The James Bond film craze of the 1960s was responsible for launching a secret agent/spy movie sub-genre that thrived for more than a decade. Some of the imitators like Our Man Flint (1966) and The Silencers (1966) even spawned mini-franchises but the majority of them were strictly B-movies with international casts and exotic locations. One of the more obscure and unusual entries is Operation Kid Brother (1967), which is an entertainingly bad knockoff and sports a genuine Sean Connery-007 connection. It stars younger sibling Neil Connery in his screen debut.
Cast with Sean Connery’s co-stars from the Bond films, the film, which was released in some territories as O.K. Connery, Operation Double 007 and Secret Agent OO, is an amusing attempt to cash in on the OO7 craze with the added curiosity value of Neil trying to follow in big brother’s footsteps. Actually, you can’t blame Neil. He wasn’t even an aspiring actor at the time. He was working as a plasterer in Edinburgh when he was invited to make a screen test by enterprising producer Dario Sabatello.
According to the biography Sean Connery by Michael Freedland, Neil knew he got “the screen test on the strength of his brother’s reputation, but there was absolutely no reason why he couldn’t go into a film career on his own and be a success on his own…For his trouble, Neil was paid even less than Sean had received for Dr. No…Sean tried to buy all the prints [of Operation Kid Brother], but the director saw immortality at risk and refused…Neil didn’t feel all that perturbed by the affair. He went back to work as a twenty-pounds-a-week plasterer on a building site in Edinburgh and back to his council home at night. If he became a star through the film, he would be absolutely delighted, but until he was able to join the Martini set himself, he was content spending his evenings at the pub drinking Scotch and playing darts.” Operation Kid Brother went virtually unnoticed amid all of the other James Bond imitations in release in 1967 despite the Connery connection. But that wasn’t the end of Neil’s film career. He actually bounced back to co-star with George Sanders and Maurice Evans in The Body Stealers (it is also known as Thin Air), a low-budget sci-fi thriller in 1969 followed by featured roles in several British TV series. But back to Neil’s film debut.
Italian producer Sabatello’s eagerness to associate his project with the Bond series is beyond shameless and part of the film’s peculiar attraction. He not only recruits 007 series regulars Bernard Lee (M) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) as Neil’s co-stars but also adds actors from previous Bond ventures – Anthony Dawson (of Dr. No), Daniela Bianchi (of From Russia With Love), and Adolfo Celi (of Thunderball). He even throws in a sinister female assassin named Lotte Krayendorf (played by Ana Maria Noe) who is clearly modeled on Lotte Lenya’s deadly Rosa Klebb character in From Russia With Love.
The most absurd aspect of the whole enterprise is the fact that Sabatello royally bungles his casting coup of Neil Connery. We don’t even get to hear his Scottish brogue or real voice; he’s dubbed by an unidentified American actor with a flat, colorless voice. (Some sources claim Neil was unavailable to loop his dialogue due to illness). And while there is an unmistakable family resemblance to Sean, on a physical level Neil lacks his older brother’s more obvious movie star attributes. The scruffy goatee and mustache don’t help and in appearance and mannerisms he resembles Jose Ferrer in one of his more humorless roles like I Accuse!
Then there is the occupation issue. Neil doesn’t even play a secret agent. He’s a plastic surgeon who gets recruited by Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee) to help thwart Mr. Thai (Adolfo Celi) in his attempts to control the world through a device that freezes anything with moving metal parts (We are spared the intricate details of how this would work and it’s merely a Hitchcock McGuffin to keep the narrative moving forward). Luckily Dr. Connery – yes, that’s how he is addressed but more on that later – is skilled in martial arts, archery, lip reading and hypnosis. Still, he’s no secret agent and Sabatello gets extra black marks for not hiring Sean Connery’s wardrobe supervisor from the Bond films.
Poor Neil never gets an opportunity to look dashing and debonair like his super spy brother. Instead he gets to sport a boring white surgeon’s lab coat, a kilt with matching cap (it might be macho in Scotland but do you really want to see a secret agent in a kilt?), a pair of hogwashers like some hick off the set of the Hee Haw TV series and other inappropriate attire for an action-adventure hero.
But if Sabatello completely fails to properly exploit his new “star” Neil Connery in Operation Kid Brother, it’s probably because he was totally preoccupied over possible law suits from the Ian Fleming estate and James Bond producers Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. That explains not only why you’ll never hear the name James Bond mentioned in this film but also why some of the characters played by Neil Connery and Lois Maxwell are named after themselves. Even the film’s theme song is named “OK Connery.” The Italians are crazy, no?
