Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cine M.I.A. #5: OPERATION LAS VEGAS (1988)

Although we haven’t fully had a chance to show it yet, we’re huge fans of Richard Harrison here at Video Junkie.  If the man had a theme song it would be “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson as he is one of the few American actors who traveled the globe in search of the next production to star in.  Harrison got his start in Hollywood in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  He quickly jetted off to Rome, Italy because the sword and sandal craze was in full swing and Harrison, an early body building enthusiast, fit the Herculean mold perfectly. From there his good looks easily allowed him to transition to Spaghetti Westerns, where he famously turned down A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS but told director Sergio Leone to cast his friend, Clint something-or-other.  The 1970s proved even more prolific and no subgenre was untouched by the man. Bondsploitation, Bruceploitation, Poliziotteschi, Naziplotiation, Voodoo flicks – you name it and he was in it.

The early-to-mid 1980s increased Harrison’s cinematic legend even more with a series of action films made in the Philippines and the infamous Godfrey Ho ninja films in Hong Kong. According to Harrison, he signed on for a few ninja films, but the footage he shot was later used to pad out dozens of releases with titles like NINJA HOLOCAUST and COBRA VS. NINJA.   By the end of the decade, Harrison had returned to the United States and hooked up with several filmmakers for a series of low budget action films (like Fred Olen Ray’s TERMINAL FORCE).  During this period, he did a stint in Las Vegas where he starred in Charles Nizet’s RESCUE FORCE and the subject of our latest CineM.I.A., OPERATION LAS VEGAS.  Directed by the notorious N.G. Mount (aka Norbert Moutier), this action epic is truly a dream for fans of “so bad, it’s good” cinema.

Richard Harrison acting like
he's never seen a ninja before!
OPERATION LAS VEGAS opens with a guy putting some plans into a briefcase and handcuffing it to his wrist.  Obviously they are important as a hitman named Peralta (Pierre Agostino, hiding behind the pseudonym Peter Gold) chops off the poor dude’s hand and scurries away with the plans. What’s in these plans?  We’re never told.  But they must be important as the White House has given C.I.A. man Parker (John Van Dreelen) just 24 hours to get them back.  Maybe it was Ronald Reagan’s plans to get a remake of BEDTIME FOR BONZO going?  Anyway, this job calls for only one man and that is Jefferson (Richard Harrison), who is, naturally, on vacation.  Jefferson gets right back into the thick of things as ninjas attack him the second he gets the phone call from Parker.  He disposes of them with little flair (no screams of “ninjjjjjjja” or puffs of smoke; did Harrison not learn anything from Godfrey Ho?) and heads to Las Vegas to meet up with his superiors.

Once in Las Vegas, Jefferson quickly picks up a “babe” at the airport in Britta (Brigitte Borghese) and offers her a ride to her hotel (in a hilarious bit, he offers her a ride in his limousine and they walk to a Ford Taurus station wagon). Coincidentally, Jefferson and Britta are both booked at the same hotel Whiskey Pete’s (is the Government holding out on him or what?).   Jefferson meets with Parker and hilariously gets brought up to speed on the situation by his old buddy Nick (Derek A. Smith).  

 

The No-so-Wild Bunch
What no one knows is that G-man Gordon (Walter G. Zeri) has been double crossing the agency and sets up a meeting with Peralta to get the plans.  In one of the films odder scenes, Peralta is captured in the desert, flown to another part of the desert, and then killed. Hmmmm, seems like Gordon is not only a duplicitous type, but he also is an airplane fuel hog.  So now Gordon has the plans and heads to meet up with the terrorists and their leader, Rachid (Mark Kusmuk).  He leads a rather pathetic group of about 7 folks who live out in the desert and they literally put the “rag” in ragtag.  Apparently Gordon didn’t really think this through as Rachid informs him, “You know no one is allowed to leave here alive.”  D’oh!  But that is okay as Gordon will get to check out the arrival of the terrorists’ new leader.  This person is so strong and rules with an iron fist.  Only one person can whip this group into shape and it is none other than – dramatic pause – Britta!  This news officially makes Jefferson the least perceptive C.I.A. agent alive.  Anyway, Britta has a super duper plan where she will kidnap jet pilot Maria Swenson (Maria Francesce, Richard Harrison’s wife) and replace her with a double at a local air show so she can get a hold of a nuclear warhead. Because we all know that local air shows use live nuclear weapons during their stunt shows. It adds an extra thrill for the audience.  With this device, she plans to extort the U.S. Government for $1 billion dollars or she will blow up Hoover Dam.  So Jefferson, Nick and a team of elite soldiers suit up to take the terrorists out.  Hey, whatever happened to those plans?  Your guess is as good as mine.

