Saturday, May 4, 2013

"O.K. Connery": Your Kid Brother Is No James Bond

Gliding into the sparkling blue waters surrounding the glitzy principality of Monaco is the yacht of a man known as "Mr. Thayer" (Adolfo Celi). He's a mysterious, silver haired gent who sports a monocle and more colorful caftans than Liberace and TV's "Maude" combined. He's attended by an adoring female crew who not only steer his boat, but massage his beefy frame and recline nude so he can watch movies projected onto their backs.

Mr. Thayer (AKA "Beta") is an arch villain up to no good and he possesses all the latest techno-gadgets. That's how he was able to drive an empty car into a light plane from the comfort of his yacht, causing a fiery explosion. While EMTs doused the flames, his cohort Maya (Daniela Bianchi), disguised as a bee keeper, swiped the TOP SECRET STUFF the now dead pilot was carrying without anyone being the wiser.

Obviously the free world isn't safe with the likes of Mr. Thayer running around. Bringing him to ground sounds like a job for Agent 007, the man with a license to kill, the ultra suave James Bond...except he's busy at the moment. So what's the free world to do? Pass the job onto to ZOWIE operative Derek Flynt? Contact ICE's Matt Helm? See if Modesty Blaise has an opening in her schedule?

Hey, how about drafting 007's kid brother for the job? Sure, he's a plastic surgeon by trade, but he's also a whiz at archery, hypnosis and lip reading and he's giving a lecture in Monte Carlo as we speak! He'd be perfect!

Not.

"Operation Kid Brother" (AKA "O.K. Connery", 1967) is a wacky, pop art attempt to make a  James Bond movie without James Bond. Or, to be precise, without Sean Connery, the actor who originated the Bond role and remains the best secret agent the movies ever had.

 Inexplicably, the producers of this hard-to-find flop were convinced Sean's legions of loyal fans would stampede to the theaters to watch his real life kid brother Neil play secret agent man. His last name was Connery too, right? They even larded the flick with every 007 feature known to mankind: flashy European locals; a throbbing theme song (bleated by a gal named Khristy); a mysterious arch villain; a secret organization bent on world domination; a cunning plan to destabilize the world's monetary system; a stolen nuclear warhead; the unflappable head of British Intelligence furrowing his brow; nifty (well, not that nifty) spy gadgets; and a bevy of female extras who dress like Phyllis Diller and do their best to entice and distract the hero from his appointed rounds. How could they miss?

By quite a lot, actually.

Let me put to you it this way: your dentist's brother may be a great guy, but that's not reason enough to trust him with removing that impacted molar if your dentist isn't unavailable. Merely assuming that Connery lineage is qualification enough to helm a big screen spy caper is equally dunder-headed thinking. Although every effort is made to prop Neil up (even Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell show up), the poor guy just can't act. He's not movie star material. He's nice looking (although Lois has the nerve to complain that he's not as good looking as Sean), but he's WAY out of his depth here. And while that's bad news for Neil, it's great news for bad movie fans who can sit back and hoot as "Operation Kid Brother" stumbles, fumbles and bumbles its way across the silver screen.

The fun begins with Neil (who sports a goatee and a dubbed voice) giving a demonstration in Monte Carlo about his super plastic surgery techniques. Not only have they rebuilt the face of a Japanese lass named Yachuco (Yachuco Yama), they were achieved by using a special Tibetan hypnosis trick. This impresses the assembled doctors to no end--until Mr. Thayer's goons burst in (pretending to be reporters) to start a brawl, all the better to snatch Yachuco.

Why Yachuco? Well, remember that plane that crashed earlier in the flick? Well, the pilot was Yachuco's fiancee'. Turns out he was also a protege of Dr. Neil's and had secretly implanted some TOP SECRET STUFF for safe keeping in his gal's subconscious--WITHOUT TELLING HER. Not really nice, when you think about it. Anyway, Mr. Thayer wants that info, thus he needs Yachuco. And because Neil is the only one who can tap into Yachuco's mind, British Intelligence insists he help out--especially after Mr. Thayer's goons (assisted by a Rosa Kleb-type evil nurse) kidnap Yachuco from her supposedly safe government hide out. Connery isn't too happy about this, mind you, ("I have patients waiting!" he fumes) but being a secret agent does have its perks--like the constantly reappearing Mildred (Agata Flori), who keeps asking Neil to help her find stuff and then gets all kissy-face to "reward" him.

