Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966)

Release Date: January 5th, 1966 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Gerd Oswald
Written by: Blair Robertson
Music by: Gene Kauer, Douglas M. Lackey
Cast: Peter Mark Richman, Carl Esmond, Barbara Bouchet, Martin Kosleck, Wendell Corey, Robert Quarry

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“This could’ve been you, and don’t you forget it! Better go back to the judo range.” – Adam Chance

This is a bad and bizarre movie but it was also riffed in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so that probably goes without saying.

Agent of H.A.R.M. was released in the mid-’60s when there were a slew of spy films coming out due to the success of the James Bond franchise. This one also adds in some crazy sci-fi elements, which was also popular at the time.

The threat in this film is a special gun that shoots spores. When these spores come into contact with flesh, it turns them into fungus, which basically transforms its victims into mushroom goo. I can’t believe I just typed those two sentences but that’s the MacGuffin in this sci-fi spy turkey.

Originally, this was developed to be a television pilot but Universal ended up deciding that it would be best to be released as an actual motion picture on a double bill with Wild Wild Winter, which was a beach party movie that left the beach behind for the slopes. So this wasn’t really a logical pairing but studios didn’t care when they were just trying to make a dime back off of a dollar thrown away.

I didn’t find this as terrible as most of the reviews I’ve read on it. It certainly isn’t good but it’s also far from the worst thing to make it on an episode of MST3K.

I also didn’t get too bored watching it but I’m also fascinated by batshit crazy sci-fi plots and I’ve got a soft spot for ’60s spy films regardless of their quality.

In the end, if you are into weird shit like this, it’s worth a look. If you’re an MST3K fan and haven’t watched this one, it won’t drive you to madness.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy movies with a weird sci-fi twist.

Film Review: The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

Also known as: The 1000 Eyes of Su-Muru (review title), Sax Rohmer’s The Million Eyes of Su-Muru (UK long title), Sumuru (UK alternate title)
Release Date: May 17th, 1967
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Kevin Kavanagh
Based on: a story by Peter Welbeck, the Sumuru novels by Sax Rohmer
Music by: John Scott
Cast: George Nader, Frankie Avalon, Shirley Eaton, Wilfred Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski

Sumuru Films, American International Pictures, Warner-Pathe, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I have a million eyes… for I am Sumuru!” – Sumuru

This seems like it had the makings of something that could have, at the very least, been an enjoyable spy romp. It was anything but.

The Million Eyes of Sumuru is a pretty dreadful and boring movie. It was featured in the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local television in Minneapolis. But even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was really damn hard to sit through. There’s probably a reason why they didn’t resurrect this for the show once it went national on Comedy Central.

I mean, this is a film with Frankie Avalon and Klaus Kinski in it; two guys I never imagined would wind up in the same motion picture or even find themselves in the same room together.

This also stars George Nader, Wilfred Hyde-White and one of the most memorable Bond girls of all-time, Goldfinger‘s Shirley Eaton. You know, the girl that was actually turned to gold.

I’m just not sure what this film was going for, other than trying to tap into to ’60s movie spy craze that was created by the success of the James Bond franchise. This almost feels like poorly crafted parody that is devoid of any sort of intentional humor. There are things you can certainly laugh at but that was not the intent of the production.

But this isn’t so bad that it’s worth seeing because of its awfulness. It’s terribly slow, boring and tapped into my strongest primal instinct: hitting the fast forward button. But I stuck with it and fought this fight just for the sake of writing a review about this total mess of a movie.

I mean, I’m on a mission to review every single film ever featured on MST3K, so I couldn’t just skip over this. And still, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen on MST3K but it is way down in the murky bottom amongst some of the more abominable movies the show has made me aware of.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: really bad spy films from the ’60s that were poor attempts at cashing in on the James Bond craze.

Film Review: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Release Date: December 14th, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“A duel between titans. My golden gun against your Walther PPK. Each of us with a 50-50 chance.” – Francisco Scaramanga

This is the last of the pre-Daniel Craig era James Bond pictures for me to review. And well, I saved one of my favorites for last.

Why do I love this one so much? Well, it has the legendary Christopher Lee as the villain and also features Hervé Villechaize and Britt Ekland, who was one of those early crushes I had as a young kid discovering movies. But I also love the story and the locations in this film. Plus, we even get to see Sheriff J.W. Pepper one more time but sadly for the last time.

As grandiose as James Bond movies are, and this one still lives up to that, the actual threat is smaller, more intimate and very personal. Essentially, James is lured into a duel: one on one, man to man, for all the marbles if those marbles are your own mortality. And there really was no one greater than Christopher Lee to play the role of Francisco Scaramanga, the anti-Bond with his iron sights aimed at Britain’s greatest spy.

Scaramanga was also assisted by Nick Nack, played by the tiny Frenchman Hervé Villechaize, who is most famous for his role on Fantasy Island. Nick Nack was a sinister little shit and amusing in every scene he was in. In the end, his fate is pretty hilarious.

The film spends a lot of time in Asia but primarily features Thailand, which is just a beautiful country. The sights are nice, the action is great and seeing Sheriff Pepper stumble through an exotic land was entertaining.

I loved the opening of this film and it’s one of my favorite in the series, as it sees a hired hitman trying to kill Scaramanga in his maze. The maze was cool and it would return in the climax of the film for the duel between Bond and Scaramanga. I liked the very ’70s style of it and it was inventive and clever and something we hadn’t seen in a Bond film up to this point.

