Sunday, July 29, 2018

Latidos de Pánico / Panic Beat (Spain, 1983)

(Spoilers.) Aka Nightmare House, Cries of Terror and Frantic Heartbeat.
Paul Naschy movies are a bit like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. They've been around forever and (generally) have terrible ingredients — i.e., dull direction, bad acting and worse dubbing, hilarious storylines and etc. vs. "no artificial ingredients" and empty calories — and are in no way a culinary cum cinematic treat in accordance to traditional values, but if you're a fan no one will ever be able to convince you just how terrible they are. But then, much like eating crap is more fun than eating healthy, watching crap is usually more fun than watching quality.
John Landis & Joe Dante on Paul Naschy: 
And what's crappy about Panic Beats? The acting, for one. Perhaps some of those involved in this movie can act — we've seen a believable Naschy in other movies, for example — but the atrocious dubbing guarantees no one will ever know here. And then the direction: for the most part, it is of the Tom Slaughter school of static filming — see, for example, Slaughter's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1935) — displaying the workmanship simplicity of point and shoot, a constant exercise of the kind of dull and inexpressive camerawork endemic of no-budget productions or visually uncreative directors. (We love the long, dull scene of Naschy, to the right, and his on-screen wife, to the left, shot from the waist up and with the Eifel Tower in the background — why cut and edit or give an expository scene life when you've got the Eifel Tower?)
Then, of course, there is the improbable narrative involving an innately extreme number implausibly successful murders in a short succession — Wifey! Loyal family maid! Bothersome mistress! Bothersome husband! — and a poorly timed re-marriage that ruffles no feathers, a bloody murder site that is easily cleaned, two unscrupulous henchmen who simply disappear when no longer convenient to the plot, and so much more. Including that classic of low-caliber movies we (meaning: us men) all love: attractive babes with respectfully trimmed bushes doing gratuitous female nudity! (Gals get Naschy discreetly naked in the bathtub or bed, something that all women outside of his movies probably don't really want to see.)
But then again, all those flaws — all that which is "crappy" in the movie — are also a major contributing factor to the appeal of Naschy's movie. Were Panic Beats a tad more professional, a tad more efficiently made, it would play out like a second-rate TV movie with nudity and gore. And thus be indefinitely less enjoyable than it actually is. 
As is the case with so many Naschy movies, Panic Beats hearkens back to both a previous Naschy production, Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973 / trailer), as well some cinema classics of the past, in this case Gaslight (1940 / clip and 1944 / trailer) and Diabolique (1955 / trailer). But in regard to Horror Rises from the Tomb, although Panic Beats utilizes both the character of the long dead, killer knight Alaric de Marnac and the basic location of a secluded countryside mansion, the film is not a direct sequel to the earlier movie. No, as is the case with the let's-scare-her-to-death plotline and the dead-man-rising-from-the-bathtub scene, Naschy merely reuses familiar aspects to cook up a new movie. In the case of Panic Beats, an almost schizoid one: up until the very last five minutes or so, it remains solidly grounded in the realm of the thriller (albeit with occasional scenes of cheap but exorbitant gore) only to suddenly pull the supernatural stops out of the hat before ending abruptly and bloodily. One could, basically, compare the last three minutes to a vodka or tequila chaser that follows a beer: it sure adds a nice kick. 
The title, Latidos de Pánico / Panic Beats, is an obvious reference to the heart of the doomed and uniquely beautiful Geneviève (Julia Saly, aka Julia "La Pocha" Salinero*), the loving if annoyingly clinging and slightly hysterical wife of the fawning Paul (Paul Naschy [6 Sept 1934 – 30 Nov 2009]), a man who cannot say a single sentence to his wife without an endearment. As she is weak of heart, her doctor suggests that Paul remove her to the countryside for her health, and so, after a long scene in which Paul tells the doc all sorts of stuff that one would normally not tell a doc but that does well to fill in the viewer about everything they might need to know about the husband & wife and their past, the Parisian couple make their way to his family manor.** What follows is a tale of greed, betrayal, evil, horniness, death and killer ghostly knights that has as many twists and turns as it does women with speaking parts. The result is a movie as incompetently told as it is enjoyable — and, yes, you will laugh when you aren't supposed to.

* July Saly, who aside from the 14 films she made directed by Naschy also appeared in two directed by Amando de Ossorio (6 April 1918 – 13 Jan 2001), Night of the Seagulls (1975 / trailer) & The Possessed (1975 / full movie), as well as two by León Klimovsky (16 Oct 1906 – 8 April 1996), The People Who Own the Dark (1976 / trailer) & Death of a Hoodlum (1975 / credits), stopped making movies by 1985 and has seemed to have disappeared completely. That's her below on the cover of a flamenco record. (Ole!) In Panic Beats, the only thing more notable than her extremely bad acting and extremely protracted death scene — she literally (and hilariously) groans and moans and grasps at her heart for forever — is her exquisite, non-traditional beauty... and her penchant for wearing furs.

