Thursday, July 13, 2017
A MAN CALLED DAGGER (1968)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
The explosion of the superspy genre gave rise to dozens of transitory flicks seeking to coast on the meteoric success of the James Bond franchise. Most of them are resoundingly mediocre, but if I catch even the cheaper Eurospy films when I'm in the right mood, they have a modest charm, as seen in these two quirky products. However, had I desired to find the decade's most charmless spy-flick, it's probably the American-made A MAN CALLED DAGGER.
Directed leadenly by Richard (STUNT MAN) Rush, DAGGER feels like it was the product of writers who were trying to duplicate the major appeals of the Bond films but had never actually seen one of the pictures. Agent Dick Dagger (Paul Mantee) tries to project an insouciant air, and he comes armed with a few gadgets (an infrequently-used laser beam in his wristwatch supplies the film's only marvelous content). Three or four gorgeous ladies swarm around him, anxious to give evidence as to the superspy's enormous animal magnetism. There's an evil mastermind with some sort of vague world-conquering plan, and he's even served by a hulking henchman, played by Richard Kiel, who would later take on the original superspy in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. But the attitude of the director and the scripters project an utter lack of interest in their material. They were just going through the motions, and didn't care who knew it.
Though Mantee makes a drab secret agent, the film's biggest problem is unquestionably the casting of Jan Murray-- a comedian whom I personally never found funny even in outright humorous works-- as the mastermind Koffman, who was a former Nazi officer but somehow can't put across a decent German accent. I've forgotten Koffman's master plan, though it involved turning human beings into packaged meats. Koffman spends most of the film in a wheelchair until the end, where he suddenly gets out of the chair in order to fight Dagger. Just as he can't come up with a decent master plan, he can't contrive a believable reason as to why he stayed in a wheelchair most of the picture. Murray plays the role in a hammy fashion, perhaps under the impression he was doing some sort of "camp."
I can't think of any good reason to watch A MAN CALLED DAGGER unless one happens to be interested in seeing a particular actor or actress.