|Submitted by Iain McLachlan |
(Dec 23, 2004)
AGENTE 077 DALL’ORIENTE CON FURORE
Alternate Titles: FUREUR SUR LE BOSPHORE; PARIS-ESTAMBUL SIN REGRESSO; SOS AGENTE 077 PLENOS PODERES EN ESTAMBUL; AGENT 077: OPERATION ISTANBUL; FROM THE ORIENT WITH FURY; AGENT 077 – FURY IN THE ORIENT; 077: FURY IN ISTANBUL.
RT: 94 mins
Pro Cos: Fida Cinematografica-Production Jacques Roitfeld-Epoca Films-Producciones Benito Perojo SA
Dir: Terence Hathaway (=Sergio Grieco);
Pros: Jacques Roitfeld; Benito Perojo;
Wrs: Arpad de Riso, Nico Scolaro, Sandro (=Alessandro) Continenza, Leonardo Martin;
Exec Pro: Edmondo Amati.
Phot: Juan Julio Baena;
Film Ed: Enzo Alfonsi (=Alfronzi);
Mus: Piero Piccioni;
Sets Des: Nedo Azzini (It); Ramiro Gomez (Sp).
SFX: Eugenio Ascani.
Stunt Dir: Enzo Musumeci Greco.
Cast: Ken Clark, Margaret Lee, Fabienne Dali, Evi Marandi, Philippe Hersent, Michaela (=Mikaela), Vittorio Sanipoli, Fernando Sancho, Loris Barton (Loris Bazzocchi), Ennio Balbo, Claude Ruffin (=Ruffini), Frank (=Franco) Ressel, Tomas Blanco, Pat Basil (Pasquale Basile), Norman Preston (=Lorenzo Robledo), John Hamilton (=Gianni Medici), Jean Lyonel, Alan Collins (=Luciano Pigozzi).
Agente 077 dall’Oriente con Furore was the companion piece to Agent 077: Missione Bloody Mary, reuniting director Sergio Grieco (under his usual Terence Hathaway pseudonym) and leading man Ken Clark, as American secret agent Dick Malloy. Both of these titles, along with their future sequels and spin-offs, were part of a cycle of European spy movies (often co-productions between three or more countries) created in response to the international success that the James Bond franchise, initiated by Terence Young’s Dr No (1962) and continued by three increasingly successful follow-ups, had become.
While very much a contemporary phenomenon, what proves particularly interesting about this wave of Eurospy thrillers is the extent that they are indebted to cinematic and literary forms from an earlier generation, with Sergio Grieco’s 1965 work proving to be a case in point.
Istanbul. Accompanied by his personal assistant, Simone, a famous scientist, Professor Kurtz arrives at a hotel in preparation for a press conference about his latest invention, the Beta Ray, said to be able to disintegrate solid metal in seconds. Shortly after a security agent arrives to keep track of the professor. As Kurtz makes his way to his suite, the agent is distracted by a phone call, during which Simone is seen to slip out of the building. On entering his room, the scientist is immediately confronted by a group of men. The agent realises that the phone call is a ruse and rushes up to the professor’s room. There he finds a body lying on a couch. He touches it and is immediately killed by an explosion. Some time later in Paris, the Professor’s daughter Romy arrives from studying in Moscow to meet Heston, the head of the French section of an American counter-intelligence organisation. He informs her, that despite evidence to the contrary, it is believed that her father did not die in Turkey but has been kidnapped by persons unknown. All the papers relating to the professor’s works had since disappeared, and Romy is unable or unwilling to assist in recovering any surviving data for her father’s invention, which could prove to be a terrible weapon in the wrong hands. After she leaves, Heston orders agent Dick Malloy to be returned immediately to active duty. At that moment, Malloy is involved in a bar room brawl in another part of France. He manages to receive a phone call telling him to report back to Paris, and escapes from his fellow brawlers on a stolen motorcycle. The next morning, he arrives in Paris by taxi, getting out at the offices of a news agency that acts as a front for Heston’s organisation. There his boss plays back a recording of a telephone call he received earlier that day. The voice on the tape identifies himself as Preminger, a friend of Professor Kurtz, and reveals that he has some very important information to pass on about the scientist’s project. Preminger believes that he is being followed