Spy Games: Matchless (1967)


Following the phenomenal success of United Artists’ early James Bond films many Hollywood studios tried to mimic their crowd winning formula. One of the most successful attempts to cash in on Bond’s appeal was OUR MAN FLINT (1966) starring a tall, lanky and laid-back James Coburn. The film was produced by Saul David for 20th Century Fox and although it spoofed the Bond films with a knowing wink and wide smile, it also had its own kind of charm and wacky appeal. OUR MAN FLINT was followed by a sequel (IN LIKE FLINT; 1967) and there were plans to make more Flint movies but unfortunately they never materialized. Today the Flint films aren’t as popular or well known as the Bond films but they were wildly successful during their day and they’re credited for making James Coburn a star. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the popularity of the Flint films led to them being spoofed as well.

Like Bond before him, Flint’s success was mimicked by a few copycat films that attempted to replicate what had made Coburn’s character, and his espionage antics, so popular with audiences. One of the best examples of this is Alberto Lattuada’s MATCHLESS (1967) starring Patrick O’Neal, as a very Flint-like secret agent who reluctantly finds himself caught up in the spy game. The film was produced by Dino de Laurentiis in association with United Artists and the studio must have enjoyed profiting from this seemingly endless cycle of spy spoofs all linked to their original success with the Bond franchise.

James Coburn and Patrick O’Neil

The incredibly convoluted plot of MATCHLESS revolves around a decorated solider turned journalist named Perry “Matchless” Liston (Patrick O’Neal). During a trip to Asia Perry is captured by Chinese authorities who think he’s a spy for the U.S. government. While being held captive he meets two fellow prisoners, an actual American spy named Hank Norris (Henry Silva) and an elderly Chinese man who is gravely ill. When the old man dies he gives Perry, who has been particularly kind to him, a magical ring that can turn people invisible for brief periods of time. Perry uses the ring to escape from prison and ends up meeting a beautiful Asian spy named O-Lan (Elisabetta Wu) who sneaks him back to the US in a stolen plane. When he arrives in the U.S. he’s briefly mistaken for a counter spy and tortured until he agrees to spy for the Americans. Apparently they desperately need Perry’s help to “save humanity” from a diabolical mad man known as Gregori Andreanu (Donald Pleasence) who lives in an isolated castle run by robot servants. Perry is teamed-up with another spy, the lovely and mysterious Arabella (Ira von Fürstenberg), and together they set out to put an end to Gregori Andreanu’s evil schemes.  Their mission is occasionally thrown off track by Perry’s old jail pal Hank (Henry Silva) and Hank’s love interest, the stunning Tipsey (Nicoletta Machiavelli). These two troublemakers want Perry’ invisible ring and they’ll do just about anything to get it. The muddled storyline also involves boxing matches, bank robberies, car chases, hypnotism and something referred to as “Operation Plastic Surgery” that has to be seen to be believed.

Many of the jokes in MATCHLESS are dated, including some insensitive race related humor that seems ridiculously out of place today. But a large portion of the laughs in this witless movie are also generated from Perry using his invisibility ring, which is only useful when he’s completely nude. Like the popular AUSTIN POWERS or OSS 117 films, MATCHLESS never takes itself seriously. It’s pure period camp but its aesthetic pleasures are worth noting and include a gorgeous female cast wearing fabulous fashions by the celebrated costume designer Piero Tosi and a memorable score by the incomparable composer Ennio Morricone along with Gino Marinuzzi Jr. With that much talent supporting your film it’s hard to go completely off the rails although some would probably argue that MATCHLESS does and I couldn’t fault them but I had fun with the movie.