** According to Ninja Dixon and others, Panic Beats was shot in General Franco's old villa. If true, the film reveals that Franco had an absolutely horrendous taste in interior design. Half the rooms look like those of a cheap whorehouse (or at least a cheap film set). But then, has good taste ever been expected of mass-murdering fascists?
Like during Panic Beat's opening scene, before we are even introduced to Paul and Geneviève, which is set in a time the long past with a modern-looking naked woman (Carole Kirkham*) running through a foggy and strobe-light-lit forest,** only to stumble, fall, and be beaten to death with a mace by the evil knight Alaric de Marnac. It seems that his cheating wife robbed the crazed knight of all mercy for women, and legend has it that he returns every 100 years to kill the wives of his descendants. A legend that Julie (Frances Ondiviela), the conniving niece of housemaid Mabile (Lola Gaos [2 Dec 1921 – 4 July 1993]) makes sure to tell Geneviève: from the moment Julie and Paul first cast lust-filled eyes upon each other, any viewer with a brain knows that Geneviève is in the way. But, wait! There's more to Paul than meets the eye: he not only has an unwanted wife, but an unwanted mistress, Mireille (Silvia Miró***), as well. With or without Viagra, the guy gets around it seems.

* Kirkham's auspicious film career of exactly four movies includes Eligio Herrero's post-apocalypse set Animales racionales / Human Animals (1983 / trailer), in which she gets porked by a dog, and ended with Ismael González's intriguingly entitled I Love Hitler (1984 / full film).
 
** A type of lighting of scenes extremely popular in horror films of the 80s, a decade in which nights and graveyards were always fog-filled and lit by strobes (see: The Night Flier [1997]).
 
*** A woman of intriguing facial features, she hands down has the best bod of the movie (below). Panic Beats appears to be her final film appearance.

Although Paul Naschy is the nominal lead of the film, he probably has less screen time than that of the women combined, despite his presence in two roles, possibly three: aside from playing Paul and Alaric de Marnac, the physical shape of the junky boyfriend, whom one never fully sees, looks an awful lot like that of Naschy. (He's also the director, actually: "Jacinto Molina [Álvarez]" is his birth name — a fact that probably already known to fans of the man.) But if one character truly gets the most attention, then it is Julie, a woman as rotten inside as she is youthful and beautiful. She commits the most unexpected and gore-laden killing in Panic Beats, and at one point also offers a nice homage to the Euro-gothics of yesteryear by wandering around the darkened house in a long and lacy white nightgown. 
As mentioned, Panic Beats is hardly the best film in the traditional sense of a good movie. But if you make it past the somewhat plodding bit after the opening scene of gratuitous nudity and blood, it proves to be a twisting and turning, trashy and entertaining hodgepodge of borrowed ideas and bad dubbing lightly splattered with nudity and guts. And as an added plus, everyone dies in the end!

For your added pleasure:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Short Film: Left to Right (USSR, 1989)


Directed by Ivan Maksimov. This month's Short Film is located smack dab in the middle of "WTF Land" — as in: "WTF does that mean?" 
Left to Right, aka Sleva Napravo (Russian: Слева направо) is a student film, the first animated film made by Russian animator Ivan Leonidovich Maximov (born 19 November 1958). The music is by the Polish electronic music artist Marek Bilinski and, according to the imdb, four authors — Bakir Dzhusupbekov, K. Konirkulzhaev, Dzhamshed Mansurov and Maksimov — wrote the Bolero-like non-narrative of the "dreadful visions of a hungry puppy" [MUBI]. Over at Print Mag they have a rather terse interview in which Maximov says the short is "a sketch of transformation and vanity". The vanity we do not see, the transformation, yes: the short is basically a plotless continuity of growth, metamorphosis and pooping that arguable belies Maksimov's own assertion that he doesn't take drugs.

"Many people have no channel to their unconscious, so their
fantasy and imagination can work nice only with the help of drugs. They cannot realize that someone can be constructed otherwise
."

In any event, we would say, like Wilf Shaw, that Left to Right is a "lovely little short, genuinely weird and [with] interesting visuals and very pleasingly rhythmic, though not much more to be said about it than that."
It is also not the weirdest short of the numerous short films Maksimov has made over the years, most of which can be viewed on his blog (click on his name above to get there). It is, however, the first of his films that we saw, and thus the one we choose to present. Enjoy!


Sunday, July 15, 2018

R.I.P. Maria Rohm, Part I: 1964-67



13 August 1945 – 18 June 2018

We were so busy putting together Part II of our career review of cult actress Janine Reynaud that the passing of another cult beauty of the 60s slipped past us: Vienna-born Maria Rohm (nee Helga Grohmann), talented cult actress and wife of British independent film producer and screenwriter Harry Alan Towers (19 Oct 1920 – 31 July 2009), went the way of the wind at the age of 72 in Toronto, Canada, the home of Bruce McArthur. Rohm, who began her acting career as a child stage actress, seems to have begun her film career at the age of twenty playing a prostitute in a 1964 film, but soon after she married producer Towers (also in 1964) he began putting her in many of his projects, including nine different movies directed by Jess Franco (12 May 1930 – 2 April 2013). She retired from acting in 1976, but like her husband remained active as a producer.  
Let's take a look at her movies...


