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Mission Bloody Mary clearly takes its cue from Thunderball initially (one of the Black Lily's operatives takes the place of a military flight navigation officer, the nuclear weapon is subsequently stolen from the navigation officer's plane, there are bits of business at a remote clinic, etc) but its larger narrative subsequently shies away from the Bond film's extortion/ransom scenario. The Black Lily does head a SPECTRE-like criminal collective, but he's happy to settle for the relatively quick and easy profit that selling the Bloody Mary to Chinese agents will generate. As such, the show is a reasonably believable tale of plain and simple, Cold War tinged, military/industrial espionage. Malloy's mission here is relatively straightforward: prevent any rival super powers from adding the Bloody Mary to their existing nuclear arsenals.
Malloy is certainly the right man for the job. Cocksure and as macho as they come, when a waiter in a Parisian nightclub seemingly questions his masculinity by asking, "You are you alone, monsieur?", Malloy petulantly asserts himself by snapping back, "For the moment I am but bring me two whiskies, each one double, in one glass." Soon after, he's happy to take in the spectacle of a floorshow by an Asian striptease artist (Mitsouko) who surreptitiously passes a secret message to him by requesting that he removes her bra during the course of her act. Super brawny and trained in unarmed combat, Malloy can more than hold his own in fistfights and bar room brawls. That said, one impressively choreographed and From Russia With Love-inspired fight scene, that is set onboard the night train to Barcelona, has Malloy scrapping with a bruiser who really tests the agent's fighting abilities. Malloy's athletic disposition also serves him well when he gets caught up in a tense and superbly staged running gun battle that is played out over the sprawling and slippery roof tops of Paris.
In keeping with the show's relatively straightforward storyline, the requisite spy gadgetry found here remains simple and believable for the most part too. Noteworthy items employed include a gun that holds more bullets than it should, a water-proof belt that contains an emergency supply of US dollars, a shoe heel that hides a baggage compartment key, a cufflink that houses a retractable blade, chemicals that can reconstitute the printed message on a charred piece of paper, coded telegrams, a weapon-rigged flashlight, etc. But while the gadgets are quite simple, the film's general approach to mise-en-scene is really quite grand looking at times. Director Sergio Grieco (AKA Terence Hathaway) and cinematographer Juan Julio Baena employ plenty of well-composed shots that take in the beauty of the film's iconic European locations and the grandeur of both the real/found interiors used and their smart studio set counterparts.
Angelo Francesco Lavagnino composed the film's wholly effective soundtrack score but the show also features a really superb title song that was arranged and directed by Ennio Morricone and sung by Maurizio Graf. The presence of a couple of awkwardly constructed or mildly nonsensical lines in the English audio dub used here gently reminds us that Mission Bloody Mary is a bona fide Euro feature albeit one that is successfully punching well above its own weight. Perhaps inspired by the show's overall air of confidence, the quality of the acting here is all generally good. Ken Clark is fine as Malloy while Euro cult favourite Helga Line (The Vampires' Night Orgy, Churchill's Leopards, Raise Your Hands, Dead Man, You're Under Arrest) excels as the sexy Dr. Freeman. Philippe Hersent is perfectly cast as Malloy's gruff cigar-chomping superior, Heston. It's a role that he reprises to good effect in both From the Orient with Fury and Special Mission Lady Chaplin.
While it's generally quite sharp and colourful, the picture quality of this presentation fluctuates a little. At its best it's almost very good while at its worst it's just short of good. There are outbreaks of small scratches and flecks present here and the print used suffers from the odd very minor jump due to missing frames and the odd slightly ragged edit. But none of this poses a huge problem. The sound quality here is essentially very good too. Curiously, in order to enjoy the benefit of the anamorphic 2.35:1 picture presentation, I had to temporarily reset my DVD player's output to letterbox mode as opposed to 16:9 mode.
