Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday 13th June 2010: Santo in Operation 67!

Santo In Operation 67

Mexico 1967 colour

aka Operación 67

Directors René Cardona, René Cardona Jr Writers Rafael García Travesi, Gregorio Walerstein

Cast Santo (himself), Jorge Rivero (Jorge Rubio), Elizabeth Campbell (Ruth Taylor), Noé Murayama (Sadomi Suki)

In the world of Mexican masked wrestling films, watching the caped king of all luchadores, El Santo (“The Saint”, or The Man in the Silver Mask) has always felt like James Bond meeting Batman in the ring for a twelve-round knockout. In Operation 67 (appropriately enough from 1967), the transformation is complete, as Santo joins the Spy Race along with every other country in the mid Sixties with a movie camera and a shopping list of ludicrous gadgets. It's an easy transition from costumed superhero to superspy, thanks to the fact there's no essential difference between the two genres: Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeldt is merely the Penguin without an umbrella, the Joker with a more sophisticated series of one-liners. And in Mexico at least, Santo was as iconic a hero, if not more so, as James Bond was at the height of Bondmania, or for that matter Adam West during the Sixties' Batmania.

Before you can say “Holy Stock Footage, Santo!”, the film cuts from New York to Paris, from Hong Kong to San Francisco, and to Santo's elaborate secret beach hideaway in Mexico, where he and tag team partner/spy business associate Jorge Rubio (Jorge Rivero) are wooing a pair of bathing beauties. Their canoodling is interrupted by a message from Paris (cue shot of Eiffel Tower): a secret organization is plotting to overthrow the economies of Latin America by flooding the market with counterfeit pesos, stolen In an elaborate hijack from right under the Mexican Treasury's noses. There are twelve evil agents in total, all with exploding watches, and all under the watchful eye of a statuesque, flame-haired and VERY European Dragon Lady (played by an old Schlock Treatment favourite, Wrestling Women's Elizabeth Campbell).

Batman must have his Robin, and in this film and its sequel – Santo And The Treasure Of Moctezuma, filmed back-to-back with Operation 67 - Jorge Rivero looks like he's being groomed for his own spy series. For one, there's no wrestling mask to muss up the immaculate hairdo, and secondly, he gets his fair share of solo action scenes, from staring down a small plane with a bazooka, to chasing one of the Dragon Lady's villains up the side of a church. He's no slouch with the ladies either, and certainly believes in sleeping his way to the top, or at least through half of Asia. But despite his best-laid plans (ahem), Jorge would take a few more years to come into his own as a bona fide action star, eventually clocking in an impressive 100-plus films including his own rival wrestling series to Santo's, Los Leones Del Ring or “Lions Of The Ring”.

Operation 67 is positively brimming with the requisite amount of exotica and erotica, spicing up the usual heroes vs cartoon villain setups with a frantic jetsetting scope and pace. Naturally the exotica's on a strict budget: our economical filmmakers, father and son tagteam Rene Cardona Sr and Jr, manage to recreate Hong Kong out of a single room with Asian extras. It's ambitious in its internationalist scope and fares well next to European Bond knockoffs of the period, and it certainly looks and feels less shabby than Santo's later poverty-row productions of the late Seventies. One startling inclusion is a topless Dragon Lady dance sequence in a Hong Kong go-go bar; since nudity was verboten in Mexican family films, it's evidently a tack-on for the more broad-minded of Latin American audiences, and quite a rarity since only a handful of these “hot” versions of Santo's adventures were made, and most have disappeared into the darkened back alleyways of Time. Which leads me to a two word conclusion - “Eileen Carumbah!” - as we unspool the saucy masked wrestling spyfest Santo In Operation 67.

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