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!

Manhunt (1972)

A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

A Lovely Way to DieCountry: United States
Director: David Lowell Rich
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Sylva Koscina, Eli Wallach, Kenneth Haig, William Roerick, Ralph Waite, Ali MacGraw
Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Title song: ‘A Lovely Way To Die’ sung by Marge Dodson

A Lovely Way To Die is perfect lightweight sixties popcorn fair. Every sixties cliché is present from the seriously swinging title song (with silly lyrics), to the mod fashions and sets, and even the plot, but it doesn’t really matter that you’ve seen these setups before. They only add to the rich swingin’ timecapsule. As the story is a murder / mystery, I’ll keep the synopsis rather shallow so as not to spoil the film for those who chose to seek it out in the future.

The film opens as a racetrack. For us viewers, there are two separate story lines to begin with. Don’t worry they converge pretty quickly. The first story line belongs to Detective Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas) or ‘Sky’ as everybody calls him. Sky happens to be on leave and is doing a spot of gambling and womanising – not necessarily in that order. The other storyline involves Loren and Rena Westabrook (William Roerick & Sylva Koscina). They are a filthy rich couple who own one of the horses running that day. Their horse wins, and they accept a nice trophy cup and get their photos taken for the society pages of the local paper.

After the race, Sky goes home with a dolly bird he met at the track. After testing the resilience of the mattress springs, the couple then head to a Chinese restaurant for a meal. Also at the restaurant are several mobsters. Even though Sky is off duty, he doesn’t like mobsters and decides to confront them. The conversation doesn’t go well, and Sky ends up in a fist fight. Even though he is outnumbered, Sky handles himself admirably, even if he does destroy the restaurant in the process.

Meanwhile the Westabrook’s are on the way home by car. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that the Westabrooks cannot stand each other. He is much older than her – she probably married him for his money – but now the novelty has worn off for both of them. Simply to antagonise her husband, Rena lets her scarf fly off in the wind as they drive (the car is a convertible). Loren has to stop and march back to pick up the scarf. As they continue their journey, as Loren attempts to overtake a slow moving truck on a narrow road, he ends up bogged in a ditch. Rena waits in the car, while Loren walks to the nearest house to get help.

Later that evening at the Westabrook’s palatial estate, Loren is taking a late night swim. As he dives from the high board, a shot rings out, and he hits the water dead. Where is Mrs. Westabrook? Well, she is off with young swinger Jonathan Fleming (Kenneth Haig).

The next day, Sky is called into police headquarters. He is to be dragged over the coals for beating up on the mobsters. I seems one of them is in a coma, and the another has a broken jaw. It seems that this isn’t the only physical transgression has made in his career. In fact, in the last year he has made 112 arrests, but half have needed medical attention. It just screams ‘police brutality’ doesn’t it? The assistant DA is waiting is waiting for him to strip him down. But Sky doesn’t give him the opportunity. He walks into the office and hands in his badge.

Now, Sky is looking for a job, and fast talking attorney, Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) has one for him. Rena Westabrook and Jonathan Fleming have been arrested for the murder of Loren Westabrook. And the evidence seems quite compelling. Tennessee needs someone to act as bodyguard for Rena Westabrook, while she stands trial. Sky thinks she is guilty but takes the job anyway. And it won’t surprise anyone when I say that these two slowly are drawn together.

The story is pretty clichéd – old husband / young wife / young lover – and it does get a little over wrought at the end, but hey, you come to expect these things. Douglas is at his best as the cynical, tough ex-cop, and Sylva Koscina looks absolutely gorgeous in every scene, outfitted in some of the best translucent sixties fashion. As I said at the top, this film is lightweight and certainly not a long lost classic, but it is damn fine entertainment if you love sixties cinema (and I really do).

A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

Judex (1963)

Country: France / Italy
Director: Georges Franju
Starring: Channing Pollock, Francine Bergé, Edith Scob, Théo Sarapo, Sylva Koscina, René Génin
Music: Maurice Jarre

As usual, I am coming at this review arse-about. This film is a remake of a silent, twelve-part French movie serial that was released in 1916. I have not seen the original serial, so I have to look at the film as a stand alone piece, without the benefit and knowledge of having seen the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because each film should be able to stand on it’s own, without the viewer being a learned student of French cinema.

