Le Magnifique (1973)

Country: France
Director: Philippe De Broca
Starring: Jean Paul Belmondo, Jacqueline Bisset, Vittorio Caprioli
Music: Claude Bolling

Le Magnifique starts with an inspired Bond rip-off sequence, where a secret agent in a telephone booth is airlifted by helicopter and dropped into the ocean. But the ill-fated agents trouble doesn’t end there. Trapped in the booth, he drifts down to the sea bed, where a caged shark awaits to be released into the booth. The violent death of this agent forces the Head of the Secret Service to assign the best secret agent they have; Bob St. Clare (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Bob St. Clare is suave, self confident and lethal, and quickly finds himself in Acapulco and in the arms of the beautiful Tatiana (Bisset). But their interlude is interrupted when they are attacked on the beach by an army of scuba divers, armed with machine guns.

At this point the movie pulls the rug out from under the audience and reveals that Bob St. Clare is the fictional alter ego of reclusive novelist, François Merlin (also played by Jean-Paul Belmondo). Merlin creates a fantasy life within his novels far more exciting than his own, one in which characters from the real world drop in unannounced.

Jacqueline Bisset, looking her finest (even better than The Deep – although I do miss that wet t-shirt) plays the female lead, Merlin’s neighbour Christine (a sociologist) in the real world, and Tatiana, a beautiful, scantily clad operative in the imaginary one. But in this movie most of the sexual situations are based on misunderstandings, rather than conquest for power. And wait till the end, which I won’t reveal – it’ll will show you just how confused the characters are sexually (in a humorous way, of course!)

Le Magnifique is not particularly psychedelic like some of the late 60’s spy films, but it has some surreal moments, with events from the real world intruding on the literary one. Notable sequences include the cleaning lady vacuuming a path through the centre of a gun battle on the beach, and the arrival of the François’ son during a torture sequence in a South American pyramid.

Vittorio Caprioli plays the dual role of Merlin’s editor, who has less than honourable intentions towards Christine (Bisset), and he also plays the black leather clad Colonel Karpof the Head of the Albanian Secret Service. As this is a comedy there is no real menace to the villain and the henchmen all drop like tenpins. It really is the type of movie where one shot can kill ten bad guys!

Ultimately, Le Magnifique is one of the genres better spoofs. But be warned, although this movie is a comedy, it is extremely violent, in a comedic way, similar to various Monty Python sketches (you know the ones). So if you don’t mind your laughs covered in blood and brains, this movie is highly recommended.

Trivia: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jacqueline Bissett also appeared in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale. The old one…not the new Daniel Craig one.

So if anyone is trying to track down a copy a Le Magnifique, you have two choices.
• From amazon.com (America) you can get a version with subtitles (French Dialogue)
• But if you go to amazon.fr (France), their version has a strangely over the top dubbed version. (But no choice of subtitles)

This review is based on the Image Entertainment USA DVD

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Never Say Never Again (1984)

Director: Irvin Kershner
Starring: Sean Connery, Kim Bassinger, Max Von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Bernie Casey, Rowan Atkinson, Edward Fox as M, Alec McCowen as Algernon (Q Branch).
Music: Michel Legrand
Title Song performed by Lani Hall

James Bond is back! Never Say Never Again has a long tortuous production history which in itself could fill a book. Despite all the trials, tribulations and lawsuits, the end result is an ‘unofficial’ Bond movie with Sean Connery returning to the role that made him famous in the sixties.

The film is essentially a remake of Thunderball. The story concerns the evil crime organisation, S.P.E.CT.R.E., hijacking two nuclear warheads and blackmailing the western world for one hundred million dollars. Let’s have a closer look:

The film opens with James Bond storming a military complex in South America. A young lady is being held hostage and it is Bond’s mission to rescue her. Using guns, explosives and garotte wires, Bond eliminates the girls captors and enters the room where she is being held. He unties the ropes around her wrists and for his trouble, she reaches under the mattress, produces a knife and stabs Bond in the chest.

Hey, hang on! Where is the gunbarrel logo and the pre-title sequence? As this isn’t an official entry in the EON series, for copyright reasons, Never Say Never Again doesn’t have some of the familiar trapping that people associate with James Bond movies. Firstly, the famous gunbarrel logo at the start of the film – you know the one – where Bond walks onto the screen encircled by a bullets eye view of a gunbarrel – Bond turns and fires and a wash of blood covers the screen – well it’s gone. In it’s place are the numbers 007 repeated across the screen. And there is no pre-title sequence or cow-catcher as some people call it at the start. We are launched directly into the movie. Even Michel Legrand’s score, again for copyright reasons couldn’t use the James Bond theme. It is very different from other music in the series. Some of it is quite good; standouts include the Calypso sounds (including kettle drums) for Bond’s sojourn in the Bahamas, and the orchestral arrangement for the Tango sequence. But the title song, sung by Lani Hall is dreadful. And a small piece of trivia – the trumpet solo in the title song is by Herb Alpert who did the title tune to Casino Royale in 1967. So we are inside a movie that is very different to previous Bond films, and hard-core Bond fanatics may find it all rather disconcerting.

But back to the synopsis. Connery Bond had just been stabbed in the chest. Thankfully it is not for real. It is part of a series of wargames designed to assess the status of all M.I.6 operatives. But Bond’s death does not please his controller, M, this time played in a rather gruff manner by Edward Fox. Bond is sent to Shrublands health farm to loose a few pounds and get back into shape.

