1968 | West Germany, Italy, Canada
Director: Gianfranco Parolini
AKA: Kommissar X – Drei blaue Panther; Three Blue Panthers
In the opening moments of Kill, Panther, Kill! we see the daring escape, during a prison transfer, of master criminal Arthur Tracy (Franco Fantasia). Tracy has been in stir for four years after thieving a fortune in jewels worth three million dollars. Now his loyal henchmen, Anthony and Smokey, lie in wait beside a desolate hillside road that’s apparently intended to be overlooking Malibu (but is actually some anonymous location) as the LAPD van baring Arthur approaches. After dispensing with Arthur’s guards in a hail of machine gun fire, the three pile into a getaway car, at which point Anthony (Siegfried Rauch) says he knows of an ideal place for them to hold up. “They’re holding a rodeo this week in Calgary,” he says. “Nobody will look for us there.” Truer words were never spoken. The only thing that I’d be looking for at a rodeo in Calgary would be a thorough ass-kicking.
And so the fifth entry in the Kommissar X series finds our heroes Tom Rowland and Jo Walker heading off to Calgary and me shouting “No, don’t go there!” at the screen. It’s not that I have anything against North America, mind you. It’s just that there are places within thirty miles of where I live where I could see burly white people in cowboy hats, and the exotic locations of the previous four films had accustomed me to a more adventurous breed of vicarious tourism. Still, despite my protests, go they do, and soon we’re treated to the spectacle of Tom Rowland riding a bucking bronco and Jo Walker, for reasons known only to himself, wandering around in a sombrero.
With Kill, Panther, Kill!, director Gianfranco Parolini, working under the name Frank Kramer, returns to the Kommissar X franchise after handing over the reins to Rudolf Zehetgruber for the previous two entries. And with his return, the truce between Walker and Rowland that we saw in the preceding film, Death Trip, is lifted, and we again see the constant sparring that characterized the earlier efforts, with Walker referring to Rowland variously as “Cheese Brain,” “Idiot Head” and “Imbecile,” as well as other choice bits of verbal abuse directed at Brad Harris’s admittedly odd-shaped head, and Rowland cleaning Walker’s clock on more than one occasion. In fact, the two work at cross purposes for much of the film, each withholding information from the other and even seeking at times to actively undermine the other’s efforts.
Other changes since the last installment include the fact that Rowland is now identified as a captain with the Los Angeles rather than New York police department, and Walker, for once, is supplied with a clear and reasonably plausible explanation for being in the same place and working on the same case as Rowland. He’s been hired by the company that insured the stolen jewels — which have never been recovered — and is on Tracy’s trail in hopes of finding where they have been hidden. This time Walker also comes with a secretary, played by Hannelore Auer, whose job is to provide plot points while wearing a succession of silly outfits (milkmaid, Indian maiden, etc.).
As is usual for the series, Kill, Panther, Kill! hits the ground running, with Walker and Rowland already on the case by the time the credits finish rolling. In fact, despite what I said, it seems that what Anthony said at the film’s opening couldn’t be less true, because everybody seems to be looking for Arthur Tracy in Calgary — from Rowland, to a whole squad of Canadian police detectives, to the typically self-interested Walker. Made wise to this, Arthur and his men decide to head on to their real destination, Montreal, where Arthur’s twin brother Robert, a wealthy invalid, resides. Arthur had sent a package containing the jewels to his mild-mannered and law-abiding brother prior to his arrest, and now it’s time to collect them. Of course, before they can make that exit, we’re treated to a lot of travelogue footage of the rodeo, then the aforementioned sequence in which Rowland, tricked by one of Tracy’s men, rides the bucking bronco with ego-bruising results, and then an unsuccessful attempt by Tracy to throw the law off his track by having a double killed in his place.
Walker, through some sombrero-clad detective work, manages to divine Tracy’s destination, however, and, under pressure, shares the information reluctantly with Rowland, after which the two are on to Montreal. With this switch of location, we’re hipped to the real reason for Kommissar X‘s journey Canada-ward: Expo 67, the world’s fair held that year in Montreal. A massive undertaking, consisting of numerous space-age-themed concourses built upon two huge man-made islands in the St. Lawrence river and with a mass transit rail system built exclusively to service it, the fair serves as an impressive backdrop for the film’s action. In fact, even though the site of the fair is the location of one of the film’s pivotal events, it does begin to seem like Rowland and Walker spend an awful lot of time hanging around there. There’s even a scene where Rowland chases Walker across the entire grounds, passing all of the international concourses on his way, which affords G. Marcell the opportunity to augment his already somewhat cheesy score with the predictable, stereotyped music cues to represent each of the faraway lands.
Upon arriving in Montreal, Arthur arranges a meeting with his brother at — where else? — Expo 67. Tailed by Rowland and Walker, Arthur instructs Robert to join him on one of the aerial cable cars that travel over the Expo grounds. Arthur presses Robert for the location of the jewels, but Robert will only tell him that they are in a safe deposit box and that he has hidden the key. Arthur responds to this by shooting Robert to death and, by means of switched clothes and some adjustments of facial hair, assumes his identity and emerges from the cable car with a tale of how he (as Robert) was attacked by Arthur and had to shoot him in self-defense. Everyone seems to fall for this obvious ruse, and soon Arthur is back at Robert’s villa with Robert’s lovely wife Elizabeth (Erika Blanc).
