The Karate Killers (1967)

AKA: The Five Daughters Affair
United States
Director: Barry Shear

Starring: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Herbert Lom, Curt Jurgens, Telly Savalas, Jill Ireland, Terry-Thomas, Kim Darby, Diane McBain, Leo G. Carroll, Danielle De Metz

Music: Gerald Fried
The Man From UNCLE theme by Jerry Goldsmith

There are many reasons why this film could be regarded as the worst of The Man From UNCLE films – because of the way the story is structured, it is repetitive and episodic, rather than a fluid and cohesive piece of cinema. Having said that, and throwing away all the rulebooks, this movie has to be my favourite in the series. It’s an absolute hoot.

The film opens with – not one, but three autogyros flying over head – autogyros? Think ‘Little Nellie’ from You Only Live Twice. Down below on a winding mountain road in a sporty blue car are Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). From above the autogyros start peppering our intrepid UNCLE agents with rockets. Due to there choice of car, it appears that the UNCLE boys can’t just roll down the windows and shoot back, they have to open the doors, and these are top opening doors, so Napoleon’s view of his overhead attackers is impeded. So how do they get out of this tricky situation? Illya drives the car into a tunnel. That’s it! I guess they waited the for the autogyros to run low on petrol and go home.

Now as you have no doubt guessed, the guys in the autogyros were THRUSH agents and they were trying to stop Illya and Napoleon from visiting Dr. Simon True who is a scientist who has been working on a vital desalinisation project. During the experiment, as Napoleon and Illya watch, Professor True has a heart attack. Just before he dies, he whispers that his ‘formula’ for the experiment has been passed to the ‘four winds’.

Meanwhile, Professor True’s widow, Amanda (Joan Crawford) is being consoled by her lover, Randolph (Herbert Lom). But Randolph’s care and affection only stretches so far when he can’t find a copy of the Professor’s formula – as that is all he was after. He only had an affair with Amanda so he could get the formula. He questions her and she refuses to co-operate. This is where Randolph starts getting rough – he calls in a band of THRUSH agents in red skivvies with black leather vests and gloves. These guys are the ‘Karate Killers’ from the title and they tear the place a part, and kill Amanda.

The men from UNCLE turn up too late with the Professor’s youngest daughter, Sandra True (Kim Darby). She surmises that the ‘four winds’ that the formula has been scattered to, are in fact Professor True’s four errant step daughters. The first of these daughters, Margo (Diane McBain) is now living in Italy – married to Count Valeriano De Fanzini (Telly Savalas). The Count is an unstable and jealous man and keeps Margo locked up, naked, in an attic. When Napoleon and Illya turn up with Sandra in tow, they don’t quite receive the welcome they expected. The situation gets worse when Randolph turns up the his squad of Karate Killers.

After a slap stick fight sequence, Margo gives the men from UNCLE a photo that her step father had sent to her. In the background of the photo, on a chalk board is part of a formula. On it’s own it doesn’t mean too much, but all of the step daughters have a piece of the formula, and once they have all the pieces they can work out Professor True’s plan for desalinisation.

The next daughter, Imogene (Jill Ireland) is in London, and all parties head across to the UK for the next part of the story. When we first meet Imogene, she has just been arrested – by Terry-Thomas – for indecent exposure. Of course Randolph turns up.

After that we head to the Swiss Alps and the Daughter is Yvonne (Danielle De Metz). She is entangled in a relationship with wealthy gigolo, Carl Von Kesser (Curt Jurgens). And once again Randolph turns up. As I mentioned at the opening, the story is rather repetitive, with our men from UNCLE traipsing across the globe tracking down one step daughter after another – and always Randolph and his cronies are on hand to throw a spanner in the works. But the repetition is not really a hurdle because each episode is fun, and has a great cast.

It’s probably not logical, but I rate this Man From UNCLE movie pretty highly. It is perfect lightweight spy entertainment with plenty of cliff hanger moments, which the boys have to extricate themselves from. This is also one of the more tongue-in-cheek movies of the series. The Man From UNCLE always had a healthy does of comedy thrown into the mix, but this is just swinging sixties excess at its best!