James Bond is not the only visitor to Shrublands. Other visitor’s include, Fatima Blush (Barabara Carrera), a killer for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Captain Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy). Petachi has had an operation on his eye, to make his retina identical to the President of the United States. Call me stupid, but where on earth can you find an image of the President’s retina, and secondly how can you replicate that pattern / image into the eyeball of another human being. Aside from that nonsense, Shublands happens to be conveniently close to a military base a base which in planning a training exercise with dummy nuclear warheads. Petachi’s mission is to go to the base, and using his fake eye as identification, change the dummy warheads, for live nukes. Bond realises something is afoot, but before he can act, he is attacked by Lippe, played by ex-wrestler Pat Roach. Petachi succeeds in switching the warheads, and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. get their hands on the nukes and hold the world for ransom. Soon after Bond is once again, called into service, and assigned to find the warheads.

Kim Bassinger, in an early role, plays Domino Petachi, Jack’s sister. Bond believes that if he gets close enough to her, he can find out about her brother and where the weapons are. Bassinger is certainly attractive enough, and while hardly being the worst Bond girl to ever grace the screen, she is a bit green in the acting stakes, and some of her scenes are quite awkward. However, she does have a few good scenes with Connery, particularly in a bath house, where Bond impersonates a masseuse, and on the dancefloor where they perform the tango.

Never Say Never Again’s underwater climax is slow moving and at times it is hard to tell who is good, and who is bad. It is the only true boring ending to any Bond film. It makes you long for the style of Terrence Young, and the ending to Thunderball.

The best thing about Never Say Never Again are the villains. The casting is generally very good. Max Von Sydow plays Blofeld, James Bond’s arch nemesis. Von Sydow is a stalwart of the genre (The Quiller Memorandum, 3 Days Of The Condor) and he adds a bit of weight to the role, although it is essentially a cameo.

The main villain is Maximillian Largo, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. Largo is architect of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s plan to steal the nuclear warheads. Brandauer is a brilliant actor, and his slightly theatrical performance is a great contrast to Connery’s. Brandauer has the ability to change from totally charming (dare I say it – loveable rogue) to icy malevolence with a single gesture.
Last but certainly not least is Barbara Carrera’s over the top performance as Fatima Blush. Fatima is Largo’s number one assassin. She is deliciously wicked, outrageously dressed, and always very easy on the eye. She is the type of woman, who after seducing Bond (though, that isn’t difficult), sets a pack of Tiger Sharks onto him.

Other cast members include Bernie Casie as Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter, and Rowan Atkinson has a cameo in the movie as Nigel Smallfawcett, the companies ‘Man in the Bahamas’. The role is underwritten and not very funny.

If you are a fan of the Bond movies then you must watch this, if only to compare it to the official series, but be warned, despite the presence of Sean Connery, the movie is not very good.

I my opening paragraph for this review I mentioned that Never Say Never Again had a tortuous production history. That’s putting it mildly. For the definitive story on the making of Never Say Never Again and it’s connection to Thunderball, you must obtain a copy of Robert Sellers book The Battle For Bond published by Tomahawk Press. It follows the saga from the late fifties through to 2006. Highly recommended.

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

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Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy Poster 2Director: John Glen
Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Kabir Bedi, Kristina Wayborn, Steven Berkoff, Vijay Amritraj, Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Monneypenny
Music: John Barry
‘All Time High’ performed by Rita Coolidge
Based on a short story by Ian Fleming

Christmas 1983 was a tense time for Bond fans. Octopussy was released starring Roger Moore as Agent 007, and soon to be released was Never Say Never Again, an independent film starring Sean Connery as Bond. Now with James Bond, there is no fence sitting. You are either a ‘Moore’ man, or a ‘Connery’ man. Fans had to decide. In the end, they voted for Moore. Octopussy was a huge success. But it wasn’t just Moore’s charm that won over the crowds. Octopussy, in every way was a superior film to the clunky, and trouble plagued Never Say Never Again.

The pre-title sequence takes place in South America. Agent 007, James Bond is sent to destroy a military installation. During the mission he is caught. He is bundled into a jeep with two armed guards and driven off to be interrogated and tortured (Actually they don’t tell us where they are taking Bond. I just guess it’s to be interrogated and tortured – after all, they are the ‘bad guys’.) Bond’s leggy assistant, in this un-named South American country is Bianca (Tina Hudson). She is following the vehicle transporting Bond to his doom. She is driving an open four-wheel-drive towing a horse float. As she pulls her 4WD alongside, she hitches up her dress exposing a generous amount of flesh. Bond’s guard’s attention diverts to the beautiful brunette, and Bond takes the opportunity to escape from custody. He leaps into the 4WD, snatching a machine gun on the way. As they drive past, Bond disables the jeep. It appears that Bond and Bianca are in the clear, but not so. A fleet of military vehicles give chase. At this point, Bond and Bianca pull over to the side of the road. Bond unclips the horse float, lightening the load so Bianca can speed of to safety. But Bond stays put. With reason. The float isn’t quite what it appears.

Rather than a horse, it actually houses a Acrostar jet – a really tiny, one man jet, with wings that fold up. Bond speeds off in the jet and it looks like he can easily fly across the border to safety. But that would have been too easy. The bad guys fire a heat seeking missile at Bond’s jet and a wild chase takes place in the sky overhead. Bond leads the heat seeking missile back the military installation he was sent to destroy and flies his miniature jet into a hanger. Naturally the missile follows. Bond flies out of the other end. But the missile detonates, sending the complex up in a ball of orange flame.

Like so many Bond, pre-title sequences, this one has nothing to do with the main story. It is simply a mini-movie before the main story takes place. As is Bond tradition, we are then treated to the main title sequence. The visuals are once again provided by Maurice Binder, and John Barry is back on soundtrack duties, after Bill Conti had scored the last movie. The title song, ‘All Time High’ is sung by Rita Coolidge. It is not one of my favourite Bond tunes, but I have a few friends who rate the song very highly. I seem to be the exception, so, I guess it is another successful opening to a Bond picture.

