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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Mata Hari (1985)

Director: Curtis Harrington
Starring: Sylvia Kristel, Christopher Cazenove, Oliver Tobias, Gaye Brown, Gottfried John, Anthony Newlands
Music: Wilfred Josephs

I am sure that this won’t be the worst Mata Hari movie ever made, but by the same token, it is rather limp affair. Strangely, the film-makers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a faithful version of Mata Hari’s tale or go for a dashing, labyrinthine spy story. The end result has a few facts that seem misplaced, and it doesn’t quite take flight as a fully-fledged spy movie. It’s a muddle really. But the opening titles should have been a warning for what was to come.

The titles roll and the film opens in Java in 1909. In front of some over grown ruins, Mata Hari is dancing topless with the natives. Anybody who has the tiniest bit of interest in Mata Hari, will tell you that she never took of her top in any of her dances. Apparently she was quite embarrassed by the size (or lack thereof) of her breasts and often wore padding to enlarge her bust. The titles end, the dance ends, and so does Mata Hari’s life in the mystic East.

We move forward to Paris in 1914. Two friends are engaged in a duel. A bit of light-hearted competition. The two are Captain George Ladoux (Oliver Tobias), a French Officer, and Captain Karl Von Whyling (Christopher Cazenove), a German officer. Later that evening at a party, they both witness the exotic dancer Mata Hari. And both men, in their way, fall in love. Soon after, Von Whyling is called back to Berlin.

Co-incidentally Mata Hari is also soon to be going to Berlin to perform. On the train, she notices a young gentleman dining alone. She joins him for a meal, and soon after they are on their way back to his cabin. In no time Mata Hari has her gear off. During their sexual encounter, as they are in the throes of ecstasy, a shadowy figure partially opens the door. A blowpipe sends a poison dart into the young gentleman’s neck and he dies.

Mata Hari is soon arrested for the man’s murder, as the poison used on the dart was from the East Indies. Mata Hari obviously has a history in that part of the world, and to make matters worse, it appears that the man was a German agent. German intelligence is sent to interrogate her. It won’t shock viewers to know that the man sent to question her is Karl Von Whyling. He frees her and tells her to get away. She refuses to leave and goes out to dinner with Von Whyling instead. As they dine, their meal in interrupted by a Wolff (Gottfried John) and a woman who goes by the title of Fraulein Doktor (Gaye Brown). They are both high ranking intelligence officers and they don’t believe her story. Fraulein Doktor believes George Ladoux, who is now head of the Deuxienne Bureau, sent her to Berlin.

When we next see Mata Hari she is having a very creepy lesbian affair with Fraulein Doktor. Nothing is openly stated, but this is meant to imply that Mata Hari is now working for the German’s. Or at least, that they want the French to think she is working for the German’s. It’s all very complicated and contrived. And, sorry to say, the plot doesn’t get any easier to follow.

WAR IS DECLARED. We now skip forward to 1915. We are in Paris at the Follies Bergére and Mata Hari has just performed. Backstage, Ladoux pays a call on her. She says that she has been tricked by the Germans, including Von Whyling, into spying for them. Ladoux takes pity on her and does not arrest her. In fact he makes love to her.

The next morning as she leaves, she is picked up by Von Whyling, who is posing as a driver. He claims that it is Ladoux who is laying the trap for him. Naturally Mata Hari then makes love to Von Whyling. She chooses to believe him and take his side. She wants to stay with him.

They set up a love nest in a little village outside Paris. Mata Hari waits, while Von Whyling clandestinely arranges an arms deal. Days pass. She continues to wait. Then one day Ladoux turns up. He escorts her to a battlefield. He explains that they had intercepted a German message. It said that a French General was going to attack the German line at this location. The German’s were waiting and consequently the French troops were slaughtered. The message also claimed that Mata Hari was the sole source of the information the German’s received.

Despite her innocence, Mata Hari has little option but to offer her services to the French. Of course, she is to spy on Von Whyling, who is supposed to be in Madrid. Mata Hari is sent to Madrid. But Von Whyling is not in Madrid. Another German officer, Von Krohn (Malcolm Terris) is. As you’ve have come to expect from Mata Hari by now, she makes love to Von Krohn and goes through all his belongings as he sleeps. She sends the information back to Ladoux via a contact named Noriega.

The system seems to be working well. But then Noriega is killed. Then even Von Krohn is killed – by the German’s, for his incompetence. And waiting in Mata Hari’s room is Fraulein Doktor. And upon threat of death, Mata Hari is once again spying for Germany.

Mata Hari new target is a hedonist called Baron Joubert (Anthony Newlands). She arranges an invitation to one of his parties and finds herself in a topless swordfight with another woman. For the voyeurs, it’s a fairly interesting set piece – dare I say it – the highlight of the film. But it really is an incongruous plot point. It really does seem another opportunity for Miss Kristel to get her gear off. And if that isn’t silly enough, next Mata Hari is drugged. This drug makes her participate in a three-way lesbian act, while Joubert and his masked party guests watch on deliriously.

There’s a few more plot twists and turn and double crosses along the way, but as you can read above, it is all very convoluted. And ultimately it is a story with a downbeat ending. I am sure I am not giving anything away when I say that Mata Hari gets executed by firing squad. So to enjoy a film with such a ‘bummer’ at the end, you have to at least enjoy the journey along the way. But with all the clumsy twists, one after the other, belief in, or even respect for the characters is a tough ask. All the characters betray each other, and as such are not likeable in any way. And poor old Mata Hari seems to be the pawn in the middle (or should that be porn – sorry couldn’t help myself). The actions of Ladoux and Von Whyling are particularly hard to fathom. It seems like a vicious game between two brothers that has gotten seriously out of hand. To add insult to injury, as an epilogue, the two men meet three years after Mata Hari’s death and express their sorrow for the events that transpired. Quite frankly, it’s crap.

This film may not be quite as bad as I make out, but I can’t really think whom the audience for this film would be. It’s not a good history lesson. On the porn scale it’s pretty tame (although I have heard that there are more explicit versions of the movie out there). There is hardly any action. And the story, well the previous paragraph tells you what I think about that. So if you are a person who likes convoluted stories, with unpleasant characters, and cold emotionless sex then maybe this is the spy film for you. But otherwise, may I suggest you have a cold shower and an early night.

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Johnny English (2003)

Director: Peter Howitt
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, John Malkovich, Ben Miller, Tim Pigott-Smith, Kevin McNally
Music: Edward Shearmur
Title song: ‘A Man For All Seasons’, performed by Robbie Williams

Johnny English is a pleasant enough time killer with one or two laughs thrown in along the way. While the film was a massive hit when it was released it’s rather thin on plot and features a truly un-inspired ending, which prevent it from being one of the great spy-comedy films. The strength of the films is popular rubber-faced comedian Rowan Atkinson, who plays English. While English isn’t as successful as some of Atkinson’s other characters (Mr. Bean and Blackadder), he still displays enough of the ‘arrogant clown’ characteristics that his fans have come to love.

