF: You worked on ‘Je t’aime…moi non plus’ with Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg – that must have been a steamy recording session?

VF: The actual recording was laying down the track for Jane to sing a few words and make ooohing and aaahing noises – something which she did really well. Jane put her erotic part on at a later date. Jane was in the studio when we put down the track and it was good to see her again after the slightly of key meetings we had when she was married to John Barry

DF: Last year, you released your autobiography, ‘Guitarman’ – a great read by the way – because you have played on so many ‘classic recordings’ was it hard to distill your anecdotes and reminisces down?

VF: It was hard to leave out many anecdotes and I’m still thinking of more that I would have like to have included in the book. Maybe another book in the making! The book relates to such a busy time in the British music scene working on a multitude of recordings with so many artists in all the London studios that when I hear record on the radio or TV and even though I wasn’t on it, it sets up a chain of memories. Some of which I captured, others got away.

DF: One thing I got from the book was a slice of what it was like to be a jobbing musician in the sixties. When we look back at the sixties, sometimes it seems like one giant psychedelic party, but your story seems to be one of hard work – traveling from gig to gig, or studio to studio. How did you avoid the traps that so many other musicians seemed to fall into – booze, drugs etc.?

VF: This is a question I get asked a lot. I only ever tried pot once and it made me sick, Also, with the responsibilities of family and my reputation, I just couldn’t afford to get to a studio ‘out of it.’ Some guys did and were never seen again.

DF: What would you say was the main reason for your longevity in an industry that is notoriously fickle?

VF: Good question, David. I suppose it is a combination of my face fitting, being able to do what was required of me, turning up on time and, up until now, keeping my mouth shut. And not necessarily in that order!

DF: And one final question if I may – this may seem silly to ask the man who played guitar on one of the most famous theme tunes of all time, but are you a Bond man, or a Bourne man?

VF: Definitely a Bond man – and a Connery Bond man.

DF: Oooh. Great answer. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Vic.

From Vic’s website:
Flick’s musical career originated at the tender age of age of fourteen, when he traded his piano lessons for acoustic guitar. Flick’s first major gig in the late 50’s was with an acoustic band that toured with Paul Anka, named the Bob Cort Skiffle Group. On the same tour with Paul Anka of the United Kingdom was the John Barry Seven, led by Oscar winning composer, John Barry. Months later, after a call from Barry, Flick joined the Seven, becoming the lead guitarist by 1958.

Flick became a highly regarded session player, lending his masterful guitar skills to a variety of recordings and instrumental themes. Flick’s first memorable foray into film scoring was his work with composer Barry on the 1960’s cult film, Beat Girl. Some critics regard the score of this film, as the genesis for the Bond’s theme; as the slick title track of Beat Girl is reminiscent of pre-Bond emanations. From this moment, Flick’s contribution to the 60’s music scene was soon to become immense.

Vic Flick: Guitarman is available from:

For more information on Vic Flick and his CD, James Bond Now, visit

Liner Notes: Vic Flick

Liner Notes: Todd Stadtman

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by Todd Stadtman from Die Danger Die Die Kill, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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Casino Royale (1967), Burt Bacharach. Burt Bacharach’s score is the glue that holds the otherwise chaotic Casino Royale together, the one consistent character in a movie absent a traditional lead. It’s also essential Bacharach, at once sophisticated and playful, and almost proudly cheesy. Oh, and catchy as hell; there are certain scenes that’ve stuck with me stubbornly over the years due only to the music that accompanied them. Besides, how can a soundtrack with Dusty Springfield’s version of “The Look of Love” as its centerpiece not rate inclusion here?

You Only Live Twice, by John Barry. All of Barry’s 007 scores are close to my heart, but I think that YOLT is by far his most challenging. Spurred by the genre bending present within the film itself, he addressed YOLT’s sci-fi aspects with an even denser than usual pallet of queasily dissonant strings, while at the same time adding an element of Asian exoticism to his usual foundation of brassy suspense riffs. The result is one of the most mysterious, intoxicating and compulsively listenable out of all his imminently listenable Bond scores, not to mention one that would provide an irresistible source of samples for trip hop producers come the 90s. On top of that, you have Nancy Sinatra’s theme, which is, to my mind (sorry, Shirley) the runaway best of the bunch.

Asoka, by Anu Malik. Asoka is by far the most frequently played out of all the Bollywood soundtracks I own, which is saying an awful lot. Anu Malik’s songs somehow manage to capture the grandeur and gravitas of the historical epic which contains them while at the same time maintaining an infectious pop sensibility. Many of the hypnotic compositions also conjure an air of magic and destiny, making for tunes that are somehow at once hummable, haunting and head bopping.

Vertigo, by Bernhard Hermann. I worried that including Vertigo would be something of a cliché, but, if I’m being honest, it has to be here. As much as the contrarian in me resists admitting it, this officially sanctioned “greatest movie of all time” is among my very favorites, an affection that carries over to its also deservedly admired soundtrack. Living up to the film’s title, these are swirling, brain-fogging compositions that lend to mania, madness and obsession a purple, seductive beauty

Danger: Diabolik, by Ennio Morricone. This may not be everyone’s Morricone soundtrack of choice. But enamored as I am of the swinging 60s, Mod/pop art aesthetics that Danger: Diabolik exemplifies, there’s no choice to be made. To my mind, no film crystallizes that aesthetic — redolent of comic books, bubblegum, pop music, popped pills, and pulp thrills – better, and Morricone supplies the perfect accompaniment — from hammered harpsichords, to twanging baritone guitars, to “I can hear the colors” psychedelic flourishes. At the same time, Danger: Diabolik is one of cinema’s coolest love stories, something that Morricone nails with the woozy, liquid chord changes and anxious modulations of “Deep Deep Down”, masterfully capturing the essence of Diabolik and Eva’s mad, doomed, but overall groovy romance within a flawlessly crafted pop gem.

Honorable mention: Raumpatrouille Orion, by Peter Thomas. I know that the subject here is feature film soundtracks, which throws the score for this German sci-fi TV series out of contention. But I nonetheless want to honor it for being the ideal musical accompaniment to the type of roguish, cocktail-fueled space sex tourism that I thought was my birthright as a child of the 60s. I also wanted to give a shout out to Thomas, who contributed so much that was slinky, stylish and swinging to the sound of European genre movies during the decade — not the least being his themes for assorted Edgar Wallace Krimis and the Eurospy adventures of Jerry Cotton.

Todd Stadtman thought that Die Danger Die Die Kill! would be a good name for a blog and now he’s stuck with it. He’s been writing about international cult and genre cinema there since 2008, in addition to being a regular contributor to Teleport City. Soon you will be able to thrill to his contributions to the World Directory of Cinema’s Turkey edition.

