Saturday, September 17, 2016

Forgotten Films: The Trygon Factor (1966)

Some time ago I was lamenting here over the fact that The Trygon Factor, a sixties movie I had fond, but vague, memories of, never turned up on TV anymore and didn't seem to be available on DVD.  (In English, at least).  Well, in response to that post, I was directed to a recently uploaded English language version of the film, reconstructed from multiple sources, (primarily a German DVD version).  Consequently, I've had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with The Trygon Factor.  From the off, I have to say that it is even barmier than I remembered.  It is also far more stylishly mounted than I recalled, boasting terrific production values, beautiful colour photography and a first rate cast.  All of which is quite surprising as the film is, in effect, a B movie. To be precise it is an attempt to produce a German 'Krimi' movie in the UK.  Whilst it is true that movies of this genre, (which is either based on or inspired by the works of Edgar Wallace, often featuring fog shrouded recreations of London through which prowl masked killers), had sometimes previously featured location shooting in the UK, these had been German productions, intended primarily for the domestic German market.

The Trygon Factor, by contrast, is an Anglo-German co-production, clearly aimed at the sort of international market enjoyed by the then new James Bond-type films.  As with most international co-productions, The Trygon Factor represents something of a collision of styles, with the typical murky monochrome world of the average 'Krimi' - complete with rain slicked roads and dimly lit noir-ish locations - is replaced by glossy, colourful and well lit locations, with a definite emphasis upon sub-Bondian glamour. In the midst of these slick production values a typically bizarre and convoluted 'Krimi'-style plot - including such traditional elements as a masked killer, bank robberies, faked deaths, spooky old buildings (a crypt and a British stately home, in this case), lots of murders and plenty of Scotland Yard detectives wandering around in homburgs and trilbys - unfolds.  Incredibly, this attempt at melding two apparently disparate styles actually succeeds.  The end result, interestingly closely resembles the look and feel of the colour episodes of The Avengers - a TV series which, at its peak, also specialised in combining outlandish plots with a striking visual style and very 'English' locations.

The plot involves Aston Martin driving Scotland Yard Superintendent Cooper-Smith, (played as a smoothy silver fox by Stewart Granger, who had already starred in a several German crime movies), who is investigating a series of violent robberies in London.  His suspicions fall upon an order of nuns working out of an English stately home who, of course, turn out to be a gang of international criminals, who are smuggling the jewels and bullion they rob out of the country concealed in the pottery they make.  For their next robbery, they need to smuggle a German expert into the country disguised as a corpse.  Said expert has a revolutionary multi-barrelled gun which can blast through the vault doors at the bank they are targeting.  Behind it all is the apparently harmless aristocratic old lady who owns the stately home.  Such a bare outline can't do true justice to the true insanity of the film, which includes a pair of murderous 'nuns' carrying out hits for the gang and a mysterious masked and black gloved killer with a penchant for drowning its victims. (Interestingly, this character prefigures by a few years the similar killers who would stalk the Italian 'Giallo' genre.  Even the way in which the drownings are filmed - from the bottom of the font the first victim meets their watery doom in, for instance - and the emphasis on the black leather gloved hands, are remarkably similar to equivalent sequences in later 'Giallo' movies).  Is the killer the old lady's simpleton son or her trendy photographer daughter (played by Susan Hampshire) who likes dressing in men's clothes?

As mentioned earlier, the cast is terrific, featuring not just the aforementioned Stewart Granger and Susan Hampshire, but also Robert Morley as the gang's increasingly uneasy respectable front man, his real life pal James Roberston Justice lends his weighty presence as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for a couple of scenes, the nuns are led by Brigitte Horney, whilst stalwart British character actors Allan Cuthbertson and Colin Douglas turn up as police detectives.  Granger, in the lead, puts in a marvelously tongue-in-cheek performance which strikes just the right note.  Improbably smooth and urbane, yet still dashing enough to drive a sports car and sweep young girls off of their feet , he is called upon to both fight off killer nuns and romance a hotel receptionist who is, quite clearly, young enough to be his daughter.  Granger's genial performance is off set nicely by some gruesomely staged and interestingly shot killings and a violent central robbery sequence in which the gang first fatally gas the staff of a bank, then dispose of the 'superfluous' gang members during the getaway.

If the film has a problem it is that, to UK audiences at least, it never seems to be able to decide what kind of movie it wants to be: it seems part gritty crime thriller, part robbery caper movie, part detective film, with horror elements like the masked killer and the futuristic high-tech multi-barrelled gun used in the robbery implying a science fiction element.  This might explain why the English-language version of the film has fallen into relative obscurity, despite once having been a popular fixture in ITV's afternoon and late night schedules.  It's simply too difficult to pigeonhole.  That said, unlike many films I remember from my childhood, which I've subsequently revisited decades after last seeing them, The Trygon Factor remains hugely enjoyable.  In fact, I think I enjoyed even more this time around.  Stewart Granger's performance, in particular, left me smiling.  His Cooper-Smith comes on like a slightly down-market version of Patrick MacNee's John Steed.  Whilst Steed might wine and dine a woman before charming her into bed, one gets the distinct impression that Cooper-Smith would have her bra unhitched before the second course was served.  I'd urge anyone who has ever enjoyed any of those old ITC action-oriented TV series or any continental crime films to watch The Trygon Factor - it's a terrifically entertaining B-movie, stylishly directed and well paced, it probably represents a career high for director Cyril Frankel, (who often directed episodes of things like The Avengers).  Besides, how could anyone resist a movie where Stewart Granger punches out not one, but two nuns?

Finally, thanks and kudos to filmboychris 1 Walker for putting together the version of the film I saw and alerting me to its presence online.



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