Patrick O’Neal is serviceable as Perry “Matchless” Liston but I was particularly impressed with the female cast as well the film’s villains. Ira von Fürstenberg is effortlessly charming as the daring spy Annabella and Nicoletta Machiavelli is a captivating femme fatale. Both women probably could have carried the film on their own if they were given the opportunity but they’re often reduced to posing as eye-candy for their male costars to ogle. These women deserved better but I’ll take what I can get. I’ve always admired von Fürstenberg, the real life Princess turned actress, who appeared in some of my favorite giallo thrillers including 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON (1970) and THE FIFTH CORD (1971), but she displays a natural flare for comedy in MATCHLESS that surprised me.

Tough guy Henry Silva gives what might be his funniest performance as the bumbling spy, Hank Norris, and in one memorable and surprisingly self-aware scene he laughs himself silly watching cartoons while torturing the hapless Perry. I also appreciated Donald Pleasence as the evil Gregori Andreanu. Pleasence is always great to watch and his role in MATCHLESS gave him the chance to play a swinging ladies man as well as a ruthless villain. Pleasence made MATCHLESS right after appearing in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), where he portrayed James Bond’s cat carrying nemesis, Blofeld. While he’s terrific in the Bond film, Pleasence gets more screen time in MATCHLESS and although his dialogue is sparse, he’s perfectly capable of stealing a scene with just a few choice words and a raised eyebrow.

After studying architecture, director Alberto Lattuada began his career in the movies as a set designer in the 1930s. In the ’40s he started directing films and his early work such as THE MILL ON THE PO (1949) and ANNA (1951), were successful examples of Italian Neorealism. In 1950 Lattuada co-directed VARIETY LIGHTS (1950) with Fredrico Fellini and he had further success with the anthology LOVE IN THE CITY (1953), also co-directed with Fellini along with Michelangelo Antonioni, Dino Rissi and others. As the ‘50s gave way to the ‘60s Lattuada’s work seemed to take on a more comedic tone with films like MAFIOSO (1962). Both VARIETY LIGHTS and MAFIOSO are available on DVD from Criterion but many of the Lattuada’s other films have never been officially released in the U.S. and can be hard to see unless you own an all-region DVD player. So you can imagine my surprise when I came across MATCHLESS currently streaming on Netflix. Like many hard-working Italian directors, Lattuada was coxed into making a couple of spy spoofs in the ‘60s with producer Dino de Laurentiis including MATCHLESS and FRAULEIN DOKTOR (1969), which is also available to watch on Netflix. MATCHLESS is the most lighthearted and loony of these two espionage films but they both feature attractive and resourceful female secret agents who often outwit their male counterparts.

MATCHLESS was based on a story by Ermanno Donati who is probably better known to fans of Italian horror and cult films as the producer of LUST OF THE VAMPIRE (1956), THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (1962), THE WACKY WORLD Of JAMES TONT (1965) and MAFIA (1968). Dontai seemed to gravitate towards unusual genre films with a distinct style so it’s not too surprising that he ended his career working for the controversial director Tito Brass on projects like DEADLY SWEET (1967) and SALON KITTY (1975). MATCHLESS was Donati’s third and last script credit but he seemed to have a knack for writing funny spy spoofs.

Fans of the Flint films as well as’60s spy comedy’s like the original CASINO ROYALE (1967) and Dr. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (1967) should find the film appealing. But if you want to watch a serious film about the ins and outs of the international spy game you should look elsewhere. As far as I know MATCHLESS has never been officially released on DVD or video in the US so Netflix currently offers the best and easiest way to watch the movie. Hopefully MATCHLESS will find it’s way onto DVD in the future along with more of Alberto Lattuada’s films.

Further Reading:
- Alberto Lattuada’s MAFIOSO (1964) reviewed by Michael Atkinson at TCM
- Alberto Lattuada’s FRAULEIN DOKTOR (1968) reviewed by Erich Kuersten for Acidemic

29 Responses Spy Games: Matchless (1967)
Posted By sandy ferber : April 20, 2012 12:34 pm

Wow, I’d never even heard of this one before! Thanks for the hedzup, Kimberly; as a fan of ’60s spy stuff myself, I will most surely look this one up. And thanks also for the kind words regarding Donald Pleasance’s performance as Blofeld in “YOLT.” I have always thought that he was excellent and memorable in this film, though admittedly NOT the Blofeld as described by Ian Fleming in the books. My favorite Bond pastiche has long been “Deadlier Than the Male,” but I do look forward to seeing “Matchless” one day soon….