The film opens with ‘Agent One’, Johnny English clad in black, storming a well protected chateau. This mansion is obviously an enemy stronghold, and English wastes no time in taking care of the dogs, and disabling the guards. Once inside, he tracks down the extremely attractive villainess of the piece and seduces her.

Only this isn’t real life. This is a daydream. Johnny English isn’t ‘Agent One’. He a desk jockey preparing mission documents for the real ‘Agent One’ (Greg Wise). Among the documents that English supplies are the codes to open a submarine hatch. English insists that they are up to date, because he has checked them himself.

Later, MI7 receives an urgent communiqué. It reads: ‘To: MI7 All Depts. Urgent. Agent One Killed in Action in Biarritz. Submarine hatch failed to open.’

All of Britain’s top agents return for the funeral of ‘Agent One’. With this many agents gathered in one spot, security is of the utmost performance. The man in charge of their security is Johnny English and needless to say he fails. A bomb goes off during the service, and Britain’s ranks of top flight operatives are decimated in one fell swoop.

‘Pegasus’, the head of MI7, hears of a plot to steal the Crown Jewels. Unfortunately he has only one senior agent to call on. Yep, it’s English. English is given an assistant to train, Bough (Ben Miller). Naturally enough, Bough is more competent than the continually inept English, but as a junior he is not allowed to act on his own.

English and Bough are sent to protect the Crown Jewels. The Jewels have just been cleaned and restored and there is a major unveiling ceremony to be held at the Tower Of London. Among the dignitaries attending the unveiling are, naturally enough, The Queen, and Pascale Sauvage (John Malkovich). Sauvage is a hugely successful French businessman who has sponsored the restoration of the Jewels. He also happens to be a distant relation to The Queen, and in line for the throne of England (albeit well down on the list). Also at the ceremony is Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia). She claims to have worked on the restoration of the jewels but like the female lead in any spy film, she is not as she seems.

During the ceremony, as Sauvage is making a speech, the lights go out and the Jewels are stolen. Despite protestations from Pegasus, English is sure that Sauvage is behind the robbery. Not because he has any evidence, but because he is a xenophobe, and Sauvage happens to be French. And how the English hate the French. The remainder of the film concerns English’s and Bough’s attempts to find incriminating evidence from Sauvage and what he intends to do with the stolen Jewels.

An amusing set piece includes a car-chase scene with a difference. English’s tricked out midnight blue Aston Martin has been winched onto the back of a tow truck for a parking infringement. Rather than try to arrange for the release of the car, both English and Bough steal the truck. Bough drives the truck, while English sits in the cabin of the hanging Aston Martin and uses the weapons console to smooth the way. The biggest cheer occurs during the chase, when a speed camera snaps a picture of English and the dangling Aston. English fires a rocket from the tail of the car and it blows the camera box up. No camera, no photo, no fine!

English and Bough also undertake an aerial assault on Sauvage’s multi-storey office building. Both men parachute from a plane and land on the roof of the building. Then they abseil down the side and laser cut a hole in the window, and then enter the office. Well, something like that. It doesn’t go quite according to plan – but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As I mentioned earlier, the greatest weakness in the movie, is it’s ending. Without spoiling it, it is a great setup in Westminster Abbey – and it truly could have been a grand finale, but instead it gets silly and the resolution just seems to happen rather than being planned or scripted. This is the part of the movie, where we should be cheering for Johnny English; but instead it is all a bit of a yawn.

The cast is a mixed bag. Ben Miller is quite good as Bough, English’s suffering underling. He is a good foil for Aktinson, and at times you can genuinely feel his frustration at English’s incompetence. Natalie Imbruglia as Lorna Campbell, on the other hand, is rather ineffectual. This may not be her fault because she is given so little to do. The character of English already has a straight man in Bough, He doesn’t really need a straight woman as well. John Malkovich’s performance as Pascal Sauvage is very broad, verging on Pepé Le Pew. Initially his French accent is amusing but it soon grows very tiring. But he appears to be having a good time.

Just a quick word about the music: The title song by Robbie Williams is quite okay, in a poppy way (If you like Robbie, you’ll like the song. If you don’t like Robbie, it doesn’t matter what I say). The incidental music by Edward Shearmur is reasonable as well. Johnny English is obviously a parody on James Bond, and the music is in that vein, being a gentle parody of the Bond sound. Also peppered throughout the movie are a few ABBA songs. They are deliberately incongruous and are simply to show us how ‘uncool’ Johnny English really is.

That’s Johnny English. It could have been a great parody of the Bond series and all things ‘stiff upper lip British’. But the film falls flat. Any success and enjoyment comes completely from Rowan Atkinson who carries this film on his shoulders. If you are not a fan of Atkinson, stay away. There’ll be nothing here to interest you. If you are a fan of Atkinson’s other work, sure have a look see. You may even enjoy it more than I did. But as a spy comedy, believe me, there are better films out there for you to discover.

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I Spy Returns (1994)

Director: Jerry London
Starring: Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, George Newbern, Salli Richardson, Nikolaus Paryla, Jonathan Hyde
Music: Johnny Harris

I Spy Returns is a belated nostalgia film, which plays more like an episode of The Cosby Show than the spy series that spawned it. Let’s begin at the top. The credits roll and there is a slick montage of the old title sequence and clips from the old series – but the music that plays over the top is synth pop of the worst kind (I’ll slag off the music a bit more later). As the show starts Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) has been snooping around his house and finds a gun case remarkably similar to the one he used to have when he worked as a spy. You see Scott has long retired from the spying business and is happily married and lives a normal life as a college professor. Back to the gun case. It can only belong to one person – Scott’s daughter, Nicole (Salli Richardson). Behind Scott senior’s back she has run off and become a spy. To make matters worse, her controller is none other than Scott senior’s old partner Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp).

Angered, Scott gets into his car and drives to the Department Of Agriculture and enters the cutely named Parasite Control wing. This is naturally the Secret Service headquarters. Scott greets Robinson with a punch to the jaw (he obviously glad to see his old friend). Scott demands an explanation and gets one. But not a pleasing one. Yes, his daughter Nicole is indeed an agent. She has just graduated from spy school and about to go on her first mission. The explanation goes from bad to worse, when Robinson explains his son Bennett (George Newbern) is to accompany Nicole on the mission.

Somehow Robinson appeases Scott, and the two youngsters are sent off on their mission to Vienna. Their mission is to meet Viktor Resnikov, a Russian biologist who wants to defect to the west. The two offspring are complete opposites. Nicole is streetwise and savii and is obviously cut out for a life of espionage even though her father would prefer it if she were a librarian. Bennett on the other hand, comes off as, well to use the parlance of when this movie was made – a bit of a dork. But his father keeps pushing for him to be a spy.

It is Nicole and Bennett’s first day on the job and they are following Resnikov. They too are being followed. But not by enemy agents. Their respective fathers have donned silly disguises in an attempt to blend in and are tailing the young couple. Of course Scott senior and Robinson senior collide. They shout at each other for a while, but in the end agree to work with each other to look out for their children. Despite this contrived and unfunny hi-jinx, the day out ends un-eventfully. At the hotel that evening, two enemy agents, clad in black attempt to kidnap Resnikov. All agents, young and old alike, scramble to the rescue. Resnikov is saved but the children aren’t pleased to see their parents.

