Feb 25, 2009

DVD Review: Fury In Marrakesh (Furia A Marrakech) (1966)

For a movie with Marrakesh in the title, I was expecting a lot of deserts and North African rooftops and marketplaces. But while the film does offer those sights, it also offers so many more: tropical beaches, Times Square neon, and snowy Alpine vistas. Fury In Marrakesh takes us to hot spy locations all around the world, and lets us soak up the atmosphere. It’s actually one of the best spy movies I can think of in terms of sheer variety in exciting settings. It’s also one of the most fun Eurospy films I’ve seen, delivering almost everything you could want from the genre: impressive chases, good fights, cool gadgets (loads of ‘em, in fact!), beautiful women (though, surprisingly, not a main one) and, of course, the aforementioned locales. Top that all off with one of the strangest, jaw-droppingly mind boggling endings of any Eurospy flick, and it’s easy to recommend Fury In Marrakesh–highly. In fact, provided they’re not put off by the inexplicable oddness of the ending, this would be a great introduction to the genre for James Bond fans looking to broaden their spy horizons. Maybe the next step into Eurospy waters from the slightly more sure footing of Deadlier Than the Male.

Supposedly Fury In Marrakesh is the third in the "Bob Fleming" series that began with Secret Agent Fireball, but it’s so hard to actually delineate Eurospy series since the movies and their characters had so many different names in the various countries they were released in. (Based on the popularity of the three genuine "077" movies starring Ken Clark, that number was ascribed to just about every Eurospy hero in one country or another at various times!) The marketing campaigns for Fury In Marrakesh showcased in the poster gallery on Fin de Siecle’s new Region 2 DVD call the movie by many different names (Death Pays In Dollars is a good one) and identify the hero as, variously, Bob Fleming, Joe Fleming and Bob Dixon, among others. On the English language dub included on this disc, Bob Dixon is the name they go with. But the movie is from the pen of Ernesto Gastaldi, writer of the two previous Bob Fleming movies, and directed by the team responsible for the first one as well, so it’s reasonable to assume that it is meant to be a Bob Fleming adventure. If it is, though, then it’s a Casino Royale-like reboot of the brief series–and only a year after it began! Fleming is now played by the younger, lither Stephen Forsyth, stepping into Richard Harrison’s shoes. And when we meet him, he’s still in spy school. Fury In Marrakesh is the story of his first mission. (His boss even worries it’s "too complex a mission " to send so green an agent!) And Forsyth (coming off as sort of a cross between George Lazenby and John Phillip Law) is better suited to playing a neophyte agent than the more world-weary Harrison. So is this a carefully constructed and deliberately recast prequel revealing all the complex motivations that drive Fleming in his subsequent adventures, explaining how he became such an arrogant chauvinist? Actually, it kind of works along those lines–but, no, clearly not. No Eurospy adventure was ever that thought through. It seems clear that it’s supposed to be a different character entirely, so I’ll call him by the name he’s given in this print: Bob Dixon.

For what it ultimately becomes, Fury In Marrakesh opens quite inauspiciously, with a girl drugging a man and then robbing his safe... which is hidden inside an awfully fake-looking television set. (What happens if someone wants to watch TV?) After this action-free, single-setting pre-title sequence that clearly has nothing on James Bond, we’re into the credits and the zippy theme music. Then the SPECTRE-like villainous organization assembles, and their perpetually sunglasses-wearing leader addresses them, dramatically revealing, "My real name is Karl Kuntz!" with a louder, obviously different voice than the rest of the dub. What could be the reason for that? Judging from the non-removable Swedish subtitles, the Swedes think he's called Charlie Clark. His objective? To spread Nazi counterfeit dollars and pounds ("Hitler's treasure," found in a hidden vault), flooding the market, making him and his men rich and ruining the American economy! (And presumably the British one as well, though he doesn’t mention it.) But there’s a problem. Someone in his own organization has already stolen some of the counterfeit money. The girl from the opening! She’s called Monique on the English track and Dora on the Italian one and in the Swedish subtitles, and she’s played by Dominique Boschero (Secret Agent Fireball, Fantastic Argoman).

The action moves to New York City, represented in 1965 by the World’s Fair... a place apparently teeming with spies! An American official says that Monique " was spotted by one of our agents at the Fair." One of them! Apparently, it was seen as a wise allocation of government funds to deploy lots of agents to the World’s Fair! I guess it was cheaper than really sending them to all those countries... and, hey, it paid off! Hearing that intel, the suited American officials determine, "We’re going to need the most discrete agent the CIA can assign to this mission." Cue Bob Dixon.