When we return, we get into the movie proper. We are in East Germany, and a clown is being chased through a forest by a set of twins, who happened to be expert knife throwers. The clown happens to be agent 009. Eventually the twins catch up to 009 as he tries to cross a river. One of the twins, accurately throws a blade and 009 falls into the river and drifts off dead. Or so we think. Most Double ‘O’s are pretty resilient, and 009 is no exception. Down river, he pulls himself from the water and makes his way to the British Ambassador’s residence, where he gate crashes a party and drops dead on the floor. From his lifeless hand, rolls a Fabergé egg.

For those not familiar with ‘what’ a Fabergé egg is; a Fabergé egg is any one of fifty Easter eggs (or fifty-two if you count the two that weren’t finished) made by Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian Czars. The eggs were made between 1885 and 1917 and each is decorated with enamel and gem stones. In short they are decorative, jewelled eggs.

As you can imagine, Fabergé eggs are very valuable and not easy to come by. The movie moves back to London and to M’s office. This time M is played by Robert Brown, who had taken over from Bernard Lee who had died a few years previous. It is never mentioned whether Brown’s character is the same one as played by Lee, or if he is the ‘new’ head of MI6. Coincidentally, Brown played Admiral Hargraves in The Spy Who Loved Me, and a part of me likes to think that he is the same character. After all, Lee’s M, Sir Miles Messervy was a nautical man (or the prints on the wall of M’s office, indicate he has an affinity with the sea). And James Bond himself was/is a Commander in the British Navy. So it makes sense that the ‘new’ M would come from the same stock. A Navy man!

But I digress. M is briefing Bond on his new mission. It appears that a Fabergé egg identical to the one recovered by 009 is being auctioned at Southerby’s in the afternoon. Obviously one is a fake and something is not above board. Bond is to attend the auction in an attempt to spot the seller. This is where the mission starts and this is where I leave the synopsis. Bond’s mission takes him to India, and then to East Germany and the dubious jewellery items are only the tip of the tentacle.

But who and what is Octopussy? Ian Fleming’s short story, Octopussy, concerned Major Dexter Smythe, a military man who had absconded with a shipment of Gold and set up a nice little life for himself in Jamaica. Bond’s mission is to kill him. The film has nothing to do with that short story. But the character Octopussy (Maude Adams), is the daughter of Dexter Smythe. In the film she lives on her own island in India, completely surrounded by women. She has built her fortune as a smuggler, and has also set up a circus, the ‘Octopussy Circus’ which travels from country to country. The circus acts as a cover for her smuggling activities. Maude Adams is quite good as the title character, but for fans of the series, who value continuity, Adams had appeared previously in The Man With The Golden Gun as Andrea Anders. It may have been good to see a fresh face in the role.

As always, Bond has a group of friends who help him through the mission. His allies include tennis player Vijay Amitraj, who plays a character called (funnily enough) Vijay. Vijay has a memorable scene, where I fights off some attackers with a tennis racquet. Also from Station I in India, is Sadruddin (Albert Moses). Debatable because her loyalties change, but Magda (Kristina Wayborn) is also one of Bond’s allies. At the climax of the film, she leads the performers of Octopussy’s Circus in a deadly assault upon Kamal Khan’s Monsoon Palace. And even old ‘Q’, Desmond Llewelyn gets into the action in this film, piloting a balloon at the climax of the film.

Along the way, Bond encounters the usual amount of villains and thugs. This time he goes up against an exiled Afghan Prince, Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), a power crazy Russian, General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), and an impossibly strong henchman, Gobinda (Kabir Bedi). Bond also has to contend with the knife wielding twins (David and Anthony Meyers). But as always, Bond comes out on top.

Louis Jordan as Kamal Khan is the last of the great sophisticated Bond villains. These days, the Bond villains tend to be physical equals of Bond, or psychopaths. But the early villains, like Dr. No or Goldfinger were cultured refined gentlemen. These days Bond is pitted against younger men who have power but no class – such as Alec Trevallyn or Gustav Graves. But Jordan is old school, and he is great. Particularly memorable is the scene where Bond and Khan are dining in the villain’s palace, and Khan outlines how he is going to extract information from Bond (Sodium Pentothal and Curare).

No discussion about a Bond film can be complete without a look at the gadgets (love em, or hate em) on display. In my synopsis I have mentioned the Acrostar miniature jet, but there are a few other gadgets on display throughout the film. During the mission, Bond uses a pen with acid cartridge inside. Confined to quarters, he uses this to cut through the metals bars protecting the window. Silliest gadget of them all, is a submersible Alligator, which Bond uses to escape from Octopussy’s private island. Not all of the gadgets belong to Bond, though. A henchman wields quite a lethal Yo-Yo Saw, which functions as a normal yo-yo does, the difference being that the sides are circular saw blades. Quite dangerous, and quite imaginative.

On the new Ultimate Edition DVD, there is some interesting test footage of American actor James Brolin preparing to take over the role of James Bond from Roger Moore. While I am hardly in a position to speculate about this (if you’re interested watch the DVD), I am glad common sense prevailed and the role of Bond didn’t go to an American. Bond is quintessentially British. And Roger Moore, even though he is possibly too old for the role, gives one of his better performances in one of the better Bond movies. Number 13 is an unlucky number for many people, but not so the Bond franchise. Octopussy the 13th film in the series was a resounding success. Not only was it a good film, it did well at the box office, and even had the strength to stand toe to toe with Connery and win.

For trivia fans, Ingrid Pitt is the voice of the Galley Mistress – “In – Out – In – Out!”

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

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Permission To Kill (1975)

Director: Cyril Frankel
Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Ava Gardner, Bekim Fehmiu, Timothy Dalton, Frederic Forrest
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett

It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally got around to reviewing Permission To Kill. You’d think it would be the first film off my bat, but alas, it has taken me a while to scribble down my thoughts on this film. And it’s a film that gets very mixed reviews elsewhere. It seems to be a film that you either love or hate. I hate to be a fence-sitter, but I am in the middle. It isn’t a masterpiece like some people insist. All the characters are rather unlikeable and quite frankly, Ava Gardner’s acting is well below par. It’s like watching a bad daytime soap in places. But it isn’t a turkey either, as it shows spying as a rather un-attractive business, and Bogarde, and Dalton’s performances are very good. Dalton in an early role, steals the show with his snarly intensity.

