Saturday, 15 May 2010

Lightning Bolt (1966)

Lightning Bolt (Operazione Goldman) is a fun little 1966 Italian-Spanish co-production. Like so many eurospy movies it’s a kind of James Bond spoof, although it’s worth remembering that the roots of the eurospy genre go back to the popular French Lemmy Caution movies of the 50s starring Eddie Constantine so the eurospy genre actually pre-dates the Bond movies.

But this one is certainly very much a Bond clone. The American space program is in complete disarray due to a series of mysterious malfunctions that necessitate the destruction of half a dozen successive rockets shortly after launch. It seems certain that sabotage is involved. The plans for a mission to the Moon are under serious threat. The American government turns to its most super-secret intelligence organisations, and two crack operatives are assigned to find the saboteurs.

One of these is Lieutenant Harry Sennet, who also functions as the narrator of the movie. The voiceover narration attempts to be both hardboiled and amusing, with limited success (at least in the English dubbed version I saw). On this case he’ll be working with Captain Patricia Flanagan. When the female super-spy is introduced as Agent 36-22-36 you know you’re watching a 1960s spy movie. When Harry gives his superior officer a playful pat on the bottom you definitely know know you’re watching a 1960s spy movie. But don’t despair. Aside from the certain degree of sexism that seems inescapable in this genre this turns out to be a rather nifty little movie.

The two American agents soon determine that the rocket launches are being disrupted by radiation beams (no I don’t know how that works either). And these are no ordinary saboteurs. They’re working for a diabolical criminal mastermind who is bent on world domination! And he has an automated underwater city at his disposal. And his own rocket. His plans are nothing if not ambitious - he intends to direct laser beams at the Earth from the Moon, thereby holding the governments of the world to ransom.

Very early on Harry and Patricia manage encounter their first serious obstacle, managing to get themselves trapped inside what appears to be a grain silo but is actually part of the vast complex controlled by the diabolical criminal mastermind. An ordinary criminal would have simply had them shot, but if you’re a diabolical criminal mastermind you can’t do that. People expect something more imaginative from you. Luckily the grain silo is set up so it can be flooded whenever it happens to be occupied by annoying government agents who need to be eliminated.

There’s also the obligatory glamorous and dangerous blonde super-spy, of course.

There are a couple of original touches. Harry doesn’t always reach for his gun when confronted by bad guys. Sometimes he reaches for his cheque book. If he can buy the bad guys off it saves a lot of unpleasantness, and he’s been granted unlimited funds for this purpose. There’s also an interesting twist with the villain, who doesn’t like actually killing people who get in his way. He has another and much nastier way of dealing with them.

The movie was directed by Antonio Margheriti, who made movies in just about every genre and sub-genre of cult movie you can think of. While he wasn’t exactly a visionary or an auteur he did have a knack of taking whatever materials he had to work with and turning them into highly entertaining movies. Especially in the 60s, when he made a couple of excellent gothic horror movies starring Barbara Steele and some of the most outrageously entertaining low-budget space opera movies ever made. In this movie he proves equally adept at outlandish spy thrillers.

The acting isn’t great but it’s the right kind of bad acting for the type of movie this is and most of the performances work well enough.

The diabolical criminal mastermind’s underwater headquarters is surprisingly impressive. There are enough explosions to keep anyone happy. This being 1966 there’s no nudity and the sex doesn’t really go beyond plentiful sexual innuendos.

Lightning Bolt has everything any eurospy fan could ask for, and the ingredients are combined very successfully. The result is exciting but silly fun, and provides non-stop entertainment. I’d go so far as to say that this just about qualifies as essential viewing for eurospy aficionados.

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