A business man arrives in Hong Kong accompanied by lots of travelogue-type footage of the city, enhanced by a rather cool ‘bondian’ main theme song. He finally arrives at his destination only to be strangled and thrown off the top of the multi-storey building. A police investigation, of sorts, kicks in and a travelling salesman, Bob Mitchell, played by Bob Cummings, accidentally gets caught up in said investigation, which later incorporates a gold smuggling ring headed by the infamous five golden dragons of the title.
Adapting one of Edgar Wallace’s ‘Commissioner Sanders’ stories, dodgy B-movie producer Harry Alan Towers makes good use of some stunning locations to bring us a rather disappointing and dull sub-Hitchcockian fable from the Asian sub-continent.
The film, for me, was a little derailed by Bob Cumming’s rather irritating performance. He’s about as endearing as your average estate agent with leprosy! His ‘character’ spends most of the running time acting naïve, making poor jokes and emitting smarmy smiles at the admittedly charming female leads, namely Maria Rohm and Margaret Lee, who do their best with the rather thin material. He’s also got an appalling dress sense and at one point wears a god-awful Hawaiian shirt and shorts combo that literally stings the eyes. Oh, and while I’m on the subject of suspect fashion statements check out one of the lead actress’s swimming cap – it’s like she decided to wear a wedding cake on her head!
I think my main problem with the film was the pacing. Even during the chase scenes (and there are a few) there’s no real sense of tension or danger and the filmmakers have even added comedy sound effects when people are thrown off buildings and so on, which was rather baffling to me. The film clearly doesn’t really know what it wants to be – a spy thriller, a comedy, a gangster film? I think Towers was going for a kind of Charade or North By Northwest feel, but ended up with more of an exotic soap opera meets Carry on Spying vibe!
Classic actors are wasted in bit-part cameos, with the likes of Christopher Lee, Brian Donlevy and George Raft spending most of their all too brief screen time wearing badly made dragon head-pieces and not talking!
On a positive note, the colourful cinemaphotography is good, with wide-framing of some majestic locations and there’s a funky jazz score that oozes cool running throughout some scenes. And Klaus Kinski is suitably sleazy as one of the gangster’s henchmen. There’s also the novelty of seeing a hand-cart chase through the streets of Hong Kong and a hilarious bit of swinging sixties dancing!
The Five Golden Dragons could easily have been 20 minutes shorter and much better for it. Almost every scene is played out way too long and when a song is being sung at one of the clubs owned by a Golden Dragon we pretty much get to see the entire song being sung out in real-time; and this happens twice!
I really wanted to like this film, but I can’t help but feel it was all a bit of a wasted opportunity. For fans of sixties spy kitsch only, me thinks.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Five Golden Dragons has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Releasing. The special features include a trailer (2.5 minutes), a picture gallery – showing off lots of posters for the film and various lobby cards – and an audio interview with director Jeremy Summers, which is worth a listen to, although, somewhat ironically, The Five Golden Dragons isn’t actually mentioned! Summers instead talks at length about his time working on various soaps and TV shows during the sixties and seventies and how he enjoyed working with the likes of Roger Moore (The Saint) and Gerry Anderson because they were lovely guys. He does mention a few of the films he shot with producer Towers, including Eve, and House of a 1,000 Dolls. He does mention The Vengeance of Fu Manchu as well so perhaps he’s getting the two Christopher Lee films mixed up?