During the 1960s, the spy genre was in full effect with James Bond leading the way, but that did not stop other studios from trying to copy its success. One of those films would be Deadlier Than the Male, a British effort starring Richard Johnson, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina and Nigel Green. Johnson would portray Bulldog Drummond, an already established character originally created by H. C. McNeile back in 1920 and who would go on to feature in numerous novels and films by various writers and directors. It would not be the last time the classic character would make his way to the screen, but it would be first time in over fifteen years and would mark a decidedly different portrayal of the figure, more playboy than detective.
In this film, Drummond is called upon to investigate the murder of his friend, David Wyngarde – murdered by two alluring assassins, Irma and Penelope played by Sommer and Koscina respectively. The case might have led nowhere as Drummond had little to go on, but as the assassins tried to put him in a grave as well with a box of rigged cigars, he is more resolute than ever. Soon Drummond is on the trail of the assassins and follows her to an island where the next plot is to take place and where he discovers just who it is that is really behind it all.
When all was said and done, director Ralph Thomas and cinematographer Ernest Steward would create one of the most refreshing outings of the burgeoning crime and spy series of films that were popping up wherever one looked. Packed with beautiful locales and women to match, it would change things up by having the villains of the piece being portrayed by the fairer sex and as such, would cause a bit of controversy at the time. Even today, decades after the movie was released, it is like watching something decidedly different to those pictures starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine or Richard Burton and would be just as good, if not better than some of their films. It would turn out so well for the studio that a follow-up would be released two years later with both Thomas and Johnson at the helm once again.
A lot of the movie’s success can be attributed to Johnson who plays Drummond with a lot of charm and sophistication. He seems like an aging playboy for those that do not know him, but when called upon, the man is tenacious and a force to be reckoned with. Sommer and Koscina are great as the femme fatales of the movie, neither showing the slightest bit of remorse at what they do and Nigel Green plays the villain to perfection. The man is both grounded and over-the-top simultaneously, a man serious about what he does, but not averse to playing chess against Drummond with gigantic robotic pieces in his castle. The film has everything one could want in a spy film and while some of it might seem a little cheesy at times, it is nevertheless part of what makes it so good. There is plenty of sharp humour and it crackles with excitement and some great action sequences to boot, the aforementioned chess game being one.
For a little escapism, Deadlier Than the Male ends up being a memorable movie in every way that counts; witty, smart, funny and thrilling, a viable alternative to the Bonds and Flints and many others of the time.
4.5 out of 5