On holiday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Babs Lincoln (Ann Smyrner), daughter of a wealthy American tycoon, is attacked by three would-be kidnappers. Although Babs manages to escape, her friend Roger dies in a rescue attempt. Meanwhile in Singapore, muscular Interpol agent Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) wows the local press demonstrating his formidable karate skills. Sure enough Tom is summoned to deal with the Babs situation in Colombo as is his buddy, girl-chasing private detective Joe Walker (Tony Kendall). Babs is less than impressed when Joe descends from his plane with an air-hostess on each arm, but the smooth-talking rogue soon melts her heart. Also enamoured with Joe is sexy undercover agent Michèle (Michèle Mahaut). She draws his attention to the kidnappers including a bald, karate-crazed hulk named King (Dan Vadis) and Nitro (Siegfried Rauch) who as you might guess is an explosives expert. Along with an as-yet unidentified leader they belong to a fanatical cult called the Golden Cats.
An amiable but lesser entry in the West German-produced Kommissar X series of Eurospy films, Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick has all the right ingredients: jungle thrills, ancient temples, martial arts, even a dash of science fiction. Yet it suffers from pedestrian pacing by actor-director Rudolf Zehetgruber in his second contribution to the series after succeeding Italian action expert Gianfranco Parolini. The plot is all but impenetrable (something to do with murder, a mad scientist and a temple stockpiled with chemical weapons) and Zehetgruber hogs screen-time with a supporting role that has nothing to do with the story. He plays a big game hunter named Barrett who frolics with an array of cute animals for a long while for no clear reason but orchestrates the elephant charge that makes up the lively climax.
Like many Eurospy romps the film functions as much as a travelogue as an action yarn providing a unique snapshot of an exotic country at a particular moment in time. In this instance Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. Decades before the long civil war the island nation was a playground for the rich and famous as well as the backdrop for numerous movies. To Zehetgruber's credit he does a fine job showcasing Sri Lanka's lush greenery and sunny beaches, plus it is a treat to see real life locations like Sigiriya mountain and Mount Lavinia hotel feature so prominently. The latter in a cracking chase along the rooftops choreographed by star Brad Harris himself with assistance from his real-life pal Dan Vadis. While American stuntman Harris gets to show off his physical prowess, top-billed Italian idol Tony Kendall (real name: Luciano Stella) has noticeably less to do aside from eventually ram his car into a getaway plane and of course kiss a lot of lovely ladies. Nice work if you can get it. The finale amusingly illustrates even female elephants are drawn by the charm of Joe Walker.
For the most part our Tom and Joe act like they are on holiday rather solving a case. They model stylish summer wear, play pranks on each other and flirt with Babs and Michèle, leaving the actual detective work to local police officer Inspector DaSilva (A. Jayaratna). Tom makes a big show of distrusting DaSilva for no clear reason in a subplot that never pays off and comes across unintentionally racist. Indeed the film regrettably upholds archaic colonial-era attitudes drawing the islanders as either shifty or incompetent. If the tone is flippant overall a flash of emotion arises when Tom discovers a child left an orphan when assassins kill his mother. Despite meandering for two thirds the charming comedy and racy banter between the leads continues to amuse. Most gags involve Tom and Joe ogling attractive women in a state of undress although the film pleasingly portrays Michèle as a competent, proactive agent. Things liven up once the boys reach the 'haunted' temple where Tom takes on King in a karate mano-a-mano and, in an idea lifted from Dr. No (1962), a mythical monster turns out to be a hi-tech death machine. Classic line: "You are even more repulsive than your bacteria!"