Manhunt (1972)

Producer: Armando Novelli
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Starring: Mario Adorf, Henry Silva, Woody Strode, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Sylva Koscina, Franco Fabrizi, Cyril Cusack
Cinematography: Franco Villa
Music: Armando Trovaioli
Original Title: La Mala Ordina
AKA: Manhunt In Milan, The Italian Connection, Hired To Kill, Black Kingpin, Hitmen

One of Permission to Kill’s favourite actresses is Sylva Koscina. However, Koscina’s career started to nosedive in the seventies. The seventies version of Koscina the actress is very different to the bikini clad Koscina of the sixties. Though still beautiful, her youthful glow was gone, and the roles she was offered and accepted changed. Now she was more matronly. Manhunt, as well as being a bloody good Italian crime film, is a nice example of how Koscina’s screen persona evolved. In this film, her role is little more than a cameo, playing the ex-wife to a two-bit hood, and the mother of his child.

Henry Silva as David Catania

The film starts with the head of the Syndicate briefing two New York hitmen on their next assignment. The hitmen are David Catania (Henry Silva) and Frank Webster (Woody Strode). Their target is a small time pimp in Milan, Luca Canali (Mario Adorf). Canali was quite stupid – he stole a shipment of heroin from the mob and thought they wouldn’t find out. Catania and Webster are told to be flashy in their execution. They should send a message, so that nobody else attempts to cross the mob again.

Woody Strode as Frank Webster

In Milan, our gun toting ambassadors have two contacts. The first is Eva Lalli (Luciana Paluzzi). Eva is to be their guide, and show the boys the sights and introduce them to her contacts. Their other contact is the head of Milan’s underworld, Don Vito Tressoldi (Adolfo Celi). With my penchant for spy films, it would be remiss of me not to mention that both Paluzzi and Celi starred as villains in the Bond film, Thunderball.

Mario Adorf as Luca Canali

Luca Canali has a young daughter named Rita who he loves deeply. Unfortunately he doesn’t get to see her very often, because her mother, Lucia (Sylva Koscina) is extremely protective, and doesn’t want the young girl to find out that her father is a small time pimp. Still Canali tries to help out with money whenever possible – although Lucia often refuses to take the filthy lucre. She knows where it comes from.

Adolfo Celi as Don Vito Tressoldi

*Slight Spoilers Ahead* I try not to give away too many twists in the plot when I review films, but in this case, the twist is at the heart of the characters motivations. It is almost impossible to talk about the film without revealing the machination that drives the story along. In this case, Canali did not commit the theft of the mob’s heroin. He is simply a patsy. The theft was carried out by Don Vito Tressoldi, and he simply reported to his superiors that Canali committed the offence. But Tressoldi didn’t expect that the Syndicate heads would send men from New York to tidy up. He thought he’d be asked to handle it, and he’d have control of the situation. Once Catania and Webster arrive, he realises this isn’t so, and he sends his men out onto the streets to find Canali.

Luciana Paluzzi as Eva Lalli

Eventually, Tressoldi’s goons catch up with Canali and attempt to bring him in. Canali doesn’t know what is going on (he’s innocent, remember) and plays it cool to begin with. At a warehouse the goons start to insult and rough-up their prisoner. Canali doesn’t take to kindly to the treatment and fights back. After he has floored the two goons, he escapes.

Don Vito puts a reward out for the whereabouts of Canali, and begins to put pressure on all the people that know him. When Canali tries to acquire a gun from an underground dealer, within minutes, Tressoldi’s men are on the scene. Canali shoots his way out and is on the run again.

Sylva Koscina as Lucia

Still confused and seeking answers, Canali phones Tressoldi and asks why he wants to see him. Tressoldi feeds him a cock & bull story. When Canali doesn’t buy it, Tressoldi threatens to kill Canali’s ex-wife and daughter. Canali immediately hangs up and races to Lucia’s place of work. Lucia is not happy to see him. She is even less enamoured when she finds out that his ‘mafia lifestyle’ is threatening her and their daughter’s life.

'Syndicate' style vengeance!

