Sunday, November 11, 2012

Berlino - Appuntamento per le spie (1965)

aka Spy in Your Eye

A death-ray inventing scientist is shot while trying to leave East Berlin for greener pastures. Now everyone is after the scientist's daughter Paula (Pier Angeli), assuming she knows her father's final - and probably awesome - formula. The Americans send in Bert Morris (Brett Halsey), an agent with only minor smugness problems, to free Paula from Russian hands.

But even after he's rescued/caught her (an American agent wearing a fake hunchback kitted out with in-built blade for a novel interpretation of backstabbing and a radio, and construction equipment are involved), Paula still assures Bert and his buddies, as she did with the Russians, that she knows nothing at all about any formulas. Why, she can't even remember telephone numbers. Of course, nobody believes that, so the Russians, the Chinese (whose agents all wear bowler hats for some reason, and whose boss of course is named Ming - Fu Manchu wasn't available that day, I assume) and the Americans take turns in kidnapping, re-kidnapping, freeing, torturing and trying to sweet talk Paula. The poor woman changes hands so often, you'd think it's a handball match. When the various agents aren't treating Paula as their favourite object, they're jetting around the globe to follow up on other hints regarding the formula.

Curiously, the Russians always seem to know what the Americans are going to do next. The explanation is as simple as it is ridiculous: they've implanted a camera with integrated microphone in the eye of Bert's boss Colonel Lancaster (Dana Andrews), and are now listening in on him out of the reddest and most conspicuous vehicle they could find. You can't even trust doctors putting experimental artificial eyes into your eyeholes anymore, it seems.

Yes, Berlino (a film that does not spend much time in Berlin, by the way) is another case of a Eurospy movie that lives from and dies of its ability to press as much excellent nonsense into its running time as possible.

Structurally, the film is a total mess, so episodic the things that happen on screen never cohere into an actual story, with characters appearing for ten minutes or so only to never be mentioned again, and plans and motivations changing on a moment's notice. Fortunately, my cult movie addled brain has long since given up on a need for coherence, so if I encounter a film like this where every second scene seems to stand alone, I just attempt to enjoy what these barely connected scenes have to offer.

In this particular case, these offers are ridiculous and manifold.There's the usual number of bad martial arts fights, punch-ups, chases and shoot-outs, of course, all realized by director Vittorio Sala with somewhat bland professionalism.

At the very least, I can't complain about a lack of variety, be it geographically or otherwise, for there's some actual location work on display in material that might even have been shot for the film at hand. Large parts of the movie do take place on Italian soundstages, though. These aspects of the film are okay enough, though would make it nothing to write home about if not for the film's real strength.

That strength is of course a love for - often quite inexplicable - nonsense. There are not only the whole camera business, the particularly cheap yet silly gadgets, and the final explanation for the location of the formula to stare in delighted disbelief at, Berlino includes so much more. Take for example the Russian plan to kill Brett by letting him activate the knifing modus of a wax figure representing Napoleon; or the fact that the Russian agents seem to carry Napoleon around with them wherever they go, even after their fiendish attempt failed. One would assume more than one of the film's five scriptwriters to had realized neither the plan nor the whole Napoleon wax figure mascot thing make any sense at all, but somehow wax Napoleon still made his way in to put a smile on my face; possibly even to induce me to giggle.

This is symptomatic for the whole film: nothing ever makes sense, and when the writers find a way to shovel in stuff like the Russian's final secret lair whose interior moves about awkwardly, slowly and very loudly when things need to be hidden (that feature is of course controlled by an eminently visible row of buttons, and will cost the female Russian agent her life when it turns out she doesn't know how to jump about fifty centimetres upwards onto a slowly moving piece of furniture) instead of something sensible or logical, they will.

It's all more than enough to let the willing viewer get over little things like that lack of coherence or sanity.

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