I’ll give you a very quick overview of the plot, and the characters that make up this labyrinthine tale of cross and double cross. It seems that many years ago, Alexander Diakim (Bekim Fehmiu) was a freedom fighter in a country ruled by fascists (Which country? They don’t say.) But during the struggle, Diakim was forced to flee the country and go into hiding. Here it is nine years later, and he is preparing to return home, and instigate and lead a revolution.

The first character we meet is Alan Curtis (Dirk Bogarde). He is an operative for the Western Intelligence Liasion. W.I.L. don’t want Diakim to go back at this time, and in an attempt to dissuade him, they put together an operation that will change his mind. But for the scheme to work, they need the co-operation of five people.

The first person in Melissa Lascade (Nicole Calfan). She too is a revolutionary, but not for any particular cause. She is motivated by money. And while she is very attractive, she is also a killer – an expert with firearms.

The second person is Scott Elliot Allison (Frederick Forrest). Allison is an idealistic journalist, and happened to be involved in Diakim’s revolution years ago. In fact Diakim saved Allison’s life.

Next on the list is Francois Diderot. Francois is an eight year old boy who lives in France with his adoptive parents.

The fourth person is Charles Lord (Timothy Dalton). Lord works in the finance section of the Foreign Office, and in the past, the Office had provided a fighting fund for Diakim. A loan that Diakim has been unable to repay.

And the final recruit is Katina Petersen (Ava Gardner). She once had a relationship with Diakim.

Curtis has bullied, manipulated, blackmailed, and lied to all of these people to get them to co-operate. But whatever his methods, he manages to get them all assembled in a small village in Austria. Of course, they are all unaware that other people are involved and are billeted out to various hotels, and chalets.

Here is where the story gets a little complicated and a whole lot deceptive. Allison has the first attempt to dissuade Diakim. And Allison is doing it from the heart. He arranges a meeting and talks to Diakim in person. He tells Diakim why he should wait until the West will support his return. Unfortunately the message falls upon death ears, because Curtis has been telling Diakim’s people that Curtis works for the C.I.A. Now hang on. It’s Curtis’ plan that Diakim shouldn’t go back. Why should he sabotage it by spreading false rumours about Allison? Ah, that would be telling!

Next we have Katina. It is now her turn to convince Diakim not to go. But she starts to get a little edgy, and doesn’t want anything to do with Curtis. Then Curtis, drags out Francois Diderot. Yep, the little boy. It seems that Katina is his mother and she gave him up for adoption when he was born. And adding to the level of convolution – guess who the father is? You got it, Diakim.

And where does Charles Lord fit into the picture? As I mentioned earlier, that he works for the Finance section of the Foreign Office. A section that had lent Diakim money. It is Lord’s job to pretend to be collecting the debt. And, or offering a bribe that he should stay. Of course, Diakim is too proud to accept the bribe, but that leads us into another plot strand that I won’t go into here.

As you can see, each of the characters has their own backstory and each of the character’s fates is intrinsically tied to the fate of Alexander Diakim. The story almost works, but the sheer level of twists and turns negate the clever aspects of the story. As I said at the outset, Permission To Kill is not a masterpiece but it is a reasonable spy thriller, and made in the same vein that so many of the early seventies spy films where. Gone were the glamorous days of the sixties, and in their place were gritty realistic spy stories, that had unpleasant people doing dirty little jobs. On that level, Permission To Kill may be one of the more successful attempts at showing that side of the game. But compared to a contemporary film, like The Bourne Identity (the Damon version), which also shows spying as a dirty business, younger audiences could find Permission To Kill to be rather cold, and in places, boring.

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The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy (2003)

Director: Anil Sharma
Starring: Sunny Deol, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Amish Puri, Kabir Bedi
Music: Uttah Singh
Choreography: Ganesh Acnabya

The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy is a big budget Bollywood spectacular. At the time of it’s release it was the most expensive Hindi film to date.

The film opens in Toronto Canada, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are honouring a top secret agent from India, Arun Kumah (Sunny Deol). The ceremony is packed with well wishers waving Canadian and Indian flags, and hordes of reporters and photographers all trying to get an interview with Kumah. Kumah’s responses are humble and low key. He quickly slips into a waiting limousine and is whisked away to the airport, and on board a plane, which presumably taking him back home.

During the flight, we flash back to three (possibly four) years earlier. Kumah tells us: “The mission started on the day Ishaq Khan, chief of Pakistan’s ISI hatched a deadly plot.”

Ishaq Khan (Amish Puri – you may remember him as the evil Mola Ram in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom) outlines his plan to his superiors unaware that a tiny surveillance camera has been planted in the room by the RAW (Indian Secret Service). The plan is a simple one: to regain control of Kashmir. Because Pakistan cannot openly attack India, the Pakistani government is allowing a group of militants to steal a nuclear bomb and do the dirty work for them. The plan is to be called Operation Nishan.

The RAW discredits Pakistan by revealing the footage from the meeting to the world. This stops the attack, but Khan is still trying to cause havoc. Next he is in New York and he is attempting to bribe the U.N. Under Secretary. He wants the Under Secretary to discredit the RAW and Indian Government and insist that the footage was a hoax. His plan almost works, except for one thing. It wasn’t the Under Secretary he was bribing, but Agent Arun Kumah in disguise. Khan is arrested and taken away.

After his success Kumah is assigned to a new mission. He is to pose as Major Batra, a military commander in Sopore region of Kashmir.

To avoid confusion, for the next portion of this review I will refer to Agent Kumah as ‘Batra’.