Canali drives Lucia to their daughter’s school. Lucia goes in and takes Rita out of class early. As Lucia and Rita walk back to the car and cross the road, a van speeds out of nowhere and knocks them down. This (understandably) drives Canali into an uncontrollable rage. He steals the nearest car and engages in a high speed pursuit through the streets of Milan.

The first part of this lengthy chase ends when Canali forces the van off the road and through a fruit vendors stall. In Italian crime films there is always a fruit or flower vendor’s cart by the side of the road, which somehow always gets destroyed in the chase scene.

Canali confronts Don Vito

Then the chase continues on foot with the killer running into a deserted swimming pool. Canali doggedly continues to follow. Next the bad guy steals another van. As he speeds off, at the last second, Canali runs and leaps, grabbing the driver side door. As the van speeds through the traffic, hanging on for dear life, Canali attempts to fight with the driver. Eventually the door swings open and Canali finds himself at the front of the van, on the windscreen. Then dear reader, comes one of the most amazing examples of manly revenge inspired action I have ever seen – to get to his quarry in the cab, behind the glass, Canali repeatedly head-butts the windscreen until it shatters.

Catania in action!

Ultimately Canali avenges the death of his ex-wife and child, but even then it isn’t all over for our battered and bruised anti-hero. He then has to contend with the two American hitmen, Catania and Webster. These two aren’t local punks. They are professionals. And even though, Canali is really innocent, it doesn’t matter to the hitmen. They don’t leave loose ends.

I’ve seen Mario Adorf in quite a few films, and generally I find his performances quite annoying. He has a tendency to overact. He talks with his hands, screams, shouts and generally is overbearing. But in this film, it is entirely appropriate. In this film he is an innocent man whose whole world collapses around him and he doesn’t even know why.

Koscina - sans bikini

Sylva Koscina has the small but important role of Lucia, Luca’s ex-wife. The part may be small, but it is central to Canali’s motivations through the second half of the film, and it is imperative that an actress that the audience can quickly identify with and relate to was cast. Koscina is an actress that is easy to identify, but maybe not identify with. This role is several light-years away from the cheesecake roles she played in the sixties. And sadly, there isn’t a bikini to be seen.

Manhunt is a great Italian crime drama. But if you’re watching it solely for Sylva Koscina you are going to be disappointed. It’s a man’s crime film, and the women are secondary characters. As for the men, Henry Silva and Woody Strode can play these type of characters in their sleep – not that they do so here – and provide a great deal of threat, menace and danger. Their presence is reduced during the middle of the film, but they are always lurking, and you know they’ll be there for the finale – and they don’t disappoint!

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Manhunt (1972)

Target For Killing (1966)

AKA: The Secret Of The Yellow Monks
Country: Austria / Italy
Directed by Manfred R. Kohler
Stewart Granger, Karin Dor, Rupert Davies, Curt Jurgens, Klaus Kinski, Scilla Gabel, Adolfo Celi, Mollie Peters, Erika Remberg, Luis Induni
Music by Marcello Giombini

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the great actors from the 1960s who were at the forefront of the Spy Boom, Stewart Granger isn’t an actor that comes readily to mind. I guess that’s because his contribution to the spy genre were a few middling Eurospy films. Granger’s career wasn’t going too well at this time and he’d take any job that came along. Amongst his output were Red Dragon, Spy Against The World, Requiem For A Secret Agent and Target For Killing.

Target For Killing is a muddled affair, but reasonably entertaining on a throwaway level. But if you happen to be a Bond fan there are a few compelling reasons to watch the film. All of them are cast members. Let’s start with Thunderball – we have Adolfo Celi (sans eyepatch) and the beautiful Mollie Peters (sans mink glove, but in a bikini and a bath tub). Then we have our leading lady, Karin Dor, who would appear in You Only Live Twice a year later. Incidentally, Dor also appeared in Spy Against The World, but not in the same segment as Stewart Granger. However it did also feature Klaus Kinski, who also appears in Target For Killing. Am I painting a nepetitious little picture? Then finally we have Curt Jurgens who appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, which is just another one in his long line of contributions to the spy genre.

