*. I’ve read, somewhere, that Quentin Tarantino considers this to be one of his favourite movies. By now I’m not sure how many movies there are out there that Tarantino hasn’t said this about. It doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
*. Still, if not for Tarantino’s recommendation I doubt this would be a movie on many people’s radar, and I was pleasantly surprised by Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. I wasn’t expecting much, and right from the get-go it raised the bar with a really impressive sequence shot on Rio de Janeiro’s statue of Christ the Redeemer. No, it’s not great filmmaking but it does make good and full use of the location for a totally satisfying intro.
*. The rest of the movie comes down a bit from the top of Corcovado Mountain, but a lot of it is still very good. Mike Connors, who narrowly missed being cast as Matt Helm, is perfectly serviceable as the secret agent “Kelly” (even he’s not sure if that’s his real name, as we find out in one of the wittier exchanges of dialogue). Raf Vallone is better than average as the villainous Mr. Ardonian. Dorothy Provine is a fellow spy who can act the bimbo when the situation demands. Terry-Thomas is killed off in the opening minutes, but is back later as an omnicompetent chauffeur. It’s a good cast.
*. I mentioned Connors narrowly missing out on being cast as Matt Helm. Director Henry Levin would be luckier, being picked to direct the next two Helm movies (Murderers’ Row and The Ambushers) based on the success of this.
*. There are solid production values, as I think was fair to expect from a Dino De Laurentiis production. This is a good looking movie, shot on location in Rio and in studio at Rome. The sets are a fair imitation of Ken Adam. There are a number of truly memorable touches, like the guck Terry-Thomas puts in a car’s radiator that causes it to spontaneously disassemble, the way another car turns into a billboard, a feather boa that conceals a boa constrictor (yoiks!), and even the control panel for the rocket at the end which has a launch button labeled “BLAST OFF.”
*. The plot is, as you’d expect, generic. Indeed it would be pretty closely reworked in Moonraker. Ardonian is going to launch a satellite that will irradiate the entire Earth, killing off the sex drive of the human race. Apparently his motives are at least partially altruistic, as he feels overpopulation is going to lead to mass famine and cannibalism in the near future. Luckily he has a bunch of women in cold storage that he will later be able to repopulate the world with himself. Actually, that sounds a lot like the plot to Casino Royale as well, a film they rushed to be released ahead of.
*. The role of women in these sorts of movies is something that’s interesting to consider a little more deeply. In the Bond films there’s always lots of eye candy, both in the form of the Bond girl and (sometimes) a Bond villainess. But it’s only in the Bond spoofs that they went overboard in creating the figure of the fembot, or had plots involving making women into brainwashed sex slaves. Those are two points I find noteworthy: that this presentation of women is not part of the Bond mythos but is nearly ubiquitous in its parodies. So where is the missing link?
*. I don’t know how many fans this one has aside from Quentin. Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating (his lowest) and Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film calls it “The worst Bond imitation known to man.” I don’t understand this. There were a lot — and I mean a lot — of Eurospy movies put out in the ’60s and almost all of the ones I’ve seen are a lot worse than this.
*. So judged alongside its peers I think this is actually pretty good. It’s derivative to be sure (the scene where Kelly listens to the villains plotting from below comes from Goldfinger, Ardonian’s use of an electric chair to rid himself of difficult partners is from Thunderball) but there are enough original touches to keep it interesting, at least for genre fans. For a movie with no aspirations beyond providing a bit of fun that’s good enough.