A millionaire in the oil industry is conducting business on his private jet plane when the stewardess murders him with a bullet hidden in a cigar, sets up a bomb and skydives out the door, leaving the evidence scattered to the winds in the explosion. Then, with an accomplice, she shoots a businessman at his home by the sea. This woman is Miss Eckman (Elke Sommer), her partner in crime is Penelope (Sylva Koscina), and they're working for a mysterious mastermind who is trying to take over the oil industry. Insurance underwriter Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (Richard Johnson) is brought in to investigate the suspicious deaths, and it's not long before he is caught up in an international conspiracy, with his own life at stake...
One of the biggest movie series in sixties was the James Bond adventures, which naturally led to a host of imitators who all tried to replicate the success by sticking as close to the 007 formula as they could without being sued. Deadlier than the Male, written by Jimmy Sangster, Liz Charles-Williams and David D. Osborn from Sangster's story, took the British 1920s hero Bulldog Drummond and updated him so much that he no longer resembled his original incarnation, but was Bond in all but name, with the bevy of beauties from many nations, cynical quips and two-fisted violence. And a few gadgets, for good measure.
As Drummond, Johnson is smooth enough, but it's the baddies you'll remember. Sommer and Koscina make a formidable team; in echoes of Dr No, they emerge from the sea Ursula Andress-style, only here you get two for the price of one (the film makers like this shot so much that they repeat it with two different actresses later on). Their modus operandi is to dazzle their victims with their feminine charms then move in for the kill, leading to such bizarre sights as Sommer seducing Leonard Rossiter. Anyone who gets in the way of their boss's greed to succeed in the oil business finds that their days are numbered.
It's a battle of the sexes throughout, as the women and men try to get one up on each other; unlike the Bond films, there's no main, romantic subplot. The attitude to sex can be summed up by the shot of Drummond's nephew Robert (who's American to appeal to the transatlantic audiences) apparently lying under an amorous Koscina, only for the camera to pull back to reveal that he's tied up and she's torturing him. Koscina is great fun in this, clearly relishing her borderline nympho, bad girl role.
Deadlier than the Male grimly adheres to the Bond template, making it look as if it's more interested in hitting all the right clichés rather than coming up with something original. It goes through the motions until the twist about an hour in, whereupon the action livens up, with its supercriminal employing a staff of smashing birds and one burly Chinese henchman, and toying with Drummond's life instead of doing the sensible thing and shooting him as soon as possible. A game of chess on a grand scale is a highlight, and the way that Drummond beats the baddies is amusing, even though it depends more on luck than ingenuity. If you can make it through the plodding plot of the first two thirds, then your patience will be rewarded. Music by Malcolm Lockyer, and the theme song is performed by the Walker Brothers.