Onwards. We finally get to the title sequence. And in true Bollywood fashion we get a song and dance number. For those who have never seen a Bollywood film before, may have been wondering whether a tough violent spy thriller would have songs and dancing in it? In this case, the answer is a big YES. But more about the singing and dancing later. Under the titles Batra drives to his new protectorate accompanied by the squad of soldiers under his control. Along the way they encounter a road block. The villagers of Rishiki have a flock of sheep blocking the road. Usually the villagers demand a donation from travellers before they will move their flock. The soldiers do not respond to blackmail well, and fire their guns into the air. The sheep and villagers scatter. Left behind in the stampede is Reshma (Preity Zinta), a beautiful young girl from the village. Batra takes pity on her and gives her a donation anyway.

In general, the villagers of Rishiki are very suspicious of the Indian soldiers. In the past, they have been victimised and treated badly. They do not expect things to change with Batra’s arrival. But Batra’s mantra is:
“Give then love, and you will be loved.
Give them hatred, and you will be hated!”

Batra is a benevolent governor and he arrives at the village with provisions for everybody. He provides food for the village, books for the schools, and medicine for the hospital. Eventually he wins over the trust and respect of the Kashmiri people.

One of the first to respond to Batra is Reshma. They slowly form an attachment. Initially she just brings him scraps of information about informers and enemy agents. But one afternoon, Batra is involved in a gunfight with four enemy agents who were attempting to cross the border. During the fight, one of the agents produces a grenade and throws in at Batra. Batra evades the blast, but the explosion starts an avalanche in the mountains. Batra flees but is soon run down by the wall of snow that rolls down the mountain. But Reshma finds him and takes him to shelter. He is cold and in shock. She spends the night with him to keep him warm. Now in a James Bond film, this would all seem very tame. But in an Indian film, two un-married people spending the night together is not the done thing. In fact, Reshma’s actions could have her driven from the village in disgrace.

Well nothing of the sort happens. And Batra and Reshma’s love for each other has grown. But Batra is torn between love and duty. Being a good soldier, he chooses duty and prepares to send Reshma across the border on a dangerous mission. But first she must be trained, which leads us into our second musical interlude.

The story moves forward and Reshma heads across the border and poses as a servant at a complex run by the Pakistani military. The mission ends up being a dangerous one, and Reshma has to make a mad dash to get back across the border to safety, but she has procured a piece of evidence that shows that Ishaq Khan is not being held in prison, as the majority of the world believe.

That is the end of Batra’s time in Kashmir, and he is to return to duty elsewhere. But he is not leaving empty handed. He is going to take Reshma with him and they are going to get married. On New Years Eve, as fireworks fill the sky, a very lavish wedding ceremony takes place in a palatial glass domed building. This is the perfect setting for the third big Bollywood dance and song routine. The song is ‘Dil mein hai pyar’ and thematically its motif’s haunt the film. Lyrics, translating as ‘May the scorpion get the one who lies’, and ‘May the scorpion get me if I am lying’ are peppered throughout the production. The lyric has a duality about it, applying to both a ‘declaration of love’ in the case of Batra and Reshma, or as a punishment for wrong doing, in the case of the villains of the piece.

Speaking of the ‘Villains’ of the piece, Ishaq Khan hasn’t taken lightly to Batra’s activities in Kashmir. And during the wedding celebration he has planned some entertainment of his own. He has planted a bomb in the building. I must say it is visually a very good set piece when the bomb goes off. One minute, everybody is dancing and singing, and the next, the glass dome of the palace has exploded and a giant orange fireball is engulfing the dancefloor. The palace is next to a river and as the whole building lurches and shakes, the balcony collapses and the guests start to slide into the river, Resham tries to hold on, but loses her grip and drops into the water. Batra tries to get to her, but another explosion rocks the palace and he is thrown forward, even further into the water. He tries to find Reshma, but the current is too strong. Finally he is swept ashore, where he finds one of Reshma’s wedding bracelets. That night, over one hundred people were killed. Many bodies were never found, including Reshma’s.

The tone of the film changes now, and it becomes quite a violent and explosive revenge flick. Batra, now vows to avenge the death of so many people, and to expose Ishaq Khan’s evil plans. I think this is a good point to leave the synopsis. By now you are aware of the motivations of the main characters, and what Batra’s mission is. And believe me, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The story still has a long way to go, and quite a few twists and turns as we follow Khan’s trail from Pakistan to Canada.

In a film of this kind, I think it’s appropriate to mention the musical interludes. There are six big production numbers in The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy, and each of them is quite impressive. The numbers are Tere shaher ka, Tum bhi na maano, Dil mein hai pyar I, O maari koyal, In mast nighaon se, Dil mein hai pyar II. I do not speak Hindi, so I have no idea what the titles mean, but for those that do, they may provide a little insight into the story. The costumes and the sets and/or locations are truly amazing. There is an astonishing amount of colour and movement on the screen. And the choreography seems to be up to scratch too. If I have a criticism of the musical numbers, is that they are quite lengthy. These are not your three-minute pop songs. Each song takes around six to ten minutes, which is great if you are watching the movie for the singing and dancing. But I am looking at it from the ‘spy-movie’ perspective, and the movie already clocks in at a healthy 160 minutes. The dance numbers slow the narrative down, and turn what could be a simple stripped down spy-flick into a marathon affair.

The film as a whole is an interesting variation on the spy film that I am used to. I am not prepared to say it’s a bad film, because it has a lot of good elements. By the same time, I can’t call it good, primarily because of it’s excessive length, and it’s attitude towards Pakistan. Sure, in the real world India and Pakistan have their differences, but presenting the conflict as a violent cartoon, and justifying it with some clumsy jingoistic speeches, isn’t the way forward.

I think you’ll have to make up your own mind about this curiosity. I think of it as a holiday spy film. It’s the film you watch, after you’ve watched so many other spy films you need a change, but don’t have the stomach to venture into the world of rom-coms.