Liner Notes: Todd Stadtman

Liner Notes: Andrew Nette

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by Andrew Nette from Pulp Curry, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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My top five film soundtracks closely mirror some of my favourite films. It’s probably like that for a lot of people. Particular pieces of music become associated with the mood and visuals of certain films. In no particular order, my favourite soundtracks are:

The French Connection
I’m a huge jazz fan and but for the life of me can’t get into the music of Don Ellis. What I’ve heard is just too trippy and experimental for my tastes. The exception is his score from the 1971 movie, French Connection. It goes without saying what an amazing, ground breaking film this was, and Ellis’s score perfectly compliments its edge, dark nature. The highlight is track 10, ‘Subway’. Good music to tail drug-running scumbags to.

Touch of Evil
Henry Mancini score for Orson Welles’s 1958 classic, Touch of Evil, is one of my favourite movie soundtracks. The score is what is known as “source music”, in that it comes from a visible source such as a jukebox or radio or a classic player piano. The score, with its Afro-Cuban vibe, is a wonderfully dynamic and rich series of musical pieces that perfectly reflect the pulpy, fifties nature of the movie.

Get Carter
Roy Budd did some great scores. Think, The Marseille Contract, Fear is the Key and The Intercine Project, just to name a few. But Get Carter is his best work. It’s another great “source” soundtrack using sounds and instruments from the time. The main theme, ‘Carter Takes a Train’ is probably my favourite piece of movie soundtrack, perfectly establishing as it does the tone and mood of this great film.

Truck Turner
It seems to me that the enduring popularity of the Blaxsploitation films of the early seventies is as much about the music that went them as the films themselves. I bet more people know the theme from Shaft than can tell you the plot details. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but for me it’s probably the soundtrack from the 1974 film, Truck Turner. Isaac Hayes did the honours and, although it was never as successful, for my money the music is far superior to Shaft. Track 9, ‘Pursuit of the Pimpmobile’ is a personal favourite.

John Barry didn’t do a bad soundtrack for James Bond but Thunderball is hands down my favourite. From the main title sung by Tom Jones, the ‘Chateau Fight’, the eerie feel of the ‘The Bomb’ and the music for the final fight scene, ‘007’, every track is terrific.

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Thanks very much to Andrew for sharing his selections. Stay tuned to P2K for a full length interview with Andrew, where I talk to him about his new book, Ghost Money.

Andrew Nette is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. He is one of the editors of the on-line magazine, Crime Factory. His short fiction has appeared in a number of on-line and print publications, including Crime Factory: The First Shift by New Pulp Press and The One That Got Away, an anthology of crime stories released in 2012 by Australian independent publisher Dark Prints Press. His debut crime novel Ghost Money is published by Snubnose Press. His blog, Pulp Curry explores crime film and literature, particularly from Asia and Australia.

Liner Notes: Andrew Nette

Liner Notes: Denis Klotz

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by Denis Klotz from The Horror!?, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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When David asked the interested members of M.O.S.S. to send him a commented list of their five favourite movie soundtracks, I found myself even more confused and exasperated than is my usual state of mind, for how could anyone reduce his favourite movie soundtracks to a list of only five instead of – say – a hundred?

After much hemming and hawing, I came down with this list. It’s as close to the experience of giving birth as I’ll ever come, I suspect. Obviously, there’s no particular order to things.

1.) Halloween (1978): John Carpenter’s soundtrack to the film that created the slasher sub-genre stands exemplary for all those soundtracks of low budget productions that make a virtue out of the fact they can’t afford an orchestral score and won’t just take library music. It’s minimalist – possibly primitive – and tense and much better at evoking the primal emotions its film thrives on than anything more orchestral could have been. For me, this particular soundtrack also points forward and backwards in time to all those other composers of soundtracks that use minimal arrangements, synthesizers, sounds you’ve never heard before and repetition to set a movie’s rhythm, from Goblin’s work in Italy to the BBC Radio Workshop.

2.) Gojira (1954): Quite on the opposite side of the musical spectrum stands Akira Ifukube (or Ifukube Akira if you prefer the Japanese way of writing names). It’s orchestral, it’s as maximalist as befits its monster and it’s made by someone standing with both feet in the tradition of classical music. However, Ifukube’s score is just as adept at evoking emotions and setting the film’s rhythm as Carpenter’s, another demonstration that completely different approaches to art are equally fruitful.

This soundtrack was followed and preceded by many another fine Ifukube soundtrack for kaiju movies, Kurosawa, and in between, all of them made with the same care as this one, how ever minor the film itself turned out to be.

3.) “(Do) The Jellyfish” from Sting of Death (1965): From the sublime we come to the ridiculous, a jaunty – and more than just slightly horrifying – little pop number from a local man in a suit horror movie made in Florida. It’s a prime example of all the times when a low budget movie suddenly breaks out into song for no good reason except that its producers actually thought anyone would want to buy the horrific thing. Plus, this sort of pop song advert makes for a cheap enhancement of production values.

It is however only very seldom that a song is picturized quite as traumatizing as this one, with a gloriously painful dance scene that will burn the song forever into your brain. Once it was there, it was only a small step for it to worm itself into the part of my mind that genuinely enjoys this sort of thing.

4.) The One-Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine aka Master of the Flying Guillotine: The soundtrack to Wang Yu’s piece of Weird Fu cinema isn’t actually the soundtrack to it. In fact, most of its sound queues are borrowed from films and LPs from less permissive copyright cultures. But Flying Guillotine’s case is a special one, for Wang Yu (or listed composer Frankie Chan, who knows) used such peculiar, mostly non-orchestral, music – German Krautrock masters Neu, for example – in such an idiosyncratic way that it enhances the weirdness of the whole affair it belongs to a hundredfold. It also adds another argument to the case against copyright.

5.) Ennio Morricone (1928): Last but not least, and because I like cheating in lists, it’s not actually a film, but the whole body of work of what I think of as the greatest film composer of all times, with a body of work so rich I find it impossible to just pick one movie from. So obviously, I just take all of them. It’s Morricone. What else is there to say?

Denis Klotz, whom you might also know as houseinrlyeh, is the owner of The Horror!?, your one-stop shop for all writing about movies you never heard about but should have. He also makes a nuisance of himself on Twitter as @houseinrlyeh, and is a member of that most venerated company of bloggers and podcasters, M.O.S.S.

Liner Notes: Denis Klotz

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

Country: Italy / France
Starring: Roger Browne, Fabienne Dali, Massimo Serato, Dina De Santis, Rosalba Neri, Antonio Gradoli, Mino Doro
Writer: Umberto Lenzi, Piero Pierotti
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Cinematographer: Augusto Tiezzi
Editor: Jolanda Benvenuti
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Producer: Fortunato Misiano
Original Title: Superseven chiama Cairo

There are heaps of styles of spy films, but I think the ones I enjoy the most are the jet-set globe trotters from the 1960s. You can often tell a globe-trotter by its title, which often had the name of the city or country where the action was set. If a spy story uses an exotic location, then it wasn’t unusual for that location to be mentioned in the title. The roll call of holiday destinations for spies included, Our Man In Havana, Funeral In Berlin, That Man In Istanbul, Espionage In Tangiers, The Girl From Rio, Assassination In Rome, Our Man In Marrakech, Fury In The Orient, Hong Kong Hot Harbour, Our Man In Jamaica and many, many others.