We meet Dixon in the Caribbean. He’s retrieving a "formula" of some sort from a beautiful bartender with piercing blue eyes–and he's anything but discrete. Two baddies are after him, so he makes his getaway on a motor scooter as they pursue by car across road and field and dirt alleyways between shanties. Some shanties even get destroyed in the chase, although probably not enough to make Michael Bay happy. The chase goes onto the beach where Dixon manages to lose the pursuing car in the surf as it submerges where his scooter traveled easily.
Unfortunately, he then gets caught on a motorbike level tripwire in some trees. How on earth, you ask, did his enemies know to plan an ambush in that particular copse, where he had randomly fled to? Because it’s all just a training course! And he didn’t complete it quickly enough to impress his instructors. "No one could do it that fast," Dixon protests, "not even Batman!" (Or, in the Swedish version, "not even James Bond!")
But that’s it for training, because Bob’s needed elsewhere. He’s off to New York, where Monique is luckily still hanging around the World’s Fair. He trails her from there into the city–specifically Times Square at its neon, sleazy peak. (Which is a cool location to see.) There, he mountaineers around fire escapes above a neon sign for "BOND Clothes." It’s hard to believe this location material was filmed legally! But the idea of stolen shots only makes the setting more authentic. Peering into her hotel from a fire escape, Dixon sees that Monique’s former employers have caught up to her–including the beautiful Greta (Cristina Gajoni in a fantastically Sixties blond wig). Dixon ends up on the losing end of the ensuing fight, and they whisk his only lead back to Marrakesh.

Before giving chase, Dixon stops by Q Branch for equipment. Well, it’s not actually Q Branch, of course, but it’s a Q Branch-like area designated with giant neon sign that reads: "DANGER Technologycal Equipment." What follows is not only the best scene in the movie, but the best imitation Q scene ever! Really, it could almost be dropped into an actual Bond movie–except that it goes on longer than any of 007's visits with Q ever do. Dixon’s Q is called Sergeant Lester. Dixon greets him, "Hey Sargent! Reporting for equipment! Bob Dixon, special agent."

To which the droll Lester, perched up on a balcony, replies, "You’re all special, Mr. Dixon. I’m coming." Then he proceeds to jump down from the second-storey balcony, his fall arrested by a big orange balloon that "inflates" out of his back! What an entrance!

The balloon's hard to top, but all of Lester’s gadgets are pretty neat. He’s got a pen that shoots around corners. (Supposedly it "senses body heat and goes smashing into it," but the dummy he demonstrates with doesn’t appear to generate any body heat. Oh well.) There’s also a pocket flame-thrower that doesn’t work because he forgot to put a flint in it, a shoe that contains a bomb, and "radio capsules for your teeth" that transmit Morse Code! (And also contain cyanide.) We’re even treated to one of the better variations I’ve seen on the classic, sleazy Eurospy (and eventually Bond, in one of his less-inspired moments) gag of looking at girls through X-ray glasses. (And the glasses in question look like a giant cheese grater for some reason.)

"Oh Eileen!" calls Lester to one of his comely assistants. "Come into the lab for a minute, will you?" Eileen dutifully does as she’s asked, only to find Dixon with the X-ray specs. She gives a squeal and hides behind a pillar–presumably lead.

"Sargent Lester!" she rebukes her employer sternly, "I’m getting pretty tired of you and your electronic Peeping Tom!"

Undaunted, the inventor reminds her that "female personnel are expected to cooperate in scientific experiments."

"I didn’t expect to be working for people with X-ray eyes!" she retorts, before exclaiming, "Men!" and retreated in an exasperated huff.

"All I get are complaints!" sighs the Q imitator. Nothing like a bit of Sixties-style workplace sexual harassment to enliven a Eurospy movie!

So that’s just the first thirty minutes. Armed with the requisite gadgets, it’s off to the titular Marrakesh for all the deserts, street bazaars (complete with performing monkeys) and, of course, belly dancers that you would expect–as well as more chases, more explosions, more gadgets... and even someone falling for the old poison cigarette trick. Oh, and poor Monique gets tied up in a skimpy dress and tortured with electrical shocks to reveal what she did with the rest of the money.

In Marrakesh, Dixon meets his own local contact, a Kerim Bey-type CIA station chief who "loves life" and who has adopted the local customs and taken four wives. He doesn’t want Bob to bring violence or bodies to his city. He likes his cover life as a stamp collector too much. Therefore, of course, we know that he’s doomed. He also meets his British contact, "Alex Keene, Special Branch." (Keene first sneaks in on him while he’s in the shower, so that’s a bit awkward. ) When Dixon seems a little more preoccupied with ogling the local ladies (or "examining the merchandise," as he puts it), Keene questions his commitment. "You came here on a vacation? Or a mission?"

This gives Dixon the opportunity to typify the Eurospy hero’s attitude: "Getting away from that drill sergeant and coming abroad with an unlimited expense account is a vacation!" he tells Keene, adding, "What a wonderful spot this is! Sure was lucky to get to come to Marrakesh on my first mission." That’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? Traveling to exotic locations, ogling exquisite women and occasionally taking a bullet for the privilege. One particularly exquisite woman who would be happy to provide the bullet is Greta, who Dixon finally meets formally after watching her rather unenthusiastic strip routine. (She moonlights at nightclubs for ostensible networking purposes. Seriously, that's what she claims.) When she responds a little too eagerly to his brash seduction attempts (he claims to be a poet–a first for a Eurospy, I think), Keene cautions him with the obvious admonition that it may be a trap. "So?" asks Dixon. "What if it is? With that kind of bait, I’ll take the hook!" (I’m inclined to agree with him on that one.)

