Country: United Kingdom
Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Starring: Tom Adams, Karel Stepanek, Peter Bull, John Arnott, Felix Felton
Music: Herbert Chappell (as Bertram Chappell)
AKA: Licensed to Kill
The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World is the first of three low budget Bond imitations starring Tom Adams as Charles Vine. The other two films are Where The Bullets Fly and Somebody’s Stolen Our Russian Spy. As the title The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World suggests, Vine is the agent that the British Secret Service turn to when 007 is actively engaged on another mission. The next thing you should know is that this film was directed by Lindsay Shonteff whose cinematic vision and sense of humour parallels that of a sixth grader with a cam-corder. To be fair though, out of all the Shonteff schlock I have seen, this is the most professional and watchable – far better than his later work on The Million Eyes Of Sumuru and No. 1: Licenced To Love And Kill.
It is also my duty to advise you that there are two versions of this film. The original is the English version, which is called Licensed To Kill. The second version, which they repackaged for American audiences is called The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, and that is the version I am reviewing here. The most obvious difference between the two versions is that the US version had a Sammy Davis Jnr. theme song and new titles.
The film opens with Swedish Professor August Jakobsen enjoying a stroll through South Hill Park in London. The setting is idyllic. As Jakobsen stops to observe some ducks swimming in a pond, he is passed by a lady pushing a pram with her twins in it. She stops to adjust their blanketing, then pulls out a bloody great machine gun that had been nestled between the infants. She mows the Professor down; packs the weapon away and continues her walk through the park.
After a rather static title sequence the story is unveiled. Professor August Jakobsen was working with his brother Henryk on a project they called ‘Re-Grav’. The purpose of ‘Re-Grav’ is to provide technology (at this early stage it is only a blue print) that will reverse the gravitational field. On a low level this could revolutionise transport, with cars and planes able to hover above the land. Applying a military application, ‘Re-Grav’ could make countries safe from nuclear missile attack, as it would repel the missiles.
Now that August is dead, Henryk is to carry on and complete their research which he intends to sell to the British. The official handling the purchase of Jakobsen’s research is Walter Pickering of the Foreign Office. Pickering approaches Rockwell, the head of the British Secret Service and demands protection for the scientist. Due to budget restraints, the Secret Service can only spare one man to babysit Jakobsen. Pickering wants it to be the agent that handled that ‘gold smuggling’ operation (get it?) Rockwell says that he is unavailable, but he has another agent who can do the job, Charles Vine (Tom Adams). Rockwell describes Vine as being ‘tough, discreet and dedicated’.
As the film cuts away to Vine, we find out that he is very dedicated. Dedicated to the moral corruption of swingin’ sixties British dolly birds. He is in bed when he receives a phone call requesting that he returns to headquarters for a mission briefing.
Vine’s mission is to protect Professor Henryk Jakobsen and his research assistant, Julia Linberg as they complete the ‘Re-Grav’ research. This isn’t quite as simple as it may seem, because the Russians are interested in acquiring Jakobsen’s research, as is another secret private organisation. Vines first test is upon his return from the airport with the Professor and his assistant where they are ambushed by a carload of fake police officers. It gives Vine his first opportunity to show off his shooting prowess.
Naturally, over the course of the movie there are numerous attempts on the Professor’s life, but Vine always intervenes. Some of the assassins sent to do their worst include Vladimir She-He. With a name like ‘She-He’ it will come as no surprise that this villain likes to cross dress. Director Shonteff liked the idea and character so much that he would recycle him/her in No. 1: Licenced To Love And Kill, which starred Gareth Hunt as Charles Bind. Vine also has to battle an evil doppelganger, Major Kroptkin, a Russian agent who has had plastic surgery and taken voice lessons to appear as Vine. Finally there is another Russian killer called Sadistokov. He is so tough and loves to kill so much that he moonlights as a supervisor at a slaughterhouse.
Like I mentioned earlier, Shonteff’s work is pretty crude and this film does have a few rough edges. But in spite of that The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World isn’t too bad. This is mainly due to the enthusiasm of the cast. Tom Adams is athletic and throws himself around with suitable vigour. He may not move like a cat-like Connery, but he looks like he could handle himself in a stoush. The other cast members, even though their characters are little more than broad stereotypes, acquit themselves reasonably well too – enough to sell the scenes they are in, despite the non existent set and production design. I guess the fact that this film was received well enough that they followed it up with two sequels, probably indicates that this film punches a little bit above it’s weight. It’s no masterpiece, but as another Bondian knock-off it does the job.