Posted By sandy ferber : April 20, 2012 12:34 pm

Wow, I’d never even heard of this one before! Thanks for the hedzup, Kimberly; as a fan of ’60s spy stuff myself, I will most surely look this one up. And thanks also for the kind words regarding Donald Pleasance’s performance as Blofeld in “YOLT.” I have always thought that he was excellent and memorable in this film, though admittedly NOT the Blofeld as described by Ian Fleming in the books. My favorite Bond pastiche has long been “Deadlier Than the Male,” but I do look forward to seeing “Matchless” one day soon….

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 20, 2012 2:23 pm

Thanks, Sandy. It’s a fun film even though it’s very tongue-in-cheek. And I’ve always loved Pleasence so I suppose I’m a little biased but I think he’s good in everything. Hope you enjoy MATCHLESS if you get a chance to watch it!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 20, 2012 2:23 pm

Thanks, Sandy. It’s a fun film even though it’s very tongue-in-cheek. And I’ve always loved Pleasence so I suppose I’m a little biased but I think he’s good in everything. Hope you enjoy MATCHLESS if you get a chance to watch it!

Posted By ratzkywatzky : April 21, 2012 12:11 am

Haven’t thought about this since 1970. I remember it being promoted by NBC using what seemed to me as a line so risque that I thought I must be misunderstanding it. (I remembered it for years, but, wouldn’t you know it, now that Matchless actually comes up in the conversation, I can’t remember it.) I really wanted to watch it, but suspected that I would be forbidden. Sure enough, it was switched off by my parents about 15 minutes in.
I had no idea that it was directed by Lattuada. That blows my mind.

Posted By ratzkywatzky : April 21, 2012 12:11 am

Haven’t thought about this since 1970. I remember it being promoted by NBC using what seemed to me as a line so risque that I thought I must be misunderstanding it. (I remembered it for years, but, wouldn’t you know it, now that Matchless actually comes up in the conversation, I can’t remember it.) I really wanted to watch it, but suspected that I would be forbidden. Sure enough, it was switched off by my parents about 15 minutes in.
I had no idea that it was directed by Lattuada. That blows my mind.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 21, 2012 12:32 am

I never seen this movie, but I saw that Henry Silva is in the credits, so therefore it is a must see! I loved the “Flint” movies and had to watch them everytime I could on AMCtv. I had a thing about James Coburn then, well I still have something of a crush on him. I love him in “Charade” that is a really good one with him. I will try to find these movies on the TCM schedule, because they look interesting. Thanks for the artitcle!

Posted By Juana Maria : April 21, 2012 12:32 am

I never seen this movie, but I saw that Henry Silva is in the credits, so therefore it is a must see! I loved the “Flint” movies and had to watch them everytime I could on AMCtv. I had a thing about James Coburn then, well I still have something of a crush on him. I love him in “Charade” that is a really good one with him. I will try to find these movies on the TCM schedule, because they look interesting. Thanks for the artitcle!

Posted By Cool Bev : April 21, 2012 7:56 am

Well, we watched it. And followed it with Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine as a chaser. We’ll probably go on to The Nude Bomb next.

Just what was the mysterious liquid supposed to do anyways?

Posted By Cool Bev : April 21, 2012 7:56 am

Well, we watched it. And followed it with Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine as a chaser. We’ll probably go on to The Nude Bomb next.

Just what was the mysterious liquid supposed to do anyways?

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : April 22, 2012 10:12 am

In a word… wow!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : April 22, 2012 10:12 am

In a word… wow!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 22, 2012 3:12 pm

ratzkywatzky – I didn’t know about the films history w/NBC so thanks for sharing. In the early half of the film there’s a risque shower scene that may have made your parents turn it off.