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Roger Explosion (1994-96)

Here’s a quick one. More of a reminiscence, than a review.

In Australia we had a comedy sketch show, called Full Frontal (1994-1996) that had a reoccurring skit called Roger Explosion, which was a take off on sixties spy shows. Comedian Shaun Micallef played the the eternally well dressed and manicured (and wooden) super spy Explosion. Each week Explosion would foil a plot for world domination. Other featured actors included Glenn Butcher and Kym Gyngell.

The fun aspect was the actor who played the villain one week, would turn up the next as Explosion’s boss (and visa versa). They also had deliberate continuity errors – lips not matching the dialogue – badly choreographed fight scenes (punches clearly not connecting etc), shoddy effects and sets falling over in the background.

It was all good fun. I wish I could track down a copy of the sketches. For those interested, the website www.shaunmicallef.com has three of the sketches transcribed.

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Hannay (1988-89)

TV Series: 13 Episodes
Directors: David Giles, Guy Slater, Jeremy Summers.
Starring: Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Gavin Richards Christopher Scoular
Based on characters created by John Buchan

Who is Hannay? Richard Hannay was a character created by John Buchan, and first appeared in the book The Thirty Nine Steps. He subsequently appeared in further adventures (Greenmantle is the easiest to locate).

Why is Hannay important? Along with Somerset Maughm’s Ashendon and Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Hannay is considered one of the characters that inspired Fleming and subsequently the whole sixties spy boom.

In this series, Robert Powell plays Richard Hannay, a character he had played before in the underrated 1976 version of The Thirty Nine Steps, directed by Don Sharp. For espionage lovers this TV series is a mixed bag. Some episodes have Hannay battling Count Von Schwabing (Gavin Richards), a German diplomat who is secretly planning for Germany’s entrance into World War One. One episode Voyage Into Fear, is similar to The Ipcress File in style.

Other episodes in the series, Hannay tends to battle the usual swag of underworld criminals. These episodes, are probably more like Sherlock Holmes or Bulldog Drummond (Coleman rather than Richard Johnson) than spy stories.

It’s an enjoyable series, but beware as it was only meant for television and done on the cheap. The interiors were filmed on video tape which looks incredibly flat. Everything is in focus, so there is no depth – it almost looks as if it is stage bound – it isn’t. The sets and costumes are good, but the filming technique really lets it down – there are even burn mark and trails when the camera passes a blight light, candle or match.

In the end, the series is an interesting historical footnote (similar to Reilly: Ace Of Spies), but unless you are a spy completist, or an avid fan of Robert Powell, I wouldn’t spend too much time, tracking the series down.

The Episodes Are:

1. The Fellowship Of The Black Stone
2. A Point Of Honour
3. Voyage Into Fear
4. Death With Due Notice
5. Act Of Riot
6. The Hazard Of The Die
7. Coup De Grace
8. The Terrors Of The Earth
9. Double Jeopardy
10. The Good Samaritan
11. That Rough Music
12. The Confidence
13. Say The Bells Of Shoreditch

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The Naked Runner (1967)

The Naked RunnerDirector: Sidney J. Furie
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Derren Nesbitt, Peter Vaughan, Nadia Gray, James Fox
Music: Harry Sukman
Based on the novel by Francis Clifford

The Naked Runner is a rather limp follow-up to The Ipcress File by director Sidney J. Furie. The film stars Frank Sinatra as Sam Laker, an American business man who lives in London. Now before you panic and think, this is late sixties, and Sinatra was probably competing with his old pal Dean Martin in the swingin’ spy stakes, let me tell you, you’d be wrong. It is a million miles away from the Matt Helm films. Does that mean it is any good? Sad to say, no! But Sinatra is quite good. His performance gets critisised in a lot of reviews, but he is solid, playing the highly stressed, confused, and distraught Laker. Maybe it’s a persona that people didn’t want to watch Frank portray?

So Frank’s okay. Why is the film bad? First I’ll give you a quick overview of the plot and then look at the negatives. British Intelligence Officer, Martin Slattery (Peter Vaughan) receives a phone call in the middle of the night from the Minister. It seems a political prisoner, Rudoph Frensal has escaped from custody at Wormwood Scrubs. Frensal was being held because he tried to flee the country with some highly secretive, technical information. British Intelligence believe he was freed by the Russian’s and now is on his way to Moscow, where they will retrieve the information. This cannot be allowed to happen. Frensal must be killed.

The hard part of the job is finding a man to do the assassination. They can’t use one of their regulars. They need a man who is unknown to the enemy and totally uncompromised. After going through file after file, Slattery is struggling to find the right man. Then while reading the local newspaper he spies an article about Sam Laker (Sinatra), who has just won an award for chair design. Slattery knows Laker from the war, where he had been seconded to Slattery’s unit from the O.S.S. But since the war, Laker has lived a life of a respectable business man.Now Slattery has found his pawn, he needs to find a way to make him a killer. And Laker is not the type of guy who will simply pick up a gun for the sake of it. No, Laker needs to be manipulated into killing Frensal. Various psychologists are called in to analyse what makes Laker tick, and what is the best way to make him carry out the mission.

The Naked Runner

They contrive a plan to gently drag him back into the world of espionage and dirty tricks. Laker and his son Patrick had already arranged a trip to Leipzig trade fair. Slattery convinces Laker to do one small task. It is to drop off a message to a watch-maker near the fair. Laker reluctantly agrees. But during the few minutes that Laker and his son are separated, Patrick is kidnapped by Colonel Hartman (Derren Nesbitt). After Patrick’s kidnapping, Laker is told about the other, distasteful part of the mission. Laker is outraged, but they are holding his son and he feels it is out of his control.