Since this film is a remake, I guess a little bit of history is required. Judex is the Latin word for ‘Judge’ or ‘upholder of the law’, and the title character is cloaked avenger who rights a few wrongs. The original serial was directed by Louis Feuillade. Feuillade created the character (with writer Arthur Bernéde) as a response to negative criticism of two of his earlier serials, Fantomas and Les Vampires. This 1963 film, shot in black and white, and utilising inter-titles, is a loving homage to the original serial.

The film opens on Mr. Favraux, who is a banker with a shady past. He has just received an ominous letter from somebody calling themselves ‘Judex’. The note reads: ‘Mr. Favraux, I order you to atone for your sins by handing over half your fortune to your victims. You have until six o’clock tomorrow evening to comply. Judex.’ Favraux pays little attention to the note, confident that ‘Judex’ is just a swindler trying to scare him. But non-the-less, Favraux hires Mr. Cocantin, a private detective to look into the matter.

Favraux’s reason for hiring Cocantin is two fold. Not only does he have to investigate Judex, but also provide security for his daughter’s engagement party, which is being held on the following day. His daughter, Jacqeline is set to marry Viscount Amaury de la Rochefontaine. During the celebration, there will be a lot of people at Favraux’s chateau and he doesn’t want any trouble.

Later that day, a vagabond turns up on Favraux’s doorstep. The man claims that he went to prison for Favraux, and in return his family was supposed to be ‘looked after’. Instead, Favraux allowed the vagabond’s wife to die destitute and his son to go missing. Favraux laughs off the man’s claims as that of a rambling lunatic. But later, he gets into his car and follows the vagabond. On a deserted stretch of road as the vagabond walks to town, Favraux runs him down, killing him.

Upon his return to the chateau, Favraux receives his second communiqué from Judex. This time is says that if he doesn’t acquiesce to Judex demands then he will be struck down at midnight, on the following day.

Jacqeline’s engagement party is a surreal affair. It is a masked ball, with many people wearing oversized bird-head masks. Favraux, himself wears a giant eagles head, which he takes off at midnight to make a speech to the assembled crowd. As he talks, he has a heart attack and dies.

Afterwards, Jacqueline is to inherit all of Favraux’s money, but once she finds out how he acquired his wealth, she wishes no part of it. The same cannot be said of all of Favreaux’s servants. Marie Verdier, who worked as a tutor to Favraux’s grandchildren wants to get her hands on the money – or even the information with which Favraux had been able to use as leverage, while amassing his fortune. But this isn’t just a sudden shift in character for Marie Verdier. She is in fact, arch villainess Diana Monti, who controls a small gang of evil doers. When see isn’t tutoring, she is dressed in a black cat-suit and committing crime.

Believing that the way to Favraux’s fortune is through Jacqueline, Diana hatches a scheme to capture her. In town, posing as a nun, Diana injects Jacqueline with a potion that knocks her out. Then acting as a good Samaritan, she offers assistance and then spirits her away in the back of an ambulance.

I have already mentioned that the original Judex was made by Feillade in response to negative criticism to his Fantomas serial. There’s a nice little scene that goes to lengths to point out that Judex and Fantomas are the antithesis of each other. During the scene, Detective Cocantin is reading aloud a scene from a pulp Fantomas novel. The scene he describes features both Fantomas and Commissioner Juvé dressed as nuns. Juxtaposing this scene, with the scene of Diana Monti posing as nun, is it fair to assume that Diana is Fantomas?

But back to the story – now Judex has his hands full tracking down the ever resourceful and beguiling – but totally evil – Diana and rescuing Jacqueline. Judex as a hero, or avenger, is pretty piss-weak. Whenever there is trouble, he sends somebody off to get men from the town rather than handling the situation itself. When later, he actually gets involved in the action – that being smashing through a window to surprise the villains – he immediately gets clocked over the head with a piece of firewood, and subsequently captured.

