Monday, June 30, 2014

Danger! Death Ray (1967) – MST3K Review

Professor Carmichael (Tullio Altamura) has created a death ray, which he insists is for peaceful purposes. Of course evil international villains can’t let such a wholesome device go unused, so they kidnap Carmichael and spirit him away to create a death ray that they can use to burn holes in metal doors.

Hot on their heels is super cool, super suave, super keen secret agent Bart Fargo (Gordon Scott). Fargo’s main abilities appear to be failing at post kill quips and shooting cameras with a machine gun. Still, he is a ladies’ man, and he can recognize anyone who has tried to murder him in the past – which turns out to be half of Europe. Fargo travels to Rome, Barcelona and then to a mysterious villa in search of Carmichael. But enemy agents are everywhere, and even the hot babes like Lucille (Delfi Mauro) and Mrs. Carver (Silvia Solar) may be playing for both sides. Does Fargo have any hope of saving the day, bedding the girl and killing the bad guy? Or will he end up burned up into a curly fry by the Danger! Death Ray.

Movie Review:
The name is Fargo. Bart Fargo.
Bond Mania was in full swing in the late 1960s. The year 1967 alone gave us two James Bond films: You Only Live Twice and the parody Casino Royale. But it also unleashed Sean Connery’s brother Neil in OperationDouble 007. Into this maelstrom of spy mania came this fine film, Danger! Death Ray. It seemed like there was another spy knockoff coming out every other week in the late sixties. Every studio felt they had the James Bond formula down and were ready to milk it for all it was worth. Really, how hard could it be? Just grab a guy who looks good in a tux, have him run around with a gun, seducing babes and punching bad guys. Throw in a crazy plot to rule the world and it will all work, right?

But as Danger! Death Ray proves, it really wasn’t that simple. You’ve got to have a lead actor who can pull off the James Bond panache. Scott just doesn’t seem to be the right fit. He looks fine in the tux, but he doesn’t have the smooth charm or the rugged toughness that he was obviously scripted to have. Instead of letting him do his own version of a secret agent, they wanted him to do Sean Connery as 007. It just doesn’t work, especially when the script fails to give him any memorable lines, or any real personality.

Lincoln moves in the for the kill!
Most of the classic Bond films have a classic villain, right? Goldfinger, Largo, Bloefeld, Dr. No. Even Operation Double 007 had Mr. Thayer as a decent antagonist. Danger! Death Ray can’t manage it. We get the evil Mr. Carver (Alberto Dalbes), who is barely in the film. In fact, I had no idea who the ringleader of the plot was until the second half of the movie. Not because of any suspense or tension created by the plot, but because it was so muddled that it wasn’t clear who was running the show. We see a lot of Frank (Nello Pazzafini), but it is obvious he is a henchman. Carver becomes the main bad guy by default, because he is pretty much the only guy left at the end of the movie. We never hear why he wants a dangerous death ray, or why he is so damn murderous, he just is, Ok! Frank at least has a more menacing feel to him, and probably should have been the actual mastermind. Keen eyed fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will recognize Pazzafini. He has been in a ton of films that served as riffing fodder. He usually plays the big bulky guy, but he gets some lines in Cave Dwellers as the leader of the snake cult.

Honey Rider, she is not.
At least the ladies don’t let us down. Silvia Solar heats it up as Mrs. Carver, the seductress who attempts to entangle Fargo, but doesn’t deceive him in the least. While she’ll never measure up to Xenia Onatopp from Goldeneye or Fiona Volpe from Thunderball, she’s not bad. Delfi Mauro plays Lucille as the ditzy artist who runs into Fargo by accident and falls for him completely. She’s cute and perky, and gets naked pretty quickly. So you kinda figure she’ll end up with Bart Fargo at the end.

The score to Danger! Death Ray seems promising at first. It’s got a quirky fun title them with some Morricone inspired female vocals and a jazzy jaunty feel that works fine for an airy James Bond lite film. There is also piece that is a bit more funky jazz that accompanies some of the chase scenes. Mike and bots point out that it sounds a bit like Watermelon Man by Herbie Hancock, and I gotta give it to them. Both pieces are a lot of fun and are actually pretty darn catchy. But they seem to be just about the only two pieces in the whole movie. Because they are so distinctive you recognize them immediately. After you hear them for the 10th time (I’m not exaggerating here) they really wear out their welcome. You start laughing because you can’t believe they are using the same pieces again.

"Das toy boat."
Well even if the music fails, at least there are action scenes. Most of them are your basic fistfights:  nothing terribly exciting. Fargo does participate in a foot chase in the Forum in Rome. There is also a scene where he is chased around an apartment complex. One of my favorite moments is when he tries to sneak into the villa and ends up running into every guard in the place, but manages to knock them all out and stuff them in a closet. His stealth skills are ridiculously honed and that closet must be huge. The finale features Fargo searching the villa for the evil Carver. Armed with a machine gun, Fargo shoots and shoots and shoots his way to the secret lair. The villa is filled with hidden machine guns and cameras, but Fargo has no problems with them, as long as he gleefully blows them all away.

But the highlights of the action scenes in Danger! Death Ray are the vehicle sequences. There is a daring escape by helicopter, a submarine rendezvous and a spectacular car plummet from a high cliff into the ocean. Sounds great. Except all of these are executed with miniatures and models. All of them are done with low quality models, hell, I’ll be honest here. They look like toys. None of the scale works. The submarine looks like it was filmed in a bathtub, and the car crash is hilarious. The low budget certainly shows in this film.

