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  Our Man in Marrakesh Spies, lies and sexy thighs
Year: 1965
Director: Don Sharp
Stars: Tony Randall, Senta Berger, Terry-Thomas, Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Grégoire Aslan, John Le Mesurier, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Emile Stemmler, Helen Sanguinetti, Maria Rohm, Burt Kwouk
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Shortly after his henchmen stab a tourist in a crowded street market in Marrakesh, evil assassin Jonquil (the ever-oily Klaus Kinski) snaps a few photos of some new arrivals in town, including mild-mannered tourist Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall), glamorous Kyra Stanovy (Senta Berger), salesman Arthur Fairbrother (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and tour operator George Lillywhite (John Le Mesurier). One of these visitors is the courier of some mysterious documents eagerly sought by Mr. Casimir (Herbert Lom), a criminal mastermind whose sexy girlfriend Samia (Margaret Lee) was spying aboard the same bus. Jessel checks into his hotel room only to find the dead man in his closet. Whereupon Kyra arrives, claiming the victim was her fiancé and that his criminal family want to frame her for his murder, although she does not seem too upset about his death. She somehow convinces a smitten Jessel to help dispose of the body, then drags him on an outlandish adventure as they are pursued by Casimir’s murderous minions.

As the James Bond craze swept the globe throughout the Sixties, almost every international star got their chance to play a super-spy, including... Tony Randall?! Whilst the perennial third wheel in all those Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies and later sitcom star of The Odd Couple might not sound like the most credible action hero, he actually acquits himself very well. As the exasperated Andrew Jessel, Randall bumbles amiably into one fine mess after another and though initially appearing out of his depth, comes to display the guts and vigour worthy of a secret agent.

In a sense the tone is not far removed from Alfred Hitchcock’s proto-Bond thriller, North By Northwest (1959), wherein outlandish circumstances prompt pampered ad executive Cary Grant to pull off a similar transformation. Proving the perfect foil is the lovely Senta Berger, a staple of spy films from the ridiculous (The Ambushers (1967)) to the sublime (The Quiller Memorandum (1966)). She gives a terrific comic performance, doing a variation on her stock ambiguous femme fatale persona. As she leads Jessel on a merry dance, we are never quite sure whether she is friend or foe. Indeed every character, including our hero, is somewhat shifty and potentially not what they seem which, unusually for a comedy, keeps viewers on their toes.

Not quite a spoof, but hardly a serious spy thriller, Our Man in Marrakesh (also known as Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!) was produced by that globe-hopping emperor of exploitation: Harry Alan Towers. Despite the low regard in which spy comedies are commonly held by critics, this ranks among his more lavish and coherent efforts. A lot of that is down to reliable director Don Sharp who, having earlier helmed The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) for Towers as well as the Hammer horror Kiss of the Vampire (1962), exhibits his skill with suspense sequences including a chase across the rooftops and the climactic shootout. His visual flair is also in evidence, notably the film’s most iconic shot which frames Randall between Margaret Lee’s sexy thighs!

While Towers devised the story under his usual pseudonym of Peter Welbeck, the film was scripted by Peter Yeldham who also penned the first and best of the producer’s three versions of Ten Little Indians (1965), another offbeat spy comedy in The Liquidator (1966) and the late period Michael Powell film Age of Consent (1969). Yeldham devised some witty lines and clever comic sequences and if the plot seems impenetrable at times, the stellar cast imbue proceedings with great charm. Veteran scene-stealers John Le Mesurier and Wilfrid Hyde-White trade sardonic barbs whilst Margaret Lee, another spy film regular, transforms the stock villain’s bimbo girlfriend role into something surprisingly memorable. Keep a lookout also for a young Burt Kwouk and lovely Maria Rohm, a.k.a. Mrs. Towers, in the opening scene. The film continually subverts expectations as with the warm friendship that blossoms between Jessel and Achmed the truck driver (Grégoire Aslan) who risks his life helping the imperilled couple, and also a surprise appearance from Terry-Thomas as an Eton educated Arabic bandit slyly named El Kahid (“They used to call me the oily cad!”) who proves instrumental in saving the day. The whole thing is Sixties fluff at its most lovable.

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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