Archive for the Secret Agents and Spies Category

ICE STATION ZEBRA/1968/ROCK HUDSON

Posted in Adventure-Action, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Patrick McGoohan, Rock Hudson, Secret Agents and Spies on October 12, 2011 by Bill Courtney
ICE STATION ZEBRA
1968/Director: John Sturges/Writers: Alistair MacLean (novel), Douglas Heyes (screenplay)
Cast: Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, Jim Brown, Tony Bill, Lloyd Nolan, Alf Kjellin, Gerald S. O’Loughlin   
My dad was stationed on Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio Texas in the late 60’s. One of the little perks of being the son of a military dad was having the ID card that got me onto the base and then inot some cool places, like the bowling alley, the BX (base exchange), the cafeterias and of course the various bland looking movie houses. With my ID card it cost me all of 35 cents to see assorted spaghetti westerns, horror and sci-fi films, comedies and once in a while a real movie. Such was the case with Ice Station Zebra, a film I saw all alone in the base theater at about the age of eleven. Shot in stunning 70mm  with a dramatic score (restored in full with intermission music on the version I have) it was awesome to behold on the big screen and if I remember right I saw it about three times in a week.

The film is based, somewhat loosely I understand, on the 1963 spy thriller of the same name by Alastair MacLain. His earlier The Guns of Navarone was made into a successful movie with Gregory Peck and David Niven and MGM hoped to turn this new novel into another box office winner. The film in fact did well and earned a couple Oscar nominations for special effects and cinematography but lost out to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also revived the career of Rock Hudson as an action star after he had become somewhat typecast in his pillow talk movies with actresses like Doris Day. Charlton Heston was originally slated to play Hudson’s role as Captain Ferraday but declined saying the script was too weak. While Heston would have shone in the role Rock does just fine as the capable Captain of the USS Tigerfish as it heads towards the North Pole on both a rescue and top secret mission that involves British spies, Russian defectors, U.S Marines and not one single female character in the entire film.

The story begins in Scotland where Submarine Captain Ferraday (Hudson) is given the mission of taking the USS Tigerfish up under the polar ice caps to rescue the scientific team stationed at Ice Station Zebra following a reported series of explosions there. An overland, or over icepack, route is ruled out and Ferraday is none to pleased to receive orders that his command is second to a British spy named “Mr. Jones”, played by Patrick MacGoohan who took some time off from his The Prisoner TV series to do the film. Jones is brilliant but slightly jumpy and sleeps with a gun under his pillow and drinks plenty of “medicinal” whiskey to balance himself out. The rescue mission is actually a cover for retrieving a capsule that was ejected to Earth from a satellite. The capsule contains something that both the Americans and Russians are racing to the North Pole to get first. The Tigerfish later receive by helicopter two unexpected visitors. One is a constantly smiling and helpful Russian defector named Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) and the other is tough and disciplined Marine Captain Anders (Jim Brown).
Sabotage becomes a concern on the Tigerfish after a torpedo tube that is being used to launch a torpedo through the ice becomes filled with sea water and floods the torpedo room when it is opened, killing one sailor. Of course we know this guys is totally dead since right before they open the hatch he is talking about his wonderful future and the girl he wants to marry. Never talk about that stuff before a dangerous mission. Suspicions bounce from Mr. Jones to Vaslov and even to Anders.
The scenes of the Tigerfish under the ice look spectacular for the time really. Finally a thin enough layer of ice is found and the Tigerfish surfaces only to find Ice Station Zebra in smoldering ruins with scientific team all near death from exposure. In no time both Vaslov and Jones are looking for something and Ferraday wants to know what it is. We find out soon enough that Vaslov (and how can anyone trust a smiling overly helpful Russian, defector or not, during the Cold War period) is the saboteur after he waylays Jones with a crowbar. Jones mistakingly. shoots Anders when he wakes up groggy and sees the two mean fighting. It is soon learned that the capsule that landed at Zebra contained a Russian made camera with highly advanced American film inside, and soon the Russians, led by the serious and determined Colonel Ovstravsky (Alf Kjellin) arrive they and the Americans have a stand off over who goes home with the goods. In the end Ferraday detonates the canisters as it is hoisted upwards by a weather balloon, thereby symbolizing a draw between the two super powers. I have never read except in reviews and understand MacLean had a tenser and less optimistic ending.
A great movie for people who like Cold War thrillers and submarine dramas. The Arctic sets looked wonderful, and all the more wonderful since they are in fact studio sets. I love old movies sets and if this film is ever remade they will probably film it on location somewhere and while it will look more realistic it will lose that magic, perfect appearance that sets often provided a scene. There of course are some problems such as the fact that while we hear wind effects no one’s hear is even blowing, the lack of frozen condensation when people exhale and I read that keeping the parka laden actors free of perspiration was a difficult task. Really happy I found this one and highly recommend you give it a shot.