If you want heroics, you have to wait for the eighty-two minute mark in the film, when a circus acrobat named Daisy enters the picture. Daisy is played by Yugoslavian beauty Sylva Koscina – and for me that sufficient reason to watch this film (over and over). As Judex has been captured, someone must save the day, and it’s Daisy who scales a wall, dressed in her skimpy acrobats costume, and then takes on the diabolical Diana Monti (or should I call her Fantomadame?) in a life and death battle on the roof of an old dilapidated building. The last twenty minutes of this film is pretty good and we ‘finally’ get the payoff that this film has been promising during its whole running time.

Unfortunately, this film is a homage to the original serial, and while it may be considered a fantastic re-envisioning for fans of that serial, for newcomers like myself, the visual shorthand employed in the film, at times renders the plot almost in comprehensible. I guess this is the price you pay when you condense a three hundred minute serial into a one hundred minute film. But I guess similar visual shorthand is used in the Sherlock Holmes films, which many of us are more familiar with. Very little time is taken to establish who Holmes, Watson and even Professor Moriarty are, because we are familiar with the characters. Just a shot of a man in a deerstalker hat and cloak says so much. Maybe in France, seeing a gent, dressed in black, with a long flowing cloak and a wide brimmed hat says volumes, and very little exposition is needed. Personally, in this film, I wanted to spend more time with Judex and find out who he was – why does he do what he does. These elements were not sufficiently explained.

While I am not willing to can Judex, because my knowledge base is poor, and possibly culturally I am not in tune with the character, I found the film to be rather cold, lacking action and adventure – which is what you want from a mysterious cloaked avenger – and its storyline muddled. Its biggest crime though, is that Judex isn’t on the screen enough, righting wrongs.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

Judex (1963)

A Lovely Way To Die

LWTDA Lovely Way To Die is perfect lightweight sixties popcorn fair. Every sixties cliché is present from the seriously swinging title song (with silly lyrics), to the mod fashions and sets, and even the plot, but it doesn’t really matter that you’ve seen these setups before. They only add to the rich swingin’ timecapsule. As the story is a murder / mystery, I’ll keep the synopsis rather shallow so as not to spoil the film for those who chose to seek it out in the future.

The film opens as a racetrack. For us viewers, there are two separate story lines to begin with. Don’t worry they converge pretty quickly. The first story line belongs to Detective Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas) or ‘Sky’ as everybody calls him. Sky happens to be on leave and is doing a spot of gambling and womanising – not necessarily in that order. The other storyline involves Loren and Rena Westabrook (William Roerick & Sylva Koscina). They are a filthy rich couple who own one of the horses running that day. Their horse wins, and they accept a nice trophy cup and get their photos taken for the society pages of the local paper.

After the race, Sky goes home with a dolly bird he met at the track. After testing the resilience of the mattress springs, the couple then head to a Chinese restaurant for a meal. Also at the restaurant are several mobsters. Even though Sky is off duty, he doesn’t like mobsters and decides to confront them. The conversation doesn’t go well, and Sky ends up in a fist fight. Even though he is outnumbered, Sky handles himself admirably, even if he does destroy the restaurant in the process.

Meanwhile the Westabrook’s are on the way home by car. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that the Westabrooks cannot stand each other. He is much older than her – she probably married him for his money – but now the novelty has worn off for both of them. Simply to antagonise her husband, Rena lets her scarf fly off in the wind as they drive (the car is a convertible). Loren has to stop and march back to pick up the scarf. As they continue their journey, as Loren attempts to overtake a slow moving truck on a narrow road, he ends up bogged in a ditch. Rena waits in the car, while Loren walks to the nearest house to get help.

Later that evening at the Westabrook’s palatial estate, Loren is taking a late night swim. As he dives from the high board, a shot rings out, and he hits the water dead. Where is Mrs. Westabrook? Well, she is off with young swinger Jonathan Fleming (Kenneth Haig).

The next day, Sky is called into police headquarters. He is to be dragged over the coals for beating up on the mobsters. I seems one of them is in a coma, and the another has a broken jaw. It seems that this isn’t the only physical transgression has made in his career. In fact, in the last year he has made 112 arrests, but half have needed medical attention. It just screams ‘police brutality’ doesn’t it? The assistant DA is waiting is waiting for him to strip him down. But Sky doesn’t give him the opportunity. He walks into the office and hands in his badge.

