The Women Who Lived For Danger, by Marcus Binney

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“Truth which proves to be just as exciting and interesting as any fiction.”

In World War II, the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) recruited and trained a number of women agents for insertion into occupied territory. There, they risked torture and execution, while carrying out missions of intelligence-gathering, subversion and sabotage. The exploits of some have received the recognition they deserve (such as Violette Szabo, who received both Britain’s George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre), but most seem to have slid through the cracks of time – Binney’s book is a solid and commendable effort to save at least a few from historical oblivion.

After a introductory chapters on agent recruitment, training and life in general, the book devotes a chapter to each of ten agents. Their backgrounds, characters, experiences and fates cover as wide a range as imaginable. There’s Virginia Hall, an American citizen who had a wooden leg but still climbed across the Pyrenees to get from France to Spain. Pearl Witherington, who controlled an entire region of French Maquis fighters after D-day. Szabo, who was executed in Ravensbruck. Paola del Din, aged 20, had just four days training for her work as a courier.

Perhaps most fascinating of all is Christina Granville (right), born Krystyna Skarbek in Poland. Described as “the most capable of all SOE’s women”, with “lightning reactions…extraordinary stamina and agility.” She could talk the Gestapo into releasing captured agents, and also persuaded the garrison at Larche to surrender. Her “film-star assurance and glamour” meant men hurled themselves at her feet: one spurned lover threw himself into the Danube, though the river, unfortunately, was frozen at the time. After surviving the war, however, another unwanted beau stabbed her dead in 1952. A movie of her life, starring Sir Winston Churchill’s daughter, was mooted but never occurred. An opportunity still awaits.

The book’s main flaw is less to do with the author than time; thanks to bureaucratic pruning and even a fire, SOE records are “maddeningly incomplete”. This means stories frequently have gaps or peter out, but this is inevitable when you write a historical record, 60 years after the event. Binney does occasionally get bogged down in tedious detail, but on the whole, this is fascinating reading. As the book concludes, “these women were to show…valour, determination and powers of endurance…They had to be alert, quick-witted, calm and unruffled, while constantly playing a part.” These are stories which deserve to be told.

By: Marcus Binney
Publisher: Coronet (UK), 2002, £7.99

Cat’s Eye

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“Some truly great sequences lift this otherwise average manga adaptation.”

Despite an overall rating that is only mildly above average, when this is good, it is fabulous, and that’s why it merits recommendation. The highlight is probably a delirious first ten minutes, in which our three heroines steal a painting, and are pursued by the relentless and dogged Detective Hoshio (Harada), who doesn’t realise the cafe where he eats is run by the thieves he’s after. [If this sounds familiar, High-Heeled Punishers used a very similar idea in an S&M setting] This opening is lovely high-camp, played (as it should be) totally straight, with a beautiful sense of progression – both pursued and pursuers use wonderfully evolving gadgets.

Indeed, all the action is great. Unfortunately, instead of sticking to this simple concept, the major thrust has the trio seeking their father, an artist kidnapped 20 years ago, which brings them against the Chinese mafia and their assassin, Black Flag, played by Sho Kosugi’s son, Kane. This plot is badly-written, and drags the movie down like an anchor. Apparently, beyond basics, it also bears little resemblance to the 18-volume manga and 73-episode anime series which ran between 1981 and 1984, though I’m unfamiliar with them or the previous live-action version, a TV special aired in 1988.

Most fans seemed to hate this; as a neutral, I wasn’t so upset, though neither characters nor acting were exactly memorable – in particular, I found it hard to tell the heroines apart, especially when clad in their PVC cat-suits (complete with little pointy ears!). However, as disposable fluff, the time passed quickly enough, even if I would have loved more heists, and less flaky familial fiddling.

Dir: Kaizo Hiyashi
Star: Yuki Ichida, Izumi Inamori, Morika Fujiwara, Kenta Harada

GLOOW: Hovember to Remember

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“Someone, someday will run a serious US women’s wrestling federation. GLOOW is not that group.”

I keep buying DVDs like this, hoping against hope to strike gold. Not to say it doesn’t have the occasional guilty pleasure, but knowing the name used to stand for “Gorgeous Ladies of Oil Wrestling” (the second O eventually became “Outrageous”), should give you a rough idea of what to expect on this DVD, filmed in November 2002 at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory. If not, then bouts such as the Battle of the High School Virgins or Hardcore Bra and Thong Match should provide a clue, and explain why Chris was rolling her eyes at the prospect.

However, she’d probably admit it wasn’t quite as tacky as feared – no actual titties, and I definitely saw her smirking in the tag-team battle featuring midgets Little Louie and King Sleazy (and who’d disagree?). Nor could she deny that ‘Prime Time’ Amy Lee vs. Riptide, who cuts a great promo, was also a damn fine brawl. Though you couldn’t tell by moronic commentators Jeffrey J. James and Eric Garguilo, who give teenage humour a bad name, but at least the sound quality on the DVD was mercifully poor and their drooling frequently inaudible. Oddly, for a women’s fed, they had a man (Greg Matthews, from Tough Enough) wrestle champion G.I. Ho for the title. This was okay too, despite a cop-out ending that demonstrated another problem – watching this in isolation, you had no idea of the storylines leading up to it, or who half the characters were.

While GLOOW seems to have died, many of them are now part of Women’s Extreme Wrestling. It was from their Ebay seller, soprovideo, that I got this double DVD set, though buyers should beware: the discs took six weeks to arrive, were DVD-R (with the title written in Sharpie), and the second one refused to work in the player, and had to be nursed on the PC. Still, I only paid $6, not the $29.95 price on the site. Needless to say, that’d be far too much to pay for one memorable bout and a lot of juvenilia.