This show kicks off with one of Malloy's CIA colleagues tailing Professor Kurtz in Istanbul. When it appears that both Kurtz and the agent have been killed, Malloy is called in to pick up the pieces. He's on holiday in France and is busy fighting in a bar room brawl when his superiors manage to get through to him on the bar's telephone. Consequently Malloy's introductory scene is a fairly silly and tongue-in-cheek affair in which the brawling agent grabs snatches of his telephone conversation in between delivering and dodging punches. In some ways the scene predicts the direction that the Bond films would eventually take when Roger Moore took on the role. Thankfully things get back onto a slightly more serious footing once this sequence ends and Ken Clark spends the remainder of the show playing Malloy in much the same way that he did in Mission Bloody Mary. If anything, the character has a slightly harder and more callous edge here and one scene sees him slapping a female enemy around James Bond-style.
From the Orient with Fury abandons the believable and reasonably straightforward military/industrial espionage footing established in Mission Bloody Mary and opts instead for some science fiction inspired shenanigans. Kurtz's disintegrator ray works and when Goldwyn unleashes the device on the squads of Turkish commandoes that are storming his island stronghold, we're presented with a scene that plays like a dry run for the sequence from Barbarella wherein Duran Duran tests out his positronic ray weapon. As with Mission Bloody Mary, the gadgets found in this film are relatively simple and believable. They include a camera that contains a mini-tape recorder, a belt buckle that houses a mini-camera, cigarette lighters that shoot poisonous darts, a long playing record that holds a personal message within its grooves, trouser braces that can be used to transmit Morse code messages, a nifty skeleton key, etc.
But while the film is full of ingenious ideas and plot twists that will enthral and thrill spy/espionage genre fans, we're left with a nagging feeling that this sequel was either allocated a smaller budget than Mission Bloody Mary or was assembled in something of a rush in order to cash in quickly on the success of its predecessor. The show's title song is a languid loungecore effort that fails to inspire excitement and the rest of composer Piero Piccioni's soundtrack score is something of a mixed bag. Some cues, like the bold and brassy jazz-cum-big band inspired pieces that punctuate much of the action, work really well but other cues tend to hurt the show a little. A listless organ piece brings to mind the kind of incongruous music found in some of Jess Franco's ultra-low budget efforts, and serves to remind us that, for better or worse, these Ken Clark films were essentially born out of the same budget-conscious sector of the European film industry that was home to Franco and his ilk.
As if to underline the point, Spaghetti Western genre stalwart and Euro cult legend Fernando Sancho (One Hundred Thousand Dollars Per Killing, Ten Thousand Dollars For a Massacre, The Man From Nowhere, Clint the Nevada's Loner) pops up in a superb cameo as a Mexican playboy who is dismayed by the sedate nature of the Paris night club that he's drinking in. The night soon livens up for him when Malloy ducks into the joint pursued by a posse of Goldwyn's thugs. Two other Spaghetti Western genre stalwarts help to liven thing up here too. Franco Ressel (Sabata, They Call Him Cemetery) is well cast as the aloof bad guy Goldwyn while Lorenzo Robledo (Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy, The Big Gundown, Face to Face) plays an agent who assists Malloy. The show's glamour quotient comes in the form of three attractive Euro cult starlets: Margaret Lee (Circus of Fear), Evi Marandi (Planet of the Vampires) and Fabienne Dali (Kill Baby, Kill). As with Mission Bloody Mary, director Sergio Grieco and cinematographer Juan Julio Baena get the best out of their limited resources and make good use of the great locations and sets that they had access to.
The picture quality of this presentation is marginally better than that of Mission Bloody Mary. The quality still fluctuates a little but there are less minor scratches and flecks present here. The print used does suffer from the odd very minor jump due to missing frames but these are not problematic. The disc's sound is essentially very good. As with the Mission Bloody Mary disc, in order to enjoy the benefit of the anamorphic 2.35:1 picture presentation, I had to temporarily reset my DVD player's output to letterbox mode as opposed to 16:9 mode.
