Enjoyable throwback double feature from legendary schlockmeister Harry Alan Towers. Blue Underground has released on a single Blu-ray disc CODE 7, VICTIM 5 and MOZAMBIQUE. South African-set crime thriller/wannabe Bond CODE 7, VICTIM 5, released by Columbia Pictures in 1965, stars Lex Barker, Ronald Fraser, Walter Rilla, Dietmar Schonherr, Ann Smyrner, and Veronique Vendell. South east African-set noir actioner MOZAMBIQUE, also from 1965 and released by Seven Arts Pictures, stars Steve Cochran, Hildegard Knef, Paul Hubschmid, Vivi Bach, Martin Benson, and Dietmar Schonherr. Writer/producer Towers specialized in these kinds of low-budget, pre-sold international productions, and while neither CODE 7, VICTIM 5 nor MOZAMBIQUE will surprise you in any way in terms of originality or nerve-tingling suspense, they are competent genre exercises with solid performers, colorful location work...and enough amusing period-specific tropes to fire up your nostalgia for these bottom-of-the bill mid-1960s exploiters.
Cape Town, South Africa, 1964. Wealthy, politically powerful copper magnate Wexler (Walter Rilla, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, SCOTLAND YARD VS. DR. MABUSE) has sent for New York private eye Steve Martin (Lex Barker, TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL, THE PIRATE AND THE SLAVE GIRL). Martin's assignment: find out who killed Wexler's butler — his closest friend in the world. Martin's suspects include Wexler's adopted — and pretty loose — Italian daughter, Gina (Veronique Vendell, THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, CROSS OF IRON), Wexler's beautiful secretary, Helga Swenson (Ann Smyrner, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET, THE HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS), Wexler's personal physician and Gina's boyfriend, Dr. Paul Bison (Dietmar Schonherr, THE LONGEST DAY, COAST OF SKELETONS), and Wexler's gruff mine operator, George Anderson (Percy Sieff, DEADLY JAWS, DIRTY GAMES). If Martin needs help ogling all the available Cape Town "talent" (at the whites-only beaches, of course), he only has to ask randy Police Inspector Lean (Ronald Fraser, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, SEBASTIAN), who never seems to do any detective work — except when he managed to snag an old war photo of young Wexler with three other men in it...including Wexler's dead butler. Who are those men in the photo, and what do they have to do with Wexler's suspicious past? Will Martin find out in time, before he's killed by the killer...or indeed by the battling Helga and Gina, who both want the handsome private dick?
One of the movies' most colorful characters, writer/producer Harry Alan Towers (numerous pulpy genre outings familiar to moviegoers and TV watchers back in the 1960s and 1970s like TEN LITTLE INDIANS, THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU, THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU) did it all prior to producing CODE 7, VICTIM 5, including making and selling syndicated radio shows for international audiences, TV series for the U.K. (ARMCHAIR THEATRE, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL), and even, allegedly, running a call girl ring in New York City (the FBI went further and accused him of being an undercover Soviet agent...one who may have hooked up JFK with a Soviet-handled prostitute). One suspects a filmed biography of his life would make a far more entertaining movie than any one of the 159 films he either wrote and/or produced. CODE 7, VICTIM 5 and MOZAMBIQUE were only the second and third big-screen efforts for the wily producer, shot back-to-back in Africa (with the same director, scripter, and German actor Schonherr), where production costs were dirt cheap, the scenery outsized and color-soaked...and where corrupt governments like the Republic of South Africa and the Portuguese Overseas Province of Mozambique didn't mind a fast-talking hustler parking some international tax-shelter money in their impoverished countries. With likely all of CODE 7, VICTIM 5's below-the-line costs already covered by pre-sales in amenable European markets (hence the proliferation of German actors in this double feature), all Towers needed was a snazzy one-sheet and some hyperbolic hard-sell copy in the trailer to make CODE 7, VICTIM 5 a profitable hit.
Which it was (it played here in the States on the bottom of a double bill with Tallulah Bankhead's and Stefanie Powers' DIE! DIE! MY DARLING, and made a tidy profit). Taken, supposedly from the book Table Bay (which I couldn't find any trace of online), and yet with an original story credited to Tower's pseudonym "Peter Welbeck," CODE 7, VICTIM 5, even though it's nothing more than a private eye movie, was clearly sold as a spy adventure in the Ian Fleming mold — which makes perfect sense in terms of exploitation and marketing at that moment in time, since the movie world was at the absolute peak of "Bondmania" with the highly-anticipated release of THUNDERBALL coming later that year. There is no "Code 7" in CODE 7, VICTIM 5's plot line, and Barker isn't a "very special special agent" as he's described in the original trailer...but when did promotional ballyhoo ever have to coincide with what was actually up on the big screen? Even though the core of the movie is straight gumshoe material, Towers tries to color the edges with ersatz Bondian gilt. First and foremost: why is Wexler flying in a New York private eye for this job? How does he know him? Big, handsome Lex Barker looks fab in his Hong Kong-tailored suits (what New Yawk dick dressed like that?), and he even manages to lob out Connery-like one-liners whenever someone bites the dust (when the car that tries to run Lex and Ann off the road plunges over a cliff, Barker smirks and offers, "Bad brakes,"). Like Bond, every woman is instantly attracted to him, and like Bond, Barker seems to have an unending array of skills sets for any occasion; he even gets to indulge in that most Bondian of Bond activities here: scuba diving (no doubt thrown in by Towers to beat THUNDERBALL to the punch).