"Beyoooond the Thunderdome!"
With its cheapo production values, ridiculous plotting and equally ridiculous dubbing, it is easy to see why OPERATION LAS VEGAS is still M.I.A. on home video in the United States. At the same time, it is kind of ironic given the sheer volume of other lesser Harrison starrers that did make it to the U.S. shelves.  I mean, this has ninjas and explosions too so why did it get snubbed by U.S. distributors?  Yeah, I’ll say it out loud – it ain’t Harrison’s worst flick by far. With films like MIAMI CONNECTION getting a new lease on life due to its wacky presentation, there is no reason this shouldn’t also be ready for cult fans.  What is not to like?  You have Richard Harrison, ninjas, mercenaries, terrorists, wonky dialogue, and more.  Plus, the film features one of the strangest female villains in the history of cinema with actress Brigitte Borghese.  A veteran of French exploitation, Borghese gives her all as Britta (as in the water filter?).  Unfortunately, her all isn't that much.  Seeing her in her bouncing around in a ninja outfit is hilarious enough, but then you get scenes like this:

 

Just another day on the Vegas strip
You have to respect any movie with a scene like that.  Or a film that has a guy on roller skates wearing panty hose over his head kidnapping someone.  You just have to.  It is funny this was made the same time as the aforementioned Nizet feature RESCUE FORCE as they seem like companion pieces. Hell, Nizet even has a small role in this and helped make the explosions.  This is the kind of film that is so obscure that most of the actors have no idea if it ever even got released and get the shock of their life when a clip ends up on Youtube. That is exactly what happened to co-star Derek A. Smith.  A Las Vegas resident at the time with a background in martial arts and self defense training, Smith had been featured in several Hollywood productions that rolled the dice in the city of sin.  But he probably had no idea what he was signing up for with this French produced action flick.  Smith contacted me last year regarding the earlier shown clip showcasing him and Richard Harrison.  Labeled “Worst dubbing job EVER!!!” the clip provided Smith a glimpse at the heretofore unseen film.  Looking for a copy, I offered to send him one for a price – he must answer my questions about this obscure and still M.I.A. on home video movie.  A truly deadly price to pay, but he soldiered though and offered the following amusing replies.

Video Junkie: When exactly was the film shot (I've deduced probably the late 80s due to clothing)?

Derek Smith: I cannot remember exactly.  I was in Las Vegas from 1983-1992. (VJ note: Our super detective skills have narrowed the timeframe down to early 1988 due to Harrison reading the February 1988 issue of Penthouse at one point.)

VJ: How did you come to be cast in the film?

DS: I was with a casting agency.  I had been in a number of movies and TV shows in Las Vegas, primarily as an extra.  I received a call to try for this role. The liked me because I had a martial arts background even though I did not get to use it.

VJ: How long did you work on the film?

DS: I believe it was for a week.

Harrison likes Smith's style
VJ: Do you know what the budget was?

DS: No idea, but obviously not much, LOL.  Another thing, there was no wardrobe for me. The clothes I have on in the movie were the clothes I showed up in. They did provide the Army uniform though.

VJ: Do you know how exactly N.G. Mount (aka Norbert Moutier) and his production ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada of all places to shoot?

DS: No, I just got the call and showed up and went to work.  It was a little difficult because he spoke absolutely no English. The movie was supposed to be shot in English and dubbed in French.  I am so glad I finally got to see it.

VJ: What was Mount like?

DS: I remember him as a nice guy.  Of course, things were moving fast and there was a language barrier but he was nice.

VJ: Did the film have any sort of screening for locals?

DS: No, as far as I know they wrapped and went right back to France.  The crew was quite small.

VJ: What was your reaction to the final product?

DS: It sucked.  Just kidding! No I am not, it really sucked.  But I am happy to have it and to have been in a movie.  I wish they would have flown me to France for the premier though. After all I was the star’s best buddy in the film.

OVER THE TOP II?  
VJ: What was Richard Harrison like to work with?

DS: He was a very nice guy.  We had never met before and in my mind he was a big star, but he did not act like it.  He joked with me, was nice and patient and helped me quite a bit.  We got most of our scenes in one take though, so I was not a pain to him or the director.

VJ: Any funny anecdotes from the shoot?

DS: There was one for me.  If you watch the movie, when I get killed by the mine we walk up to it with no problem.  We see the mine and I go try to disarm it.  After I am killed everyone just walks on like there are no other mines.  So basically, I was killed by the only mine in the entire desert, LOL.

LOL indeed!  Here is the scene Smith mentions (he assures me that is not his real voice) and it truly shows he is the world’s unluckiest soldier to stumble upon that lone landmine in that expansive desert.  Nick’s bravery will not be forgotten.

Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. Funny thing, when the scene where I die started the mine was right in front of us. After it goes of Richard runs about a block to where I am suppose to be. Another funny thing about this movie is that we had no squibbs or anything. If you watch closely, whenever there is shooting there is no muzzle flash. Just folks shaking the guns as if they are firing.

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  2. I really love this movie! Thanks for the interview with extra info!

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