I’d hate to say that Lee really steals the show here but this is very much his movie more than it is Roger Moore’s. Moore is still fantastic in all the ways that make him great but in this film, Lee really proved that he was a major player and should be given more roles of this caliber. At this point, he was typecast as just a horror actor but this showcased his talents at a higher, more mainstream level. He would eventually get other major mainstream roles again but not until the early ’00s, thirty years later, with the roles of Count Dooku in the Stars Wars prequels and Saruman in The Lords of the Rings trilogy. But I doubt Lee would complain, as he loved his horror career and still worked on over 200 pictures.

The Man With the Golden Gun is just a fun, exciting film and it kind of grounds James Bond after the voodoo shenanigans of Live and Let Die. It’s simple, effective and just a good movie.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Live and Let Die (1973)

Release Date: June 27th, 1973 (US release)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: George Martin, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
Cast: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Clifton James, Geoffrey Holder, Madeline Smith, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Tee-Hee, on the first wrong answer from Miss Solitaire, you will snip the little finger of Mr. Bond’s right hand. Starting with the second wrong answer, you will proceed to the more… vital… areas.” – Kananga

I’ve worked my way through most of the James Bond movies and only have a few left after this one. Granted, I’ve seen them all before but I didn’t review any of them until last year. And since I’ve been doing these out of order, I should note that this is not my first Roger Moore Bond film but it is his first outing as the iconic character.

I know that this one gets a pretty bad rap but it’s one of my favorites. But I’ll explain why.

To start, it came out at the height of the blaxploitation era in American filmmaking and it utilizes that to great advantage. The film has a lot of blaxploitation actors in this from Julius Harris to Gloria Hendry. And while it taps into that vibe well, this isn’t Bond trying to be blaxploitation, it just meshes well with that genre’s style where it needs to.

Additionally, I love the voodoo and magical elements to the film. They may feel out of place and hokey but by the 1970s, Bond movies had started to drive towards cheese. Honestly, this is the most ’70s-esque of all the Bond films and while it feels dated because of that, it still works really well for me. I love the voodoo stuff, especially Baron Samedi, who was brought to life by the always awesome Geoffrey Holder. No lie, Samedi is one of my all-time favorite Bond villains.

The setting of this film was also great. It went from New York City to New Orleans to the Caribbean and in doing that, married the urban blaxploitation vibe with the Caribbean beauty of Dr. No, the first Bond film. In a way this brings things full circle, as Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond had a strong geographic similarity to Sean Connery’s first outing as the character. And both filmed those sequences on location in Jamaica.

I also enjoyed Yaphet Koto in this as the evil Kananga. He was a new kind of Bond villain for a new era where the franchise couldn’t keep relying on SPECTRE as its premier threat. Koto’s work here, really set the stage for some of the other solid villains from the Moore era.

We also get the debut of Sheriff Pepper of Louisiana, who is probably more iconic than the size of his actual role in the series. He’s synonymous with the Moore era but he was actually only in two of Moore’s Bond pictures and fairly briefly. Still, he is a fan favorite and it’s been argued that he was a template for the cops in The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit.

Now there are some cringe moments in this like when Kananga blows up like a balloon, floats and explodes. However, those moments are balanced out by the hokey stuff that worked better like the scene where Samedi gets a chunk blown out of his head and he just looks up at it before he shatters like a broken pot.

I love this movie. I get that it is frowned upon by more serious Bond fans but they miss the point. This series should be about fun escapism. This is exactly that.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Comic Review: Blue Mamba, Issue #1

Published: October, 2018
Written by: Jim Healis
Art by: Alé Garza, Jen Broomall, Marat Mychaels, Sorah Suhng, Mike DeBalfo

Spotted Jackal Writers, 24 Pages

Review:

I’ve been supporting a lot of indie comics on Indiegogo and Kickstarter over the past year. Some have been Comicsgate stuff and some have not. This one does fall under the Comicsgate banner, somewhat, and it is the third Comicsgate related project to reach my mailbox.

I was really excited to get this one in my hands, as I backed it when it was on Kickstarter, where it didn’t get funded. Once it moved to Indiegogo, which has been the best platform for Comicsgate creators, I backed it again and it got funded pretty quickly.

Now I don’t care whether this is Comicsgate or not, I liked the premise and the art is what most definitely lured me in. There is nothing wrong with admiring the ideal form in art and entertainment, even though a lot of people would try and force you to see things differently. This comic looked to go for the gusto and was unapologetic about it, which was refreshing in this day and age where the Big Two comic book companies are deliberately drawing women less sexy because of body diversity and that toxic male gaze or whatever.

Blue Mamba was really enjoyable if you are into femme fatales and the spy thriller genre. Our main character here is an assassin but also in a real world relationship where she has to keep her job secret. It’s all about the balancing act between her killer career, pun intended, and her killer girlfriend.

So yes, this is an LGBTQ+ story with lesbian characters that feel more organic and real than Marvel’s recent attempts at trying to write LGBTQ+ material. Cassandra feels more natural in having a relationship with a woman than most of what I see out there in the comic book medium.

Now, this does play things up a lot and gets really saucy in regards to its mature content but it doesn’t come off as classless or cheap parlor tricks to get horny dudes to fork out cash. Sure, sex most definitely does sell and this project knows that but there is more here than just tits, ass and naked lesbian tomfoolery.

This was a solid, well produced issue, which has me looking forward to the next chapter in the series. The art is incredible, the variant covers are all awesome and the story was straightforward, coherent and self-contained within the issue. In regards to the writing, the positives of this book are things that are surprisingly hard to find in modern comics from the Big Two: Marvel and DC.

Kudos to Jim Healis and his artists for making something really cool.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other cool female assassin/spy comics and movies. Although, this one is most definitely for mature readers.

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.