Spy Tunes – No. 6

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Dr. No – BBC Dramatisation

Following on from yesterday’s post about Bond audiobooks, today I thought I’d look at a BBC radio dramatisation of Dr. No.

For those who missed it last year: Description from CBn.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond will be licenced to thrill in a brand new BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of the author’s sixth book and first film of the cinematic series, Dr. No, planned for April 2008.

As one of the many events celebrating the centenary of 007’s creator, this Dr. No dramatisation will star Die Another Day villain Toby Stephens as James Bond, David Suchet as Dr. No, Janie Dee as Miss Moneypenny, Jordanna Tin as Miss Taro and many more actors.

Eon Productions, the owner of the James Bond rights, gave permission to do this one-off, once-and-once-only dramatisation to mark the Fleming centenary provided they were given casting approval of the role of Bond—luckily, Stephens was the number one choice for all involved.

This Dr. No dramatisation will also feature distinguished playwright and screenwriter Hugh Whitmore as the scriptwriter and the award-winning Martin Jarvis as the director.

To download Part One click here.
To download Part Two click here.

Once the link get’s pulled I will not be re-upping it.

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James Bond: Sewell Vs Ogilvy

For You Eyes Only
Penguin Books 2002

Live And Let Die
Listen For Pleasure / Music For Pleasure 1984

Some of you may have read this before (as I posted it on the old Teleport City Reading Room, but for those who missed it, here’s a quick observation (rather than a full blown review) of a couple of the James Bond audio books.

As I spend most of my working day in front of a computer, quite often at the end of the day, my eyes are pretty shot. Sometimes I cannot even watch television or read a book. My eyes simply need time to rest. Usually I just turned down the lights and put on a CD. But recently I have discovered audio books. At first, I was pretty reticent about purchasing an audio book. To me it seemed like a product aimed at old people that could no longer focus. But I relented and picked up the Penguin edition of For Your Eyes Only, read by Rufus Sewell.

Needless to say, I quite enjoyed revisiting the Bond stories, albeit in a different way. I enjoyed it enough to think about obtaining a few more Bond titles. But rather than buying them from a bookshop, I though I’d check what was on ebay. A local vendor was selling three audio books from the early 1980’s, read by Ian Ogilvy.

Now this may be a stupid thing to say, because it had never occurred to me. I never thought that audiobooks would get updated like a paperback. Just as there are reprints of your favourite books, there are re-recordings of your favourite books in audio format.

Naturally I put in my bid on ebay and won. A week later my new acquisitions arrived. The first book I tackled was Live And Let Die (which happens to be my favourite Bond Story).

No offence to Mr. Sewell, after all, I had quite enjoyed his rendition of For Your Eyes Only, but compared to Ian Ogilvy, he’s a crap story teller. I was stunned at the difference. Ogilvy has a rich powerful baritone voice. His reading has a power that was missing in Sewell’s reading. Ogilvy excels at the men’s voices, and American accents. Whereas Sewell, is quite good at European accents and the female characters.

Taking that a step further, your enjoyment of an audiobook can be improved or diminished by the reader. If you were to go to Amazon and enter a search for James Bond Audiobooks, quite a list comes back. An equally large selection of readers is available to choose from to. Therein lies the dilemma. Who do you pick? Do you find one reader and stick with that guy (or gal as in the case with The Spy Who Loved Me)? Or do you spread yourself around and sample as many readers and voices as possible?

I must admit, I don’t have the answers…but it is food for thought, next time you are in your favourite bookstore and you spy an old classic as an Audiobook.

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The Saint (1997)

Directed By Philip Noyce
Val Kilmer, Elisabeth Shue, Rade Seredzija, Valery Nikolaev, Henry Goodman, Alun Armstrong, Michael Byrne, Evgeny Lazarev

Music by Graeme Revell

Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

It’s been a while since I have reviewed some Saint, but this may not be the one you want to hear about. Most people are rather scathing in their assessment of this 1997 incarnation of The Saint, and I completely understand why. As a Saint film, this film is very un-Saint like, and as such, if you’re a fan of Leslie Charteris or any of the shows that have gone previously, then you’ve got every right to be outraged at this production. But it doesn’t deserve to be completely written off.

