Here’s a great idea for a movie. A pair of nubile young girls sign on for a yacht trip with a renowned Hollywood lothario. A couple of days in the star dies. Neither of the girls knows anything about sailing. The boat drifts. If this was a Hollywood movie there would be circling sharks and at least a squall. But it’s not, the girls are picked up 10 days later complete with festering corpse. Witness the sad end of Steve Cochran.
He never made it as a big star, Sometime top-billed in B-movies, but mostly supporting roles, so it was somehow ironic that producer Harry Alan Towers, on the look-out for any kind of name who didn’t mind spending a couple of weeks on location in a remote African spot, gave him his first starring role in six years as down-on-his-luck pilot Brad sent to infiltrate a smuggling gang in the eponymous country.
And this would have been a fitting send-off because, in among the sleaze, there’s a decent story and some pretty good lines. But it really needed the dry delivery of a Rod Taylor to give those lines the zest they required.
There’s a sudden contemporary feel courtesy of former kickboxing champ and influencer Andrew Tate, arrested in Romania for alleged human trafficking, because the underlying story here is white slave trade. Or, put another way, the one-way ticket. The prospect of a job, any job, anywhere, is sometimes enough, no time, or need, to think how you will get back home. Here, a place of dreams for those running out of anything else that might fit the bill, might become home.
Christine (Vivi Bach) is one such dreamer, a singer. What she doesn’t realise is that in the club where she is employed the girls are part of the deal, a commodity. Her one-way ticket is destination human trafficking. What used to be called in those sensationalist times as the “white” slave trade, as if any other type of slave trade was acceptable or less worrisome. She is sold to an Arab sheik (Gert can den Bergh), to form part of his harem.
Luckily for Christine, Brad has taken a shine to her so when the Arab appears on his smuggling radar their paths converge. But trafficking is a sub-plot. Brad has been hired as a pilot for Col Valdez but he has died intestate so his wife Ilona (Hildegarde Knef), in this corrupt country, is also up for grabs and has to (literally) sing for her supper before segueing from black widow to femme fatale. Standing in Ilona’s way are her husband’s associate Da Silva (Martin Benson) and his one-time business rival Henderson (Dietmar Schonherr) and quickly those two guys are in Brad’s way too.
So it’s a solid old-fashioned tale, Brad digging up the dirt, pausing for a bit of romance, chasing the villains. Smashing the human trafficking isn’t part of his brief, so that’s put to one side, but a missing will, which could rescue Ilona from her impoverished situation, runs parallel to the plot.
The exotic locale was typical Harry Alan Towers. But this has a better plot than most of the ones reviewed so far in the Blog, it’s not rammed with cameos (Five Golden Dragons, 1967) or a star out of his depth (Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!, 1966) or a story that takes forever to come to the boil (24 Hours to Kill, 1965).
And, discounting the tribal dancers shaking their booty in a nightclub, it displays some finesse and comedic touches. Stonewalled by Da Silva on arrival, Brad insists on seeing his employer only to be led into a funeral parlor. A waiter knocks back unfinished drinks. “Nobody’s seen her since last night,” is followed by “then, we’d better stop looking for her, hadn’t we?” And did I mention the snake on the plane?
But Towers always got his money’s worth. Although making a (plot) point, there was another reason for Ilona singing. Knef had relaunched her career in the early 1960s as a singer, so her voice was a welcome interlude, and an improvement on that of Vivi Bach, married to Dieter Schonherr, so perhaps hired as a package.
Steve Cochran (The Deadly Companions, 1961) really only requires masculinity to see this through, though has a way with throwaway lines. Hildegard Knef (The Lost Continent, 1968) adds a touch of class but Vivi Bach (Assignment K, 1968) is merely competent.
Robert Lynn (Dr Crippen, 1963) directed from a script by Peter Yeldham (The Liquidator, 1965).
More topical than most Towers’ pictures and in fact one of his best.