Tiffany Memorandum (1967)

tiffany 3Country: Italy | France | Germany
Director: Sergio Greico (as Terence Hathaway)
Starring: Ken Clark, Irina Demick, Jacques Berthier, Luigi Vannuchi, Gregoire Aslan
Music: Riz Ortolani

The plot for the Tiffany Memorandum is more twisted than a bag of pretzels, with every character, with the exception of the blond haired square jawed hero, Dick Hallan (Ken Clark), presenting as someone different to who they truly are. As for the memorandum of the title, if you analyse the plot, it doesn’t even make sense. There is no memorandum as such – and if you’ll forgive the minor spoiler – the maguffin is a piece of videotape that has been used, like a ribbon, to decorate a negligee designed by Madame Tiffany. Yeah, you’re reading that and thinking I am speaking jibberish. Videotape! Wouldn’t that rub against the skin? As I said, it doesn’t really make sense, but let’s go with the flow, shall we? And maybe start at the beginning.

The Tiffany Memorandum starts in Paris. Dick Hallan, a reporter for the Herald Tribune, walks through the neon jungle to a swinging and infectious theme tune by Riz Ortolani. He ends up at an illegal gambling house and after casing the room, takes a seat at the roulette wheel. Whether Hallan is working a story or just there to blow some of his hard earned cash is never explained. He places a bet. As the wheel spins the croupier reaches for a secret button under the table – a device to ensure there are no winners. Hallan grabs the croupier’s hand before he has a chance to activate the device. The ball runs its natural course, and what-do-you-know, Hallan’s number comes up.

140324-tiffany-memorandum-0-230-0-341-cropAnother gambler also benefits from Hallan’s intervention – this gentleman just happens to be Francisco Aguirrez (Michel Bardinet) – the highly favoured democratic candidate for the Republic of El Salvador. Hallan and Aquirrez become friends and leave the club together. As they walk back to their hotel, hoods from the casino come after Hallan – trying to get back their money. While Hallan engages in some brutish fisticuffs, Aguirrez is assassinated in a drive by shooting.

There is naturally enough a police investigation. At the police station, Hallan notices that Aquirrez’s chauffeur, is brought in for questioning. For some reason, to Hallan, that makes him the prime suspect, and he chooses to follow him. The chauffeur boards a train to Berlin – with his travelling companion, Sylvie Maynard (Irina Demick). Hallan also boards the train. On route, the train is derailed – you really have to see the model used for this, it is little more than a standard Hornby train set. The end result of this calamity is that the chauffeur is killed and in the confusion, Hallan is mistaken for him.

o_tiffany-memorandum-ken-clark-ws-94bc

From here on out, the film gets confusing with multiple parties all after the macguffin. There are car chases, fist fights and a crazy climax at a television studio.

In the past I have enjoyed Ken Clark’s other spy outings – Mission Bloody Mary, From the Orient With Fury and Special Mission: Lady Chaplin – but apart from one or two stylish touches, Tiffany Memorandum falls flat. It tries too hard to keep the viewer guessing, twisting and turning every which way, but by the 97th plot twist most viewers will have given up trying to follow the plot – and arty visuals do not a film make. This is one for the hard core EuroSpy fans only.

Tiffany Memorandum (1967)

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Fans of Eurospy films may want to check out Matt Blake’s new book Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond. Matt was one of the co-authors of the Eurospy Guide and really knows his stuff. Here he presents an overview of one of the most popular Eurospy stars, Giorgio Ardisson.

As a refresher, here are my reviews from Passport To Hell (1965) and Operation Counterspy (1966).

Here’s the spiel.

ardissonGiorgio Ardisson might not be the best known actor in the world; outside Italy his name was almost totally unknown and even in his own country his brush with fame was short-lived. But his career, which lasted from the end of the 1950s to the early 1990s, was fascinating. Not just because of the sheer variety of films and filmmakers that he was involved with, but because in many ways his story is also the story of Italian film itself.

