Thursday, 5 November 2009

Lucky, the Inscrutable (1967)

Lucky, the Inscrutable (Lucky, el intrépido) is one of Jess Franco’s earlier films, dating from 1967, and it sees him doing one of the things he’s always done best - a comic-book style movie. In this case it’s a comic-book style eurospy caper movie.

Lucky the Inscrutable is a master spy who is on the trail of an international counterfeiting gang after a beautiful woman dressed as Cleopatra dies in his arms at a costume party. She gave him the first vital clue before she died. He finds himself working for the mysterious Archangel, a kind of crime-fighting syndicate run by international financiers.

A good spy spoof movie should always have a plot that is as silly and as incomprehensible as possible, and this movie qualifies on both counts. After all the whole counterfeiting conspiracy is just what Hitchcock used to call a McGuffin, an excuse to have Lucky racing about exotic parts of Europe and getting involved with various beautiful, glamorous and mysterious women.

Lucky hooks up with an enigmatic young man who appears to be a fellow spy but whether he’s really on the same side as Lucky is something we’re not sure about. They fly into Albania in an old biplane and promptly get shot down. They are captured by the Albanian secret police, and threatened with all manner of grievous tortures unless they reveal their secrets. But the beautiful female secret police chief soon succumbs to Lucky’s charms.

Franco keeps things moving at a suitably frenetic pace. He didn’t have the budget for any spectacular stunts or action sequences but he makes up for it with pacing and general zaniness. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek of course, and there are some very good visual gags, and plenty of amusing dialogue. The market of spies, where the spies go to buy and sell secrets, is a particularly nice touch. I always like the way people keep getting shot from unexpected directions. There’s also a clever use of comic-style speech balloons.

There are lots of running gags, such as Lucky being a master of disguise even though he always looks exactly the same, and despite having a budget of virtually nothing we still get some silly spy gadgetry. There are outrageously unlikely plot twists, and there’s a diabolical criminal mastermind. The movie looks cheap, but it gets away with it by not trying to look anything else, so the cheapness becomes part of the humour.

Ray Danton as Lucky manages to avoid being annoying although the character certainly had that potential. Rosalba Neri makes a great glamorous secret police chief. Uncle Jess contributes a cameo as a mad Hungarian on a train. Since this was 1967 it’s all very innocent by Jess Franco standards, although he still manages to find room for one of his trademark sexy cabaret sequences. The scene is very tame compared to similar scenes in later movies but it’s still fun.

Franco would return to this style of comic-book movie again and again, notably in The Girl from Rio and the two Red Lips movies. They all have their charms but Lucky, the Inscrutable is probably his funniest attempt at this genre. It’s a total romp, and it’s great entertainment.

Lucky, the Inscrutable has been released under several other titles, including Agente speciale L.K., but sadly it’s not currently available on DVD.


Brian D. Horrorwitz said...

That's a rice review! I always loved this movie. I think it's one of Jess Franco's best. I like how people keep recognizing Lucky even when he is disguised and one guy stops and asks him for his autograph. And the soundtrack is incredible. It's amazing to me that so many of these low-budget little European movies had such lush and full-sounding original scores.

dfordoom said...

Yes, the Europeans came up with some great soundtracks for off-beat movies and Franco's movies nearly always have interesting soundtracks (not surprising considering that the young Franco was apparently torn between opting for a career as a film director or one as a jazz musician). And I enjoy Franco's light-hearted comic book-style spoof movies.