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Lost/Forgotten/Found #5: Maroc 7 (1967)

Maroc 7 (1967); Directed by Gerry O'Hara; Produced by Cyclone Films; Written by David Osborn; Distributed by J. Arthur Rank and Paramount Pictures

Maroc 7 (1967); Directed by Gerry O’Hara; Produced by Cyclone Films; Written by David Osborn; Distributed by J. Arthur Rank and Paramount Pictures

Released during the height of the Eurospy craze—that moment when the worldwide success of the James Bond films paved the way for espionage thrillers of every walk of life—Maroc 7 has subsequently gone dormant, cropping up only on occasional TV broadcasts and on expensive (and subpar) import DVD. However, thanks to a vast catalog of rare Paramount releases that have somehow made their way to Netflix, the movie returns to die another day. While slow by today’s spy film standards, Maroc 7 contains plenty of period-specific content that makes it worth a watch. The critic Kim Newman was certainly onto something in his documentary Kim Newman’s Guide to the Flipside of British Cinema (2010), where he singles out the strange, long-lived, and virtually unknown career of Gerry O’Hara. Despite his vast credits as an assistant director—he worked on such massive movies as Olivier’s Richard III (1955), Preminger’s Exodus (1960) and the ill-fated Cleopatra (1963)—it is as a principle director in his own right that he should be remembered. While a few of his (lackluster) films unceremoniously cropped up on DVD prior to the Flipside line (I’m thinking of some of his misguided later works, like The Brute [1977], Joan Collins vehicle The Bitch [1979], and the Tony Curtis epic The Mummy Lives [1993], a late-game flop from Cannon Films), it was not until the BFI’s cult releasing strand that O’Hara would really get his due. They’ve issued impeccable stand-alone releases of his social problem/melodrama films (That Kind of Girl [1962], The Pleasure Girls [1965], and All the Right Noises [1971]) and have even supplemented these releases with his short work (notably, The Spy’s Wife [1972]). Thanks to Netflix, we can add Maroc 7 to the list of available work. If we dare retrofit it into an authorial framework, it seems to merge the burgeoning Eurospy genre with his female centric melodramas, insofar as the plot remains sympathetic to female exploitation across the various double-crosses and murders. However, its central conceit brilliantly apes the current hipness of the British cinema: suave crime-fighter Simon Grant (Gene Barry) poses as a jewel thief and infiltrates the retinue of Louise Henderson (Cyd Charisse), a fashionista who uses her cover as a manager to models as a means of stealing famed treasures. Henderson and her photographer Raymond (Leslie Phillips) travel with their bevy of models to Morocco, where they confront (and later kill) esteemed archaeologist Bannen (Eric Barker) over the whereabouts of a famous jewel. Of course, in his role as a probable collaborator, Grant falls for alpha model Claudia (Elsa Martinelli). Throughout, the counter-heist authorities (the alluring Michelle [Alexandra Stewart] and authoritative Inspector Barrada [Denholm Elliot]) track Simon and doubt his willingness to actually prevent the robbery. Although the pace is occasionally glacial, Maroc 7 is a sorta Bond-meets-Blowup. If anything, it is a more serious riff on fashion-conscious fare like Modesty Blaise (1966, Joseph Losey), or the slapdash Two Undercover Angels (Jess Franco, 1969). Sadly, O’Hara seems to rely too extensively on the film’s exotic location settings and premise as a substitute for inventive set-ups or snappy editing. The best-shot sequences showcase Raymond’s work as a fashion photographer, but these are nowhere near as dynamic of the interludes of Thomas at work from Blowup. As protagonist Grant, Gene Barry is like a mashup of Dean Martin, Robert Shaw, and Stanley Baker. He exudes the requisite swagger, yet never ferociously asserts himself. Charisse is playing more to her glamorous star persona than to the character as written: many of her lines are delivered from an unmoving, statuesque calm. The Moroccan locales remain the top treat, yet their 4:3 presentation and faded colors scarcely do justice to these places or their people. Overall, the films works well in the context of its moment (a brief time when English-speaking audiences were willing to put up with everything the German Kommissar X adaptations to the French OSS 117 movies in their quest for more and more espionage action). While this film’s budget clearly does not allow the true globe-hopping sensibilities of the mature Bond films, it does synch winning elements into a reasonably enjoyable whole. Kevin M. Flanagan

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