Juana – I have a “thing” for Coburn too. I tend to find tall lanky actors (Coburn, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Anthony Perkins, etc.) really appealing.

Cool Bev – No explanation for the liquid is ever given except that we know it could “destroy humanity.” Movies like MATCHLESS tend to provide more questions than answers.

RHS – Pleasence, Silva, von Fürstenberg, spies & robots. “Wow” sums it up!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 22, 2012 3:12 pm

ratzkywatzky – I didn’t know about the films history w/NBC so thanks for sharing. In the early half of the film there’s a risque shower scene that may have made your parents turn it off.

Juana – I have a “thing” for Coburn too. I tend to find tall lanky actors (Coburn, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Anthony Perkins, etc.) really appealing.

Cool Bev – No explanation for the liquid is ever given except that we know it could “destroy humanity.” Movies like MATCHLESS tend to provide more questions than answers.

RHS – Pleasence, Silva, von Fürstenberg, spies & robots. “Wow” sums it up!

Posted By Da ve M. : April 22, 2012 8:39 pm

I watched this the other night and really enjoyed it. I never quite caught the appeal of the Flint movies or especially the Matt Helm series but I liked MATCHLESS. Silva and Pleasance are very funny in their parts but I also liked Patrick O’Neil in the lead. He brings a lot of charm to the role and the invisibility gimmick works.

I’m with Sandy and her praise for Deadlier Than the Male. I think that’s another of the fun 60′s spy flicks that nails the right balance of humor, action and style.

I couldn’t help but notice that MATCHLESS is the second 60′s flick reviewed recently that features the “Amphicar”, that wonderfully wacky car that drives on land and water. FEMINA RIDENS also featured the car to good effect.

Posted By Da ve M. : April 22, 2012 8:39 pm

I watched this the other night and really enjoyed it. I never quite caught the appeal of the Flint movies or especially the Matt Helm series but I liked MATCHLESS. Silva and Pleasance are very funny in their parts but I also liked Patrick O’Neil in the lead. He brings a lot of charm to the role and the invisibility gimmick works.

I’m with Sandy and her praise for Deadlier Than the Male. I think that’s another of the fun 60′s spy flicks that nails the right balance of humor, action and style.

I couldn’t help but notice that MATCHLESS is the second 60′s flick reviewed recently that features the “Amphicar”, that wonderfully wacky car that drives on land and water. FEMINA RIDENS also featured the car to good effect.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 23, 2012 12:12 pm

Kimberly Lindbergs: When did you first start having a “thing” for James Coburn? I remember it starting for me in June of 2002, when my family and I was watching Disney Channel and it had on “Elfego Baca”. My Mom exclaims:”That’s James Coburn!” He intrigued me, maybe because my mom can’t stand him,(laughing). The more films and shows I watched with Coburn, I found myself falling in love with him, spellbound with every grin, swagger, and smirk. He’s sorta the Western bad guy equivalent to Mick Jagger, who by the way my mom can’t stand either, but I listen to him & the Rolling Stones secretly so as not to offend her. I dream of these lanky bad guy types often. Do you? What is your favorite Coburn role on TV/movies? He was on this morning on “Murder She Wrote:Day of the Dead” and will be on tonight on TCM,in “Ride Lonesome”, I am one fortunate girl! Yay!!

Posted By Juana Maria : April 23, 2012 12:12 pm

Kimberly Lindbergs: When did you first start having a “thing” for James Coburn? I remember it starting for me in June of 2002, when my family and I was watching Disney Channel and it had on “Elfego Baca”. My Mom exclaims:”That’s James Coburn!” He intrigued me, maybe because my mom can’t stand him,(laughing). The more films and shows I watched with Coburn, I found myself falling in love with him, spellbound with every grin, swagger, and smirk. He’s sorta the Western bad guy equivalent to Mick Jagger, who by the way my mom can’t stand either, but I listen to him & the Rolling Stones secretly so as not to offend her. I dream of these lanky bad guy types often. Do you? What is your favorite Coburn role on TV/movies? He was on this morning on “Murder She Wrote:Day of the Dead” and will be on tonight on TCM,in “Ride Lonesome”, I am one fortunate girl! Yay!!