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YASHARU HASABE’S BLACK TIGHT KILLERS w/AKIRA KOBAYASHI /1966

Posted in Akira Kobayashi, Japanese Films, Secret Agents and Spies, Video Clip, Yasuharu Hasebe on June 9, 2011 by Bill Courtney
BLACK TIGHT KILLERS
1966/Director: Yasuharu Hasebe/Writers: Ryuzo Nakanishi, Michio Tsuzuki

Cast: Akira Kobayashi, Akemi Kita, Mieko Nishio, Bokuzen Hidari, Eiji Go, Toshizô Kudô, Chieko Matsubara, Hiroshi Nihon’yanagi, Kaku Takashina   

AKA: Ore Ni Sawaru To Abunaize, Don’t Touch Me I’m Dangerous

Recently got in two films by Japanese director Yasuharu Hasebe. I watched black Tight Killers first and later skimmed over Assault! Jack the Ripper! To just check the quality and was fairly stunned at how different the two films were. Not only in style but content matter as well. Surely Black Tight Killers falls more into the category of films I prefer more and that is not to say the more graphic content matter of Assault! offended me in some way. It did not. But I am talking here of film style and presentation. A review of Assault! Jack the Ripper! will be made after I have watched all of the film but just from the few moments I watched I can tell it is more in the syle of the Pinky Violence films of the seventies while Black Tight Killers is a stylized Nikkatsu Yakuza type film which is paying homage in many scenes to the James Bond films of the time. Some of the scenes are similar to what Seijun Suzuki –for whom Hasebe worked as assistant director for eight years- was doing at the time though Suzuki seemed to luscious prefer b/w for his noir/gangster films. I do have some earlier Seijun Suzuki films that are in color but, to be honest, have not got around to watching them though what I have seen of them look marvelous.

Anyway for Black Tight Killer Yasharu Hasebe chose not only to work in color but in a bright and lurid style of color that is reminiscent of some of Mario Bava’s work during the 60’s. Black Tight Killers has been compared to Bava’s 1968 Danger Diabolik and not without good reason though Black Tight Killer’s predates Danger Diabolik by a couple years so it could hardly have been influenced by Bava’s film. Both films have a comic book feel to the look and feel. Both films are lit rather garishly to say the least and both seem to be inspired by the Sean Connery James Bond films. Of course Danger Diabolik was actually based a comic book character. I have actually read a couple reviews that said the lighting and photography of Black Tight Killers is horrible and I am at a complete lose as to what the hell these folks are talking about. And before moving on another element of the film that reminds me of Bava’s superb work of the 60’s is Hasebe’s use of how to stage and frame a shot. The technical word is mise-en-scène and there is some dispute over what the term actually refers to. I tend to keep things simple and define at as the total visual aspects of a scene. This includes the lighting and all props and placements of the objects in the scene. Bava –as an art director and cinematographer himself- understood this in his early films. I have only seen one complete Hasebe film –but have other lined up for downloading soon- and am not qualified to comment on those films at the moment but I can say I love the visual style of Black Tight Killers.
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Before going into the film and bombarding my readers with spoilers out the wazhoo I want to mention it stars leading man Akira Kobayashi whose charisma, acting ability and dashing good looks holds the film’s story together during some pretty weak moments. As I mentioned a couple posts back when I posted a video of the groovy title sequence Kobayashi sang the theme song as well. I want to find some of the Wandering Guitarist and Rambler series of films where he plays, I guess, a wandering/rambling guy with a guitar and gets into all sorts of adventures. In fact the title song for Black Tight Killers translates as Don’t Cry Drifter and must be some reference to these earlier films since his gainfully employed photo-journalist character Daisuke Hondo in Black tight Killers hardly seems like a rambling drifter to me. But Kobayashi adds a James Bond type of flair to the character that he plays straight and serious to good effect for the most part. Now the film does have a few problems in the story department but much of it is done tongue in cheek –I hope- and so it never really falls apart.

