May 24, 2013

Movie Review: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966)

Harry Levin and Arduino Maiuri’s Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (produced by the prolific Dino De Laurentiis) is another one of those Eurospy movies like Deadlier Than the Male or Hammerhead with a slightly higher budget than usual, making it a good stepping stone from the glossy world of James Bond into the decidedly less polished (but no less entertaining) world of European Bond knock-offs. (It was one of the first ones I ever saw, the bootleg being relatively easy to come by.) It’s even got a hero likely to be familiar to American TV viewers: Joe Mannix himself, Mike “Touch” Connors. Connors makes a great spy hero, in fact, and it’s a shame he didn’t play the role more often. Adding to his likability here, as CIA agent Kelly (“Just ‘Kelly’”), is his amusing affinity for bananas. Kelly helps himself to the tasty fruit at every opportunity, stealing one off the back of a truck that picks him up, pocketing another from a fruit bowl at an embassy function, and helping himself to another from the room of a beautiful woman he’s just saved from death by scorpion sting. He even manages to use the peel from one in the film’s climactic battle!

But bananas or not, this isn’t Connors’ film alone. Adding to its appeal is a top-notch ensemble cast. All-American beauty Dorothy Provine (One Spy Too Many) might seem like an odd choice to play British secret agent Susan Fleming, but her appeal in the role is undeniable. Scene-stealing Raf Vallone is fantastic as the smooth villain Ardonian. This script affords him lots more opportunities to chew scenery than he had in The Italian Job, and here he seizes all of them! But even he doesn’t walk away with the movie. No, the most memorable part turns out to belong to Terry-Thomas, who steals the show as Provine’s unflappable stiff-upper-lip chauffeur, James, whose duties include a bit more than just driving. (Confusingly, Thomas also plays another, smaller role in the film, that of Lord Aldric, who dies in the opening scene.)

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die also features what might well be the best gadget car of the Sixties spy cycle this side of 007’s DB5. The Rolls Royce that James drives our heroes around in offers every possible amenity. It has shields that slide into place protecting someone in the rear driver’s side seat from someone in the rear passenger side seat. It has a GPS tracker... from the days before GPS was a thing. It has a built-in drinks station that swivels into place at tea time with an already-steaming pot for Susan. When Kelly says he’d prefer a Scotch, James presses a button and a minibar appears, Scotch poured. It even adds a spritzer of soda. But when Kelly sips it, he chastises, “James, this is whiskey!” To which a flummoxed James responds, “Really, sir? I’ll have to speak to the mechanic about that!” But the car’s best surprise is its elaborate camouflage system, which I don’t dare spoil as it’s one of the delights of watching the film to discover it in action. All told, it’s no wonder that James spends as much time polishing this impressive vehicle as he does. (“How long does it take to turn out a chauffeur like you?” Ardonian asks him, to which the driver replies, “Oh, not long, sir. Just four to five generations.”) Or that, when Kelly parks his own clunky jalopy next to it, James gives him a withering look prompting Kelly to quip, “Your car doesn't object to being next to my car, does it?” (“Have you had it inoculated?” demands Thomas.) It’s a truly great spy car.

Clearly, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die has a sense of humor. (When Kelly discovers that Susan is also an agent, they engage in their own miniature arms race, revealing gadget after gadget on their persons.) It’s also got the requisite sense of the absurd for this subgenre. The villain’s plan is ambitious enough for Moonraker’s Hugo Drax (or perhaps screenwriter Christopher Wood) to later copy, but even he leaves out the best part—the motivation. Like Drax, Ardonian plots to launch toxins derived from a rare orchid at Earth from outer space, thus rendering all the men on Earth sterile. While Drax plans to repopulate the planet with a race of supermen, Ardonian hopes to repopulate the planet himself! He will be the only potent man left in the world, and he’s frozen a cadre of beautiful women in suspended animation for him to breed with. (His relationship with the female sex is complex and unhealthy, to say the least.)

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die takes place entirely in Brazil, and as in any Brazil-set Eurospy movie worth its salt (there were quite a few of them, for some reason*), Rio’s famous statue of Christ the Redeemer makes its presence known. But it’s not just seen in grainy stock footage aerials here. No, Kelly actually has a fight scene inside and on top of the statue, before climbing from the Savior’s head onto a waiting helicopter!

My only real complaint about the film is the ending. For the most part, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die manages to function as both a spoof and an action movie the viewer is legitimately invested in, a feat not even the Flint films managed to pull off. But in the final moments, the directors make a decision to play up the comedy at the expense of the story, and a deus ex machina played for laughs sadly undermines all the actual suspense they've managed to build. Still, that one small oversight aside, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die offers pretty much everything you could ask for from a first-rate Eurospy movie (once you get past the silly and somewhat incongruous opening): exotic locations, thrilling action, beautiful ladies aplenty (including genre stalwart Margaret Lee, unfortunately wasted in a bit part), killer piranha, deadly scorpions, genuine comic relief, fantastic gadgets, outlandish mod attire, an appealing hero, a dastardly villain, and lots of bananas. And I bet you never even realized that you craved bananas in your Eurospy formula, did you? Watch Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and you’ll see why.

Sadly, that’s easier said than done. This title has yet to turn up on DVD, and that kind of surprises me. With the well-known star, well-known producer and relatively high production values, I would have expected it to be one of the more likely Eurospy titles to get released—if not on DVD, then at least as a made-on-demand disc. If Columbia still controls the rights, then they need to release a nice, widescreen print as part of their MOD program ASAP. (They’ve done a good job with their Sixties spy catalog for the most part.) And if someone else owns the rights now (De Laurentiis’ company?), then they need to strike a deal with Redemption or Severin or Scorpion or one of those specialty labels. This is one of a couple of Eurospy movies that can boast Quentin Tarantino having called it his favorite, which should make nice copy for the front cover further enticing someone to put it out. Until then, unless they get the rare opportunity to see it in a revival theater, spy fans are stuck with a low quality bootleg.

*Perhaps the country offered good tax incentives. Whatever the case, other Eurospy movies set in Brazil include OSS 117: Furia a Bahia (review), Dick Smart 2.007, That Man From Rio and Ring Around the World (review). All of them lent inspiration to the 2009 genre spoof OSS 117: Lost in Rio (review).


dfordoom said...

It has Terry-Thomas as well? Then I have to see it!

Tanner said...

Yeah, this one's a must-see! I really hope it gets some sort of official release.

Elliot James said...

This was a perennial on US TV in the late 60s and 70s and I saw it several times. The plot has the same sort of prurient men's mag tone (young gorgeous women as playthings) as the Helm and Flint films. I can't imagine the Rio government allowing a chase scene in the statute so that must have been a prop built against a rear screen. A professional DVD would be welcome, especially if they can get Mike Connors for a commentary.

Elliot James said...

According to trivia at IMDB. "At least for the time of the film, according to actor Mike Connors, the production was the only film that was allowed permission to film at Rio de Janeiro's sacred landmark of the Christ the Redeemer Statue." & "Mike Connors has said that he performed the stunt where he hangs from a rope attached to a helicopter flying around the Christ the Redeemer Statue because a local Brazilian stuntman refused to do it."

Tanner said...

Thanks for digging up that cool trivia, Elliot! I can definitely believe it. It really looks to me as if they're actually capering around atop the famous statue in the film, and while this one clearly has a bigger budget than a lot of Eurospy titles, I kind of doubt the budget was big enough to create such a convincing replica...

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie as a child and it was AWSOME!!
I too have been trying to find a copy of it, to no avail!!! ��. To me the film is right up there with the best of them. If I was on a desserted island for ever this is one of 2 films I would have!!