eyelights: the setting. its basic premise.
eyesores: Kerwin Mathews’ performance. its lack of excitement. its déjà-vu quality.
‘Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117’ is a 1964 motion picture based on ‘Lila de Calcutta’, Jean Bruce’s 74th OSS 117 novel. It is the second in the Gaumont series of OSS 117 films. For the movie, the action is transposed from India to Thailand. It opposes OSS 117 against a criminal organization developing a virus to thin out the human population.
It begins on a very familiar note for those who have seen ‘OSS 117 se déchaîne‘, with a fellow agent mowed down in Bangkok, and OSS 117 being sent in to investigate the matter. Similarly, he quickly scopes out a spy upon his arrival at the airport, and an eavesdropping secretary in his Bangkok contact’s office (He must have watched ‘Dr. No‘ before leaving…).
Much of the picture consists of OSS 117 meeting with various suspects, getting into fights, and connecting the dots, much like Bond did in ‘Dr. No’. Except without the girls and gadgets.
The only real gadget is a book-shaped transmitter that rings his cigarette pack, which he leaves with his Thai assistant, and a brainwashing machine that the villain tries to use on him. As for the girls, there are two women in this film and OSS 117 doesn’t bed either of them – although he tries to. Unlike the first film, or 007, his charisma isn’t to be taken for granted.
I sort of liked that he doesn’t quite emulate Bond. He has his own style, for good or bad. Except that it’s disappointing that he’s not suave: He’s more Dean Martin than Sean Connery.
However, it’s interesting to note that, like 007, OSS 117 can be callous here: Seeing that he was being followed, he paid his taxi driver to keep going without him, aware of the danger The poor man got mowed down, but OSS 117 just shrugged it off knowingly. I’m not sure whether the producers were intentionally trying to echo Bond or if it was in the novel. But yikes.
They also try to establish OSS 117 as a marksman right at the onset, making a smiley face on a target, as he’s practicing in his office. Except that it doesn’t serve any real purpose afterwards.
But what’s most disappointing is Kerwin Mathews’ performance here. Although he mouthed his lines in French this time, he seemed to be asleep at the wheel; he utterly lacked conviction. It’s strange, because he had leading man qualities in the first one, but here he softens completely transforming OSS 117 into a second-rate character who just happens to be playing the lead.
Speaking of casting, the filmmakers made a choice that is typical of the era, but which is still annoying: using Caucasians to play other races, as is the case here for Dr. Sinn and his sister Lila.
I’m not sure why this is the case, especially since they’re both major characters: OSS 117 (feebly and unconvincingly) battles wits with Dr. Sinn and also attempts to woo Lila despite her protests. The pair show up at a ball, OSS 117 visits the doctor under the false pretense of seeking therapy, goes on dates with Lila, gets kidnapped by the Sinns and winds up fighting one and saving the other.
They’re significant, so why this poor casting?
I’m also curious about the filmmakers’ decision to leave action sequences silent, as they did in the previous film. It seems second nature to have music to amp up the action, but not here. The perfect example of this is a boat chase down the river, as OSS 117 escapes his captors: without the music, it feels completely static, unenergetic. And yet there’s speed and gunplay.
But it’s super dull.
Similarly, the ending consists of a series of small explosions blowing up the villains’ compound – but, without an exciting score to give the sequence gravitas, it mostly falls flat, limp. It’s an unusual choice because it’s not like they don’t use music the rest of the time: there’s a score that mixes exotic and jazzy motifs to set the tone of the picture. And then it goes silent.
It’s a darned shame, because ‘Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117′ had the makings of an action masterpiece: it has an insidious masterplan, brainwashing, double-crossing, murder, explosions, …etc. Sadly, it lacks excitement. Blame the music, blame the editing, blame Mathews’ lackluster performance, blame the direction, if you must. But, somehow, it just doesn’t come together at all.
The setting looks nice, though, and I really do like the basic premise. I could see a remake of this work even with modern audiences. I mean, ‘Banco à Bangkok…’ isn’t necessarily a bad film. In fact, it was more successful than its predecessor, and was a big hit even in India. But, in my estimation, it’s drab. And you can rarely say that about Bond, even on his worst adventures.
Date of viewing: February 15, 2016