Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966)

Original title: Missione speciale Lady Chaplin

Minor evil mastermind Kobre Zoltan (Jacques Bergerac) plans fiendish things with a sunken US nuclear submarine. Most of the elements of his plan are executed by his right-hand woman, the titular Lady Chaplin (Daniela Bianchi), fashion designer, thief, and spy, and the kind of girl who wears a parachute under her clothes just in case her boss throws her out of a plane. She's what we in the Biz call true marriage material, and - one suspects given her actual competence compared to her boss's incompetence - the main reason for Zoltan's criminal success.

The CIA puts Dick Malloy (Ken Clark) on the case. Dick - despite working for the CIA repeatedly called a policeman in the film, by the way, which might hint at some character-changing shenanigans in the English dub - needs about half of the film to come to the no shit Sherlock realization that Zoltan doesn't want to steal the wreck of the sunken submarine, but has already absconded with what interests him about it: a bunch of nuclear missiles he is trying to sell to "a foreign power" represented by a certain Hilde (Helga Liné). And here I thought World War II was over.

Fortunately for the future of the Free World™, Dick has three things going for him: a) Zoltan is a raging incompetent, b) Dick is excellent at punching and shooting people and c) Lady Chaplin is all too willing to change sides when she realizes the authorities know about Zoltan's little plan. Or is she lying?

Special Mission Lady Chaplin is another highly entertaining Eurospy movie by Alberto De Martino that makes me wish the director had worked more in this particular genre. I'm not sure, though, how much of the film's entertainment value is his work, and how much that of the three action directors listed in the credits. In any case, much of what's fun about the film happens in the numerous and expected chases, shoot-outs and punch-offs.

De Martino and co. put a heavy emphasis on semi-gritty hand-to-hand fights that surprisingly do not include any fake martial arts performed by white non-martial artists. Instead they give Ken Clark - who might be not the greatest actor alive but is really good and even more enthusiastic at this sort of thing - and his co-actors and stunt people opportunity to throw themselves into somewhat rougher, and more stylishly filmed, interpretations of serial action. It's often really rather exhilarating.

In another surprise, at least half of the film's action happens in actual locations instead of the usual cardboard sets, which enables De Martino (or whoever was behind the camera of any given scene) to make the fights more dynamic and attractive simply by having more space for them to take place in; turns out verticality is a good thing in an action scene to have. It's all still clearly made on the kind of budget that probably wouldn't have paid for the hairdressers of a contemporary Bond movie, but De Martino really puts everything he can on screen and makes up for any theoretical problems the film's silly plot could cause with pacing and enthusiasm.

De Martino doesn't forget the second leg a Eurospy movie needs to stand on beside the action: women wearing various awesome fashion catastrophesilliness, curious plans, and gadgets. Lady Chaplin isn't quite as brainfart-y as some other Eurospy movies I love, but it's still a film where the villains smuggle experimental missile fuel (can't these "foreign powers" produce anything themselves!?) in form of atrocious red dresses that tend to explode when shot at, where murders are committed via armed wheelchair and taxi-shaped gas chamber, and where our hero appears to the prelude to the final fight with a harpoon gun that shoots explosive cartridges that can kill henchmen that haven't even been caught in the explosion. That's more than enough to keep me happy.

The film's only major flaw lies in its main villain. Zoltan, to be perfectly honest, is a bit of a crap villain, lacking the menace or the cackling mania the bad guy in this kind of film needs. Instead, he's just a bit of a smug jerk (quite like the heroes of many Eurospy films are, actually) with big plans. It doesn't help that Jacques Bergerac's English language dubbing voice (going by the accents, at least some of the actors dubbed themselves, but he didn't) is provided by one of those guys…who…make curious pauses…at…the…most…inappropriate times. On the plus side, Daniela Bianchi (or should I say "former Bond girl Daniela Bianchi" which is certainly want the producers would want me to say?) seems to have a whale of a time kicking ass and wearing dubious fashion, as befits the title character of a film.

Lady Chaplin provides additional little jolts of joy with a fine, jazzy Bruno Nicolai score that would have me whistling the main theme if I did in fact whistle, and the appearance of various European genre movie mainstays like Evelyn Stewart and Helga Liné in smaller roles.

It's quite a package for anyone even slightly interested in Eurospy films.

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