Posted by morlockjeff on September 18, 2010
One of countless Eurospy actioners released in the wake of the James Bond film craze in the sixties, SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON (aka New York chiama Superdrago, 1966) has been mercilessly ridiculed on MST3K but served straight up, it’s often funnier in its own poker-faced way and has some oddball flourishes to set it apart from its fellow spy wannabes. I know it denotes a certain immaturity in the writer to even do a post on this, yet I am compelled…I must! (Alcohol can aid and sometime improve B-movies….but rarely art films).
After the minimalistic opening credits with its electric guitar-driven theme song by composer Benedetto Ghiglia (Johnny Colt, Psychout for Murder), the story begins with a ground level view of a car pulling up to the curb and someone in a pink skirt, pink high heels and a white handbag (with a gun inside) steps into the frame. We follow the pink skirt into someone’s back yard and see a man resting by the pool. The pink intruder picks up a letter opener from the nearby table and begins to jab the man lightly in the ribs. No response. She then activates the alarm on his metronome and he wakes up and tosses her into the pool. If nothing else, it’s a novel way to introduce our hero, Bryan Cooper aka Super Dragon (Ray Danton) and his infatuated coworker in undercover espionage, Cynthia “Comfort” Fulton (Margaret Lee, star of countless giallos and Eurotrash genre films such as Jess Franco’s Venus in Furs).
The plot thickens as Super Dragon is pressured by the C.I.A. to take on a case involving a missing college girl who may be the link to the mysterious malady that is affecting the residents of Freemont, Michigan. Comfort tells him, “Two healthy students suddenly die of heart failure. Four others of a nervous disorder. A fight breaks out for no reason and no one can explain how all this insanity has overtaken the student body. The local doctors and police department don’t seem to think there’s any connection…”
Super Dragon is clearly the man for the job since his two successors have died trying to uncover the mystery. The first “was killed by an elevator four days ago” – no further explanation is offered – and the other died in a car accident. Next thing you know agent Cooper is in Freemont and hanging out at the campus hot spot, the bowling alley, which turns out to be the source of the trouble. It is there that the students are being drugged and controlled through the free chewing gum the bartender is dispensing. From the evidence on display the gum makes you want to dance like one possessed and Cooper becomes capitivated by a blonde co-ed when she goes into a robotic herky jerky jukebox dance. If only the whole movie maintained this gloriously goofy tone, it would be a camp classic. But there are still plenty of chuckles and points of interest along the way to keep any Eurotrash enthusiast glued to the screen, even without the satiric commentary provided by the MST3K gang on their alternate DVD version. (The version I saw was an anamorphic German import DVD on the Simple Movie lapel with the cover title Hollenjagd Auf Heisse Ware; on the back clamshell case are several images from the film including an almost full frontal nude shot of co-star Marisa Mell that does NOT appear in this version).
Among the movie’s good points are the aforementioned Margaret Lee (is that a blond wig?) and Marisa Mell (the bewitching star of Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968) and Lucio Fulci’s One on Top of the Other aka Perversion Story , 1969). They’re both gorgeous and sexy with the latter proving to be a formidable femme fatale for Super Dragon. The trick weapons and cheapskate gadgets that our hero gets outfitted with provide additional amusement; he has some kind of detector that can read invisible messages on mirrors, a knife proof vest and armpit revolver, and, in one odd scene, his bodyguard/back-up guy Baby Face (Jess Hahn), is introduced via a fire-breathing dragon toy robot that announces his arrival, direct from prison where he was just sprung.
Admittedly there are dull patches and the lame villain with the unlikely name of Fernand Lamas (played by Carlo D’Angelo) lacks the appropriate menace. Klaus Kinski would have been ideal for this part as the mad Venezuelan drug lord who wants to dominate the world by making people stupid and docile through his drugged chewing gum. One can easily see why MST3K chose this as the first spy movie they ever spoofed. But of course, Woody Allen had already done that with What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), a comical redub of the original Japanese spy film Kagi No Kagi (1965, aka Key of Keys).
