Synopsis: A wave of political crimes is washing over South America. Secret agent OSS 117 in charge of cleaning up the affair, is ambushed several times but manages to get rid of the killers on his trail. With a Brazilian woman, Anna Maria, he reaches the Amazon forest where he finds Natives growing a mysterious plant that turns men into killer robots.
eyelights: its Bondian elements. its thrilling action sequences. the epic scenery. the beautiful girls. Iguazú Falls.
eyesores: the music. its tepid finale.
‘Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117’ is the third in the classic Gaumont/André Hunebelle OSS 117 series. Released in 1965, it is also the second most popular of the franchise, after 1964’s ‘Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117‘.
This time, OSS 117 is sent to Brazil to investigate a series of high-profile suicide bombings that involved seemingly hypnotized assassins. Once there he finds a revolutionary group using an indigenous drug to achieve its aims.
Naturally, you can expect a lot of action and adventure.
There are two fairly interesting aspects of this film:
Firstly, they replaced the original actor, Kerwin Mathews, due to his high salary demands, with Frederick Stafford, an Austrian actor making his silver screen debut here, and looking a little bit like Martin Landau in his younger days. Naturally, as with Mathews, he’s overdubbed.
Given that the series was only just getting started, this was a gutsy move on the part of the producers; they anticipated that the character was bigger than the actor who incarnated him. As the producers of the James Bond series have discovered, this does not always hold true.
And how is Frederick Stafford as OSS 117? He’s okay. He’s no worse than George Lazenby was as Bond; he’s relatively good-looking, does action pretty well, …etc. But, anyway, Mathews wasn’t especially magnetic in ‘Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117’, so it’s not an especially dramatic change.
Secondly, the filmmakers of OSS 117 made a clear decision to emulate the James Bond formula in some respects:
- Opening sequence in an exotic locale. CHECK
- Hero who wears fancy suits in almost all contexts. CHECK
- Fancy car. CHECK
- Beautiful, but mostly disposable, women. CHECK
- Gadgets. CHECK
- Mysterious but megalomaniacal villain. CHECK
- Henchman with visible deformity. CHECK
- Villain’s secret hideout manned by dozen of soldiers. CHECK
- Frequent pulse-pounding action sequences. CHECK
- Beautiful vistas. CHECK
- Finale in an exotic locale. CHECK
Sounds pretty generic, but that’s because Bond has influenced all action movies since. At the time, this was a relatively new formula. And you could see Bond creep taking place since the first film.
But take a look at some clearly Bondian moves:
- OSS 117 puts a piece of paper in the door jamb of his hotel room.
- OSS 117 knows his alcohol and turns away some fake champagne (Of course, being Mexican “champagne”, it doesn’t take much of a connoisseur).
- OSS 117 attends the Rio carnival, a festivity rarely captured on screen at that point (and that Bond would attend later).
- OSS 117 goes downhill skiing, then still an exotic sport (that Bond had not yet indulged in).
It’s important to note that ‘Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117’ was released six months before ‘Thunderball‘, with which it has the most in common (the series could also be said to predate the latter’s underwater sequences).
It also has a dock fight sequence that was very reminiscent of the one in ‘You Only Live Twice‘ (except more exciting), which was released in 1967. Clearly, OSS 117 was a close French cousin of the British superspy series.
The biggest problem with ‘Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117’ is that it’s made on a much smaller budget than the Bond films of that era, thereby limiting the scope of the picture on far-reaching levels. And it shows.
But the producers managed to stretch their filmmaking Francs and made the picture look quite good, limited in scope in a ‘Dr. No‘ fashion, but nonetheless with terrific vistas and scenery like ‘Thunderball’ and ‘OHMSS‘.
And they certainly didn’t shy away from action sequences, forcing OSS 117 to fight his way out of trouble as frequently as he had to talk his way out. And, frankly, these scenes were gritty enough to be rather thrilling.
The only exception to this is the finale, which lacks much conviction and left me wanting – largely due to the series’ continued misstep of not incorporating music in their action sequences. Consequently, the ending lacked momentum.
This is a real shame because it wastes one of the world’s most breathtaking vistas, Iguazú Falls. The scene looks amazing, breathtaking, and with such an astonishing backdrop it should have made cinematic history.
It was obviously meant to.
Sadly, it didn’t.
But it’s largely compensated by another sequences in which OSS 117 goes to an office only to find some hoods trying to break open the safe, and then using their torch as a flame-thrower to kill him. It’s quite the fiery spectacle.
It’s ridiculous, but spectacular stuff.
Also on the ridiculous front, there are two sequences early in the film that left me quizzical:
- In the opening sequence, when OSS 117 is skiing, for some reason, another agent crashes into him to get his attention. Was that intended to be funny? Or was it actually supposed to be a coincidence? How could they crash on an empty slope? Didn’t they see each other coming? And if it was intentional… well, WTF?
- Upon his arrival in Brazil, OSS 117 uses a woman and her two kids as cover – before having it blown by another agent. Had he arranged something with the woman, or did he just tag along with them when they hit the tarmac? It’s unclear.
Pretending to be with his family is a good initiative on his part, but I wonder how well thought out it was. I mean, if it was pre-arranged, what becomes of her and her kids after he unceremoniously ditches them? If it wasn’t, why was she allowing this creep to mingle with her and her children?
Look, I’m sure there’s more questionable stuff in the picture than this, but by a certain point I just let myself get taken for a ride, in the same way that I do with the early Bond films. And, in that respect, ‘Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117’ delivers.
I truly look forward to the next entry in the series, ‘Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 117’.
Date of viewing: February , 2016