Still, screenwriters Paolo Levi, Stefano Canzio, Frank Walker and Stanley Wright found creative ways to get around this. Take, for example, this exchange between the two main villains Mr. Thai (Adolfo Celi) and Alpha (Anthony Dawson):
Mr. Thai (referring to Commander Cunningham): “He’s enlisted the aid of that young Scottish doctor, you know, the brother of secret agent 00….”
Alpha (interrupting him abruptly): “Yes, I’ve heard. A most disagreeable family.”
Dr. Connery: “It’s going to blow up soon. Maybe even tomorrow. With you on board.”
Maya (Daniela Bianchi): “You read too many novels by Fleming.”
It’s like we’re trapped in some weird alternate James Bond universe where some of the characters are actually the actors who play them but what’s really missing is 007 and the lavish production values that make his films such luxurious escapism. Which is not to say that Operation Kid Brother is a waste of your time. If you have a fondness for the sixties secret agent genre and anything derivative of the James Bond series, then you may find this trifle as entertaining, if not more so, than any of the O.S.S. spy series which featured such actors as Ivan Desny, Kerwin Mathews, Frederick Stafford, John Gavin and Luc Merenda in the role of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, aka OSS 117. Of course, the best OSS 117 is Jean Dujardin, who turns the series on its head in his hilarious deadpan parodies that began with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006). Operation Kid Brother, directed by Alberto De Martino (The Tempter, Django Shoots First, Crime Boss), is both a parody and a straightforward espionage thriller and from scene to scene, De Martino doesn’t seem to know the difference between either, resulting in a movie that never finds its tone but that’s part of the fun. The pacing never flags and there are several scenes of show-stopping silliness like one where a troupe of female spies, dressed up like saloon girls out of the American wild west, stop a convoy of MPs. They seduce and overpower them, hijack their top secret cargo and then strip down into their cat costumes (complete with facial whiskers) and make their getaway in a Las Vegas-like carnival float advertising “The Wild Pussy Club.” There is also a clever visual introduction to Celi’s Mr. Thai that opens with a movie being projected on the back of a naked woman as the camera pulls back to reveal Celi watching THAT as he’s being massaged. Such decadence!
The gadgetry and weaponry in Operation Kid Brother is especially laughable and includes a remote-controlled car bomb, a camera disguised as a flower in a lapel that can project wall-sized images and a knife ejector that launches blades into its victims. The music score, composed by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, is a brassy and bombastic John Barry imitation and the quirky theme song sung by Khristy has an unmistakable spaghetti western vibe which isn’t surprising since Morricone and Nicolai were doing double duty at the time, composing back to back scores for Italian-made spy thrillers and westerns.
There is also plenty of eye candy on display from Daniela Bianchi, modeling an array of over-the-top outfits, and assorted international starlets such as Celi’s crew of female assistants dressed in matching sailor outfits. Best of all, Lois Maxwell gets to play a much more aggressive, take-charge version of Miss Moneypenny, emerging from tropical foliage at one point with machine-gun blazing – Go, girl!
Over the years, Operation Kid Brother has been ribbed mercilessly on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and generally treated like a bastard child but it’s nothing Neil Connery needs to be ashamed of. As he once told an interviewer at the time of the movie’s release, “If this film thing doesn’t happen, it won’t worry me. I’m not the worrying kind.”
Even if Operation Kid Brother was the only film he ever made, it brought Neil international exposure, however brief, which was pretty amazing when you think about it. Here he was, a working class plasterer from Edinburgh, suddenly cast in the top billed role with no acting experience in a movie build completely around him and filmed in such exotic locales as Monaco, Spain and Morocco. So what if the opportunity was due to his brother’s stardom or that he didn’t get to use his own voice in the film? Who wouldn’t jump at an opportunity like that and get paid for it besides? It must have been a stranger than fiction experience for Neil and I wonder if Edinburgh hosted a special premiere party for Neil, his family and pub mates.
Operation Kid Brother is still not available on DVD though you might be able to track down old VHS copies of it. It is also available for streaming through Amazon and you can probably find the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version on the internet though the original movie is a lot funnier than the wisecracks hurled at the screen by the MST3K crew.