[30 June 2014]
When asked in an interview about his devotion to the Wrong Man Theme, Alfred Hitchcock explained it this way: “If (the protagonist is) being chased by enemy spies or by the heavy in the picture, the first thing the audience would ask is, why doesn’t he go to the police? Otherwise you have no chase story. How do you do that? You make him wrongfully accused.”
Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!, however, serviceably directed by Don Sharp, goes in for a wry twist on the Wrong Man Theme. Rather than wrongfully accusing its protagonist straight away, it allows Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall), an American businessman in Marrakesh under slightly false, though not diabolical, pretenses, to be willfully misled out of the goodness of his own heart.
Well, maybe it’s something more primal than his heart’s kindness. Maybe it’s the raw power of sexual attraction. After all, once he becomes entangled in the plight of beguiling Kyra Stanovoy (Senta Berger), a self-professed journalist who is necessarily not what she seems, he repeatedly catches her lying to him and openly acknowledges his willingness to believe those lies, marking him less as wrongfully accused than amorously idiotic.
Disembarking at the Marrakesh Airport, Andrew meets Kyra aboard a tourist bus, and when he mistakenly gets her room key at their hotel and happens upon a dead body in the closet, she asks him to help hide it. How can he not acquiesce? She’s beguiling! So the plot, as pointless as it is considerable, primarily existing to place its main characters in comic peril, begins.
The body, it turns out, was planted by the villainous Casimir, waiting on a courier with $2 million who plans to buy secret documents to swing a United Nations vote. Casimir is played by Herbert Lom, made famous as the spectacularly perturbed Commissioner Dreyfus in Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther films. Thus, the character seems readymade to crack up once Andrew inadvertently comes into possession of the secret documents. Instead, he maintains a curious chill, as if playing a real heavy in a real movie.
This idea is underscored by the presence of Klaus Kinski as one of his henchmen. Kinski also appears to be playing for real, shooting at Andrew to kill, not to miss as so many Movie Henchmen do. You wonder if he thought he really was in a Bond movie, or if he simply decided, as Kinski often would, to go rogue. Ultimately intention doesn’t matter, merely adding to the film’s curious tone, one that is neither uproarious nor urgent, a languid fusion of The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Man Who Knew Too Little.
Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! is a re-release on the Olive Film label, presented via DVD and Blu Ray as is with no additional commentary tracks or behind the scenes footage. This presentation allows for a modern viewer to approach a somewhat forgotten film, one met with seeming indifference upon its release, with an unencumbered perspective. The original theatrical run was 1966, in the midst of the James Bond craze, smack dab between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, but a year before Casino Royale, the ill-fated attempt to spin the story of Agent 007 into straight satire. And while it is nowhere near vicious enough to be considered satire, something a little invective still pokes through the surface.
Writing a blurb on the film for AllMovie.com, Hal Erickson reckons that it helped kill the movie career of Randall. Consulting Randall’s acting canon backs up this assertion, but then maybe Randall was never meant to be a movie star. In Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! he often comes across like a star for the little screen overwhelmed by the scope of the Big Screen, a Felix Unger-type trying out unsuccessfully for Her Majesty’s Service.
Consider the moment that finds he and Kyra attempting to flee their pursuers by convertible through mountainous terrain. The car breaks down. He opens the hood, uselessly inspecting its innards, knowing nothing of car repair. Then a local truck driver (Gregoire Alsan) helpfully passes by and helpfully offers them a lift and helpfully proceeds not only to offer to smuggle them out of the country and into Algeria but to turn up with a band of countrymen to save them both at the conclusion.
In other words, for technically being the hero, Andrew Jessel is surprisingly short on heroism, mostly bumbling headfirst into sticky situations and conveniently having others bail him out.
Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! seems intent on proving that when it comes to being an international spy, any idiot Yank would be the wrong man.