Now, Sky is looking for a job, and fast talking attorney, Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) has one for him. Rena Westabrook and Jonathan Fleming have been arrested for the murder of Loren Westabrook. And the evidence seems quite compelling. Tennessee needs someone to act as bodyguard for Rena Westabrook, while she stands trial. Sky thinks she is guilty but takes the job anyway. And it won’t surprise anyone when I say that these two slowly are drawn together.

The story is pretty clichéd – old husband / young wife / young lover – and it does get a little over wrought at the end, but hey, you come to expect these things. Douglas is at his best as the cynical, tough ex-cop, and Sylva Koscina looks absolutely gorgeous in every scene, outfitted in some of the best translucent sixties fashion. As I said at the top, this film is lightweight and certainly not a long lost classic, but it is damn fine entertainment if you love sixties cinema (and I really do).

A Lovely Way To Die

Manhunt

ManhuntSylva Koscina is an actress I am particularly fond of. But 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.

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.

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 (Adolpho 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.

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.

*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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 disappointing. 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!

Manhunt

Hot Enough For June (1964)

Country: England
Directed by
Ralph Thomas
Dirk Bogarde, Sylva Koscina, Robert Morley, Leo McKern, Roger Delgado, John LeMesurier, Richard Pasco, Eric Pohlmann, Richard Vernon, Amanda Grinling, Noel Harrison, Derek Nimmo
Music by Angelo Lavagnino

Some people do not like the films of producer Betty E. Box, and director Ralph Thomas. I am not one of them. I think they are some of the more enjoyable examples of sixties British cinema. Amongst their output are films like The Thirty Nine Steps (the Kenneth More version), The High Commissioner, Deadlier Than The Male and Some Girls Do. Okay, they are all spy films and I have a penchant for spy films, so that makes me a tad biased.

The film opens with Roger Allsop (John Le Mesurier) turning up at MI6 headquarters. He walks down a long corridor to a large counter. Onto the counter he places a large black leather bag and starts to retrieve items from it. First there are several passports, then a shoe with a hollowed out heel, a revolver, and lastly a lucky rabbit’s foot. Although this foot didn’t bring too much luck to it’s owner. You see these are the personal effects of a secret agent who has just been killed. The attendant behind the counter picks up the items and places them in a cubby hole which has the number 007 allocated to it. Now MI6 need a replacement.

Enter Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde). Whistler is an unemployed writer who turns up at the Labour Exchange to collect his unemployment benefits. Much to his chagrin, rather than just collecting his money, he is also sent to a job interview at a glass manufacturing company. This glass company is actually a front for MI6, and it is headed by Colonel Cunliffe (Robert Morley).

Whistler turns up for his job interview late, hoping that would dissuade them for employing him. But Cunliffe and MI6 need a man who speaks Czech for their next mission to Prague and Whistler, who is bi-lingual seems like the perfect man for the job. Whistler really doesn’t want the work, but changes his mind when Cunliffe offers him a particularly obscene amount of money as a salary.

So next Whistler is off to Prague to meet Mr. Galushka (Eric Polmann), the head of the state run Zapopaki Glass Works. Whistler he been told that the instructions for a new glass making technique with be handed to him at the works, but he must identify himself with the phrase, “It’s hot enough for June.” The contact in Prague will respond with, “Arrr, you should have been here last September.” Even with the cloak and dagger code words, Whistler still believes everything is above board and he is simply doing some business with a neighbouring glass factory.

Whistler checks into a hotel and waits to be summoned to the Glass Works. When his summons arrives, he finds Vlasta Simoneva (Sylva Koscina) waiting downstairs as his liaison and driver. Up until this point the film has been a gentle paced comedy. The humour has been smile producing rather than inducing belly laughs and has been carried largely by Robert Morley who appeared to be having a good time hamming it up. But now at the twenty three minute mark, Sylva Koscina has entered the story and the film shifts to a romantic comedy. In most romantic comedies the relationship starts out rocky, and Hot Enough For June is no exception.

The trip to the glass works doesn’t go well after Whistler makes some heavy handed comments about the Communists shooting each other. Vlasta can barely contain her contempt for this arrogant young Westerner who sees fit to criticise her way of life.