Teufel im Fleisch
 (1964, writ & dir Hermann Wallbrück)

Maria Rohm's feature film debut as a prostitute. As far as we can tell, this German language production was released in the USA in 1967 as Devil in the Flesh. In Germany, it recently even had a DVD re-release — German language only. German sources generally list this movie as a 1963 production.
German trailer to
Devil in the Flesh:
Director Wallbrück is a bit of a mystery: his oeuvre seems limited, the earliest credit being as cameraman for a German comedy entitled Das Bad auf der Tenne (1943 / credits), the third feature-length, full color film production in Nazi Germany (though the fourth to be released); Goebbels supposedly wasn't too fond of the film due to the "sparsely dressed ladies", but the film was a hit.
Post-war, Wallbrück showed up next in Austria. According to Robert von Dassanowsky in his book Austrian Cinema, A History: "The third [post-war Austrian] film of 1946 was Schleichendes Gift / Slow Poison [poster above], an "enlightenment" film by the German director and cinematographer Hermann Wallbrück on the post-war venereal disease epidemic."
And it is to this topic, venereal disease, that Wallbrück returned to in what seems to be his fourth and final directorial credit, Devil in the Flesh. Interesting names in the cast are above all the females: Ruth Gassmann, who went on to star in the classic German "enlightenment" films of the 60s,  Helga (1967 / trailer), and it sequels Helga und Michael (1968) and Helga und die Männer – Die sexuelle Revolution (1969 / poster below), and the singer-actress Dunja Rajter, who is found in both one of the best Rialto-produced Edgar Wallace films, Der unheimliche Mönch (1965 / German trailer), as well as an infamous movie considered one of the all-time worst ever made in Germany, Christian Anders' unforgetable Die Brut des Bösen / Roots of Evil (1969 / trailer). The male lead, Aleksandar Gavric [28 May 1932 – 6 Dec 1972], is also found in one of the better forgotten films about war and joy girls, Valerio Zurlini's Le soldatesse / The Camp Followers / Women at War (1965 / full subtitled film).
The text at Videobuster (like the German trailer voiceover) is properly sensationalistic: "The fear of an unwanted child disappears, and the high risk of sexually transmitted diseases increases. A topic that cannot be any more pressing than it is now. Shocking pictures show the viewer the cruel magnitude of diabolical, sexually transmitted diseases. This movie changed Germany. It received extensive press coverage, and was highly praised by the highest political offices."
For that, at 2001, the Das größte Filmlexikon der Welt more or less says: "A German medical team is dispatched to the tropics of Africa to study the spread of venereal diseases brought in by white colonizers. Under the excuse of 'we care', viewers are presented an awkward, pseudoscientific storyline and documentary footage about the situation of sexually transmitted diseases in Europe and Africa. A speculative snapshot without any relevance and lasting educational effect."


Mozambique
(1964, dir. Robert Lynn)

The German poster above is by August Hoff, about whom we could find nothing. Mozambique is one of producer Towers' first feature-film productions after working for almost a decade producing programs for TV; he turned to director Robert Lynn (9 June 1918 – 15 Jan 1982) as his director.
Robert Lynn was primarily active on TV or as a second-unit and/or assistant director, but he occasionally took the helm and directed a feature film alone. The result was competently directed, entertaining flicks like this one or Coast of Skeletons (1965). Producer Harry Alan Towers (as "Peter Welbeck") supplied the "original story" from which the professional, Aussie-born scribe Peter Yeldham created a screenplay. (Among his other scripts: And Then There Were None [1965] and The Liquidator [1965 / trailer].) Towers' young wife, Maria Rohm, makes an uncredited appearance — don't blink — as "young woman at bar" ("wearing a very vivid shade of lipstick").

