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Kommissar X Collection, The

Image // Unrated // February 13, 2007
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 12, 2007 | E-mail the Author
"I love you, Joe Walker
Just like every woman loves you
As you love every woman
Every happy, beautiful woman in the world!"

By the mid-1960s, the question wasn't who was making a James Bond rip-off, but who wasn't. Everywhere you went, the suave super spy genre was hotcakes, and by the time you finished with your Matt Helms and your Derek Flints, you'd probably stumble upon Joe Walker, Private Eye.

The "Kommissar X" series of pulp adventure novels, written by multiple authors under the collective, brilliantly fake name "Bert F. Island," were quickly adapted for the screen by West German producers eager for a bite of the 007 pie, with the first three movies in the franchise cranked out in a single year (1966). Starring Tony Kendall, a man obviously cast thanks to a passing resemblance to Sean Connery, as our man Joe, these seven films wound up being precisely the sort of thing you get when you hunker down for a B-grade Euro-twist Bond knock-off.

Which is to say, inane action and shameless plagiarism mixed with a hint of lighthearted parody. Joe Walker is a man whom no woman can resist - indeed, at the end of one movie, even a female elephant becomes unable to escape Joe's charms. He's the funny side of Connery's Bond, always quick with a one-liner, always smooth with the ladies. ("The later the hour, the shorter the skirt.") When, in the series' inaugural entry, "Kiss Kiss... Kill Kill" (sure beats the heck out of the original German title, "Kommissar X: Jagd auf Unbekannt" - "Kommissar X: Hunt for the Unknown"), Joe finds himself surrounded by an army of machine gun-wielding fembots (!), his first instinct is to seduce them, one at a time.

The action side of Connery's Bond is played here by police captain Tom Rowland (bodybuilder and sword-and-sandal vet Brad Harris). Tom has no time for Joe's antics - why seduce a broad when you can shoot a guy first?

"Kiss Kiss" is undoubtedly the best of the 1966 output. Flagrantly stealing quite a bit from both "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger," the story mixes the case of a missing scientist with the murder of prominent businessmen, revealing a scheme to radiate a supply of gold in order to make the bad guy a zillionaire. Don't bother asking how - it makes even less sense when you actually watch the thing unfold.

But who cares? Kendall's swagger, the endless supply of buxom beauties, and ridiculous action sequences combine to make this all rather fun, sometimes even on purpose. There's the sense that the filmmakers knew they were just making some crappy imitation quickie, so why not have some fun along the way?

Less can be said about the follow-up, "Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick" ("Kommissar X: Drei gelbe Katzen" - "Kommissar X: Three Yellow Cats"). Great kitsch-pulp title, utterly forgettable adventure. Joe and Tom jet off to Ceylon, where they something-something about a murder plot to something-something an industrialist's daughter something-something germ warfare something-something karate something. Or something. It's all a lame set-up to get Harris in some poorly staged martial arts fight sequences, and, well, that's about it, unless you count the incessant padding to get this movie to reach feature length. (Thank you, stock footage of foreign lands, you are a cheapjack producer's best friend!)

The series' final entry for the year was "So Darling, So Deadly" (Kommissar X: In den Klauen des goldenen Drachen" - "Kommissar X: In the Claws Golden Kites" - there's a slight chance that Google's translation tool might not have that one quite right), and for a while, it seems to be entirely about people trying to kill Joe and Tom, as if we're suddenly watching "Spy Vs. Spy: The Movie." Best moment: Tom goes water skiing and lets a hitman steer the boat. Fortunately, Tom keeps a loaded pistol in his swim trunks.

The actual plot kicks in about a third of the way in or so, as Joe and Tom realize why they came to Singapore at the beginning of the movie: to protect a scientist who's found a way to turn lasers into death lasers! There's a hooded super villain (designed, it seems, after the masked baddies of 1940s adventure serials - complete with cave hideout!) and some more buxom beauties, but sadly, the plot can't hold a candle to the insanity of the opening few reels.


Retromedia has collected these first three Joe Walker flicks onto a single-disc "The Kommissar X Collection." "Kiss Kiss" takes up side one of the flipper disc; "Death Is Nimble" and "So Darling" share space on side two. And in true pulp fashion, the DVD cover art features two gun-toting lingerie-clad models who have nothing to do with anything, but they sure got you to look at the box, didn't they?

Video & Audio

All three movies appear to be prints of the American releases. The video is washed out, grainy, scratched, and yes, "Grindhouse" fans, with "Death Is Nimble," we even get a botched reel change, as the DVD transfer picks up a few seconds of blank leader film! Adding insult to injury, the films are presented in a 1.33:1 format, brutally hacking their original 2.35:1 widescreen imagery. (In several scenes, we get the old pan-and-scan horror of having conversations take place between people who aren't even on screen.)

The only audio option is a hiss-and-pop-filled English mono track. I'd hate to call it a dub, as, like most films of this kind, the cast was made up of actors speaking various languages, some of them English. So consider this track true to the original American release. No subtitles are offered.

Of course, it's highly probable that these mangled prints were the best Retromedia could find (at least one seems to be developed specifically for television distribution, if I'm reading the opening credits correctly), and this is the best you'll ever get Stateside for these movies. Plus, for some fans of this sort of thing, the poor quality may only add to the kitschy charm. Still, "Death Is Nimble," which is washed out to the point of looking downright bleached, is pretty dang unwatchable.



Final Thoughts

It's a mixed bag, really, and not just because of the presentation problems. The fun of the first movie peters out quickly in the sequels, and the no-frills disc offers zero incentive to stick around through them all. Those in a grade-Z Eurospy mood should Rent It to enjoy the lovable goofiness that is "Kiss Kiss," and deal with the disc's flip side only if boredom sets in. Everyone else won't miss a beat if they Skip It completely.
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