Die Roten Tiger, the seventh and final Kommissar X film, appears to be the most neglected and hard to find entry in the series. I’m not even sure if, like the other films, it was ever dubbed into English, but, if it was, I certainly couldn’t find evidence of it. This state of affairs left me, after a long period of resistance, at the mercy of the untranslated German language version most commonly found on the collector’s circuit.
Of course, it being a Kommissar X movie, language comprehension was fairly inessential to understanding Die Roten Tiger’s plot. As with previous installments, once its exotic location was established, events followed along a fairly rote trajectory. That location, in this instance, is Lahore, Pakistan, with a detour into Afghanistan for the film's action packed third act. The corresponding need to throw a sop to South Asian audiences sees Pakistani star Mohammed Ali cast in the role of a heroic police superintendent, along with a part for his wife Zeema, a star of equal luster who was often cast opposite him in Urdu language films. (In fact, there is a Pakistani cut of the film, under the title Tiger Gang, in which Ali and Zeema are given greater prominence, and which also features traditional Lollywood style musical numbers.) Of the series’ constants -- and in addition to stars Tony Kendall and Brad Harris -- we have German hyphenate Theo Maria Werner, a producer of the six previous Kommissar X movies who’s here credited as a writer. As for director Harald Reinl, he is new to the franchise but not the territory, having directed three of the Jerry Cotton Eurospy films and a fair share of Krimis.
Die Roten Tiger (which includes among its known aliases FBI Operation Pakistan and The Red Tiger Gang) sees heroes Joe Walker and Tom Rowland on the trail of the titular Red Tiger, a ruthless gang of heroin smugglers lead by a mysterious, unseen Mr. Big. Harris’s Rowland arrives in Lahore after the assassination of an Interpol agent, only to find Kendall’s Walker already there investigating another murder that appears to be related to the case (I think). The usual “meet cute” follows, with the two characters’ jokey antagonism toward one another being broad enough to transcend any language barrier. The two then set about finding the murdered agent’s secretary, Jackie Clay, who, being played by Kommissar X series veteran Gisela Hahn, is key to this operation for being leggy and blonde at the very least.
As is so often the case, whatever it is that Walker and Rowland are looking for, we soon know that they are on the right track from the fact that everyone is trying to kill both them and anyone who talks to them virtually all of the time. A helpful morgue attendant is blow-gunned by a hit man masquerading as a corpse, a gift is made of an exploding book, a cobra is hidden in Joe Walker’s bathrobe, and Walker later has a narrow scrape with a truck loaded with barrels of Explodium. All of which is to say that this movie is as gleefully dedicated to nonstop action at the expense of plausibility as any other Kommissar X film. The only downside to this is that director Reinl consistently chooses to speed that action up, giving the finished product a sort of unwelcome Keystone Cops vibe. Thankfully, he compensates for that by providing a generous showcase for Brad Harris’s ample skills as a stuntman and screen fighter, staging a series of extended and particularly bone crunching brawls in which the actor gets to show his stuff.
Stylistically, Die Roten Tiger is unmistakably a film made in the 1970s. Kendall and Harris are both modishly shaggy haired and look like they stepped out of a period Van Huesen catalog. Series mainstay Francesco De Masi’s score, though still swinging, has an undeniable “me” decade, easy listening vibe to it. Still, as much as I miss the mid-century trappings of the earlier films, I can’t say that this one’s aesthetic really clashes with the sensibility of the series overall. The caddish Joe Walker, in particular, seems like a character made for the 70s -- a man whom, had society condoned it, would have been flaunting it in loudly patterned shirts unbuttoned to the navel long prior. I also have to say that it was refreshing to see the Kommissar X series’ colorful, swinging style set against the backdrop of the Muslim world, as, were it a Western film made today, it would undoubtedly have been shot through a yellow filter that made everything look sun bleached and set to a score of mournful Arabic wailing.
Given its apparent stepchild status, I was a little surprised by how much Die Roten Tiger conformed in spirit to the other Kommissar X entries. True, like Three Golden Serpentsbefore it, it does venture a bit farther than its predecessors into hard exploitation territory, especially in terms of gore and violence. A couple of documentary style sequences depicting the horrors of drug addiction -- including some very graphic and realistic shots of needle injection -- in particular clashed jarringly with the surrounding, more lighthearted material. Even so, the franchise’s trademark self parodying humor and sense of absurd fun was enough in evidence to establish the dominant tone, leaving the viewer with an impression of the film being far more of a care free romp than a stone cold bummer.
Sadly, due to reported rights issues, Die Roten Tiger won’t be among the excellent series of Kommissar X DVDs currently being issued by Koch Media. This fact does not, however, quell my hope of one day finding an English friendly version. When that day comes, I’ll be sure to amend this review for inclusion in Teleport City’s comprehensive survey of all things Joe Walker and Tom Rowland related. Until then, consider this a place holder.