Wednesday, April 27, 2011

i Spy Eurospy: New York Calling Super Dragon

New York Calling Super Dragon
Director: Giorgio Ferroni
Year 1966

New York Calling Super Dragon, or as it's also known Secret Agent Super Dragon, is a highly entertaining Eurospy flick that has a rather solid cast and enough amusing super spy elements to make it a worthwhile entry in any Eurospy fan's collection. Ray Danton stars as American secret agent Bryan Cooper AKA Super Dragon, who has just come out of retirement to avenge the death of his friend and fellow agent. Accompanied by a gadget genius named Baby Face and a sultry female agent named Cynthia Fulton, the group set off to solve a troubling case in which normal people have been turning into crazed lunatics in a small Michigan college town. Their investigation takes them across the globe as all leads point them to Amsterdam and to a strange collector of the arts named Fernand Lamas and his secretive cult of masked strangers.

The names Dragon, Super Dragon.

Ray Danton does a commendable job as agent Super Dragon, giving the larger then life character the much needed charisma that is needed to pull off the trademark spy swagger. I've never had the privilege in seeing any of Danton's other roles, so I really had no idea what to expect from his interpretation of a swinging secret agent. I'm happy to say that he carried the burden well, bringing a confidence to the character of Super Dragon yet at the same time a vulnerability that was extremely unexpected on my part. I'll be keeping an eye out in the future for any film starring Mr. Danton, because he really did make the movie better then it had any real right to be.

Another stunning addition to the cast is the breathtaking Margaret Lee, whose exploits in the Eurospy genre is legendary. I'm still struggling to obtain all of her spy outings and hoping against hope, that more of her catalogue will be available to the not so resourceful spy hounds like myself. In New York Calling Super Dragon, Lee plays a fellow female agent named Cynthia Fulton, whose role permeates the story, often weaving in and out of the narrative as the film moves along. She looks absolutely stunning in this film, often stealing scenes and taking names, even if she is just window dressing in the end. Who really cares though, because style is often better then substance in the world of Eurospy films and Lee's got style to spare.

Michael Jackson leaves a little love note for Super Dragon.

If Margaret Lee wasn't enough on the eye candy scale, we're treated to another heroine for Super Dragon to cozy up against in the form of Marisa Mell. Far from a stranger in the spy and cult film business, she has tackled some very memorable roles in such films as Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik and Lucio Fulci's Perversion Story. Here she takes on the role of Charity Farrel, a great Bond inspired name, who is both friend and foe to agent Super Dragon, playing both sides for various reasons known only to herself. Her character is vulnerable yet deadly at the same time and you never really get a solid idea who she is working for. It's a great duel role for her and one that she has displayed before in her works that would follow in her interesting career.

Aside from the beautiful women in Super Dragon's life, there is another important character that this film adds to the mix. The addition of the inventive gangster Baby Face, turns the Eurospy film on its head so to speak, morphing it into an almost buddy caper where each man plays off each other and helps the other out of a jam. It's a pretty interesting move to give Super Dragon a side kick of sorts and by doing this you bring the super agent down to a more real to life status. He's not a one man army, taking on everyone and coming out on top unscathed. He's a hero that is susceptible to failure, making him that much more relatable even if he does always get the girl, or girls, in the end. The character of Baby Face makes this possible and the many times that we see him help or even rescue Dragon from some very dire situations, makes us realize that maybe Super Dragon isn't the cartoon caricature that the spy genre has come to typify as the norm. It's almost a breath of fresh air and adds another layer to the espionage of this cinematic world.

I just can't stop staring at those bangs.

Not withstanding the already mentioned stellar cast, I had concerns about the actual story and inventiveness of the movie. For a film that has been run through the mud by many reviewers and countless recollections of MST3K viewings, I was expecting something of a filmic farse when I sat down to view this little number. Happily, I was taken by surprise and came to find that there are some exceptional moments in this much unheralded film.

For instance, I found the scene where Super Dragon is sealed inside a coffin and dumped into the river quite captivating. The calmness of the entire act and the quite nature of the direction was unsettling and claustrophobic. With the absence of a high tempo beat to pump the action along, the viewer is left feeling cold and alone, much like how Super Dragon must have been feeling when trapped in the coffin stuck in a self induced trance. I really loved the scene and felt that it accomplished a hell of a lot more then it was initially setting out to do.

Man we look like a pair of idiots.

Another great moment is the masquerade auction, where Dragon, Baby Face, and Cynthia, go undercover to investigate the strange surroundings at the eccentric Fernand Lamas' mansion. The build up is done with a great deal of respect and their infiltration within the ranks of the secretive cult is pulled off effortlessly. I enjoyed the subtle change from scene to scene as we follow Super Dragon into the underbelly of this perverse group of men who relish the idea of controlling the minds of their unsuspecting victims. It's a plot that doesn't hold a candle to the Bond outings, but then again it never sets out to be such a spectacle. New York Calling Super Dragon is more of an intimate exposition into the quirky world of agent Super Dragon. It balances the fine line between tongue and cheek and sensible espionage. I love the pairing and feel that they work well off of each other.

Of course we're given some of the outrageous moments that make Eurospy films so much damn fun, such as the psychedelic torture room that Margaret Lee's character finds herself in when captured by the dastardly Fernand Lamas. By electrocuting their captives in what resembles a kiddy pool, they threaten to extract the information they want from her, that is until Super Dragon shows up and gives them a taste of their own medicine. There's also some familiar trappings in the film, where our main baddy Lamas holds meetings inside a stereotypical lair of sorts straight out of James Bond's arch nemesis Blofeld's most memorable habitats. The familiarity is there, but it doesn't hold the inherent baggage that you'd expect from copying ones superiors. Well at least for me it didn't, but I like that kind of corny stuff.

Help me Secret Agent Super Dragon, you're my only hope.

Speaking of corny stuff, where's the gadgets? Well the gadgetry is a plenty, provided mostly by Baby Face's many contraptions that find their way onto the screen. From remote control boats that are able to pinpoint the location of missing agents to armpit guns that go off if the owner's arms are raised above the wearer's head, are just a few of the many gadgets that Super Dragon has in his arsenal. In retrospect, Baby Face is Super Dragon's Q, but with a more youthful and jovial appearance. While not many of the gadgets are original, they work within the context of the story and help build the authenticity of the spy world in New York Calling Super Dragon. It's just great to see some of these things pulled off and in the end, who the hell doesn't want to see someone go down in a blaze of glory from a hidden pair of armpit guns. If you raised your hand, then I don't want to know you. Good day sir!

Why the hell are we talking on the phone when we're in the same room?

I would say that for the most part, New York Calling Super Dragon is an enjoyable ride that when not compared to the much superior Bond franchise, you can really get a lot out of. There's enough familiar spy elements from the era and enough beautiful women and lush locations, that you really can't go wrong with the film in general. The film moves at a brisk pace and follows a pretty straight forward plot-line that doesn't meander or get too convoluted like most Eurospy flicks tend to do. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time it's able to have fun with the genre and that's really all you need a Eurospy film to do. If you're looking for a fun little film that has all the elements that make a spy film enjoyable, then I highly recommend you give this under-appreciated number a try. It may not be the best the genre has to offer, but it does hold a special place in this reviewers mind and it satisfied my Eurospy appetite and then some. Check it out and you might be surprised.

3 out of 5 guns          A Decent & Enjoyable Eurospy Entry!

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