Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: THE GOLDEN LADY (1979)

I can't claim to be a Jose Larraz expert, but I've seen enough of his films to where I have a handle on his particular outlook and look forward to anything of his that happens to pass through my hands. Juxtaposing sensual visuals and graphic bloodletting, YAMPIRES (1975), sorry, I mean VAMPYRES is probably Larraz's claim to fame worldwide. Very much a Spanish take on a Jean Rollin film, VAMPYRES, even though it was shot in England with an English cast, belies it's meager budget with a great location, gorgeous naked vampire girls, soft-core sex and lots of the red stuff. Larraz was one of those Spanish filmmakers that really felt the need to push back after Franco died. Most of his stuff I've seen has been low budget, but he always has something compelling going on, usually involving people not being very nice to others. For some inexplicable reason, someone felt that he would be just the man to throw a spanner in James Bond's gears with a bafflingly befuddled re-working of "Charlie's Angels". Yep, he would be my top pick for this sort of thing. The guy who made the Satanic orgy flick BLACK CANDLES (granted that wasn't made until 1982, but you get my point). When I think Bond rip-off, I think Jose Larraz... and disco.

Allegedly sexy British mercenary Julia Hemingway (Ina Skriver looking about as sexy and deadly as your aunt) runs the best securities firm in Europe, staffed only with deadly, sexy ladies doing the dirty work their way. When the heir to a murdered Arab oil baron offers his fields up to the highest bidder, influential British cigar-smoking, asthmatic blowhard Charlie Whitlock (Patrick Newell) hires Hemingway to "take care" of the other bidders so that the Brits can score the contract. Of course they don't tell you that right out, no, no, it must be picked out with tweezers, like a game of Operation, after slamming a beer and being spun in a circle. Oh, like you never did that.

With airplanes and a theme song by The Three Degrees, a Philadelphia soul/RB/disco group that are desperatly trying to be mistaken for ABBA, our story takes flight. Or at least gets off the ground... somewhat. Whitlock is actually planning a screwjob, as he tells some random guy that we aren't introduced to, after Hemingway leaves his estate: "We'll use her as long as we have to, then you can take over." Or maybe it's not a screwjob. Who knows? Back at Hemingway's headquarters, Professor Dixon (Desmond Llewelyn) meets Hemingway and tells her assistant (June Chadwick) "I think you'll find these satisfactory", handing her a tray of scrap metal. He then walks out the door, never to be seen again! Apparently he was on his lunch break during the shooting of MOONRAKER and needed some drink'n money. After making some really canned comments about having seen him somewhere before, the girls settle down to the task of picking out their lethal force of commando kittens via a computer that looks something like the original Apple. It helps them pick out suitable members for the mission by listing their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Weaknesses such as "vanity" and "nymphomania". Huh?

After finally getting all of her recruits selected and mustered, it's time for Hemingway and company to kick some ass, right? Chicks in skin-tight, gold-lame outfits that leave little to the imagination, toting M249 SAW rifles, wrecking cars and blowing shit up! Uhhhh... no. It's time for them to sit down and relax while discussing the players. Apparently the German liason (who the Jewish agent is suspicious of) goes both ways, so they figure there might be a way to exploit that. There's an American guy, Max Rowlands (Stephan Chase), who everyone thinks is a hottie, in spite of his peach fuzz mustache and a balding mullet. Then there's the... Oh jeezus, can we just get some action here? And the answer is a resounding "no!" There is one point in the film where you think the action is going to kick in with a badass car chase. The cars take off after each other, turn two corners, then everyone stops to get out and confront each other! Bastards!

Now this is the Larraz I know!
To be fair there is a gag with a cigarette lighter that doubles as a smoke bomb, and a bit of nudity here and there, though the Hungarian bombshell Ava Cadell is shot in such a way that you barely get glimpses of her knock-out physique. There's also a body found in a bathtub, though, to be honest, it's not really clear who it was that was killed. The print quality of my copy is so fuzzy it's hard to make out details at a distance, so it took until near the end of the movie in a dialogue exchange to find out it was the German's boy toy. When this character is found dead, we also find out he was killed because he was after "the briefcase". Hemingway is pretty steamed up about the murder and wants to find out just "what was in that briefcase?!" A fine questions since up until that point there was no mention of a friggin' briefcase in the movie at all!

Proof that computers are never wrong.
Writer-producer Joshua Sinclair (who is better known for his acting in Italian low-renters), tries to gussie up this simple premise by burying it under loads of long, occasionally surreal dialogue that will sometimes veer next to a point relevant to the plot. Occasionally. Mostly it's just long speeches that make you think that he spent the weekend reading Tom Stoppard and thought to himself "that's easy! I can do that!". For example, the major player is a Greek guy named Yorgo Praxis (Edward de Souza), who doesn't break any plates, but does bust out the old "Greeks invented everything" card, in this excerpt from yet another lengthy exchange:

Praxis: "I am a self-made man, as you would call it. I started from nothing many years ago, I'm not all that afraid of ending with nothing. I believe in circles, they are perhaps the most perfect geometric form that exists and after all, we Greeks created geometry." (looks smug)

Hemingway: "You also created tragedy, but Wayne Bentley's death was more in the realm of a cheap soap opera. If you wanted to hit Schouster, you could have been more direct. A straight line is also an exact geometric form." (looks smug)

That sort of thing is pretty much 80% of the film, by the way. As if this wasn't enough to completely dash the hopes of anyone expecting to get anything close to what this film pimps as a "female James Bond", for some reason Larraz features a long musical number by Nina Carter and Jilly Johnson (Blonde on Blonde) that features the duo in some Marlene Detrich-inspired costumes performing the entirety of their song "Woman is Free" (which doesn't make any sense lyrically or visually). Of course all of this becomes necessary when Hemingway asks Rowlands if there is somewhere they could go to talk. Oh, yeah, a nightclub is the place to have an intimate, important discussion involving secret world events that could tip the balance of power. We are then treated to the second act, a musical dance review that features a school girl, a dominatrix and a couple of black men doing a gay bondage number. I shit you not. What this has to do with the price of tea in China we will never know. Just to add to the weirdness, the gay bondage number is actually intercut with Heminway and Rowlands, in soft focus, messing up the sheets in a hotel room. Ok, everybody, all together now... "WTF?!"

I really can't imagine how Larraz got sidetracked into such a collossal mess of a film. I mean, if it had been a soft-core romp without the pretension of being a legit espionage-thriller, I could see that. It's also interesting that many sources on the internet(s) claim that this is a Hong Kong co-production, yet that doesn't seem to be reflected in either the casting or the credits. As much as I like Larraz, this doesn't even feel like one of his films, instead we get a "thriller" that Lindsey Shonteff should have no trouble looking down his nose at.

2 Reactions:

  1. Speaking of "Charlie's Angels" -- Group 1 released this in the U.S. in the summer of 1980 as CHARLIE'S DEVILS!

  2. Nina Carter you may know also because she's "Naughty Nina" from the News of the World ad that David watches in An American Werewolf in London.


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