Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In short: The Spy Who Came (1969)

New York vice cop Harry (Louis Waldon) lets himself be seduced by a random, rather zoned-out seeming woman he meets in his favourite bar. Our hero doesn't seem to mind too much that he's eloped and this sort of thing is usually frowned upon for men with his marital status. He's in for a bad surprise, though. The woman is part of a very interesting blackmail ring that now uses a film of their little encounter (and a whole slide show of his dozens of other moments of infidelity) to blackmail Harry into working for them.

Mohammed, the gang's leader, holds a long and detailed expository speech to Harry. Turns out this isn't your typical blackmail organization, but a group specialized in targeting diplomats with the help of specially trained, drugged and brainwashed women. Harry reluctantly agrees to working for them and is invited to spend the next weekend at Mohammed's country mansion to learn a bit more about his new job. Or something.

But the next morning brings another surprise for our hero. His boss and a guy from Interpol with ze French accent know what's up and want his help to steal some documents from Mohammed. Or something. Ze French guy will tag along and photograph various acts of sex with manikins (it's training, I tell you, training) and suchlike through convenient holes in walls while Harry gets an informative tour through very scientific brainwashing techniques that takes up two thirds of the movie, until random chaos ensues.

From time to time, I just need to watch a film like The Spy Who Came to be reminded of how much of a thing of madness and beauty the New Yorker (s)exploitation film scene of the 60s and early 70s was. Sure, there are a lot of films from the place and era that are just as unwatchable now as they were then, but there are also large numbers of movies working in very different (but frequently undressed) ways at explorations of an imaginary world where frightening dry-humping, subversive subtexts, utter ridiculousness, the outlandishly bizarre and actual eroticism meet. Often, I can't escape the idea these films weren't made, but spontaneously manifested through processes that made them much too peculiar to be able to rake the grindhouse circuit money in. Not that I'm complaining.

As is often the case with films like it, The Spy Who Came starts out looking enough like a "normal" softcore film to frighten the uninitiated into the fear of it actually just being one, but of course the first sex scene is just there to lull the audience into a false sense of security. Soon enough, the film turns into a bizarre series of scenes of light-but-very-weird sado-masochism, manikin sex (and really, what better to train your brainwashed seductresses on than a thing that hasn't got any sexual organs to stimulate?), sex SCIENCE(!), and impenetrable humour (at least I think it's supposed to be funny) that culminates in a group of howling women in nighties chasing the dominatrix of the blackmail gang who is only wearing her riding boots through a patch of woods. That's, as they say, entertainment.

All these weird and complicated excuses to show naked women are - also not unexpectedly, because this is what NY sexploitation films did - filmed in somewhat raw yet often inventively arranged black and white and scored with a conglomeration of often awesome library music ranging from sleaze jazz to weird electronic warbling. It's quite a piece of entertainment, really.


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