Mar 6, 2007

Review: Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

Ah, best for last! At least it comes last on Retromedia’s double-sided Kommissar X triple feature disc, although there seems to be some confusion over the production order of these movies. Even the normally unassailable Eurospy Guide contains conflicting information. Whatever position it occupies in the series, though, Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick is the stuff Eurospy dreams are made of. I recommend saving it for last, though, so that you’ll already be accustomed to the heroes’ appalling sexist antics and jerky behavior, and better able to savor all the well-staged, well-shot and well-directed action it has to offer instead of dwelling on that. And instead of me dwelling on the plot, I’ll just refer you back to my overall Kommissar X plot description in my last review, and move onto said action, which this time around takes place in gorgeous Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was then known).

Much credit has to go to Brad Harris, who serves as fight coordinator as well as co-star. He performs a breathtaking chase across a beautiful seaside hotel rooftop, running down a buff, bald karate killer. The chase culminates in each actor (no doubles here ) leaping off the roof into a tall palm tree, then letting their momentum bend the tree down to the ground and jumping out! It’s a great scene that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Bond movie. No sooner has it ended than we get another exciting chase, in which a Jeep driving in the surf keeps pace with a train on a parallel track, shooting at a fugitive running along the tops of its cars! Great stuff.

Joe and Tom suffer the usual elaborate assassination attempts, which naturally fail, but one particularly creative dirty trick snares a bad guy instead. He gets himself under a shower meant for Joe, and instead of spraying water, it sprays “a new kind of chemical that destroys body cells. It acts like bacteria.” It also leaves the man a bloody mess in the bathtub. That chemical (and it’s creator, the usual brilliant professor type) serves as the Macguffin for this movie as well.

Another overly elaborate (but especially tense) assassination attempt finds a sniper aiming for a bottle of nitroglycerin his cohorts have surreptitiously deposited on Tom and Joe’s patio table. They’re saved only by the smart intervention of a particularly capable (for this series) and especially beautiful woman, Michelle.

There’s a rather effective scene in which a greedy traitor dies alone and silently screaming in the soundproof, airtight backseat of a partitioned car, clutching his purloined millions as deadly gas leaks in. Tom later finds himself in the same predicament, and the scene generates some good suspense, even though you know he’ll get out of it.

In a definite improvement over the previous entries in the series, most of the shots are cut together in a manner that, surprisingly enough, makes sense and tells a story! The cinematography is even worth noting (not that it’s bad in the other movies), with some beautiful golden hour shots on a beach.

So are there any criticisms? Well, sure. This is a Kommissar X movie, after all. That means we’re subjected to the usual smugness, smirking and terrible banter from Joe. For instance, when the professor’s very proper daughter asks him outright if he’s a Golden Cat (the name of the villainous organization in this one), he replies, “No, I’m often called a Tomcat, though.”

Luckily, such moments are countered by a good score, great settings and some setpieces that actually qualify as “spectacular.” (Within their limited budget, at least.) The villain’s base is in the middle of a foreboding place called “Death Lake.” Filled with stumps and dead trees protruding from the still, algae-filled water, and aided by an effectively creepy score, it certainly lives up to its name. Furthermore, Death Lake is protected by a horrifying monster that breathes fire and crushes trees, scaring away the locals. Yes, someone’s clearly been watching Dr. No again. But the rip-off “dragon” is actually at least as impressive as the real thing. It’s an armored trimaran with a bulbous, eye-like cockpit and front-mounted flame thrower, capable of gliding right over the stumps in the lake, and incinerating them.

Indicating a higher-than-average budget for this outing, there are lots of pyrotechnics in the third act (well, lots of fire, anyway), as Joe and Michelle escape the flame-spitting monster in a Zodiac. The special effects do become a little dodgy, though, when the trimaran apparently blows itself up. Obviously the craft was borrowed, because we don’t actually see it destroyed. Instead we see Joe’s reaction, then cut back to some fire where the monster just was. Oh well.

Luckily, the money the producers saved by not exploding their trimaran turns up on screen in the finale, for which they’ve constructed a truly awesome, fairly gigantic set. Tom’s final showdown with his worthy karate adversary, King (the one he chased along the roof at the beginning) takes place in the Temple of the Golden Cats, an ornate, cavernous sanctuary big enough to hold a bunch of onlooking worshipers and three huge, golden cat heads, whose mouths serve as oversize doors. The fight itself is again well-choreographed, and exciting. Surprisingly (and mercifully!), Tom even manages to keep his shirt on while he fights! (It does get a little torn, though...) This duel leads to an even bigger concluding setpiece outdoors involving a jeep, an airplane, a herd of elephants (actual elephants, not stock footage!), and the explosive combination thereof.

Then, after things have been going so well, just because they can’t help themselves, they bring things back down to a typical Kommissar X level by ending on a really bad, typically chauvinist joke. As one elephant charges away (with good reason, it turns out), the hunter who’s been minding the herd yells, “Wait! Stop! It’s acting mad!” Tom asks, “Is it a female?” When the hunter dubiously confirms his suspicion, Tom states, “Well, that explains it!” And they both have a hearty chuckle. Mystery solved!

Overall, though, Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick is good enough that it withstands all of these kinds of remarks, all of Joe’s perpetual smarm, and even all of his “hmm”s. (Tony Kendall says “hmm” a lot. He uses it to punctuate any scene, be it with a woman, an adversary, or with Tom.) This is not only the best movie on The Kommissar X Collection; it’s one of the better Eurospy movies I’ve seen, and one of the best 007 knock-offs. Highly recommended!

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