Joshua Reviews Don Sharp’s Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! [Blu-ray Review]

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It’s often times hard not to judge a film by its title. Every child is raised to never judge a book by it’s cover, but anyone browsing a local library for a good springtime read knows that that is a damn near impossible ideal, and the same in a way goes for a film’s title. So, one can imagine the first thoughts racing through the mind of anyone grabbing the brand new Blu-ray from Olive Films of the oddly unsung comedic romp from 1966 entitled Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!

Rarely talked about even in the most versed of comedic cinema circles, this oddball comedy/crime picture comes to us from director Don Sharp who may not be the world’s greatest known comedic voice, but definitely gives us one hell of a picture here. Taking on a story fitting of a name like Agatha Christie (think an odd riff on her Ten Little Indians, similar in many ways to Mario Bava’s Five Dolls For An August Moon, but less mod and more broad), the film introduces us to a collection of six men and women on their way from Casablanca to Marrakesh in Morocco. However, it’s not just that simple. One of these six men and women is themselves a diplomatic player holding two million big ones in bonds that may or may not be on their way to the man known as Mr. Casimir, and a series of UN votes that could change the world forever. Among these travelers are the film’s two primary leads, one Andrew Jessel, an American architect, and a gorgeous brunette named Kyra Stanovy who may or may not be a journalist, a model, a CIA agent, all over the course of this 92 minute blast of a comedy. With a fun score, a breathtaking new transfer and some supremely poppy cinematography from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service photographer Michael Reed, you have an admittedly slight comedy, but one that is so deftly charming and engaging that it’s hard to see how this film has gone so relatively forgotten.

It’s fitting that, in the above prose, the biggest focuses were the film’s two stars, because the picture lives and dies with their performances. The film stars Tony Randall, best known for his work on The Odd Couple, and he’s absolutely perfect here. His character is one of the upstanding citizen caught in the line of fire and wrongful accusations, and his meekness is so perfectly portrayed here that you can’t help but instantly relate and connect with the almost cartoonish humanity of his character. His line readings are pitch perfect, and the chemistry he shares with Senta Berger, Kyra in the film, is palpable. The two are the absolute perfect cinematic “odd couple” here, as their relationship itself brings the film’s greatest sense of comedy. A series of lies and double crosses follow here, all with cartoonishly high stakes that involve China and their place in the UN. It’s all in the body of a caper picture that never takes itself too seriously, and thankfully these two perfect lead performances do exactly the same.

Rounding out the cast here are names like Herbert Lom as the film’s main villain, Klaus Kinski (yes, that Klaus Kinski) as his right hand man, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Margaret Lee all in superb supporting performances that do their part to either further the film’s sense of tone and mood or take the various action set pieces to the right heights of tension (particularly Kinski whose enforcer gives the film its only real tension, and just the right amount).

The other star here is director Don Sharp. Best known for his work as a Hammer staple during the 1960s, this film is very much typical of that aesthetic. Particularly during a few moments in the film’s final act, the photography here is very much mod-influenced, with bright colors popping off the frame almost as much as the fog that sets in during a mountainside chase in the final act pushes the color palette back to an earthly level. His camera has a fluidity to it that really screams the world of 60s era spy cinema, and the photography is very much Hammer, turning this into a bizarrely sexy spy comedy that is as inventive with some of its visual gags (like the tossing of a blanket before off screen love making takes place cut to the start of a new set piece) as it is genuinely thrilling with some of its action set pieces. Particularly the previously mentioned mountainside chase sequence is really something quite special, a sequence that is both oddly thrilling and also perfectly choreographed. With real, palpable stakes involved (the life of one of the film’s most entertaining and endearing characters hangs in the balance) the sequence is the film’s real gem, and while the final series of events is just as bombastic and narratively exciting, aesthetically this sequence is really on an entirely different level. Maybe it’s due to the transfer, but there is a grit and a grime to this sequence that brings this 5-10 minute portion of the picture to life in a way that the rest of the film only hints at.

Overall, while the film is a rather brainless play on genre, the film is brazenly entertaining. An absolutely charming little genre picture from a director who really knew how to craft just that type of film, this has been the recipient of a fantastic new transfer thanks to Olive Films, and their Blu-ray is impeccable. Crisp and oddly clean, the film still has a few glaring bits of grit and dust to it, and especially during some of the higher action sequences the grain really comes to life. The photography is gorgeous and really adds a great mood and atmosphere to the picture, and while it’s supplement free, the fact that this film is not only available now relatively easy to find, but also in a beautiful new HD transfer, this is a hard Blu-ray to avoid. Admittedly a hard sell given the lack of supplements, this will be one that sticks to a very niche group of collectors, but for those who get a chance to sit down and check this solid little film out will most certainly not be ashamed to have done so.

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