Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966)

Any 1960s eurospy movie is a treat, and Special Mission Lady Chaplin is a particularly good example of the breed.

The inspiration for the plot was the real-life accidental loss of the American nuclear submarine USS Thresher in 1963.

For the purposes of the movie the Thresher is turned into a ballistic missile submarine armed with Polaris missiles. The sinking of the submarine causes concern enough, but when it appears that the wreck has somehow been moved then it’s time to send in secret agent Dick Malloy (played by Ken Clark). Suspicion centres on a wealthy businessman who operates a deep-sea salvage operation, but it also appears that the mysterious and glamorous Lady Arabella Chaplin may be mixed up in the affair in some way. Lady Chaplin runs a prestigious fashion house.

So the basic elements for a good fun eurospy thriller are now assembled - deep-sea diving, a missing nuclear submarine armed with atomic missiles, fashion models, duelling scorpions and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Of course the important thing is to make the plot as complicated and obscure as possible. If the viewer starts to focus on what’s actually happening rather than on the style then the whole point of the eurospy genre is lost. Special Mission Lady Chaplin has a plot that makes just enough sense to keep the viewer interested without bothering with tedious details like logic.

It’s also important to have lots of stuff happening, and that’s where this movie stands out. The action is non-stop and it’s quite impressively executed.

The fashion model angle provides the other essential ingredient - glamorous women. With former Bond girl Daniela Bianchi as Lady Chaplin and with Helga Liné in the cast as well there’s no shortage of female eye candy.

Ken Clark was one of many American actors who didn’t quite make it in Hollywood and headed off to Europe where square-jawed blonde hunky American actors were always in demand for spaghetti westerns, sword and sandal epics, crime flicks and of course eurospy movies. Acting ability was not a major requirement as long as you looked the part. Ken Clark does a fine job within those parameters. He doesn’t attempt too much actual acting but he manages to look heroic, sexy and cool.

There’s no sleaze here. It’s all good clean fun, with no graphic violence or nudity. While it’s obviously a low-budget movie compared to the Bond films this is no ultra-cheap exploitation flick and the producers were claiming aiming at getting the widest possible distribution. As eurospy movies go it’s a reasonably lavish production.

It’s also not a spy spoof movie as such. While it doesn’t take itself too seriously it still functions as a good exciting spy action film. The tone is in fact pretty close to that of the 60s Bond movies.

And if you want to get my attention early in a film, then nuns with submachine guns will always do the trick.

The Dorado Films DVD doesn’t give us the film in its correct aspect ratio (although it is at least widescreen it’s not in the Techniscope ratio and the image is slightly compressed) and it’s unfortunately dubbed but as any eurospy enthusiast will attest getting such a movie in a relatively decent and complete print is exciting enough.

Despite some slight reservations about the DVD this is a terrific movie so I have no hesitation in recommending this one.

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