Directed By: Ralph Thomas
Starring: Richard Johnson, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina
Tag line: "For Hire: Deadly Weapons! - Blonde, Brunette, Redhead"
Trivia: In a later interview, director Ralph Thomas said that the movie was made with the intention of kicking off a TV series
Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, World War One veteran and self-proclaimed adventurer, is a fictional character created in 1920 by British author H.C. McNelle, and like most popular literary heroes he eventually made his way from the printed page to the big screen (the earliest movie to feature the character, the appropriately titled Bulldog Drummond, was released in 1922). Deadlier Than the Male was the 22nd Bulldog Drummond film, but the first produced in the post-James Bond era. Hoping to duplicate the cinematic success of Ian Fleming’s super spy, the creative minds behind this 1967 movie decided to give ‘ole Hugh Drummond a makeover, taking what had been a rough and rugged adventurer and transforming him into a suave ladies’ man whose skills as an investigator would give 007 himself a run for his money.
Two oil company executives have died under mysterious circumstances, and Hugh Drummond (Richard Johnson), am Insurance claims investigator for Lloyds of London, wants to know what happened to them. While Drummond is busy piecing together clues, several more businessmen turn up dead, and it isn’t long before he himself becomes a target. To Drummond’s surprise, a pair of gorgeous female assassins, Irma (Elke Sommer) and Penelope (Sylva Koscina), are responsible for all of the murders thus far, and with the help of his nephew Robert (Steve Carlson), Drummond learns that the girls’ next intended victim is King Fedra of Akmatan (Zia Mohyeddin), an old college chum of Robert’s who, at present, is vacationing on his yacht in the Mediterranean Sea. Should Fedra die, the world’s oil supply will be controlled by only a handful of men. The question is: which of these powerful magnates hired Irma and Penelope to do his dirty work for him?
Released less than two years after Thunderball (and a few months before You Only Live Twice), Deadlier Than the Male is a straight-up Bond clone, borrowing many of the elements that made the 007 series popular with its fans. In addition to an exciting pre-title sequence (where we witness the death of the first executive, who is killed on his private jet) and a very “bond-esque” theme song (performed by The Walker Brothers), Deadlier Than the Male has plenty of action, some nifty gadgets (though the coolest, including a bullet-laced cigar and a life-sized computerized chess board, belong not to Drummond, but the criminals), and a highly-skilled hero who never loses his cool (as Drummond, Richard Johnson pulls off the seemingly-impossible task of making an insurance investigator as cunning and debonair as one of her Majesty’s top agents). And like all Bond films, Deadlier Than the Male is chock full of attractive women (Sommer and Koscina may just be the most beautiful assassin team in cinematic history).
The movie does falter a bit in the final act (the chief villain’s identity is revealed far too soon, forcing the filmmakers to put him in more scenes than they should have), but as Bond-inspired pictures go, Deadlier Than the Male is the most entertaining I’ve ever seen.