and arranges for a rendezvous that night at a local casino. Heston and Malloy discuss who could be behind the kidnapping of Kurtz, and come to the conclusion that a likely suspect would be a Turkish criminal operating out of Istanbul and with the intention of selling the scientist and his device to the highest bidder. Malloy is issued with special apparel, in the form of a trouser belt and braces, that act as both a miniature camera and a morse transmitter. Before he leaves for the casino, the agent is told to bid on the number zero on the roulette table at exactly 10pm so that Preminger will recognise him. Outside a mysterious man, accompanied a female companion who turns out to be Kurtz’s former assistant Simone, now with a significantly altered appearance, watches from a limousine as Malloy leaves the press agency. He orders the driver to follow. Simone warns that she has been advised the agent they are watching is the deadliest in his organisation. The man assembles a weapon disguised as a cigarette lighter and inserts a poison dart into its casing. Later, at the casino, Malloy makes contact with Preminger, who tells him to meet him at the bar in a few minutes. Just before the agent can talk to him, Preminger is shot with a poisoned dart and collapses. Before he expires, he hands over half of a dollar coin and tells Malloy to listen to a Beethoven record back at this apartment. Malloy takes a number of pictures of everyone at the casino with his miniature camera, and quietly leaves. As he drives away in his car, a group of men go off in pursuit of him. After a chase of some miles, the agent manages to force his pursuers off the road with the aid of machine guns mounted in the boot of his car. He then makes his way to Preminger’s house, and breaks in using a picklock. Rummaging amongst a record collection, the Beethoven recording is located. Played on a record player, the disc turns out to be a recording of Preminger’s voice, giving details of what to do with the half-dollar coin…
With his trilby, trench coat and habit of continually flipping coins in the style of gangster icon George Raft, the character of Dick Malloy would not seem out of place in a Hollywood detective thriller from the 1940s and 1950s. This is underlined by the stoic, cigar-chomping portrayal of the role by former Fox contract player Ken Clark (Attack of the Giant Leeches 1959), that is largely devoid of humour and certainly does not feature the witticism and puns associated with such a part from the mid-1960s.
Additionally, apart from bedding a beautiful Spanish aristocrat (Michaela, Commando de Asesinos 1966) who helps him escape from a group of thugs, Malloy proves to be a remarkable chaste individual for much of the movie, especially when compared to Hollywood secret agents such as Matt Helm (The Silencers) and Derek Flint (Our Man Flint, both 1966), or Bond himself. The link with earlier crime thriller forms is emphasised by the adoption of an Irish surname for the character, something that became a cliché within the genre, probably dating as far back as the 1930s.
The world in which the picture takes place also appears detached from it true era, with no evidence of pop music, nightclubs or contemporary fashions (apart from the rather natty polo neck and sports jacket worn by Malloy in Istanbul). Instead, characters wear mackintoshes, formal dinner suits and 1950s-style dresses, and visit establishments like casinos, upmarket French restaurants, and traditional tavernas. Also, most of the cast are seen driving older model American motor cars.
Music heard throughout the film also harks back to an earlier era, particularly the score by Piero Piccioni (La Decima Vittima 1965), which has a keen early to mid-1950s ambience about it. An interesting feature of the soundtrack is that the wailing, Arabic-influenced theme song by Piccioni and Lydia MacDonald (Se Tutte le Donne del Mondo 1967) can be heard in various guises throughout the movie, being performed by a pianist in a French restaurant, and a jazz band during a fight in a taverna, amongst others.
