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Underrated Gems: Condorman

Animeman73Jun 5, 2020, 11:30:40 PM

 You know, this will come off as a surprise to many. Before it became the giant conglomerate nightmare there was a time where Disney had game. Never was that truer than with the Underrated Gem from 1981. The ction/adventure/comedy Condorman.

There was a time Disney wasn't the conglomerate nightmare it's become.

Everything about this movie, from the opening, screams pay attention to me! The opening has a musical score composed by the late great musical genius Henry Mancini. If a musical score is vital for a movie, then Mancini shows why he'll always be a legend in the industry. The opening features a cartoon version of Condorman flying around Paris. The way the movie intro transfers into the first scene is brilliant. Condorman land the Eiffel Tower.

The opening shows classic Disney animation abability.

Woody (Woodrow) Wilkins, played by Michael Crawford, is a professional comic book writer. He's visiting Paris to to come up with ideas for his latest character Condorman. Woody is a dreamer and creative type, who fancies himself a superhero. So much so that sometimes he can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. All with humorous results. An example of this is at the beginning of the film. Woody is on the Eiffel tower dressed in his Condorman attire and ready to take flight. Below on the street, his friend Harry Oslo, played by James Hampton, shows up with a camera to take pictures of Woody. 

This s a job...for Condorman! And a recipe for disaster!

At first everything goes well…and then one of the wings on Woody’s suit breaks and down into the Seine river he goes. They return back to Harry's flat. Woody expresses his frustration over his ideas not working. Harry thinks that he should take a break and head back to the United States. Then Woody explains how he admires Harry for his job at the CIA. Harry tries to explain he’s a clerk.

James Hampton as Harry Oslo is there to shoot the fiasco.

In the next scene, it’s discovered that the person Harry works for is in fact, the head of the CIA’s Paris operations. This was back in 1981, at the beginning of the latter days of the Cold War. Harry's boss Russ Devlin, played by Dana Elcar, explains that some papers need to delivered.

Meet Harry's boss played by the late Dana Elcar

He also insists it's a simple operation and that a civilian can do it, all while he’s heading off to an important meeting. Thereby leaving poor Harry in quite the predicament.

In desperation, Harry calls in a favor from Woody for this CIA effort. Harry meets Woody at the local train station in Paris. Woody, who’s always wanted to play secret agent, dressed Humphrey Bogart style. Gee, that doesn’t stand out at all.

Oh yeah Woody you don't stand out at all!

In Istanbul, the scene opens with a belly dancer enter-taining the patrons of a local hot spot. Woody enters…and immediately trips, causing a bit of a ruckus. Woody tries to explain things to a waiter who walks towards him with a flaming poker. And then poor Woody falls over into the lap of a good-looking woman named Natalia, played by Barbara Carrera. It be-comes obvious that he's smitten with her. Oof, cupid is funny, one never knows when he strikes. And poor Woody finds himself stumbling over himself to get her the documents. Considering how beautiful she is, it’s understandable.

Hello good looking lady!

Woody tells her how he’s actually an International man of mystery type, called Condorman. And then comes one of the funniest scenes in the movie, where Woody orders a triple Istanbul special. The drink turns out to be a literal fiery concoction. Woody has to use his hat to stifle, before breathing out fire from his mouth, after taking a sip. The horrified/befuddled look on his face is hysterical.

Woody, you really might not want to drink that.

As things get interesting, some local thugs show up, hired by the Chinese, looking for Natalia. Even back in the days of the Cold War, it was no big secret that the U.S.S.R. and China didn’t exactly like each other all that much. The thugs try to stop the two when they try to leave. In the brawl that ensues, Woody manages to dodge a knife attack and other assailants by the seat of his pants. The most he ends up with, is a dry-cleaning bill for his coat.

Natalia returns to her apartment in Moscow. There, she's greeted by her boss Sergei Krokov, played by the late, and great, Oliver Reed. Natalia explains her meeting in Istanbul, including the CIA operative's name, Condorman. Krokov, recog-nizes that Natalia is having doubts about the Soviet Union’s cause. He explains she will not be going to Monti Carlo, and that she needs reeducation in the ways of “their masters”.


Back in Paris, as night falls, Woody is concentrating on his latest drawing. It’s a picture of Natalia, who he is smitten with. He tries to show off his super heroine, Laser Lady, to Harry, who's fast asleep.

Woody's at work, and he's smitten.