When I first had an opportunity to watch this film, I was visiting a friend who had it on video. Unfortunately at the forty minute mark, I was called away and didn’t finish the film. Later I hired it from a local video store, but once again something cropped up and I never got to watch it. In the end it simply slipped off my radar and I never got around to hiring the film again. It seemed like I was destined never to watch this version of The Saint (some readers at this point are congratulating me on my good fortune).

Years passed, and I moved cities. In Wollongong, in the centre of town, outside a newsagent, dumped in a bargain bin at a ridiculously low price, were several copies of Burl Barer and Jonathan Hensleigh’s novelisation of the film. I handed over a few sheckels to the cashier and took home a copy of the book and read it in practically one sitting. The story (up to the point I had seen in the movie) was almost identical, but whereas the film seemed like a Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible wannabe, the novel was actually Saint-like. The same story yes, but told in a Saintly fashion. The book was good, and it rekindled my fascination with the film, so I tracked down a copy and watched it, possibly in a more forgiving light – that is until the end credits rolled. Here was my next kick in the guts. You see the film is incomplete. The whole ending is missing from the film. I doubt Mr. Barer and Mr. Hensleigh decided of their own volition to add a few extra chapters. I would therefore suggest that earlier versions of the screenplay, on which the novel was based had a longer ending. Along the way, as the film production progressed, the ending was shortened. I can tell you, that the novelisation’s ending makes sense – or at least gives you more of an insight into the villains of the piece. After all my rambling, my point is that yes, this film is a travesty, but had the film-makers stuck to the story they created and actually made the film in a Saintly fashion, rather than as a generic ‘hi-tech’ thriller, we may have well got a good Saint film.

Here’s what we got! The film opens in The Far East at the St. Ignatius Orphanage. All the children at the orphanage have had their names and identities stripped, and in their place they are renamed for Catholic Saints. One of these boys has be renamed John Rossi, but he refuses to answer to the name thrust upon him. This puts him at odds with the Brother in charge of the orphanage and as a result, young John Rossi cops a caning.

Years later the boy has grown into Simon Templar (Val Kilmer) but the scars run deep. Templar wakes from a nightmare recounting his childhood, but he doesn’t dwell upon it for long. He has other things on his mind – his next mission. It appears that Templar is a mercenary or a soldier of fortune. He takes on risky missions for large amounts of cash, only working for the highest bidder. On this occasion somebody is paying him to break into Tretiak Industries in Moscow and steal a microchip. Templar dons a false moustache and adopts a dodgy Russian accent and goes to work impersonating a security officer.

The day that Templar has chosen to commit this brazen act of thievery is an auspicious one. The head of Tretiak Industries, Ivan Tretiak (Rade Serbedzija) is giving a televised speech calling on Russian’s to rise up, and restore Russia to it’s former glory. Yeah, Tretiak is a megalomaniac, and like all men who crave power he has a dependable henchman at his side. This henchman just happens to be his oldest son, Illya (Valery Nikolaev). Illya is a psycho!

So Simon Templar, AKA The Saint, enters Tretiak Industries with ease. Security guards are everywhere and one more loitering around doesn’t raise any suspicions. Templar isn’t really one to loiter though – he moves with purpose. He mounts the stairs and makes his way up to the higher levels in the building. Once he has reached as far as he can easily go without be detected, he crawls out a window and scales up the side of the building until he reaches the higher level where the microchip is being kept. Naturally the building has security measures in place, and yes, that fine old chestnut – the grid of criss-crossed heat sensitive lasers makes a welcome appearance. The Saint has come prepared for this though, and is wearing a special rubber suit that can be cooled. Basically it lowers his body temperature so he can pass through the laser field with setting off the alarms. He makes it to the safe, opens it, and then takes the chip.

