”Look, Limey: you swish your way, and I’ll swish mine!” – Vigo (Aldo Ray) in drag, upset at being told how to sway his hips to make a more convincing woman.
Aside from the drugs, music, political unrest, and sex, the ’60s were perhaps best known for the persona of the swingin’ secret agent type of feller — a guise that men around the world dreamt of living up to, and filmmakers were keen to cash in on. Once Sean Connery stepped into the shoes of James Bond 007, it opened the floodgates for other actors to try to invoke his particular manner of inimitable elegance, intimidation, and sex appeal. And the men who auditioned were many: Cary Grant, Dean Martin, Michael Caine, Rod Taylor, David Niven, James Coburn — and those were just the guys on the big screen.
And we can imagine even more. However, there’s one name that is, in all probability, highly unlikely to come to mind when you think of an urbane ladykiller who’s just as good with his quips and his fists as he is with consuming copious amounts of alcohol (another trait of the ’60s, I should add): Jack Palance. Rather, the image of Jack Palance — whose image is usually associated with psychotic villainy — as a dashing good guy could very well give your average classic filmgoer a seizure. Nevertheless, Kill a Dragon from 1967 (the same year You Only Live Twice came out) casts good ol’ Jack as a man’s man in Hong Kong with mounting debt and trousers that are about five sizes too small.
The film opens with a gang of heavies raiding and subsequently trashing the homes of the inhabitants of a small neighboring island — a scene that is inexplicably set to a psychedelic theme song (!). The baddie behind this invasion is none other than Fernando Lamas, who looks like Martin Landau as Vincent Price playing Kent Taylor here. His purpose for the raid is because the simple, peaceful seafaring villagers he’s threatening to wipe out salvaged a heap of nitroglycerine — something that could very well wipe them all out anyway — which used to belong to him until the explosive cargo wound up drifting in fair game waters.
A chance encounter with Jack Palance — whom they catch making love (oh, there goes my dinner) to sexy Aliza Gur (one of the catfighting gypsy ladies in From Russia With Love) — results in our top-billed star being hired by village elder Kam Fong (Have Gun – Will Travel) to ward off the cigar-smoking Argentinean scoundrel. But it’s not a chore he can do alone, and so he brings in his old pals Aldo Ray (who has a memorable scene in drag) and Don Knight. After dodging bullets and fists, Jack tries to persuade Fernando to play nice, and is given an ultimatum of handing the goods over and walking away alive, or go to war with his hoard of heavies (à la Seven Samurai, which this movie is clearly inspired from).
Despite his ill-fitting pants (which are just as nauseous as the sight of him bedding Aliza Gur), Palance is a joy to watch here. Maybe it was just the pompadour, but his performance as good guy Rick Masters in Kill a Dragon was an earnest one, a role he appears to be enjoying to no end throughout — even when he’s in a tense standoff, playing a variation of Russian Roulette with a container of nitro in front of a now- defecated Lamas. But then, a free trip to the Orient, complimentary booze, and a chance to make out with hot chicks in exchange for cash would make many any eager actor in the ’60s hoping to jump on the swingin’ bandwagon grin with delight.
In short: Kill a Dragon offers the very low-budget best in boats and banter, booze and broads, bullets and brawls, and booms and bangs. Believe it — or not!
Never before released to home video (that I know of, at least) Michael D. “Mickey” Moore’s forgotten ’60s action/adventure flick Kill a Dragon finds its way to DVD(-R) as part of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection. The movie is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and a transfer that is pretty clear and very rich in color; one comparison to the movie’s original theatrical trailer — which is presented on this Manufactured-on-Demand disc as the sole extra — will show you just how exquisite it is. The disc’s 2-Channel Dolby Digital sound suffices admirably (though the sync is a bit off from time to time), delivering the best of what this movie has to offer.
Sadly (and I can’t imagine why), the words “Rick Masters Will Return” never roll across the screen during the end credits — so, if you fancy seeing Jack Palance as the mackin’ hero for a change, your ship (to Hong Kong) has come in.