At breakfast the next morning, the’seniors’ recognise Caesar Baroody (Jonathan Hyde) a scumbag from the old days. Baroody specialises in trafficking secrets, and as Resnikov the biologist has invented a tropical rainforest virus that is extremely harmful to humans, it is reasonable to assume that Baroody is looking to cut himself in on the action.

After some more tired antics by all parties, Baroody kidnaps Nicole and Bennett and has them tied up at his mansion. This begins a string of scenes which are as silly as they sound. Next the children escape. But naturally, their parents come looking for them. The parents stumble into the mansion and get captured. They are tied naked to two chairs. The children realise that their parents would have come looking for them and would have fallen into a trap. So they agree to go back to the mansion and rescue their parents, which they do. Scott and Robinson senior are not only embarrassed that they are found naked, but it is their children who have rescued them. The children that they were in Vienna to protect. While all this family bonding is happening, Baroody is at the hotel kidnapping Resnikov.

Now it is up to agents Scott and Robinson senior to work with agents Scott and Robinson junior to rescue the captured scientist. There’s still one or two minor twists to the story but I will not spoil it for you.

In a reunion movie of this sort you’d expect a few sentimental moments and this film delivers them. But while being sentimental, the film is not very nostalgic. This telemovie never feels like and episode of I Spy. Sure, Cosby and Culp still display a certain amount of chemistry together but introduction of the children’s subplot dilutes the power of these scenes together. Also the introduction of Nicole to Cosby’s character really does send him into Huxtable territory – but without the laughs.

One of the biggest crimes this TV movie makes is that it throws out the sixties style music. Sure it retains the original theme, but it is performed in an ‘eighties’ syth pop fashion. It sounds absolutely dreadful. The incidental music fares no better. I personally don’t see the point of making a nostalgia ‘returns’ film and removing all the elements that made the original series so enjoyable in the first place. One of those elements was the music and Johnny Harris was clearly the wrong choice to score a project such as this.

As a movie, I Spy Returns is hard to despise because, if you are a fan of Culp and Cosby’s work on I Spy, you may find a glimmer of joy in simply seeing the old firm back in business. But if you are too young to remember the original series (or have never caught some re-runs or watched it on DVD), or never liked the series in the first place, you will find this movie really hard going. It’s not funny or exciting. It is a waste of talent and time.

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The Jigsaw Man (1983)

Director: Terence Young
Starring: Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Susan George, Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Vladek Sheybal, Anthony Dawson, Peter Burton
Music: John Cameron
Song: ‘Only You And I’ performed by Dionne Warwick
Based on the novel by Dorothea Bennett

The Jigsaw Man opens with a rather paunchy, grey old Englishman living in Russia receiving a visit from a Boris Medvachian (Morteza Kazerouni), a KGB agent. Medvachian tells the elderly gent that he is dead. Literally, as he shows him a newspaper with his obituary dated six months in advance. The elderly man is outraged. He insists he is an important person and cannot be treated this way. His name is Philip Kimberley (obviously a play on Kim Philby – played by Richard Aylen), and he used to be the Director General of the British Secret Service before he defected to Russia. And although Kimberley is quite old, every time he speaks, the voice of Michael Caine escapes from his lips. Is this a clever makeup job? No, it is a poor piece of dubbing. It seems that Kimberley has become a drunken embarrassment and the Russian powers-that-be want him out of the way. Kimberley is drugged and bundled into an ambulance which takes him to a private hospital. At the hospital Kimberley undergoes plastic surgery, and when he awakes, not only does he sound like Michael Caine, but now he looks like him, but with dark hair and a porn star moustache. Next we launch into a low-rent training montage which has delusions of being in the Rocky vein, but without the sweat and sculptured physical specimens. Kimberley is being turned into a killing machine.

After six months, Kimberley’s training is complete and the scars from the surgery have healed. To complement his new face, he is given a new name, Sergei Kozminsky. And he is given a mission. He is to go back to England. It is believed, that when he defected, he stole a payroll list of all the convert Russian agents working in Britain. He is to retrieve this list.
At this time it is also announced to the world the Philip Kimberley has died and a Russian State funeral is held in his honour.

Kozminsky/Kimberley (for the purposes of this review and to avoid confusion, I’ll refer to him only as Kimberley from now on) arrives at Heathrow. As he passes through customs, an official finds a note planted in his passport which says that he is a KGB agent and wants to defect. Within seconds, he is surrounded by security officers and spirited away to The Home Office. Medvachian and the KGB are not happy.

Meanwhile another flight lands at Heathrow. This one is carrying Jamie Fraser (Robert Powell), a top flight secret agent who poses as a United Nations diplomat. Upon arrival in London, the first thing he does is report to headquarters and his controller, Admiral Gerald Scaith (Laurence Olivier). During a heated debriefing it appears that Fraser has lost a fellow operative on his last assignment. The agent concerned was a homosexual who hanged himself in disgrace. It also appears that Scaith is not happy about Kimberley’s death and it is revealed that Fraser is now bedding Kimberley’s daughter, Penny (Susan George). It’s all rather tangled and contrived. Sorry, dear reader, it gets worse, but more on that later…..

Afterwards, Fraser heads to Penny’s apartment. She is being hounded by the press for a story about her late father. Fraser helps her through the wall of reporters and takes her to her country cottage. Meanwhile back at the Home Office, after his defection, Kimberley has escaped from custody. Scaith isn’t happy about this either, as Sir James Chorley (Charles Gray) mocks him for losing his prize. Scaith orders the room fingerprinted, but doesn’t expect much.

Scaith is portrayed and a bitter and twisted old man. Why is he bitter? When Kimberley defected, Scaith moved in on Kimberley’s abandoned wife. But rather than marry Scaith, she chose suicide. We see this via flashback as Scaith wanders the streets at night, heading home. On route, as he pauses to light a cigarette, who should pop up? Kimberley. But Scaith doesn’t recognise him as Kimberley. He thinks it is genuinely a defector call Kozminsky. Adopting a cringe inducing Russian accent, Kimberley as Kozminsky tells Scaith that back in Russia, he was close friends with the deceased Kimberley. Er, does that make sense? Kimberley also says he has access to the stolen Russian payroll documents and will sell them for one million dollars. As the two gentlemen stroll, they get closer to Scaith’s house. As a high ranking official, he always has a policeman patrolling his home. When they are within range, Scaith blows a whistle and the police officer comes running. Kimberley is forced to flee. More police flood into the area, and Kimberley has to disable two officers to make his escape. When it appears that Kimberley is in the clear, a green van pulls along side, and unknown assailant shoots Kimberley in the side. The van then drives off. When I say ‘unknown assailant’, it is pretty obvious who it is. After all, the British want their defector alive. There is only one other side – the Russians. But how they found him is a mystery. Oh well, just another poorly plotted red herring, in a piss-poor script.