But The Saint’s operation hasn’t gone completely un-noticed. Illya has noticed the open window on the lower level and proceeds to investigate. He catches Templar as he is removing the chip. At this point, The Saint adopts a dodgy Aussie accent, before getting into a scuffle with Illya. After distracting the younger Tretiak with a flash grenade, The Saint leaps from the top level of the building. He freefalls down to a truck waiting below. On the back of the truck, Templar has mounted an airbag to break his fall. Just to let us viewers know that this is The Saint, a snatch of The Saint theme plays in the background.

After Templar’s daring robbery, rather than retaliate, Tretiak senior decides to hire The Saint to do a little thievery on his behalf. The object of the theft is a new top secret formula for ‘cold fusion’ (ie: Nuclear fusion at room temperature). This formula would mean an end to the energy crisis, and more importantly, would make whoever controls it a very rich man.

The scientist who developed this formula is Dr. Emma Russell (Elizabeth Shue), and she works at Oxford University. Templar’s mission is to steal the formula from Dr. Russell. As the film goes on, The Saint adopts more silly disguises and accents, and as he gets closer to Russell an unlikely romance blooms. As I intimated earlier, Tretiak and son are not good guys, and even though they have hired Templar’s services, they do not intend to honour their contract.

I want to like this version of The Saint. So far it is the most professionally mounted version of the character we have seen, and as stated, having read the book, there was a serviceable Saint story as a base. But the direction, by Aussie Phil Noyce, and the acting do not reflect the story that they ‘should’ be trying to tell. All in all, this film is a huge disappointment. Let’s hope that the next time when we encounter The Saint that they do not try to re-invent the character. The character already exists – simply write a good story and let The Saint do his thing.

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Get Smart: Aboard The Orient Express (1965)

Directed by Frank McDonald
Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, Edward Platt, Theodore Marcuse, Johnny Carson, Bill Glover,
Del Close, Carol Ohmart, Victor French

I love spy stories set on trains. If you flick back through past posts you’ll find reviews for Sleeping Car To Trieste, Bullet To Beijing and a whole swag of spy films that feature agents carrying out their assignments in the confined compartments of a train. And it appears that I am not the only fan, because writers Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret decided to center an episode of Get Smart around that very same premise. This episode works well as a homage to those type of films and, of course, works well as a stand alone comedy episode.

The episode opens with Agent 85 traveling on board the Orient Express. Chained to his wrist is a briefcase full of cash. The money is the payroll for all the Control agents working in Eastern Block countries. In another compartment is Demetrios (Theo Marcuse). He has a short wave radio and he is in contact with another unseen agent named Kochanska. As Agent 85 prepares to hand over the payroll to his contact, Kochanska enters his compartment. Agent 85 pulls a gun, but it is too late. Kochanska has already released a poisoness gas cannister in the compartment. Agent 85 dies. In fact, Agent 85 is only the latest in a long line of agents who have died recently, trying to deliver the payroll.

The Chief of Control (Edward Platt) decides to try a different tactic. Rather than sending a man again, he decides to send a woman and the agent in question happens to be Agent 99 (Barabra Feldon). As she is receiving her mission briefing from the Chief, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) starts to play around with the payroll briefcase. It will come as no surprise, because Max is a complete buffoon, that he manages to lock the payroll briefcase to his own wrist, and the only person with a key, happens to be the contact on the Orient Express. It looks like Max will be completing the mission rather than 99.

To assist Max on his mission, from Control’s gadget department, he is given a bowler hat which doubles as a gas mask, and a pair of jet propelled shoes. Don’t get me wrong, these shoes do not allow an agent to fly. They are to make a short agent seem taller – the jet propulsion only lifts the wearer slightly off the ground.

Once the mission is underway, Max is safely ensconced in his compartment when an array of characters start to enter. The first is a blind man named Ernst (Bill Glover), who happens to be a hat salesman. As one of Max’s gadgets happens to be a hat, you can be sure that there’ll be a mix up later on. The next interloper is The Countess (Carol Ohmart). There also appearances by Agent 44 (Victor French) who is hidden in the paneling on the wall and as the train conductor, Johnny Carson has an amusing cameo.

