Liner Notes: Eurospy


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 looking at Eurospy films.

* * * * *

It probably says a lot about EuroSpy films that their soundtracks are a lot easier to find than many of the movies. That, no doubt, has a lot to do with the quality of composers coming out of Europe at the time, such as Ennio Morricone, Mario Nasimbene, Piero Umiliani, Michel Legrand, Sandro Brognolini, Riz Ortolani, Manuel Parada and many, many more.

With Eurospy soundtracks there are many varying styles, and it is hard (and pretty unfair) to lump them all together. The first style attempts to stay as close to the John Barry, James Bond sound as possible. These are the least interesting to me as soundtracks, because quite frankly, if I want John Barry, I will listen to the real thing. One of the better examples, is Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai’s score for Operation Kid Brother. Some of the film’s musical cues, mimic the Barry sound quite successfully.

The second style, operates under the premise that James Bond is an old ‘suit’ and not with the times. And the music reflects this – possibly owing more to The Beatles, than John Barry. In the films, you’ll often see a Beat group – called something like ‘The Spyders’, ‘The Planets’ or ‘The Fireballs’ – playing in a nightclub that the hero visits in the course of his investigation. If the film happens to be directed by Jess Franco, there’s also a good chance that there will be a scantily clad woman dancing in a cage too.

Since I have so foolishly mentioned Franco, if you can find the soundtracks to his Red Lip films – Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster – by Jerry Van Rooyen, give them a listen. Truly amazing wild and swinging stuff. Also, the music by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – to the Franco / Miranda trilogy (okay, only The Devil Comes From Akasava counts as a Eurospy – the other two being Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy) is also well worth listening to.

Below, are my thoughts on a few of the more easy to locate Eurospy soundtracks.

Agente Speciale LK
Bruno Nicolai

Agente Speciale LK, or Lucky The Inscrutable as I call it, is a strange little film that was directed by Jess Franco, and released in 1967. Just mentioning Franco either conjures up fear or perverse delight. But generally, Franco’s films, despite what you may think of their content, usually had pretty good soundtracks.This one is composed by Bruno Nicolai.

The film itself is a weird hybrid of comic book and spy movies. It stars Ray Danton as ‘Lucky The Inscrutable’, a super hero – spy who wears superman style costume with a large ‘L’ on his chest. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is light hearted and pop oriented – albeit sixties Italian pop, rather than cool spy jazz. It includes some sixties choral singing – Light ‘Bub-adubba-das’ lilt over the top during action sequences – and deep ‘Bum, Bums’ resonate in the title song. The style is more like Hugo Montenegro (Matt Helm phase) than Nicolai’s sometimes partner, Ennio Morricone.

I must admit when I saw the film, I didn’t think the music was that bad at all (hence, why I bought the album), but as a listening experience on it’s own without visuals, I was fairly disappointed. It is quite cheesy in places. But it does take the smorgasbord approach. Unlike some soundtracks which keep repeating the same theme over and over again, here each track is very different. If you don’t like one, you may like the next.

The standout track for me, is ‘Lopagan Island’ which is a jaunty calypso style number with Edda Dell’Orso’s soprano voice warbling over the top. The CD is almost worth it, for this track alone (only it is too short). Who is Edda Dell’Orso I hear you ask? Thanks to her collaborations with Ennio Morricone, on the soundtracks to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, she is often referred to as ‘The Voice Of Italian Cinema’. You might not know her name, but anyone who has listened to The Good, the Bad & The Ugly or Once Upon A Time In The West soundtracks, will recognise her voice.

As each track is so different it is hard to classify or compare this album to something else. On the whole, I find it a bit abrasive. It isn’t smooth ‘lounge music’. If you are a fan of Eurospy soundtracks (and you’ve got spare cash to throw away) if you see it, buy it. It’s worth a listen, and I am sure one of the tracks will grab your attention, but I wouldn’t spend hours searching the net for a seller.

Dick Smart 2.007
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Orchestra conducted by Roberto Pregadio.
Released by Hexacord.

Dick Smart is a pretty wild Eurospy production directed by Franco Prosperi. It features Richard Wyler as swinging sixties dilettante, womaniser, and part-time spy, Dick Smart. Smart is hired by the CIA, for a fee of one million dollars, after five atomic scientists go missing from around the world.

Nascimbene’s score is very good, and the hook will get stuck in your head for days, even weeks perhaps. You will find yourself humming the theme after you’ve finished listening to the album. As the film is primarily set in and around Rio, the soundtrack features a lot of Latin beats, like Sambas and Bossa Novas. Each track gives away it’s musical style in it’s title ‘Samba For Dick’, ‘Bossa For Dick’ etc… There are no vocals until the end track. The male vocal is quite flat – it almost seems spoken. But the instrumentals are quite good, although slightly repetitive, but it is a soundtrack, so you’d expect that a few musical motif’s are repeated.

