Deadlier Than the Male (1967)
Deadlier Than the Male (1967)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: February 21st, 1967 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Ralph Thomas Actors: Richard Johnson, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Nigel Green, Suzanna Leigh, Steve Carlson, Virginia North, Leonard Rossiter, Milton Reid, Yasuko Nagazumi, Didi Sydow

 


 

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board the Keller Oil private jet, flight attendant Irma Eckman (Elke Sommer) switches out a cigar before giving it to the main bigwig himself, which executes him by blowing his brains out as if it was a gun. After instructing the pilots to fly as low as possible, she dons a parachute, activates a bomb, and dives to safety below. Clearly, she’s every bit the equivalent of James Bond.

Following in the footsteps of that most famous superspy, the cold open segues into a title tune (by the Walker Brothers) and a rendezvous on a paradisiacal beachfront. The serious Irma is joined by childish assassin Penelope (Sylva Koscina), both of whom saunter up to Villa Erix in bikinis to finish off yet another mark, David Wyngarde (John Stone). As it turns out, however, they’re not the sole stars – which is terribly unfortunate. Sharp-suited Hugh Drummond (Richard Johnson) is the leading man, based in London, tasked with getting to the bottom of the double assassination, which involves the mysterious Eckman arranging for a one million pound payment once Keller no longer objects to an oil field merger. When the greedy board members of the rival Phoenician Oil Company refuse – believing that Keller’s death was an act of god rather than a hit – Eckman plots a few more vengeful, untimely demises.

With a swingin’ ’60s score by Malcolm Lockyer, plenty of scantily-clad women (wearing noticeably sheer garments even when they’re clothed), and cheeky one-liners (often employed right before the kill), “Deadler Than the Male” doesn’t attempt to disguise its design as a derivation of Bond and the exploits of Harry Palmer. It may not be as action-packed or sincere in its approach to secret agent undertakings, but it contains as many hallmarks as it can squeeze into its swift running time. Car chases and fistfights lack the panache of its more famous brethren, while harsh interrogations and narrow escapes are similarly deficient in tension.

“Our sort don’t carry guns.” Drummond, though a popular fictional character himself (seen in various novels by Sapper and Gerard Fairlie), doesn’t possess the formidableness that seems necessary for the investigations in this film. Here, he’s an insurance man more than an adventurer, and his many expertises are never specifically defined. Apparently, his reputation alone is supposed to tell audiences all they need to know about his skill sets.

Drummond is surrounded by shapely young women, he has his own comic relief troupe (in the form of nephew Robert Drummond [Steve Carlson] and his girlfriend Brenda [Virginia North]), and he contends with an evil mastermind – bent not on world domination but the mere accumulation of considerable wealth. The secretive nemesis even has his own oversized, scarred henchman (Milton Reid), who happens to wield a machete; a fleet of ethnically diverse female bodyguards; a massive throne room with computerized chess pieces (not unlike something Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts might possess); and a laboratory for experimenting with explosives. But despite all of these components, which generate an outward resemblance to spy flick peers, “Deadlier Than the Male” is unable to craft an identity of its own; it routinely feels like a cheap copycat (or, in its shoddier moments, a parody), brimming with poor recreations of familiar gimmicks. “You know, this is ridiculous.”

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10