Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Siete Minutos Para Morir (1971)

Working in Hong Kong, US agent Al Monks is instructed to pick up a list containing all members of the "Nationalist Resistance" and transport it to the US embassy. Alas, the list never arrives where it should be, and Monk's car explodes, leaving behind a corpse that might very well be the agent.

The CIA (or whichever of the States' gazillion of secret services is at work here - I only know it isn't Delta Green) learns that the list has not reached Chinese hands yet, but seems on its way into the hands of a sub-set of the mafia and so disturbs the vacation plans of one of their best men, Bill Howard (Paolo Gozlino, who looks good in a suit and in action scenes), who also just happens to be an old Korean War buddy of Monks. Howard should be just the right man to get the list back.

Of course, Howard has hardly been told his mission when the first attacks on his life begin. Turns out neither Gamma (the mafia-like organization), nor the Chinese, nor the very much not dead Monks want Howard to stick his nose in their affairs. But the American turns out to be very difficult to kill.

He isn't half stupid either, and soon cops to the fact of Monks survival. It's not too difficult to find Monk, really. Howard just has to follow his old friend's girlfriend Karin Foster (Susan Scott in one of the few films where she's working under her real name Nieves Navarro) to Milan. There, Monk has taken the place of his own twin brother, whom he murdered to have a convincing corpse in Hong Kong, and is still trying to sell off the list.

Howard will have to use all of his powers of wearing a suit, shooting, punching guys in the face and charming ladies - like Monk's secretary Virna (Betsy Bell), for example - in improbable ways to solve the case. Oh, and there might be treachery from a cameoing George Hilton afoot, too.

Spanish director Ramon Fernandez' Siete Minutos Para Morir is a film finding itself quite in the middle ground of the Eurospy genre. It's neither one of the truly, ravingly insane films, nor one of the dark and earnest ones of the genre. There's a certain amount of silliness afoot - Monk has an awesome hand guillotine in his safe, the Gamma leader likes to work his magic from a cardboard computer room, there's a silver death trap room of the old fashioned squeezing sort, and George Hilton gets a wonderfully ridiculous fake helicopter cockpit to shake in - but it's all in service of basic pulp thrills and not of camp.

One could argue that the film wastes a perfectly good set-up for a tale about two former friends who find themselves on different sides of the spy game. Siete Minutos isn't, however, a film that ever even suggests it might go in that more subtle (or melodramatic) direction. Instead, Fernandez uses his (pretty miniscule) budget to deliver a series of action scenes taking place in sometimes rather cramped, and always un-exotic locales, while archetypal spy movie music plays. Well, and to catch a few looks at the film's various pretty ladies, some of whom will even be competent except for their inexplicable love for our chauvinist hero.

Though this might not sound all that exciting, in practice, Siete Minutos turns out to be perfectly fine spy fodder thanks to Fernandez' tight and dynamic direction. The man didn't have much money to realize his action scenes, but by the movie gods, he'd use every single cent he got, producing a film that never slows down, racing from one bit of cheap excitement to the next, very much in the spirit of the old serials. Which is clearly preferable to a ponderous film full of filler.


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