Joan Crawford has five minutes of Man from UNCLE fame…
A feature film made from a two parter TV episode, with the added bonus of this Golden Hollywood star.
(1967) The Karate Killers, MyDeathlok
For 1967’s Ed Wood Memorial Award for Most Gratuitous Use of Stock Footage in Film and TV, this must go to the film The Karate Killers (1967) or as its otherwise known, The Five Daughters Affair part 1 and part 2 (1967) on TV. This the sixth film of The Man from U.N.C.L.E film franchise, which I’ve just discovered consisted of films made up from double bill episodes from the series, but with the bonus of added guest stars and more footage.
A review of a movie from this film franchise has been on the back burner since starting this blog. This film series was a favourite of my dad’s and one which I enjoyed watching as a kid. This a film series we watched in its entirety with no complaints. I ended up having a bit of a crush on Robert Vaughn who played the American spy, Napoleon Solo. I’d even had thought about writing Jimmy Saville’s Jim’ll Fix It (1975-2007) to meet Vaughn and the man who played his Russian U.N.C.L.E. sidekick, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). I was that obsessed.
So after not much persuasion, I went back to this show set in the swinging sixties for my entry for the Joan Crawford Blogathon. This despite my (half-hearted) protestations that Crawford starred in this film for about five minutes. The Man from U.N.C.L.E was a cold war spy series with Vaughn as the American suave, womanising Solo and McCallum as the more trendy Russian partner, but rarely getting the girl. It spawned a reunion movie in the 1980s and a one series wonder with the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. series with Stefanie Powers as that girl, April Dancer. Before you ask, U.N.C.L.E stands for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
Guest stars for this show included a future TV bromance pairing with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, long before in their future Star Trek (1966-69) roles. With other Star Trek names, James Doohan and Ricardo Montalban also appearing in episodes. Other names included Eve Arden, Joan Collins, Richard Kiel, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Leslie Nielsen, Eleanor Parker, Vincent Price, Kurt Russell and Rip Torn.
Where James Bond had Blofeld and SPECTRE and, this espionage pair had THRUSH as their greatest threat. Not the disease, you understand. The reason for this name or acronym never divulged on the TV or in the cinema. The links with James Bond not ending there, with Bond creator Ian Fleming contributing his ideas to this spy series with him creating the Napoleon Solo character. The 1980s reunion film also had a cameo from George Lazenby as an agent known as JB. Also spotted in the The Karate Killers, you’ll recognise two of the actors who played then future James Bond baddies, but here in good guy, supporting roles. Along with one actor that should have been a James Bond bad guy. With his role here, the perfect audition for this coveted part.
Also like Bond the pair have their M figure with Alexander Waverly (Leo G Carroll), as the head of U.N.C.L.E. But here with his dollybirds aplenty. The pair also have handy gadgets with weapons masquerading as apparently normal everyday items in their possession. The series also had an “innocent” character, joining the agents in each of their storylines. This character added so the audience had someone to identify with, a trope similarly used by Doctor Who‘s assistant. With this character, Sandy in The Karate Killers helping explain the most crucial parts of the plot to anyone and everyone and also seen as an annoying woman who gets taken under the wing of Solo and Kuryakin and is kidnapped by the bad guys.
The Karate Killers starts with a shoot up between men in matching suits manning gyro-choppers with missiles (as also seen in You Only Live Twice (1967), thanks Darlin Husband) and those U.N.C.L.E. agents. Solo shooting at them from the passenger seat with his wingman, Kuryakin in the driving seat. Kuryakin wisely drives into a tunnel. They escape unscathed of course and then travel on to see a scientist, Dr True (Jim Boles) who has discovered how to turn sea water into gold. This leading to his untimely death and an explosion, as he dies he tells the U.N.C.L.E. guys his daughter is the key to finding the formula.
Joan Crawford appears in her all to brief role after this scene. In her role, she steals the movie as in her five-minute cameo she showcases all her acting talents. Crawford is Amanda, True’s widowed wife and now spurned lover of Randolph (Herbert Lom). It turns out she had a torrid affair with Randolph, a THRUSH agent and apparently honey pot (did I really use the words honey pot to describe Herbert Lom?). This just so he could find out the formula for making gold. With Amanda an unwitting accomplice in her husband’s death. She feeding him what she believed were multivitamins. Randolph on discovering she’s rumbled his evil plot has his band of killers, those dudes in matching natty suits – for every occasion – close in on her.
The U.N.C.L.E. espionage pair now on the case, find out that the Trues had a daughter between them, Sandy (Kim Darby) and Amanda had four daughters, Dr True’s stepdaughters. Sandy is now an orphan with her mother’s body found dead. With the help of Solo and Kuryakin, Sandy tracks down all her sisters to find the formula. Which would have been a fun reboot for Hannah and her Sisters (1986), but I digress. With Sandy tracking down three of her step-sisters (the mystery of the fifth in the title never explained) found here, there and everywhere. Each step-sister has a photograph of their stepfather with a snippet of the formula written on it.