The story follows photographer Hondo on his return to Tokyo from Vietnam where he worked as a war photographer. On the plane he falls for stewardess Yoriko (Chieko Matsubara) and pursues her in the why men always pursued women in films from the 60’s which amounts to nothing short of felony stalking these days. He refuses to take no for an answer as far as dinner goes –and women in these older flicks love it when a guy makes all their decisions for them and never hear the word no- and later they are in a ritzy night club. Hondo is soon dancing with Yoriko and compliments on her on how well she holds her liquor. Men in these old movies like women who have drinking problems it seems. The evening takes a turn for the sinister when Yoriko runs from the restaurant in fear that she is being followed. Hiondo chases her outside and soon finds himself in the midst of a violent confrontation between black leather clad females and what appears to gangsters. They appear to be gangsters because they dress well but look ugly and make scowling facial expressions all the time. The girls kill the man by stabbing him in the back and then setting up Hondo for the crime after they have thrown some hi-tech spy weaponry his way. And that would be bubble gum in his eyes. The plot suddenly gets rather convoluted and best to just go along for the ride rather than try to figure it all out. His American friend Lopez –who is totally white and not Hispanic- helps to bail him out of the frame-up using his perfect Japanese. In fact there are lots of big Americans in the film and they all seem to be in league with the Yakuza or up to no good. I have read that Hasebe seems to take an unkind look at the American occupiers of Japan in many of his films and the negative effects they had on Japanese culture. Hey but they should have thought of that before they began WWII right! The Black Tight Killers are in the middle of it all. They are a group of go-go dancers from Okinawa who have come looking for the same thing the Yakuza are looking for; information leading to a fortune in gold that Yoriko’s uncles knows the location of. But he was killed in the war and left a clue somewhere to be found and figured out. It becomes a race between the Black Tight Killers and the Yakuza to get their hands on Yorika and find the location of the gold that she has no clue about. In the middle of all this Hondo is trying to pursue a relationship with Yoriko who constantly being kidnapped and re-kidnapped. While, he is serious about Yoriko –telling a friend that she is special and that she may be the one- this does not stop him from doing the dirty with one of the Black Tight Killers… and hell, who can blame him. Although the seduction is actually a trap set by one of the girls so she wrap her thighs around him and lock him into place while pinching s pressure point on his neck to get information out of him. But it still looks fun.

