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  Death Trip Just say no, Joe
Year: 1967
Director: Rudolf Zehetgruber
Stars: Tony Kendall, Brad Harris, Olga Schoberová, Christa Linder, Dietmar Schönherr, Herbert Fux, Sabine Sun, Rossella Bergamonti, Emilio Carrer, Carlo Tamberlani, Rudolf Zehetgruber, Andrea Aureli, Samson Burke
Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The fourth entry in the Kommissar X series of fun Eurospy films opens with a neat joke. As a sultry chanteuse sings his theme song studly hero Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) saunters into a Turkish bar only to get punched in the face. A riotous brawl ensues with Joe taking time between flooring bad guys to make out with various lovely ladies. Elsewhere in Istanbul, Joe's pal Interpol agent Captain Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) arrives at the American consulate with a delivery of, um, one million dollars worth of LSD. For, um, undisclosed purposes. Supposedly in the aid of law enforcement. Hey man, not here to judge. Anyway poor Tom fails to realize the consul's slinky secretary Joyce Sellars (Sabine Sun) is working with a mysterious criminal mastermind who swiftly steals the drugs. Inevitably, Tom reaches out to Joe Walker to help foil these drug traffickers.

For all their indulgence in the permissive social attitudes of the Sixties, Eurospy (and espionage films in general) remain a fairly straight-laced, conservative genre. Hence it is no surprise that the LSD subplot in Death Trip (a.k.a. Kommissar X Drei grüne Hunde a.k.a. Strategic command chiama Joe Walker a.k.a. Kill Me Gently) is a pretty lightweight Macguffin. Indeed Joe makes his feelings clear on the subject when he advises glamorous barfly Jenny Carter (Rosella Bergamonti) to give acid a miss and stick with more 'responsible' vices like cigarettes and whiskey! Hilariously enough, immediately after this exchange hulking henchman Khemal (Samson Burke) and his oily sidekick Shapiro (Herbert Fux) spike Joe's drink with LSD leaving him tripping his balls off. Alas, his hallucinations consist solely of envisioning his adversaries with green faces. One would think a man as lusty and adventurous as Joe Walker on acid would be something to behold, but no.

Missed opportunities for psychedelic silliness aside, Death Trip does a pretty solid job balancing the familiar larky atmosphere that was this series' stock in trade with darker scenes laden with, dare one say, genuine suspense. Which is more down to the writing and lively camaraderie between co-stars than frankly wayward direction from actor-director Rudolf Zehetgruber. Who also appears in a supporting role as Almann, arguably the most awesome vet in cinema history. Two things you need to know about Zehetgruber. First, he has a strange yet endearing propensity for shoehorning scenes of himself interacting with all manner of cute and cuddly animals. Scenes that really don't belong in a Eurospy thriller, even one as goofy and amiable as the Kommissar X series. Secondly, Zehetgruber suffered from a clear case of 'director eager to upstage his lead actors' syndrome (see also Hong Kong actor-director Lo Wei). For no good reason and in inverse proportion to his character's importance to the actual plot, Zehetgruber's vet hogs a substantial portion of heroic moments. He punches out multiple bad guys, proves a crack shot with a rifle, an expert at archaeology, saves our two leads several times, performs a musical number (albeit miming to a record) and even solves a vital clue when Joe is flummoxed. Later on Zehetgruber created the Superbug series detailing the adventures of a super-smart, gadget laden Volkswagen Beetle - 'inspired' by Walt Disney studios' Herbie films.

Aside from the director's efforts to hog the limelight, a selection of gutsy female supporting characters prove a very welcome addition to the series. Among them Gisella (Christa Linder) a fetching and resourceful cocktail waitress out to avenge her brother's death, Sabine Sun's duplicitous femme fatale and plucky tour guide Leyla Kessler played by glamorous Czech actress Olga Schoberová - who was married to Brad Harris at the time. This being a Sixties spy thriller the ladies spend a substantial amount of time either scantily clad (Linder spends the entire movie in a skimpy outfit, even while imprisoned in a desert cave) or ogled by the camera (in one fun scene Joe hides from Turkish cops inside Leyla's bubble bath). Yet the film still has its heroines exhibit bravery, resourcefulness and skill, dispatching no small amount of villains and in several instances saving Joe Walker from many a tight spot. The lovely and talented Schoberová remains fondly remembered for her skilled comedic roles in Czech gems such as Lemonade Joe (1964) and especially Who Killed Jessie? (1966). She also had a brief flurry of international fame via Hammer Films' The Vengeance of She (1967).

While the plot is not really much to write home about the twist identity of the film's mystery villain is pulled off especially well and a genuine surprise. Elsewhere Angelo Lotti's cinematography is very striking. In the aftermath of From Russia with Love (1963) Turkey became a popular backdrop for spy films. Here Lotti soaks in the sun-drenched vistas and sumptuous scenery. As always co-lead Brad Harris choreographed the stunts including his own disarmingly visceral brawl in an underground tunnel and a cracking climactic motorbike chase. Only slightly derailed by a truly WTF ending wherein (SPOILERS!) the villains are undone by a talking donkey. Even Tom and Joe are taken aback, staring incredulously into camera. Like George Lazenby once said, this never happened to the other fella.


Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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