Many of the gadgets shown being employed in Agente 077 – dall’Oriente con Furore can be best described as quaint and again hark back to an earlier period in cinema. These include a cigarette lighter that can fire poisoned darts, a cigar that conceals a picklock, and a set of trouser braces and belt buckles which double as a morse-code transmitter and miniature, instamatic camera respectively. Even in the 1960s, these must have looked very primitive, even when compared to the technology used in television series of the time like The Man from UNCLE. As a concession to the times, Malloy’s car does pack a pair of twin mounted machine guns, and Professor Kurtz’s weapon is revealed to be a portable death ray, which can disintegrate iron and rock with equal ease.
Instead of the master villain presented in Dr No and Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger (1964), or the international crime organisation that was SPECTRE or THRUSH, the lead villain, played by Vittorio Sanipoli, turns out to be a rather more conventional criminal. Acting as an independent operator, Sanipoli runs his activities from a villa located on an island in the Bosphoros, and not a secret underground lair that would be considered the norm for this genre. Also, he does have the services of a private army of heavily armed guards, but has to rely on local miscreants and assorted hired heavies to carry out his bidding. Once again the activities of these characters reinforces the connection with thrillers from the past, with the henchmen spiriting away Professor Kurtz (Philippe Hersent, La Lama nel Corpo 1967) in a double bass case, and later kidnapping Malloy’s fellow agent Evelyn (Margaret Lee, Paroxismus 1969), concealing the act by rolling her up in a Persian rug.
Sanipoli proves to be a rather unambitious master criminal. He merely wants to sell Kurtz and his weapon to the highest bidder, and make off with the proceeds of the auction, completely unaware of the potential offered by such a device.
In addition to crime thrillers from the 1940s and 1950s, another influence on Sergio Grieco’s movie may be the works of Alfred Hitchcock, not least in the epic trek that the hero has to undertake to locate the missing scientist and his papers, echoing elements found within The 39 Steps (1935), Saboteur (1942) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Direct allusions to Hitchcock’s canon by Grieco include scenes in a Madrid auction house where Ken Clark has to avoid the attentions of a group of hired killers, while competing with Michaela for a chest where he has hidden some documents, his later attempts at her villa to break into the chest while his hostess entertains her other guests with a traditional Spanish love song, and an assassination at a French casino.
Grieco (Argoman Superdiabolico 1968), something of a journeyman director at Cinecitta who turned his hand to most genres, had been active as a director since the start of the 1950s and was very much a product of his country’s neo-realist tradition. This becomes apparent in his low-key, naturalistic approach to the material. Most of the action sequences orchestrated by Enzo Musemeci Greco (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad 1958) are handled in a matter-of-fact style that is competent, but has little in the way of impact, and there are no major set-pieces to speak of.
Although featuring some potentially nasty kicks to the stomach and pistol whippings, the fights shown, certainly in the French and Spanish sections of the picture, are nowhere near as intense as those featured in the early Bond flicks. Most of the moves adopted by the hero and his opponents are basic judo moves, with lots of arm-twisting, body rolls and mild karate chops. Probably the most impressive sequence of this type takes place in a drawing room at the mansion of Michaela, featuring some imaginative combat moves and a higher violent quotient, and suggesting that the makers were aware of the pre-credit sequence from Terence Young’s recently released Thunderball. Another example of inspiration from the Bond epic may be the disappointing car chase where the agent uses gun-mounted machine guns to dispatch his foes.
Several of the altercations actually manage to descend into near slapstick, particularly Clark’s introductory scene which finds him scrapping in a seaside bar, and his later confrontation with the villain’s minions in a tavern, featuring one of his assailants having his head shoved into a drum while another is accidentally shot with a poisoned dart by his boss. The impression that the viewer is witnessing a displaced Western-style saloon brawl is underlined by a cameo from Spaghetti oater regular Fernando Sancho (Der Teppich des Grauens 1962), as a voluble Spanish tourist.