Once at the glass works, Whistler is given a grand tour by Mr. Galushka. As Whistler travels through the factory and talks with the staff, he slips the ‘hot enough for June’ phrase into each conversation, but no-one responds with the counter phrase. As he is about to leave, he stops at the washroom to wash his hands. The washroom attendant starts talking about the weather, giving Whistler the perfect opportunity to drop ‘hot enough for June’ in the conversation, but before he can, Galushka interrupts and drags Whistler away. Though now, Whistler is convinced that the man in the washroom is his contact and contrives to revisit the glass works again in two days time.

But in the meantime he must wait, and what do you do when you’ve got two nights and a day to kill in Czechoslovakia? You attempt to seduce Vlasta Simoneva. Whistler starts by asking her out for a drink that evening which leads to dinner later on at a colourful restaurant.

But things aren’t as they seem. We already know that Whistler is a spy – even if he doesn’t realise it himself. But the Czech Secret Police aren’t so stupid. They know he’s a spy and have assigned an agent to find out what he is up to. That agent, as you may have guessed is Vlasta Simoneva. Complicating things even further is that the head of the Secret Police (Leo McKern) in this part of the world happens to be Vlasta’s father.

The next day Whistler and Vlasta spend the day jaunting around Prague doing the type of things that young couples do. There’s a spot of swimming at the local pool, which gives Koscina an opportunity to parade around in a bikini. I believe that parading around in a bikini was almost a trademark for Miss Koscina. In Deadlier Than The Male, when we are first introduced to her character, she is in a bikini – albeit carrying a speargun. In A Lovely Way To Die, once Kirk Douglas is in the picture it doesn’t take her long to strip down pool side either. As the day wears on, the jaunting around turns into flirting and finally our young couple, after a rain storm end up at her home in soggy clothes. Naturally they take them off and, well you know….

The next day Vlasta is relieved of her escort and intelligence gathering duties. It is deemed that she has gotten too close to her subject. Another driver takes Whistler back to the glass factory, and this time he successfully makes contact with the agent in the washroom. As the contact hands over the top secret information, it finally dawns on Whistler that he is a spy. Up until this point, it has all bee a lark, but now the game is serious.

Once Whistler returns to his hotel, he finds out how serious. The Secret Police, including Vlasta’s father, turn up to arrest him. Whistler escapes by hiding in a cupboard, and then makes his way out into the unfamiliar streets of Prague.

An extensive manhunt is launched to track Whistler down, but somehow he manages to stay just one step ahead of the police. His objective though, is to make it to the British Embassy. Unfortunately the Secret Police are counting on that too, and have stationed a barricade of men at the gates, so Whistler cannot get past. Instead he returns to Vlasta’s home. At first she is skeptical about his intentions. She believes he is using her to smuggle out State secrets. Whistler dispels that notion when he throws the information that he received into the burning fireplace. Vlasta, once again in love, agrees to help him escape to freedom.

Hot Enough For June is a pleasant film, but as a romantic comedy, it doesn’t really work. As a romance the story is a bit forced and contrived, after all Vlasta is an intelligence officer who chooses to use ‘romance’ and ‘sex’ as a tool to get close to her target. She isn’t forced to use this technique; it her option. With that as a starting point, it’s hard to believe that over a day, that she’d do a complete backflip over a man that she despises on first meeting. And furthermore, betray her country and father for this same man. But I guess Bogarde and Koscina display a certain amount of on-screen chemistry that almost makes you believe this could happen.

As a comedy, the film is very light. There aren’t any laugh out loud moments, but here are quite a few scenes that produce broad grins. Robert Morley makes the best out of the comedic moments in the script.

All-in-all Hot Enough For June isn’t ground breaking or life changing cinema. It’s the type of film that you watch and enjoy, but really don’t know why. Well, …actually I know why! It has Sylva Koscina in it. For me that’s enough of a drawcard. As always she lights up the screen in every scene she is in. Digressing for a second, some people are perplexed at the success of Peplum films. ‘Why would you want to see a steroid bloated man with no neck toss around paper mache rocks?’ The truth is you don’t (well not much, anyway. Maybe a little bit). You watch Peplum films for the girls dressed in candy coloured, flimsy negligees. And Sylva Koscina was a ground breaker in that area, when she starred opposite Steve Reeves in Hercules, and Hercules Unchained. No-one could wear a negligee quite like her. When Eurospy films came along, she was quick to slip out of her negligee and squeeze into a bikini, with equal success.

