OSS 117: MISSION FOR A KILLER. Valoria Films, France/Italy, 1965. Embassy Pictures, US, 1966. Originally released as Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117. Frederick Stafford (Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117), Mylene Demeonget, Raymond Pellegrin. Based on the novel Dernier quart d’heure by Jean Bruce, his 44th OSS 117 book, published in English in 1965 under the title Live Wire (UK) and The Last Quarter Hour (USA). Directed by Arthur Hunnebelle.

   This third outing in the series of OSS 117 films in the Sixies features Frederick Stafford (Topaz, 1969) as Hubert Bonisoir de la Bath, OSS 117, the American CIA agent created by popular French journalist and former Resistance fighter and FFI agent Jean Bruce.

   Unlike most of the briefly popular Eurospy genre that followed in the wake of the James Bond craze, the OSS 117 films were mostly expensive productions in the Bond mode, this one filmed on location in Brazil and with some sets and big action scenes rivaling a James Bond film of the era.

   Hubert (Frederick Stafford) has been called off his vacation because of a series of terrorists acts in South America. A journalist in Rio de Janero has information leading to a mysterious group that is using some unknown drug to turn innocents into deadly killers, and it is the job of OSS 117 to contact him and follow the clues to the plans of these dangerous assassins.

   The usual beautiful women and dangerous games follow, handsomely shot in Eastmancolor with fine cinematography in Francoscope, the French equivalent of Cinemascope and thanks to the Bruce novel, the story is loosely based on a more cogent plot than most Eurospy films could manage. The budgets and production values far exceed the George Nader / Jerry Cotton films or the Joe Walker / Kommisar X films, much less the various films starring Roger Hanin, Ken Clark, German Cobos, Ray Danton, Gordon Scott, Brett Halsey, or Anthony Eisley to name a few.

   Stafford, who was wooden in Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz, is relaxed and playful in his first outing as Bruce’s dashing agent who had previously been played in two films with Kerwin Matthews and would be played one more time by Stafford before a final outing with John Gavin in the role.

   Of course when OSS 117 reemerged in the 21rst Century it would be in the person of Jean Dujardin in two brilliant spy comedies that recreated the look and feel of the original films, but with Hubert something of a sexist dunce whose 1950’s early 1960’s Playboy lifestyle sensibility is clashing with a changing world. In addition the two Dujardin films turned Hubert into a French spy, rather than the Louisiana-born Creole aristocrat CIA agent of the books.

   Aside from the novels by Jean Bruce, OSS 117 was successful in comics and other mediums in his long run though the books never did well here (two were published by Fawcett Crest in the Sixties). There were more published in England, but still Hubert never saw anything like the same success in English as he had on the Continent.

   It should be pointed out that however much this series of films was influenced by the success of the Bond films, OSS 117 himself was created in 1948, and had a five year run before 007 made his debut in Casino Royale in 1953. In addition the first OSS 117 movie appeared in 1957 well before Dr. No in 1962.

   Desmond Cory’s Johnny Fedora also beat Ian Fleming and Bond into print by five years, as did several other post war spies including Burke Wilkinson’s Geoffrey Mildmay (Proceed at Will, Run Mongoose) and Sea Lion’s Desmond Drake (Damn Desmond Drake), the influence for all for all but Wilkinson being Peter Cheyney’s well received “Dark” series of spy novels written during the war and even praised by Anthony Boucher, who wrote the introduction to the omnibus edition of the books.

   It was simply an idea whose time had come and Fleming was best positioned with a mix of style, panache, war time experience, and luck to cash in. He was of course a better writer than all but Cory (Shaun McCarthy), and a more serious one than him, plus Fleming kept an eye out for the American market from the start even if it took time to crack it.

   The parallels between Fleming and Bruce are still notable both in the numeric identification of their heroes, their war time intelligence ties, both men being journalists, their legendary drinking and womanizing, and both dying in 1964 at relatively young ages (Fleming of a heart attack, Bruce in a wreck in his beloved sports car). And like Bond, Bruce’s creation lived on as a sort of family cottage industry.

   Arthur Hunnebelle (Fantomas) directed this one which finds Hubert teaming with beautiful Mylene Demeonget and hostage of a supervillain who plans nothing less than taking over all of South America by assassinating the current leaders and creating a new super power and world order dedicated to harmony and peace, and if murder and torture are what it takes to achieve that end,..

   Eggs cracked and all that.

   The finale is a battle with Hubert and a handful of allies and natives who the madman has enslaved and experimented on shooting it out in a jungle mountain fortress before the arrival of the Brazillian army by parachute (in a scene mindful of the similar arrival of the cavalry in Thunderball) and a final confrontation between the fleeing villain and Hubert over a vast waterfall as he rescues Demeonget.

   It’s all nonsense, but by the standards of the Eurospy genre as spectacular as the then contemporary Bond films if lacking some of the narrative drive and those pulsing John Barry scores — and of course, Sean Connery.

   The five Sixties films are worth seeing still (available in a boxed set on DVD), and by all means the wonderful Jean Dujardin films, OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, and OSS 11:7 Lost in Rio (DVD and Blue Ray). The 1957 film is available in French on YouTube, OSS 117 is not Dead with Ivan Desny. A couple of other non-OSS 117 Jean Bruce books into films are also out there and available on YouTube including Mission to Venice with Sean Flynn and ex-OSS 117 star Kerwin Matthews as The Viscount, a suave insurance investigator.


OSS 117 is not Dead (1957) Ivan Desny (B&W)
OSS 117 is Unleashed (1963) Kerwin Matthews (B&W)
OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok (1964) Kerwin Matthews
OSS 117 Mission for a Killer (1965) Frederick Stafford
OSS 117 Mission to Tokyo (1966) Frederick Stafford
OSS 117 Double Agent (1968) John Gavin
OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies (2006) Jean Dujardin
OSS 117 Lost in Rio (2009) Jean Dujardin