The Karate Killers (1967)

To Trap A Spy (1965)

Country: United States
Director: Don Medford
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Luciana Paluzzi, Patricia Crowley, Fritz Weaver, David McCallum, William Marshall, Ivan Dixon, Will Kuluva, Miguel Landa
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

To Trap A Spy was the first of The Man From UNCLE movies. Like all the UNCLE movies, it was put together from two episodes of the television series. The episodes for this film were ‘The Vulcan Affair’ and ‘The Four Steps Affair’. Because they were two separate stories, certain liberties were taken when they were edited together. One of the strangest, is that the villains of the piece are an outfit called WASP. But if you listen carefully and watch the actors lips, you can see that this is an overdub. The villains were originally THRUSH.

The show starts with a car skidding to a halt on Old Post Road in Arlington, Virginia. The driver, who happens to be Agent Lancer (Miguel Landa) from UNCLE has been shot in the stomach. He staggers from the car and enters an overgrown estate. As he makes his way towards the house, another car pulls up and two armed WASP operatives get out and follow. Lancer makes it to the house and enters, locking the door behind him. He calls for Angela, but nobody responds. He climbs the stairs to the second floor and burns the secret information he was carrying in the fireplace. Then he phones UNCLE headquarters direct. He passes on the following information to Mr. Allison (Will Kuluva), the head of UNCLE: ‘When the Premier of Western Natsumba visits the plant, they’re going to assassinate…’ The phone line is cut before he can finish his message.

Then, from out of the bathroom, Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) walks into the room. She is shocked to see Lancer this way, and quickly agrees to help him make it out of the house and to a doctors. Their plan is to leave by the top window and climb out over the roof. As Lancer prepares to leave, Angela flicks ona light switch, which aloows Lancer’s silhouette to be clearly seen in the window. One of the WASP goons, armed with a machine gun (earlier they were only carrying pistols!) mows Lancer down. It appears that Angela wasn’t a nice girl after all, and is working for WASP. But WASP realise that they didn’t stop all of Lancer’s message to UNCLE HQ, and plan to do something about it.

In a brazen assault on UNCLE Headquarters, one of the WASP operatives walks into Del Floras tailors, and throws his overcoat over the security screen. Pretending to be removing his jacket for repairs, he gasses the attendant and then opens the door for three other WASP agents. They go the fitting room and pull down one of the coat hooks. The secret entrance to UNCLE HQ slides open. One of the men quickly rushes inside and grabs the girl on the reception desk before she can raise the alarm. She is then gassed, rendering her unconcious. One WASP operative remains in Del Floras. Another takes his position at the reception desk, and the other two, armed with guns and explosive move into HQ towards Mr. Allison’s office.

As the intruders make their way through the complex, they are discovered and an alarm goes off. Three of the WASP agents are captured but one makes it to Allison’s office. But inside he finds Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) protected by walls of bullet proof glass. Solo quickly navigates the maze of glass and shoots the intruder.

After the incident, Mr Allison briefs Solo on his new mission. He is take over from Agent Lancer. It appears that the Premier of Western Natsumba, Ashumen (William Marshall) is in America to visit the chemical plant of Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver). The Premier believes that Vulcan plans to build a similar plant in his small country and welcomes the investment. The truth, though, is rather more sinister. Vulcan’s Global Chemical Corporation is a front for WASP, and when the Premier tours the plant WASP will assassinate him.

Solo enlists the aid of average American housewife, Elaine May Donaldson (Patricia Crowley) in his bid to thwart Vulcan. At college, Elaine used to go out with Vulcan, and all these years later he still carries a torch for her. Solo uses her to get close to Vulcan quickly, which she does successfully.

For fans of David McCallum, and his character Illya Kuryakin, unfortunately he doesn’t appear much. He has two short scenes at the start. But towards the end of the film, if you look quickly, there is an appearance as one of Vulcan’s goons by Richard Kiel, who is best remembered as ‘Jaws’ in the Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Richard Kiel, in his autobiography, ‘Making It BIG In The Movies’ (Reynolds & Hearn, London 2002) had this to say:

‘I must say that the quality of TV shows like The Man From UNCLE and I,Spy far exceeded the quality of movies like A Man Called Dagger or Las Vegas Hillbillys, and I learned much more about acting from working on the TV shows.’