He started out in the glory years of cinema in Rome, when it was the glamorous centre of a thriving and much respected industry, working in a variety of popular genres including peplums, swashbucklers and comedies. While the films of Sergio Leone were propelling Italian popular cinema onto a world stage, Ardisson carved out his own niche with a series of exceedingly profitable spy films which sold across the world. For a few years he was much in demand with producers looking for a lead actor with an American look. But then, with the arrival of the 1970s, things changed. Budgets dried up, genre lifespans reduced drastically and distribution networks collapsed. There was less call for good looking leading men as a grittier, more downbeat trend took hold of Italian cinema. So Ardisson re-crafted himself as a supporting actor in an increasingly peculiar selection of weird and wonderful films. Many of these were seen by almost nobody, many are still impossible to find and many of them are entirely rubbish.

This book is the first detailed look at the curious career of Giorgio Ardisson, including reviews of his most important films, interview material – much of which is published in English for the first time – and contemporary reviews. It’s lavishly illustrated throughout, including eight pages in full colour.

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond is available from the Wild Eye Shop.

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

Country: Italy / France
Starring: Roger Browne, Fabienne Dali, Massimo Serato, Dina De Santis, Rosalba Neri, Antonio Gradoli, Mino Doro
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
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 stars 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.

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

Code 7, Victim 5!

Just a heads up (courtesy of Jason Murphy), that the 1960’s spy thriller, Code 7, Victim 5! will be released by Network in August as Victim Five.

Here’s the spiel from the Network site:

Former Tarzan Lex Barker, Walter Rilla and Ronald Fraser star in a mid-sixties British thriller that takes full advantage of its spectacular South African setting, showcasing sumptuous imagery from cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. Blending breathtaking scenery, action and romance, Victim Five is available here in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements.

When a millionaire’s beloved valet is slain, suave American PI Steve Martin is hired to find the killer. His investigation takes him to Cape Town, where he learns the murder was linked to a group of Nazi prisoners of war who never returned to Germany; vertiginous car chases, knife-wielding assailants, sharks, lions and stampeding ostriches are just a few of the perils he encounters in his search for the truth!

You can read full details here.

Code 7, Victim 5!

From Hong Kong With Love

From Hong Kong With Love (Original Title: Bon Baisers De Hong Kong) is a film I have been trying to track down for years. It is naturally enough, a Bond spoof, and it features Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell (which makes it an interesting curio for Bond fans).

I have never found an English version of it – but on Youtube, there is this French version. I have only watched the first five minutes (I have to hit the road today, and return to Melbourne), but the set up at least, is very easy to follow. Enjoy.

From Hong Kong With Love

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)

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)

Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Exhibition

The Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive in collaboration with Aberystwyth Arts Centre is proud to present a programme of Eurospy themed events to coincide with the exhibition

KISS KISS KILL KILL: THE GRAPHIC ART AND FORGOTTEN SPY FILMS OF COLD WAR EUROPE on show in Gallery 2, The Aberystwyth Arts Centre 29th Sept 2012 –10th Nov 2012.

EUROSPY DAY
SAT 6TH OCTOBER 2012
ABERYSTWYTH ARTS CENTRE CINEMA
Penglais Road, Aberystwyth SY23 3DE

Tickets: £8 for the Day – access to all events.

Arts Centre Box Office (01970) 62 32 32 Open Mon-Sat 10am – 8pm / Sun 1.30pm – 5.30pm

http://www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk/

 

PROGRAMME

4.15 pm Illustrated Talk – The European-ness of Eurospy

Illustrated with 400 high resolution images from the Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive, curator Richard Rhys Davies gives an hour long presentation that examines the spy film myth. Focusing on the Eurospy genre, the talk will reveal how Eurospy melds European identity, heroic tradition and technology into a unique cultural entity.

5.45 pm 35mm Film Screening – Deadlier than the Male (1966)

Recently shown on the beach at Cannes by Quentin Tarantino, this 60s spy gem was voted top ten by The Eurospy Guide. A dizzying kaleidoscope of deadly spy girls, terrorism, Mediterranean excitement, espionage thrills and dangerous grooves, Deadlier then the Male is essential viewing.

7.45 pm Illustrated Talk – Diabolik: European Icon

An illustrated talk by Richard Rhys Davies charting the production and influence of Mario Bava’s seminal Diabolik.

