Jan 25, 2007

Review: Secret Agent Superdragon (MST3K Version)

My girlfriend got me a bootleg DVD of the "Secret Agent Super Dragon" episode of Mystery Science 3000 for Christmas. The movie is not currently available on DVD, and is even hard to find on the so-called "gray market" (for me, at least; the Eurospy Guide says it’s easy), so this seemed the closest I’d come to seeing it legitimately. I think MST3K is a hilarious show, and I have many fond memories of watching The Mystery Science Theatre Hour following Hercules: The Legendary Journeys late at night in high school, but I do get annoyed when they do a movie that doesn’t deserve the ‘bots’ treatment. The most obvious example would be Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. That’s a great movie, one of my favorites. I don’t like watching the MST3K version because 1) I get annoyed with the quips, like their distracting me from watching a movie I like, and 2) I think the movie is too good to give them any great bits of humor anyway. The show is definitely best served by baaaaaad movies, which fuel their incessant quipping. When it’s not so bad, it doesn’t give them many good things to say. So it was with a little trepidation that I watched a Eurospy movie I’d never seen get the MST3K treatment.

Luckily, it all worked out. I feel that I got the gist of the movie amidst the comments, though I’d still like to see it on its own. (For one thing, as is often the case, their print seems to be cut. Most reviews of Super Dragon mention a scene in a bowling alley, and there’s none to be found in this version.) But the comments weren’t too distracting, and most were quite funny. As far as I can tell, Secret Agent Super Dragon is not a terrible movie, but it certainly offers enough to make fun of if you’re looking for it. (Most Eurospy titles do.)

Bryan Cooper (Ray Danton) is a secret agent code-named "Super Dragon" for some reason. (Leading to the best quip of he episode, when he disappears, apparently into the bathroom: "Gotta drain the super dragon.") The 1966 movie seems to use The Silencers and, particularly, Our Man Flint (also 1966) as it’s starting point, rather than Bond. However, it doesn’t have the satiric edge that Flint does, and Superdragon takes himself pretty seriously. Like Flint, he’s great at everything, and, like Flint, he lives, retired, in luxury. (Though Super Dragon’s luxury is rather modestly budgeted.) Also like Flint, he practices putting himself into a state of hibernation so that when he’s later locked in a coffin (like Fint), he can shut himself down until he’s rescued (um... like Flint). This moment leads a ‘bot to joyously exclaim, "Something in this movie has something to do with something else in this movie!" Ray Danton lacks the effortless charisma of James Coburn, and since the character takes himself so seriously (unlike Flint!), he comes off as a bit of a jerk. Imagine Flint without Coburn’s charm and he’d be pretty obnoxious, right? That’s basically what you get here, except that Danton still manages more charm than he will nine years later when he gets his chance to actually, disastrously play Derek Flint in the TV movie Our Man Flint: Dead On Target.

One hallmark of the Eurospy genre is that the hero is often (at least viewing these movies today) rather loathsome. Personally, I don’t mind this. I accept it, and even appreciate it, as part of the genre, and get some laughs out of it. I’m sure in some cases it was intentional (as Flint was intended to expose Bond as something of a jerk), but in many others it wasn’t. It’s certainly an aspect that bears making fun of, and the MST3K crew latch onto it here. Other Eurospy cliches worth making fun of that they don’t miss include the dopey sidekick (check!), the casual misogyny (check!) and the absolutely baffling plots (check, check!). Secret Agent Super Dragon also has its share of pacing problems, and the Satellite of Love’s crew’s remarks help pass the time when the going gets slow.

But does the movie have any good points? Yes. For one thing, it’s got spy veterans Margaret Lee and Marisa Mell as eye candy Comfort and Charity. For another, I said it’s got Margaret Lee and Marisa Mell as eye candy Comfort and Charity. Yes, a spy movie that names its women Comfort and Charity is always going to win some favor with this viewer. Although the make-up department went a little crazy with the hair for both ladies. Beautiful Marisa is much more beautiful as a blonde than a redhead. (See Diabolik!) It’s also got some great Amsterdam scenery, although it seems to be more famous for its lackluster "Dearborn, Michigan" locations. And it sports an appropriate Eurospy soundtrack, which Joel and the ‘bots pay tribute to in one of their sketches. (Is "tribute" the right word?) In fact, this MST3K episode features several good spy-related sketches, so fans of the genre might want to check it out just for that.

I enjoyed watching Secret Agent Super Dragon with the sarcastic commentary, and I enjoyed the movie enough on its own merits (such as I could measure) that I would definitely like to see it again without the comments, which certainly can’t be said for all MST3K titles.


David said...

If you are interested in tracking down a 'straight' version, I aquired my gray market copy from Shocking Videos.

The copy isn't too bad...better than a lot of gray market material. It looks like it was dubbed from a VHS version, and some of the colours bleed together a bit. But certainly watchable.

Tanner said...

That looks like a good site. Thanks for sharing, David. I'd love to see the uncut movie, so I'll probably order from them eventually.