So Darling, So Deadly

It’s time for another visit to that magical land where smarmy cheeseballs can sashay up to any hot 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 norm 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 largely 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 60s 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.

Anyway, I’ve never read any of the Kommissar X novels and don’t know if any of them have been translated into English, 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 for watching a movie is how much I enjoy the movies. 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. And 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 sleazy, cheesy private investigator Joe 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 chicks 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 Joe certainly don’t seem all that concerned about it. They’re more interested in the scientist’s beautiful daughter, among other hot tamales 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 of Asian film studios. I’m not sure how much input they had in this loony adventure beyond throwing money at it and procuring shooting permits, but 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 some sort of 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, and as he always did, Harris rises to the occasion with inventiveness and gusto. Harris 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 tend sot hang out on the sideline, making faces and occasionally punching some sucker in the jaw, but he is very much the more effeminate, Rod Taylor type smoothie contrasted with Brad Harris’ gleeful machismo. Both actors are perfect in their roles, and it didn’t take long for them to formulate amazing chemistry. The Kommissar X films would be good starring anyone, but they’re great starring Harris and Kendall.

The stars are always surrounded by a bevy of sexy ladies who will attempt to kiss or kill the heroes — often 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, and not look gift horses in the mouth. On the opposite side of the espionage plot are the Golden Dragon Society’s army of whip-wielding, machine-gun toting, hotpant-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 always 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.

Outlandish villains were a staple of Eurospy films, thanks largely to the larger-than-life super-villains that populated Doctor No and Goldfinger. The leader of the Golden Dragons, however, is a character straight out of an old serial. His “house of horrors” lair, his torture devices, his ill-fitting red hood — these are elements straight out of an old Republic serial. You have expect to catch a glimpse of Bela Lugosi lurking around in the background, winding up clockwork spiders or bossing around an ugly robot. Of course, the Bond movies and novels can trace their roots directly back to pulp series like the Bulldog Drummond stories, and without pulp stories, it’s unlikely we would have all been as exited about serials. But Bond downplays these aspects, and in the movies you rarely get the feeling that you are watching a serial. So Darling, So Deadly, on the other hand, revels in its pulp serial trappings, and that helps make this and the whole Kommissar X series something unique within an often cookie cutter genre.

As fun as everything has been up to this point, as cool as the clothes are, as great as Brad Harris’ action choreography is, the inarguable highlight of the entire film is the nightclub scene. It finds Harris, clad in his nightlife best, thrashing around like a teenage spazz as a groovy young band plays. Upon witnessing the flailing shenanigans of his partner, Kendall issues one of his two trademark facial expressions (he has “the knowing smirk” and the “pained look of disbelief”) and proceeds to slink his way across the dance floor in his own style. I know making big guys do things like dance or tend flower gardens is a cheap and easy way to get a laugh, but it works. Plus, Brad Harris dances with such giddy abandon that you can’t help but love the scene.

American actor Brad Harris started his career as a football player at UCLA but soon found himself working as a stuntman in Hollywood. At the end of the 1950s, he found himself in Italy working first as a stunt choreographer and then as a second unit director. It was only a matter of time before he found himself in front of the camera again, but in more substantial roles. When Hercules starring Steve Reeves became an international phenomenon, Italian producers were desperate to cash in on the craze. Due to a lack of bodybuilders in Italy, Americans were often brought over to fill the tunics. Since Harris was already huge and in Europe, he was an obvious choice and became one of the early peplum stars. Unlike many of his sword and sandal cohorts, Harris was able to sustain a career once the genre faded from popularity. Harris was a big guy, no doubt, but he maintained his athleticism rather than sacrificing it to size. As such, he was able to adapt to other roles, the most successful of which was Captain Tom Rowland. Harris looks impressive in a smart suit, and he’s invaluable as a stunt choreographer. The last Kommissar X film had it’s fair share of action, but this one ups the ante. Harris’ Tom Rowland seems to be perpetually beating the tar out of people in this movie. On top of that, he’s a great actor in this role. It plays to all his strengths. Harris went on to work as a writer and producer

This is another top-notch, highly enjoyable entry into the series. It handles itself with tongue planted in cheek but never condescends to the audience or forgets to be an enjoyable example of what it’s having a little fun with. Harris and Kendall click wonderfully, and the script by Stefan Gommermann and Gianfranco Parolini is breezy and fast-paced. Parolini, who also directed, was a solid Italian exploitation director who, like most of the men who plied their trade in Italy during the 60s, directed everything that was popular, including sword and sandal, espionage, and spaghetti westerns. He worked with Brad Harris on a couple peplum films, including 1961’s Samson and 1962’s Fury of Hercules. The two must have been pretty comfortable around one another by the time Parolini wrote and directed the first of the Kommissar X films, 1966’s Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (aka Hunting the Unknown). Parolini went on to lend his sure-handed writing and direction to So Darling, So Deadly, Death Trip, and Kill, Panther, Kill, lending the Kommissar X series a consistency in both cast and crew that was missing from many other Eurospy film series.

Release Year: 1966 | Country: Italy, Germany | Starring: Tony Kendall, Brad Harris, Barbara Frey, Luisa Rivelli, Ernst Fritz Furbringer, Gisela Hahn, Margaret Rose Keil, Jacques Bezard, Giuseppe Mattei, Carlo Tamberlani, Nikola Popovic, H. Amin, Gianfranco Parolini, M. Ojatirato, Sarah Abdullah | Screenplay: Stefan Gommermann and Gianfranco Parolini | Director: Gianfranco Parolini | Cinematographer: Francesco Izzarelli | Music: Mladen Gutesa | Producer: Hans Pfluger and Theo Maria Werner | Original Title: Kommissar X – In den Klauen des goldenen Drachen | Alternate Titles: Agent Joe Walker: Operation Far East