Mozambique (1964) ***

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.

In the German market, the Germans were the stars, Steve Cochran relegated below the title.

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.

The Lost Continent (1968) ***

Hammer had struck gold revisiting ancient civilizations in One Million Years B.C. (1966) and with its adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out (1967). The Lost Continent was another Wheatley number (source novel Uncharted Seas) mixing dangerous voyage, hints of the legendary Atlantis, and monsters. While the first half could have been marketed as The Wages of Fear At Sea the second half would come under the heading  “The Greatest Oddball Film Ever Made.”

It boasts one of the most intriguing setting-the-scene openings not just of a Hammer picture but of any film – a camera pans along a steamship on whose deck are: people dressed in furs, others in modern clothing and – Conquistadors. Attention is focused on a coffin.  How and why they got there is told in flashback. A first half of taut drama, mutiny, sharks, a ferocious octopus, and lost-at-sea a thousand miles from land segues into sci-fi with carnivorous weeds, monsters, and a weird, weird world.

It’s hard to know what’s worse, ship’s captain Eric Porter (straight from television mega-hit The Forsyte Saga) with a cargo of toxic chemicals made combustible when touched by water or the equally combustible passengers all with murky pasts, so determined to escape their previous lives that they refuse to turn back in the face of a hurricane. Heading the Dodgy Half-Dozen is dictator’s mistress Hildegarde Knef  (Catherine of Russia, 1963) with two million dollars in stolen securities and bonds. Nigel Stock (television’s Dr Watson in the 1960s Sherlock Holmes series), a back-street abortionist, is at odds with daughter Suzanna Leigh, who has cornered the market in backless dresses. Tony Beckley (The Penthouse, 1967) plays a conman while Ben Carruthers is trying to recover the pilfered bonds.

But the arrival of cleavage queen Dana Gillespie from the weird world signals a shift to Planet Oddball. The only way to navigate the weeds trapping the ship is with a primitive version of snowshoes with (naturally) balloons attached to the shoulders. Soon they are trapped in the past, not as prehistoric as One Million Years BC, just a few centuries back to the Spanish Conquistador era. The film steals the idea from the Raquel Welch picture of giant creatures locked in battle but without going to the necessity of hiring Ray Harryhausen.

On board ship, director Michael Carreras, fresh from Prehistoric Women (1967), does well, the characters are all solidly presented with decent back stories, the tension mounting as the passengers encounter nautical turbulence, but once he enters weird world budget deficiencies sabotage the picture. Even so, it’s worth a look just to see what you’re missing. If you’re looking for a genuine freak show, this ticks the boxes.

Many of the films made in the 1960s are now available free-to-view on a variety of television channels and on Youtube but if you’ve got no luck there, then here’s the DVD.

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