008 Operation Exterminate – Review

008 Operation Exterminate
008 Operation Exterminate

Aka A008 Operazione Sterminio
Original running time: 95 mins
Produced by Fortunato Misiano for Romano Film (Rome), Copro Film (Cairo)
Distributed by Romana Film
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Story: Umberto Lenzi
Screenplay: Wallace Mackentzy, Humphrey Humbert
Cinematography: Augusto Tiezzi
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Editor: Jolanda Benvenuti
Art director: Peppino Piccolo
Cast: Ingrid Schoeller (MacDonald, agent 008), Alberto Lupo (Frank Smith, agent 006), Dina De Santis (Beauty institute manager), John Heston [Ivano Staccioli] (Kemp, hotel manager), Mark Trevor [Salvatore Borghese] (Munk), Omar El-Hariri (Police officer), Ahmed Louxor, George Wang (Tanaka), Edoardo Toniolo (Mister X), Nando Angelini (Police lieutenant), Domenico Ravenna (Heinz), Omar Targoman, Lucky Arena [Fortunato Arena] (Stabbed man)

This was the first in a series of four spy films Umberto Lenzi made for producer Fortunato Misiano. Misiano was one of the great movers and shakers in low budget Italian cinema at the time, a former production manager in the pre war period who set up him own company, Romana Film, in the late 1940s and proved to have a knack for spotting a cinematic trend, moving from melodramas to historical adventures films, spy films to jungle girl movies as the audience interest waxed and waned. Lenzi became an accomplished director of giallos, war movies and crime films, but his spy movies are generally considered to be a rather motley bunch, hamstrung by their lack of budget and original ideas. Partially, this is also because until recently they’ve only been available in dreadful, 4th or 5th generation dupes which look as though they’ve been painted over with tarmac. In recent years, however, aficionados have taken the trouble to re-dub or subtitle them, and although 008 Operation Exterminate is by no means a good film it’s not as terrible as is sometimes said.

A dodgy Lebanese scientist called Van Deer is murdered in Cairo, causing the head of the secret services to become very edgy: a few months earlier he’d turned up at the embassy claiming to have invented a radar blocking device. They doubted him at the time – despite his causing three ships to crash just to prove it – but now that he’s dead it seems all the more likely that he was on to something… and that someone else far more dangerous might have taken his invention from him before his death.

Dispatched to investigate are British Agent Frank Smith (Alberto Lupo), aka 006, and his American counterpart 008, MacDonald (Ingrid Schoeller), who works undercover as a nightclub singer. They soon meet an assortment of dodgy characters: Kemp (Ivano Staccioli), a former Egyptologist who now runs a hotel and nightclub (!); Tanaka (George Wang), a randy Japanese collector of Jade; a local police inspector who seems to be awfully interested in everything that’s going on (Omar El-Hariri); and a killer with a false hand that shoots knives (Sal Borgese). Blah-di-blah-di-blah.

As with most of the spy films, it uses its locations well, appealing to the audiences vogue for the exotic. It wasn’t the only Italian spy film set in Egypt – Tessari’s La sfinge sorride prima di morire – stop – Londra (64), for instance – and it makes as much use a possible of the local sights before decamping for no reason whatsoever to Switzerland. It also displays a certain talent for the surreal – a ‘blind’ Egyptian killer in a fez, Borgese’s ridiculous assassin – and there’s a low budget visual flair that actual makes it a shame that the dialogue is so banal. There’s some great cinematography, often veering on the impressionist, and some decent stuntwork, not to mention an odd looking supporting cast, all of whom are shot in a way to make them look all the more peculiar.

Alberto Lupo and Ingrid Schoeller in 008 Operation Exterminate
Alberto Lupo and Ingrid Schoeller in 008 Operation Exterminate

It’s got several positive points, in other words, but it’s let down by the ridiculous screenplay and some occasionally lackadaisical film-making. Although there’s a decent surprise ending and a few moments of humour, these are counterpointed by some moments of absolute nonsense – a brief subplot about Gina Lollobrigida (?!?) – and some scenes, such as the clunky fight in a nonsensical beauty salon, where Lenzi seems to have frankly given up trying. The anti-radar device, obviously, looks like a trendy nineteen sixties lamp attached to a few wires and a stock footage antenna. The basic plot is utterly predictable, and it lacks the focal point of having a decent villains; Staccioli’s Kemp is basically just a gangster, a secondary character who has been elevated to the status of main antagonist. The blame for this lies firmly at Lenzi’s feet, as he was both the director and writer (with the help of the unlikely sounding Wallace Mackentzy).

Lupo and Schoeller make for a rather unusual pair of protagonists, Schoeller’s a bit different from the normal blond bombshell and spends a lot of her time bossing her partner about, while Lupo has a certain dourness that makes him stand out from the Eurospy crowd (he looks a little, I guess, like a less smarmy Dean Martin). They’re rubbish agents, of course, only too happy to climb in the back of a truck which has obviously been reinforced with steel (‘a portable gas chamber’, as Lupo proclaims when he realises his mistake) or walk into an ’empty’ house which is full of villains. Curiously, it seems like Lenzi might have taken some inspiration from The Avengers, which seems to have been as much of an influence as the Bond films.

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