The sixties had a great many sex sirens. Some of them are still household names, and some are now relegated to cinema history. Sylva Koscina appears to fall into the later category, and is one of the most neglected and under-rated actresses ever.

Hot Enough For June (1964)

That Man In Istanbul (1965)


Directed by Anthony Isasi
Horst Buchholz, Sylva Koscina, Klaus Kinski, Gustavo Re, Alvaro De Luna, Perrette Pradier, Mario Adorf
Music by Georges Garvarentz

That Man From Istanbul is one of the most accesible and entertaining of the Eurospy films made in the mid sixties. It features Sylva Koscina in a major role. She may barely raise a footnote these days in lists of ‘most popular actresses of all time’ (particularly in Western countries), but in the mid sixties she was on a bit of a roll, starring in Hot Enough For June with Dirk Bogarde, and Deadlier Than The Male with Richard Johnson.

The film opens with a nifty little pre-title sequence where a light aircraft, with two secret agents in it, lands in a paddock in Turkey somewhere. Five cars packed with hoods with stockings over their heads meet the plane. One of the agents from the plane hands over a suitcase with one million dollars in it. The other agent secretly takes photos of the hoods with a camera hidden in his tie-pin. Once the hoods are satisfied that the money is all there, they signal another car. This car contains atomic scientist Professor Pendergast, who has been kidnapped. An exchange is made, and the plane takes off with it’s new passenger. Pendergast looks like he has been drugged or brainwashed. In the backseat of the plane he is sweating and fidgeting. Then he detonates a bomb inside his coat. The plane explodes and crashes.

We skip to Washington D.C. and into a C.I.A. briefing room. A team of agents are watching a report on the crash. X-rays from the bodies at the crash site reveal that the man they believed to be Pendergast was an impostor. The ransom the U.S. had paid was for nothing. As the briefing continues, the President of the U.S.A. phones in and cancels the mission. It seems he wants the affair to be handled through diplomatic channels. This doesn’t please Special Agent Kenny (Sylva Koscina). She sees something in the slides of the crash site, that everyone else has missed. In the background there is car, and in the car is Tony Mescenas (Horst Bucholz). Mescenas is an American who was deported for running a string of gambling houses, extortion rackets. He also ran a kidnapping scam in the past, where he exchanged fake people for his kidnap victims. Kenny doesn’t believe this is a coincidence, but as the President has cancelled the mission, she is forbidden to go to Istanbul.

For our viewing pleasure we are then treated to a colourful animated title sequence with a swinging sixties instrumental over the top. When we return from this interlude we are in Istanbul, introduced via some travelogue shots that look like stock footage. Then we move into Istanbul’s nightlife. Neon lights flicker. Cool jazz plays in the background. And Mescenas is cruising through the streets in his red E-type Jaguar, being discretely followed by the police. Mescenas stops outside a club which he runs with two colleagues. The first is ‘Brain’ (Gustavo Re), who has a photographic memory for facts, and the second is Bogo (Alvaro De Luna), who is more of your garden variety minion. He does all the dirty jobs.

Mescenas enters the club, which on the surface appears to be an average Turkish nightclub with belly dancers writhing on stage. But underneath this club is another club. An illegal casino in fact. Mescenas takes a secret elevator down to the casino and alerts the patrons that they are about to be raided be the police. It seems the tail on Mescenas wasn’t that discrete after all. But don’t panic, Mescenas has the place wired up electronically, and all the gaming tables disappear into the floor and the walls. The police raid the club, but instead of finding an illegal casino, they find Bogo treating the guests to a magic show. It seems like Mescenas ruse has worked. Well almost! A drunk starts demanding for his chips to be cashed. Mescenas can’t pay him without giving the game away. So what does he do? He starts a fight. Within seconds a bar room brawl erupts, the type usually found in western movies. But hey, after all this is a Horst Bucholz movie. Horst who, I hear you ask? Horst Bucholz is one of the two actors from The Magnificent Seven that nobody remembers. He played Chico, the Mexican peasant who wanted to be a gunfighter, …but back to the story.

