Dec 8, 2010

Movie Review: Scorpions and Miniskirts (1967)

Movie Review: Scorpions and Miniskirts (1967)

The Eurospy movie Scorpions and Miniskirts (better known by the far more mundane title Death on a Rainy Day) had been high on my must-see list ever since viewing an incredible English-language trailer on YouTube a few years ago, but the only version I could come across was in German. I watched it and appreciated the cool action sequences and plentiful sight gags, but had no idea what was going on. Now, thanks to the tireless translator of Eurospy movies (or at least facilitator of such translations) known as Skadog, (the actual translation is credited to somebody called Turdis, to whom I am very grateful) I’ve been able to watch this movie with subtitles. And guess what? It turns out that nearly all the dialogue I was missing out on is either sexist or racist. Ah, Eurospies! Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining. This is clearly a movie with its tongue firmly in its cheek, but it’s a little tough to tell exactly what’s intended as parody and what’s just taken for granted. Perhaps the racism (primarily directed at the Chinese) is just as brilliant a satire of European attitudes as that on display in the latest OSS 117 spoof movie, but through the filter of age and subtitles, I honestly can’t tell. Either way though, viewed now from a securely post-modern perspective, it serves as such.

Even though it features French heroes as opposed to the usual Eurospy CIA agents, Scorpions and Miniskirts is apparently a German/Spanish/Italian co-production. It plays like an abortive attempt to launch a Kommissar X-style buddy spy franchise, only a bit more slanted towards comedy. As with that series, there are lots of great, well-choreographed, over-the-top action sequences (specializing in the variety in which a lone hero manages to take out whole armies of villains shooting automatic weapons at him without suffering a scratch). The film opens with a particularly spectacular (though utterly nonsensical) action sequence in which secret agent Paul Riviere (Jess Franco collaborator Adrian Hoven, who also produced) pops out of a coffin as he’s being buried, blasts a bunch of policeman, then escapes when his coffin is airlifted out by helicopter, still returning fire from inside the airborne casket. The scenario is never really explained, but it makes for one hell of a beginning!

As soon as the helicopter deposits him at headquarters, Riviere’s chief sends him right back out to rescue a colleague in a similar bind, Bruno Nussak (Barth Warren, who has very few other credits to his wonderfully peculiar name). The two of them take on hordes of machine gun-toting Chinese baddies in a Paris junkyard while exchanging casually racist quips (which reminded me of From Paris With Love... or OSS 117: Lost in Rio!), clearly establishing an intended repartee in the process. Two-handers are fairly rare in the Eurospy genre (while Paul is nominally the hero, Bruno is definitely more than just a sidekick), thus tipping the film’s hand to its Kommissar X aspirations. Sadly, Hoven and Warren lack the easygoing chemistry of Tony Kendall and Brad Harris, and for that reason alone franchise dreams were probably dead in the water.

Their protracted shootout with (and effective massacre of) the Chinese gangsters leads the pair to a hunt for a perfume bottle with a secret hidden inside that takes them from the striptease-filled nightclubs of Paris to the striptease-filled massage parlors of Hong Kong. (Yes, it’s truly a Eurospy world.) Along the way, Paul flirts with (and lays unwanted kisses on) a number of airline stewardesses and gets in a good fight aboard a plane. His charmless and blatantly misogynist flirting isn’t nearly as successful as Joe Walker’s, yielding instead the results one would expect in real life of Eurospy-type cheesball pick-up lines. It becomes a running gag that Paul can’t manage to close the deal with any of the beauties he hits on (and there are plenty of them; you’d think that by the law of averages alone even a boor like him would strike gold eventually!), but that doesn’t stop him and Bruno from picking up a whole harem of chaste dollybirds along the way. This movie demonstrates what happens when the bad guys don't kill all the minor girls, as usually happens in Eurospy movies: when they don’t die off, the various women have no choice but to tag along. Thus, the two spies collect an entourage of beautiful girls (all of whom steadfastly refuse Paul’s obnoxious advances, refreshingly) as they travel from country to country and strip joint to strip joint, filling their hotel rooms and flights and even their chief’s office with pulchritude. (“I told you not to bring your personal harem!” the boss angrily reprimands his agents.)