It is a trap, of course, with thrilling consequences that lead to another shift in scenery, this time to the beautiful Alps–where the bunker containing "Hitler’s treasure" of counterfeit bills is supposedly hidden. Bob Dixon flies in on a plane with skis, parks it atop a mountain, and promptly bumps into another beautiful woman (Mitsouko) in the middle of snowy nowhere! Abandoning his plane, he gladly accepts a ride down the slope on the back of her skis. "Follow every movement I make," she instructs him, to which he suavely replies, "Nothing could turn me away from you except centrifugal force!"

The finale takes place atop, above and inside the Matterhorn–and the production doesn’t skimp on the hardware! We get a thrilling Licence To Kill-like prop plane/helicopter chase, complete with Dixon clinging to a strut of the prop over the snowy peaks. We also get some sort of mean-looking large snow vehicle on treads, and machine guns sticking out of each of the vehicles. On a more personal scale, we’re also treated to betrayals, Mission: Impossible-like mask effects and vague explanations of things that happen along the lines of, "This emits an electron stream. Heart attack." Also, many of the aforementioned vehicles explode. It’s quite a spectacular, large-scale ending for a Eurospy movie, and further evidence that Fury In Marrakesh has to be one of the bigger budget entries in the cycle.

Now, I could wrap up the review right here by saying, "What are you waiting for? Go buy this DVD already! It’s terrific!" All that is true, but I simply cannot sign off without discussing the film’s fascinatingly bizarre coda. On the one hand, I hate to spoil an ending, but on the other it’s simply too weird not to discuss. And if there are people out there who still need further convincing that this movie is a must-see, the sheer oddness of it might put them over the edge. So I’ll put out a mild spoiler warning right here. If you’re already sold and definitely going to see it, then you might want to be surprised and stop reading now. But the ending is so strange that it may not really be capable of being spoiled anyway, so don’t run away too quickly.

In the typical Bondian fashion, Dixon finds himself victorious (no, that’s not the spoiler; you knew that already!) atop the mountain alone with the girl, Mitsouko (I'm not sure her character is ever named)–who has come to his rescue with guns blazing. It’s clear that she’s not just a local girl who likes to ski as she first presented herself. She must be an agent. Bob decides to call her on this as they ski down the slope, this time with him doing the skiing and her riding behind. "You’re one of our lady agents, aren’t you?" asks Bob, proud of his deduction.

"Yes," she says, "only that’s not quite all of it. I’m not really one of your lady agents. I’m..."–as she tears off her wig–"one of your... fellow agents." It’s still Mitsouko, but with short hair, now playing a man. "Will Takamura, at your service." Bob is (rather understandably, I suppose) horrified at the deception. "A man?" he practically shrieks, "Nooooo!" And he falls off his skis and rolls down the mountain in shock. The End. Or, "Fine," as they say in Italian.

Wow! What an ending. Bob doesn’t end up with any girl! There isn’t even a girl! (Bear in mind, too, that there is no reason given in the script why a male agent would have to dress in drag for that assignment!) It’s... just... so... weird! What could have prompted Gastaldi, Martino and Loy to end their picture this way? Why would Mitsouko agree to it? It seems almost as if someone suggested the joke on the last day of filming, and they all shrugged their shoulders and said, "Sure! Let’s film it!" Whatever the real cause, I’m choosing to believe that is what happened, because it just seems so in keeping with the fun "let’s put on a show!" attitude of Eurospy cinema. But whatever the reason, the ending is so utterly bizarre and out of left field that it made me go from loving the movie to considering it one of my very favorite Eurospy entries ever. It’s exactly that sort of "what the hell?" moment that I love about the genre, that you would never (thankfully!) find in the mainstream spy pictures like James Bond.

From beginning to end, Fury In Marrakesh is incredibly fun, top-notch entertainment. And as I mentioned at the beginning, it would make a great choice as an entry-level Eurospy movie for Bond fans ready to broaden their spy horizons. Let’s call it "Gateway Eurospy."

Fin de Siecle’s Region 2 PAL DVD is another fantastic transfer, as I expected based on their impressive freshman Eurospy effort, Secret Agent Fireball. There were one or two jumps in the forty-year-old print, but they can’t be blamed for that. Overall, this widescreen disc looks as good as you can dream of for a Sixties Eurospy movie. Once again (as I already mentioned), there’s an extensive poster and still gallery included as a bonus feature. If you’re a fan of the genre, or just looking to get into it, Furia A Marrakech is a must-purchase DVD!

Furia A Marrakech is available from Fin de Siecle's website for 129 kronar (just $14.40), and from DiabolikDVD in America for $24.95.


Delmo said...

As a big fan of old Times Square, I may have to get this one!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! My crazy old uncle was blathering on about this 'awesome' spy movie he used to watch late at night in the 70s. Out of sheer boredom, I managed to piece together the title. He was under the impression that it was called 'Death Pays in Dollars', which apparently it was, once.

Cheers! I actually want to watch this movie now.

Tanner said...

Happy to be of assistance! I hope you're able to track it down for your crazy uncle and yourself. All these Eurospy movies had so many different titles for different markets. Death Pays in Dollars is a great one!