"Oh no, Danger! Death Ray is on. I hate that movie."
But a low budget shouldn’t excuse bad writing. The plot is really a mess. Moments of comedy are clunky at best. There is no motivation for the characters. The villains do things for almost no reason at all. Bart Fargo just kind of wanders into plot points when he needs to. It really feels like this whole production was rushed, especially when you see the ridiculous editing of the final shot of the movie. Honestly did anyone care how this looked, or were they in such a huge hurry to cash in on James Bond that even a completely botched edit would make the cut?

There is enough ineptitude on display to make this film worth watching for bad movie fans. The scenes with the miniature vehicles are laugh out loud funny. Some of the dubbing and dialogue is extremely poor. Some lines are just nonsensical, or delivered in ways that just runs counter what you are seeing on screen. In the scheme of things, I’ve seen worse 007 rip offs, but Operation Double 007 is a masterpiece compared to this. The important question is, just how much fodder does Danger! Death Ray offer to Mike and the bots? The answer is, more than enough.

Episode Review:

Peacefully blowing up doors since 1967.
The 60s spy genre can be a rich bounty for MST3K, and they proved this with the hilarious riff on Operation Double 007. They also tackled a movie called Secret Agent Super Dragon, but that riff wasn’t quite as good. Frankly the movie is pretty dull, and that didn’t help matters. Both of those were Joel episodes, so it was time for Mike to step up, and Danger! Death Ray gives him just about all the riffing fodder he could want. The movie is watchable, but it is also ridiculously bad at times, and they boys have a blast with it.

Things get off to a great start with the opening credits. As the catchy theme song plays for the first time, Mike and the bots dance in their seats to it. As it leads up to the distinctive chorus of “Bup bada da da da”, they will stop in mid-riff so they can sing along. Tom really gets into it of course. Later when they hear the other piece, they do a similar riff where they sing Watermelon Man no matter what they are saying at the time. But as the movie continues the boys start to lose patience with the repetitive tracks. They start to dread them, and there are some very funny riffs on the music near the end.

"Bart has no quip for this touching moment."
Bart Fargo provides plenty of laughs. First off his name is just too easy to mock. He gets all kinds of creative nicknames. They also start making fun of the simple fact that he can’t deliver any quips or jokes. There are plenty of opportunities for Fargo to deliver a pithy line, but most of the time he just stands there looking a bit lost.

Mike and the bots have lots of fun with the concept of creating a death ray for peaceful purposes. Tom wants to know " the horrible types of peace they can wage with this Death Ray." They also start mocking the movies ineptitude with plotting and pacing. Crow observes that it "was an interesting choice to have no suspense in this movie". 

Then of course the boys just have a blast with all the silly shots of models attempting to pass as actual vehicles in Danger! Death Ray. Crow just starts giggling uncontrollably when the helicopter takes off, and says, “Special effects by Billy!”. When the submarine shows up, Mike says, “The ocean is beautiful in this part of the tub.” He also warns the sailors not to climb up the ladder or they might turn into action figures.

Crow is peacefully on fire.
The host segments are a mixed bag this time around. It starts off with Crow showing off his new contact lenses. These suckers make his eyes super red and watery. I always get a kick out of this, especially since I wore contact lenses for about 15 years. Frank decides to be a talent agent, and is high powered and fast-talking and wants to represent Crow! Dr. Forrester is not amused, especially when Torgo shows up for representation. At the first break Tom makes his own Death Ray, for peaceful purposes. And then he just blows away Crow, because, well you know, how can you help it when you have a death ray? When we come back Tom attempts to act as a host to This is Your Life Mike Nelson. But only Crow and Gypsy will appear on the show and ends up falling apart. The next host segment features Crow showing off his new line of Italian inspired sunglasses for men. They look a little more feminine than Tom and Mike are expecting. After the explosive finale where Bart Fargo blows away all the cameras, poor Cambot is emotionally scarred and wont’ stop crying. Mike and bots try to cheer him up, and read some fan letters.

Danger! Death Ray is one of my favorite episodes of season six. The movie is wonderfully bad, the riffing is really hilarious and the whole crew seems to be at the top of their game. Only some weak host segments keep this from being a top tier episode. When it comes to James Bond rip off riffing, this is the one to seek out. Just beware of that catchy theme music.

I give it four death rays out of five, but only used for peaceful purposes.

And now enjoy the music of Danger! Death Ray.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI


  1. I missed this one both in its own day in the theater and on MST3K.

    I was wary of Bond knock-off films in the 60s (and since) after having suffered through the painfully dreadful Matt Helm movie "The Silencers" in which the ONLY bright spot was Stella Stevens, who was watchable in spite of the script. To my amazement, that movie was a hit and spawned sequels, all of which I have avoided to this day, despite the oddity of Sharon Tate's presence in one.

    There are several genres of bad movies that I love to watch straight up, but I don't think I'd face this flick without the 'bots out front as shields.

    1. Yeah, I think you may be right. Even with the toy special effects scenes, I can imagine parts of this film being a real slog. Mike and the bots are always a solid defense.

  2. "so it was time for Mike to step up, and Danger! Death Ray gives him just about all the riffing fodder he could want"

    But... Mike was the writer (or head writer) for all those Joel eps. Bapadapadada.

    1. Very true. I meant that it was time for Mike to get to riff on a spy film for the first time on the screen. It is funny that I often think about the hosts getting a crack at something - when in reality they were all working on the project from nearly the beginning.

      This episode has become a summer favorite at our house. Whenever the weather gets hot, it is time for "Danger Death Ray". I have no idea why. :)