Saturday, July 28, 2007

Letting Success Go To Your Head

Shortly after the opening credits of DEADLIER THAN THE MALE, Elke Sommer emerges from the surf in a bikini alongside Sylva Koscina. It’s quite a sight. Is it possible that Elke Sommer was never as drop-dead alluring as she is in this film? What helps is that unlike some other Bondian knockoffs of the sixties, DEADLIER winds up being a very enjoyable film. An updating of the Bulldog Drummond character, DEADLIER THAN THE MALE screened at the Cinematheque the other night as part of the Mods and Rockers series. Richard Johnson is Drummond, a London insurance investigator who finds himself pursuing mysterious individuals who are behind a scheme to corner the oil market. Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina play a pair of sexy, ruthless assassins working for the criminal mastermind behind the plot.

The overall tone of the film is fairly lighthearted--not so much a spoof as a much lighter take on take on the genre. The relationship between the two female assassins is played as more of a Laurel and Hardy thing than anything else. Sommer as the delightfully named Irma Eckman is sensational in the part. Koscina is also very enticing--I suppose she would be the Laurel to Sommer's Hardy (the two women would also later co-star in Mario Bava’s LISA AND THE DEVIL and its variant HOUSE OF EXORCISM). Virginia North gets an “and introducing” credit for her minor role as Brenda, but outside of an appearance in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and the role of Vulnavia in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, doesn’t seem to have had much of a career. Too bad; she’s quite fetching in her small role here and the film could have used more of her.

There’s a very cool score by Malcolm Lockyer with a main lick that I can’t seem to get out of my head along with a Matt Munro-like theme performed by the Walker Brothers. Along with various other beautiful women and lots of Bond-type quips there’s also a dryly funny performance by Nigel Green—he and Sommer would also appear together in similar roles two years later in THE WRECKING CREW, but DEADLIER has the advantage.

Another thought about Elke Sommer—there are quite a few actresses from the sixties who were gorgeous and I always enjoy seeing films featuring them that I haven’t seen before. The unfortunate fact of this is that too many of these films feature them in roles that are small, uninteresting, making you wonder why they were cast or why elements of their roles seem so half-hearted. I don’t want to make DEADLIER THAN THE MALE sound like more than it is but there’s a rare kick in seeing a sixties spy film starring a favorite actress in a terrific role that gives her the chance to show what a star she can be. She emerges from the water in a bikini and harpoons a guy, she plays seduction scenes, she does a double-act with Sylva Koscina. She’s much of what’s memorable about this movie.

Speaking of memory, the second film on the bill for the Cinematheque’s spy movie night was LIGHTNING BOLT and I should probably say something about it now, because in a few days I won’t remember enough to say anything. Maybe it’s a translation thing, but sometimes with Italian spy movies it’s tough to tell how much they are a Bond spoof and how much they are just a Bond knockoff. LIGHTNING BOLT, also known under the even more Bondian title OPERAZIONE GOLDMAN, straddles that line between spoof and knockoff and I’m still not sure which side it falls down on. Directed by Antonio Margheriti, but the credit goes to the “Anthony Dawson” pseudonym he used occasionally, the film stars Anthony Eisley as a secret agent involved in a DR. NO-type investigation which also involves an underwater city surprisingly like THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, eleven years before that movie was made. Maybe that’s the most interesting thing about the movie. There’s also a villain who, Blofeld-like, we don’t see until very deep into the movie, but when we do see him it turns out he’s not only the owner of the line of beer used as the cover for his operation, he’s also the pitchman, so we’ve been seeing his face on posters well before his actual introduction. Maybe that’s the most interesting thing about the movie and maybe someone else could have made that Austin Powers-type joke actually work. At one point near the end, there was a mess-up during a reel change, so the film had to stop for a minute. I resisted the urge to stand up and say to the not-large crowd, “So, anyone want to have a discussion about the plot? And why are we still here, anyway?” Maybe we remained for the sake of completism, maybe we remained because there was the possibility something would happen in the film that we’d always remember. Maybe we stayed because chances are we’d never have another chance to see this film ever again in ay format. I’m not sure why I stuck around. But I did stay until the end.

In closing, let me just say that Elke Sommer is absolutely amazing, and amazingly gorgeous, in DEADLIER THAN THE MALE.


Anonymous said...

I love this film. It must have been amazing to see on the big screen. I'm envious! Elke and Sylva are terrific in it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for tip. I'm ordering it now!

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Elke, Elke ELKE!!! I love this woman so much and have never had a chance to see this film. Thanks for posting your thoughts on it. Have you ever heard the album she cut in the late sixties? I think it's called "Love In Any Language"'s not among the better celebrity albums but I am very glad to have it in my lp collection...
Elke is one of the great undervalued sixties icons. I must admit her Playboy spread from the late sixties still makes me feel lightheaded.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Other fans of Elke? Who knew! I've never heard her album or seen her Playboy spread. Maybe I'll have to seek those out. I have seen THE OSCAR, which is pretty unforgettable.

Anonymous said...

Elke Sommer is okay but for me she's overshadowed by the utterly fab Sylva Koscina who is not only amazingly erotic but has rather more fun with her character. While Elke is brisk & businesslike (yawn) in dispatching her male victims, Sylva is the dippy, trippy pussycat who can't help falling in love with her victims & then apologising for having to kill them. She has something of the same unselfconscious sexuality as Daniela Bianchi in from Russia With Love. Kudos on the review too. I like the film a lot especially its jokey, light hearted sadism (at one point the girls are stubbing out cigarettes on some hapless males chest if I remember rightly). That's not an easy tone to get right, much less sustain throughout an entire movie but DTTM succeeds & never quite descends into camp (well not for me anyway).