Posted By JohnJ : April 25, 2012 2:18 am

This sounds interesting. I’ll have to look it up, but my favorite Bond spoof remains “Operation Double 007″ with Sean Connery’s brother, Neil, in the lead, and sent up so wonderfully on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Posted By JohnJ : April 25, 2012 2:18 am

This sounds interesting. I’ll have to look it up, but my favorite Bond spoof remains “Operation Double 007″ with Sean Connery’s brother, Neil, in the lead, and sent up so wonderfully on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Posted By Rayu110 : April 26, 2012 1:27 am

Best James Coburn film: The President’s Analyst — which
fits right into this discussion. A sixties spy spoof where the
villainous organization be-devilling the CIA, FBI and even the
Russians is none other than the Phone Company.

Posted By Rayu110 : April 26, 2012 1:27 am

Best James Coburn film: The President’s Analyst — which
fits right into this discussion. A sixties spy spoof where the
villainous organization be-devilling the CIA, FBI and even the
Russians is none other than the Phone Company.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 28, 2012 5:13 pm

Hey! I have seen “The President’s Analyst” too! I thought Coburn was really good in that one too. I stayed up until quite late one night watching that on TCM, it surprised me and made me chuckle a little that the villian of the movie is none other than the phone company. Though it really makes sense if you have ever tried to switch plans or get better Internet. They will sell you anything but technical help you can forget about it. Then there’s the annoying “we’re putting you on hold music”, which I suspect contains subliminal messages. Personally, I think the “Flint” movies are funnier, but that is just my opinion. I am so glad to meet other people who also enjoy Coburn films too.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 28, 2012 5:13 pm

Hey! I have seen “The President’s Analyst” too! I thought Coburn was really good in that one too. I stayed up until quite late one night watching that on TCM, it surprised me and made me chuckle a little that the villian of the movie is none other than the phone company. Though it really makes sense if you have ever tried to switch plans or get better Internet. They will sell you anything but technical help you can forget about it. Then there’s the annoying “we’re putting you on hold music”, which I suspect contains subliminal messages. Personally, I think the “Flint” movies are funnier, but that is just my opinion. I am so glad to meet other people who also enjoy Coburn films too.

Posted By Randy : September 27, 2015 1:07 am

Was there ever a sequel to Matchless? Or a very similar movie with an invisibility ring? I have a childhood memory of a movie very similar, but there was a small trailer he lived in by a lake or a river, and at the end of the movie he thru the ring into the river/lake and as he did in this movie, he pulled it out of the water by a thread at the end… Anyone? Please help me…

Posted By Mike : October 24, 2015 8:12 am

Randy, that is the ending of Matchless. I don’t know if it’s still on Netflix but you can find the full movie on YouTube.
Here’s the link:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kdoqowZG_MI

Posted By Mike : October 24, 2015 8:21 am

Whoops. That one is not in English. Too bad because the picture quality is very good. Here it is in English. In 4 parts:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kdoqowZG_MI

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AWdDe50NJw8

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rcwfI1gYZ1E

Posted By Mike : October 24, 2015 8:22 am
Posted By Mike : October 24, 2015 8:39 am

Matchless also featured a young Sorrell Booke as Captain Culpepper. Booke played Boss Hogg on the 70′s American TV series the “Dukes of Hazard”.
Also, one of the Matchless screenwriters, Jack Pulman, was a screenwriter for the acclaimed BBC series “I Claudius”.
And, well known character actor Howard St. John played the role of General Shapiro.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.