So onto Italy where one daughter is found trapped naked in an attic (with a mere cushion covering her). Solo gallantly handing over his jacket (after some prompting). She was locked there by her Italian Count husband (Telly Savalas). Another daughter (Jill Ireland) is being charged with indecent proposal in a London Court where she falls for the Constable (Terry Thomas) who arrested her. This playing out like a Carry on movie. The last daughter in Switzerland, where she’s in love with married man (Curd Jurgens). With these tales played like a wee portmanteau of stories within a the bigger storyline of a worldwide crime caper. With a shed load of stock footage.
Once these photos obtained, the pair along with Sandy take off on the U.N.C.L.E.’s plane, and are promptly taken hostage by Randolph and his buddies. These men leaving the aeroplane after the plane takes off, with Randolph and the Karate Killers escaping by parachutes. Meanwhile the U.N.C.L.E. agents and Sandy are tied up and left in the plane which is headed for the ground…
The plot kinda reminiscent of a Dick Emery film, OOH…You Are Awful (1972), but with the formula collected via photographs and not by checking out the deceased man’s girlfriends bottoms (but to make a crucial bank account number). However Sandy and the U.N.C.L.E. agents are caught up with by the dastardly Randolph and his henchmen when they visit each daughter. As usually those darn U.N.C.L.E. boys getting there first, this leading to a Key Stone cops fight and good conquering evil before moving on to another country and daughter.
This film is a more fun. almost tongue in cheek Bond parody. With all apparently enjoying the silliness of this plot, but this let down by those slapstick fight scenes. With some great hammed up acting appearances from some big names, it’s a TV treat. It also has a groovy disco late sixties scene with a band singing their wee hearts out. With Every Mother’s Son’s singing Come on Down to My Boat. You almost expect to see Michael Myers as Austin Powers in the middle of the dancing action. Instead there is Herbert Lom in a Trilby ( which he wears at all times), which looks as out-of-place as your granddad appearing at your school prom. Lom looking at his most evil with his motivation for being there, to procure some gold rather than showing his best moves on the dance floor.
I adored Herbert Lom as the bad guy, and it was fun seeing him as the brains behind the bad guys. With his brawn his bunch of henchmen. Lom was a delight as he explained his outlandishly evil and twisted plots to Crawford and those U.N.C.L.E agents. With his performance as the ringleader reminiscent of a James Bond bad guy . I think he would have been a worthy Blofeld opponent in those Bond films.
I’ve preferred him in more recently found film appearances rather than his role in those irritating Pink Panther films. His scene with Crawford was the best piece of this film. and I really wish there had been more of this double act. With the actor quite evil making his role in The Ladykillers (1955) seem like a more charming psychopath in comparison. However he was a cunning adversary, but a wee bit inept always appearing late on the scene. Also his plane escape by parachute, not really making much sense. As Darlin Husband pointed out it would have made more sense for him to keep the plane and push out those agents.
The henchmen’s roles in matching attire had Darlin Husband noting with amusement that their themed attire changing with each of their scenes. Their roles non speaking made it more amusing with their roles humour derived from their slapstick comedy. With these scenes reminiscent of the Adam West Batman series.
Vaughn did surprisingly not get a romantic interest with any of the sisters in this film (i’m sure James Bond would have bedded them all) was a wee bit of a surprise. Especially after reading the plot and its premise of this film. This was made up for in another film in this series, The Spy with My Face (1965) which boasted two Robert Vaughns playing a bad guy from T.H.R.U.S.H. and Solo from U.N.C.L.E. However it was nice to see Savalas camping it up with his Italian Count – complete with accent – and Jurgens hamming it up wearing one of those Christmassy themed jumpers. The innocent character – a trope often used in this series – fell on the role of Sandy who I found quite irritatingly asexual, with not a glimmer of chemistry with the leading men.
Following this, there were James Bond bad guy roles for Jurgens and Savalas, Lom’s delightful Henry Wootton in Dorian Gray (1970) and much, much more great film and TV for leads Vaughn and McCallum. As for Joan Crawford, I heard her 5 minutes of Man from U.N.C.L.E fame resurrected her career, rather than gave it the chop.
Weeper Rating: 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Trailer: Yes, Joan Crawford on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. set.
Joan Crawford On The Set Of “The Man From UNCLE” (1967), TheConcludingChapterofCrawford
This film review was added to Pale Writer 2 and The Poppity‘s Joan Crawford: Queen of the Silver Screen Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Robert Vaughn in S.O.B. and The Towering Inferno. Leo G Carroll in North by Northwest. Herbert Lom in The Secret of Dorian Gray and Asylum. Telly Savalas in The Cartier Affair and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.