But stick with SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of quotably absurd dialogue – “Tell me, have you ever had a bath in electricity?” or “Only obedience brings happiness” – groovy lounge music, the odd camera angle or zoom-in (the cinematography is by Antonio Secchi (he shot Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet for the General, 1966), and eccentric set pieces such as the climatic sequence at the villain’s mansion and headquarters where everyone is wearing eye masks. In their disguises Cooper and Baby Face could be a parody of Batman and Robin or maybe they’re a misguided homage to the French serial, Fantomas (now available on DVD from Kino Lorber). The Amsterdam location scenes also provide plenty of unintentional sight gags such as the touristy waterfront area where Cooper flirts with some of the colorfully dressed local women in their fetching Dutch bonnets.
ast but not least we should mention Ray Danton, who, after all, is the star of this nutty France-Italy-West Germany co-production. Danton, who was recently seen on TCM in Budd Boetticher’s energetic gangster bio pic, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), has always specialized in smooth operators, cunning criminals, predatory ladykillers and coolly efficient law men. With his male model handsomeness and cocksure self-confidence, he reminds me of a sleazier version of Cary Grant minus any human warmth or genuine charm. There is something lewd and cynical about Danton’s screen persona that works well for both the villains and anti-heroes he has played – from the serial rapist in The Beat Generation (1959) to the insincere theatre director who uses then discards housewife Shelley Winters in The Chapman Report (1962) to his closeted gay manipulator in Triangle (1970). He’s perfectly cast in SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON because he plays the role straight which makes the proceedings much funnier. Of course, in aping the James Bond formula, there are occasional, mostly failed attempts at flip humor and kiss off one-liners which characterized all the 007 films. For example, when Cooper is locked in a coffin and buried at sea, he manages to escape to the surface with an inflatable balloon, confessing later, “Well, the bedroom was a bit damp and the service was lousy but it could have been a lot worse…”
SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON was actually Danton’s second stab at playing a secret agent – his first was Code Name: Jaguar in 1965, a Spanish-French-West Germany production, directed by Maurice Labro. He first began accepting work in Europe in 1964 when he played the title role in the exotic costume adventure, Sandokan alla riscossa, which was followed by a sequel, Sandokan contro il leopardo di Sarawak (1964, aka Throne of Vengeance). He would go on to star in several more genre outings there for the rest of the decade but concentrated mostly on spy and detective thrillers like Hello Glen Ward, House Dick (1968) and Jess Franco’s Lucky the Inscrutable (1967, aka Agente Speciale LK – Operazione Re Mida). I was able to purchase Bruno Nicolai’s delightful soundtrack score for the latter through Video Watchdog several years ago and am still awaiting the DVD release of Lucky the Inscrutable, which Peter Blumenstock’s soundtrack liner notes call “a flamboyant, crazy, no-holds-barred comic strip that stands as one of the true gems in Franco’s prolific directing career.” High praise indeed, considering Franco has directed well over 150 movies. Danton is also a director as well and, while not as many moviegoers are as familiar with this side of the actor, horror fans, in particular, know Danton as the man behind Deathmaster (1972), Hannah, Queen of the Vampires (1973, aka Crypt of the Living Dead) and Psychic Killer (1975), which is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures; it’s a lurid mishmash of an exploitation thriller in which mental patient Jim Hutton uses astral projection to avenge himself on those who have crossed him.
There are various versions of SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON available on the grey market and in import versions. As I mentioned earlier, I have the limited edition PAL DVD from Simple Movie (you need an all-region player for this) which includes a deleted scene, an alternate title sequence and some posters and stills. This 95 minute version also switches back and forth during a handful of scenes where the English dubbed footage is missing and replaced with the German language version complete with English subtitles. Although the film was shot in Technicolor, the version on display here is faded at best but still acceptable for an evening of mindless amusement. You can also purchase the MST3K version of SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON or watch it for free on Hulu at http://www.hulu.com/watch/112300/mystery-science-theater-3000-secret-agent-super-dragon#s-p1-so-i0
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