aka Moresque obiettivo allucinante, Coplan III, Coplan ouvre le feu a Mexico
Original running length: 94 mins
France / Italy / Spain
Based on the story ‘Coplan fait peau neuve’ by Paul Kenny
A Fida (Rome), Comptoir Francais du Film (Paris) and Balcazar (Barecelona) production
Director: Riccardo Freda
Screenplay: Bertrand Tavernier
Cinematography: Juan Gelpí, Paul Solignac
Music: Jacques Lacome
Editor: Teresa Alcocer, Claude Gros, Vincenzo Tomassi
Cast: Lang Jeffries (Coplan), Sabine Sun (the countess), José María Caffarel (Langis), Robert Party (Fondane), Frank Oliveras (Don Felipe), Guido Lollobrigida (Montez), Osvaldo Genazzani, Guy Marly, Luciana Gilli (Maya, Don Felipe’s daughter), Silvia Solar (Francine Labout)
Uncredited: Francisco Cebrián, Ida Galli, Antonio Orengo, Mónica Randall, María Dolores Rubio, Tomás Torres, Moisés Augusto Rocha (killer with bazooka), Paco Sanz (Don Felipe’s man)
This little-known spy film was financed by three important production companies in the world of low-budget cinema during the late 1960s. From Italy, there was Edmondo Amati’s Fida Cinematografica, which made most of the Agent 077 series of films starring Ken Clark (Mission Bloody Mary, Special Mission Lady Chaplin etc etc). From France, Comptoir Français du Film Production, which had made a previous Coplan film, Coplan FX 18 casse tout, as well as putting money into numerous other peplums and spy films. And from Spain Balcázar Producciones Cinematográficas, formed by the brothers Alfonso and Jesus Balcazar, who regularly invested in and allowed Italian productions to use their Barcelona-based studios. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a truly cosmopolitan film, with a multinational cast and crew. It’s also a bit of a mess.
When a bunch of paintings stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War start turning up in auctions around the world, the secret service are interested: just who is it who’s selling them? and why are they being sold right now? After the first agent dispatched to find out what’s going on is murdered, super-efficient spy Coplan (Lang Jeffries) is assigned the case and, given that he knows absolutely nothing about culture whatsoever, is ordered to take along a slightly more civilised, rookie agent, Fondane (Robert Party), with him.
After posing as a bidder for one of the stolen masterpieces, Coplan is approached by a certain Lady Francine Lagrange (Sabine Sun), who tells him she has some rare artworks for sale and then promptly drags him off to bed. After drugging her, he searches around her villa, where he finds some incriminating cheques and some even more incriminating goons. In order to find out more about what she’s up to he lets her escape, following her as she heads off to Mexico. After surviving a rapidfire assassination attempt as he leaves the airport, he meets up with wealthy businessman and ex-agent Langis (José María Caffarel), who has a passion for classical music and a collection of pet snakes, and Montez (Guido Lollobrigida), the secret service’s man in Mexico.
He also runs into Francine (Silvia Solar), a damsel in distress, who had come to Mexico in order to carry out geological research and has now spent over a week trying to avoid assorted people who are trying – for some reason or other – to kill her. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that her troubles might be connected to his investigations and, as the body count escalates, they figure out that everything is connected to some underground caverns on the land of a local aristocrat, Don Felipe (Frank Oliveras).
Given some of the big names involved in this – both the writer and assistant director, Bertrand Tavernier and Yves Boisset, went on to become award winning filmmakers, and it was directed by the much respected Riccardo Freda – it’s quite amazing that it has remained obscure for so long. For many years it was obtainable only as a cut-down, mutilated version lasting just less than an hour, called Entre las redes. Now available in a much longer, fandubbed print from the Wild Eye forum, it’s possible to make a true evaluation of its worth and, while it undoubtedly has some hugely impressive elements, it’s let down by moments of quite staggering slapdashery.
The script itself seems to hark back to earlier spy films: apart from the occasional moment of humour and self mockery (such as when Coplan refers to it being the usual ‘nutters in a cavern with plans of world domination’ type situation), it’s actually quite a dour, moody affair. The more fantastical elements are underplayed, and the narrative fixes more upon the investigation and multiple double-crosses than the deadly weapons, flame throwing walking sticks and so on. It’s also quite callous, with Coplan merrily burning already incapacitated villains to death or crushing people’s head in a handy vice, and even his bedroom activities seem more calculated and cynical than normal for the genre. But it certainly springs some surprises and has a degree of complexity, as well as an assortment of hastily, but not badly, sketched characters.
However, the problem lies in the direction. While there are some quite exceptional moments – a secret meeting between the spies on a rollercoaster, a funeral that descends into a gunfight, Francine’s paranoid flight through the city, a search of a meat packing plant – other sequences are just rubbish. It’s almost as though there were two directors: a talented one who was dealing with all the action and build up sequences, and a not-particularly talented one who was filming all the static filler and incidental material. It’s not beyond the realms of plausibility that some of the interior work was shot in Spain by someone apart from Freda (Boisset? A Spanish stand in?), which would explain why so much of it is dully paced and staged. At other moments, it feels almost as much like a giallo or, more particularly, a Spaghetti Western as a spy film (a feeling accentuated by the fact that it reuses several of the Balacazar’s western sets as a stand in for Mexico).
Furthermore, there’s also some extremely poor miniature work, especially when compared to the kinds of results that were being achieved by the likes of Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti with similar resources. The stuntwork is impressive – there’s a wild leap out of a plane into a moving taxi – but this is let down by some occasionally ineffective editing (although, to be fair, this could be down to problems with the print).
It would be interesting, in other words, to know more about what was going on behind the scenes of the film. Admittedly, during the later stages of his career Freda’s films often seemed to suffer from a certain lack of interest on his part, and that could have been the case here rather than anything more complicated. As it is, it remains an interesting, but highly flawed film. But it’s always watchable, not least because of the performance of Lang Jeffries, a very underrated actor who was perfect at playing a more moody breed of spy than usual.
This was the fourth of five films to feature Coplan, a character created by author Paul Kenny. Agent secret FX 18 (64), Coplan FX 18 casse tout (65) and Coplan sauve sa peau (68) were also co-produced by Comptoir Français du Film Production and were intended as a vague kind of series, while Coplan prend des risques (64) would appear to be a rival production which had nothing whatsoever – apart from its protagonist – to do with any of the other films.