• Film reviews

    #354 – 008: Operation Exterminate (1965)

    Film review #354

    Director: Umberto Lenzi

    SYNOPSIS: Frank Smith, agent 006, is sent by the British secret service to Cairo to work with American agent MacDonald (or 008) in order to retrieve the plans for an anti-radar device that in the wrong hands would spell disaster for the world. 006 arrives to find that 008 is, to his surprise, a woman. The two must work together to unravel the mystery of the device and stop the perpetrators, while escaping evil henchman and cunning traps along the way…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS008: Operation Exterminate is a 1965 Italian spy film. As the title suggests it is heavily inspired by the 007 novels and films. The film’s story is fairly standard for a spy film, and involves agents 606 and 008′s mission to retrieve and destroy an anti-radar device, and to recover the plans. Along the way they end up facing off against various henchman, and fighting their way out of deadly traps, again very much as you’d expect. Based on the title you may expect the film to be a parody of the 007 franchise and spy films in general, but it is instead a straight and serious attempt at a spy film (as serious as these films can get anyway…). The story doesn’t really offer anything special, and it loses focus when it moves between all these different locations, which makes it difficult to keep track of why the agents are there and what they are supposed to be doing. Nevertheless, it’s not an uninteresting story, and there’s enough variety to keep it interesting.

    Agent 006 is sent to Cairo to rendezvous with American agent 008, but when he gets there is surprised to find out that she is a woman. This is one of the more interesting aspects of the film, as MacDonald (agent 008) doesn’t play the typical female role in these films as a supporting, passive character, but rather she is on equal footing with the male agent, and I think she is more of the main character rather than him. She is a character that is formidable in her own right, and often takes the initiative in various situations. Having a strong female lead in such spy films of the time is practically unheard of, so the film offers something unique in this regard. Agent Smith (006) is a fairly standard Bond-esque character who doesn’t stand out too much in comparison to 008, which again gives her character more presence. The rest of the characters include a henchman that fires knives from a glove in typical and novel henchman style. The rest of the characters, including the main villain, don’t really have much impact on the film, and go by unnoticed. The development of the relationship between agents 606 and 008 really is the core of the film character-wise, and it is given plenty of time to develop and move beyond those first impressions to something more unique, which is one of the film’s strongest points.

    The film takes full advantage of being set in Cairo, with some scenes taking place at iconic places such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, which would have been great to see on film at the time. The film also offers some authentic glimpses of the city of Cairo as it is bustling with life, and this setting offers something a little different, while still playing into the use of exotic locales in spy films as one of the staples of the genre. The ending moving to the Swiss Alps comes a bit out of nowhere, and it is all over before we can appreciate this new location and get invested in what it has to offer. The twist at the end of the film also comes out of nowhere (which is why it makes a good twist), but doesn’t really impact much on the story, and the twist is reversed in the next scene a few minutes later, which makes it seem kinda pointless. It is quite satisfying to watch 008 be the only one who saw it coming and make plans in advance of it, and is a final testament to the strength of her character. Overall, 008: Operation Exterminate is a fairly standard spy film with all the typical setups and staples of the genre you would expect to find, however it doesn’t offer anything particularly unique to make it stand out. The strongest aspect of the film is the upending of the traditional roles of the male, heroic spy and the damsel in distress, by making it’s main character a woman and, for the most part, have her drive the story and be the hero. At the time it would have been something very unique, and in this respect it is interesting to watch how it is achieved. The film suffers from a story that loses its way sometimes, but offers enough of a twist on the genre to retain some interest.