8.00 pm 35mm Film Screening – Diabolik aka Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Diabolik is possibly the coolest film ever made. A fabulous mash up of master criminal, super-spy and psychedelic genres, horror maestro Mario Bava set the benchmark for the cool sixties flick.

THE EXHIBITION

GALLERY 2 ABERYSTWYTH ARTS CENTRE

KISS KISS KILL KILL: THE GRAPHIC ART AND FORGOTTEN SPY FILMS OF COLD WAR EUROPE

An Exhibition of 50s, 60s and 70s Spy Film Posters from The Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive

Curated by Richard Rhys Davies

This exciting exhibition will appeal to everyone who loves Eurospy and the spy film genre. The exhibition shows a selection of posters from all over Europe including amazing artwork for many forgotten Soviet bloc films. The very different styles of graphic artwork provide a detailed picture of European taste, national identity and politics during the Cold War.

Kiss Kiss Kill Kill at Aberystwyth Arts Centre is a full remix of a touring exhibition first developed in partnership with UH Galleries and the Goethe-Institut, London. The new show presents new acquisitions previously unseen in addition to newly restored pieces from the original show. Full colour exhibition catalogue available priced £24.99.

To see the full archive visit http://www.kisskisskillkillarchive.com/

For images / press contact info@kisskisskillkillarchive.com

Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Exhibition

From Paris With Love (2009)

Release Year: 2009
Country: France
Director: Pierre Morrel
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden
Music: David Buckley

From Paris With Love is another fast paced thriller from Luc Besson’s Europacorp – the company behind Taken, The Transporter series, 22 Bullets, Crimson Rivers, District 13 and far too many others to mention. What I really like about Europacorp is that they have taken a genre that is dying in Hollywood – that being the B-Grade action film (everything tries to be a blockbuster these days) – and re-invented it in Europe. And the films work. They aren’t high art. They are throwaway pop confections, but they deliver on the action and thrills – and are usually buoyed by a big name actor whose star is on the wain (but not worthless). Much like the Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s revitalised some aging American actors careers, Europacorp has added some dash to Liam Neeson, Jean Reno and John Travolta’s careers. Not that these guys were struggling for work, but they certainly weren’t the box-office draws that they were ten years ago.

From Paris With Love first introduces James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who works at the US Embassy in Paris, as an aid to the Ambassador. But beside that, he is also a covert operative for an un-named US intelligence agency. However, Reece is not a high level operative at all. His missions routinely involve changing the number plates for cars that other more senior operatives will use in their missions. He is little more than a gopher.

One day he gets his chance to prove himself when he is asked to partner (for that read ‘chauffeur’) foul-mouthed agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta). It appears that Wax has run afoul of French customs attempting to smuggle some energy drinks into the country. Reece comes to the rescue by using his embassy position to declare the energy drinks are in fact ‘diplomatic mail’. On route back from the airport, Wax reveals that the cans actually hid the pieces to his pistol, which he quickly reassembles. Then he demands to be taken to a Chinese restaurant for some Egg Fu Yong. Within moments Wax has picked a fight with the waiter and is shooting up the place. The restaurant happens to be a front for a cocaine distribution network, and the staff fight back with machine guns. Reece quickly realises that he may be in over his head, and field work may be considerably different to what he expected.

From then on, the film is a fast paced thrill ride where Wax, and Reece tear apart Paris – well Wax tries to tear it apart, and Reece operates as ‘damage control’ and possibly a conscience for Wax’s excessive and aggressive approach to his anti-terrorist activities. Yes, I know that cocaine distribution isn’t really a terrorist activity, but as the two operatives follow the distribution chain, they find out there is more to the network than they first realised.

Enjoyment from watching From Paris With Love depends on one thing, and that is if you enjoy Travolta’s foul-mouthed and furious performance. I for one, didn’t mind it, and he carries the film with his outbursts of violence and at times hilarious dialogue. But I can see how he could rub some viewers the wrong way, and as such their enjoyment of the film would be diminished.

From Paris With Love won’t change your life, but it delivers fast paced thrills, explosions, gun play and car crashes. The plot twist, any seasoned viewer will spot a mile off, but that shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film. Switch your brain to neutral and enjoy the ride.

From Paris With Love (2009)