And now a few words about the Black tight Killers themselves. Some reference is made by someone where in the film that they must be ninja trained. And that may well be though we never find out for sure. Not only can they adroitly use the traditional ninja weapon of bubble gum to blind an adversary but they are equally skilled in slinging vinyl records as shurikens but ordinary tape measures become lethal tool in their capable hands. But one big problem with the lovely gals is that after they ruthlessly stab one guy in the back with a switchblade they suddenly start dying off with relative ease at the hands of the yakuza. One by one they die off and for the most part in the arms of Hondo where they exchange some sweet words before the heroine succumbs. After a couple die Hondo mutters how she was a “nice girl”. What? They stabbed a Yakuza in the back earlier over gold. The death scenes are a trifle corny to say the least in particular one scene where a girl is shot in the back and falls over a stair railing several floors high. She lands with a splat but manages enough life to not only say some sweet words to Hondo but to appropriately cover her nipples with cupped hands before she dies. Now that is Japanese modesty at it best. In fact I even got confused as to which girl was which most of the time. In fact this might sound racist but I bet I am not the only one out there who has had this problem. In most Asian pictures I have a hard time telling one character from another. Okay I may go to white man hell for that but it is true. Unless the character stands out like Akiro Kobayashi does I start getting bewildered as to who is now talking to who and especially with female character who all dress the same and have the same hairstyle. And I want to tell you something, I live in China and I know for a fact that Chinese people have the same problems! They often cannot tell one female character from the other themselves especially when it comes to the newer, mainstream films where all the females have the same sort of look anymore. And the subs for this film do not make these problems any easier. While readable in many areas they are white and, as I understand it, burned into the original print.  Meaning they cannot be edited. So when the background is white you simply cannot read the subs. But I tend to not worry too much about these trifles in a film like this and some consternation is part of the package.

The film, as I said, seems to be paying homage to the James Bond films of the time and one scene in particular seems lifted right out of 1964’s Goldfinger. In the memorable scene from the opening of Goldfinger Jill Masterson (played by Shirley Eaton) is spray painted gold and dies from suffocation as her skin pores are all closed up. Does seem like this is a bit of a scientific error and people would die of suffocation so long as they could still breathe through their nose and mouth but they could die of  excessive heat exhaustion from not being able to sweat any longer, though it would take a couple days perhaps for this to happen. In any case it is a neat idea for a spy film and it is recreated in Black Tight Killers when the Yakuza begin to spray paint Yoriko unless she gives them the information they seek. The deal is she still has on her bikini top and bottom so she would hardly be covered head to toe in spray paint. But the scene and the following conflict with what’s left of the Black Tight girls and the Yakuza mobsters is another vehicle for Hasebe to go a little crazy with the lights, colors and camera work. In one part a ganster is in front of cans of paint that spew forth bright primary colors of blue and red when bullets hit them. Yoriko’s body is covered in paint but she is placed in front of a wall of multi-colored hues that was used for testing spray paint. The fight sequence is exceptional, as are most in the film, and the image of Hondo walking around with a spray gun as flame thrower is as powerful as any image of a  gunfighter in a Sergio Leone film.

The film ends up with all the Black Tight Killers dead as far as I can tell and the white guys being the real bad guys. If we can learn any lesson from the film –as Hondo certainly did- it is do not close your eyes for a girl when she asks to, especially when you just confessed to having slept with a slinky ninja femme fatale. Of course be sure to tell it was only one time. That way she only knocks out a few of your teeth. The film has me more than a little interested in  seeing more of Nikkatsu’s Yakuza Eiga (gangster films) from this time period, but I doubrt most will be as light hearted and fun as this one. It is a delight to watch scene to scene and it is not crucial to try and follow all the action and plot twists. I guess next I will be checking out Assualt! Jack the Ripper! but somehow I feel I will comparing it to this one, the way I compared Bava’s 70’s films like Shock to his 60’s masterpieces like Planet of the Vampires and Black Sabbath. I always get the feeling when I see these latter type films that it is a sign of a visionary losing creative control and power to the studio that needs to turn a profit. Hey, you gotta make a buck to survive, right? But I haven’t seen the film yet and will get back, eventually, after I do. For now I will savor the good taste left in my mouth by Black Tight Killers.

http://www.viddler.com/simple/40213f55/
BLACK TIGHT KILLERS OPENING TITLES