Having said all that, of course, just because a film is set in a particular location, it doesn’t mean it was actually filmed there. In fact most Eurospy films were shot on sound-stages in Rome, with a series of travelogue shots crudely inserted into them. The travelogue shots were at best, filmed by a second unit team, or at worst, simply stock footage. The film under the microscope today is Superseven Calling Cairo, directed by Umberto Lenzi, and it looks like in this instance, that a decent second unit team was hired to pick up the shots required for the film, with locations as diverse as London, Paris, Rome, Locarno, and of course, Cairo.

The film features the impossibly square-jawed Robert Browne as Martin Stevens, Agent Superseven. See what they did there? He’s not 007, 077, or even agent 777 – Superseven is even better – he’s ‘Super’. The film opens in Paris, and Superseven is in a hotel room, delicately chewing on the bottom lip of a strawberry blonde. Just as things are about to get steamy, she pulls away, claiming to have forgotten an appointment with the Turkish Military Attache. She has promised to deliver a cheque to him – the catch being that first, Superseven has to write the cheque. This lovey-dovey scenario is actually a mission, and Superseven is buying … something. We never find out what it is, because as he is writing the cheque, in the mirror he watches as she retrieves a pistol from her handbag. In a flash he spins around, and flicks around the pen he was using to write with – because it is also a gun. He fires twice, shooting her in the belly. Chalk one up for Martin Stevens — Mr. Kiss Kiss Kill Kill!

The film skips ahead to London, and to the Waterloo Museum which actually houses the Secret Service. Stevens bypasses the historically dressed manikins and old armaments, for his mission briefing with the chief, who is known as The Professor. The Prof. Asks if Stevens has heard of Baltonium. The agent says he hasn’t, and The Prof. explains that it is a new element which is one hundred times more radioactive than uranium – but it can be handled in complete safety, like any other ordinary, stable mineral. Furthermore, a three ounce sample of Baltonium has been stolen, and the metal turned into a piece of the lens of portable movie camera. This camera, and fifty other normal versions just like it have been shipped to Cairo, where the dealer was supposed to pass the sample off to a third party who had made arrangements to sell it to Russia.

However, the ‘special’ camera was unwittingly sold to a tourist by mistake. Stevens’ job, should he choose to accept it, is to go to Cairo, track down the tourist, and retrieve the camera and the Baltonium before the opposition can. Of course, ‘our man’ accepts the mission.

Although it’s highly doubtful that Roger Browne actually left Rome; Martin Stevens, Agent Superseven, arrives in Cairo and the montage of travelogue shots begins; interspersed with shots of Stevens and sweaty looking locals with twitching mustaches, wearing fezzes. Superseven is expected however, and the villains of the piece, headed by an ex-Nazi named Alex (Massimo Serato) have prepared a reception committee for him. As far as reception committees go, this one isn’t too bad. As Stevens arrives at his hotel room he finds Fadja Hassan (Rosalba Neri) in his shower. She claims that the shower in her room next door is broken. Stevens doesn’t buy it, but what the heck – he has only just arrived in town and there is already a naked women in his room – what’s not to like?

So then the mating ritual begins. In spy films, romance, and ‘pulling a bird’ are quite different to real life. Well I guess that’s true in any movie or television show, but at least in other genres they tend to play out the usual boy meets girl moments – minus the awkward moments that happen in real life – but spy films there is no effort made at pretending that there is an attraction. In Superseven she abuses him, and then he abuses her. Then he grabs her, drags her in and kisses her. She appears not to like it, and he doesn’t care if she likes it or not. Then they sleep together. I am no expert, but being smarmy and obnoxious has never worked for me. But look at all the spies that this works for — I mean Tony Kendall in the Kommissar X films made a career out of being a jerk, but still was always surround by a bevy of beautiful women. I just don’t get it. But hey, it works for Roger Browne and the story moves forward because of it.

But Superseven is more than a one woman guy, and Cairo serves up many other women he can abuse, and the next one is Denise (Fabienne Dali). Denise was working at the camera shop, where the movie camera was sold to the tourist, so our hero quickly hits on her. Initially she is repulsed, but still agrees to take a few weeks leave and accompany him as he searches the tourist destinations. He wins her over by confessing that ‘he is a spy… you know, like James Bond.’ The magic words ‘James Bond’ are the clincher and soon our dynamic duo are on a camel at the pyramids of Giza.

Although, at the head of this review, I opined that I prefer my spy films to be globe-trotting ones, I believe it is the globe-trotting that lets this film down. Not that there is anything wrong with the travelogue and second unit footage that is cut into the story. The things is, focusing on globe-trotting seems to have gotten in the way of pace and story telling. Director, Umberto Lenzi, in the 1970s, with many of his hard and fast Euro Crime films, proved that he can make taut, and tough films, with proficient action scenes in them. It didn’t matter that they were almost bound to the one city, such as Rome, Milan or Naples. In fact, he made that work in favour of the stories. But here, much of the time is wasted on shots that simply seem to be inserted into the story for the sake of the location. The sequence at the pyramids is a perfect example – cutting it from the movie, wouldn’t detract from the story at all. But then again, when you promote your film as being set in Egypt, I guess some skylarking amongst the antiquities is expected. But it doesn’t make it a better film.

Ultimately, despite all the things that this film does right, the stodgy middle and the padding travelogue shots stop Superseven Calling Cairo from being a top-tier Eurospy film. It isn’t a stinker — it is at least comprehensible and provides a few high-points — but there are far better Eurospy films out there to sample and enjoy. This one is for completists only, all others should give it a miss.

This review originally appeared on Teleport City, December 6, 2010.

Posters and lobbycards displayed in this post are from the magnificent Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive.

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

She Shoots Straight (1990)

Country: Hong Kong
Starring: Joyce Godenzi, Tony Leung, Carmina Lau, Wah Yuen, Anglie Leung, Sandra Ng Kwan Yue Pik-Wan Tang, Sarah Lee, Agnes Aurelio, Sammo Hung
Screenplay: Cory Yuen, Barry Wong
Director: Cory Yuen
Cinematography: Moon-Tong Lau, Chi Ming Leung
Music: Lowell Lo
Producers: Lenard Ho, Sammo Hung
Original Title: Huang jia nu jiang

For fans of Hong Kong action cinema, Sammo Hung needs no introduction. Even the most cursory fan of Hong Kong cinema will have stumbled upon his work or possibly even seen him in the US television series Martial Law. However, maybe not quite so popular, is Sammo’s wife Joyce Godenzi. Joyce was a Miss Hong Kong pageant winner who drifted into acting. At first her roles played to type, as an attractive girl next door. Then Sammo Hung unleashed her as a guerrilla fighter in Eastern Condors, and suddenly she was an action queen. Although she didn’t come from a martial arts background she worked hard on the choreography of the fight scenes she was involved in, and was prepared to do a lot of her own stunts.

