The James Bond series of films may be one of the most copied in movie history. It’s no mystery why, I mean the formula works! James Bond has endured on movie screens for over 50 years now. I’ve reviewed several films that clearly tried to duplicate the success of 007…such as “Maroc 7” and “When Eight Bells Toll.” But I dare say I have finally run across what may be one of the best Bond wannabes. It’s a big screen outing for another popular literary character, Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, in 1967’s “Deadlier than the Male.”
The film opens in great fashion aboard a private jetliner. The passenger is a top oil company executive, being pampered by a lovely stewardess (Elke Sommer). She presents him with a cigar, pulled from her garter belt, which he immediately starts to enjoy. That is, until a bullet fires from the cigar and out the back of his head. The stewardess then sets some explosives and exits the plane via parachute before it explodes. She lands on a waiting speedboat manned by another lovely lady (Sylvia Koscina). Then the opening credits roll…complete with a wonderfully Bondian theme song. This opening no doubt inspired the very similar opening sequence of “Charlie’s Angels.” As if all this wasn’t enough, we soon see the ladies (actually named Miss Eckman & Penelope), in a jaw-dropping bikini-clad moment where they finish off a snorkeling excursion by spearing another oil tycoon with a harpoon gun.
All these oil company CEO’s dying is looking pretty suspicious. Enter Hugh Drummond (Richard Johnson…who was once considered for the role of 007), an insurance investigator. Yes, you read that right…top on everyone’s list of exciting occupations, I’m sure. Drummond is put on the case, but he has little to go on, except for a small fragment of a recording from one of the murdered men. It doesn’t take long, however, for Drummond to become the target of several assassination attempts himself. Drummond’s live-in nephew Robert (Steve Carlson) gets mixed up in things, as well. One night, while he entertains a young lady, they almost become the victim of some of those special cigars, which Penelope delivers to the door herself.
Meanwhile, Eckman & Penelope are hard at work carrying out their schemes with other business leaders. Anytime one stands in their way, they just eliminate him. Some in pretty brutal fashion, I might add. In one scene, they prick their victim with a drug-laced needle which paralyzes him. Then, conscious but unable to move, they hurl him off the 15th floor balcony. Nasty!
As Drummond investigates further, he soon realizes that the ladies are out to control the oil fields of a middle eastern country called Akmata, and the next step in doing that is to eliminate the young king of the country, Fedra (Zia Mohyeddin), who is determined to not sell the rights. Fedra also happens to be an old school pal of Robert’s. So Drummond and Robert seize the opportunity to accompany the king on a Mediterranean cruise aboard his yacht. While there, Drummond is invited to visit a local castle where he meets the mastermind behind the murders (Nigel Green). In true Bond villain fashion, he tells Drummond his plans to blow up the king’s boat…now it’s just up to Bulldog to escape and stop the plot.
This film is just so much fun! The opening airplane and harpoon gun sequences perfectly set the tone for the whole thing. The film is exciting, suspenseful, and, at times, very funny. The script has several of those little Bond-like quips…and in several cases does them better than some Bonds. But Johnson’s Drummond isn’t the only one given those great lines…Sommer, Koscina, and Green all get their fair share as well. Somehow, this just helps to up ante a bit, and creates the impression that the villains are more than a match for Drummond.
Beyond a great script and great performances, there’s so much more to love in this film. I mean come on…you’ve got a the swinging 1967 setting and fashions, sexy female assassins, a castle fortress for the bad guy, a giant sword-wielding henchman…what more do you want? One of my favorite moments is the big showdown between Johnson and Green, which involves a giant chess set where the pieces slide across the floor when the players call out the moves. Hmm, ever seen that one pop up elsewhere…yes, I’m looking at you J.K. Rowling!! By the way, one keen-eyed blogger I found noted that these chess pieces can also be spotted in the 9th James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun.”
“Deadlier than the Male” is a film that is not to be missed! A great adventure made in the Bond spirit, that probably even surpasses a few of 007’s efforts.