Of course, Agent Kenny has defied orders and is in Istanbul, and in Mescenas’ club. As Mescenas, Brain and Bogo are regrouping after the police raid, Kenny approaches them and asks for a job. Mescenas’ interview technique is not politically correct by today’s standards. He asks Kenny to strip. She disrobes down to her underwear. Mescenas pretends not to be interested, but when the subject is as attractive as Ms Koscina a side glance is forgivable. Kenny gets the job, but doing what?

The next day Kenny is snooping around some of the locations from the photos in the C.I.A. briefing. One of these locations is a cemetery and mausoleum were the plane crash victims were interred. It is the last place were the missing tie-clip camera was seen. As she searches, she is accosted by the Chinese grounds keeper, but proves herself adept at judo, and acquits herself quite nicely, thank you. As she leaves the cemetery Mescenas picks her up for work. It’s obvious he has been following her. Her job? I’m not really sure what it is. It appears to be travelling around the sites of Istanbul and looking glamorous. She does it well.

As they look over the city from the spire of a mosque, Mescenas tells her that he knows she is a spy. Why is she interested in him? Kenny is a fairly trusting agent, and tells Mescenas the whole story about Pendergast kidnapping. Mescenas pleads his innocence and Kenny believes him. Then Kenny tries to convince him to help her track down the true perpetrators. But after being deported from the U.S., Mescenas isn’t too keen on helping Uncle Sam. Mescenas may not be patriotic but he is greedy, and when Kenny tells him of the million dollars ransom that was paid to free Pendergast, his eyes light up. Welcome on board.

Their first lead is to track down the Chinese grounds keeper who attacked Kenny at the cemetery. His information leads Mescenas to the Chinese Embassy. It appears that though the Chinese did not kidnap Pendergast, they are interested in tracking him down for themselves. After all an Atomic Scientist is a valuable commodity. But the Chinese do have the tie-clip camera hidden in a safe at the Embassy. With stealth and the odd bit of brutality Mescenas breaks into the safe and retrieves the camera. His escape, however is not so easy. First he leaps through one window, crashes through another into a bedroom. Then somehow ends up in the sewer system. So it doesn’t make sense, but that is part of it’s charm.

From the photos in the clip, Brain recognises one of the extortionists, the man with the steel hand, Hansie (Gérard Tichy). Well it’s not really a steel hand, it’s more of a steel stump or dome. He lives in a boarding house down by the waterfront, where all riff-raff in this type of film live. Mescenas follows Hansie as he leaves the house, but Hansie realises he is being followed and sets out to trap Mescenas. Hansie starts to ascend a tall mosque spire with a spiral staircase. Mescenas follows. At the top on the balcony, Hansie gets the drop on his pursuer. A fight breaks out but Hansie has a slight advantage. From his steel hand a knife juts out. Mescenas is thrown over the side surely to his death. But no, he catches a rope and slides down to the next level. Mescenas rushes back up the stairs and gives Hansie a beating. Hansie is about to talk when he is shot from below, by one of his accomplices. From Hansie’s dead body, Mescenas picks up the small hearing aid from the ear. It is not a hearing aid at all but a communication device. Mescenas hears the plans for the extortionists to meet at the coast road. In his red Jag, he makes his way there. It’s another trap. The extortionists knew he’d be listening and try to run him off the cliff top road. He gets past one vehicle but is not prepared for being rammed by an army truck. Mescenas’ sports car flies through the protective barriers by the side of the road and down the cliff.

In what really is a ‘cliff-hanger’, Mescenas leaps onto the back of the army truck as it collides with the Jag and hitches a ride. Meanwhile down the road, armed with high powered binoculars, the Chinese are watching. They have been following Mescenas, hoping he will lead them to Pendergast. They follow the army truck.

The truck stops in an underground carpark, and Mescenas starts snooping about. Inadvertently he sets off a silent alarm and the extortionists are alerted to his presence. Luckily for Mescenas, at this time the Chinese arrive and enter into a shootout with the extortionists. While all the shooting is going on the leaders of the extortion group sneak Pendergast out in an ambulance. Mescenas waits behind some crates till the shootout is over and then snoops around a bit more. In a back room he finds Elizabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier) tied up. She was kidnapped off a yacht. Naturally he frees her and sends her to a luxury hotel to recuperate.

