The huge commercial success of Goldfinger in 1964 not only saw Ian Fleming’s fictional super-spy James Bond become a genuine international cultural phenomenon, but helped usher in the era of the Bond clones and parodies, with studios eager to carve out a slice of the box-office pie with a 007 of their own. As a result, the remainder of the 1960s gave us such cinematic super-sleuths as Derek Flint (James Coburn) and Matt Helm (Dean Martin), not to mention episodic series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, Get Smart and Honey West on television.
Created (under the penname ‘Sapper‘) in 1920 by Herman Cyril McNeile, Bulldog Drummond had his origins in the decidedly grim, black & white world of the classic detective pulp magazines and early film noir, and had already been featured in nearly twenty films dating back to 1923 when veteran Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and director Ralph Thomas decided to update the character and drop him squarely into the coolly pulsating, pop-art world of the Swinging Sixties. Ironically, Bulldog Drummond had been one of the biggest influences on Fleming when he created Bond, and now he was trying to walk in the footsteps of his infinitely more popular illegitimate son.
Based on an original story (rather than one of McNeile’s existing novels), Deadlier than the Male casts Richard Johnson as the suitably debonair and sophisticated insurance investigator Bulldog Drummond, hired after a private jet carrying a powerful oil magnate suspiciously blows-up while in flight. Aided by his eager but somewhat naïve American cousin (and budding playboy) Robert (Steve Carlson), and in between bouts of womanising, Drummond eventually uncovers a plot by a mysterious villain to destabilize the oil industry and throw it into chaos, which he aims to achieve by hiring two gorgeous female assassins (Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina) to kill off key oil figureheads in various creative ways.
Any resemblance between Deadlier than the Male and vintage Bulldog Drummond begins and ends with the lead character having the same name (and even then he is rarely referred to as ‘Bulldog’). This is pure sixties cinema pulp influenced directly by the Bond movies – and for what it is, it is quite superb. Director Thomas (perhaps best known for helming the popular series of Doctor comedy films) keeps the proceedings moving along at a cracking pace, ensuring the film doesn’t lose its steam by the third act (a problem which hindered several of the Bond parodies). The art direction by Alex Vetchinsky is fantastic, particularly the giant automated chessboard which features prominently in the climax, and the exotic Mediterranean locales are captured to full advantage by cinematographer Ernest Stewart. The soundtrack is suitably nightclub cool, and makes great use of the Walker Brothers’ hit title song over the opening credits. Richard Johnson makes a smooth, laid-back and confident hero, but he is rather overshadowed by Nigel Green as the deliciously Blofeld-like evil villain, Carl Peterson. Elke Sommer and the late Sylva Koscina are also hypnotic to watch, using their charm, their firepower and their curves to get what they want.
Whether emerging from the ocean clad in bikinis and clutching spear guns or glammed-up in the latest European fashions, Sommer and Koscina dominate virtually every frame of film they are in, and have a nice onscreen chemistry. They would have been great in a spin-off movie together. Other cast members of interest include Milton Reid (who went on to an official Bond film in 1977s The Spy Who Loved Me), Suzanna Leigh (The Deadly Bees) and the lovely Virginia North (who gained a minor cult following amongst horror fans for her role in The Abominable Dr. Phibes).
Three years after Deadlier than the Male, Johnson was back as Drummond for the second – and final – time in Some Girls Do. Ralph Thomas also returned to the director’s chair, and the film really amped-up the sci-fi and fantasy elements, as Drummond once again faces off against his old foe Carl Peterson (played here by James Villiers), whom this time around is using a harem of beautiful, scantily-clad robotic women to help him sabotage the launch of a new British supersonic airliner jet (there is little doubt that these two 1960s Drummond films were a major influence on Mike Myers’ Austin Powers trilogy).
Although it features many of the same elements as its predecessor, they don’t all gel as well as they did the first time around. The screenplay is lacking Jimmy Sangster’s input, and the villains aren’t as memorable as they were in Deadlier than the Male (as Peterson, James Villiers is a poor substitute for Nigel Green). The film is also a victim of its own timing, as by 1969 the initial wave of the James Bond craze was starting to die down, and the Bond films themselves were starting to become overblown parodies. Still, there is plenty to admire and enjoy here, not least of which is the appearance by lovely blonde Swede Yutte Stensgaard (from Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire) as one of the sexy robot drones. Also appearing are Virginia North (playing a different character from the first film), an uncredited Joanna Lumley (who was filming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – also at Pinewood Studios – at the same time) and the portly Robert Morley, who tries to unsuccessfully add a bit of annoying comic relief and is thankfully killed off before too long.
Madman have done a suitably groovy job with their double-disc release of these two films. The 16:9 anamorphic widescreen print of Deadlier than the Male looks stunning – it’s crisp and sharp and literally pops with colour and depth. Unfortunately the 4:3 print of Some Girls Do is a letdown by comparison, giving the film a less spectacular TV movie feel, though the actual quality of the print is again superb. Extras on each disc include the original trailers and very extensive (and impressive) stills galleries for each film, while Deadlier than the Male also include some nice vintage on-set reports and cast interviews, filmed in black & white and no doubt intended to help promote the movie in cinemas and on television. Also included are two postcards featuring original promotional art for both movies, which gives the set a nice added visual appeal.
If you are a fan of vintage spy flicks, or just someone who loves everything that was silly, sexy and swinging about the sixties, this set deserves to be on your shelf.
- Vintage Cast Interviews
- Vintage On Set Reports
- Image Galleries
- Theatrical Trailers
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.