Friday, March 12, 2010

In short: Spies Kill Silently (1966)

aka Spy Strikes Silently

Famous scientists of a humanitarian bend - which in this film means scientists doing things like looking for a cure for cancer, not building death rays, surprisingly enough - die in mysterious ways. It looks like natural causes, but the international secret services soon figure out that the scientists were all murdered. By whom and why is unknown (and the latter will stay unknown even after the movie is through).

The British send the best spy of the Americans (no, I don't understand how that's supposed to work either), Michael Drum (Lang Jeffries) to Beirut to protect a Professor working on the cure for cancer there. Whoever is responsible for the other murders isn't too keen on Drum's presence, so the assassination attempts on him start before he has even had the opportunity to meet the man he is supposed to guard, but if there's one thing Drum is good at, it's killing back people who want to kill him. It's just too bad that he never leaves any survivors he could question about the identity of their boss or bosses.

Despite his awesome powers of face-punching, Drum isn't able to protect his charge. A few minutes of distraction by two cops who inexplicably attack the agent are enough to leave the poor cancer destroyer dead.

At least these two dead cops put Drum on the right track. They were obviously drugged and mind-controlled by some fiendish mastermind. But who, oh who might it be, and what does said fiendish mastermind want? Only lots of travel between London and Beirut will solve this riddle.

Maria Caiano's Spies Kill Silently will probably not go down as one of the unknown masterpieces of Eurospy cinema, but in its modest yet confident way, it is a fun enough little film.

Caiano's direction isn't too sexy or stylish, but it lacks the sloppiness that drags some parts of the Eurospy genre down. Some viewers seem to have their problems with the film's pacing, I however would call it tight enough to work.

The movie stands on the line between the more batshit Eurospy films and a more realistic sensibility. While the big bad's plan and his methods to realize it are beautifully silly nonsense, and the scientist hunt only seems to happen to point his enemies in his direction, the rest of the film is on the more gray and unfriendly side of the genre. Jeffries' Drum is a very competent fighter, yet he lacks the suaveness and the (often annoying) propensity to torture his enemies and innocent women with bad wisecracks many other Eurospy heroes show in abundance. He isn't exactly a believable spy in Le Carré sense, but he's not one of the silly buggers that dominate European spy films either.

The film's action scenes tend to the more realistic side too, feeling a bit more brutal than usual.

"Realistic" is of course a very relative phrase. We are still talking about a film whose evil mastermind uses a mind control drug and a death ray and likes to rant long and pointlessly about his own awesomeness.

Spies Kill Silently is a satisfying little film that hits enough of the required genre beats to be fun.


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