Of course, CODE 7, VICTIM 5's limited budget (and the comparatively limited actors), as well as the knock-off screenplay by credited Peter Yeldham (THE LIQUIDATOR, OUR MAN IN MARRAKESH), yield pretty low fruit for spy/crime fans, with tepid fistfights, awkward make-out sessions, and a tad too much talk if one is looking for epic-sized Fleming-esque fun. Direction by Robert Lynn (POSTMAN'S KNOCK, SANDY THE SEAL) is anonymously competent, while the cinematography by Nicholas Roeg (yes, that Nicholas Roeg: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, FAHRENHEIT 451) is color-saturated and quite spiffy (that opening pre-credit killing at the District 6 New Year's Eve parade — hey, did the THUNDERBALL people see this first? — with a couple of fun swish pans to ominous clown mask-wearing assassins, is a nice opener). Travelogue values (the Cango Caves, Table Mountain) and Towers' obligatory nightclub scene are decent padding, while the over-emphatic jazz music cues remind you of a REN AND STIMPY cartoon. The supporting players are okay; Lex Barker, best known as the Tarzan that followed Johnny Weissmuller, is good-looking but a bit stiff (I always thought he'd be better in comedy, spoofing his own handsomeness and athletic ability), while familiar face Ronald Fraser, looking relatively sober, steals every scene he's in with barely concealed contempt for the material (he's hardly believable as an irresistible ladies man, but he doesn't look like he buys it for a second, either, so he pulls it off for laughs).
Where CODE 7, VICTIM 5 works best (at least for our contemporary enjoyment) is, ironically, unintended. You know you're probably going to have a good time with CODE 7, VICTIM 5 when the opening sequence, in apartheid South Africa mind you, features a parade of local citizens...with The Battle Hymn of the Republic laid over the soundtrack. More silliness follows. A gorgeously tanned Lex Barker arrives in Cape Town claiming he just left a blizzard in the Big Apple. Barker somehow channels Groucho Marx when, instead of giving a sophisticated leer, he waggles his eyebrows up and down when he first sees ample Vendell sunbathing. Barker's first fistfight gets chuckles when after the first punch is thrown, Barker's obvious stunt double steps in to clean up the mess (listen for that amplified, cartoonish "Ooooph!" when someone gets clocked). Why is Wexler using a wheelchair when he can walk, like SCTV's Guy Caballero (I love it when Helga tries to do something for him, only for him to angrily get out of his wheelchair and spit, "For goodness sakes' I'm not a cripple!"). The animal segments in CODE 7, VICTIM 5 wouldn't pass muster for a DAKTARI episode: a scorpion crushed in close-up (they're tough little buggers, apparently), a tired lion pawing at some Afrikaner, and a pathetic ostrich stampede director Lynn can't make terrifying to save his life. CODE 7, VICTIM 5's biggest laugh, however, comes during the scuba sequence, when Barker and company descend into the depths...of a marineland fish tank; when you clearly see the man-made stone arches and the observation windows ten feet behind a paddling Barker, the effect is transcendent. Say what you will, though, director Lynn knew how to wrap up the movie, with a neat little sequence on the famed Table Mountain, with the angles beautifully faked (just looking at the vertiginous drops makes you sick), and the suspense nicely rendered.
