Si muore solo una volta

Si muore solo una volta
Si muore solo una volta

Aka Mike Gold operazione Eva (original working title)
1967
Original running length: 80 minutes
Italy / Spain
Produced by Giancarlo Romitelli for Centauro Film (Madrid) and ASA Cinematografica (Rome)
Distributed by Italcid
Director: Don Reynolds [Giancarlo Romitelli]
Story: Augusto Caminito, José Luis Dibildos, Joaquin Romero Hernandez, Don Reynolds
Screenplay: Augusto Caminito, José Luis Dibildos, Joaquin Romero Hernandez, Don Reynolds
Cinematography: Carlo Carlini, Aldo Greci, Julio Ortas Plaza
Music: Carlo Savina
Editor: Magdalena Pulido
Art direction: Jaime Pérez Cubero
Cast: Ray Danton (Mike Gold), Pamela Tudor (Ingrid), Marco Guglielmi (John Malsky), Julio Pena (Ackerman), Silvia Solar (Jane), Dada Gallotti (Silvia), Fernando Cebrian (Manuel), Francesca Rosano (Alina Duran), Mirella Pamphili (Eve), Rossella Bergamonti (Gloria), Daniele Dentice (Winston), Don Reynolds (Rabat), Gilberto Galimberti (Ruby), Mario Landoni (Archeopoulos), Mario Sabatelli (Kemal)
Uncredited: Mario Brega (Galante)

Here’s one I reviewed a while back for The Eurospy Guide, but seeing as a new, fan-dubbed version has become available through The Wild Eye Forum, it seemed like a good opportunity to give it another look.  In all, my original opinions about it – that it’s an entertaining if not particularly original genre entry – still hold true, although being able to see a decent print and understand the minutae of exactly what’s going on inclines me to be even more positive about it.  Perhaps, also, the fact that I’m not wading through hundreds of, quite frankly, rather similar productions, an exercise that would make even the most fanatical Eurospy fan a little jaded, makes it seem a little fresher and more vibrant.

When John Malsky (Marco Guglielmi), an intelligence agent investigating a huge arms smuggling operation, is murdered, the secret service tries a different approach: it sends a bunch of its best agents to the assorted, war torn countries where it believes the gang may be peddling their illicit wares.  Their top man, Mike Gold (Ray Danton), is deployed to Beirut and, before he’s even left the airport, he’s up to his ears in trouble, rescuing nightclub singer Jane (Silvia Solar) from a bunch of hoodlums.  He’s nobody’s fool, though, and it doesn’t take him long to realise she’s a plant, which in turn leads him to a local gangster called Manuel (Fernando Cebrian) and, in turn, a charitable organisation called The Kent Foundation, run by one Professor Ackerman (Julio Pena).

Inevitably enough, The Kent Foundation turns out to be a front, behind which Ackerman and his sidekick, Silvia (Dada Gallotti), are running the entire smuggling operation.  More surprising, though, is the fact that they’ve managed to enlist the collaboration of Malsky who, most distinctly alive, is busily selling out all the agents he knows of and getting whacked out of his brains of some kind of unspecified narcotics.  Or is he?  Could he actually be playing a double bluff, and working with intrepid Interpol agent Ingrid (Pamela Tudor) to bring down Ackermen and his entire organisation?

A co-production between ASA Cinematografica and Spanish spaghetti western specialists Centauro Films, this came out in February 1967, a busy period for the genre just before it went into rapid decline.  The title, Si muore solo una volte, was obviously ‘inspired’ by the Bond film You Only Live Twice, which was released in Italy as Agente 007, si vive solo due volte, although it actually managed to hit the cinemas a good few months before the bigger film made it onto general release.  One of the key plot developments – having a character fake their own death – also seems to have been appropriated from the source novel, albeit in a different enough way not to make it seem too derivative.

As with all co-productions, the credits for this are a complete jumble.  The script is accredited to three Italians (Giancarlo Romitelli, Renato Savino and Augusto Caminito) and two Spaniards (José Luis Dibildos & Joaquín Romero Hernández).  Dibildos had apparently worked on Romitelli’s previous spy film, Z7 Operation Rembrandt, but Hernández seems to have had something to do with Centauro Films, so it’s not unlikely that his name was attached purely for production reasons.  According to co-writer Renato Savino, who had previously been working as a director of production: “I met a friend of mine who had become director of Distribution Company. At the time, the 007 films were fashionable, and he asked me: ‘Why don’t you make one?’ After three days I came up with the story.”  This may be so, but at a guess, I’d say that Caminito was the main writer, as the script is done in the same no-nonsense style as much of his other work of the time.  There’s nothing particularly new or original about it, but some of the twists are vaguely unexpected and the dialogue is surprisingly well written.  Similarly, the cinematography is credited to both Carlo Carlini and Aldo Greci; it’s not impossible that the former was responsible for the sequences shot in Italy, the latter for the sequences shot in Spain.  Certainly, though, the way it’s looks, with occasional moments of wayward experimentalism, has a great deal in common with the work Carlini was doing for Sergio Sollima in his spy films (Agente 3S3: Passaporto per l’inferno (65), Agente 3S3, massacro al sole (66) and Requiem per un agente segreto (66))

In fact, it’s this dual origin of the production which leads to its biggest problem.  Whereas it wasn’t uncommon for Eurospy productions to be partially shot in assorted different countries, usually this was done in a relatively smooth fashion.  Often, for instance, Spanish shot sequences are just used for some interiors (the head of the secret service talking on the telephone, for instance) and don’t really have much to do with the meat of the narrative.  Alternatively, several actors would be used in both the Spanish and the Italian shoots, allowing for a kind of continuity to be maintained between them.  Here, though, it’s the case that the opening and closing thirds were both shot in Spain, and the only actor who is present in both these and the middle, Italian-lensed section is Ray Danton.  Even Spanish actor Julio Pena, ostensibly the main villain, only appears in the Italian footage, which doesn’t make any sense at all.  This has the unfortunate effect of making the film seem almost like it’s been knitted together from two different episodes of a TV series, a problem which could have been easily avoided if more performers had appeared in both sections.  There’s no reason, for instance, that the characters played by Silvia Solar and Dada Gallotti or Pamela Tudor and Francesca Rosano could have been combined, as they’re almost identical to each other.

But, if this inconsistency is overlooked, it’s a fun film.  There’s a great soundtrack by Carlo Savina, it’s visually interesting, the budget stretched to some additional location work in Lebanon, the pacing holds up and the performances are above average.  Danton models assorted variations on a polo necked theme, while the best performer on show is Marco Gugliemli, a highly underrated Italian actor who never quite got the roles his talents deserved.

With both this and Z7 Operation Rembrandt, Romitelli made a couple of decent spy films, and it’s peculiar that his career was otherwise so limited.  Again according to Savino: “I proposed a director, Giancarlo Romitelli, who had worked as assistant to Luigi Zampa … but he was a liar… at one point I said to him: “We must do just one more week and get it finished, that’s all we need.” The material that we had was good enough, we didn’t need any more. But Romitelli began to object, and snapped: “I’m leaving.” Great. In four days I finished the film myself. For the finale I used a scene which had been shot by Romitelli – “With this we’ll end the first section,” he said, “With this we finish the whole film!””  This interpretation of events, though, only makes matters even more confused, as Romitelli was credited as producer rather than Savino, which would indicate that he was more than just a director for hire.  And on Italian prints direction was credited to Don Reynolds, a pseudonym for Savino rather than Romitelli.

About Matt Blake 889 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

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