Onwards. The following morning, in a sequence that seems like bureaucracy at it’s worst (or more poor plotting), Scaith asks Sir James Chorley to get his Special Branch men involved in the search for the defector. But Chorley says his Branch is stretched tight and asks to borrow some men for the task. First, he asks for Fraser’s partner – the homosexual who killed himself. Chorley is told of his recent demise. Then Chorley asks for Fraser. Scaith agrees. (Surely Scaith, as Fraser’s controller could have simply set him loose on Kimberley without bringing Chorley into it?) But after all that bullshit, Fraser is now working for Chorley to track down a defector called Kozminsky, who has access to the Russian payroll list.

Penny, now residing at her country cottage arrives home to find the tap dripping. She turn the faucet only to find it is covered in blood. Before she can react, Kimberley grabs her from behind, and confesses to be her father, despite his appearance. It doesn’t take long for him to convince her, as he reveals some intimate details from her past that only her father would know. She patches up his bullet wound the best she can, and puts him up in a hotel run by some of her friends.

Back at Scaith’s office, a Scotland Yard fingerprint expert explains that the fingerprints found at the Home Office, when the defector escaped, belong to Philip Kimberley. Scaith can’t believe it, but somehow is pleased that he will have a chance to go up against his old adversary once more. He also decides to keep this bit of information to himself. So Chorley and Fraser still believe they are after Kozminsky.

Kimberley decides it is time for one further change of appearance. He shaves off the moustache and dies his hair light brown. The transformation is complete – we now have pure Michael Caine. Next Kimberley ducks into a local church and retrieves a micro film he had secreted there many years ago. hidden in a statue, naturally. Kimberley then mails a small portion to Scaith as evidence that he still has the documents, and that he still wants his million dollars.

Back in London, Penny loans her apartment to a girlfriend named Susan (Maureen Bennett). Not a great idea, because the Russians are watching the flat and mistake Susan for Penny. Susan is kidnapped and whisked away to Russia.

Now this is where the story gets weird. Fraser and Chorley are still trying to track down Kozminsky and are staying at the same Hotel. After taking a shower, Fraser walks into his bedroom to find Chorley in the room wearing only a dressing gown. Chorley is a homosexual and because Fraser’s ex-partner was also gay, Chorley assumes that Fraser is. Fraser sets Chorley straight. It’s not an easy scene to watch. Not because of the homosexual theme – but because Charles Gray is lumbered with a poorly applied skull cap. It appears his character is bald and he wears a selection of different length wigs each day to intimate that his hair is growing. But the makeup in this scene is so badly applied, that rather than being a defining moment for these two characters, it simply becomes creepy!

Back to Penny. She makes a trip to her apartment to check on Susan who is not answering the phone. He finds the apartment has been trashed and Susan missing. In hysterics she calls Kimberley, but the phone is tapped. Scaith turns up and takes Penny into custody. Kimberley flees from the hotel he is staying at and calls Scaith. He still wants to make the exchange and organises a swap, cash for the payroll, at the church where the microfilm is hidden. Scaith agrees and sets Penny up as the delivery girl. She has to take the money to her father.

Naturally enough it is a trap, and all agents converge on the church, including Chorley and Fraser. As the exchange is taking place, Kimberley grabs Penny and puts a gun to her head. It’s a ruse, because he won’t kill his own daughter but Chorley and Fraser don’t realise that Kozminsky is Kimberley. Scaith realises its a ploy, but doesn’t let on. It does, however allow Kimberley to escape and he steals a car. Fraser ‘borrows’ a police motorbike and follows. For some reason, the chase and following shootout take place in a lion park. It just happened to be there, I guess (Why did the chicken cross the road?)

As I mentioned in the paragraph above, once the cars and bike have come to a halt, there is a shootout. Poor old Chorley buys it, but it appears he was working for the Russians anyway. That about wraps it up – there is a bit more but not worth discussing. In the context of the story and the past history these characters have, it doesn’t make sense. But, oh well, that sums up the movie really!

One of the most annoying things about this movie is the constant references to the Cambridge Spies, Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt. Barely a set piece goes by without mention or allusion to these four men. I presume this is because of the publication of Climate Of Treason by Andrew Boyle, the book that outed Anthony Blunt as the fourth man, a few years earlier. As I mentioned at the start, Caine’s character is Philip Kimberley obviously a play on Kim Philby, and the comparison’s in life story are similar (Head of British Intelligence defects to Russian etc..). Maybe that is clever, simplistic, but a fare enough foundation to hang a film on. But the film makers aren’t happy with this. they have to go further. They imply that Philby exists also, which implies that two Heads of British Intelligence have defected. It is just clumsy, and reeks of name dropping for the sake of credibility.

Another clumsy aspect of the film is the way homosexuals are represented. In the film homosexuality seems to imply that one is a Communist. A dated view of the world, which would be sure to raise the ire of certain groups in the community. Fraser’s partner kills him self in shame, and at one point, Scaith says that if homosexuality had been legal in Britain at the time, Burgess and Maclean wouldn’t have defected. And as it turns out Sir James Chorley is a Communist spy, and he too is homosexual.

This has to be one of the most disappointing films in the genre. Why? Although it is not the worst film to be found on these pages (but it’s close), the talent associated with this project should have ensured a top-flight production. Let’s start with the team behind the camera. Firstly, director Terence Young has a proven track record with spy films, having directed Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball and Triple Cross. The second unit director is Peter Hunt. He worked with Young on the early Bond films and directed one of the best, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Then we move onto the people in front of the camera. Michael Caine, yep Harry Palmer himself, a doyen of the spy film, gives possibly the worst performance of his career. His attempt at a Russian accent is painful. Next we have Olivier. Well, it’s no secret that he made a lot of crap in the autumn of his years, but for an actor who is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century to stoop to this level is quite sad. Then we have Robert Powell. He escapes my scathing tongue, by virtue that he is underused. The film features some fantastic character actors, who have been, or were the mainstays of the spy genre, like Vladek Sheybal (From Russia With Love, Billion Dollar Brain, Puppet On A Chain, Scorpio) and Anthony Dawson (Dr. No, Operation Kid Brother, and behind the screen as Blofeld in Thunderball). So despite all these seasoned campaigners behind and in front of the camera, they cannot lift this turkey up above the bottom rung. That’s why it is such a disappointment.

Maybe this review, with all the name dropping in the previous paragraph has peaked your interest. Please, don’t be fooled. This movie is only for spy or Michael Caine completists.

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Kiss Kiss Kill Kill (1965)

AKA: Hunting The Unknown
Director: Frank Kramer (Gianfranco Parolini)
Starring: Tony Kendall, Brad Harris, Maria Perschy, Nikola Popovic, Liliane Dulovic
Music: Bobby Gutesha
Based on the novel by Bert F. Island (a pseudonym for Paul Alfred Muller)

Kiss Kiss Kill Kill is the first of seven films in the Kommissar X (Commissioner X) series, but the characters are played with such a familiarity you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the third or fourth entry in the series.