Trailer to
Mozambique:
DVD Drive-In has the plot: "Rumpled, down-on-his luck American pilot Brad Webster (Steve Cochran [24 May 1917 – 15 June 1965], of The Beat Generation [1959 / opening scene]) can't get arrested in Lisbon, after cracking up his plane and killing everyone aboard. He can't get arrested, that is, until he gets arrested in a bar fight, giving Police Commandant Commarro (Paul Hubschmid, aka "Paul Christian" [20 July 1917 – 31 Dec 2001], of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [1953, see: Ray Harryhausen] and The Day the Sky Exploded [1958 / trailer]) a chance to blackmail Webster into taking a job in Mozambique for the mysterious Colonel Valdez. Why? Well, Commarro makes the plan appear to be his way to get troublemaker Webster out of Lisbon, but really he's using Brad for bait. Webster's new employer, Colonel Valdez, has made millions of pounds sterling selling drugs to Zanzibar, and the only way the money can be traced to its Swiss bank locations is through a coded sheet that Commarro hopes to ferret out, with Brad's unwitting help, after Valdez's lawyer was zapped in Lisbon. However, once Brad arrives in the city of Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, he finds out Valdez is dead, and three people are vying for his smuggling empire: his beautiful, tortured widow, Ilona (Hildegard Knef [28 Dec 1925 – 1 Feb 2002], of Die Mörder Sind Unter Uns [1946] and Witchery [1988 / trailer]); his second-in-command, greasy Da Silva (Martin Benson [10 Aug 1918 – 28 Feb 2010], The Strange World of Planet X aka Cosmic Monsters [1958 / trailer], Gorgo [1961 / trailer] and Night Creatures [1962 / trailer]); and friendly competitor Henderson (Dietmar Schonherr [17 May 1926 – 18 July 2014], of Das Geheimnis der chinesischen Nelke / Secret of the Chinese Carnation [1964 / German trailer], Das Ungeheuer von London-City / The Monster of London City [1964 / German trailer] and Die Nylonschlinge / Nylon Noose [1963 / German trailer]). Brad now has to figure out what cargo he'll be flying around Africa (take a guess), while also trying to find Christina (Vivi Bach [3 Sept 1939 – 22 April 2013]), the attractive blonde singer he met on the plane to Mozambique. You see, naive Christina didn't realize she was hired by Valdez to be a hooker in his night club, so when she's carted off to Zanzibar by a horny sheik (Gert van den Bergh [16 Oct 1920 – 16 Feb 1968] of The Naked Prey [1965 / trailer]), Steve has to rescue her as well as crack the case of Valdez's murder."
The critical view: "At least the outdoor scenery is good. That's basically my assessment of this Harry Alan Towers production about organized crime in Portuguese Africa. Filmed on location, Mozambique is a spy thriller that simply falls flat in producing any sense of intrigue or excitement. [Mystery File]"
The song sung by Hildegard Knef in Mozambique,
Das geht beim ersten Mal vorbei:
The forgiving view: "Actually shot in the country of its name […] Mozambique has some seriously politically incorrect charms. Cochran […] was approaching 50 at this point and looked like a retired boxer. Seeing him paired up romantically with adorably sexy 20-something actress Hildegard Kneff [sic] is quite amusing. From the moment they meet on a plane her character starts hitting on him. The oily Da Silva is played for all its sinister Latino stereotypes with gusto by Benson. There's also a white slavery ring with the creepy Da Silva selling hot white girls to a nasty Arab tycoon/sheik and my personal anti-PC lottery winner — a killer dwarf. The movie tries and fails miserably to ape Hitchcock but it does swing a gorgeously mapped out climax shot on Victoria Falls — which has our hero dangling from a bridge while assassins (and a hot Teutonic blonde, natch) try to pick him off. […] As a bit of a soundtrack aficionado, I'm in love with the marvelous Johnny Douglas score that accompanies Mozambique. Simultaneously groovy and evocative and period perfect, it oozes sex appeal and lifts the film above its station more than once. […] Slightly ludicrous. Dated. Sexist. […] But if you dig groovy 60's escapism and get a kick out of the Harry Alan Towers fun-loving worldview, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had here. [Rock! Shock! Pop!]"
Regarding legendary screen heavy and ladies man Steve Cochran, Mozambique was his last movie. Over at the imdb, Gary Brumburgh has the details to Cochran's demise: "In 1965, Steve hired an assortment of ladies for an 'all-girl crew' to accompany him on a boating trip to check out locations for an upcoming film he was to produce and star in entitled Captain O'Flynn. Leaving Acapulco on June 3rd, the boat encountered extremely stormy weather and Steve's health, which was not good in the first place (he took ill while filming Mozambique and failed to see a doctor), quickly took a turn for the worst. He died of an acute lung infection and was dead for nearly a week when his drifting schooner and the girls (one of whom was several years under-age) was rescued from the ocean near Guatemala on June 21st. A fitting if not troubling end for the one-time he-man Hollywood star."
And while we don't know where Vivi "The Danish Bardot" Bach and Dietmar Schonherr met — that's them directly above — they married in 1965.
From the movie — Vivi Bach sings
Hey Boy, geh' deinen Weg! (Hey You!):


Twenty-Four Hours to Kill
(1965, dir. Peter Bezencenet [15 June 1914 – Sept 2003])
Set in Lebanon, filmed in Lebanon: Towers' young wife, Maria ("Marie Rohm") Rohm, plays Claudine — she works for "The Firm". The real stars of the movie are the slumming Mickey Rooney (23 Sept 1920 – 6 April 2014) and Lex Barker (8 May 1919 – 11 May 1973). The latter was always a bigger name in Europe than the US. In her autobiography, Detour: a Hollywood Tragedy — My Life With Lana Turner, My Mother (1988), Cheryl Crane claimed that he sexually assaulted her several times while he was married to her mother. Nice guy.

Scene with
Lex "Big" Barker:
Oh, yeah: Barker's stewardess gal pal is played by Helga Sommerfeld (5 March 1941 – 28 Sept 1991), who's also found in the Bryan Edgar Wallace krimi, Das Phantom von Soho (1964 / German trailer). That's her doing cheesecake directly below, found at one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite websites, WikiFeet.
The plot, as more-or-less supplied at the German language website Remember It For Later: "On a flight to Athens, technical problems force pilot James Faulkner (Lex Barker) to land in Beirut. While most of the team is dazzled by the unexpected visit to the metropolis, flight attendant Norman Jones (Mickey Rooney) is less is thrilled. What his colleagues don't know: for years he was employed as a messenger for Beirut-based smuggler Malouf (Walter Slezak [3 May 1902 – 21 April 1983], of Hitchcock's Lifeboat [1944 / trailer]), from whom he stole 40,000 British pounds. It doesn't take the gangster boss long to find out that Jones is back in the city… in desperation, Jones appeals to his colleagues for help, without telling them of his criminal past. They now have to survive the next 24 hours until the machine can start again..."
The Movie Scene, which says that "Twenty-Four Hours to Kill is one of those movies which when you watch for the first time you will quickly become fascinated by […] but it isn't the sort of movie which you will find a desire to watch more than once," also says: "When someone says the words Beirut, I tend to think of 'war-torn Beirut', the words so frequently used on the news whenever a journalist was there giving a live report. So it is interesting to come across Twenty-Four Hours to Kill, which takes us to a very beautiful Beirut before the war-torn part became synonymous with its name. The irony is that the Beirut shown in this 60s movie is not that different to other Middle Eastern locations used in other movies during the 60s, but because this is a Beirut so few of us will have ever seen it adds something extra to the movie and what a beautiful place it was."