The next day things get interesting at the CIA office. Harry's told by his boss that a person called “the Bear” wants to defect. And they insist on the CIA operative known as Condorman. Harry confesses he knows who it is. Woody, at first, is reluctant on the idea of helping a Russian agent code named “The Bear” come over to the West. That changes when Russ Devlin reveals that the defector is Natalia Rombovia of the KGB. Woody and Harry have to do some fast talking to get Russ to agree to put together the gadgets that Condorman uses. Russ Devlin finally agrees to it.

The movie then jumps to Yugoslavia. Woody meets up with Natalia and they attempt to flee. Two of Krokov’s agents manage to catch them. The two try and bluff their way out, but to no avail. Woody, or rather Condorman, explains he doesn’t carry a gun, as it’s against his code. In short, guns scare him because of the noise, and adds he only has his cane. Insert a delightful comedic surprise, when it turns up the cane is actually a gun in disguise. Making fun of the James Bond films much? And poor Woody yelps in fright as the gun/cane goes off causing Natalia and Krokov’s two men to dive for the ground. Woody’s response is pure comedic genius. “That’s a hair trigger, fastest cane in the West."

One of Krokov’s men tries to grab Woody, who ducks. The agent gets hit from behind with the cane before the two flee. In a Gypsy truck and start driving down the Yugoslavian roads as Woody explains what America is like.

A perfect disguise for the roads of Yugoslavia.

The scene changes to Monti Carlo, an enraged Krokov has learned of Natalia escape. He orders that Natalia remain alive as, “Death is too good for that little traitor,”

But that the man (Woody) is expendable. Krokov activates the Prognoviach, the KGB's pursuit squadron. Their leader is the homicidal glass-eyed assassin Morovich, played by Jean-Pierre Kalfon. In a brief cut scene, a panicked Yugoslavian town populace, shows how feared the KGB unit is.

Norovich as portrayed by  Jean-Pierre Kalfon. Isn;'t that glass eye just freaky!

They intercept Woody and Natalia, but the would-be man of mys-tery has a few surprises of his own. The Gypsy truck turns in-to a sports car. 

Oops surprise!

This vehicle, would end up being the proto-type for KITT, AKA the Knight Rider car. Once again, through sheer luck, the protagonist defeats the infamous KGB unit. Natalia and Woody escape when the sports car turns into a jet-propelled boat. Even from beneath his helmet, it’s clear the dangerous KGB field operative is not pleased.

Back in Monti Carlo, Krokov is even less pleased, and em-barks on a tirade of epic proportions. “Have you seen this report on this Condorman, on this man Wilkins? He is an amateur, do you hear? He is not an agent of the CIA; he is a writer of comic books!”

He is NOT an agent of the CIA, he is a writer of comic books!

In this scene it’s clear that when throwing a fit, or be-ing a cool and calculating villain, Oliver Reed was having a ball. Krkov predicts where Woody and Natalia are heading.

Whether rafging or cool and calculating it's clear Oliver Reed was havinga babll!

That place turns up to be a small town in Italy. Krokov sends the authorities to arrest the two on false charges. Even Woody has to admit, they’re in trouble. Then a person claiming to be a police detective from Monti Carlo comes to fetch the "felons". The detective is in fact, Harry Oslo in disguise. This is the plan B that Russ Devlin was improvising back in Paris. The three leave in a small car, but end up having to run when they spot Morovich, who is coming to collect Natalia. The three mix in with an Italian wedding. It seems the danger-ous KGB agent is about to trap the three. Then Natalia starts a commotion by claiming she’s married to the groom. This starts a fight in the church between the two families. Romeo and Juliet much? The three use the fight commotion to escape. Smooth Natalia, very smooth.

The scene changes to an Inn near the Swiss Alps, where the three get a room. While Woody gets some sleep, harry uses the bathroom to get a shower. Natalia, is curious about the children staring at her since she arrived. She then finds out Woody is not the great secret agent he claims to be. See Woody, it’s not good to tell lies, sooner or later you get found out. Harry runs out of the Inn, looking worried.

Uh-oh, Busted! Explanation time!

The next day, they clamber up a mountain and find some jet-propelled gear. It's meant to take them across a cable line to freedom in the Western World. As cool as this idea is, I thought to myself, “Um, Woody, I appreciate your enthusiasm. Considering Krokov knew about Yugoslavia, don't you think you're a little exposed?

Ypu're leaving yourselves wide open as Morovich will now demonstrate.

That proves to be the case, as Krokov has prepared an am-bush. Morovich uses a sniper rifle to break the cable rider Woody and Harry are on. Then Krokov has his goons grab Natalia when she reaches the end. Natalia struggles as the villainous KGB official take her to Monte Carlo. But, it seems by some miracle, the snow provided padding that broke the fall of Woody and Harry. Condorman’s longtime friend whimpers, “I, am never moving again!”

