I got the film from Netflix with another feature on the disc: Assassination in Rome (1965). I put it on my queue because the latter film starred Hugh O’Brian, whom I had been watching in The Adventures of Wyatt Earp (1955-61). I was also lured by the tag for Espionage in Tangiers (1965) where it states that George Lazenby is the star. In the credits, no sign of his name. No sign of him in the entire film. A check of his filmography at IMDb tells me his first film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
I watched Espionage first, intrigued by some of the information learned at IMDb.
- This film started a spy-film genre craze in Europe (it was a Spanish-Italian co-production). Made as a Bond film clone, Espionage came out the same year as Thunderball. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it. The Bond films initiated television shows, like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart, and movie spoofs like Our Man Flint (1966) and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) And we shouldn’t forget Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966), and Billion-Dollar Brain (1967) or Dirk Bogarde in Agent 8 and ¾ (1964).
- The film is dubbed in English and given the Espionage title. Its true title was Marco Mato, agent S. 077. He’s given the name Mike Murphy and seems to work for the United Nations. Murphy is played by an Argentinian actor, Luis Davila. This film did not, and Davila returned to regular movie and then television roles.
- The film was a blockbuster hit but didn’t spawn sequels (create a ‘Marco Mato’ craze) or a Sean Connery-like career for Davila.
- The film takes place in Tangiers for forty minutes then heads to Nice.
- Going back to the Nexflix misinformation. It took me a while to conclude Duvila could have been mistaken for Lazenby. However, the photo above doesn’t support my conclusion well. What other explanation is there?
- For a James Bond clone, Espionage may have had a suitable looking actor (as Lazenby had a “Bond look”) but is terribly lacking style and an even marginally compelling theme. The scene above with Duvila and a girlfriend lacks the sexuality one finds in the early Bond films, especially with Connery and Eunice Gayson, who played the seductive Sylvia Trench. Sexy women in a spy film don’t necessarily translate into sultry screen clenching.
- The absence of a compelling villain of the Bond type, or an interesting henchman (Odd Job or Jaws), compounds the idea that Espionage was a blockbuster. At least, Mike Murphy (ne Mark Mato) has several good fights, usually one against four or five (almost on the level of Lazenby’s fight in the hotel room with Draco’s goon).
- The object of everyone’s attention is a chip, when put into a special type of gun, creates a ray which causes an object to dematerialize. Having the hero search for a chip cuts down the cost of the film. No looking for a plane or the building a missile.
It might be time to reflect on the absent George Lazenby. This could be his career signature. First, he gets the break of playing Bond, having no movie experience, and then gives up. Or was he canned? I watched a short documentary on the DVD of On Her Majesty’s and the situation became no clearer. Supposedly, Lazenby came under the influence of some cult guru and was advised to give up his career. He didn’t appear in a film again until 1972. His only major credit (among 70+) is playing a Confederate General in Gettysburg (1993). Or you believe the story that the Bond producers realized they had made a major mistake, panicked, and looked to hire back Sean Connery for Diamonds are Forever (1971).
The second feature on the disk, Assassination in Rome, is the better of the two, which isn’t saying much. Hugh O’Brian plays a newspaper editor at an American newspaper in Rome. He finds out Cyd Charisse’s husband has disappeared and helps her because they were in love twenty years before. A dozen characters are introduced and red herrings abound. The final reveal of the murder happens fast and, worse, with no explanation. No motive for the murders in the film are given or why the killer acted the way he or she (no spoiler) did. We get a bunch of twists leading to an ending similar to the kind found in a Mario Bava or Dario Argento film.