Target For Killing is not the best Eurospy offering out there, and to be honest the English dubbing is pretty ordinary, but it is far from the worst either. After witnessing Granger’s turn as a hard bastard in Sergio Sollima’s Requiem For A Secret Agent it’s good to see him return to playing a likable, suave and sophisticated gent once again, and if the story is a bit confused, then does that really matter? Well in fact it does. I don’t mind that Eurospy films are occasionally silly and feature climaxes that could only be described as ‘dodgy science’, but if you are going to introduce a weird scientific element, run with it – play it for all it’s worth. Here, they have a premise about a ‘mind weapon’ and telepathy, but it only seems tacked on to the side. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s find out what it’s all about!

The damsel in distress in Target For Killing is Sandra Perkins (Karin Dor), and we meet her on a plane bound for Montenegro. Behind the curtains a sexy stewardess mixes Miss Perkins a drink, adding something a little extra to the concoction. She brings the drink out and walks down the aisle, but as she is about to hand over the drink, a clumsy man in the seat opposite, stretches out and accidentally knocks the tray and sends the glass flying. The clumsy oath is James Vine (Stewart Granger), who, as we all know dear readers, is a secret agent.

Vine’s intervention has caused a bit of a stir in the cockpit. You see, the two pilots – one who happens to be Klaus Kinski – and the stewardess work for a despicable fellow called ‘The Giant’ (Curt Jurgens). The Giant has ordered that Perkins be killed. Without any weapons at their disposal, and knowing that The Giant will not tolerate failure, the flight crew decide to bail out with parachutes and let the plane crash.

Vine notices the crew leaving, but doesn’t think anything of it until he see three parachutes open out of his window (he must have been looking down). Realising that something is wrong, he convinces Perkins to go with him to the cockpit. It may seem like a catastrophe waiting to happen. but it isn’t all doom and gloom, because Vine was once in the airforce. He takes to the pilot’s seat and has Perkins man the radio. It has been a while, be he manages a rough old landing.

Now why would anybody want to kill a nice girl like Sandra Perkins? Well it appears that in three days, on her twenty-fifth birthday she is set to inherit a filthy amount of money. If she is dead, the money will go to other interested parties. Why is The Giant’s interested in Perkins and the redistribution of the money? Well he’s not actually an evil mastermind. He is evil, but he is not the mastermind. He’s more like a branch manger for an un-named evil organisation. From his Montenegro branch office, which happens to be in a monastery, he performs all sorts of illegal activities. And that’s why James Vine has come to Montenegro. He’s not here to protect Perkins, but is here to track down and shut down The Giant. But back to the point at hand, The Giant has been instructed by his superiors to kill Perkins.

The thing with The Giant that stops him from just being another underling is that he has hired some quality underlings of his own. The first is his evil henchwoman, Tiger (Scilla Gabel). She gets around in a pair of tight fitting black leather pants and wields a machine gun with unrivalled expertise. Then there is The Giant’s evil seductress, Vera Stratten (Mollie Peters). She uses her body to get to her targets. And finally there is Dr. Yang (Luis Induni), who is an expert on telepathy and torture. He has a special gift of getting into peoples minds, which causes them to lose all free will. The Giant and his cadre of hench-people are a formidable target for James Vine.

Worth a quick mention is the absolutely fantastic soundtrack by Marcelo Giombini which features a fantastic fuzzy electric guitar. Whenever the story seems to be losing pace and purpose, the guitar kicks in and you just ride with it until the movie finds its feet again.

I want to like Target For Killing and I want to recommend it to everyone, but in all fairness I can’t as a spy film. But if you’re interested in the cast, then go ahead, track a copy down. If you’re interested in swinging spy guitar grooves, track a copy down. If you’re interested in empty lightweight espionage thrills, track a copy down. Oh yeah, and if you’re interested in Scilla Gabel in black leather pants, then track a copy down. If none of those categories appeal to you, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere for espionage thrills.

Target For Killing (1966)

Operation Kid Brother (1967)

AKA: OK Connery, Operation Double 007, Secret Agent 00
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolpho Celi, Anthony Dawson, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Music by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai
Song ‘OK Connery’ performed by Khristy

“I’m a surgeon, not a secret agent!”

Of all the European spy films made in the sixties to cash in on Bondmania, Operation Kid Brother is probably the best known. Not because it was one of the better examples of the Eurospy genre, but because it featured Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil, in the title role. And there you have the joke, the movie hangs it’s plot on.