Considering the drop, yeah, that’s understandable!

At the large villa, Natalia makes her hatred for Sergei Krokov clear. The man retorts that, more than anything, he wants to kill her. But he still needs her for negotiations with some well-to-do middle Eastern Sheikhs. She agrees to it.

Meanwhile, Harry has learned where Natalia is. Woody wants to go after her. But Harry explains that the mission is being scrapped. Woody admits he loves Natalia, and wants to get her to safety. Aww, what a guy!

At a formal gathering in Monte Carlo, Natalia and Krokov are making the rounds. Two Sheikhs attract the attention of the KGB official. Those two are in fact Woody and Harry in disguise.

. The next day, Woody has to dodge talking to a British Oil executive who seems to be nodding to everything he says. Oh, dear God, talk about cringy! He finally meets up with Natalia. She tries to explain that Krokov is watching, and that she’s changed her mind. But, as she leaves, she mentions bringing the dip, a reference to a conversation they had while at the Inn in Sweden. Harry then uses some powerful explosive to shake up the villa, setting off the alarms! Woody grabs Nata-lia and they scamper for the top of the building. Harry scrambles to a car and races away heading for the docks in Monte Carlo. But he forgets he’s in a country where people drive on the “wrong side” of the road. On top of the building, Woody sheds his garb to reveal a Condorman flying suit. Before he takes off, he asks if she wants out. As it turns up, surprise-surprise, she wants him. The two take off in the glider/suit. Krokov, Morovich, and their men shoot at them, but miss. Krokov then orders Morovich to “Prepare them.”

Oops, time to fly!

The two glide towards the dock, Harry races there to signal them…and forgets to turn on the brakes for the car. He ends up having the Rolls Royce go into the water. What a way for such a gorgeous car to go, down into the drink, what a waste! The defector and super-agent/comic book writer finally land. Woody takes off the flying suit. As it turns up, Natalia’s earlier proclamation that she’d changed her mind on defecting was a lie. All because, “Laser Lady would do anything to save the man she loves.”

The two kiss, but Harry interrupts, reminding them they're still in danger. They scamper into a nearby tent. What emerges from the tent is a three-person, jet-propelled speed-boat.

That's a slick looking speedboat!

Things get complicated when the Prognoviach, at the order of Krokov give chase. What ensues is one of the coolest boat chase scenes of all. Rather than fleeing, the speedboat has a laser blaster and smoke device. Through pure luck, Woody and Harry manage to destroy the boats of the KGB pursuit squadron. But, they’re not exactly free and in the clear. Morovich and Krokov pursue them, intent on killing Natalia. The laser weapon gets destroyed but not before it takes out the rocket launcher on the boat the KGB duo are using. Woody and the others reach a U.S. Government airlift. Krokov realizes there’s no way they can stop the trio, and orders the silver-eyed assassin to return to base.

"Return to base!' Yeah Krokov, you just got owned by an American comic book writer!

Hamulated by Woody/Condorman Morovich decides he's taking them all down. Krokov, realizing what the insubordinate assassin is about to do, dives off the boat. Morovich misses them, and ends up crashing into some nearby rocks, taking himself and the boat out. Woody and Harry let out a chuckle as they see Krokov emerge, wet, angry, and completely humiliated. Beaten by a comic book writer, oof, how embarrassing!

The final scene is in Los Angeles where Woody, Natalia, and Harry are taking in a Dodgers game. Natalia gets a Good Year blimp with a 'Welcome to the USA Natalia' message. Upin said blimp, the head of the CIA insists on using "Condorman" for what he calls a “Delicate mission”. The movie ends with Harry asking if Woody would like to take Condorman to a new location. Oh no, here we go again!

This movie, when it first came out, wasn't well-received critics. But over time, this Disney movie has built up quite a following. With comics abandoning fun for political ideology, this action-packed romp would be welcome. This movie has be-come a real underrated gem in Disney’s repertoire. Or at least the old Disney, not the nightmarish monopoly it is now. The film can be a little cheesy, but it’s enough for some chuckles. Also, Michael Crawford, who's British, wins the award for the worst American accent. A good example of this is when Woody and Natalia are fleeing the Prognoviach in Yugoslavia. Crawford’s British accent sneaks out. Oops, surprise!

Oops about this time Michael Crawford's British accent slips through.

But this movie is genuine fun with some okay writing. The crew and cast enjoyed themselves. If the cast and crew are happy, that says something. And that’s what makes Condorman an Underrated Gem.

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