City of Fear
(1965, dir. Peter Bezencenet)
Towers' young wife, Maria Rohm, works with Peter Bezencement again in what seems to also be his last directorial project; a former film editor, he seems to have left the film biz after City of Fear. The movie is clearly a Marissa Mell vehicle. (Go here for a fun Melissa Mell fanblog.) Co-scripter Max Bourne seems never to have written another screenplay.
 
Though a Austro-British production, the only plot description we could find was in German at Italo Cinema, and it reveals plot developments that just don't fly in the contemporary world (the following translation is loose): "The American journalist Mike Forster (Paul Maxwell) is waiting for his flight to Budapest at the Vienna Airport when he meets and gets in a conversation with a stranger named Ferenc (Pinkas Braun [7 Jan 1923 – 24 June 2008] of Mission Stardust [1967 / trailer], Im Bahn des Unheimlichen [1968], Der Bucklige von Soho [1966 / German trailer] and much more). Ferenc tells of his sister's deathly ill child who needs a serum that isn't available in Budapest. He tries to convince Mike to smugger the small package over to his sister, as Ferenc, as a refugee, cannot. The name and phone number of the woman are on a piece of paper. Before he can say no, Ferenc has disappeared again, so Mike has no other choice but to do as requested. Arriving in Budapest, the journalist loses the piece of paper with the address. Since it could be a matter of life and death, he gets an announcement broadcast on radio Budapest, whereupon soon after a mysterious woman named Ilona Kovacs (Marisa Mell) shows up at his hotel. As they talk, Mike becomes increasingly suspicious and finally checks the contents of the package. To his astonishment, inside are two American passports issued to Ilona and her father (Albert Lieven [23 June 1906 – 22 Dec 1971] of Das Geheimnis der Gelben Narzissen  [1961] and Gorilla Gang [1968 / trailer])…"
Das größte Filmlexikon der Welt dismisses the movie as a naïve agent film with a much-too-lacking story.
In the book Harry Alan Towers: The Transnational Career of a Cinematic Contrarian, author Dave Mann opinions that City of Fear is "a tentative and ill-made venture filmed in Austria and Hungry": "This time the McGuffin is a package containing false passports to enable dissidents to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. In order to satisfy the requests of both American and Austrian sponsors, British-based Canadian Paul Maxwell starred opposite former star Terry Moore then on the way down and Austrian Marisa Mell then on the way up. Shot in B&W, like the other Towers film directed by Peter Bezencenet, Twenty-Four Hours to Kill, City of Fear is essentially a rehash of countless episodes of British spy series […]."


Our Man in Marrakesh
(1966, dir. Don Sharp)

Trailer to
Our Man in Marrakesh:
Aka: Bang! Bang! You're Dead! Once again: story by Towers, script by Peter Yeldham, and Towers' young wife, Maria Rohm this time in an uncredited appearance as "Woman in Carriage". We took a quick look at this movie seven years ago in our blog entry R.I.P. Donald Sharp.
There, we wrote: "Retitled Bang! Bang! You're Dead! for its US release. The New York Times says "Films like Bang, Bang, You're Dead helped kill the movie career of Tony Randall in the mid-1960s" — but who ever believes The New York Times? [Hey, if Donald "Dotard" Trump doesn't, why should you?] This euro-spy persiflage possesses a must-see relevance best summed up simply with: 'Tony Randall versus Klaus Kinski.'
Web of Mystery calls it 'One of the best of the 60s Euro-Spy cycle,' pointing out its great cast which, aside from Randall and Kinski, also includes Herbert Lom (99 Women [1969 / trailer]), Wilfrid Hyde-White (The Third Man [1949 / trailer]), Terry-Thomas (The Abominable Dr Phibes [1971 / trailer]), Margaret Lee (Venus in Furs [1969 / trailer]) and a delectable Senta Berger (Sherlock Holmes & the Deadly Necklace [1962]).
Bang! Bang! You're Dead! is basically a low budget riff on North by Northwest (1959 / trailer) but set in Marrakesh, with Randall playing an innocent oil company rep (verses Cary Grant's ad executive) who gets caught up in a plot involving 2 million bucks bribe money to fix UN votes."
Among the many films Margaret Lee seen below, not from this film — made, 11 were with Klaus Kinski — the last of which is the wonderfully sleazy La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (1971), aka Slaughter Hotel. She pretty much retired thereafter, but for a rare appearance.
Trailer to
Slaughter Hotel:


The Million Eyes of Su-Muru
(1966, dir. Lindsay Shonteff)
Towers' young wife, Maria Rohm, finally gets a larger part (but no name on the poster) in this adaptation of a Sax Rohmer (15 Feb 1883 – 1 June 1959) novel. Rohmer, born Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, was one of the most successful and well-paid English-language authors of 1920s and 30s, his success built upon his famous personification of the decidedly non-racist (NOT!) concept of the "the Yellow Peril", Dr. Fu-Manchu, whom he introduced to the world in 1913 with the novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
Rohmer went on to write 15 Fu-Manchu books — some of which Harry Alan Towers was to later adapt, if extremely loosely. After Towers' first Fu-Manchu film, The Face of Fu Manchu (1965 / trailer), Towers also turned to a later and possibly somewhat less-known Rohmer character, a female counterpart of Fu-Manchu named Su-Muru, whom Rohmer had introduced in 1950 in the novel Nude in Mink / The Sins of Su-Muru and eventually featured in five more novels. (Both characters, of course, existed beforehand in other forms — i.e., radio and/or serials. Indeed, Nude in Mink was a novel form of the Su-Muru radio series of the late 40s.)
Trailer to
The Million Eyes of Su-Muru:
Canadian director Lindsay Shonteff (5 Nov 1935 – 11 March 2006) is now unjustly forgotten, but in his day he worked on a number of fun low budget movies ranging from agent to horror to sex. He began his illustrious career by directing the Richard Gordon productions Devil Doll (1964 / trailer) and Curse of the Voodoo (1965 / trailer) and ended it with satire Angels, Devils and Men (2009 / trailer).
While Maria Rohm gets a lot of screen time as Helga, the right-hand breasts of the titular evil babe Sumuru, the true female star of The Million Eyes of Su-Muru is, of course, Shirley Eaton (of What a Carve Up! [1961 / full film] and And Then There Were None [1965]). As Classic Film and TV Café points out, Shirley Eaton "retired from acting in 1969 [after doing the sequel to this film, which we look at later] to raise her family. That hasn't kept Ms. Eaton from becoming a sculptor and photographer, penning an autobiography (1999's Golden Girl), publishing a book on poetry, and appearing at film conventions." In an interview conducted with the said website in 2014, Ms. Eaton said, "After I finished The Million Eyes of Su-Muru and [the sequel] The Girl from Rio and was coming home in the plane was when I made the decision to quit. I hated being away from my baby Jason and his brother Grant! However, I did enjoy being the wicked lady Su-Muru in two rather bad films, which I had not had the chance to be before. I do believe they have become cult films now."
The Million Eyes of Su-Muru was filmed at the Shaw Brothers studios in Hong Kong and stars, as the good guys, Frankie Avalon (of Panic in Year Zero! [1962 / trailer], The Haunted House of Horror [1969 / trailer, with Jill Haworth], and more) and gay heartthrob George Nader (19 Oct 1921 – 4 Feb 2002, of Robot Monster [1953 / trailer]).
George Nader
gets a girl:
The plot, as found at the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review: "Su-Muru (Eaton) leads an all-female army and has a plan to conquer the world by sending her women out to seduce the world's most powerful men. However, one of her girls has committed the ultimate betrayal — fallen in love — and so Su-Muru sends a team to kill her in Rome. British Intelligence persuades CIA agent Nick West (Nader) to go to Rome to investigate because the murdered girl was an aide to the Sindonesian military chief Colonel Medika (Jon Fong). There Nick and his playboy friend Tommy Carter (Avalon) are plunged into action when Medika is abducted and killed by Su-Muru's girls. West and Tommy are then sent to Hong Kong where West is asked to masquerade as the Sindonesian President Boong's (Klaus Kinski*) new security chief. Instead, West is snatched and taken to Su-Muru's nearby island base where she persuades him to help Helga (Maria Rohm), one of her girls, get close to Boong in order to assassinate him. A spanner is thrown in the works when Helga decides she cannot go through with her mission and wants to flee Su-Muru's organisation."
* "The sexual abuse claims levelled against Klaus Kinski by his daughter Pola make it clear that cinema fans have deified a monster. The evil that he oozed on the silver screen has now been retroactively authenticated by his alleged depravity. [Spiegel]"
Fantastic Musings laments, "Poor George Nader! Not only is he saddled here with some of the lamest comic one-liners ever written, but he also receives lower billing than Frankie Avalon, who plays what amounts to (for all practical purposes) his sidekick. Not only that, most of the audience is probably too busy ogling the beautiful women to pay any attention to him, and then Klaus Kinski comes along in a cameo and out-acts the rest of the cast. [...]"
I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind, however, infers that the film is "entertaining and visually stylish" and that "fun is the key word here", adding that Su-Muru "owns an island undermined with high explosives and populated by a crack army of female assassins dressed in black tights. We see plenty of bare midriffs but no nudity. Boot and leather fetishists will have no complaints and watching Eaton whip a chained-up Nader is camp fun of the highest order. Su-Muru's dream is a world dominated by women where Love is a capital offense. That seems just fine with Nader as he takes every chance to get into a hot clutch with every Su-Muru operative in reach."

Five Golden Dragons
(1966, dir. Jeremy Summers)

A German/British coproduction shot on location in Hong Kong, it is the first of four films Jeremy Summers (18 Aug 1931 – 14 Dec 2016) was to direct for Harry Alan Towers. Previously, Summers directed the rather dated Gerry and the Pacemakers feature film, Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965 / trailer / song). As to be expected, though set in Asia and featuring five bad guys — the titular Five Golden Dragons — everyone is Caucasian. At least on the German poster, Maria Rohm is finally listed. She plays the leading lady Ingrid; the bigger female name, Maria Perschy ([23 Sept 1938 – 3 Dec 2004], of The Ghost Galleon [1974 / trailer] and so much more), who plays Ingrid's sister Margret, bites the dust, thus making Ingrid the leading lady be default.

Trailer to
Five Golden Dragons:
Five Golden Dragons is often sold as an Edgar Wallace movie, but it hardly qualifies as such: Towers simply wrote a Wallace character, Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies [22 May 1916 – 22 Nov 1976], of Frightmare [1974 / trailer], Sapphire [1959], Witchfinder General [1968], and so much more), into the movie and Viola! The film became a Wallace movie although it isn't really based on anything he wrote.

