THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE LAST OF THE SECRET AGENTS?” Image

BOOTLEG FILES 183: “The Last of the Secret Agents?” (1966 comedy starring Allen & Rossi in their own feature film).

LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public screening of this film.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: Because it stinks!

CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Not the least bit likely.

Unless you were watching TV or attending Las Vegas shows in the early 1960s, there’s a good chance that you never heard of the comedy team of Allen & Rossi. That duo consisted of frizzy-haired, wild-eyed funnyman Marty Allen and handsome, wavy-haired straight man Steve Rossi. Allen & Rossi patterned themselves after Martin & Lewis, with Allen taking Jerry Lewis’ role as the zany, surreal cut-up (his trademark was the ebullient greeting “Hello dere!”) and Rossi providing the set-ups for the comic routines and the musical interludes where he crooned romantic ballads (rather nicely, it should be said).

In their time, Allen & Rossi were extremely popular. They clocked in countless TV appearances, sold out club and concert venues, recorded best-selling comedy albums and published comedy books. Rossi even scored a hit record with his interpretation of “More,” the Oscar-nominated theme from the shockumentary “Mondo Cane.” Allen & Rossi’s fame was so solid that Ed Sullivan gave them the most impossible gig in show biz – following the Beatles in their February 1964 U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” – and the team responded with brilliant audacity (Rossi sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” while Allen ran about the aisles of Sullivan’s theater imitating the screaming teenyboppers who were in ecstasy over the Fab Four).

However, there was one format where Allen & Rossi did not score any success and that was on the big screen. Their one and only feature film could charitably be described as a disaster – and, sadly, many people mistakenly believe this debacle was representative of what the duo was capable of creating.

The film was the 1966 release “The Last of the Secret Agents?” and it was supposed to be a parody of the James Bond genre. That, by itself, was a major mistake since 007 was a sly parody of espionage thrillers. Furthermore, by 1966 both the big and small screen were overcrowded with James Bond rip-offs. What the world didn’t need was another spy adventure.

It also didn’t help that director Norman Abbott (Bud Abbott’s nephew) and writer Mel Tolkin (one of Sid Caesar’s gagmen from “Your Show of Shows”) had no idea how to create a feature-length motion picture. Both men were grounded in TV production, where a half-hour episode was standard issue. The challenge of filling a movie was too much for them, resulting in a production that lurched erratically from scene to scene. (Both men concentrated on writing and directing for TV after the film was released.)

Furthermore, Abbott and Tolkin didn’t bother considering that Allen & Rossi had distinctive personalities in their comedy act. Rather than bringing that to “The Last of the Secret Agents?”, they cobbled together characters who bore no resemblance to the famous pair. In the film, Allen was called upon to effect an ill-fitting Lou Costello-style persona while occasionally being battered with violent slapstick comedy. Rossi had a worst deal – he had almost nothing to do in the film except stand around and watch Allen act silly.

“The Last of the Secret Agents?” finds Allen & Rossi as Americans barely eking out a living in Paris by doing odd jobs. And they inevitably get fired due to Allen’s incompetence. Their latest gig, moving a piano, results in the instrument being smashed to splinters. The one respite from their shaky existence is a nightclub where Rossi’s girlfriend is the venue’s owner – thus enabling them to eat and drink for free. The girlfriend is played by, of all people, Nancy Sinatra doing a terrible French accent (she also sings the film’s title song). Her father is played by Lou Jacobi, also doing an egregious Gallic dialect. They are the only people in the film trying to sound French – which is interesting, considering the film takes place in France.

Anyway, Allen & Rossi are abducted by agents from GGI (Good Guys Incorporated), a global secret agent network. It seems the men who hired them to move that piano were art smugglers working for criminal operation THEM (the acronym is not defined). The pair is recruited to go back and keep tabs on these characters to determine where the stolen art is being stored. To communicate with the GGI leaders, they are given an umbrella that doubles as a walkie-talkie and lethal weapon.

And that’s about all there is to “The Last of the Secret Agents?” The remainder of the film has Allen & Rossi chasing the art smugglers or the smugglers chasing them as they attempt to steal the Venus de Milo. Since the movie is a low-budget affair, the chasing is relatively lethargic and limited to slamming doors and running down hallways.

For the most part, the comic action centers around Marty Allen trying to be funny. Some of his shtick includes waving a white-bearded man and yelling “Merry Christmas!”, rolling his eyes while blowing into a trumpet, wearing baggy pajamas while combing his wacky hair over his eyes, and having a fold-up bed fall on his head. He also repeats his trademark “Hello dere!” so many times that you want to yell “Goodbye dere!” in disgust.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s also the spectacle of Lou Jacobi feigning a heart attack, Nancy Sinatra having her clothing ripped off, and Ed Sullivan (looking to be in the advance stages of rigor mortis) in an unbilled cameo. If that doesn’t wet your whistle, there is also Harvey Korman overplaying the role a Gestapo officer in an extended and painfully unfunny sequence where Allen & Rossi evade THEM’s agents by hiding in the ranks of extras on the set of a World War II movie being shot on a Parisian street.

Paramount Pictures, which produced and released this film, realized fairly quickly they had a bomb on their hands. Despite Allen & Rossi’s popularity (not to mention the Nancy Sinatra connection – she was at the peak of her recording career), the studio unceremoniously dumped the movie in theaters on a double bill with the forgettable Clint Walker Western “The Night of the Grizzly.” The New York Times, barely acknowledging the film’s presence, dismissed Allen & Rossi as lacking talent. “Neither the script, the director nor Mr. Allen and Mr. Rossi display the kind of mad comic invention, which can sometimes run smoothly,” said the newspaper’s byline-free review. “Not even the kids will get a ride out of this one.”

In fact, no one got a ride out of that one. “The Last of the Secret Agents?” was such a failure that no one wanted to make a second Allen & Rossi movie. The duo continued working together for another two years before splitting up. Allen became a staple on TV game shows and snagged small roles in small movies, while Rossi concentrated on honing his Las Vegas act, occasionally teaming with other comics including Bernie Allen (thus enabling an “Allen & Rossi” billing) and Slappy White. Years later, a new generation would know Rossi for his amusing guest appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show.

“The Last of the Secret Agents?” has turned up on TV over the years, but Paramount never had any incentive to release it in home entertainment channels. Bootleg copies (usually carrying cable TV logos in the lower corners of the screen) are easy enough to snag, but there really isn’t much point in hunting this down. Allen & Rossi deserved better than this awful, unfunny movie and anyone trying to enjoy their talents would be better advised to appreciate them from their comedy records, books or video appearances on old-time variety shows.

Seriously, stay far, far away from “The Last of the Secret Agents?” – the film truly stinks!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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  1. Joe Frank says:

    I agree with Mr. Turdoch, I watched this movie on AMC’s American Pop several years before they changed their format and I absolutely loved it. It was funny and hip and I would definitely buy a widescreen dvd or Blu-Ray if it were so released. Paramount needs to go the route of Warner, Sony and MGM and start selling made-to-order dvds of their obscure films.

  2. Rupert Turdoch says:

    This film is quite amusing in its own way. More so than the shitty ‘Austin Powers’ trilogy, ‘Johnny English’ and ‘Get Smart’ remake. Some of the gags work ( notably the pre-credits sequence and war movie parody ) and Harvey Korman is always worth watching. Cool theme song too! If it ever comes out on D,V.D. I will be buying it. Lighten up, pal. Its only a movie! Why be so excessively negative?