Up until this stage the film is quite good. Sure, it is contrived. Very contrived. But it still has been fast paced and entertaining. But from now on, the film really bogs down. From my synopsis, you can tell where the film is going, but the film-makers drag this bit out for another sixty minutes. As a reviewer, I hate to admit this, but twice, I have fallen asleep during the second half of this film. That’s not why I will dispense with the synopsis though. As I said, you can tell where the story is going.

As I mentioned earlier, Sinatra’s performance is okay. Uniformly, the acting is good throughout the film. Peter Vaughan is excellent as Slattery, and is absolutely chilling in his deceitfulness. And Derren Nesbitt’s turn as Colonel Hartman has a modicum of menace about it too. It’s not surprising to see that he turned up a year later playing another similar role in Where Eagles Dare.

The Naked Runner

The real villain in this movie is the plot. It’s hard to point out the biggest flaw in this movie without spoiling the ending totally. But in a roundabout way; at the beginning, when the Minister and Slattery start planning the mission, at the meeting they discuss why they need Laker for the job. The reason being the enemy knows all their agents, methods and there is no way a regular British agent could get close enough to do the job. The ending; Laker has completed the mission, and confused is running to safety. Within seconds, British agents spring from nowhere to calm Laker down. Question: If the British agents were that close to Laker as he completes his mission, why couldn’t they have completed the mission for him?

The film is ridiculous. I’d only watch it if you were a die-hard fan of Frank Sinatra and even then, I’d have a pot of coffee percolating and a pack of ‘No-Doze’ handy.

The Naked Runner

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Codename Jaguar (1965)

Director: Maurice Labro
Starring: Ray Danton, Pascale Petit, Horst Frank, Wolfgang Preiss, Roger Hanin
Music: Michel Legrand

Codename Jaguar
is a wild Eurospy extravaganza. It is loud, lurid (I think – the colours on the print I viewed were ‘bleeding’ into each other) and ultimately extremely entertaining. This time Danton is Jeff Larson, a swinging secret agent. No, he’s not just a ‘secret’ agent, he a ‘super’ agent. He is sent on a mission to Spain after a U.S. submarine, on a routine mission, rises from the sea off the Spanish coast. Beside the sub, in restricted water, is a scantily clad young lady in a small boat with a broken engine. Minutes after this seemingly innocent accident, footage of the incident is being beamed into Russia. From this, the Americans realise that there is a security breach on their Spanish military base, and somewhere nearby, there must be some cameras and a really BIG transmitter.

I’ll go over the opening scenes in depth because it is a bit confusing (call me stupid if you will) and it took me a couple of viewing to really work out what was going on. As I mentioned a submarine rises from the sea off the Spanish coast. But the camera pulls back to reveal that we are actually watching all this unfold on a monitor in some kind of intelligence headquarters. A unformed officer with a miniature camera hidden in the button of his blazer stands behind the men at the console and secretly takes pictures of the sub rising.

On my initial viewing I thought that the headquarters was American. They were overseeing the mission, and the officer with the miniature camera was a Russian and he sneaked the images out. But on second viewing I think that the headquarters are Russian. They have hidden cameras around the coastline and are watching (or more correctly ‘spying on’) the Americans. The footage they are watching has been beamed directly to them. The officer with the miniature camera must be an American agent and he must be taking film footage…not just they odd Kodak moment.

The footage that this American smuggles out is then later played for the chiefs in the war room, and they realise they have problems. Enter Jeff Larson.

I may have that wrong. But it makes more sense to me. After all, Larson wouldn’t begin to look for cameras, because he’d know where the footage came from – The Americans. He only be searching for a transmitter! (Feel free to correct me if you have another opinion!)

So the Americans have a problem and they send Larson to investigate. No sooner than he has arrived in Spain, he is mugged as he leaves the airport and bundled into a waiting car. But it is a ruse to throw the ‘reds’ off the scent. The men who have abducted him are good guys. In particular ‘Our Man In Spain’ Bob Stuart (Roger Hanin).

But Stuart is only one part of the team Larson will be working with. After all Larson is a ‘swingin’ super agent. He can’t spend the whole mission surrounded by hoary old military types. That’s where ‘Our Girl From Spain’ comes in. Her name is Perez (Pascale Petit) or ‘Kitten’ as Larson likes to call her. I am quite fond of the scene where Larson and Perez meet. Larson is in his hotel room taking a shower, when Perez sneaks in, believing him to be an impostor. As he exits the shower, she points a gun at him. The way he disables her is quite amusing, culminating in Larson grabbing the hem of her skirt, and raising it above her head, trapping the top portion of her body like…er, like a sack of potatoes really. Her arms and head are trapped inside. Her only weapons are her legs which dangle free, so she kicks out blindly. Great fun.

Back to the story. Larson starts his investigation with the girl who was in the boat next to the Sub. She lives in the township of Alicante and is the manager of a nightclub called (you guessed it) The Flamenco (well it was either the Flamingo or The Flamenco – script writers lack imagination when naming their nightclubs!) Her name is Ms Calderon. Larson quickly makes friends (doing quite a nice Clark Kent impersonation) with Calderon and they head out on a speedboat to where the submarine incident happened. Backtracking to where it all began, Larson and his team are able to find some of the cameras that the Russian’s have planted.

So now Larson has a bad girl on one arm and a good girl on the other. Naturally enough the two girls don’t get along and he dialogue between the two ‘catty’ female leads is quite good.

I’ll leave the synopsis there, but will mention a couple of set pieces though. A chase scene with several front end loaders in a quarry is well staged, but never quite looks truly threatening. The other set piece takes place on a Russian trawler at sea. The choreography during the fight sequences is quite sloppy, but Danton still ‘sells’ it.

Michel Legrand’s score is adequate, but doesn’t have any catchy hooks. Some of the musical cues appear to have been used, almost note for note, eighteen years later in Legrand’s score for Never Say Never Again. But at least you don’t have to put up with Lani Hall singing a dreary title song. A little bit about Legrand (very little). He’s a French composer, and a prolific musical artist, having over 200 scores to his credit. He has been rather successful, collecting three Academy Awards, and five Grammys. To western audiences, his most successful musical score was for the Steve McQueen version of The Thomas Crown Affair, including the song Windmills Of You Mind. Apart from the above mentioned spy films he also did the score for Ice Station Zebra.