Meanwhile the extortionists are not happy with one of their own. Gunther (Agustín González), who was driving the army truck, which Mescenas so cavalierly jumped on, is too be terminated for his incompetence. Evil organisations like this don’t tolerate failure. As the assassin draws his gun, Gunther shoots and flees. He’s on the run now and needs help. He phones Mescenas and offers information about the whereabouts of Pendergast in exchange for safe passage out of the country. A meeting is arranged. As Agent Kenny is the only licensed operative on the scene she wants to go to the meeting, but Mescenas does what any sixties, chauvinist, man about town would do. He locks her in a cupboard.

At the meeting Gunther is shot before Mescenas can get to him. Then he finds himself on foot, in the centre of a demolition derby. Some nimble footwork and some accurate pistol shots to car headlights save Mescenas’ skin. Well barely. After the car pile-up, a hail of gunfire starts. He borrows a front-end loader and ploughs a path to freedom.

After the nights fireworks, Mescenas pays a visit to Elizabeth Furst at her hotel, poolside. As he attempts to gain more information about her kidnapping and the whereabouts of Pendergast, an assassin lurks in the pool (with a water pistol, no doubt!). He fires a shot at Mescenas which misses, but shatters his wine glass. Not taking a backward step, Mescenas dives in to confront his would-be assassin. Underwater, a knife is produced and the two men struggle until the assailant ends up with the knife in his torso.

The next lead Mescenas and Kenny follow was found on Gunther’s dead personage. It was a season ticket to a Turkish Bath. At the bath, as they search, three goons kidnap Kenny and spirit her away. Out the back Mescenas finds wooden crates full of pieces of an atomic bomb. As he retreats, he is captured at knife-point. Then he is offered one hundred thousand dollars and Kenny alive if he leaves Istanbul. Mescenas refuses and escapes by losing a steam faucet. Clad only in a towel, he then scours the city searching for Kenny, but with no joy.

Despondent, he rings Brain. Brain passes on a message that Bogo and Ms Furst have information for him. Mescenas rushes to the hotel, but only to find that Furst’s room is empty. Almost. An assassin named Doctor Shrenk (Klaus Kinski) follows Mescenas in. As most evil minions do, Shrenk takes his time in killing Mescenas and talks too much. In doing so he reveals that Pendergast is on a yacht in the harbour. Mescenas ducks under a glass coffee table while Shrenk fires at him with a pistol. And in one of those contrivances that can only happen in the movies, the coffee table turns out to be bullet proof. Mescenas picks up the table and uses it as a shield until Shrenk runs out of bullets. Then it’s fisticuffs. During the fight, which rages through all the hotel rooms, Mescenas finds Bogo’s dead body in the bathtub. This sends Mescenas over the edge and he drowns Shrenk in a sink.

Mescenas’ attention is now on the yacht, and he climbs a cargo loading crane and lowers himself onto the boat as it passes underneath. After the death of Bogo, Mescenas sense of humour isn’t as prevalent as it was, and as he storms the boat, he kills one sailor in cold blood, and then orders the rest of the crew over the side. On board he finds Pendergast and Kenny and sets them free. Then he set about settling the score with the leaders of this insidious plot. Oh, what is their scheme, I hear you ask? It hasn’t really been mentioned yet, but it is something like this: They intend to build an atomic arsenal with Pendergast’s help. Then from a remote island, control the world. Excellent; another World Domination scheme.

In the stateroom on the yacht, Mescenas find the chiefs. He cleans house with a machine gun. He kills them all, except for one. I wont say who it is, but no prizes for guessing?

That Man In Istanbul is one of my favourite Eurospy films. It has a good sense of humour and decent production values, and is fast paced. Maybe it is a little long, and Sylva Koscina isn’t used as much as she should be, but small quibbles. Your response to the movie will depend on how you accept Horst Bucholz. I know of a few people who find his performance annoying and as such, don’t rate this movie very highly. I disagree, but I think you’re going to have to make up your own mind on this one?

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD.

That Man In Istanbul (1965)