So although Kiel’s part is small, any one who has had the misfortune of sitting through the dreadful A Man Called Dagger will understand exactly what he is talking about. The other Bond Alumni is the beautiful Luciana Paluzzi, who has the substantial part as Angela. Paluzzi played bad girl Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, and her role here is very similar.

To Trap A Spy is a pretty sprightly movie, but it’s television origins are obvious. If you’re a fan of The Man From UNCLE series, then of course, this film will be highly entertaining. But if you’re looking for big screen adventure and thrills with amazing stunts, cool gadgets, and an explosive finale then you may be dissapointed in this production.

To Trap A Spy (1965)

The Hour Of The Assassin (1987)

Director: Luis Llosa
Starring: Erik Estrada, Robert Vaughn, Alfred Alvarex Calderon, Orlando Sacho, Francisco Giraldo
Music: Fred Myrow

This South American derivative of The Day Of The Jackal is loud, poorly directed, and poorly edited. It’s rare, even when I am watching a bad film (and heaven knows I watch enough of those), that I don’t find something to enjoy, but by the 40 minute mark of this turkey, I just wanted the movie to end. Maybe if The Hour Of The Assassin had been tightened up, so it actually only ran for an hour, then maybe I wouldn’t be so down on this movie. But this production is bottom of the barrel.

The movie is set in the fictitious South American country of San Pedro, and they have just elected a new President, Roberto Villaverde (Francisco Giraldo). Villaverde, who has yet to be inaugurated, plans sweeping reform to the country, leading it towards democracy. Naturally, such radical changes are not welcomed by those who like the status quo.

The film opens with the President-elect, surrounded by heavy security, brushing past the press to his car. Then an escorted motorcade weaves through the streets. A cadre of villains have positioned themselves along the motorcades route, and ambush the President-elects car. At the centre of the ambush is a school bus full of kids, which the ambushers have hijacked. It’s hard to return fire at a bus load of kids.

Villaverde’s car breaks out of the blockade and a high speed pursuit and gun battle ensues. Its a clumsily edited, noisy and particularly uninspired sequence. The highlight, is when the Presidential vehicle collides with a fruit vendors stall. How many times have you seen a car chase, where a vehicle collides with a fruit vendors stall?

Eventually all the bad guys are dead except one. He had been on a motorbike, and now is lying injured on the road. The Chief of Security walks up to the bad guy and shoots him, only after telling him that he ‘blew it!’ So now we know who the bad guy is – the Chief of Security. But Villaverde is safe for now, but he will go into hiding until the inauguration.

The Security Chief meets with a bunch of other military officials who were also behind the attempt on the Villaverde’s life. This had been their third assassination attempt that had failed. They need a new strategy, and decide to call in a specialist. This man is Martin Fierro (Erik Estrada).

Arriving in San Pedro is Sam Merrick (Robert Vaughn). Merrick is an American CIA agent, and he believes another attempt will be made on Villaverde’s life. He also realises that group assassinations haven’t worked, so most likely, the next attempt will be made by a single sniper on inauguration day. Merrick then sets out to find who that man could be.

The Security Chief arranges for Fierro to get across the border without any paperwork. Merrick was expecting something like this, and questions one of the border patrol guards. Just as the guard is about to reveal who has organised for Fierro to get through, he is shot dead.

Just in the interests of a fair-minded review, I have tried to find some positives in this movie. Even then it’s a bit of a double edged sword. Robert Vaughn’s performance in this film is quite okay, and he shows he still has screen charisma, but he is too old for this shit. The other passable element is the pan flute on the soundtrack. It’s not an instrument that we are used to hearing in an action film and it has a nice feel. But it is only used for the peaceful moments.. For the action scenes, the score reverts to synth rock which is appalling.

I’d give The Hour Of The Assassin a miss.