Despite slapping about the villain’s mistress Evi Marandi (Terrore nello Spazio 1965) in order to gain information, the secret agent’s status as a hard case is somewhat diminished by the fact that for much of the film both he and his fellow agent Alan Collins (La Frusta e il Corpo 1963), who acts as a kind of officially sanctioned guardian angel for Clark, go out of their way to avoid killing or seriously injuring their antagonists, although they have no such scruples. It is only when the action shifts to Istanbul that he responds in kind to his enemies, shooting dead a Czech explosives expert (Frank Ressel, Il Pianeta Errante 1965) in the pay of the villain, along with several of the quite incredibly inept thugs who have been tailing him throughout the film. Their leader (Enno Balbo (5 Tombe per un Medium 1965) is eventually garrotted with a curtain rope by the hero in what is probably the production’s most graphic death scene.
It is to the credit of the director and his editor Enzo Alfonzi (Maciste Contro i Mostro 1962), that he can inject so much energy into what would normally be regarded as a thoroughly mediocre piece of work. In fact the narrative moves at a brisk pace, making the busy plot, the results of no less than four writers’ efforts, appear more compelling than it actually is. Also, thanks to his neo-realist background and the efforts of cinematographer Juan Julio Baena, Sergio Grieco brings a freshness to the locations used in the production, particularly for those American and British viewers unfamiliar with them, notably those featured in Paris (especially the restaurant set atop the Eiffel Tower) and the coastline along the Bosphorus.
An already hectic plot is stirred up some more during the film’s climax. There the true villains are revealed to be the Soviets, who invade Sanipoli’s villa in order to steal the weapon and its data papers, with Professor Kurtz’s daughter (Fabienne Dali, Operazione Paura 1966) revealed to be in league with them and actively working against everyone else, including her father. This is in addition to Clark being roughed up to find out where he has stashed documentation about the weapon, and his revelation that he substituted the material he was carrying back in Spain for worthless sheets of paper, then having the originals forwarded to his superiors.
Agente 077 dall’Oriente con Furore ends with a rather good cut-price imitation of a Bond climax, with Vittorio Sanipoli and Evi Marandi escaping with the beta ray during the confusion created by a gun battle between the Soviets and his remaining henchmen. Laughing maniacally, Sanipoli unleashes the power of the weapon, easily destroying solid rock, buildings and assorted members of the Turkish security services. The ambitious optical effects by Eugenio Ascani (Due Mafiosi contro Goldfinger 1965) seem to be based on the death ray effects employed in Byron Haskin’s War of the Worlds (1953). Clark manages to save the day by embedding a handy harpoon in the villain’s chest whereupon he drops the weapon, disintegrating himself and his mistress, along with a large chunk of quayside.
Overall this remains a resolutely minor effort. However, it works well as a piece of fast-moving, undemanding piece of entertainment, featuring exotic and photogenic locations and some of the sexiest female performers to emerge from European exploitation cinema.
Sergio Grieco and Ken Clark returned the following year for another 077 adventure Mission Speciale Lady Chaplin. There are also a number of other productions from the same period purporting to be 077 thrillers, including Luciano Martino’s Le Spie uccidono a Beirut (1965) and Antonio Margheriti’s cult favourite A 077, Sfida ai Killers (1966), but these feature different actors in the role, with their character names changing along with the language that they were shown in.
Interestingly, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists what is apparently an Indian spin-off from the 077 series, Golden Eyes Secret Agent 07, about which little is known, other than it was directed by Kamal Sharma in 1968 and features the talents of Mumtaz and various members of the Kumar performing dynasty.
Jess Franco and his usual stock company revived the 077 character in 1984 for the obscure Furia en Jamaica, otherwise known as Agent 077: Operation Jamaica in some English-language territories.
Meanwhile, the 1964 German/Italian co-production Weisse Fracht fur Hong Kong, known as Da 077: Criminali ad Hong Kong, and directed by Helmut Ashley and/or Girogio Stagani, depending on where it was viewed, appears to have no connection with any of the other 077 ventures.
©Iain McLachlan 2004
Chroma-Noize cult sci-fi and horror movie reviews: www.geocities.com/bigfatpav2000