Arthur doesn’t bother to keep up pretenses with Elizabeth very long, however, and is soon having his minions slap her around and demanding to know where the key to the safe deposit box is. Unfortunately, that key has gone missing from its regular hiding place right around the time we’ve seen that Robert donated a small statue called the Blue Panther to a local museum. With this revelation, we realize that the panther referred to in the movie’s title is just a statue, and won’t be doing any killing at all, no matter how emphatically it’s instructed to do so — a fact which still doesn’t diminish Kill, Panther, Kill! as the coolest of any of the Kommissar X movies’ titles. Meanwhile, Jo Walker has done his research and determined that Robert’s lovely nurse and secretary, Emily (Corny Collins), is his best hope of gaining access to the Tracy family’s dark secrets.
Walker — a man who, if he existed in the real world, would be enveloped in a perpetual cloud of Brut cologne and mace — sets about ingratiating himself with Emily by sneaking up on her while she’s sunbathing and stealing her clothes. It works, of course, and soon Emily is confiding in him that all does not seem right at the Tracy household — as it very well might not, given that “Robert” all of a sudden has all of these scowly underlings in tow and is yelling about “where are the jewels?” all the time.
At some point, someone behind the scenes must have said, “Look, I know that this is basically just a cops-and-robbers story that we’re telling here, but, being that this is a Kommissar X film, we should at least have a frogman shoot at Jo Walker with a harpoon gun.” And so at this point, a frogman emerges from the river beside where Walker and Emily are talking and shoots at Walker with a harpoon gun. Walker overpowers the frogman and demands to know who sent him, but in another turn of events that seems to have come from an entirely different movie, the frogman himself is harpooned by an unseen accomplice before he can answer. Rowland arrives on the scene, and the two trail the accomplices to a nearby gym, where the first of two pretty great fight scenes in Kill, Panther, Kill! takes place. This particular one isn’t even plot-driven, since the guys they’re fighting aren’t Tracy’s men, but instead a bunch of judo guys who are simply pissed off that Walker and Rowland have barged in on their work-out. The scene peaks with a corny/awesome bit in which Brad Harris picks up a barbell and tosses it like a toy at several burly guys who collectively crumple beneath its weight.
Shortly after this, Elizabeth Tracy secretly approaches Rowland and tells him the truth about Arthur. Saying that she fears Arthur will kill her if she doesn’t produce the key, she asks Rowland to help her find it, and Rowland, being sweet on her, agrees. Rowland and Elizabeth return to the Tracy villa to find that it has been ransacked. More surprisingly, they find that Arthur has been murdered, and that evidence left with the body suggests that Emily was the culprit. Meanwhile, Arthur’s associates, Anthony and Smokey (the latter played by director Parolini), are holding Emily hostage in the villa’s basement. After some vaguely alluded-to torture get her to divulge that the key is hidden in the panther statue. The hoods race to the museum, only to find that that wily cad Jo Walker has beaten them to it and gotten the key for himself.
An attempt to take Walker out once-and-for-all leads to Kill, Panther‘s second rollicking fight scene, which involves Brad Harris rolling around inside a truck tire, clocking people with expertly tossed bricks, and actually looking grief-stricken as Jo Walker is apparently run over by a bulldozer. I have no idea who the people that Harris and Tony Kendall are fighting in this scene are supposed to be, since Arthur Tracy’s entourage (which, for the most part, appears to consist of only Anthony and Smokey) seems to contract and expand as the action requires. It’s an example of how this movie seems to occasionally strain at its narrative limitations, in this case by wanting to provide its standard-issue villain with a supervillain’s endless supply of expendable henchmen. In any case, the fight is a jolly piece of work staged by Harris himself and, like any other aspect of Kill, Panther, Kill!, shouldn’t be robbed of its affable charms by exposure to the rigors of logic.
Once it’s established that Walker has the key, a tussle ensues between him and Rowland for possession. At one point Rowland thinks he has stolen the key from Walker, but once the crooks in turn take the key from Rowland, they find that it leads only to a safe deposit box that contains an 8×10 photo of Jo Walker winking at them. This accumulation of typical Kommissar X nonsense ultimately leads to an antique cliffhanger in which Walker and Emily, tied up in the cellar of the villa, watch helplessly as the lit fuse on a gas bomb that Anthony has set reaches its end as Tom Rowland lies unconscious upstairs. All of this, of course, is handled with about the same attitude as that exhibited by Jo Walker in that aforementioned photo.
All in all, the plot of Kill, Panther, Kill is more appropriate to an episode of Columbo than a Eurospy film, which makes the movie by far the most pedestrian in the Kommissar X series. This is not to say that I didn’t find it completely entertaining nonetheless. Then again, I firmly believe that prolonged exposure to any movie series can actually alter the brain’s chemistry and, as such, while the strains of “I Love You Jo Walker” or the masked face of Santo might, for me, serve as endorphin triggers, for others they might simply serve to tell them that its time to turn off the TV and pick up a book, or to put one’s head in one’s hands and slowly shake it from side to side while murmuring disconsolately about the fate of mankind.