As happens in this type of train bound spyjinx, the train passes through a few tunnels and the power goes out. This gives the mystery men a chance to do their thing unseen, and the usual hilarity ensues. As you’ve no doubt gathered, I am a big fan of Get Smart, and enjoyed this episode immensely. It is buoyed by the rich and time honored tradition of spy films that are set on board trains. It’s not original, but hits it’s targets.

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Danger Man: Find And Destroy (1961)

Country: United Kingdom
Directed by Charles Frend
Patrick McGoohan, Peter Arne, Nadja Regin, Ronald Leigh-Hunt

Music by Edwin Astley

The confusing thing about Danger Man is that it lived in two stages. The first stage ran from 1961 till 1962 and each of the episodes ran for only twenty-five minutes. In the show, Patrick McGoohan was an American agent named John Drake. The second incarnation of Danger Man, or Secret Agent as it was known in America ran from 1964 till 1966, and these episodes ran for fifty minutes. By this time, McGoohan had decided to drop the phony American accent and played John Drake as an English agent.

Find And Destroy is the thirty-sixth episode (Season 3: Episode 2) in the original half hour series of Danger Man. John Drake has been working solidly for three years and needs a holiday. His choice of destination is Rio. As he packs his bags and prepares to leave, he receives a visit from his boss. An incident in North Korea needs his special talents. With the aid of a slug of whiskey, Drake talks a lot of over enthusiastic gibberish to his boss – just enough for him to suspect that Drake has been working too hard and is close to breaking point. He assigns another agent and Drake, his subterfuge successful, is free to continue with his travel plans.

On arrival in Rio, Drake is perturbed to find men in his hotel room. Not only men, but a canoe and scuba equipment too. The leader of this group happens to work for British Intelligence and he has a small problem – a top secret prototype of a miniature submarine has gone missing. It was being tested off the South American coast when the two man team inside it are forced to bail out. The sub was left to drift, and currents have steered it towards land. Drake’s mission is to find and destroy the submarine before any competitors do.

Naturally, in this type of show, the bad guys, who are clearly Germans (but I am not sure if they are Communist East Germans or Neo Nazis hiding out in South America), are trying to find the sub too – and their methods of obtaining information are more brutish than Drakes.
The thing about the half hour episodes is that they are so short, they have to move at a rapid clip to fit a story into their running time. As a result, characterization goes out the window, and the series does tend to fall back on stereotypes. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but you won’t find anything here that you haven’t seen before.

For those interested in such things, Melina, the female lead in this episode is played by Nadja Regin who would later appear in From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

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Operation Black Panther (1977)

Unofficially, it almost seems like Sunday is the day that I link to a review by Todd over at Die Danger Die Die Kill. Why? Because I like the way Todd writes, and where else are you going to find reviews of some of the most obscure, abused and neglected spy films on the planet?

Today’s review takes us to Thailand, and the film in question is Operation Black Panther. Here’s a taste:

‘My ignorance of the Thai language prevents me from providing you with much detail regarding its plot, but I can tell you that the movie contains two brilliant bits, one of them being the gang of super-criminals who all wear full-head rubber panther masks.

The gang also has a live panther on hand to dine on those members of the organization whose performance falls short of expectations. The other brilliant bit is Sombat’s car, which looks to be made out of two Mini Cooper front ends welded together, complete with opposite facing steering wheels. This allows Sombat to drive the car from either end, something that is demonstrated to amusing effect in an early chase scene where he keeps hopping from one seat to the other to extricate himself from whatever apparent dead-end his pursuers have backed him into. (Yes, I know there’s such a thing as
reverse, but what’s the fun in that?)

To read the full review, head over to Die Danger Die Die Kill.

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Spy Tunes – No 5

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The Encyclopedia of TV Spies

Here’s something I am excited about. As you know, I think I have a pretty broad knowledge of the spy shows and television series that are out there, but even I am constantly amazed at the shows that I have missed – or I am simply unaware of. Where do you learn about these shows?

Well maybe this will help me – on the television front anyway. Bear Manor Media has announced they will shortly be shipping pre-orders for Wes Britton’s major new contribution to television history, The Encyclopedia of TV Spies!

