Friday, November 26, 2010
LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE (1967)
I’m tempted to say ‘Where has this fantastic film been all my life?’ but that would be the wrong way to approach LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (a.k.a. Agente speciale L.K.). I don’t think that I would have enjoyed this film if I hadn’t spent the last couple of years soaking up a number of its Euro-Spy genre brethren. I fear that if I had watched this ten years ago I would have turned up my nose and never looked back so thank God I waited until now.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite Jess Franco movies. I have learned over the past 15 or so years to enjoy movies from nearly every period of his career so maybe this isn’t too surprising but this film really blew me away and I’m a little shocked at my own reaction. When I sit down for a Euro-Spy film I’m usually hoping for a serious espionage tale with a strong plot, great action, glamorous locations, beautiful ladies and a real sense of danger to the proceedings. But as I’ve watched more and more of the genre from its brief 1960s heyday I’ve realized that what generally fuels these tales is a desire to not just play in James Bond’s sandbox but to kick the sand into the Bond franchise’s face. Even the most serious of the Euro-Spy films have at least a few moments in which they wink at the camera either in acknowledgement of the cinematic theft in progress or as a nod to what the audience might expect but that the smaller budget productions could simply not supply. If the film maintains a serious tone except for those few throwaway moments I can still fully enjoy the story and become caught up in the thrills but if the film descends into silliness for the sake of cheap laughs I start to be distanced from the film and can only appreciate it at a much lower level. My general resistance to the overly humorous Spy thrillers is rarely overcome completely so when it IS overcome it’s a sign that (in my opinion) there is something really great being done by the filmmakers. A good example of this is the brilliant relaunch of the French OSS:117 film series a couple of years ago. Reimagined as a comedy thriller it managed to nail every target it aimed to hit while being both exciting and funny. But of the 1960s versions of spy comedies there are few that stand out as truly funny for me. I often wonder if they might have played better in their time as the Bond phenomenon swept the world than they do now. They almost had to, I guess. I suspect it’s similar to how the terrible/sad SCARY MOVIE franchise plays to big crowds on release but ages very poorly as the current events being mocked are left behind and forgotten.
But, back to LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE! This film is great! Because I generally don’t like the overly humorous Euro-Spy movies I should not have enjoyed this at all but against all odds I did. Through some alchemy of filmmaking genius (yes- I said genius) Franco managed to make a funny, silly, witty, fast paced romp that, while never being credible in the least, is so damned amusing that I found myself being swept along. I swear I had a smile on my face for the whole film. I have no idea how well it would play in another language but the English dub is packed with quotable lines that more than once had me laughing out loud. Ray Danton is great as the smirking Secret Agent everyone knows (even when he’s in disguise) busy working his charms on ladies around the world as he attempts to track down counterfeit currency plates. The plot is, of course, just the thinnest of threads to which hang each gunfight, fistfight, romantic encounter, car chase or daring escape as we watch Danton and his co-stars have fun running through their various roles. Dante Posani plays a kind of sidekick accompanying our man Lucky on his adventure, Barbara Bold is present as a nice piece of tanned eye candy and the amazingly sexy Rosalba Neri shows up as a whip wielding Albanian General. Wow! Miss Neri’s character wasn’t needed in any way but I am SO glad she was present.
While the main target being skewered in this spoof/satire is clearly the Bond series Franco throws in a few other things too. Periodically there are still/posed shots with comic book-like word balloons commenting humorously on the action and when the film shifts location there is a full comic description (often in Italian so I’m not always sure what’s being communicated) to one side of the still moving image. It’s almost as if once things start moving he didn’t want to slow down for anything. I suspect that if he had I would have focused on the silliness of the entire affair and had less fun. I also loved Franco’s two separate cameos – one as a man stabbed in the back who still somehow delivers his important message to Lucky and the second as a train hopping hobo who is found sleeping under a cow. You kind of have to see it to understand.
And did I mention the fantastic score by Bruno Nicolai? It’s a classic of the genre with a theme song I cannot get out of my head. I’ve known the music from this film for years from a Nicolai compilation CD but having the visuals finally linked to the sound is wonderful. Everything about this film says ‘We’re having a good time, we hope you are too’. Luckily I found Lucky’s antics to be completely captivating and I can heartily recommend the film to the curious Euro-Trash enthusiast. I can honestly say that I laughed for almost the entire running time and I can’t say that about most comedies of any vintage. I really wish a good DVD of this film would get a release. The bootleg I watched is a passable way to see this gem but it deserves much more exposure.