Thursday, May 9, 2019


"These are the women to put up a man's pulse rate - and stop it..... stone dead!"

Cool 1960's Euro-Spy featuring Richard Johnson along 
with Elke Sommer & Sylvia Koscina as bikini-clad assassins!!


    One of the countless Bond-inspired spy knock-offs that flooded movie screens post- GOLDFINGER, 1967's DEADLIER THAN THE MALE sometimes sadly gets lost in the shuffle. My favorite non-Bond 60'spy film, it's been woefully neglected in terms of home video in the U.S. and desperately needs a nice region 1 Blu-ray.
   Directed by Ralph Thomas (who directed the "Doctor" comedies for Rank), it was written by Liz Charles-Williams, David D. Osborn, and Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster - which makes me wonder if it was perhaps an unused Hammer project that had been lying about? Although not up to the spectacle (or budget) of the Connery Bond series, it stands as one of the best of the wanna-be's and is boosted by a great cast, some nice location work, and most of all by the presence of Elke Sommer (BARON BLOOD) and Sylvia Koscina (THE ITALIAN CONNECTION) as the main villain's two master assassins.
   Playing insurance investigator Hugh Drummond (the literary name Bulldog was dropped here), Richard Johnson (ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS) was one of many male British actors of the period who could say he was "almost Bond". Johnson, however, could rightly say "he could have been Bond" as he was producer Albert Broccoli's first choice to play 007, but he turned it down as he didn't want to commit to a series.

   The character of Bulldog Drummond was first created by author H.C. McNeile (writing under the pen name "Sapper") in 1920. A kind of "gentleman adventurer", a series of films followed in the '30s and '40s with the character being revived in this film in an attempt to turn him into an international spy.  Although referred to as an insurance investigator working for Lloyd's of London in the film, this is put to rest quickly in the plot as Johnson's Drummond is involved in much more than checking accidents and actuary tables. You wonder if fashioning him as an international spy traveling to exotic locations and hanging out with Elke and Sylvia caused an upswing in insurance investigator job applicants?
    Opening with the spy movie de rigueur pre-credit sequence as we see stewardess Irma (Elke Sommer) in a private jet who kills the sole passenger with a booby-trapped cigar (which she pulls out of her garter no less!!) and then placing a bomb on the plane she skydives off and is picked up in a speedboat by Penelope (Sylvia Koscina) which then segues into the great title song performed by The Walker Brothers (which is the best Bond title song never done in a Bond movie). In a scene reminiscent of DR. NO. and used extensively in the film's promo material, we next see the pair emerge from the water onto a beach of a Mediterranean villa where after a bit of flirtatious dialogue they spear gun Wyngarde (John Stone YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) whose been on the case of high-ranking executives around the world meeting mysterious deaths.
    Drummond is introduced by practicing karate and living in a swanky London bachelor pad as he's called into the case after the death of his friend Wyngarde. We're also introduced to his nephew Robert (Steve Carlson) who drops in unexpectedly and was probably added to the cast for the American market and his role is like Robert Wagner's in THE PINK PANTHER. At one point, Robert is busy romancing Brenda (Virginia North THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) while she's having eyes for his Uncle Hugh.

   Irma and Penelope continue offing more executives including Leonard Rossiter (THE WITCHES) whose drugged and thrown out a window. The deaths, while violent also contain a touch of dark humor to them and have a feel to them like THE AVENGERS TV show. Although nothing is going to match the spectacle of such Bond films as THUNDERBALL or YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, DEADLIER THEN THE MALE succeeds better hen most of the other glut of spy movies in that it has just the right amount of wry humor while not going for the broad humor that was most of the other films stock-in-trade.
    Hugh and Robert end up in the sunny Mediterranean and meet up with the film's arch-villain Carl Peterson, which is the name of Drummond's nemesis from the books and sadly doesn't have quite the gravitas of Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Blofeld but is played by the great English character actor Nigel Green (ZULU). Peterson resides in a mammoth castle and it's here the film attempts some Bond-like grandeur with a huge live size mechanical chessboard along with Peterson's harem of female assassins who include Suzanna Leigh (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE). Plus he's got Milton Reid (TERROR OF THE TONGS) as his hulking henchman.
   Seeing Richard Johnson here you can really see why he was chosen for the James Bond role. He carries the requisite charm and debonair air, but still has a streak of violence such as in a sequence where he crushes a would-be hit man's leg against a wall with his car. The film has some startling violence especially in relation to other spy films of the period. There's a scene where Penelope tortures Robert with burning matches and it's heavily implied that she tore his fingernails out.
    Even though this is Johnson's film, the real stars here are Elke Sommer and Sylvia Koscina. They make a terrific team and when absent from the screen you long for their return. Sharing a flirty sexual playfulness with their soon to be victims, Elke is more cold-blooded & aloof while Sylvia in an amazing performance (and which the movie makes very clear) is a highly sexually charged nymphomaniac with a penchant for S&M. Their banter back and forth is a delight with Elke continually confronting Sylvia about stealing her clothes. "And I told you before not to wear my negligee!"
   DEADLIER THAN THE MALE is out on a Region B Blu from Network or on a DVD with the slightly inferior (but still fun) sequel SOME GIRLS DO.

All above screen caps are from the Network Region B Blu-Ray

1 comment:

  1. Classic spy movies are a genre I have a great interest in, but other than Danger Diabolik, I haven't actually seen any of them in my adult life. This one sounds like I'd enjoy it quite a bit.
    Then again, would you count the Ginger series as spy movies?