May 17, 2010
Following the worldwide mega-success of Goldfinger, there’s no question that 1965 was the Year of the Spy. The floodgates opened, and the Eurospy boom began in earnest. But the OSS 117 series had a healthy head start on all these other Bond imitators, and with two films already under his belt, director Andre Hunebelle managed to craft the quintessential OSS 117 movie while the other series were still finding their feet. I wouldn’t argue that Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117 is the best entry in the series (although it’s definitely up there), nor would I argue that Goldfinger is the best Bond film. But there’s really no denying that Goldfinger is the quintessential Bond film, and that’s what Furia à Bahia is to OSS 117 for the same reasons. It gets the formula just right. It’s the perfect Eurospy cocktail of equal parts humor and intrigue, action and exotic locations, beautiful women, dastardly villains and charming, unflappable hero. As such, it’s a hell of a fun movie. Taking place primarily in Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon basin, it’s also the most direct antecedent for the newest OSS 117 film, OSS 117: Lost in Rio.
Diamonds Are Forever, for example, Bond travels from London to New York to Las Vegas to Africa in a very short span of time. In the film Goldfinger, he racks up even more frequent flyer miles: Mexico to Miami to London to Switzerland to Kentucky. Some of the best Eurospy movies recognized this formula, and latched onto it in their own limited budget range. (Luckily, there are quite a few exotic destinations within a relatively small radius of Rome!) But the previous two OSS 117 films each stuck with one location (other than the ostensible New York or Washington briefings): the French Riviera and Thailand, respectively. With Furia à Bahia, Hunebelle opened up the scope. Not much, but just enough to really establish Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath as a globetrotter. He did it very simply, too: while the bulk of the film takes place in South America, it opens in as different a location and climate as you could imagine, on an Alpine ski slope. It’s a great spy setting to set the tone of the film, even if Hubert’s only there long enough to get briefed. (Well, he still finds some time for the ladies as well.) After that, it’s off to Brazil because–you guessed it–another CIA agent has gone missing. (This one’s not quite dead yet, though, for a change–but only survives long enough to justify a hospital fight scene.) Even in Brazil, however, Hunebelle makes the most of the diverse locations available, contrasting the exotic cityscape of Rio with the lush, untamed jungle further inland. Michel Hazanavicius uses the exact same formula for OSS 117: Lost in Rio: he begins in a ski lodge before moving on to Rio and then the jungle.
Panic in Bangkok (according to Philippe Lombard’s OSS 117 Dossier), and this coupled with an increase in his salary demands led the director to seek a replacement. Although Eurospy regulars like Ken Clark and Richard Harrison were considered, he ended up casting an unknown–an unknown who wasn’t even a professional actor. Austrian-born Frederick Stafford was a successful hotelier when Hunebelle discovered him, but you would never know it from his easygoing yet commanding screen presence, full of natural charm. It’s no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock eventually ended up pilfering him from the series; the man’s got star written all over him and that’s how his career should have gone. (Instead, his post-OSS film work was marked by flops–including Hitch’s Topaz–before the actor’s tragic and untimely death in a plane crash.)
pickup line on! Both brunettes claim to be the same person, so neither one seems all that trustworthy. The blonde, Anna-Maria (Fantomas’ Mylène Demongeot), therefore becomes Hubert’s main squeeze by process of elimination. Demongeot proves not only to be extraordinarily beautiful (I think I have a new Eurospy crush!), but also a fine actress, and she makes Anna-Maria (not a spy, but an innocent mixed up in the whole affair) one of the most memorable OSS 117 women.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio), but his means to this end are rather interesting. He’s enslaved the local indigenous Indian population to make a drug that can only be manufactured from unique plants in the Brazilian rain forest. (Shades of Hugo Drax!) He then uses this drug to brainwash innocent people into becoming suicidal assassins. He even uses it on poor Anna-Maria, but luckily Hubert catches on and realizes she’s not in possession of her faculties when she attacks him.
Gaumont’s Region 2 DVD, which once again features no English language elements. Other than that rather major shortcoming, though, it’s another impressive disc, chock-full of extras.
in Germany (only with German language additions instead, naturally).
Read my introduction to OSS 117 here.
Read my review of OSS 117 se déchaîne here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Banco à Bangkok here.
Read my review of Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 117 here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Lost in Rio here.