She Shoots Straight starts with the marriage of two police officers, Mina (Joyce Godenzi) and Bo Huang (Tony Leung). On what should be a day of celebration, becomes one of intense family squabbling. You see Bo Huang is the only son, in a family of five children. All five are police officers, but Bo, as the man is expected to carry on the family tradition. However, Bo’s sisters are happy to have a new girl in the family. In fact their jealously clouds the whole ceremony. The worst and most outspoken of the sisters is Ling (Carmina Lau). She is downright antagonistic to Mina, and refuses to be in any of the wedding photographs with her. With such a family dynamic, it will come as no surprise that there is a bit of the old Cinderella story going on here. Mina is treated as the ugly duckling and constantly put down by her step-sisters.

After the wedding, the Police Superintendent arrives to give Mina a bouquet, and to assign her to her next case, which starts on the following day. Duty calls – so much for the honeymoon. She has been assigned to protect a visiting princess. The film doesn’t say where the princess is from, but as we all know, princesses are special and need to be protected. Assisting Mina on the mission are three of Huang’s very jealous sisters, including Ling, who are very keen to make sure that no praise should come Mina’s way. The princess is visiting Hong Kong for a fashion show, and as a security precaution, Mina acts as a decoy, dressing as the princess with a veil covering her face. The fashion show has a square catwalk with a square glass pyramid position in the centre. For those unfamiliar with the mathematical equation, allow me to elaborate. Hong Kong action cinema + glass = shattered glass. But first things first, and that entails a snatch attempt being made on the princess. And four heavily armed gangsters arrive to do just that.

Meanwhile, two of Huang’s sisters decide to have a bathroom break, leaving Ling on guard. The gangsters march in and toss about some colourful smoke bombs, which look kind of arty, so the audience believe it is all part of the fashion show. Under the cover of the smoke, the gangsters snatch Mina, thinking she is the princess and march her out. Ling follows and the other two sisters stumble out of the bathroom in time to act. With absolutely no concern for Mina, who is being marched away at gunpoint, the three sisters open fire at the would be kidnappers. The gangsters could just pop one in Mina and be done with it, but obviously the princess must have some value so they don’t kill her. However a large scale shootout follows

The Huang sisters polish off three of the kidnappers. Of course, one of these gangsters is shot and flies back through the glass pyramid – I didn’t see that coming! Mina takes out the fourth, then rushes to the aid of another police unit who are in charge of protecting the real princess. This other unit shuffles the princess out into the multi-storey carpark, where, wouldn’t you know it, even more gangsters are waiting.

The princess is pushed into the back seat of a car, but before she car be whisked to freedom, the gangsters take out most of the police unit, and then in their car race up next to the vehicle the princess is in. They break the window of the vehicle she is in, and then drag her across the jagged glass, out the window, and then in through the open window of their car. Then they speed off, however, the princess is not completely in the car. In fact, the bulk of her torso and legs are still dangling out of the car.

As they try to get away, one of the Huang sisters starts shooting at the car. The thing is, what would happen to the princess if she were to disable the car? Would it careen out of control into one of the concrete pylons? Would the princess be killed or only severely whiplashed?

That is the biggest failing in this film is its lack of logic. Sure it is action packed and the stunts are great, but the shear illogicality of many of the sequences beggars belief. There is no ’cause’ and ‘effect’. If Dirty Harry and his imitators were chewed out by their superiors for endangering the lives of innocent civilians, then by the end of this film, the whole Huang family, which seems to make up the majority of the Hong Kong police force, would be constantly on suspension, or kicked off the force. The disrespect for human life and property is absolutely staggering. But, after all it is only a movie and not real life – so let’s press on, shall we?

Mina is called into action as the kidnappers escape onto the street in a brown car. From her position, high above them in the car park, she unholsters her weapon and opens fire despite the princess being inside (I won’t labor the point again). Mina then jumps onto a cloth banner and slides down the face of the building. Then she leaps onto the roof of a passing car. From there, she darts through a bus, from one window to the other, finally landing on the roof of the kidnappers car. From inside, the gangsters starts shooting at the roof of car, and Mina is forced to roll off, falling on the road, in the path of an oncoming motorcycle. Miraculously, the motorcyclist slides to a halt, and Mina borrows the bike to continue her pursuit.

With Mina hot on their tail, the kidnappers break suddenly, and she rides the bike over the top of the car. Now she is in front, and the kidnappers start up again, chasing her. They fire their guns out the car window, and one shot hits the handle bars. Mina loses control, sliding to a halt in the middle of the road. The bad guys bear down on her. She leaps out of the way at the last second, and the car ploughs into the motorbike. The vehicle then careens out of control, flips over three times, coming to a crashing halt. The bad guys are bloodied, battered and bruised – as you would be if you were a passenger in a car that has rolled three times. Oh, the princess was in that car too!

The film conveniently doesn’t show us the princess. I assume she was okay, because the film cuts to an award presentation, where Mina is being presented with a commendation for outstanding police work. Yeah, right!

Above, my description is a very truncated version of what happens in the first fifteen minutes of the film, and I think I have laboured the point that She Shoots Straight is one action packed stunt fest that sets out to entertain rather than present any logical story. Having said that, in the middle of the film, there a sequence that gives this film an emotional core on which to hang the back end of the film, which once again is packed full of stunts and some impressive fight sequences.

The main plot is about a Vietnamese criminal, who is about to be deported from Hong Kong. However, he escapes from the deportation centre and goes on a crime spree throughout Honkers. It is almost as if he wants to make the city pay for trying to deport him. His first mad scheme is to rob the New World nightclub. But the police get wind of the plan and assign Mina and the whole Huang clan to work on the assignment. The operation goes horribly wrong, causing a rift in the Huang family. It also pisses of the arch villain who now wants revenge.

She Shoots Straight is directed by Cory Yuen, who certainly knows his way around an action sequence. In recent years however, he has also become a specialist gun for hire, as an ‘Action Director’ working on films such as Bulletproof Monk, Transporter 1 and 2, Cradle to the Grave, Kiss of the Dragon and Rogue Assassin (AKA: War). Prior to this however, he directed No Retreat, No Surrender and No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (and was allegedly and uncredited co-director on Game of Death 2). Yuen’s work can’t be faulted here – the the pace is sharp, only slowing in the middle when it needs to, to amp up a bit of human drama, and visually the film looks pretty slick. It only clocks in at 87 minutes, so as you can imagine, not too much time is wasted on needless plodding exposition.