From Five Golden Dragons
Yukarito Ito sings:
Over at the generally non-critical website Aveleyman, some guy named Scott Palmer reduces the plot to the following: "Often amusing little mystery/adventure picture starring Bob Cummings (9 June 1910 – 2 Dec 1990) as an American playboy in Hong Kong. After a man named Porter is pushed off a rooftop to his death, the police discover a note in his pocket addressed to Bob Mitchell (Cummings). The only thing in the note is the cryptic message 'Five Golden Dragons'. Mitchell encounters murder, intrigue and beautiful women…."
"You could be forgiven for expecting Five Golden Dragons to be a knock-off of the 1960s Fu Manchu series, given the title, the Hong Kong setting and the involvement of Fu producer Harry Alan Towers, director Jeremy Summers and star Christopher Lee. In fact, this is a very different kettle of fish, being more in the tradition of the Bond-inspired spy spoofs that littered the decade […]. As such, it's a bit of an oddity — needlessly convoluted with far too many characters (seemingly, the need to cram in as many recognizable names as possible was more important than plot cohesion) and having an uneasy mix of comedy and action. It has that odd Euro co-production vibe to it as well, here made even more uneven by the Hong Kong connection. The result is a film that is never boring, but which really fails to hang together. [...] Eventually, we get to meet four Dragons — a marquee-busting and budget-friendly brief appearance from Christopher Lee, George Raft, Brian Donlevy and Dan Duryea, who presumably did a day's work and got a holiday in Hong Kong out of it. The identity of the fifth Dragon is the film's big mystery — the solution to this makes no sense at all, given that none of the Dragons know each other anyway. [...] But if you forget about wanting any sort of storyline and simply sit back to enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of it all, then this is enjoyably wacky. It's the sort of film that couldn't have been made in any other decade, the somewhat camp, lightweight nature of the narrative giving it a curious innocence. There's violence, but nothing too graphic; sexiness, but no sex. [From: Reprobate]"
"A largely forgotten film despite its big name cast, Five Golden Dragons is an effective little thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat first time around, and has enough interesting direction and storyline to keep repeat viewings interesting. Viewers just wanting to see Kinski, Donlevy, etc. will probably be disappointed, but the film should prove of general interest to cult movie fans and comes recommended. [From: Mondo Esoteria]"
Ninja Dixon is more right than wrong when he gushes, "Harry Alan Towers was a genius. I've never been bored watching a Harry-movie. Sometimes they've been bad, but still entertaining and good quality. Five Golden Dragons is a very charming and witty thriller set in Hong Kong, and who deserves much more attention. [...] But the main reason to watch this movie is Robert Cummings. The guy's a blast and with the wrong actor in this role the comedy would be terrible. But it's not, thanks to destiny, Towers and whatever reason Robert was cast."
The third sexy babe of the movie is once again Margaret Lee, as Magda, a nightclub singer who proves to have more up her sleeve than one initially thinks. In the clip below, of her performing at the club, she speaks briefly to Peterson, played by one Austria's more versatile character actors, Sieghardt Rupp (4 June 1931 – 20 July 2015). He began his film career as "Tommy Rupp" in the rather obscure Mädchen für die Mambo-Bar (1959), and is perhaps best known internationally for his juicy part in A Fistful of Dollars (1964).
Margaret Lee sings
Five Golden Dragons:


The Vengeance of Fu Manchu
(1967, dir. Jeremy Summers)

As always, the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review has a concise plot description: "Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) abducts a missionary doctor (Wolfgang Kieling [16 March 1924 – 7 Oct 1985]) and forces him to surgically turn one of Fu Manchu's Dacoits into a double for Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer). The double is substituted for Sir Dennis and, under hypnotic command, kills Sir Dennis's maid (Mona Chong). As 'Sir Dennis' is placed on trial and sentenced to be executed, England reels in shock. Fu Manchu makes plans to disrupt the world by substituting doubles for the police commissioners of other countries."

