At a Japanese toy factory, someone is creeping around and immobilising the security guards with a dart gun, the effects of which induce instant rigor mortis in its victims. As the guards are picked off one by one, the mysterious assailant makes their way to the room containing the factory's safe and breaks into it, stealing a doll that says "mama". Shortly after, a policeman spots a figure climbing up a hotel wall, apparently carrying a baby - this is a job for Inspector Hoku Ichihara (Zero Mostel), Japan's greatest detective. Or it is if he stops his meditation for long enough...
Poor old Mastermind didn't have much luck as a film, having been made in 1969 with a release date (and copyright date) of the following year but ending up sitting on the shelf for years instead. It eventually turned up on occasional television showings before a belated home video appearance, but by that time its day had long gone and it was simply a relic. Despite the credits proudly proclaiming that it was filmed entirely in Kyoto, I can't imagine Mostel's starched eyelids and Charlie Chan delivery impressing many even back in 1970.
It's odd, because the other Japanese characters are played by genuine Japanese actors, so why the throwback to casting that was pretty out of fashion, to put it kindly, even by the standards of the day? Not that there is much approaching a funny line - the only chuckle comes when the Inspector fails to disguise his eagerness to interrogate his not-quite girlfriend and nightclub owner Nikki (Keiko Kishi) and then has to cover up his enthusiasm. He has an English sidekick called Crouchback (Gawn Grainger) who either sets him on the right path or exasperates him, too.
Every so often, Ichihara will go into a reverie, supposedly evidence of his superior intuition, but actually an excuse to get Mostel dressed up as a Samurai and pretend to be in the Japan of centuries ago. The characters of the present turn up in these visions, and in between fending off hordes of attackers he will enjoy a revelation about the case. That case is all about the android the toy company was developing under the eye of Klaus (Herbert Berghof), a German genius who is very protective of his Schatzi.
Schatzi being the little android, played by Felix Silla, best known for being Cousin Itt in the Addams Family television series, or Twiki in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century series. Not that you would recognise him from those, but here you get a chance to see what he looked like when his face wasn't hidden by a costume. He has a bizarre fight sequence with Mostel where he emerges the victor after throwing the portly actor across the room, not that this is any funnier than the rest of the film. To liven up the ending, there is a sprightly chase scene with Mostel and Grainger in motorcycle and sidecar pursuing the villain, though this is all so convoluted that the actual revelation of what has been going on is anybody's guess as to what it means. Music by Fred Karlin.