Everywhere they go, the guys get in at least one big fight, and their Hong Kong sojourn naturally culminates in a bash-up in a bath house. That leads them to New York, and it really is New York–at least in the establishing shots. (I wish Pan Am still existed and still flew passengers by helicopter from the airport to their building downtown. It makes for some fantastic scene-setting, anyway.) In New York they make the mistake of calling Paris and reporting the film’s ludicrous plot to their chief. The chief clearly hasn’t seen enough Eurospy movies himself, because he dismisses as preposterous Paul’s claims that the Red Scorpion gang is planning to inject the American secretary of defense with ribonucleic acid in order to steal his memories and inject him with those of their own agent. (Yes, the random perfume bottle MacGuffin somehow led to that.) “That’s the most absurd story I’ve heard in my life!” the chief declares, and orders Paul to fly back to Paris at once. Paul, of course, doesn’t listen. Director Ramon Comas keeps this whole, lengthy telephone conversation from becoming boring by filling the background on both ends with sexy sight gags. Paul is talking in a hotel room he and Bruno are sharing with three girls (that’s their tally so far at this point in the film; it will grow) farcically running from door to door in various states of undress. The Chief, meanwhile, conducts his business from within a ladies’ gymnasium (well, ostensibly it’s the training center for female agents), blatantly ogling leotard-clad cuties as they take falls practicing karate, leap over pommel horses, legs spread, or tumble in succession down a balance beam, each one giving the camera a nice, legs in the air flash of bottom.

Even when Paul takes the lead in the investigation, Bruno enjoys equal screen time. For instance, while Paul investigates a New York physician who might be mixed up in all this (and conveniently acquires his blond receptionist for his growing harem), we’re treated to the frankly weird antics of Bruno as he copes with sharing a single bathroom with three women and never getting a crack at it. As Bruno finally chases the ladies out by jumping around like an ape (or something), Paul gets the drop on a surprised room full of Chinese baddies and orders, “Put your hands up! Or I won’t leave one Chinese to talk about it.” Classy. He then proceeds to surrender his edge by taking a moment to (unwelcomely) kiss the secretary, and another Chinese baddie comes in with a machine gun and gets the drop on him! This leads to a rooftop fight with the Chinese villains in which Paul constantly and unconvincingly beats them at their own martial arts by karate chopping each opponent on the back. Then he throws a succession of them over the edge of the roof, eliciting angry honking from below each time. Eventually a policeman decides to see what’s going on and tells the building’s doorman, “I’m telling you, it’s raining Chinamen!” causing the doorman to indignantly (and incorrectly) insist, “Well they didn’t come from here!”

There are plenty more fights and plenty more women collected as the action returns to Paris, where a big peace conference is going on. In a scene with both, after a Chinese beauty tries to kill Paul, he reprimands her, “What did you want to do with me? Don’t you know I’m phenomenal with the ladies?” Modest, too, evidently. She struggles to get away, but he subdues her and kisses her and adds her to the harem, as you do if you’re a Eurospy. Still, though, he never succeeds in getting a moment alone with her. More notable than the standard-issue Eurospy antics that go on at the peace conference (involving multiple imposters in Mission: Impossible-style face masks and hypodermic needles and imperiled women and car chases) is what transpires afterwards, when the agents’ boss pulls rank and commandeers their whole harem, leaving the two spy guys (rather appropriately) with each other.

As should no doubt be evident by now to any Eurospy aficionado, while Scorpions and Miniskirts is certainly no masterpiece, it does manage to be hugely entertaining. A great score (clearly going for a Peter Thomas/Jerry Cotton sort of vibe and mostly succeeding pretty well) by first-time composer Jerry van Rooyen (who would go on to score Jess Franco’s wild Eurospy flicks Sadisterotica and Kiss Me Monster) helps compensate for the doughy, charmless leads and non-threatening main villain Dr. Kung (George Wang), as do a fairly witty (if racist) script (credited to four writers, including Comas) and solid action direction. This isn’t top-shelf Eurospy by any stretch (although it does have one of the best openings in the subgenre), so it’s not worth scouring the Earth to find a subtitled copy, but if you do manage to turn one up it’s definitely worth a watch. If you’re just wetting your feet in the Eurospy world, though, you’re better off sticking to surer fare like the OSS 117 series or Deadlier Than the Male or Lightning Bolt.

 This image pretty much says it all.


Jason Whiton said...

You had me at "Scorpions and Mini Skirts: :)
-Jace (Spy Vibe)

Tanner said...

I know, right? Why on earth would they jettison that great title for the totally generic "Death On A Rainy Day" in most territories???

George said...

That last picture is awesome!

James said...

The music's credited to Umiliani on the print I saw (Spanish with subs) and I think he must have had something to do with it as a favorite theme of his (primary theme for "Last of the Badmen", secondary in a bunch of movies he's associated with) shows up fleetingly in the lounge music played in the dressing room as George Wang and gang hold heroes and autograph hounds hostage.

Tanner said...

Wow, that's very interesting! I have a Van Rooyen CD (AT 250 MILES PER HOUR) that contains four or five tracks from the film, so I'd guess he was actually involved too. I wonder if they both contributed, but were credited separately depending on the territory, or if it had different scores in different territories of release?