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MASTER PLAN: expand a corporate empire via simple assassinations. Capt. Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond, a gentleman who indulged in detective work, was conceived in the 1920's in a series of novels and was in quite a few films in the 1930's and 40's. The last one before this was a 1951 potboiler "Calling Bulldog Drummond," with Walter Pidgeon. Deadlier Than the Male, a late-in-the-game restart of sorts, has Mr. Drummond (not referred to as 'Bulldog' here) as little more than an insurance investigator. However, the character and plot borrow heavily from the popular James Bond formula of the sixties and results in a close approximation to the actual Bond films during this period, more so than the 'Flint' duo of films and the Matt Helm series of films, which featured American agents. The actor Johnson, as Drummond, even resembles Sean Connery in some shots, with a similar virile approach, a slight grim smirk & a tough demeanor; Johnson is a fine actor, so this isn't just some silly parody; yet, it does capture that same vicious streak of gallows humor.
So, yes, the wicked humor is there - I mean, really wicked. The two main femme fatales (played by Sommer & Koscina) are curvaceous assassins and they're outrageously effective (hence, the film's title). They are completely amoral, enjoying their work and behaving as if they're shopping in some high-end store rather than killing people. Some of their scenes, the terminations, actually made me wince a little, probably because I'm not used to seeing such cruelty and callousness on film from females, even if it is humorous in nature and tone. Ironically, the lethal ladies would be copied in a way by the Bond films in Diamonds Are Forever (71), where the assassins were gay males rather than female.
The plot tends to be fiendishly funny, if you like that dark satire take on things: the head villain is an out-of-control capitalist, moving through the corporate world with a new set of rules and simplistic ruthlessness. If, for example, members of a board vote on a corporate resolution and it's tied 5 to 5, he simply disposes of the member whom he feels is holding up the vote, to change it in his favor. Drummond catches on to this, of course, and becomes the latest target. The best and most intense scene, straight out of the Bond movies and about an hour in, is the requisite 'villain and henchpeople have a last supper with the hero as planned victim' scenario. But, Drummond taunts the villain and provokes the henchman (a burly poor man's Oddjob) into some bad moves. Drummond proves to be fearless - he's surrounded by characters we now know to be very dangerous and ends up mocking them all - it's one of the best Bond scenes and it's not in a Bond movie. Drummond then defies expectations by refusing to partake in the also-requisite 'hero & femme fatale seduction scene,' much to the lady's surprise and anger.
Even though the budget is understandably lower than a typical Bonder (while we're in London in the 1st half, there's barely any spectacle), the filmmakers do manage to throw in that wild, weird chess board later, outdoing many of the grander set-pieces in the Bond films. Since Johnson plays it straight, even straighter than Connery some might say, much of this resembles Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the Bonders which relied mostly on pure espionage. Sommer and actor Nigel Green would reunite in the Matt Helm Bond-spoof The Wrecking Crew, playing similar characters.
BoG's Scores: Hero:8 Villain:8 Femme Fatales:9 Henchmen:6 Fights:7 Stunts/Chases:6 Gadgets:6 Auto:6 Locations:7 Pace:8 overall:7
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