"Maroc 7" constitutes comic actor Leslie Philips' one and only foray into film production in the late sixties under the banner of Cyclone Films. A lavish-looking secret agent thriller obviously riding on the coat tails of the James Bond franchise, this stylish British production doesn't ever really come to life plot wise, but thanks primarily to the absolutely stunning re-mastered transfer delivered on Network's brand new UK DVD release, it could still have a life yet for lovers of quaint sixties-era chic and screen glamour (of which it has a bucket-load), since the film's beautiful, ultra glossy CinemaScope photography is now rendered in all its glory, with the story's mystery, intrigue and action dramatics taking place against a colourful North African backdrop boasting some impressive ancient ruins and much local exotica. The film's director, Gerry O' Hara, was deeply involved during the early sixties with the emerging new breed of independent producers in British cinema such as Tony Tensor, and helmed the very first Compton productions that sought to cash-in on an increasing demand from the British public for more sexually frank material -- namely, films such as "That Kind of Girl" and "The Pleasure Girls". His better-known work is probably the 1979 Joan Collins sex vehicle "The Bitch", yet even in his early days as an exploitation director, O'Hara was a skilled and reliable pare of hands who could be entrusted with even the lowliest project, having already built up a life-time's-worth of experience behind the lens working as assistant director with first-tire names like Otto Preminger and Carol Reed on lavish productions such as "Exodus". That experience is very evident throughout "Maroc 7", as O'Hara artfully enhances a thinner-than thin plot that rapidly dwindles in interest throughout the film's running time with crisp, concise direction and visually dynamic set-ups, continually making the most of the film's two only real selling points: its stunning-looking model/actresses clad in fabulous, cutting-edge sixties fashions (which now look even more exotic than they did then, thanks to the sixties nostalgia factor) and the visually opulent exteriors, filmed on location in Morocco.
The story is a twisty tale of undercover detective work and double-crossing jewel thieves that makes little sense but always looks absolutely stunning - a fact which just about makes up for its deficiencies in the end. The leading man playing James Bond surrogate Simon Grant is Gene Barry, better known at the time for the TV series Burke's Law. The role is somewhat sketchy, since the twist-laden plot requires everyone to be suspect to some degree. The film starts with Grant breaking into a lavish mansion dressed like the Milk Tray Man, and stealing some jewels from the home safe of top fashion magazine editor Louise Henderson, here played by Fred Astaire's ex-partner Cyd Charisse in what is admittedly a tail-of-career role for her, if still a glamorous one.
It turns out that Grant is actually our debonair (if slightly gone to seed) hero - an undercover agent who while tracking an international gang of jet-setting jewel thieves, has linked their activities to the movements of Henderson and her retinue of fashionistas. Finding stolen jewellery in Henderson's safe provides him with the evidence he needs to prove that she is involved with the gang, perhaps even heading it; so Grant turns up at one of the trendy soirees regularly held at the magazine's swanky headquarters, this one on the eve of a trip to Morocco for the Mag's latest fashion shoot, and manages to persuade Henderson and her suave fashion photographer Raymond Lowe (Leslie Philips) to let him in on their latest job, convincing them of his criminal credentials by revealing that it is he who divested Louise of her safe's already stolen contents.
It turns out the job involves smuggling a priceless medallion out of Morocco and replacing it with an inexpensive fake, with the exotic backdrops of Lowe's planned fashion photo shoots really being the secretly veiled scouting missions intended to establish the location of the trinket for later recovery.This much information Grant manages to collect when, soon after landing with the party of models, photographers and hangers-on, he beds down Bond-style with the magazine's chief model of exclusive Haute Couture, Claudia (Elsa Martinelli of Lucio Fulci's "Perversion Story"). She leads him to wheelchair-bound archeologist Professor Bannen (Eric Barker), but he's already been drowned in his own swimming pool soon after Henderson and Lowe last paid him a visit, whereupon local French law official Inspector Barrada (Denholm Elliot) decides to have his own undercover agent Michelle Craig (Alexandra Stewart), assist Grant's investigation after he's discovered suspiciously lingering over the body.
With the medallion MacGuffin established early, the rest of the film is a breezy mix of playful repartee between Barry and the bevy of exotic beauties who are all in pursuit of it for various reasons, with Leslie Philips taking on the somewhat unlikely role of untrustworthy quasi heavy who may have become directly involved in murder in his desire to track down the priceless piece for Henderson. Naturally, nothing is what it seems and there are many twists and sudden character reversals as dead bodies quickly start piling up, among them Henderson's innocent assistant Freddie (Angelia Douglas) who winds up bloodily dispatched with her corpse deposited in the back of Grant's Impala (she gets a nice burial place amid Morocco's imposing ancient desert ruins though, so ... swings and roundabouts!). But Grant remains rather a thin character, with nowhere near the bite of Sean Connery's Bond and no real back story of his own ever established. He already looks slightly too middle-aged to convey the babe-magnet image the role requires, although his performance does have some similarity with Roger Moore's raised-eyebrow approach to acting, particularly in Moore's later years as Bond. The film relies more on cutting edge sixties style and high fashion than Bond ever did though, which forges something of a link with "The Avengers" and its light-hearted style-based approach to the spy genre. O'Hara had indeed directed several episodes during the Diana Rigg era of the show when its format reached its apotheosis; and Paul Ferris's wonderful theme manages to capture both "The Avengers" lightness of touch and Bond's elegant bombast. There is a point in the film when it looks as if Barry's relationship with Alexandra Stewart's rival secret agent is indeed set to develop along Steed and Mrs. Peel lines, but when Barry makes a pass at her moments after having been last seen seducing Elsa Martinelli's character in his hotel room, we know that the movie is sticking rigidly and somewhat inappropriately to the charmless womanising Bond formula on which the film mostly depends for its audience. With a glorified cameo from Denholm Elliot and a somewhat bemusing one from Lionel Blair as a foreign hotel receptionist, the film has its side pleasures as well, but the somewhat laboured final act leaves it badly trailing its more exciting peer, and its prospects are hardly helped by the last twenty minutes being shot in darkened day-for-night exteriors that leech all the attractive colour and gaudy pizzazz away from it.
Network Releasing have given the film a rousing DVD presentation that showcases its lush photography and vivid sixties fashions to maximum effect, marking this as shallow but visually opulent eye-candy, best kept for a lazy afternoon's viewing. The disc features an extensive catalogue of photographs as an extra with a total of three photo galleries featuring behind the scenes shots, publicity materials and a host of film stills; and the trailer does a decent job of selling the film on its lush appearance and noteworthy star names, all the while accompanied by Ferris's melodic theme music.