If the album has a weakness, it is that sometimes the instrumentals tend toward ‘elevator music’ with weird sixties electronic sound effects over the top. At the end of the CD, there are some musical cues and control room dialogue from Nascimbene. It is an interesting curio – but doesn’t add much. But still it isn’t a bad album. If you’re a fan of Eurospy Soundtracks, buy this one. I wasn’t disappointed.

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Released by Avanz Records

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die, even if you haven’t seen the film, as a stand alone listening experience, is great. It is better than the Dick Smart soundtrack, but is similar in so many ways. Once again, the film is set in Rio, so the soundtrack has a Latin American feel to it. Although there is a lot more variety on the Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die soundtrack. The closing title song, although not listed on the album, is performed by Lydia Macdonald (I think. Please correct me if you know otherwise). Macdonald, while hardly a household name these days, was a very busy girl in the 1960’s especially singing title songs to Eurospy films. She can be found singing ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’ on the soundtrack to Requiem For A Secret Agent; ‘Nothing To Fear’ from MMM Missione Morte Molo 83, and the title track to From The Orient With Fury.

As with the Dick Smart, Kiss The Girls also has a few weird sci-fi electronic soundscapes. No doubt, if I had seen the film I’d know what these are. Most likely they are from scenes in the film, where the chief villain is test firing his latest hi-tech weapon. These call be a little bit grating. They aren’t really ‘lounge’ tunes, and as such aren’t really easy listening. But on the whole, this is a pretty good soundtrack album. It’s a bit harder to track down than Dick Smart, but once again, if you are a fan of this type of soundtrack, this is worth hunting down.

Liner Notes: Eurospy

The Burglars (1971)

Director: Henri Vernuil
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Omar Sharif, Dyan Cannon, Robert Hossein, Renato Salvatori, Nicole Calfan
Music: Ennio Morricone – conducted by Bruno Nicolai
Based on the novel by David Goodis

This Euro-heist caper, set in Greece and directed by Henri Verneuil, is a bit different to most. Rather than building up to the perfect robbery, the film starts with the heist, then spends the rest of it’s running time, seeing if the criminals can get away with the loot.

Three men and a woman; Azad (Belmondo), Ralph (Robert Hossein), Renzi (Renato Salvatori) and Helene (Nicole Calfan), drive up to a stately home in an un-named Greek city. Ralph and Renzi get out of the car and put stockings over their heads. They go to the front door of the caretakers quarters and ring the doorbell. When the caretaker answers, he is knocked to the ground then tied and gagged. They then signal for Azad to go to the main house. He does and makes quick work of the front door. Inside there are priceless works of art adorning the rooms. Azad ignores them and heads straight to the safe. He puts on his gloves and goes to work. Joined by Ralph (Renzi and Helene keep watch out side), a x-ray machine is used to work out the model number on the inside workings of the safe’s door. Azad looks up the details in a safe guide book (must be very handy for all safe crackers). He finds another series of numbers. At this point, Azad, opens a suitcase he has been toting along with him. Inside is like a little computer. He enters these numbers and he is directed to a key shape. He then selects the base key from a series he has pre-prepared. Then this computer, sort of becomes a key-cutting device, and shapes this key into one which will fit this particular make and model of safe. It’s all rather hi-tech and hard to put in words, but it is impressive. So now Azad has a key, but he still doesn’t have the combination to the four tumblers on the door.

Meanwhile, driving by is police detective Abel Zacharia (Omar Sharif). He notices Azad’s car parked out the front, and stops to investigate. As he snoops around, the bound and gagged caretaker tries to make as much noise as possible. Rocking his chair, he crashes into a fish bowl that smashes loudly on the floor. By now Zacharia’s suspicions are heightened. But before he can move in to the house, Azad scoots around the back to his car. Zacharia notices and comes across to question him, forgetting about the noise inside. Azad gives Zacharia a cock ’n’ bull story about his car breaking down. Zacharia trusts him for now, and goes about his business.

Azad returns to the safe, and using a listening device attached to his computer / cutter / suitcase, he cracks the tumblers and the safe. Inside there is a large amount of money and bonds, but Azad only takes one million dollars worth of emeralds. The heist is beautifully staged in its intricacy and precision. Azad and crew have made their score, now they have to get out of town. But this has been pre-arranged. They have made a deal with the captain of the ship, the Arax, to take them (and the emeralds) from the country, no questions asked. Unfortunately the ship has suffered hull damage as it came into port. It will be another five days before it leaves.

