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  Top Secret Heating up the Cold War
Year: 1967
Director: Fernando Cherchio
Stars: Gordon Scott, Magda Konopka, Aurora de Alba, Antonio Gradoli, Paco Morán, Mirko Ellis, Pietro Marascalchi, Umberto Raho, Dali Bresciani, Santiago Rivero, Brizio Montinaro, Norma Dugo
Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: American secret agent John Sutton (Gordon Scott) is in Casablanca, on the trail of Von Klausen (Antonio Gradoli): a former Nazi who fled a Russian prison then double-crossed the United States government. Now on the run with documents stolen from both sides. On finding a local informant murdered, John crosses paths with strawberry blonde bombshell Sandra Dubois (Magda Konopka) who turns out to be a rival spy. It happens Sandra is also after the secret files although John remains unsure who she is working for. To find out John turns on the charm, between dodging Nazi assassins but while their attraction is mutual Sandra proves an especially wily foe.

The Cold War struggle during the Sixties kept politicians, military men and more than a few regular folk fretting about global annihilation and the safety of the free world. However just as many found the whole international espionage lark glamorous and sexy. In the post-James Bond climate a slew of sillier spy thrillers sprang up around the world, but especially in Europe, wherein espionage was merely the pretext so debonair heroes and slinky femmes fatale could seduce each other in exotic locations and increasingly kinky fashion. Case in point: Segretissimo which derived its Italian title from the brand name for a line of pulp novels. Released in internationally as Top Secret, not to be confused with the sublime Val Kilmer comedy from the Eighties, the film is an especially charming relic of the Eurospy genre. The poster alone delivers one of the genre's few truly iconic images, recreated subsequently in comic books, magazine spreads and collectibles: a voluptuous swimsuit clad Magda Konopka perched provocatively atop a stool, gun in hand. An image absent from the film itself along with the brief flash of topless nudity present only in the elusive uncut version. Boo and indeed hiss.

Co-written by Tulio Demicheli, later director of the similarly sexy albeit graphically violent Euro-crime thriller Ricco the Mean Machine (1973), and Nino Stresa, Top Secret is certainly not a serious spy film but neither an out-and-out spoof. Fernando Cerchio, an Italian workhorse more at home with historical epics (e.g. Queen of the Nile (1961) or comedy vehicles for local comic superstar Totò, plays John Sutton's espionage antics for straight suspense and intrigue (although the action scenes are undone by their weird stop-then-restart pacing). However the film is littered with amiable, often borderline meta gags as when John is abducted by Nazis dressed as nuns or stumbles onto a movie crew shooting a Eurospy film! Nonetheless the plot is relatively complex for a film of its ilk, satirizing the silly nature of spy games indulged during the Cold War and drawing a parallel between those and the eternal gamesmanship between men and women. The film's tone is strangely prescient of the Roger Moore era Bond films. Most obviously the rivalry John shares with Sandra foreshadows a similar relationship between Moore's Bond and Barbara Bach's slinky Russian spy in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

Something of a romantic comedy as well as a spy thriller, Top Secret centres primarily on the flirtatious tit-for-tat trickery between two likable leads. In his final film, former Tarzan actor Gordon Scott is more debonair and confident here than in his previous Eurospy outing Danger!! Death Ray (1967) while the luscious, statuesque Magda Kanopka upstages even the scenic vistas of Casablanca, Milan and Naples. More importantly her character really gives the brawny hero a run for his money. She undercuts one potentially unpalatable moment when John slaps Sandra by judo-flipping him into a wall and plays the principal role in a lively climax. Music by Piero Umiliani with an infernally catchy: "Dabba-dabba-daa" chorus.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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