Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on May 15, 2014
In the breezy spy spoof BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! (aka OUR MAN IN MARAKESH; 1966), which was recently released on Blu-ray by Olive Films, we’re introduced to Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall) who has just arrived in Morocco on business. Jessel is obviously looking forward to a little downtime during his trip where he can relax and take in the local color while sipping exotic cocktails poolside. Jessel’s a friendly easy-going everyman and he effortlessly starts up a conversation with the charming Kyra (Senta Berger), who travels with him by bus to the swanky Marrakesh hotel where they’re both staying. After reaching the hotel Jessel mistakenly ends up with the keys to Kyra’s room and while unpacking he discovers a dead man in her closet. Naturally this grisly turn of events sends Jessel into a panic but when Kyra arrives to reclaim her room she convinces him that’s she being framed for murder and the two agree to get rid of the corpse together. This impulsive decision propels Jessel into the shadowy and secretive world of international espionage where mysterious women and dangerous men are willing to risk everything for political power and ill-gained riches.
BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Is just one of hundreds (possibly thousands) of spy spoofs that were released in the sixties following the world-wide success of the early James Bond films. Its unwieldy plot and cookie-cutter characters will be familiar to many but thanks to a solid cast, the spectacular North Africa locations and some thrilling action sequences this amusing romp managed to keep me entertained throughout its 92 minute running time.
The film was directed by Don Sharp (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE; 1963, WITCHCRAFT; 1964, CURSE OF THE FLY; 1965, THE FACE OF FU MANCHU; 1965, PSYCHOMANIA; 1974, etc.) who takes a light-handed approach to the material but executes some surprisingly effective action sequences. Particularly a thrilling driving sequence that takes place on a treacherous mountain road as well as a perilous foot chase through a Moroccan market. Sharp is a talented filmmaker who went on to direct episodes of THE AVENGERS (1961-1969) but I suspect that the real force behind this low-budget production was the notorious writer and producer Harry Alan Towers (aka Peter Welbeck).
British born Towers was the son of a theatrical agent who started writing radio plays in the 1940s and eventually formed a syndicated radio company with help from his mother. Working in radio brought Towers into contact with some incredible talent including Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier, which fueled his lifelong obsession with the movie business. Towers went on to write and produce more than a hundred low-budget films and television programs while dabbling in many different genres including historical dramas, horror cinema, adventure movies, sword and sandal epics, mysteries, sexploitation and spy spoofs. His films didn’t win him any awards or critical accolades but they occasionally made money at the box office. Among film crews Towers’ reputation was spotty and today he’s often referred to as a “schlockmeister” who peddled B-movies to make a buck but he was able to convince many talented actors and directors to work with him including BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! stars Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski and Margaret Lee who appeared in a number of his films. According to Pete Tombs & Cathal Tohill who wrote Immortal Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984, Klaus Kinski once said of Towers that “Harry spends half his time in jail, and the other half making movies” which accounts for his questionable reputation. Interestingly enough, in 1961 the FBI came close to accusing Towers of being a soviet spy after he was caught up in a prostitution ring in New York but he managed to evade authorities and all charges were eventually dropped. Was Harry Alan Towers an actual spy who used some of his own real-life experiences when crafting his numerous secret agent send-ups such as CITY OF FEAR (1965), THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU (1967), FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS (1967), THE GIRL FROM RIO (1969) and BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! or was he just a very creative storyteller? We’ll probably never know but it’s sure fun to watch his films and imagine if any of their absurd plot twists and fantastic storylines might contain a shred of truth.
Along with the always affable Tony Randall and sexy Senta Beger (who appeared in a number of noteworthy spy films and television shows including THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E; 1964-1968, THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM; 1966 and THE AMBUSHERS; 1966) the rest of the cast includes the late great Herbert Lom as the scheming ringleader of a bunch of comic book-style villains that includes Klaus Kinski and the lovely Margaret Lee. Both Kinski and Lee were regularly teamed-up in international productions including another Harry Alan Towers’ spy spoof titled FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS (1967), which is set in Hong Kong. In BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Kinski gets to chase Tony Randal around Morocco wearing a fedora and always manages to look effortlessly menacing while Margaret Lee lounges on Herbert Lom’s arm like a seductive viper. Stalwart British performers such as Wilfrid Hyde-White and Terry Thomas also show up in notable roles, while Armenian actor Grégoire Aslan is particularly memorable as a spirited truck driver who willingly becomes entangled in all the espionage hijinks.
The new Olive Films Blu-ray should is a welcome addition to this spy lovers’ film library but the disc isn’t without its problems. I’m thrilled to report that this often hard-to-see movie is now readily available but it doesn’t look as good as I hoped it would. The print seems to fade in and out, at times it’s bright and crisp but much of the movie looks washed out. Scratches and other damage are also notable, which distracts from the viewing experience. BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! benefits from its exotic location and rousing chase sequences but these qualities are diminished thanks to a lackluster presentation that makes colorful Morocco often look lifeless and dull. Complaints aside, I’m grateful that Olive Films has rescued this low-budget spy spoof from obscurity and its getting a second life on Blu-ray.
Occasionally you can catch BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! playing on TCM and you can currently purchase the DVD in the TCM shop.
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