"Operation Kid Brother" suddenly takes a break from this diverting action and introduces viewers to the evil super group "THANATOS", of which Mr. Thayer is a charter member. This collection of meanies is headed by a gent named "Alpha" (Anthony Dawson, the bad guy in "Dial M For Murder"), who's face is frozen into a perpetual thin-lipped sneer. THANATOS plans to disrupt the world's financial markets, steal a nuclear warhead and unleash a weapon that renders all the world's metal devices useless. Ambitious fellows. Unfortunately, Mr. Thayer and Alpha hate each others' guts. This is abundantly obvious when Thayer turns up at a regularly scheduled THANATOS meeting three minutes late and Alpha appears ready to strangle him. In fact, the flamboyantly clad Thayer plans on replacing Alpha as the head of THANATOS, he just needs to figure out how...

Meanwhile, poor Yachuco is being tortured by a Grateful Dead lights show at some remote villa. Never fear, Neil, Lois and several other agents are on the scene, dressed in bib overalls and straw hats. After disabling the villa's electric fence, the operatives storm the grounds like Hee Haw commandos and free Yachuco. Neil promptly hypnotizes her and she begins repeating all the TOP SECRET STUFF Mr. Thayer was so anxious to get his paws on. While Connery takes notes, Yachuco is unexpectedly gunned down by Neil's make-out partner Mildred who, in turn, is gunned down by a British team mate of Neil's. After all Yachuco has suffered of late, death was probably a blessing.

Moving right along, it turns out Mr. Thayer wants Neil to perform plastic surgery on one of his goons, turning him into the double of the sneering Alpha. That way he can take over THANATOS and nobody would know. Neil, a decent fellow, refuses. However, once he's captured posing as a blind Arab in one of Mr. Thayer's rug factories (which is actually weaving nuclear materials, not wool), the jig is up. This leads to Neil hypnotizing the goon...into beating the daylights out of Mr. Thayer. This he does, although Thayer manages to slip away amid the chaos of a mutiny on his boat. Seems that Mr. Thayer's female crew, headed by the groovy Maya, side with Neil when they learn their years of loyal service are to be rewarded with a mass execution at sea. Under those circumstances, it's easy to understand why the gals beat Thayer's male henchmen to a pulp without breaking a nail or a sweat.

As all secret agent spy movies must, Neil and Mr. Thayer square off in an underground lair with the clock ticking and humanity moments away from...something. Using his archery skills, Neil puts Mr. Thayer out of his misery and earns the love of every extra on screen. That includes the rehabilitated Maya, who is now Neil's grateful cuddlemate. The world safe and secure once again, Neil, Maya and the all female crew sail away on Mr. Thayer's yacht and into the setting sun.

The novelty of "Operation Kid Brother" is 007's own kid brother, Neil. I don't know what kind of relationship the Connery siblings enjoyed or how Sean felt about Neil's foray into movie making, but the younger Connery is a total wash out as an actor. Stiff as a board and cursed with a face as expressive as a crash test dummy, Neil trudges through this flick with the air of a man who has resigned himself to a long, long wait at the DMV and knows there is nothing he can do about it. Instead of appearing unflappable, you wonder if the guy is breathing. Even the colorfully attired Maya (who shows up for one scene in a pink and lavender dress with a white fur picture hat and an enormous muff) can't raise his temperature--or his pulse. Luckily, Neil took the hint and never made a movie again.

Another curiosity about "OKB" is Mr. Thayer's army of starlets. The arch villains of the 1960's were never short of young dollies eager to work for them--just how did they swing that? Did the arch villains advertise in the "Help Wanted" section of the newspaper? What kind of salary and benefits did they offer? Did the Mr. Thayers of the world make their female cohorts sign confidentiality agreements? Did super villains insist on conjugal favors from all their female staff? Was there an age and weight requirement? Could you keep the clothes? Although the gals were slavishly loyal to their men, the villain's weren't loyal to their female employees. Thayer was ready to blow the lot of his sweethearts up without so much as a backward glance. Really, for all the supposed "glamour" of the job, being an arch villain's female cohort was about as much fun as working retail (and I've worked retail, so I know what I'm talking about).

In the end, "Operation Kid Brother" joined a surprisingly long line of James Bond rip-offs that left movie audiences seriously under whelmed. Other folks who tried and failed to make the secret agent cut included Vince Edwards, Stewart Granger, Mike "Mannix" Connors, Tom Adams, Ray Danton and, of course, Neil Connery. In the end, only one actor really had the goods to play James Bond: Connery. Sean Connery. And don't you forget it!