Code 7, Victim 5! (1964)

Another of producer Harry Alan Towers’ travelogue-esque tax write-offs masquerading as a creative project (see: Five Golden Dragons), the overly punctuated Code 7, Victim 5! casts five-time Tarzan Lex Barker as Steve Martin — neither the wild-and-crazy comedian, nor the Godzilla journalist, but an American private dick.

Apparently having left the “ain’t gonna play Sun City” pledge unsigned, Martin is summoned to South Africa by copper magnate Wexler (Walter Rilla, Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard) to investigate why the millionaire’s faithful butler has been murdered, and by whom — well, other than by men wearing cheap, Bozo-esque party masks. I’m not spilling, but the answer might have something to do with an old group photo of POWs, in which both Wexler and his no-longer-loyal servant are pictured.

With utilitarian direction from Robert Lynn, he of the rare espionage anthology Spies Against the World, the Technicolor Code has a lot going for it, beginning with a cold-blooded murder and a car chase down the winding roads that hug the cliffside — and that’s just the first 10 minutes! While we’re on the subject of huggable curves, because no Towers production of the era would be complete without offering two handfuls of lovely ladies, Martin gets a love interest in Wexler’s Danish secretary, Helga (Ann Smyrner, Reptilicus).

As if all those escapist elements weren’t enough, we also get a bare-knuckle brawl (in which Martin’s hair color magically changes from shot to shot, as Barker’s stunt double earns his pay), a shootout in underground caverns, a gorgeous underwater sequence (in which our scuba-geared leads are menaced by spear guns and a shark) and — for local flavor — a mondo-style bar scene featuring swarthy and shirtless gentlemen performing ill-advised tricks with needles and swords to the delight of drunken Caucasian tourists.

Narratively unremarkable, the film nonetheless delights as it plays — as should every international whodunit that cares enough to stage an ostrich stampede. —Rod Lott

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