Marked down for sheer laziness. Another Hammer “thriller,” this time with fading American star Richard Basehart and Italian glamor puss Lisa Gastoni. But mostly a hodge-podge travelog of stock footage with dialog taking the place of action, a tedious voice-over far removed from the snappy one-liners we are accustomed to getting from Chandleresque investigators. And let’s forget the red-eyed Chinese replete with drooping moustaches who pepper the picture.
A plane has gone down in Red China with an American courier carrying vital “scientific” information, Approached to help by US government personnel, snappily-dressed Hong Kong travel agent Benton (Richard Basehart) refuses. But when he discovers the pilot is Jimmy (Burt Kwouk), a member of a Chinese family he has befriended during World War Two, he mounts his own rescue mission. Which consists, by the way, of nothing more than floating a sampan up a river, avoiding a few bullets and whisking the lad away.
But he is blackmailed into rescuing the courier when Hong Kong police imprison Jimmy. So off he trots to Macao and then Canton aided along the way, in the opulent back room of a casino, by Chinese businessman Kong (Eric Pohlmann) who you might mistake for a James Bond villain such is his fondness for being surrounded by women – or such is his girth mistake him for a Robert Morley lookalike. Kong happens to be a Russian spy.
No sneaking into China by parachute or perhaps motor boat is required, Kong simply furnishes him with the visa of the title. Benton, vaguely assisted by a maker of fake porcelain, has clues – Three Fishes, The Stream of the Willows.
In his hotel bedroom sits the courier, blonde Lola (Lisa Gastoni), held prisoner. But no sooner have they kissed, as you might expect of any self-respecting travel agent doubling as a spy, than they are interrupted by Kong. She disappears. Naturally, Benton finds her easily enough. She doesn’t have papers, instead a photographic memory.
But she’s not working for the Americans. She’s an espionage freelance, working for the highest bidder. She does it for the danger, perhaps like a certain James Bond, danger is the drug, heightens her senses.
But she’s also pretty damn clever. Knowing Kong is a double agent and can’t just snatch her out of China, she starts an auction for her information. Benton offers more. Therefore she is his property. To get over the tickly issue of Kong, in revenge, keeping her prisoner in China, he is conveniently accidentally shot.
So now they have to escape. But in the shoot-out at the docks (in a barn full of hay for some reason she gets shot) so the movie suddenly turns into one of those post-Bond thrillers where all that effort has been expended for no result.
But you might have thought a producer (Michael Carreras) would have introduced Lola much earlier in femme fatale fashion. But then this producer who, as it happens was also the director, seems to think that voice-over will solve all the tedious problems of actually creating a screenplay that works.
You shouldn’t have cared less about a snappy-suited character such as the one played by Gene Barry in his informal espionage trilogy – Maroc 7 (1967), Istanbul Express (1968) and Subterfuge (1968) – he’s about on a par as an actor as Basehart. But those movies at least had proper stories that made sense and were not just a series of jumps explained by voice-over, the hero neither having to undertake any shamus digging or go into harm’s way, or battle his way out of perilous situation.
It’s not even bad enough to eventually win over a cult audience. The problem is it’s well-made up to a point and the story is intriguing up to a point, but that mark is very low.
Richard Basehart (The Satan Bug, 1965) isn’t called upon to do much except act as the storyteller he’s okay and Lisa Gastoni (Maddalena, 1971) isn’t accorded sufficient screen time to really make a mark. Which is the biggest shame because an amoral spy like her would have made a brilliant femme fatale had she been introduced early on and then turned out to be the mercenary she was.
The rest of the cast are caricatures, though interesting to see Burt Kwouk in pre-Pink Panther persona but cringe-worthy to see Bernard Cribbins (You Must Be Joking, 1965) mangle a foreign accent. Clearly Carreras learned a lesson from this implosion of talent and story because two pictures on he directed taut thriller Maniac (1963).