The film opens with two cars racing around a scenic canyon road, one in pursuit of the other. As the cars navigate the twists and turns at speed, the catchy title tune, I Love You Joe Walker drifts over the top and the credits roll. After the credit crawl has finished the driver of the first car slides to a stop at a dock yard. The occupant of the second car isn’t far behind. Then on foot as they race among the containers, the two men slug it out. Finally the man who has being doing the chasing gets the drop on the first guy. He has him cornered, pulls a pistol and shoots. But the other man doesn’t fall. Quite the opposite in fact. He gives the AOK gesture with his fingers. The bullets were blanks and the whole chase was a training exercise. Red herring over. But the sequence did introduce us to our two main protagonists. The victor was private eye Joe Walker (Tony Kendall). Walker is the world’s most expensive detective and lady’s man to boot. The other party is Captain Tom Rowland, an American policeman who seems to have jurisdiction wherever he goes. Let’s just say he’s a ‘super-cop’.

On with the plot – there are four men, who a long time ago, well let’s just say that they obtained a large sum of money through disreputable means. Their names are Al Costello, Manuel Prado, Henry Mail and the fourth is simply known as Oberon. They own a company and since they all do not have children, they have left their assets to each other in the event of death. The company seems self-sustaining and they have since gone separate ways and live very comfortable lives.

The first of the four that we meet is Al Costello. He is playing tennis at a luxurious hotel resort. After the game, he packs his sports bags and heads to the cubicles for a shower and to change. Unfortunately for him, someone has planted a bomb in his sports bag and well, you can guess the rest. Goodbye Mr. Costello.

Next we meet Manuel Prado. After a hard day at the office, he prepares to leave work for home. As he starts his car – you guessed it – a bomb goes off. Goodbye Mr. Prado.

Now we are introduced to Oberon (Nikola Popovic). He is reading the newspaper. Thankfully it is packed with information or us poor viewers would have no idea what is happening. Firstly Oberon reads that his two ex-partners have gone up in flame. He also reads that Captain Tom Rowland is in the country investigating a missing nuclear physicist and a strange imbalance in gold payments. And finally, that the world’s most famous detective, Joe Walker is holidaying in the country. What country are we in? I don’t know – they don’t tell us – let’s just say it looks sunny and European.

Naturally enough, with partners dropping like flies, Oberon is concerned about events, and suggests that his secretary, Joan Durrant (Maria Perschy) contacts Walker for help. She does this. As Walker is driving along, she hails him by standing in the middle of the road. But she doesn’t ask for protection for her boss. No, she asks Walker to find the missing nuclear physicist, Bob Carroll. She hands over three thousand dollars and her only clue – the contact details for a stage actress named Nancy Wright who knows about the disappearance. Walker accepts the case.

When Walker gets back to his hotel a girl is waiting for him in his room. Her name is Bobo and she wants protection from a jealous boyfriend. Walker agrees to help her too, but first things first. He phones up Nancy Wright (Liliane Dulovic) and arranges a meeting. Walker is about to head out when Bobo gets scared. She says she’ll be alone. Walker slides his mother’s ring onto her finger, and calmly tells her that while she is wearing the ring, she’ll never be alone. It seems pretty lame to me, but somehow it convinces Bobo to stay put. Walker heads off for his rendezvous with Wright.

Outside as Walker makes his way to his car, a thug tries to stop him. Walker disposes of this nuisance quickly, only to have the thug’s partner sneak up with a gun. The partner gets in the car and orders Walker to drive. Next comes one of my favourite set pieces from the film. Walker doesn’t have an ejector seat in his car, but with some sneaky seat adjustment and some deft driving, he still manages to send his unwanted guest flying from the car (you may have guessed the car is a convertible – or otherwise the thug would have flown into the roof.)

Walker turns up to meet Wright. She is a stage actress and he catches the end of her show, but before he can meet her, she is murdered with a blow dart. Walker chases the assailant to the rooftop but before he can get any answers (and this is always the way with Eurospy films), the dartsman is shot from below. It is worth mentioning that the shooter has a terrific folding rifle. It looks like a normal radio but folds out into a compact sniper’s rifle. It may not seem very practical to today’s iPod generation, but it is a nifty sight gag.

So the blow dart murderer is shot and falls from the roof, and the sniper calmly drives away, and poor old Joe Walker is left with no clues.

Rowland is called in to investigate and isn’t too happy to find Walker involved (and they seemed like such good friends at the start – after all they train together?) Walker plays Rowland a tape that Wright had made. It incriminates Oberon.

Both Walker and Rowland head back to Walker’s hotel room. In a closet they find Bobo dead. Her possessions have also been taken, including the ring that Walker gave her. Of course, the ring was no ordinary ring. It had a tiny transmitter enclosed. Looking at a radar screen it appears that Bobo’s ring is now at Oberon’s house. As they are about to investigate Oberon, by co-incidence Oberon phones Walker. He says that whoever killed Castello and Prado is now after him. He claims the killer is the fourth man in their original partnership, Henry Mail.

Walker and Rowland hastily make their way over to Oberon’s villa. But as they are questioning him, men attack the villa and Oberon is shot in the back. His body falls into the sea and the current takes away his body. It looks like our two heroes have failed to protect Oberon, but out to sea on a boat; a special underwater door allows a very much alive Oberon to enter.

As the world thinks Oberon is dead, and Mail is the only one of the original four alive, he inherits the assets of the company. As he inspects his new yacht, The Golden Beam, who should he discover hiding in the engine room. You guessed it – Oberon. Oberon ventilates Mail with a pistol and has the body encased in concrete.

Walker and Rowland try to track Mail but have little luck (little do they know he has been disposed of). So Walker returns to Oberon’s villa, After a bit of creative snooping, he finds a secret passage. This leads him to an elevator shaft. Before he can go any further he is captured by two of Oberon’s guards. He is escorted to a lower level where a giant set of doors open. He is greeted by an army of identical blonde women, all dressed in black and carrying machine guns.
Walker quips, “I’m after a murderer, not a harem!’

Walker is loaded onto a truck and driven through a long underground tunnel. What’s at the other end? I am not telling. I try to save some surprises for you. But it is pretty spectacular and most importantly, a great deal of fun. It provides everything a movie from this era and in this genre should provide.

Kiss Kiss Kill Kill certainly carries it’s influences on it’s sleeve. They are easy to spot. Some of the costumes are straight out of Dr. No. Our heroes dive off a cliff at the end like Derek Flint. And the army of girls look remarkably similar to the girls from Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, But having said that, it is not downright plagiarism – it’s more like endowing the film with the familiar trappings of a spy film.

If there is a flaw with this movie, they have thrown too much at it. The plot is almost undecipherable without a slide-rule, and too many of the female characters are playing basically the same character. Another curvaceous blonde makes eyes at Joe Walker and leads him into danger. But then again, maybe that’s the magic of Joe Walker – all women are putty in his hands.