The Hour Of The Assassin (1987)

The Spy With My Face (1965)

Country: United States
AKA: The Double Affair
Director: by John Newland
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Senta Berger, David McCallum, Leo G. Carrol
Music: Morton Stevens
‘The Man From UNCLE Theme’ by Jerry Goldsmith

The Spy With My Face is the second Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. All the movies in the series were cobbled together from episodes of the television series with a small amount of extra footage added to pad them out. This film is made from The Double Affair and The Four Steps Affair. The movie opens in Australia, North of Melbourne, we are informed. Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) in conjunction with the Australian chapter of U.N.C.L.E., led by Kit Kiteridge (Donald Harron) engage a compound of T.H.R.U.S.H. agents. The mission is successful, but Kiteridge is injured when he intercepts the path of a knife thrown at Solo.

Strangely, somebody has hidden cameras in the compound and are filming the assault. Someone is interested in Solo. It was also a test to see how fast, U.N.C.L.E. can neutralise their twelve man team.

We cut to an airplane. Inside are three people. The first is the beautiful Serena (Senta Berger), next is Darius Two (Michael Evans), and the last man’s face is hidden beneath a layer of bandages. The title of this movie, probably gives away who is under the bandages.

After the mission in Australia, Solo engages in a little R & R. He calls one of his numerous girlfriends, Sandy (Sharon Farrell), who happens to be an airline hostess, and makes a date. But Solo ends up being detained breaking T.H.R.U.S.H. codes. Sandy is understandably angry when Solo finally does turn up.

Meanwhile, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) has been working late as well. As he leaves U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, he is attacked by two toy robots. Doesn’t sound very threatening, does it? Naturally Kuryakin disables the toys.

The next day, Solo is trying to repair his relationship with Sandy. He takes her to dinner at an exclusive restaurant. During the meal, Solo is called to the phone. Selena is waiting for him at the receiver. They talk, but Sandy feels neglected and comes to see where her dinner companion has got to. She isn’t happy to see him with another woman. Solo ends up wearing a plate of spaghetti and Sandy disappears into the night. But there’s still Selena. Solo goes home with her, has a shower and washes off his dinner. Then the doorbell rings. At the door is Solo’s doppelganger. Before he can react, the real Solo is gassed and put on a plane to Zurich. The impostor takes Solo’s place.

At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, the impostor is briefed on the August Affair, a mission which will take him and Kuryakin to Washington to meet two other agents and retrieve a suitcase. Inside the suitcase is the combination to a top secret vault. The vault’s combination is changed every August (hence, The August Affair). What’s inside the vault? Well that’s the big secret!

Unbeknownst to the two agents, they are being supplied backup in the form of agent Kitt Kitteridge, who has recovered from his knife wound. He is to protect the suitcase couriers from ambush.

Solo’s double and Kuryakin collect the suitcase, which is handcuffed to Solo’s wrist, from Washington, along with another two escort agents, and then board another plane bound for Switzerland. But guess who is one of the hostess’ on the flight. But of course it is Sandy. The fake Solo doesn’t recognise her. Needless to say she is a little peeved and spills not coffee on him. The impostor goes to the bathroom to clean up, but in fact opens the case, photographs it’s contents and closes it all up again. But he has made a mistake. One of the buttons from his jacket has fallen off and is now shut in the locked case.

Kitteridge realises all isn’t as it seems. He suspects that Solo may be an impostor, but before he can do anything about it, he is killed by a cyanide cigarette. Smoking kills once again.

This is where the films starts to get interesting and a little trippy. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Generally wasn’t considered to be a very psychedelic series, but this instalment has some weird things going on underground and some coloured filters are given a good workout. I’ll leave the synopsis at this point, but any film featuring two Napoleon Solos is heading to an inevitable climax.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. films, while being entertaining in their low-budget kind of way, are generally pretty poor. The pace often lags and the sets look studio bound. This film really takes it’s time in building up to the climax, and it can be quite frustrating watching the story. You know where it’s going but it takes so long to get there.

But fans of the series, regardless of what I say, will generally enjoy this movie. Others will find this movie a bit of a chore to sit through.

The Spy With My Face (1965)