I must admit, I went into this movie with pretty low expectations, expecting it to be a vanity piece for Sammo Hung who produced the film – that is to give his model wife a leading role in an action film. I expected Sammo’s pull in Hong Kong got this film made and Godenzi the leading role. And that may very well be true. But, despite any showbiz nepotism, this isn’t a half bad little action film, with some pretty good fight scenes. Godenzi acquits her self rather well, and although she seems outmatched in the final fight with Agnes Aurelio, her ability to portray conviction and pure single minded determination make the viewer believe that this slight, wafer-thin stick girl, could actually kick some serious ass. She Shoots Straight, aside from a few gaping gaps in logic, pushes all the right buttons as a cop action film. At one point Godenzi even seems to be carrying a .44 Magnum – not just ‘girls with guns’ but ‘girls with really big guns’ – which appeals to my pop-cop viewing sensibility. As a film that slipped under my radar (and may have slipped under yours), I believe it is worth seeking out, watching and enjoying. Just don’t think about it too much…just let the stunts, the fights, and the action wash over you and you will enjoy it.

This review originally appeared on Teleport City, February 2, 2011

She Shoots Straight (1990)

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

Country: Japan
Director: Teruo Ishii
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Eiji Gô, Yutaka Nakajima, Etsuko Shihomi, Kanjûrô Arashi, Ryô Ikebe, Tetsurô Tanba, Makoto Satô
Music: Hajime Kaburagi
Original Title: Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno is a broad comedic caper film, with a pinch of extreme violence added at the end (which may be somewhat jarring to Western audiences). As for the ‘Karate Inferno’ promised in the title, it is more of a ‘Karate Camp Fire’. There is very little fistic mayhem in this film compared to many other Chiba films. However, if you ignore the title, and enjoy caper movies, then you’ll find this film is very entertaining.

As the film opens, Lady Sabine, a rich heiress, is preparing to exhibit her jewel collection in Tokyo. The price piece is a necklace called The Star of the Pharaoh, which is valued at one million yen. However, before the exhibition, the necklace is stolen, and Sabine’s young daughter is kidnapped. The criminals want one million yen for the necklace, and the girl.

The insurance company – through a shady intermediary named The Commissioner (Ryo Ikebe) – recruit three super crooks to steal the money back from the criminals once the exchange has been made. The super crooks are Ryuichi Koga (Sonny Chiba), Takeshi Hayabusa (Makoto Sato), and Ichiro Sakura (Eiji Go).

The exchange goes wrong. Sabine’s daughter is rescued, however, the money and necklace remain in the hands of the criminals. As a result, the super crooks don’t get paid. Further more, Sabine deals directly with the criminals, paying an extra million yen to have the necklace returned.

Koga is not happy about being stiffed his fee, and decides to steal the necklace from Sabine. He scales the side of high-rise building, cuts through the window and steals the necklace, but only to find it is a fake. The real necklace is in a vault on the nineteenth floor, of a high-security building. The super crook team re-assembles to break into the vault – with the usual, caper film tropes in place.

As I mentioned at the top, the film, which is so light in tone for most of its running time has an extremely violent ending – with eyeballs popping from their sockets, and a liver being torn from a body.

The sexual content is playful, but puerile (in an Animal House kind of way). There are upskirt shots and leering in high-rise windows scenes. It would also appear only half of Japanese women wear panties. It should be noted that Japanese movies and television have a different concept of what is offensive and/or adult. I remember when I was a teenager, visiting Japan in the mid 1980s, and flicking on late afternoon children’s television – and discovering a delightful little animated show, where a cheeky little bird would swoop down on young ladies, and rip the girls top off with its beak – thereby exposing the lady’s breasts.

I found The Executioner II: Karate Inferno to be a great deal of fun – if somewhat uneven. Now having said all that, I must point out that I have not watched the previous film, The Executioner – which is said to be almost the reverse of this feature. It is full of violence and nudity – and light on for comedy capers. So, if you were to come to this film from The Executioner, and were expecting more of the same, I could see how this film may disappoint. After all, Chiba does have a reputation for in-your-face actioners, and Karate Inferno never really delivers on that score.

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

The Dead Man: The Beast Within

Author: James Daniels
Publisher: 47 North
Published: 2011
Book No: 7

It’s been a while since I have reviewed any of The Dead Man series. I am up to book number seven, The Beast Within, written by James Daniels (who also wrote Ring of Knives). This one has been out quite a while, and I must admit I went to Amazon and read the reviews (hopefully not sock-puppeted), to see what readers had to say. The general consensus appeared to be that this was the weakest of The Dead Man series and could be skipped over.

But as regular visitors to P2K, who have read my reviews of trash exploitation cinema, would know, I am a lover of the unloved. The negative reviews only made me want to read it more. I mean, how bad could it be?

Sadly for me (or gleefully for others), The Beast Within was fine – nothing wrong with it at all. Sure, it branches off and tries something new. Mr. Dark isn’t really in the story – but his presence is well and truly felt. And the story opens up a whole new world of possibilities for The Dead Man series. It implies Matt Cahill’s journey to discover the secret of his power, and his running battle with Mr.Dark, is just the tip of a dark magical underworld that spans the globe.

On top of that, you get the usual mayhem – this time, evil white supremacists, rampaging bears, dangling from a chairlift, exploding trucks, flaming crossbows – of course a damsel in distress – and Cahill’s usual axe wielding form of justice. No complaints from me.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Fire and Ice, by Jude Hardin.

The Dead Man: The Beast Within

The Balearic Caper (1966)

The Balearic CaperOriginal Title: Baleari operazione Oro
Starring: Mireille Darc, Venantino Venantini, Daniela Bianchi, Jacques Sernas, Marilu Tolo, Harold Sakata, Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez
Writer: Jaime de Arminan, Jose Maria Forque, Giovanni Simonelli, Duccio Tessari
Director: Jose Maria Forque
Cinematographer: Cecilio Paniagua
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Music: Benedetto Ghiglia
Producer: Jose Gutierrez Maesso
Alternate Titles: Operation Gold / Zarabanda Bing Bing

In the 1960s, if you were making a Bond-knockoff Eurospy film, the thing that would give your film a modicum of credibility was a liberal sprinkling of actors who had already appeared in an official James Bond movie. I guess the king of clones, was Operation Kid Brother (AKA: Double 07, or O.K. Connery), which managed to rope in Anthony Dawson, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Adolpho Celi and Daniella Bianchi.

This film, The Balearic Caper managed to draw into its web Daniela Bianchi and Harold Sakata. Bianchi is no stranger to spy fans. After her stint in From Russia With Love her career was dominated by spy films; appearing in titles such as Requiem For a Secret Agent, Operation Kid Brother, Code Name: Tiger and Special Mission Lady Chaplin – and a couple more. Unfortunately she retired from acting in 1968. Harold Sakata played the imposing henchman Oddjob in Goldfinger, and basically played the same character for the rest of his acting career. So much so, that ‘Oddjob’ practically became his middle name – in the film The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington he was credited as Harold ‘Oddjob’ Sakata. His post Bond career too was littered with spy films, such as Dimension 5 and The Poppy is also a Flower. But that’s enough of that – Let’s look at The Balearic Caper, which is an Italian comedy spy caper film.