This review is based on the Atlas Visuals USA DVD

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Our Man Flint: Dead On Target

Country: United States
Director: Joseph L. Scanlan
Starring: Ray Danton, Sharon Acker, Lawrence Dane, Donnelly Rhodes, Gay Rowan, Franz Russell, Linda Sorensen.

Apparently Our Man Flint: Dead On Target hasn’t been shown for 27 years. The rumours are that it was buried because it was such a stinker. It isn’t quite as bad as people make out. The problem with it though is the writer Norman Klenman (and the director for that matter) don’t appear to have watched a Coburn Flint movie – or at the very least have little respect for the source material. For example: Coburn Flint would never carry a gun – he’d consider it crude. But Danton Flint kicks down doors armed with a cannon even Dirty Harry would be proud of.

What I don’t understand is why you would take the character of ‘Derek Flint’ and take away all the attributes and trappings that make Flint, Flint. (I am talking about the globe hopping high living, gourmet dining, pursuit of arts, surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls etc…) Danton’s lifestyle seems to be very much within the grasp of you or me. Whereas Coburn Flint lived a life that I for one envied.

More rumour mongering (cos I don’t know if it is true), but it is said that a third Flint film was in the works in the late sixties, called ‘Flintlock’ and a script had been prepared by Hal Fimberg, writer of the first two films. If this is true, why wouldn’t you recycle or adapt that script for Danton? The script that was used, shows nothing but contempt for the fans of the original films. Here’s a bit of a rundown.

The film opens with a small cow-catcher set in San Francisco, and in particular, the offices of Southern Hemisphere Oilco. Wendle Runsler, the President of the company is handed a cup of coffee by his assistant, Ms. Carter. The cup doesn’t only hold coffee, Carter has also thrown a tablet into the mix. Runsler passes out and is spirited away in a filing cabinet by two burly goons.

Then we have the title sequence. The credits run over a colourful animated background – I use the word ‘animated’ loosely because there is not much movement. Gone too is the Jerry Goldsmith score. In its place is a fat chunk of 70’s funk. To be honest the music in general isn’t too bad, but it doesn’t replace Goldsmith’s original title tune which you expect to hear.

Southern Hemisphere Oilco isn’t happy about the kidnapping of their President and acquire the services of Derek Flint as an intermediary for the release. The villains of the piece are a shady outfit called B.E.S.L.A. (Ba-El-Sol Liberation Army). Ba-El-Sol is a fictitious Arabian country that has a wealth of oil. Guess which company has the oil concessions? Anyway B.E.S.L.A. has kidnapped Runsler. They want the usual type of political demands met: leader released from captivity, corrupt political leaders to resign, and two million dollars.

Flint receives his instructions and returns to his home. He heads home because an alarm has gone off on his watch. As I hinted at earlier, it is far from the stylish pad that Coburn had. Apart from some garish plum coloured carpet, his home seems rather normal. Back to the break-in. It is not Flint’s enemies who have perpetrated this home invasion, but a young woman named Benita Rogers. She wants to work for Flint – be his apprentice. Without giving away the highlights of the film, as they are few and far between, what follows is a mildly amusing scene, featuring a pair of handcuffs. For a brief second it appears that Mr. Flint’s charm and style have returned, but no – it’s an anomaly.

Soon after Flint is clubbed unconscious and taken to B.E.S.L.A. They re-iterate their demands and Flint is allowed to see that Runsler is still alive. Flint is knocked out once more and returned home.

Next Benita contacts B.E.S.L.A. saying she wants to join their movement. A meeting is arranged and she is taken away. Flint tails her. The tracking device in his car is a particularly noisy orange light that flickers on and off. Flint loses the signal and Benita becomes another hostage.

That’s all I am going to outline. I am sure you have the gist of it all, and I think you can guess the twists that come up (they are not too shocking – they are not in Columbo’s league). But the films does feature some archery, remote control planes making money drops, and one masseuse, and a corpse burnt beyond recognition (and we all know what that means?)

Time has been kind to this film. In the mid 70’s when it was released it may have been seen as a sloppy TV movie (which it is). But now 30 years later, it is a time capsule. It’s fun to watch the giant box like cars, listen the funky sounds and ogle at the goofy fashions…speaking of which, in Australia we have a group of children’s entertainers called The Wiggles. Apparently they are a world-wide success these days, so if you have kids, you probably know who I am talking about. For the rest of you, The Wiggles are four male singers/dancers who are coded with bright candy coloured skivvies. There is a Blue, Red, Purple and a Yellow Wiggle. Unfortunately, Ray Danton gets lumbered with a yellow skivvy for the last third of the movie – and sorry I cannot take any hero seriously who just may burst into song with Dorothy The Dinosaur at any moment.

Before I sign off, I suppose a word or two about Danton is in order. He is a little more paunchy than in his Eurospy efforts (but maybe forgivable as 10 years had passed), but he does seem decidedly uncomfortable in this role. He doesn’t seem to know how to play it. I guess times had changed. In the mid 70’s ‘camp’ was out and the quasi futurism of The Six Million Dollar Man was in. And maybe that explains the whole tone of the film. So Danton walks through the role, not sure of whether to smile or scowl.

Of the Danton spy films I have looked at, this is easily the weakest, but as a curio for the Flint fans it probably is a must-see. Burying it for nearly 30 years has probably only increased it’s status as desirable viewing. (I felt that I ‘had’ to watch it!) So if you’re one of them, whatever I say will have no effect – you’ll have to watch it. Others with little or no allegiance to the Coburn Flint films can safely skip this item.

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