After the inventor of a much sought-after anti-radar device is stabbed to death in Cairo, two nations send their top secret agents to investigate. From Britain comes swarthy, macho agent 006 Frank Smith (Alberto Lupo). Arriving in Egypt his suspicions fall upon an array of shifty characters, not least creepy hotel manager Kemp (Ivano Staccioli). By far the biggest shock for Frank comes when he meets his American counterpart, the glamorous, quick-witted and capable 008 a.k.a. Macdonald (Ingrid Schoeller).
Gasp! A female super-spy? In an Italian exploitation film from the Sixties? Yup, going against the tide of misogyny sadly common in much of Italian genre cinema this jazzy, snazzy Eurospy outing casts the smart, sexy and formidable 008 not as a decorative sidekick but the lead. Which would be surprising enough were this not also an early effort from Umberto Lenzi. Yes, the same director that could not go five minutes in any of his later Euro-crime flicks, like Violent Naples (1976) or Rome Armed to the Teeth (1976), without showing some woman being brutally gang-raped. The guy that had Zora Kerova strung up with hooks through her breasts in Cannibal Ferox (1981). That Umberto Lenzi. Generations of Euro-horror fans came to regard Lenzi as a hack on account of his slapdash zombie and cannibal films yet back in the Sixties he made a string of accomplished thrillers.
008 Operation Exterminate allows us a glimpse of Lenzi's rarely indulged, playful sense of humour (his script sports a neat line in amusingly arch banter) while his skillful compositions showcase some exciting action and suspense sequences. The patchwork plot, often hilariously contrived, is hard to follow even in the international version that switches from an English dub to the original Italian. Yet the story is of less importance here than the style and thrills of which there are plenty. Lenzi may not have had the budget allotted to a James Bond film but that did not stop him filming in some stunning locations. The Egyptian backdrop with its bustling bazaars and swanky, smoke-filled nightclubs adds an undeniable exotic appeal and makes the film a snapshot of an era when Cairo was a hot-spot for the international jet-set rather than political unrest. Among the memorable action sequences is a uproarious fight at a beauty salon where Macdonald punches and shoots her way through an array of glamorous evil agents posing as clients and sprays the odd unfortunate with her tear gas-spurting lipstick gadget.
German actress Ingrid Schoeller essays an appealing action heroine, one that does not rely on a big, strong man to bail her out of a jam. Mere moments after arriving on the scene Macdonald fights off a henchman with a dart-shooting metal claw (Sal Borghese). Nevertheless most of the male characters are pretty patronizing to Macdonald including the friendly Egyptian police commissioner (Omar El-Hariri) who sneaks into a dressing room to catch her in a racy corset. But that was par for the course in 1965. Schoeller graced in a handful of Eurospy films and made the odd guest star stint on TV shows like The Saint with future 007 Roger Moore and I-Spy, which means she met Bill Cosby. Yikes! Interestingly a lengthy segment with Macdonald and Frank stranded in the desert prefigures a similar sequence in the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). An additional Roger Moore connection appears when the camera clocks Frank's poolside reading material: Ian Fleming's Live and Let Die (1973).
The action shifts abruptly to the snowy alpine scenery of Switzerland for the last fifteen minutes including a visit to yet another nightclub for yet another musical interlude. We end on an outrageous twist ending that makes not a lick of sense but provides a rather sweet coda to Frank and Macdonald's amiable romance. Which leaves 008 Operation Exterminate, for all its plot flaws and silliness, truly among the most enjoyable Eurospy films.
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.