Secret Agent 007’s brother, Dr. Neil Connery (he uses his real name in the movie) is a plastic surgeon, lip reader, hypnotist and archer extraordinaire. It is these skills that help him once he gets drawn into a tangled web of intrigue, when one of his patients gets kidnapped by an evil organisation called Thanatos. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The film opens with a boat, crewed by a bevy of scantily clad ladies, pulling into Monte Carlo harbour. Below deck, Thayer (Adolpho Celi – who played Emilio Largo in the Bond movie Thunderball) is receiving a massage, while watching a movie on a naked back on one of his girls. More about Thayer later…

Meanwhile Miss Maxwell (Lois Maxwell – who played Moneypenny from 1962-85) is waiting at the Aero Club of Monte Carlo, for a plane to land. And not just any plane. Coming in for landing is an agent named Ward Jones, who is carrying a very important little box. But as the plane lands and begins taxiing down the runway, a remote control car, guided by Thayer (naturally), is sent into a collision course with the plane. Both car and plane explode in a fireball. As emergency crews attend to the wreck, during the commotion, Maya (Daniela Bianchi – who played Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love), clothed in an asbestos fire suit, retrieves the box from the flaming wreckage and disappears with it.

We then move to a lecture theatre where Doctor Neil Connery is holding a lecture on plastic surgery and facial reconstruction. His lecture is disrupted when a group of men burst in an attempt to steal Doctor Connery’s patient. You see, she was Ward Jones girlfriend, and everyone believes that he has left some vital intelligence information with her.

The kidnapping attempt is foiled by Miss Maxwell, who spirits the girl away. Unfortunately, Connery was distracted in the commotion, and has accidentally killed an man. The authorities have him in custody. It’s here that Doctor Connery is recruited, or rather blackmailed, into working for M.I.6. The head of M.I.6 is another familiar face. It is Bernard Lee, who played ‘M’ in the Bond series (from 1962 – 1979). Here he plays Commander Cunningham. Connery’s mission is to stop Thanatos.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the villains of the piece, are an evil organization called Thanatos. The leader of Thanatos, Alpha, is played by Anthony Dawson, another Bond alumni, who played Professor Dent in Doctor No. Alpha’s number two man, is Thayer. But Thayer is not happy about being Number two, or if you prefer ‘Beta’, and has his own plan to take over Thanatos.

But what are Thanatos’ up to? They plan to blackmail the world with a device that freezes anything with moving metal parts. Naturally Thanatos need a secret underground lair, to carry out their dastardly plan, and theirs is hidden under a castle a few miles outside Munich. As you’d expect it is up to Doctor Connery, with a bit of help from some Scottish archery champions to stop Thanatos and save the world. Obviously a trait that runs in the family.

Operation Kid Brother has some over-the-top sequences. A favourite has the girls from Thanatos stealing an ‘atomic nucleus.’ They do this, by disguising themselves as stranded dancehall girls, with car troubles. Then they overpower the men in an army convoy. And if that wasn’t enough, to smuggle their ill-gotten gain back to their headquarters, they disguise the army transport as a moving advertisement for ‘The Wild Pussy Club’, featuring the girls dressed in cat costumes. Grrrrr!

Another over-the-top scene is at the climax, after Thayer begins his two minute countdown to firing the dreaded freezing weapon. Within the 120 seconds, Maya has time to escape from a castle, steal a helicopter, fly back to the nearest city and raise the alarm. Let’s just say Miss Bianchi is certainly a very sprightly agent.
Many articles have been written about Operation Kid Brother, most of them are negative. But the film is actually a great deal of fun. It was never intended as a taut thriller. It is a sly send-up, with outrageous stunts, garish costumes, and performances by a group of actors who are extremely familiar to avid fans of the Bond series. It is a pity that the movie is not more readily available.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD

Operation Kid Brother (1967)

Fantabulous Inc. (1967)

AKA: Il Donna, Il Sesso, Il Superuomo (The Woman, Sex And Superman)
Directed by Sergio Spina
Richard Harrison, Adolfo Celi, Judi West, Nino Fuscagni
Music by Sandro Brugnolini

Fantabulous Inc. is a strange little Italian film that has a bit of everything in it. It’s a thriller, it’s a super-hero film, it’s a spy film, and it’s an exploration on civil rights.

