Now released on DVD after being disinterred from the vaults of French distribution company Studio Canal to become part of Network Distributing’s on-going British Film Collection, this B flick understandably gets marketed with the latter’s ‘Edgar Wallace Presents’ strand, along with sundry recently released British-made second features from the ‘30s & ‘40s, and the 47 film strong series made at Merton Park by Anglo Amalgamated during the early-to-mid sixties. But “Five Golden Dragons” is in some ways far more interesting for what it says about the convoluted, serpentine fund raising strategies employed at the time by its fly by night producer Harry Alan Towers in order to get low budget projects like this off the ground in the first place, than for what actually ends up on the screen as a result, in this case posing as sub-Bondian jet set action with a dash of Sax Rohmer intrigue & adventure added for good measure.
Even at the time of its release in 1967, the actual content hardly seemed to matter, for the sheer amount of ballyhoo and flannel that must have been mandatory in the casting, financing and distribution departments to be able to sell this second feature as a desirable piece of action-drama mystery exotica to its various markets around the world (with genre emphasis varying according to the tastes of each territory) is what in reality truly marks out its reason for existing in the first place. Towers shows far more ingenuity in this respect than he ever does in his capacity as the film’s screenwriter, where he’s working under his traditional writer’s nom de plume of Peter Welbeck to furnish a rather rudimentary mystery drama that’s only vaguely relevant to the Wallace mould it attempts to fit.
The Edgar Wallace connection is actually so negligible as to be barely worth highlighting, although the film is ostensibly based on the author’s ‘Commissioner Sanders’ tales, with Rupert Davies (who would have still been remembered at the time for his lead role a few years earlier in the popular 60s BBC series “Maigret”) cannily cast as the Shakespeare quoting Sanders to rather good effect. Except that, in the end, the character is actually only made a secondary one in regard to the rather threadbare adventure plot Towers weaves around him, one which allows Davies only a handful of minor scenes in his office played opposite his second in command, Officer Chaio (Roy Chiao, later known for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”), and a few brief procedural sequences later on, while the bulk of screen time gets assigned to 57-year-old imported American star Robert ‘Bob’ Cummings as the film’s improbable playboy holidaymaker lead Bob Mitchell, who gets embroiled in murder, smuggling and secret society shenanigans after being left a note by an American Lawyer he briefly met in a bar one time, which bears the inscrutable phrase ‘five golden dragons’. Unfortunately, the lawyer gets hurled from the top floor of a Hong Kong block of flats by a hooded cult member before he can reveal the significance of this cryptic missive.
There is method to Towers’ madness. The producer was always much adept at working to secure multiple niche markets at once in order to expand potential acquisitions and create more funding opportunities for himself; and to that end, the domestic success of West Germany’s Edgar Wallace Krimi series is what determines the main marketing thrust of this somewhat flimsy though unobjectionable affair, which spends so much time trying to be all things to all audiences that it ends up with very little personality of its own at all. A fair whack of the production costs were covered by Constantin Film Produktion (distributor of the Rialto Krimi series) which leads to German B flick regulars such as Klaus Kinski (here made a bow-tie wearing henchman of ambiguous sexual orientation) being brought on broad and given minor roles in the action to enhance the illusion of an association with the long-running Rialto Wallace Mystery franchise. At the same time, with his other eye on international markets, Towers throws as many past-it veteran Hollywood names at the screen as meagre finances will allow, in the hope of distracting attention from any prolonged consideration of the actual thinness of the intrigue and banality of the mystery that’s being proffered.
