1966 | Italy, Germany
Director: Gianfranco Parolini
AKA: Kommissar X – In den Klauen des goldenen Drachen; Operation Far East
It’s time for another visit to that magical land where smarmy cheeseballs can sashay up to any dame that strikes their fancy and plant a kiss on her without getting slapped in the face or slapped with a lawsuit. The amazing kingdom where smart suits and cocktail dresses are the norms, and endless explosive attempts at assassination are met with nothing more than a cocked eyebrow and a knowing smirk. It’s the astounding universe of the Kommissar X films, among the most enjoyable and most bizarre entries into the spy craze that swept across the world in the 1960s thanks to the success of the James Bond films.
The Kommissar X stories began life as a prolific series of espionage potboilers written by Bert F. Island — a pseudonym that spanned hundreds of novels and who knows how many different authors. The first book was written by C.H. Guenter, but it’s doubtful that he wrote all 1,700 plus novels that ended up as part of the series. That number, quite frankly, boggles my mind, and sometimes I look at it and think it can’t possibly be right. I mean, Nick Carter operated under a similar multi-author assembly line model, and I think excluding the old pulp novels and restricting ourselves to the stories of the 1960s and later, there were…what? A couple hundred novels? The Mack Bolan novels hit something like 670 entries, and I think that’s about as high as we got here in the United States.
I’ve never read any of the Kommissar X novels, so I can’t judge how similar to the source material the movies that were based on them actually are. And really, it doesn’t matter to me, because what’s important in watching a movie is how much I enjoy the movie. The first film in the series, Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill was a heady concoction of everything I love about Eurospy films and life: jetsetter locations, cool clothes, outlandish villains, mad schemes, and well-armed women in lavender wigs and leather outfits. Lording over it all were co-stars Tony Kendall and Brad Harris, looking good and kicking a little ass. Having enjoyed the first film so much, I was looking forward to the other films in the series. So Darling, So Deadly did not let me down, and in fact, it might have even exceeded my expectations.
For the first half-hour or more of the film, you’ll wonder if there’s even a plot. Even if you decide there isn’t, you’re not going to care, because everything is just that fun. After a series of assassinations, we meet up with tough-as-nails police captain Tom Rowland (big Brad Harris) and “lovably” sleazy private investigator Jo Walker (Tony Kendall), in Singapore, where mysterious, often female assailants start attempting to kill the duo as soon as their plane lands. However, this is Rowland and Walker we’re talking about, so their plane exploding on the tarmac, their train exploding on the rails, or the multiple killers taking potshots at them aren’t even close to enough to keep them from going water skiing or hitting on the ladies down by the hotel pool.
Eventually, they get around to their case, which involves protecting a professor and his super-secret weapon, which is yet another dumb laser beam that takes ten times as long and is ten times as complicated in performing a feat that would have been ten times more effective if you just used a missile or something. I guess that’s why these secret weapons are always being stolen by crackpot criminal societies instead of actual governments. The Soviets probably knew enough to think to themselves, “Hmm, it takes like half an hour and involves all this crazy complex computation and aiming, and all it does is slowly burn a hole in metal. I think we’ll stick with missiles.” Thus, only the crazies would go after the idiotic super weapon, safely keeping them on the sidelines and out of the real game, in which people eschewed complicated slow-moving lasers in favor of bombs and bullets.
Lucky for us, the efficacy of the weapon being protected has never had much of a correlation to the enjoyment of the film in which the weapon appears, and So Darling, So Deadly is so much ridiculous fun that you’ll hardly even worry about the super weapon. Tom and Jo certainly don’t seem all that concerned about it. They’re more interested in the scientist’s beautiful daughter, among other gorgeous women on parade.
So Darling, So Deadly was shot on location in Singapore as a co-production with Cathay Studios, one of the biggest and most prestigious Asian film studios at the time. I’m not sure how much input they had in this loony adventure beyond throwing money at it and procuring shooting permits and a few co-stars the locals would recognize. The film certainly makes good use of the location, sending Rowland and Walker on a variety of episodic adventures packed with travelogue footage that would be good material for the board of tourism if it didn’t always end with Brad Harris karate chopping the hell out of people while stuff blows up. Still, I suppose even that works for certain types of tourists.
The highlight of the Kommissar X sight-seeing tour of Singapore is a chase scene through a theme park full of sculpted gardens and traditional architecture. Shots of hulking Brad Harris leaping with the gingerness of a ballet dancer from pillar to pillar across a fountain are both an amusing visual and a reminder that Harris, unlike many of his former sword and sandal co-stars, maintained a build that mixed size with flexibility and athleticism. The bulk of the film’s action rests upon his shoulders, both as a performer and as a choreographer.
As he always did, Harris rises to the occasion with inventiveness and gusto. He was an accomplished martial artist, and he brings that to the film via a series of impressive, often bone-crunching judo and karate style fights that move fast and furious without the aid of undercranking or trick photography. Tony Kendall tends to hang out on the sideline, making faces and occasionally punching some sucker in the jaw, but he is very much the smoothy contrasted with Brad Harris’ gleeful machismo.
The Kommissar X films would be good starring anyone, but they’re great starring Harris and Kendall. Both actors are perfect in their roles, and it didn’t take long for them to formulate great chemistry. The duo is always surrounded by a bevy of women who attempt to kiss or kill the heroes— and often attempt both. German actress Barbara Frey stars as the daughter of Professor Akron (E.F. Furbringer). How is it that every crazy scientist who creates a super weapon or an amazing new rocket/jet fuel always has a sexy daughter waiting in the wings to be romanced by the hero and kidnapped by the villain? Oh well, we should all be thankful, I guess, though there could have been value in Jo Walker and Tom Rowland having to rescue a fawning Eddie Deezen type.
On the opposite side of the espionage plot is the Golden Dragon Society’s army of whip-wielding, machine-gun-toting, hotpants-wearing female assassins led by…well, to be honest, the Kommissar X films love to outfit their women is similar costumes, and sometimes it can get hard to keep track given how quickly the film throws new gals up onto the screen. The ladies are led into battle by a mysterious mastermind in a red hood, though the eventual revelation of his identity will surprise absolutely no one.
He makes his lair beneath a wax museum of mayhem and torture, which strikes me as a pretty cool move if you can’t afford an island or a hollowed-out volcano. He also employs a vast array of torture implements that are far less effective than just shooting your captives but afford the film ample opportunity to allow Kendall and Harris to escape certain doom after they have been stretched out by a variety of esoteric devices, often involving spikes and laughing evil women at the controls.