The film is set on the island of Ibiza, and as the film opens, we see two guys in SCUBA gear, riding out in a dingy with an outboard to a rocky outcrop sprouting from the ocean. Armed with spearguns, our duo dive down to the wreck of an old airplane that looks like it has been down there for many a year. One of the divers retrieves a gleaming long thin silver trunk. He hands the trunk to his partner and begins to swim away. Rather than surfacing however, he turns and takes aim with his speargun and shoots. His partner is killed. He swims back, pries the trunk from the dead man’s hands and then swims to the surface. He then motors back to shore, only to be gunned down as he reaches the beach by a third party. This new guy then grabs the trunk and gets into a truck and speeds off.

Before he has driven too far, his path is blocked by a red truck which is angled across the road. As the driver gets out to complain, he is of course, gunned down. I think you should be getting the idea now. Everyone who touches this trunk is killed. It is done for laughs, as this is a wild Italian comedy farce, and contains all the mugging that you’d expect from a film made in that style. And while the film is very definitely an espionage movie, the title, The Balearic Caper should let you know it is equally a caper film fashioned after Topkapi – although stylistically more akin to On A Vole La Joconde (AKA: The Mona Lisa is Missing).

Next a bunch of girls turn up in a bus. They rush out to see what the commotion is about, and open the trunk. Inside is a jewel encrusted sceptre. Later the sceptre is authenticated as the ‘Lyttleton Barry’ by the director of the museum on Ibiza. The director is played by Harold Sakata who, as I mentioned earlier, was famous for playing Oddjob in Goldfinger. Initially it is quite strange seeing him play an educated man, rather than a physical goon. But don’t worry folks, as the film moves along, his character degenerates into something more familiar.

Once news filters out that the sceptre has been found, every thief in Europe make their way to Ibiza and plot to steal the precious artifact. First to arrive is Guiliano Foucet (Venantino Venantini) and his floozy Sophia (Marilu Tolo). Foucet has a very elaborate scheme to steal the sceptre, with magnetic boots that allow him to walk up drain pipes. It is all very silly.

Next we have wealthy playgirl, Mercedes (Daniela Bianchi) sunbathing on her yacht in Monte Carlo. Once she hears about the Lyttleton Barry, she decides she must have it. She collects jewelery, and she considers that she must have it for her collection. She doesn’t intend to steal the sceptre, simply buy it – but at the end of the day, she use any means available to her to get it. With her vast fortune, she can buy anybody and anything.

The Secret Service is quite aware that an attempt will be made to steal the sceptre, so they assign an agent, Fernando Lentoni (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez) to prevent the theft. Lentoni is quite a buffoon, in the Peter Sellers, Inspector Clouseau mold, but nowhere near as interesting to watch. In fact his moments on the screen, are when the film really nosedives into nothingness.

Then finally we have Polly (Mireille Darc), who upon arrival on the island, forms a partnership with Pierre (Jacques Sernas), who is a eccentric local artist – who also dabbles as an inventor. He creates automated, voice activated toys for his children, and even has a car that thinks for itself and responds to voice commands (but I’ll talk more about that later).

So with the cast all assembled, the shenanigans begins, and to further complicate matters, every thief has brought along their own replica of the Lyttleton Barry, which they plan to substitute for the original. Of course, as the story progresses, and the sceptre is stolen, each additional attempt to steal it, means that they only retrieve a forgery, but they don’t know they have stolen a forgery.

There’s very little point outlining any more of the plot, as you can no doubt picture the various scenarios of mistaken identity, double and triple cross as the various thieves try to acquire the correct sceptre and escape with it.

Of course, any review or discussion about a spy film would not be complete without looking at the gadgets that populate the movie. Gadgets, love ‘em or hate ‘em gadgets and devices from the ‘Department Of Dirty Tricks’ are often featured heavily in spy films. Some would say, the more outrageous, the better!

Spies in films, have always had small secret devices like cameras and guns that have helped them carry out their various assignments, but once Goldfinger hit the silver screen, featuring a tricked out Aston Martin DB5, it opened the floodgates for a whole swag of outrageous gadgets.

The famous moment in Goldfinger is where Sean Connery as James Bond flicks a button in the Aston Martin he is driving at gunpoint. The button fires an ejector seat, and Bond’s captor is fired up out of the roof of the car allowing Bond to escape. From this moment on spy films have been inundated with gadgets. Some are simple and practical, others are rather fantastic, verging on silly.

Once again it appears that James Bond is the progenitor of another common place spy trope. Therefore is Bond responsible for all the wild crazy gadgets in all spy films? Let’s step back for a second, and head back to the source – that being author Ian Fleming. What is Fleming’s most crazy gadget? I am cheating here, because Fleming’s most crazy gadget is not from a spy story at all – it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the magical (fantasmagorical) vintage car from the story of the same name. The book itself was a success, I remember having it read to me as a tot, during a library session. However the film, which was released in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes was a turkey. It was the filmic equivalent to bad prog rock. To quote the sage of the airwaves, Dave Rabbit – ‘this motherf*cker goes on forever!’ Even as a child I couldn’t get through the whole film. The Fleming connection, and though a twisted osmosis, the Bond connection, means that to the Bond film imitators and spooferers, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was ripe for pilfering too. So in The Balearic Caper, we have a vintage car named Eusebia (yeah it has a name – Eusebia was a Roman Empress) that may not be quite magical, in that it can’t fly or skoot across the water, but it thinks and drives itself. It is certainly tricked out enough to nudge the boundaries of copyright infringement.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang versus the old clunker, Eusebia.

Let me clarify that I am not necessarily suggesting that The Balearic Caper plagiarized the film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – as Balearic beat Chitty to the punch. However, if you were a film-maker, and had an inkling that a film was about to be made of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then the plot wouldn’t be too much of a secret – after all the book was published three years earlier. It would be pretty easy to take a few of the story elements and incorporate them into a Bond loving (as witnessed by the hiring of Bianchi and Sakata) spy caper spoof. But hey, that’s merely speculation on my behalf borne out by the automobilic similarities.

As I intimated earlier, Pierre is an inventor, and the owner/master of Eusebia, and as the addle-brained story rushes towards its climax, and Pierre and Polly become endangered, it is only right that the car – or gadget if you will – is going to drive into the action and save their lives. In fact it takes on ‘a flying wooden crate’, which houses the villain. Yes, you read that right – ‘a flying wooden crate’, as in a packing crate. I dunno what the film-makers were thinking there! As I said earlier, it’s a pretty silly film, borrowing from all sorts of sources.

I wanted to like The Balearic Caper, after all, on the surface it appears to be the type of film I should readily enjoy – a spy caper hybrid, with a great cast, with not only the aforementioned Bond stars, but also Mireille Darc, who looks good in any film. Oh, and Marilu Tolo too, who starred in a swag of European genre films. But I must admit I struggle with broad Italian comedy, and while The Balearic Caper doesn’t dive to the excessive and ponderous depths of a Franco and Ciccio film, it still grates instead of amuses.