As the theme song goes, “…I love you Joe Walker, just like every woman loves you…”

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That Man In Istanbul (1965)

Director: Anthony Isasi
Starring: Horst Buchholz, Sylva Koscina, Klaus Kinski, Gustavo Re, Alvaro De Luna, Perrette Pradier, Mario Adorf
Music: Georges Garvarentz

That Man From Istanbul is one of the most accessible and entertaining of the Eurospy films made in the mid sixties. It features Sylva Koscina in a major role. She may barely raise a footnote these days in lists of ‘most popular actresses of all time’ (particularly in Western countries), but in the mid sixties she was on a bit of a roll, starring in Hot Enough For June with Dirk Bogarde, and Deadlier Than The Male with Richard Johnson.

The film opens with a nifty little pre-title sequence where a light aircraft, with two secret agents in it, lands in a paddock in Turkey somewhere. Five cars packed with hoods with stockings over their heads meet the plane. One of the agents from the plane hands over a suitcase with one million dollars in it. The other agent secretly takes photos of the hoods with a camera hidden in his tie-pin. Once the hoods are satisfied that the money is all there, they signal another car. This car contains atomic scientist Professor Pendergast, who has been kidnapped. An exchange is made, and the plane takes off with it’s new passenger. Pendergast looks like he has been drugged or brainwashed. In the backseat of the plane he is sweating and fidgeting. Then he detonates a bomb inside his coat. The plane explodes and crashes.

Sylva Koscina as Agent Kenny

We skip to Washington D.C. and into a C.I.A. briefing room. A team of agents are watching a report on the crash. X-rays from the bodies at the crash site reveal that the man they believed to be Pendergast was an impostor. The ransom the U.S. had paid was for nothing. As the briefing continues, the President of the U.S.A. phones in and cancels the mission. It seems he wants the affair to be handled through diplomatic channels. This doesn’t please Special Agent Kenny (Sylva Koscina). She sees something in the slides of the crash site, that everyone else has missed. In the background there is car, and in the car is Tony Mescenas (Horst Bucholz). Mescenas is an American who was deported for running a string of gambling houses, extortion rackets. He also ran a kidnapping scam in the past, where he exchanged fake people for his kidnap victims. Kenny doesn’t believe this is a coincidence, but as the President has cancelled the mission, she is forbidden to go to Istanbul.

Horst Buccholz as Tony Mescenas

Horst Buccholz as Tony Mescenas

For our viewing pleasure we are then treated to a colourful animated title sequence with a swinging sixties instrumental over the top. When we return from this interlude we are in Istanbul, introduced via some travelogue shots that look like stock footage. Then we move into Istanbul’s nightlife. Neon lights flicker. Cool jazz plays in the background. And Mescenas is cruising through the streets in his red E-type Jaguar, being discretely followed by the police. Mescenas stops outside a club which he runs with two colleagues. The first is ‘Brain’ (Gustavo Re), who has a photographic memory for facts, and the second is Bogo (Alvaro De Luna), who is more of your garden variety minion. He does all the dirty jobs.

Inside Mescenas' Nightclub

Mescenas enters the club, which on the surface appears to be an average Turkish nightclub with belly dancers writhing on stage. But underneath this club is another club. An illegal casino in fact. Mescenas takes a secret elevator down to the casino and alerts the patrons that they are about to be raided be the police. It seems the tail on Mescenas wasn’t that discrete after all. But don’t panic, Mescenas has the place wired up electronically, and all the gaming tables disappear into the floor and the walls. The police raid the club, but instead of finding an illegal casino, they find Bogo treating the guests to a magic show. It seems like Mescenas ruse has worked. Well almost! A drunk starts demanding for his chips to be cashed. Mescenas can’t pay him without giving the game away. So what does he do? He starts a fight. Within seconds a bar room brawl erupts, the type usually found in western movies. But hey, after all this is a Horst Buchholz movie. Horst who, I hear you ask? Horst Buchholz is one of the two actors from The Magnificent Seven that nobody remembers. He played Chico, the Mexican peasant who wanted to be a gunfighter, …but back to the story.

Of course, Agent Kenny has defied orders and is in Istanbul, and in Mescenas’ club. As Mescenas, Brain and Bogo are regrouping after the police raid, Kenny approaches them and asks for a job. Mescenas’ interview technique is not politically correct by today’s standards. He asks Kenny to strip. She disrobes down to her underwear. Mescenas pretends not to be interested, but when the subject is as attractive as Ms Koscina a side glance is forgivable. Kenny gets the job, but doing what?

The next day Kenny is snooping around some of the locations from the photos in the C.I.A. briefing. One of these locations is a cemetery and mausoleum were the plane crash victims were interred. It is the last place were the missing tie-clip camera was seen. As she searches, she is accosted by the Chinese grounds keeper, but proves herself adept at judo, and acquits herself quite nicely, thank you. As she leaves the cemetery Mescenas picks her up for work. It’s obvious he has been following her. Her job? I’m not really sure what it is. It appears to be travelling around the sites of Istanbul and looking glamorous. She does it well.

Agent Kenny interrogates Mescenas

As they look over the city from the spire of a mosque, Mescenas tells her that he knows she is a spy. Why is she interested in him? Kenny is a fairly trusting agent, and tells Mescenas the whole story about Pendergast kidnapping. Mescenas pleads his innocence and Kenny believes him. Then Kenny tries to convince him to help her track down the true perpetrators. But after being deported from the U.S., Mescenas isn’t too keen on helping Uncle Sam. Mescenas may not be patriotic but he is greedy, and when Kenny tells him of the million dollars ransom that was paid to free Pendergast, his eyes light up. Welcome on board.

Their first lead is to track down the Chinese grounds keeper who attacked Kenny at the cemetery. His information leads Mescenas to the Chinese Embassy. It appears that though the Chinese did not kidnap Pendergast, they are interested in tracking him down for themselves. After all an Atomic Scientist is a valuable commodity. But the Chinese do have the tie-clip camera hidden in a safe at the Embassy. With stealth and the odd bit of brutality Mescenas breaks into the safe and retrieves the camera. His escape, however is not so easy. First he leaps through one window, crashes through another into a bedroom. Then somehow ends up in the sewer system. So it doesn’t make sense, but that is part of it’s charm.

Mescenas undercover

From the photos in the clip, Brain recognises one of the extortionists, the man with the steel hand, Hansie (Gérard Tichy). Well it’s not really a steel hand, it’s more of a steel stump or dome. He lives in a boarding house down by the waterfront, where all riff-raff in this type of film live. Mescenas follows Hansie as he leaves the house, but Hansie realises he is being followed and sets out to trap Mescenas. Hansie starts to ascend a tall mosque spire with a spiral staircase. Mescenas follows. At the top on the balcony, Hansie gets the drop on his pursuer. A fight breaks out but Hansie has a slight advantage. From his steel hand a knife juts out. Mescenas is thrown over the side surely to his death. But no, he catches a rope and slides down to the next level. Mescenas rushes back up the stairs and gives Hansie a beating. Hansie is about to talk when he is shot from below, by one of his accomplices. From Hansie’s dead body, Mescenas picks up the small hearing aid from the ear. It is not a hearing aid at all but a communication device. Mescenas hears the plans for the extortionists to meet at the coast road. In his red Jag, he makes his way there. It’s another trap. The extortionists knew he’d be listening and try to run him off the cliff top road. He gets past one vehicle but is not prepared for being rammed by an army truck. Mescenas’ sports car flies through the protective barriers by the side of the road and down the cliff.