Azad and crew decide to wait it out and head their separate ways in the meantime. After Azad has dropped Helene off at the train station he notices he is being followed by somebody in a beaten up, dirty little car. In traffic, Azad tries to lose the unseen, gloved driver, but this driver is well up to the task and doggedly stays on Azad’s tail as the cars race around the streets, down steps, through tunnels, and basically on any surface a car can travel. It’s a great sequence.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, Zacharia isn’t quite as he seems. Actually he is, but he’s a little bit more too. He is a cop, but one who is looking to raise his lifestyle and willing to blackmail a few people on the way. Sharif appears to be having a great time, especially when eating, drinking and shooting.

Dyan Cannon’s role is little more than a cameo. She plays a glamorous photographic model that Azad picks up in a bar. Sure, there’s a twist, but there’s no real attempt by the film-makers to conceal it, so you won’t be guessing long.

This film has a series of amazing scenes that on their own are quite okay, but as a cohesive film they don’t link too well. The heist at the beginning is well staged, and carried out virtually without dialogue, but after Jules Dassin’s Riffifi, I guess all good heists have to be carried out that way. This is followed up by the fantastic car chase that I mentioned earlier in the review. When you review a car chase, it inevitably gets compared to the ones in Bullitt or The French Connection. Unlike many others, this is actually worthy of the comparison. It won’t surprise many people that it was put together by French driving legend, Rémy Julienne. Later in the film, there’s an interesting musical interlude at a strip club; some drunken target practice in a toy factory; and finally Belmondo shows us an interesting new technique for catching buses. All these sequences are good. But the film as a whole just doesn’t add up to quality of its disparate parts.

The Burglars isn’t a bad film, but it has dated. In the early seventies, the story may not have mattered so much. It was about style, and this film has early seventies jet-setting style to burn. But now with the world virtually at out fingertips, style isn’t so important. We want a story and characters that are engaging, and this film just falls short of the mark.

Belmondo catches the bus – from The Burglars – uploaded by sheriff85

The Burglars (1971)

Agente Speciale LK (1967)

Bruno Nicolai
1999, Dagored CD Re-issue

Agente Speciale LK, or Lucky The Inscrutable as I call it, is a strange little film that was directed by Jess Franco, and released in 1967. Just mentioning Franco’s name either conjures up fear or perverse delight. But generally, Franco’s films, despite what you may think of their content, usually had pretty good soundtracks. This one is composed by Bruno Nicolai.

The film itself is a weird hybrid of comic book and spy movies. It stars Ray Danton as ‘Lucky The Inscrutable’, a super hero – spy who wears superman style costume with a large ‘L’ on his chest. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is light hearted and pop oriented – albeit sixties Italian pop, rather than cool spy jazz. It includes some sixties choral singing – Light ‘Bub-adubba-das’ lilt over the top during action sequences – and deep ‘Bum, Bums’ resonate in the title song. The style is more like Hugo Montenegro (Matt Helm phase) than Nicolai’s sometimes partner, Ennio Morricone.

I must admit when I saw the film, I didn’t think the music was that bad at all (hence, why I bought the album), but as a listening experience on it’s own without visuals, I was fairly disappointed. It is quite cheesy in places. But it does take the smorgasbord approach. Unlike some soundtracks which keep repeating the same theme over and over again, here each track is very different. If you don’t like one, you may like the next.

The standout track for me, is ‘Lopagan Island’ which is a jaunty calypso style number with Edda Dell’Orso’s soprano voice warbling over the top. The CD is almost worth it, for this track alone (only it is too short). Who is Edda Dell’Orso I hear you ask? Thanks to her collaborations with Ennio Morricone, on the soundtracks to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, she is often referred to as ‘The Voice Of Italian Cinema’. You might not know her name, but anyone who has listened to The Good, the Bad & The Ugly or Once Upon A Time In The West soundtracks, will recognise her voice.

The tracks are:
1. Lucky Theme Song
2. Carnival Fanfare & Party
3. Group Therapy
4. Lucky & Cleopatra/Circus Fight
5. Secret Reunion “Lucky Theme”
6. Lucky In Rome
7. Lovely, But Dangerous
8. Spy Chase
9. Parachute Down/Mission Danger/Patrol Pursuit
10. Funny Trains
11. Lucky & Yaka Love Theme
12. Escape & Last Goodbye
13. Lopagan Island
14. Bossa For Lucky/Showgirl Dance
15. Lucky Tango/Lucky & Madame Linda
16. L.K. Shake
17. Gold Glasses/Escape From The Base/Death Of Goldglasses
18. End Titles Lucky Theme Song
19. The Lucky Suite

As each track is so different it is hard to classify or compare this album to something else. On the whole, I find it a bit abrasive. It isn’t smooth ‘lounge music’. If you are a fan of Eurospy soundtracks (and you’ve got spare cash to throw away) if you see it, buy it. It’s worth a listen, and I am sure one of the tracks will grab your attention, but I wouldn’t spend hours searching the net for a seller.

Agente Speciale LK (1967)