Poster images used in this post are from the fabulous Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Shop which has prints from the entire poster range available for purchase.
The Balearic Caper - Photobusta

This review originally appeared on Teleport City, December 2010.

The Balearic Caper (1966)

Black Cat (1991)

Country: Hong Kong
Director: Stephen Shin
Starring: Jade Leung, Simon Yam, Thomas Lam, Zdenek Juricek, Yvonne Drinovz, Curtis Fraser, Denise Stauffer, Jordy Shane, Audrey Rene
Writer: Lun Ah, Bo Shun Chan, Lam Tan Ping
Editors: Ting Hung Kuo, Wong Chau On, Wing-ming Wong
Music: Danny Chung
Cinematographer: Kin Keung Lee
Producers: Stephen Shin, Dickson Poon
Original Title: Hei Mao

In the twenty-two years since its release, Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita has indelibly burnt itself onto the minds of action fans. This is best illustrated by the fact that it spawned an American remake called Point of No Return or Assassin (depending on what country you’re in) starring Bridget Fonda, and two television series, the first with Peta Wilson, which ran for four seasons, and a new series with Maggie Q in the lead.

I am sure most of you are familiar with Besson’s La Femme Nikita. For those who aren’t, a quick overview of the plot goes something like this. Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a junkie. Desperately in need of a fix, she and some of her drug addled buddies break into a pharmacist in an attempt to score some goodies to ease their pain. The burglary doesn’t go to plan and the police arrive on the scene with guns-a-blazin’. After the shoot-out, Nikita is the only one of her party left alive but seemingly in a catatonic state. A police officer comes to her aid only to have his brains blown out by Nikita, who barely knows what she is doing. She is then sentenced to thirty years in prison for her crime.

At the point of being imprisoned, she is made an offer. She can either be trained as a assassin or the sentence can stand. She chooses to be trained. But that means the she becomes a part of the system that she has been rebelling against as an outcast junkie. But she also believes she is tougher than the ‘system’. She thinks she can complete the training and still be the same anti-social miscreant that she was when she began. But slowly, almost like a military boot camp, her individuality is beaten out of her. They begin to mold her into a cool killing machine.

While I agree that Besson’s Nikita is an action classic, and to some people this may be sacrilege, but in some ways I think that Point of No Return / Assassin has stood the test of time better than La Femme Nikita. Although only made three years previous, the original was definitely a film made at a certain time. Besson made his film, stylistically, cutting edge. But what is cutting edge one year, is passé the next. Point of No Return / Assassin travels a more timeless path and this serves the film well. One of the elements that helps the film is the choice of music. Put simply, I hate Eric Sera (composer for Nikita), but think Nina Simone is pretty fucking cool. In Point of No Return / Assassin the great songs by Simone drive the story along. In fact, the code-name selected for Maggie Blowjob (well that’s what Fonda calls herself in the flick) is ‘Nina’. Songs like ‘Feelin’ Good’ which struts out when Maggie has finally been released into society emphasise the feeling of freedom that Maggie must be experiencing. At the end of the movie, when Maggie has to leave everything behind her ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ emotes a feeling of melancholy and loss that sums up the character perfectly. I know that’s incredibly superficial, and Point of No Return / Assassin would never exist with Nikita, but what can I say, I am a slave to pop culture.

But Point of No Return / Assassin was not the first remake of La Femme Nikita. That honour goes to the Hong Kong action film Black Cat. I wont bullshit you and say Black Cat is Hong Kong action classic — and that’s possibly because it feels more like an American film (but I’ll talk more about that later) — but it certainly serves up enough thrills for those who aren’t interested in character development.

The film opens late one night in an un-named part of the USA, and what us country boys, who grew up on Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit, would call a K-whopper is barreling down a highway. The muscle bound trucker (Zdenek Juricek) decides to stop at a regular haunt on route, the Liberty Truck Stop and get a bite to eat. He swaggers in, wearing a mesh top that makes him look like he just stepped off the set of Miami Vice, and lights himself a big fat stogie while awaiting some service. There is a staff member out front, a young girl called Catherine (Jade Leung) — but I’ll call her Cat for this review — who is cleaning and polishing the cutlery, but she is too lazy to serve the trucker. Out of frustration, the trucker calls to the owner of the establishment, Denny, for a bit of service.

Denny, of course, verbally chastises Cat for being so lazy. She gives him a dirty look, and to prove she’s a bad-ass who doesn’t give a fuck, she shears a tea-towel in half with one of the steak knives she has been cleaning. Later, Cat serves the trucker his meal, and as he has been on the road for ten days and is a little bit pent up, he pats her on the behind. She pulls away, so instead he grabs at one of her breasts. She picks up a fork and jams it into his other hand, pinning it to the table. No means NO mister!

The trucker backhands her, and Denny hearing the commotion rushes out and fires her – throwing her possessions out into the carpark. She goes. But she is angry – incredibly angry. Outside in the carpark, she plays a harmonica and waits for the trucker. Later, after his meal (and having his hand bandaged) the trucker walks out and finds her sitting near his truck. Still horny, he asks her if she’d ‘like to play some more?’ She agrees, for thirty-dollars. He pokes the cash down her cleavage and unzips his pants, preparing to have his gear-stick felated. She drops to her knees, but rather than using her mouth on the aforementioned gear-stick, she reaches around behind and picks up a sizeable rock, which she pounds into his member. He drops to his knees. Then she punches him in the head, and he collapses to the ground. If that wasn’t enough, she starts laying into him with her boots. There is no doubt that Cat has some severe anger management issues.

Having claimed her revenge, Cat walks off. However, the trucker isn’t done yet. He gets up, grabs her from behind and hurls her through the truck stop window. Denny calls the cops, as the trucker follows Cat’s crashing body into the building. After upending a billiard table that Cat is hiding under, the trucker then picks her up and throws her into a jukebox. Then he proceeds to kick the shit out of her. As the trucker is about to send her into the next world, Denny, now armed with a pistol, fires a shot into the air. The kicking stops. Denny warns the trucker off, who backs away and begins to leave, believing that he now has delivered his share of hard vengeance.

But Cat just wont quit. She picks up a shard of broken glass from the shattered window, and charges at the trucker. She stabs the glass shard repeatedly into his torso. But the big guy won’t go down. Denny then, somewhat foolishly, tries to intervene. I say foolishly, because Cat and the trucker went past normal behavior three fight sequences ago. Denny stands between Cat and the trucker, but not for long, as the trucker swats him away with a chair. Denny flies into a pinball machine and is rendered unconscious. However, the pistol he was holding clatters on the floor next to Cat. The trucker advances on Cat and is just about to crown her with the chair, when she picks up the gun and pumps a few rounds into stomach. He collapses dead on top of her. And now completely exhausted, she passes out.

