Thursday, April 1, 2010

SPECIAL MISSION LADY CHAPLIN

The term "Eurospy" is a label applied by cult film fans to a cycle of movies made in the Sixties, usually low-budget international co-productions by Italian and Spanish or German studios, that attempted to cash-in on the world-wide popularity of the Sean Connery James Bond films. Many of the filmmakers and stars of these movies had been prominent in the peplum (or sword & sandal/Hercules) films earlier in the decade, and when the Eurospy cycle burnt itself out in a year or two, they would move very quickly into the "Spaghetti Western" genre.

Dorado Films is a small boutique DVD label that specializes in these sort of European exploitation films, and their catalog contains a handful of Eurospy films and Spaghetti Westerns. Checking out their website, I was particularly intrigued by a trilogy of spy films starring American B-movie actor Ken Clark (ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES) as secret agent Dick Malloy, 077. So I took a chance and ordered their DVD of the third (and reputedly best) of the series, SPECIAL MISSION LADY CHAPLIN (1966), directed by Alberto De Martino and co-starring Daniella Bianchi (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE).

It took less than a week for the disc to arrive from Dorado. Certainly can't complain about the service.

Can't complain about the movie, either. It was probably the best Eurospy movie I've ever seen. Sure, the English dialogue and dubbing is pretty horrible, but the plot is solid (if a bit implausible), De Martino’s direction is fast-paced, the cast is generally good (as far as I could tell with the dubbing) and Ken Clark makes a convincing, tough action hero. He’s not as suave as Connery, but he’s got charisma and a formidable physical presence.

Basically the plot is this: an American nuclear sub sinks with a full complement of Polaris missiles aboard. International salvage expert Kobre Zoltan (Jacques Bergerac) steals the missiles, intending to sell them to a foriegn power. Zoltan's top aide is the chameleon-like Lady Chaplin (Bianchi) a high-fashion designer and mercenary hit woman with a penchant for disguises. When the theft is discovered, CIA agent 077, Dick Malloy, sets out to retrieve the stolen warheads.

As I said above, the plot actually holds together, and the pacing is very much like a Connery-era Bond film. The ruggedly handsome, athletic Clark is flat-out awesome in the fight scenes, which are as brutal and well choreographed as anything in the early Bond flicks. Hell, I think agent Dick Malloy would give Jason Bourne a workout! There are none of the big futuristic sets or seismic pyrotechnics customary in the 007 series, but that's somewhat compensated for with authentic international locations and the aforementioned fight scenes. Bergerac is a great villain, and Bianchi seems to be having a lot of fun with her amoral role.

Now, don't get me wrong. SPECIAL MISSION LADY CHAPLIN is no GOLDFINGER or THUNDERBALL, but considering its budget and its exploitative raison d'etre, it's a winner.

Dorado's DVD is solid. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print is far from pristine, with noticeable debris, specks and the occasional missing frames. But it's very watchable. The 2.0 sound is a bit muffled or fuzzy at times, but Dorado has – somewhat surprisingly, for such a small label – included subtitles. The disc also includes brief text bios of the stars and trailers for other Eurospy flicks, including several others with Clark.

There are very few Eurospy films commercially available on Region 1 DVD. Of the few that are, SPECIAL MISSION LADY CHAPLIN is probably the best. If you’re interested in investigating the genre, it’s a good place to start. Then, if you dig it, you will probably want to go back and pick up the earlier "077" films.

BUY: Special Mission Lady Chaplin