Saturday, November 10, 2012

In short: Upperseven (1966)

Original title: Upperseven, l'uomo da uccidere

aka The Spy With Ten Faces

aka The Man of a Thousand Masks

British super agent Paul Finney aka Upperseven (Paul Hubschmid) and freelance agent of evil Kobras (Nando Gazzolo) have been clashing repeatedly, even though poor Kobras doesn't even know his best enemy's face thanks to Upperseven's love for those spy movie rubber masks that perfectly simulate real faces.

Their enmity comes to a head when Kobras and his equally evil girlfriend Birgit (Vivi Bach) get involved in the plans of "an oriental country" to prevent the creation of Pan-Africa. These plans for some reason involve the poisoning of a Swiss water reservoir, the theft of US money, and the building of a rather fantastic missile base in Ghana.

Of course, Upperseven is on the case soon enough, using his ability to dress up as whatever seems appropriate or fun, and his other ability of being quite good at punching people in the face to save world peace. Our hero is assisted by CIA agent Helen (Karin Dor), an expert in needing to be rescued. Together, there's no trap they won't stumble into but survive. Will Rosalba Neri pop up in an inconsequential role? Will Upperseven disguise himself as Kobras and seduce Birgit while Helen waits for him in a cell during the course of the movie? Will the villains' lair explode? You bet.

Upperseven is a fine demonstration that the right director can make even the most threadbare Eurospy movie (this is an Italian/German co-production fortunately and obviously creatively dominated by the Italian side) a fun time for its audience.

And threadbare the movie really is: Italy has to stand in for half a dozen countries including Ghana, the film's secret spy lairs are made out of soundstages, warehouses and blinking lights, and the plot makes particularly little sense even in a genre that is based on turning the utter nonsense of the Bond movie plots into even greater nonsense.

On that surface level, the only thing Upperseven has going for it is a very game cast. Sure, one could argue that Hubschmid is a bit too suave, and Dor her usual pretty but totally boring self, but then one would have to find time for thoughts like this in a film as hell-bent on entertaining its audience with every Eurospy movie cliché available.

Director Alberto De Martino (a typical Italian genre director with a filmography containing much of the ridiculous and the boring, yet also of the sublimely ridiculous and the fun) obviously realized that the one thing standing between his film and a bored and frustrated audience was his willingness to never let his film stop throwing something cheaply entertaining at his audience for a single second. Consequently, De Martino bombards us with one enthusiastic fistfight, mock martial arts battle, car chase, motorcycle chase, scene of rubber mask wonder, change of country while actually staying in the same country, and so on and so forth after the other, all driven by an archetypical - and therefore wonderful - Bruno Nicolai score. Taken isolated from each other, there's nothing special about any of the film's elements, but De Martino presents them with so much conviction, sometimes with what feels like a barely held in check desperation to entertain, they can't help but add up to a hundred minutes of pure Eurospy fun.

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