Monday, January 23, 2012

Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang (1966)

I've been hunting for this film for years, despite not having an affinity for the spy genre. In my opinion, this is a genre dominated by a character whose initials are three numbers and who introduces himself by his last name, then his first name, and then his last name, again. I'm a huge fan of super-sexy double agents and super-cool spy gadgets, but in all truthfulness, it's hard for me to get excited about this cinema. Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang (1966) has been recently released on DVD by essential DVD label, Wild East, in a double feature with Alive or Preferably Dead (Vivi o, preferibilmente, morti) (1969). Both star Giuliano Gemma and both are directed by Duccio Tessari. Kiss Kiss, in particular, reunites many of the participants from two Euro-Western masterpieces, A Pistol for Ringo (Una pistola per Ringo) (1965) and The Return of Ringo (Il ritorno di Ringo) (1965): director Duccio Tessari, actors Giuliano Gemma, Nieves Navarro, and Lorella De Luca, for example, producers Luciano Ercoli and Alberto Pugliese, and writer Fernando di Leo (who pens Kiss Kiss with Tessari and Bruno Corbucci). These participants are also why I've always wanted to see Kiss Kiss. Wild East has made it possible. Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang, finally, isn't just a spy's a spoof.
Kirk Warren (Gemma) is in prison about to be executed at the gallows when he receives a last second reprieve by a British colonel with the Secret Service. The Secret Service wants Warren to steal a secret formula from a vault in Switzerland before the nefarious Mr. X gets his hands on it. Once Warren gets his hands on the formula, he attempts to sell the formula to Mr. X for a large sum while humorous events accompany the would-be transaction. The Secret Service, of course, isn’t happy about this, either.
I think deep down I wanted Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang to be more like the Ringo films in a spy setting. I knew that screenwriters di Leo and Corbucci could pen a smart aleck character like Ringo, Nico Giraldi, or Johnny Yuma, for example, who always has the upper-hand on the big guys, despite being poorly resourced and underestimated. To some extent, Gemma's Kirk Warren is a character of this mold but unfortunately, Gemma's character seriously yields to the spy plot--such as a meticulous plan to enter into the Swiss vault and its execution to the myriad double crosses at appointed meetings that result in action sequences. The comedy, above all, dominates and above all, it is very hit and miss. When I take a step back and think about it, I'm almost certain Gemma and Tessari wanted a break from Western cinema. In addition, I don't think that Ercoli and Tessari minded having Navarro and De Luca, respectively, on the set. Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang is light entertainment and seemingly intended to be so.

Kiss Kiss has a lot of big set-pieces in international locations like London, Switzerland, and Rome, for example, but the best moments of the film feature Gemma with the actresses. In a ridiculously human touch, after his reprieve, Warren makes his way to the home of Hilary Shakespeare (Nieves Navarro). Spending quite a few months in prison has made him randy. Navarro giggles a little bit at his reprieve but is more than willing to go to bed with him. Before getting into bed with Shakespeare, Warren tosses his hat at the rack across the room. He completely misses the rack and the hat falls to the floor. Super-cool spy could probably make the shot, but Gemma's character doesn't care: he just wants to get laid. Likewise, when Gemma's Warren attempts to negotiate with Mr. X, he meets Lorella De Luca. She's a cute and bubbly wannabe spy who takes almost every moment to catch Gemma off his feet to shower him with kisses.
Most of the action sequences involve some serious slapstick comedy. For me, I will admit, I have to been in the mood to watch this type of comedy. It gets tired after a few minutes. There is only one super-cool spy gadget and it's a gun that shoots a gas which incapacitates its victim by inducing a laughing fit. If it sounds weird, it's because it is. Gemma uses the weapon, once, and it's not that important. Tessari's compositions are really playful and contribute to the film's loose vibe. Had there been something just a little compelling within Kiss Kiss, then maybe it would be more successful.
Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang is one of those real cult films that would have completely disappeared had Wild East not released it on DVD. It's an important film for serious students of the genre for the participants and, of course, for the seriously curious. For all others, the two classic Ringo films are more than adequate substitutes.

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