In what really is a ‘cliff-hanger’, Mescenas leaps onto the back of the army truck as it collides with the Jag and hitches a ride. Meanwhile down the road, armed with high powered binoculars, the Chinese are watching. They have been following Mescenas, hoping he will lead them to Pendergast. They follow the army truck.

The truck stops in an underground carpark, and Mescenas starts snooping about. Inadvertently he sets off a silent alarm and the extortionists are alerted to his presence. Luckily for Mescenas, at this time the Chinese arrive and enter into a shootout with the extortionists. While all the shooting is going on the leaders of the extortion group sneak Pendergast out in an ambulance. Mescenas waits behind some crates till the shootout is over and then snoops around a bit more. In a back room he finds Elizabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier) tied up. She was kidnapped off a yacht. Naturally he frees her and sends her to a luxury hotel to recuperate.

Meanwhile the extortionists are not happy with one of their own. Gunther (Agustín González), who was driving the army truck, which Mescenas so cavalierly jumped on, is too be terminated for his incompetence. Evil organisations like this don’t tolerate failure. As the assassin draws his gun, Gunther shoots and flees. He’s on the run now and needs help. He phones Mescenas and offers information about the whereabouts of Pendergast in exchange for safe passage out of the country. A meeting is arranged. As Agent Kenny is the only licensed operative on the scene she wants to go to the meeting, but Mescenas does what any sixties, chauvinist, man about town would do. He locks her in a cupboard.

At the meeting Gunther is shot before Mescenas can get to him. Then he finds himself on foot, in the centre of a demolition derby. Some nimble footwork and some accurate pistol shots to car headlights save Mescenas’ skin. Well barely. After the car pile-up, a hail of gunfire starts. He borrows a front-end loader and ploughs a path to freedom.

Mescenas in the cross-hairs

After the nights fireworks, Mescenas pays a visit to Elizabeth Furst at her hotel, poolside. As he attempts to gain more information about her kidnapping and the whereabouts of Pendergast, an assassin lurks in the pool (with a water pistol, no doubt!). He fires a shot at Mescenas which misses, but shatters his wine glass. Not taking a backward step, Mescenas dives in to confront his would-be assassin. Underwater, a knife is produced and the two men struggle until the assailant ends up with the knife in his torso.

The next lead Mescenas and Kenny follow was found on Gunther’s dead personage. It was a season ticket to a Turkish Bath. At the bath, as they search, three goons kidnap Kenny and spirit her away. Out the back Mescenas finds wooden crates full of pieces of an atomic bomb. As he retreats, he is captured at knife-point. Then he is offered one hundred thousand dollars and Kenny alive if he leaves Istanbul. Mescenas refuses and escapes by losing a steam faucet. Clad only in a towel, he then scours the city searching for Kenny, but with no joy.

Klaus Kinski as the assassin Shrenk

Despondent, he rings Brain. Brain passes on a message that Bogo and Ms Furst have information for him. Mescenas rushes to the hotel, but only to find that Furst’s room is empty. Almost. An assassin named Doctor Shrenk (Klaus Kinski) follows Mescenas in. As most evil minions do, Shrenk takes his time in killing Mescenas and talks too much. In doing so he reveals that Pendergast is on a yacht in the harbour. Mescenas ducks under a glass coffee table while Shrenk fires at him with a pistol. And in one of those contrivances that can only happen in the movies, the coffee table turns out to be bullet proof. Mescenas picks up the table and uses it as a shield until Shrenk runs out of bullets. Then it’s fisticuffs. During the fight, which rages through all the hotel rooms, Mescenas finds Bogo’s dead body in the bathtub. This sends Mescenas over the edge and he drowns Shrenk in a sink.

Mescenas’ attention is now on the yacht, and he climbs a cargo loading crane and lowers himself onto the boat as it passes underneath. After the death of Bogo, Mescenas sense of humour isn’t as prevalent as it was, and as he storms the boat, he kills one sailor in cold blood, and then orders the rest of the crew over the side. On board he finds Pendergast and Kenny and sets them free. Then he set about settling the score with the leaders of this insidious plot. Oh, what is their scheme, I hear you ask? It hasn’t really been mentioned yet, but it is something like this: They intend to build an atomic arsenal with Pendergast’s help. Then from a remote island, control the world. Excellent; another World Domination scheme.

In the stateroom on the yacht, Mescenas find the chiefs. He cleans house with a machine gun. He kills them all, except for one. I wont say who it is, but no prizes for guessing?

Ciao Tony!

That Man In Istanbul is one of my favourite Eurospy films. It has a good sense of humour and decent production values, and is fast paced. Maybe it is a little long, and Sylva Koscina isn’t used as much as she should be, but small quibbles. Your response to the movie will depend on how you accept Horst Bucholz. I know of a few people who find his performance annoying and as such, don’t rate this movie very highly. I disagree, but I think you’re going to have to make up your own mind on this one?

This review is based on the Shocking Videos USA DVD.

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The 39 Steps (1935)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Wylie Watson
Musical director: Louis Levy
Loosely based on the novel by John Buchan

Obviously this is one of the classic films of all time, regardless of it being a spy film, and much has been written about it and it’s director Alfred Hitchcock. And naturally, I’ll add my two-cents worth. The 39 Steps is an absolutely magnificent film and the prototype of all the Innocent Bystander spy films. Many spy films use the classic wrong place at the wrong time scenario. Everyman or woman can be the innocent person who stumbles in on an incident or who gets caught up in the web of intrigue. In this case it is Richard Hannay, a character created early last century by author John Buchan.

And the character of Hannay has endured. Buchan wrote, at least another four novels concerning the adventures of Hannay. And the film has been remade three times so far (at the time of writing there is rumoured to be a new version directed by Robert Towne – screenwriter for Chinatown and Mission Impossible 2 – whether this comes to fruition or not is another matter – time will tell). To top it off, a television series was made called Hannay, starring Robert Powell. It went for thirteen episodes and all new adventures and schemes were invented for our dashing hero. So that’s Richard Hannay; the innocent man caught up in this web of intrigue. His name may not be as well known as James Bond, be he is one of the cornerstones of modern spy films and literature.

