Only in 1967 … only in Italy … could an entire movie, with a reasonably healthy budget to judge from the international locations, be built around the fact that Sean Connery had a younger brother who was sort of interested in acting. Of all the (many) imitations of the James Bond series, this is – even more than the Charles Vine movies, which sold themselves as the adventures of the second greatest secret agent in the whole wide world – the most outrageous in its lifting from the megafranchise. But it’s also a loopy Italian exploitation film, which shares some personnel (and, I think, sets and costumes) with the classic Danger: Diabolik, though director Alberto DeMartino (The Antichrist, Holocaust 2000, Pumaman) is a plodder set next to Mario Bava. I chuckled throughout.
Neil Connery, who refuses to shave off the neatly-trimmed beard which makes him look more like a villain than a hero, plays a character with his own name, who is the brother of the coyly unnamed best secret agent in Europe … he’s not a professional spy but (get this!) a plastic surgeon who uses Tibetan hypnosis tricks as anaesthetic (and for memory recovering purposes) and happens also to be a champion archer and all-round playboy. Connery, who gets an infernally catchy Ennio Morricone-Bruno Nicolai theme song that warbles ‘OK Connery’ wherever he goes, is approached by Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee) of the British Secret Service and Cunningham’s loyal sidekick Miss Maxwell (Lois Maxwell) to get involved with fighting a plot by Thair (Adolfo Celi), Number Two of the SPECTRE-like evil organisation Thanatos, to use a device (based on misuse of an ‘atomic nucleus’ and some radioactive rugs manufactured by ailing blind people in North Africa) which will disable every mechanical or electronic component in the world. Thair has several sinister girlfriends with truly bizarre dress sense – Mildred (Agata Flori) is the all-the-way evil one who gets killed, but Maya (Daniela Bianchi) goes the Pussy Galore route and switches sides (along with her troupe of girl sailors) after receiving some serious smooching from Dr Neil and discovering her boss intends to kill her off as a loose end. With guns, planes and cars not working as Thair – in a red leather jumpsuit with shoulder-pads – uses the gizmo from his underground lair, Connery and his archery club pals (in Robin Hood/William Tell hats) invade using old-fashioned bows and arrows and save the day.
Yes, the casting is that blatant, with 007 regulars Lee and Maxwell in basically their regular roles, Bianchi (From Russia With Love) and Celi (Thunderball) doing Bond girl and Bond villain schtick they’d honed to perfection in the official series – even Anthony Dawson, cast as the to-be-murdered Alpha of Thanatos, had been in Dr No and (without credit) played Blofeld in the movies where he was a cat-stroking man in the shadows. It lifts a few bits of plotting from the Bonds too, with Celi finding an escape dinghy built into his yacht in imitation of the boat gadget from Thunderball and baddies-sat-around-the-plotting-table scenes like the ones in Goldfinger and Thunderball. If it has a problem, it’s that the pop-eyed Neil Connery (dubbed by a bland American) just hasn’t got the charisma to carry off the role of himself, let alone prove a credible threat to his big brother (he’s also in The Body Stealers, and rather more relaxed there). However, it’s a hoot for the non-stop parade of astounding outfits, weird plot turns (Connery poses as a blind Arab to infiltrate the evil rug factory and foments a rebellion, good guys dressed as Van Gogh have a gunfight in an orchard with bad guys in red berets and matching pullovers), cool gadgets (a flickknife that shoots a blade across the room, machine guns hidden in the ceiling), eye-popping 1960s candy colours and a general attitude of what-the-hell … In the Bond films, Maxwell’s Miss Moneypenny spent all her time quipping and pining in M’s outer office – De Martino at least lets the actress get out in the field and mow down Thanatos goons with a machine gun disguised as a sheaf of hay.
Story and script mostly by Paolo Levi (7 Women for the MacGregors, The Killer Reserved 9 Seats), with Frank Walker Stanley Wright and Stefano Canzio. Outstanding contribution: costume designer Gaia Romanini (Special Mission Lady Chaplin, Star Pilot, The Sweet Body of Deborah). Also with Franco Giacobini as a comedy relief agent called away from his wedding to battle bad guys, Ana Maria Noé as an imitation of Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb, and a lot of pretty girls. I suspect the producers envisioned a whole series of Neil Connery movies, but this was the only one.
Say, does Daniel Craig have a brother … ?
Want a song stuck in your head for the rest of the week – here’s ‘OK Connery’ …