Saturday, July 24, 2010

Scorpions and Miniskirts (Spain/Italy/W. Germany, 1967)

First off, I'd like to welcome all of you folks who typed the words "scorpions" and "miniskirts" into Google -- while at the same time assuring you that we have a strict "no questions asked" policy here at 4DK regarding what strange predilections bring our visitors to our door. We're just happy to have you.

Seriously, though, you don't have to be a clammy-handed pervo (not that I'm judging) to be drawn to a film with the title Scorpions and Miniskirts. In fact, all you really need is the cognitive ability to register the title Scorpions and Miniskirts and utter the phrase "fuck yes". That said, I have to tell you that Scorpions and Miniskirts was not the title to which this particular film was born, but is instead a more grindhouse-friendly rechristening of a Eurospy film that originally bore the English title Death on a Rainy Day. However, if that still seems too good to be true, proof that the film was marketed under the Scorpions and Miniskirts moniker comes from a no-less reliable source than YouTube:

And it has to be said that the title Scorpions and Miniskirts, at once so generous in spirit and self-effacingly reductive, is much more in keeping with the general good nature of the final product than the more melancholy sounding alternative. Simply listen to Piero Umiliani’s characteristically boisterous score for the film (shaba-daba-doo-wahhhhh!) and you’re sure to get the idea.

Then again, whether you share in that good natured spirit depends a lot on how high your tolerance is for outrageous levels of sexism and xenophobia. In effect, the short version of Scorpions and Miniskirts would consist of a smarmy European in a crisp suit doing the Twist to snazzy lounge jazz while intermittently stopping to alternately shoot an Asian person or slap a woman on the ass. If the movie had come out in the present day, it would no doubt come across as a merciless parody of the empire-minded chauvinism of the original Eurospies -- much like Michel Hazanavicius’s recent OSS 117 films -- but, as is, I’m afraid it’s the genuine article, copious evidence of tongues planted firmly in cheek aside.

On a more carefree note, while freighted with some of the more unseemly prejudices of its age, Scorpions also testifies to the jet-setting, internationalist aspirations of its time, doing so in a manner that only an Italian/Spanish/German co-production about a pair of French secret agents partially filmed in Hong Kong and New York can. The first of those agents is horny, happy-go-lucky spy guy Paul Riviere (Adrian Hoven), who we initially meet when he bursts out of a coffin in the middle of a funeral and, for reasons that are never established, guns down all of the mourners. A helicopter then arrives to airlift Paul, still in his coffin, and deliver him to the office of his long suffering superior (Gerard Landry). From there he is dispatched to help out his pal, also horny and happy-go-lucky fellow agent Bruno Nussak (Barth Warren), who at the moment is being pinned down by a gang of heavily-armed Asian hoods –- again for reasons that are never established.

With this first group of pesky Asians out of the way, and with scant preface, Paul and Bruno then merrily set off to rescue Bruno’s latest fling, Leila Wong (Lilia Neyung), who, as we will soon see, has fallen into the clutches of the evil Dr. Kung (George Wang), the leader of an ancient, world domination-seeking Chinese sect known as the Red Scorpion. Said rescue is effected by Paul and Bruno popping up in the sect’s secret lair at an opportune moment, disguised as members, and engaging Kung’s monk-like minions in a drawn out punch-up, without us being any more the wiser as to how they managed to breach the presumably heavily guarded hideout in the first place. (Paul later tosses off a reference to having followed Leila’s captors inside.)

As you may have guessed by this point, Scorpions and Miniskirts does not exactly place a premium on plot. What there is of one is so vaporous that to even call it thin would be over-generous. As indicated above, major story developments happen off-screen, while our heroes are busy engaging in protracted fist fights and episodes of serial sexual harassment, only to be dealt with later on with a line or two of throwaway dialog. Thus is the film liberated from the tiresome demands of narrative and instead simply allowed to be a parade of leering sexual shenanigans and cartoonish violence (the latter of which our heroes take to with a characteristic movie spy unflappability, rendering them a preposterous combination of adolescent distractibility and ruthless, superhuman efficiency).

The great whats-it in this case is a flask of perfume containing a sample of human RNA, which the Scorpions hope to use to somehow brainwash the American Secretary of Defense into provoking a third world war. (Look, that’s what they said.) Said flask had previously fallen into the hands of a since-murdered colleague of the two French agents, who, in an attempt at subterfuge, had sent identical looking flasks to an assortment of beautiful women located in various parts of the world. This necessitates that Paul and Bruno travel to each of these women’s locations in order to determine who among them is in possession of the real deal, in the process assembling a harem that they cart along with them like chattel as they traverse the globe. Needless to say, many stewardesses, cocktail waitresses and micro-dress wearing nurses are groped along the way -- though, to be fair, a running gag is made of Paul’s inability to actually bag any of these babes, as his thuggishly blunt seduction methods see him constantly losing out to the comparatively suave, less hands-y Bruno


Director Ramon Comas is clearly attuned to the utter ridiculousness of all that’s described above, and imbues it with an appropriately giddy pace and hyper-real color palette –- while at the same time delivering some inspired flashes of trippy, psychedelic style that, in combination with the film’s frequent instances of light S&M, make the end product seem kind of like a Jess Franco movie with all of the boring bits taken out. For me, this makes the film very hard not to like, despite all of its shortcomings. Helping further is the fact that Scorpions and Miniskirts is so obviously twisting itself into pretzel shapes in order to be as aggressively absurd and flat out stoopid as possible. Witness, for example, the early fight scene in which a grenade blast leaves nothing left of a trio of the Red Scorpion Sect’s minions but three perfectly minion-shaped holes in the wall.

The strangest moment in Scorpions and Miniskirts comes during its finale, as Paul and Bruno are racing to prevent Kung and his goons from completing their attack upon the visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense. Interspersed with this mad scramble are news broadcasts comprising archival footage of Robert McNamara –- the actual Secretary of Defense at the time, as well as the widely reviled architect of the Vietnam War -- mixed with footage of a vaguely similar looking actor delivering scripted lines. Of course, the super agents ultimately succeed in foiling the scheme, and, rather than spouting the hate-filled call to arms that the dastardly foreigners had planned for him, McNamara, one of the late 20th century’s most notorious warmongers, instead delivers a message of peace. Personally, I think they should also have put a miniskirt on him, as that’s the only way the situation could have been any more implausible.


dfordoom said...

It sounds absolutely wonderful. I want a copy.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

The last two movies I saw were Night of Horror and Death Machines, so the idea of a giddy pace sounds especially attractive to me.
What will they think of next - movies that show more of people than their backs!?

Todd said...

I know, right? Scorpions, miniskirts, and no impossibly long scenes of tedious mumbled exposition by two anonymous guys in an underlit bar. It's almost too good to be true.

Keith said...

I have a little tear in my eye

Todd said...

It's just that good.

Intellectual Man Of Mystery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.