Thus we have Hollywood tough guy legend George Raft, Hammer’s Americanised Bernard Quatermass himself Brian Donlevy, and Dan Duryea (who co-starred opposite Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang’s “Scarlet Street” in 1945), appearing alongside Christopher Lee in blink-and-you’ll miss them walk-on cameos only just about long enough to justify their star-billing while they play four of the five heads of a secretive, paranoid gold smuggling Dragon syndicate who arrive in Hong Kong from their respective bases in Paris, Rome, New York and Beirut having never previously met before. The main mystery is meant to revolve around the identity of the fifth Dragon, who resides in Hong Kong and is unknown to either the authorities or his fellow conspirators. The gang is about to dissolve its operations and hand over its business to the Mafia for a lucrative settlement, which is to be divided between all five interested parties. Naturally there is internecine plotting afoot given so much money at stake and Commissioner Sanders wants to catch all five members red-handed, while Hitchcock star Bob Cummings --“Saboteur” (1942), “Dial M for Murder” (1954) -- gets involved with two bikini-clad sisters less than half his age, who seem to be in the thick of it and are played by Maria Perschy and Towers’ 23-year-old wife Maria Rohm (wise-cracking Mitchell’s interests move from an initial romantic involvement with the former, straight on to a relationship with the latter as soon as Perschy’s character is bumped off in his hotel bedroom). The hapless protagonist (the film is somewhat hazy about just how much of Mitchell’s cheesy clowning and ineptitude is deliberate cover for his investigation) eventually also falls foul of a sultry cabaret singer called Magda (the divine Margaret Lee) and her sleazy boss Peterson (Sieghardt Rupp) who run a criminal network of Chinese thugs from hidden caves accessed through a backstage revolving wall in Magda’s dressing room.
This is a typical euro-pudding formula job from the Towers production stable, although it is one that at least has the added bonus of playing host to an exotic Hong Kong filming location, tacked on in order to generate some semblance of jet set appeal, although it was probably only available as a side benefit of Towers also having the use of The Shaw Brothers’ Hong Kong studio facilities for his production of “The Vengeance of Fu Manchu” -- one of the never-ending sequels in the Christopher Lee-starring ‘60s adventure series that was being made in tandem with this effort. The locale does bring a simulacrum of exotica to proceedings, such east/west flavouring adding to the movie’s generalised attempts to tap in to the travelogue, Bond/Euro-spy market -- though in truth this is an obvious cheapie, and there’s no disguising it. The film feels like it was hastily thrown together as an afterthought during downtime on the Fu Manchu flick, Brit director Jeremy Summers helming both. It forms the middle entry in a trio of movies that Summers made for Towers, all of them that same year, the third being the almost identically plotted Vincent Price quickie “House of a Thousand Dolls”. It’s by far the weakest of the three though, and despite the plot and style of the movie mimicking the generally cheerful, uncomplicated approach taken by the era’s many ITC film series (which Summers was also heavily involved in as a director of during the ‘60s and ‘70s, when he oversaw episodes of “The Saint”, “The Protectors” and “Jason King -- three out of the many shows he worked on that most resemble this in content), it struggles to hold the attention as well as it should across any number of flabbily paced set-piece chase sequences – a pursuit at the Hong Kong harbour across tethered sampans; a leisurely chase around the streets in rickshaws; and Rohm’s abduction while water-skiing -- which occur at regular intervals but always fall curiously flat despite the best efforts of Malcolm Lockyer’s upbeat lounge score to jazz things up. If the pace wasn’t already flaccid enough by the half-way mark of this over-long 100 minute film, Mitchell’s visit to The Blue Room nightclub takes it down several more notches when the action (such as it is) comes to a complete halt for three (yes, three!) cabaret numbers in a row, although the John Barry-esque theme song, mimed by Margaret Lee, is actually rather nice.
“Five Golden Dragons” is no great lost masterpiece then, but the presentation for this Network DVD release is, at least, satisfyingly exemplary. Boasting a fine, colourful 2.35:1 transfer, the film is unlikely to ever look any better than it does here. The release features the original theatrical trailer as an extra and, in addition, we're given an hour long audio interview with director Jeremy Summers, which was originally recorded in 2001 for The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). It covers his entire career, from a childhood spent on film sets (his father, Walter Summers ,was a film director - although not a particularly admired one by all accounts) to his involvement with Tony Hancock on his first film venture “The Punch and Judy Man”; and on to his prodigious ITC years working on everything from “Danger Man” to “The Avengers” and “Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)”; then, finally, we reach Summers' memories about his heavy involvement with British soap opera and drama, which includes his working on shows as diverse as “Coronation Street”, “Tenko”, “Shoestring” and “Brookside”. A brief image gallery of “Five Golden Dragons” posters and lobby cards is included on the disc, while if you load the DVD into the DVD-ROM drive of a computer you can also peruse the 1967 pressbook, which includes a plot synopsis, biographies of principle cast members and behind-the-scenes snaps. Those who enjoy the ‘60s action adventure vibe, or any of the ITC film series of the era, will doubtless find something to like here, but “Five Golden Dragons” is not one of the most engaging examples of its type and is probably a title destined to find favour mainly with completest collectors.