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.