The super villain of this piece is Carl Maria Von Beethoven (Adolfo Celi), and naturally enough, whenever we hear his name we also hear a snatch of Ludwig Von Beethoven (Da Da Da Dum). He runs a clinic called Fantabulous Inc., which turns men into super-men.

The film opens in Geneva. Richard Vernon (Richard Harrison) is engaged in a bit of post-coital byplay with his girlfriend, Deborah Sanders (Judi West). But now he has to leave. He works as a banker, and has an important meeting in Milan. Leaving the apartment, he heads down to the underground carpark and to his car. Unfortunately for Vernon, it won’t start. The carpark attendant, who happens to be wearing sunglasses, refuses to help, and only laughs at Vernon’s predicament. Vernon assumes the car is out of petrol and walks around to the nearest petrol station. After an altercation with the attendant, who is also wearing sunglasses, Vernon gets his can filled and returns to the car. Upon his return he finds out that the petrol container has been filled with water.

Even though it is night, there’s a suspicious amount of men with sunglasses around. Vernon doesn’t appear to notice and phones the police to complain about the petrol station, but the police officer on the other end of the line, only abuses Vernon for his trouble. From the phone box, as he returns to his car, it is stolen in front of his very eyes. Luckily a police car happens to be passing as he chases his vehicle on foot. He lodges a complaint, but rather than pursuing the thieves, the police question Vernon at length, and then take him into custody. But rather than take him to the nearest police station, he is taken to the headquarters of Fantabulous Inc. In the Fantabulous carpark, he finds his car. Initially he is pleased, that now he can continue his journey to airport, and then Milan. But before he can do so, one of the police officers produces a hypodermic needle and injects Vernon. He wakes up in the middle of a strange medical procedure, which seems incredibly invasive and brutal (his arm appears to be shorn off).

Next we cut to Deborah, who is an aspiring actress and fashion model. She is engaged in a photo shoot, we she is interrupted by phone. It’s a call from the police. She has to go to the morgue and identify Vernon’s body. There, as his body is slid out of the drawer, it looks like Vernon’s face, but she is adamant, that the body does not belong to Richard.

And Deborah is right. Vernon is not dead. He wakes up in what seems like a hospital room. He is still in fact at Fantabulous Inc., a company that specialises in bio-chemical and bio-physical experimentation.

Behind Fantabulous Inc is Beethoven, who I mentioned earlier, who is the mastermind behind the whole operation. He arranges for the capture of appropriate physical specimens for conversion into supermen. He also is the marketing manager, who sells his creation to foreign powers to control the masses. Also working for Fantabulous is the mad Professor Cronin (Gustavo D’Arpe), who is the brains behind the process. It’s his experiments that have created the super-human beings. As with all good henchmen, Cronin has a physical deformity; he has metal pincers for hands.

Beethoven aside, the music and songs, by Sandro Brugnolini throughout Fantabulous Inc. are catchy and infectious; from gutsy soul based numbers that remind you of Ray Charles or Sammy Davis Jnr to piano driven conga-line numbers. The music certainly helps this film press forward when visually things slow down. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out the name of the vocalist on the soundtrack.

The first half of this film is incredibly entertaining and I challenge anyone to guess where it is going. But the second half gets pretty silly. There’s some not so subtle symbolism and quasi-political mumbo-jumbo about the misuse of power. To give the film it’s due, I am looking at it from twenty-first century perspective, rather than 1967, and maybe the ‘message’ in the last half, was more important back then. But as far as narrative and entertainment go, then or now, the second half veers very wildly from silly super hero cartoon heroics to rhetoric about discipline and authority.

Unfortunately this film only appears to be available on the grey market, (with copies that appear to be of a very poor standard) which is a shame, because I think it is film that will divide people. As I said above I didn’t like the end, but other viewers whose viewpoint is slightly more anarchististic than mine, may think this film is, er sorry, Fantabulous. But without a good DVD of the film on the market, for everyone to view and decide for him or herself, I am afraid it’s a little hard to debate the merits, or lack thereof, of Fantabulous Inc.

This review is based on the Video Search Of Miami USA video cassette transfer

Fantabulous Inc. (1967)