Thursday, August 13, 2020

No Deadlier Than the Connery

A legendary British agent travels to exotic locations, encounters a string of beautiful women, and delivers deadpan, corny jokes in the face of danger. It's Bulldog Drummond in 1967's Deadlier Than the Male. As you might have guessed, though, it seems a lot more like a James Bond movie than something about the British pulp hero from the 20s, Bulldog Drummond. Among the hundreds of James Bond knock-offs produced all over the world in the 60s and 70s, this one's above average despite a weak climax.

Richard Johnson stars as Drummond. Johnson was the first choice to play James Bond in Dr. No by Terrance Young, director of that first Bond film. You can see how he would have made a very appropriate Bond. Maybe too appropriate--as Johnson himself is quoted in his Wikipedia entry:

Eventually they offered it to Sean Connery, who was completely wrong for the part. But in getting the wrong man they got the right man, because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny. And that's what propelled it to success.

Johnson was English and Connery is Scottish but, more significantly, Johnson really exudes that impression of class and refinement that Connery wears as only an amusing toy. I guess Johnson's not quite as exciting, especially since he refrains from sleeping with any of the beautiful women who pursue him.

Johnson also made a conscious decision not to play the character like the original Bulldog Drummond, whom Johnson apparently called a "Nazi". He is very charismatic and his sense of humour, even when saying a man's "feet are killing him" after breaking his legs, is warm and amenably gentle. He manages to prevent the film from being completely stolen by Elke Sommer and Sylvia Koscina as a pair of assassins and more or less the film's main antagonists.

Sommer as Irma Eckman presents her admirable profile while wooing Leonard Rossiter before, of course, murdering him. He's part of a board of directors of the insurance company Drummond works for. Elsewhere, Koscina as Penelope seduces and ties up Drummond's naive American nephew (Steve Carlson).

This is before Sommer storms in and demands Koscina stop stealing her negligee. The two are a bit of a double act and carry on this running gag throughout the film where Sommer as the straight man rebukes Koscina for casually nicking this or that. It's fun to watch until it ends up being part of the film's climax which deflates all the tension.

Still, while not approaching the heights of From Russia with Love, I'd argue Deadlier Than the Male surpasses a few actual James Bond films.

Deadlier Than the Male is available on Amazon Prime.

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