Trailer to
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu: 
This is the second movie of four that Jeremy Summers was to direct for Harry Alan Towers, all with Maria Rohm on the cast. The German poster at the top of this entry was created by Ernst Litter (5 July 1918 – 27 Dec 2006), "one of the favorite and most productive poster artists from the 40s to the 60s"; between 1946 and 1968, he created around 600 different film posters for the German-language market.The poster was later recycled for the English-language release of the next Fu Manchu movie, The Blood of Fu Mnachu (1968).
Somewhere in the movie, the since-retired starlette Suzanner Roquette appears as the character Maria, a fact we mention only so we have reason to use her photograph below — not from the movie, obviously enough..
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu is the third British/German co-production in the Fu Manchu series, and the first to be filmed in Hong Kong. In the UK, it was released on a double-bill with Lindsay Shonteff's The Million Eyes of Su-Muru. Maria Rohm gets poster credit on most posters, no matter what land. As Ingrid, a nightclub singer, she sings in the movie, but her singing voice is supplied by Samantha Jones.
Not from the film —
Samantha Jones sings My Way:
Trivia: Christopher Lee (Dr. Fu Manchu), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang) and Howard Marion-Crawford (Dr. Petrie) are the only actors to appear in all five Fu Manchu films. As Nayland Smith, Douglas Wilmer [8 Jan 1920 – 31 March 2016], who made this and the preceding movie, The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966 / trailer), and had replaced Nigel Green ([15 Oct 1924 – 15 May 1972] of The Face of Fu Manchu [1965 / trailer]), was in turn subsequently replaced by Richard Greene (25 Aug 1918 – 1 June 1985) for The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968 / trailer) and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969 / trailer).
TV Guide shares a tale about the movie that seems more like a tall tale than anything else: "Shot in color, the picture was mysteriously released in the US in black-and-white. […] The Chinese extras, according to Christopher Lee, were by no stretch of the imagination inscrutable; one pushy extra, who tried to be in every scene, was actually killed by his colleagues for his rudeness. Hollywood, take note."
"[…] In Vengeance, the third and most violent entry in the series, […] producer Harry Alan Towers, again scripting as 'Peter Welbeck," errs in having Lee, Wilmer, and the delirious central plot take a backseat to uninteresting supporting characters, like various gangsters (Horst Frank and Peter Carsten), an FBI agent (Noel Trevarthan), a Shanghai detective (Tony Ferrer) and a sultry nightclub singer (Maria Rohm, Towers' wife). Towers seems to have spent most of the budget on Lee (who's absent for long stretches) and some location shooting in Hong Kong, but other than some occasional attractive exteriors, Towers and director Jeremy Summers don't really take advantage of it visually. [Good Efficient Butchery]"
"[The Vengeance of Fu Manchu] isn't really a bad Fu Manchu movie; the plot is straightforward and easy to follow, and the basic story is interesting (even if certain plot elements don't stand up to close scrutiny). Yet, it made me realize just how much the whole sixties Fu Manchu series disappointed me. […] At their best, the movies seem competent but uninspired, as if everyone was working for the paycheck but little else. I think there was some potential for this series that never got realized. [Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings]"


The House of 1,000 Dolls
(1967, dir. Jeremy Summers)
 

"There is a good reason this movie gets very rarely shown anywhere."
 
The third of four movies that Jeremy Summers was to direct for Harry Alan Towers, and the third he made in 1967. He split the chores with German co-director Hans Billian (15 April 1918 – 18 Dec 2007), oddly enough credited as "Manfred Koeler", a director usually associated with sex comedies. The movie is available in multiple cuts, the German version even including "alternate material". A German-Britain co-production, House of 1000 Dolls was shot in Spain.

Trailer to
The House of 1,000 Dolls:
Dan Pavlides at All Movie has the plot: "Felix Manderville (Vincent Price [27 May 1911 – 25 Oct 1993] of The Last Man on Earth [1964], The Masque of Red Death [1964], and Witchfinder General [1968]) is a traveling magician who manages to make young women disappear in this exploitation thriller. The trouble is, Felix drugs the femmes and sells them to white slave traders with the help of his mind-reading assistant Rebecca (Martha Hyer [10 Aug 1924 – 31 May 2014] of The First Men in the Moon [1964 / trailer] and Picture Mommy Dead [1966 / full film]). Marie Armstrong (Anne Smyrner [3 Nov 1934 – 29 Aug 2016], seen below but not from this movie) and her husband Stephen (George Nader) are American tourists who fall into the trap of the felonious flesh pedlars. Price plays the part with his usual suave and sinister manner in this routine production."
The two fall into the trap, actually, because they run into an old friend, Fernando (Sancha Gracia [27 Sept 36 – 8 Aug 2012] of one of the most violent spaghetti westerns ever made, Django, Kill! [1967 / trailer below]), whose fiancée, Diane (Maria Rohm), has been kidnapped by the dastardly duo working for a mysterious figure known only as "The King of Hearts". Fernando gets killed relatively quickly, but Stephen proves to be a man's man…
German trailer to
Django, Kill!
"Well you don't go to a movie like this for stark realism, and I'm happy to say that House of 1,000 Dolls doesn't bother with any. There's a fairly rudimentary plot about George's wife getting enlisted in the brothel's Ladies Auxiliary, some mystery about who The King of Hearts will turn out to be, a few fights, chases, murders and a slave-girl revolt […] all handled passably, sometimes stylishly… but somehow never memorably. This is a film you will soon forget, but it's painless and sporadically fun to watch. [Mystery File]"
"This little oddity of a film is, aside from being a lesser-seen Vincent Price vehicle, a thoroughly entertaining (in that guilty sort of way), though really quite tame romp. Produced by Harry Alan Towers […], it is, according to Mark McGee, author of Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, 'quite possibly the sleaziest movie AIP ever made'. I sincerely doubt that. […] Instead it unspools as a rather campy yarn complete with ropey dubbing and extras wearing a lot of tanned make-up. The brief moments of exploitation — scenes depicting the scantily-clad beauties mud-wrestling, cat-fighting or being whipped for trying to escape — provide much of the guilty entertainment; but it isn't as remotely sleazy as it sounds. […] The plot becomes quite bogged down with myriad characters and subplots and it takes a while to pull everything together. Meanwhile much camp amusement ensues. […] A couple of chase scenes are effectively handled and provide a little respite from the uneven pace, but even the scene in which a leggy Danish gymnast () makes a break for it, shimmying down the wall of the house only to have her already scant clothes ripped off by the guards in hot pursuit, is more akin to Benny Hill than a suspenseful thriller. […] While its tameness is a little disappointing, House is never dull, and even if it simply can't live up to its seedy, sex-fuelled and exploitative promise; it's still a distracting little thriller with enough twists and camp delight to hold your interest. [Behind the Couch]"

Go here for Part II: 1968-69
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