The police arrive at the scene. An officer hauls the dead trucker of Cat and tries to revive her. She regains consciousness with a start, and with the gun still in her hand, shoots the officer, killing him instantly. In custody, the police are not happy about the death of a member of their fraternity, and Cat gets a rough time, especially from the sister of the murdered officer, who expresses her grief with a billy-club. But as you should know by now, dear reader, that Cat is not one to just sit there and take it. She quickly turns the tables, snatches the billy-club and starts beating the crap out of the female officer. A whole squad of cops have to be sent in to restrain her, as she goes about another violent and uncontrollable rampage.

The carnage doesn’t stop, at least for now. At the courthouse, as Cat uses the bathroom, a hitman comes for her. It is never explained who the hitman works for? The cops? Luckily for Cat, even though she is handcuffed to a rail inside the cubicle, using a piece from the plunger in the cistern, she frees herself and knocks out the hitman. She takes his gun, and then running out into the corridor firing, she tries to make a break for freedom.

The opening of Black Cat takes the position that La Femme Nikita was a good film, but was not violent and crazy enough. Nikita in hindsight looks positively somnambulent compared to Cat, who is just relentlessly angry and crazy. Outside the courthouse, she runs through the streets — usual mayhem ensues; bullets flying, people screaming — and into an alley. From a side-street in front of her, a car pulls out, and the driver produces a rifle, takes aim, and fires. Cat is hit. There is no blood, so I guess that it’s a tranquilizer shot.

Next she is operated on, and a microchip, known as the ‘Black Cat’ is planted in her brain. Then she is spirited away by helicopter to a top secret facility run by the CIA. She awakens in a stark white room – it looks more like a cell – and she is in a great deal of pain – a bad headache. A man named Brian (Simon Yam), who is dressed in black enters her room and offers her a pill that will relieve the headache. He then explains that she has been certified dead, and now has the opportunity to work for the government.

Cat hasn’t changed overnight, and is still the same anti-social misfit, so she grabs Brian’s gun, shoots him, and in her underwear, runs out into the complex looking, once more, for a way out. Of course she is trapped. There is no way out. Brian, of course, was wearing a bullet proof vest, and is Cat’s handler during her duration at the training centre, where she is taught to be an effective, and unemotional assassin. After a year of physical and weapons training, Cat is unleashed upon the world. After proving herself, during a contrived test, she is sent to Hong Kong to assassinate underworld figures. As a cover story, she poses as a photo journalist for magazine company, which is a front for the CIA.

While in Hong Kong, she falls for a guy named Alan (Thomas Lam) who works at a bird sanctuary. Being a skilled assassin (without emotions) and being a fun-loving girlfriend is a difficult double act for Cat, and she finds her emerging humanity, a hindrance to her profession. For next assignment, she is sent to Japan. Unwisely, for a woman who lives in a world of ‘kill or be killed’, she chooses to marry Alan and brings him to Japan with her. Of course, he doesn’t know she is a killer. And as the story plays out, the CIA become increasingly disturbed at their relationship. So much so that they implement a plan to end it, by killing Alan.

In some ways it is very right that Hong Kong film-makers should remake La Femme Nikita and possibly claim it as their own. After all, strong female characters have long been the hallmark of HK cinema. The west seems to think they invented something new in Aliens, with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a strong, empowered female character. Or even with Thelma and Louise. The press treated Nikita the same way, suggesting that the film was groundbreaking action film, with its depiction of a strong central female character.

And the line still gets peddled today — watch Salt with Angelina Jolie. The features on the blue-ray disk are littered with the same old spiel — groundbreaking woman’s role. Not to deride any of the films above — but that publicity line, and that’s what it is, just some PR — is bullshit! Hong Kong have been doing it for forty-five years (I am sure it’s much longer than that — but my knowledge of HK cinema only reaches back to the mid sixties). So if Hong Kong film-makers riff on a film, that riffs on Hong Kong cinema is that such a bad thing? Actually I’d like to see just a smidge more creativity in the story department, but you get my meaning.

Black Cat is brisk, violent and reasonably entertaining with some good stunts and effects. If it has a flaw, it is that it sets such a brisk, heart pounding pace at the beginning that it is virtually impossible to keep that level of dynamism up, and sure enough, once Cat goes into training the film slows down. It’s not boring, but it is less defined than Besson’s Nikita or Badham’s Assassin / Point of No Return. The dehumanising and rebuilding of Cat at the CIA facility doesn’t ring true, as for the majority of her time there, she still has the same anti-social chip on her shoulder. But yet, when it becomes time for her to go out into the real world and kick ass, she does so willingly. Adding to the confused mess, is that Cat’s first assignment – which is really a test – is structured so that she feels betrayed by her own team. Yet, afterward, despite her initial anger, she chooses to ride with it.

I am guessing that her obedience has something to do with the Black Cat chip in her head, which is supposed to make her a better weapon. However, this is never truly defined in the movie, and all it seems to do is give her headaches, which need special medication. But maybe I want too much from the film. After all, it is primarily a slick action flick, and to emphasize the point of what a crowd-pleaser this film is intended to be, the film borrows rather loosely from the Stallone action film handbook. The brutality that the cops inflict upon when she is first apprehended, could be taken straight from First Blood – yes, they even have the fire hose scene. And as Cat’s physical training regimen, montage an all, with dreadful synth-rock music, could be lifted from Rocky IV.

After a somewhat stodgy middle, once Cat is released into society, Black Cat kicks into gear for the last portion of the film which features plenty of shooting and exploding police cars, which entertaining though, that it is, seems more befitting and American action film. A part of me wonders if this film was partially aimed at a Western audience. A large amount of this film in in English — the opening scenes in the USA, and much of her training at the facility. I guess, if it’s the CIA that’s training her, than that makes her an American agent. However, many of the cast members appear to speak their lines phonetically and as such, much of the dialogue is stilted. But the film is not the type that you watch for the dialogue. It’s about insane action and mayhem perpetrated by a chick who is easy on the eyes (well, at least that’s the male perspective). But back to my point about the American market, maybe as La Femme Nikita was in French, that the makers of Black Cat thought that if they could make virtually the same film, but accessible to American audiences (that is, they don’t have to read subtitles), then possibly they could have a hit. Admittedly that is all conjecture on my behalf, based solely on the fact that this Hong Kong action film is decidedly American in tone.

As discussed, La Femme Nikita would be remade by Hollywood in 1993, and the first television series would appear in 1997. But Black Cat would not be denied her place, and she would also turn up in several sequels. First, in 1997, called Black Cat 2: the Assassination of President Yeltsin, which is a more traditional spy thriller, relying on Bondian tropes to fill the action quota. The opening ski chase sequence could be lifted from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, mixed with A View to a Kill (thankfully without the Beach Boys musical cue). Despite more pyrotechnics (and helicopters), Black Cat 2 is not a patch on its predecessor. Then there’s Black Cat in Jail (2000) and The Black Cat Agent Files (2003). I have not seen the last two – and apparently they are little more than ‘in name only’ sequels. However, they are an interesting footnote from Nikita’s legacy.

This post originally appeared on Teleport City, April 19, 2011.

Black Cat (1991)