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  Code Name: Alpha Put away that train set, you're a grown man
Year: 1965
Director: Ernst Hofbauer
Stars: Stewart Granger, Rosanna Schiaffino, Horst Frank, Paul Klinger, Margit Saad, Sieghardt Rupp, Helga Sommerfeld, Franco Fantasia, Harald Juhnke, Chitra Ratana, Paul Dahlke, Suzanne Roquette
Genre: Thriller, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Quite how the F.B.I. could investigate a case outside their jurisdiction is a mystery unanswered here but that is what happens when two agents are found dead on a park bench in Hong Kong. Torn away from his electric train set (?) smooth-talking F.B.I. agent and silver fox Michael Scott (Stewart Granger) deduces a jewel-smuggling ring are responsible. Paired with comely female agent Carol (Rosanna Schiaffino), Scott arranges for her to infiltrate the gang, a task that pains him since she is so terribly attractive. Carol goes to work as a secretary for Pierre Milot (Sieghardt Rupp) who seemingly runs the operation but is in fact merely the lackey to a mysterious crime boss. Aided by local bureau man Norman (Paul Klinger), Scott tries to catch the crooks and keep Carol safe from harm.

A West German-Italian Eurospy thriller, Das Geheimnis der drei Dshunklen had its title changed to Red Dragon for its American theatrical release but eventually reached video under the alias Code Name: Alpha. Possibly to avoid being confused with the Thomas Harris novel that spawned two Hannibal Lecter movies. By the mid-Sixties ageing matinee idol Stewart Granger was struggling to find his place in a fast-changing Hollywood that no longer produced the swashbuckling fare with which he made his name. So Granger shifted his base of operations to West Germany were he remained a box office draw in Karl May westerns (Amongst Vultures (1964), The Oil Prince (1965), Old Surehand (1965)), Edgar Wallace krimis (The Trygon Factor (1966)) and of course the Eurospy craze (Target for Killing (1966), Requiem for a Secret Agent (1966)) launched in response to the global mania for James Bond.

Introduced sitting on the floor in a bath robe, puffing a cigarette holder and playing with an electric train set, Granger's Michael Scott comes across a more playful hero than Bond. Debonair certainly but often bemused, he treats this whole spy business as a bit of a lark. Granger appears to enjoy this rare chance to showcase his comic side. His first meeting with Rosanna Schiaffino as Carol takes place in a bar where he gallantly intervenes when she is accosted by a drunk only to get punched in the gut. Whereupon Carol casually judo-flips the guy. While the action is sluggish, the editing choppy and the plot too leisurely for its own good, the central relationship packs a fair amount of charm. The gentlemanly Scott is as keen to keep Carol safe as he is to crack the case but, while appreciative, she proves herself capable and resourceful. In its brighter moments their genteel banter recalls the playful relationship between Steed and Cathy Gale although the film is nowhere as progressive as The Avengers.

Though far from gritty the film is not especially campy either. Ernst Hofbauer, who went on to direct the vast majority of the Schoolgirl Report sexploitation comedies, confines the action to the third act and avoids car chases, gadgets or outlandish death traps. Whether by accident or design the film gives us something closer to actual espionage work presenting characters that observe, investigate or interpret intel. The plot breaks into two strands. One follows Carol undercover as she attempts to sneak information back to Scott while avoiding the suspicion of female conspirator Blanche (Margit Saad) and the lechery of Pierre and his brutal henchman Pereira (Horst Frank). The other, jokier half centres on Scott's misadventures through Hong Kong with wacky sidekick Smoky (Harald Juhnke). Comedian and singer Juhnke essentially fulfills the same function as Eddi Arent in the Edgar Wallace thrillers, suggesting German film fans could not get enough of this bumbling comic archetype. Smoky is supposed to serve as Scott's interpreter but in a running gag none of the Chinese characters understand what he is saying. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the film provides a neat snapshot of the then-British colony though the casual colonial racism rankles. Ultimately, this is less like your usual outlandish, action-filled Eurospy romp and more like a throwback to B-movies of the Forties. As such viewers will either find it something of a trial or else charmingly quaint.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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