The death of a fellow spy brings Secret Agent Super Dragon (Ray Danton), a.k.a. the more prosaically monikered Brian Cooper, out of retirement. He sets out to solve a strange case in which ordinary citizens in a small Michigan college town have been turned into crazed killers. The investigation takes Agent Super Dragon and his allies around the globe but eventually to Amsterdam where all leads point to an art collector named Fernand Lamas (Carlo D’Angelo) and a secret cult of masked strangers.
Having been mocked mercilessly in an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 the consensus seems to be that Secret Agent Super Dragon, a.k.a. New York Calling Agent Super Dragon, is a bad movie. Or at best a so-bad-its-good movie. Yet this solidly-crafted Eurospy outing has many laudable qualities including a playful wit more endearing than its smug detractors would allow. Rather than string a bunch of action scenes, girls and gadgets together the plot calls on Brian (snicker), I mean Super Dragon to do actual sleuthing, more in the vein of an Edgar Wallace krimi or Jerry Cotton thriller than the kitschy super-heroics of most James Bond wannabes. While the title implies campy comic book action the film dwells mostly on the covert stalk-and-surveillance side of the espionage game. Imported Hollywood star Ray Danton essays an unusually affable, easygoing superspy, smooth and lighthearted but steely and capable when he needs to be. Indeed the action sequences, while lively and well-choreographed with Italian flair, have a harder edge in common with the early Sean Connery Bonds. Super Dragon even loses the odd fight and winds up in serious peril, an element that renders the film that more compelling.
Sporting a pastel-hued production design that oozes style, as does the snazzy jazz score by Benedetto Ghiglia, the film keeps one foot in the outlandish fantasy camp of your traditional Eurospy adventure. Giorgio Ferroni, one of many genre-hopping Italian workhorses best known for his gothic horror films Mill of the Stone Women (1960) and Night of the Devils (1972) (a reworking of ‘The Wurdulak’ episode from Mario Bava’s horror anthology Black Sabbath (1963)), and co-writers Bill Coleman, Remigio Del Grosso and Mike Mitchell throw into the wild mix: drugged bubblegum, Dragon’s ex-gangster/inventor sidekick Baby Face (Jess Hahn), mind control, the genre-regulation futuristic underground lair and a Spectre (2015) style clandestine meeting of masked conspirators at a luxurious mansion. The latter sequence actually evolves into a strange fusion of Eyes Wide Shut (1969) and the church massacre sequence from Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015). Among Ferroni’s other visual flourishes a shootout in a bedroom lit only by a neon sign flickering outside comes across like a precursor to a slicker sequence in Skyfall (2012).
Admittedly aspects of the story veer towards the indecipherable. Yet the subplot involving a key character enslaved by addiction, indeed a sympathetic depiction of other addicts while condemning exploitative upmarket peddlers, exhibits more of an awareness of actual Sixties youth culture than is common in this genre. Lovely Eurospy stalwart Margaret Lee is rather wasted in the Moneypenny/Sylvia Trench role as Super Dragon’s girlfriend, but sports a glamorous wardrobe and gets to play a more active role at the finale, albeit in fetching lingerie. Upping the glam factor even higher, beloved cult actress Marissa Mell also appears as Charity Farrel: a duplicitous though not unsympathetic femme fatale/informant/recipient of Super Dragon’s smarm. As Baby Face puts it: "Dames are like safes. Some guys know their secrets. Some guys don’t." Quite.