There can be few things creepier than having Klaus Kinski stalk your every move, even in an exotic location like Hong Kong. So spare a thought for the anonymous fat guy who after a hard day eluding the bug-eyed Euro-cult star is promptly flung off a rooftop by a gang of ninjas. The police find a cryptic note in his pocket addressed to ageing American playboy Bob Mitchell (Robert Cummings) with the words: Five Golden Dragons. Who are the Five Golden Dragons? “I haven’t the slightest idea. I haven’t heard their records” quips Bob. Oh dear. It’s going to be one of those movies...
Spy spoofs were everywhere throughout the Sixties and globe-hopping trash movie mogul Harry Alan Towers was quick to get in on the act. Though he dabbled in all sorts of genres, the writer-producer specialised in adapting novels by out-of-copyright pulp authors: Sax Rohmer, the Marquis De Sade, or in this instance Edgar Wallace whose mystery thrillers spawned the so-called krimi subgenre popular around Europe at this time. Many of these movies starred Klaus Kinski whose popularity as a shady character actor saw him spliced into numerous horror, spy and spaghetti western pictures. Here, Kinski lurks menacingly and torments some supporting players in his torture dungeon, but for the most part seems there for appearances’ sake. He has little to do and the film similarly squanders its other guest stars as they orbit around a befuddled Robert Cummings, whose last film this was.
Okay, Cummings acquitted himself well in two Alfred Hitchcock films - Saboteur (1942) and Dial M for Murder (1954) - but by 1967, despite his famous keep fit fanaticism, was looking distinctly past his prime. In a strange, near post-modern touch, he seemingly essays a variation on his sitcom character in The Bob Cummings Show: a WWII veteran turned photographer who fancies himself a ladies’ man. It is not quite Eddie Constantine revisiting Lemmy Caution in Alphaville (1965), but remains distinctively odd. As his alter-ego, Cummings chews gum, cracks terrible jokes and looks genuinely confused, but seems happy sharing scenes with bikini bombshells Maria Perschy and Maria Rohm, in real life Mrs. Harry Alan Towers. These two play sisters, one of whom was involved with an international gold smuggling racket run by the titular crime lords with identities so secret even they don’t know each other. Eventually a shock death and sudden kidnapping drive Bob to decipher the mystery of the Dragons which leads him to a nightclub run by glamorous lounge singer Magda (Margaret Lee) and her shady manager Peterson (Sieghardt Rupp).
Except Bob never cracks that mystery. The case is actually solved by Shakespeare quoting Police Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies), who harbours a comical resentment of his well-spoken Chinese colleague Inspector Chiao (Roy Chiao - who did the English dubbing on numerous Hong Kong films besides being a prolific character actor, notably as a crime boss in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)). Nor does Bob kill the bad guy or rescue the girl. That job falls to an anonymous, elderly Chinese policeman. Sanders seems loosely based on a reoccurring character in Edgar Wallace’s original novels, which begs the question if he is our intrepid sleuth why is Bob there at all? There is a huge difference between a plot and having a bunch of things happen onscreen. Five Golden Dragons errs heavily towards the latter with dud gags and lethargic action scenes, including one chase shot in the now sadly defunct Tiger Balm Gardens theme park, dubbed with would-be wacky sound effects, a sure sign of desperation. Harry Alan Towers had done it all before and better with Our Man in Marrakesh (1966) which paired Tony Randall with reoccurring players Klaus Kinski and Margaret Lee.
So who are those elusive Five Golden Dragons? Well, four of them are embarassed looking special guest stars Christopher Lee, Brian Donlevy, George Raft (not doing his trademark coin flip. Surely a missed opportunity) and Dan Duryea, who gather round the table for their single scene dressed in silly papier mache gold dragon masks. Dragon number five comprises the plot’s big twist that would have been far cleverer had it been handled better by director Jeremy Summers. He shot The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) and House of a Thousand Dolls (1967) for Harry Alan Towers before going on to direct numerous soap operas on British TV.
Euro-cult regular Margaret Lee, a vision of loveliness in pink satin, gives the most charismatic performance and sings the charming bossa nova theme song, although the film credits a possibly pseudonymous singer called Domino. Japanese chanteuse Yukari Ito performs an equally likeable ballad, one of several kitsch touches that leave this an endearing if ramshackle mess.