In MOZAMBIQUE, there's no question our anti-hero isn't a spy. Rumpled, down-on-his luck American pilot Brad Webster (Steve Cochran, WHITE HEAT, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY!) can't get arrested in Lisbon, after cracking up his plane and killing everyone aboard. He can't get arrested, that is, until he gets arrested in a bar fight, giving Police Commandant Commarro (Paul Hubschmid, FUNERAL IN BERLIN, SKULLDUGGERY) a chance to blackmail Webster into taking a job in Mozambique for the mysterious Colonel Valdez. Why? Well, Commarro makes the plan appear to be his way to get troublemaker Webster out of Lisbon, but really he's using Brad for bait. Webster's new employer, Colonel Valdez, has made millions of pounds sterling selling drugs to Zanzibar, and the only way the money can be traced to its Swiss bank locations is through a coded sheet that Commarro hopes to ferret out, with Brad's unwitting help, after Valdez's lawyer was zapped in Lisbon. However, once Brad arrives in the city of Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, he finds out Valdez is dead, and three people are vying for his smuggling empire: his beautiful, tortured widow, Ilona (Hildegard Knef, DECISION BEFORE DAWN, THE LOST CONTINENT); his second-in-command, greasy Da Silva (Martin Benson, GOLDFINGER, A SHOT IN THE DARK); and friendly competitor Henderson (Dietmar Schonherr, see above). Brad now has to figure out what cargo he'll be flying around Africa (take a guess), while also trying to find Christina (Vivi Bach, DEATH DRUMS ALONG THE RIVER, SKI FEVER), the attractive blonde singer he met on the plane to Mozambique. You see, naive Christina didn't realize she was hired by Valdez to be a hooker in his night club, so when she's carted off to Zanzibar by a horny sheik, Steve has to rescue her as well as crack the case of Valdez's murder.
With producer Towers using CODE 7, VICTIM 5's same director, Robert Lynn, and scripter, Peter Yeldham (again, from Towers' original story idea), there's definitely a feeling — at first — of deja vu with MOZAMBIQUE, particularly when it opens with another pre-credit murder, this time in Lisbon, where a man is mysteriously knifed when the only possible suspects are a nearby group of children playing leapfrog (Lynn does a solid, unsettling job with this scene, nicely edited by Disney live-action regular Peter Boita). However, once the plinky THIRD MAN-sorta theme music cues up, and we see Cochran bumming around, getting splashed by a passing car, before he's sitting in the clink wondering what his next futile move is, MOZAMBIQUE takes on a decidedly noir feeling that's followed right through the movie. The movie's central plot device — the blackmailing of Cochran by a rule-breaking cop, without Cochran knowing the real reason why he's being pushed — is straight out of Noir 101: a fated anti-hero who's moved around by others, unaware of why things are happening to him (and you can't beat the ultimate real-life noir connection that occurred when MOZAMBIQUE was released in 1965 after Cochran had mysteriously died...an early death at only 48 years old, brought on, many believe, when the actor first became ill during the shooting of this picture). MOZAMBIQUE's cast is far stronger than CODE 7, VICTIM 5, and that helps enormously with the interesting but still-hacky script. Seedy Cochran in particular can convey a straight-up sense of world-weary futility in just one boozy, hungover glance, than Lex Barker could convey breezy nonchalance in his super laid-back attempt at CODE 7, VICTIM 5's Bondian private eye.
Cochran is well-supported by spot-on neurasthenic Hildegard Knef, who's equally adept at filling in her scenes with far more meaning than anyone had a right to find in that sparse script. Swiss actor Paul Hubschmid hits just the right note as the amusing, smooth copper willing to hang Cochran out to dry, while familiar face Martin Benson does what he always does, delivering an expected good supporting turn as an oily pimp/junior crime boss. Vivi Bach doesn't have much to do here except flatly deliver that verkackte Hey, You! song (one of Towers' weaker nightclub scenes, and that's saying something...), but she looks great in her underwear and she works better when playing off of Cochran. Unlike CODE 7, VICTIM 5, MOZAMBIQUE stays indoor more often than not (we do get a bizarrely upbeat shot of a shanty town for atmosphere), perhaps because there was quite a bit of political unrest in colonial Mozambique at the time of filming. The action is sparser than CODE (although the weird dwarf murders are worthy of a 1940s American noir, and Cochran's rescue of Bach is outsized fun), but MOZAMBIQUE proves more consistently amusing; when Cochran hijacks Benson's plane, Benson screams this beautiful non sequiter, "You damn interfering American truck driver!" (even better is a bored prostitute admitting things could be worse for her — she could be a housewife). And even though it talks more than Barker's outing, MOZAMBIQUE seems to move faster. Pity the rousing finale, on the spectacular Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River, is so truncated.
Loose, heavy grain is the biggest factor in these two 1080p HD 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen Blu-ray transfers. It's certainly noticeable during some of the brighter scenes, but it's not distracting (oddly, the scene on the boat in MOZAMBIQUE, where Cochran and Knef talk about their pasts, look like it was shot in HD video, compared to the rest of the movie...but then it's over). Colors most of the time look properly valued (maybe a bit faded, a bit muddy here and there — more so in MOZAMBIQUE), while contrast is bright (there is a "hot spot" in one scene in CODE, when they're at a restaurant, but it's over fast). Fine image detail isn't the greatest, but it's a reasonably sharp picture (I guarantee they look better here than they ever did at the drive-in or TV or cropped VHS). Crisp and relatively clean are the English DTS-HD mono audio tracks here, re-recorded with healthy new levels. Yellow English subtitles are available. The only extras are original trailers (in HD widescreen) for both features — they hype the pictures just right. (Paul Mavis)
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