Hitchcock’s story veers from the book but the film is such great fun, nobody seems to care. Here’s the synopsis. The film opens in a music hall. The act on stage is Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson). Each day, Mr. Memory commits fifty new facts to his miraculous brain. At the music hall his act consists of asking audience members to test his knowledge by shouting out questions. Memory then recites the correct answer. In a fever of excitement, the crowd shout out a plethora of questions. So many that Memory cannot answer them all at once. The crowd gets restless and a melee erupts at the back. As the fight escalates, two gunshots are heard and the crowd stampede for the exit. In the crush two people are thrust together. They are Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) and Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim). She seems flustered and asks to go back to his apartment. Hannay obliges. At his apartment she does not allow him to turn on the lights and she turns the mirror to face the wall. All in all, she seems shaken and paranoid. Hiding in the kitchen with the blinds drawn she explains what is going on. Firstly, she fired the gun at the music hall to create a diversion. Two men are trying to kill her. He says, “It sounds like a spy story.” She says, “it is” but she prefers to be called an ‘agent’ rather than a ‘spy’. Then she explains she is trying to stop a secret being smuggled out of Great Britain – a secret that is vital to Air Defence. Hannay doesn’t believe her (his mistrust will come back to haunt him). She suggests that he looks out of the sitting room window. He does and sees two suspicious characters in overcoats standing under a street lamp. He finally believes her. Trouble ahead.

She says, “I am going to tell you something that is not very healthy to know!” Despite her claim, she doesn’t give much information away. She asks if he has heard of ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’? He says, “No. Is it a pub?” Then she talks of the leader of this secret plot. He is missing the top of his small finger on his right hand.

Annabella Smith asks to stay the night till it is safe. She also asks for a map of Scotland. Once again Hannay obliges. He ends up sleeping on the couch – after all, he is a gentleman.

During the night, Miss Smith crashes into the sitting room where Hannay is sleeping. “Clear out Hannay. You’re next!” she says as she collapses on his lap with a knife sticking out of her back. She dies. In her hand is a piece of paper.

Hannay is shocked and staggers to the window. At that moment the phone rings. His first reaction is to pick it up, but then he thinks better of it. From the window he can see the two hoods who’d been watching his apartment, but now one of them is in a call box. Are they on the other end of the phone? Do they know he is there?

Hannay walks over to Smith’s dead body and pries the piece of paper from her hand. It is the map of Scotland that he had given her earlier in the evening. She has circled one section. “Alt-na-Shellach.”

The next thing Hannay has to do is get out of the apartment without being seen, but he only gets as far as the foyer. Men are watching the door. Luckily for Hannay, the milkman enters the building, making his usual early morning run. Hannay tells the milkman a cock-and-bull story and borrows the milkman’s hat and coat. Disguised he makes his escape.

Next he boards a steam train, The Flying Scotsman. The Scotsman is on its way to Scotland, but before it shunts off, two enemy agents recognise Hannay and raise the alarm. But the train moves off before they can board.

Back in London, Hannay’s maid finds Annabella Smith’s body in his apartment. In a standout piece of film-making, the maid’s silent scream becomes the whistle of the steam train as it powers out of a tunnel.

By the time Hannay hits Edinburgh, the newspapers have the story of Smith’s murder and police are swarming the station and board the train as it continues it’s journey.

Hannay gets flighty, once he realises he is a wanted man, and exits his compartment on the train. Good thing too, as the police are searching every carriage. As he tries to avoid capture he spies (no pun intended) a young lady, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), in a compartment all alone. As the police get closer, he bursts into her compartment, pretends to know her, then gives her a passionate kiss. As the police pass the compartment, they see the couple locked in embrace. As they are after a man travelling alone, they move along. Hannay thinks it is a lucky escape, but not quite so simple. Pamela wasn’t a willing participant in Hannay’s ploy to avoid attention and at the earliest opportunity she tells the police who he is. Hannay runs. The emergency break on the train is pulled and it stops on a railway bridge. Hannay jumps off the train and hides behind the massive iron girders beneath the bridge. He avoids detection and the train pulls away.

But Hannay is now the subject of a substantial manhunt, and police officers flood into the area. Some are on foot, others are in cars and there is even a plane in the air. Soldiering on, Hannay makes his way towards Alt-na-Shellach. As nightfall approaches he buys himself a bed for the night at a farmhouse. His evening is interrupted when the police arrive during the middle of the night. He flees with the farmers dark overcoat.

Eventually, the next day Hannay reaches Alt-na-Shellach and approaches the mansion. At the front door he announces himself as Hammond (rather than Hannay) and says he was a friend of Annabella Smith. This works and he is ushered inside. It appears he has found sanctuary. Of course the police are in hot pursuit and arrive on the doorstep, but they are sent away by the head of the house, Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle).

Alone, the Professor asks Hannay what is going on. Hannay tells his story and is relieved that someone believes he is innocent. Then his host reveals that he is missing the top of his finger on his left hand, and that he isn’t Annabella Smith’s contact, but rather the head of the spy ring she was investigating. The Professor pulls out a gun and shoots Hannay. Luckily for Hannay, the overcoat that he stole from the farmhouse contained a hymn book in the breast pocket. The bullet lodges in the book and saves his life.

Next, Hannay escapes from the mansion and heads to the police station in the local village. He tells his story. It appears the police officer believes him, but in fact is stalling for more time. More police arrive. Once again Hannay has to go on the run. He leaps out of the window of the police station, and searches for a place to hide in the village. At the town hall a civic meeting is taking place. He enters the hall and is mistaken for one of the speakers. It appears that a rally for a local member of parliament is taking place, and they believe Hannay is the guest speaker from London. Hannay has no choice but to step up to the podium and make a speech. He wings it. But Pamela (the girl from the train) recognises Hannay, and notifies the authorities. After the speech they arrest Hannay. Much to Pamela’s chagrin, they take her into custody as well – to identify the suspect (hasn’t she already done that?)

Of course, the police officers aren’t police officers. They are the Professor’s men and are taking Hannay and the girl back to him. Handcuffed together, Hannay and Pamela escape from the car when a herd of sheep block the road. Pamela isn’t an easy partner though. She doesn’t believe Hannay is innocent, and he has to practically drag her kicking and screaming into the night.

They both evade capture and end up on the doorstep of a quiet country inn. Posing as man and wife, to hide the handcuffs, and so Hannay can keep a tight reign on Pamela, they are given a room for the night. During the night, as Hannay sleeps, Pamela squeezes her tiny hand out of her handcuff. She intends to escape and tell the police once more, but as she sneaks out of the room, on the landing, she can hear two men making a phone call downstairs. It is the two fake police officers phoning the Professor. They inadvertently reveal that Hannay is telling the truth. She also hears that their boss has fled the mansion and is heading to the London Palladium to pick up a friend. Pamela returns to her room. She is finally a believer. She tells Hannay what she overheard.

And that’s where I’ll leave the plot synopsis dear reader. You’ll have to watch this movie to find out what happens and who are The 39 Steps. As I mentioned at the outset, the film (and story) is so popular that it has been remade three times, first in 1959 starring Kenneth More as Hannay. The next version was made in 1976 and starred Robert Powell – who would go on to play Hannay in the television series of the same name. Next, is the recent BBC adaptation (2008) with Rupert Penry-Jones as Hannay. IMDB lists a version scheduled for 2011, directed by Robert Towne (which I mentioned earlier).

Most recently, Hitchcock’s film has been adapted into a stage play which has played all around the world, and may I add is a thoroughly entertaining evening of theatre. If you have an opportunity to catch the show, grab it with both hands.

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