It’s due out on March 1, 2009, and the Encyclopedia covers just about everything a spy fan could ask for!

Since 1951, in over 200 programs, TV spies have been cultural trend-setters from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to The Six Million Dollar Man. They’ve been espionage blended with science-fiction, gritty and realistic, docu-dramas, mini-series, comic spoofs for adults and entertainment for the very young. And, as Wes Britton demonstrates in his new Encyclopedia of TV Spies, the genre is full of nuggets and rarities even the most devoted spy-watcher may have missed.

What do you know about The Piglet Files, Doomwatch, The Sandbaggers? Has your DVD diet included Passport to Danger, Man in a Suitcase, Sleepers? That’s what The Encyclopedia of TV Spies is all about—the icons of TV past, the obscure, the neglected classics, and the misfires. If you’re a spy buff or a fan of TV history, this is one that belongs on your bookshelf!

For more information click here.

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Arriva Dorellik

AKA: How To Kill 400 Duponts
Director: Steno
Starring: Johnny Dorelli, Margaret Lee, Terry-Thomas, Alfred Adam, Jean-Pierre Zola, Rossella Como, Riccardo Carrone, Agata Flori, Didi Perego
Music: Franco Pisano

Arriva Dorellik is a very, very broad comedy spoof based on Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik starring Johnny Dorelli. Dorelli is the stage name of Giorgio Guidi, who is an Italian actor, singer and showman.

A shadow of fear hangs over the Cote d’Azur. Master criminal Dorrelik has been perpetrating a string of audacious crimes. In an attempt to bring the masked fiend to justice, Inspector Green of Scotland Yard (Terry-Thomas), the world’s foremost authority on Dorellik has been called in to help.

As the Inspector is played by Terry-Thomas, you can expect another over-officious but bumbling characterisation, and not too dissimilar to his role in Danger: Diabolik. It’s Thomas’ usual schtick.

No sooner has Inspector Green arrived at Nice airport and there is a robbery at a jewellers in the city. Green and his French colleagues quickly make their way to the scene of the crime. Dorellik has made off with one of the world’s largest diamonds, and in it’s place he has left a letter to welcome the bumbling inspector.

But Dorellik hasn’t fled the scene just yet. He has stayed around to taunt Green. Once Green hears the madman’s laugh the chase is on. The chase sequence is in the tradition of the Keystone Cops with silly loud brass music and sliding whistle. Just as it appears that Green has his man cornered, Dorellik disappears between two palm trees.

We next see Dorellik in his underground lair. As far as underground lairs go, it is not too exotic. In fact it looks like a windowless apartment. It’s here that we meet Dorellik’s accomplice, Baby (Margaret Lee). Yep, ‘Baby’ is her name! It seems that Baby isn’t impressed with Dorrelik’s current string of crimes, particularly as it has only netted them a profit of eight dollars. When Dorrelik clumsily destroys the priceless diamond that he has just stolen, Baby walks out on him in frustration.

Now broke, Dorellik places an ad in the paper, selling himself as a criminal for hire. One man responds, Raphael Dupont. He explains, in Rio, Multi-millionaire Jacques Dupont has just died. The millionaire had no direct descendants so his fortune is to be divided up amongst the numerous Duponts in France. Raphael wants to inherit it all, and for that to happen all the other Duponts must be dead. He hires Dorellik to kill them all at one thousand dollars per hit. So Dorellik stands to be a rich man – that is if he can kill all the Duponts – and that isn’t an easy task, especially with Inspector Green on his trail.

Arriva Dorellik is a broad comedy in the strongest sense, and your opinion of the film will depend on your acceptance of Johnny Dorelli. His style of comedy is rather juvenile and those with little tolerance for low-brow humour will find this film tough going. Personally, when the mood strikes me, I don’t mind a trip down ‘dumb street’ and this film is pretty entertaining and what’s more it features the gorgeous Margaret Lee. I can sit through any of Margaret Lee’s films – yes, even Hercules Vs The Fire Monster. As an added bonus, Dorellik has her performing a show stopping musical number. What more could you ask?

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