The fun and thoroughly entertaining - if slightly impoverished looking - From the Orient with Fury must have done good business at the box office because the powers that be appear to have granted this third instalment in the Ken Clark/Dick Malloy series a much bigger budget. Special Mission Lady Chaplin is without doubt the best of the three films reviewed here: it's a great looking show that is packed with inventive scenarios and creative plot twists. The show's wholly successful attempts to keep up with and match the Bond films results in Special Mission Lady Chaplin being perhaps the most sadistic and disturbing film in the Malloy trilogy: the trilogy's approach to its representation of casual violence has certainly been ramped up a little here. Lady Chaplin is a master of disguise who will stop at nothing in her efforts to please her villainous benefactor and running Zoltan's fashion house provides her with both a luxurious lifestyle and the perfect cover identity. But she's also a bit of a Pussy Galore type: when the chips are down her own interests always come first.
The fashion house cover story employed by the villains here also serves to inject a massive amount of glamour into the film, prompting the inclusion of a number of scenarios that involve the show's attractive female talent getting decked out in some funky and modish Sixties-styled outfits. In addition to Daniela Bianchi (From Russia With Love) and 'Evelyn Stewart'/Ida Galli (Django Shoots First), the film also features Mabel Karr (The Colossus of Rhodes, The Diabolical Dr. Z) as Jacqueline, a really brave but cute and sympathetic CIA agent and Helga Line as Hilde, the prospective purchaser of the salvaged missiles. Jacques Bergerac's rich and ruthless Zoltan is easily the trilogy's most imposing and most Bond-like villain. His role as the show's chief bad guy is revealed early on and he indulges in a number of knowing and typically Bond-like games of bluff and double bluff whenever he comes into contact with Malloy. Zoltan is so smugly successful at deploying evasive tactics that we can't wait for Malloy to give him what for in the show's spectacular finale, which is set within a blazing control room that houses sixteen live nuclear missiles. An extremely poor loser, Zoltan becomes determined to explode the missiles rather than return them to the US military.
New (to the series) director Alberto De Martino manages to generate some moments of real suspense whilst keeping the show moving at a pleasing pace and talented cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa (The Diabolical Dr. Z, A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die, Companeros) captures all of the film's action in a suitably stylish manner. The show's acting is uniformly good, too. Ken Clark plays things relatively straight here and he gets to rough up his female enemies Bond-style again. Jacques Bergerac is perfectly cast as the film's urbane but incredibly cruel villain. The film's bigger budget is reflected in a more ambitious approach to location shooting too. Several scenes were shot in New York and an extended sub plot that involves Lady Chaplin stealing a consignment of missile propellant from the British army before coldly disposing of her British contact (Alfredo Mayo) was shot in London. Other locations used to good effect include Madrid and Paris. There are some pretty impressive studio sets on display here as well.
There's also lots of bits of business involving a multitude of helicopters, light aircraft and boats present too. One impressively staged, set at sea sequence involves Malloy and a pal making use of a bathysphere. When Zoltan's men use helicopters to launch an attack on the pal's boat while the pair are still below the surface, Malloy saves the day by employing the use of a miniature underwater respirator and a cache of mines. Other gadgets encountered in the film include a compact mirror that picks up CCTV images from a camera hidden in an ornament, a special car seat that allows the driver to escape from the vehicle via the boot, a soda bottle that expels poisonous gas, a hand-held explosives launcher, etc. Much of the expertly staged action in Special Mission Lady Chaplin is enhanced by the work of the ever-dependable soundtrack score composer Bruno Nicolai, who provides a suitably jazzy score. The show also features another neat title song, which is sung by Bobby Solo.
The picture quality of this DVD fluctuates a little. The show's opening long shots feature masses of clear blue Spanish skies and elements of noticeable video noise are present in the upper portions of the frame (hence the fair++ element of the rating). However, this soon disappears and at its best, the picture quality of this pretty sharp and colourful presentation is just short of very good. Again, there are minor scratches and flecks present here and the print used does suffer from the odd very minor jump due to missing frames. But these issues are not particularly problematic. The disc's sound quality is very good. As with Mission Bloody Mary and From the Orient with Fury discs, in order to enjoy the benefit of the anamorphic 2.35:1 picture presentation, I had to temporarily reset my DVD player's output to letterbox mode as opposed to 16:9 mode.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mission Bloody Mary rates:
From the Orient with Fury rates:
Special Mission Lady Chaplin rates:
Packaging: Separate keep cases
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