Hotel Reserve (1944)

Directed by Lance Comfort, Max Greene, Victor Hanbury.
James Mason, Lucie Mannheim, Raymond Lovell, Julien Mitchell, Herbert Lom, Martin Miller, Clare hamilton, Frederick Valk, Patricia Medina, Anthong Shaw, David Ward, Laurence Hanray, Valentine Dyall, Hella Kürty
Music by Lennox Berkeley
Adapted from the novel ‘Epitaph For A Spy’ by Eric Ambler

A holiday…in France…before the war
…yet even then the plane-trees
and cypresses of the South cast
shadows in the sun.

It happened in August 1938”

I hate making throwaway statements like ‘they don’t make em like that anymore’, but the sad truth is that they just don’t. These days we get explosions and car chases at the expense of character development. And the classic spy films of the 30’s and 40’s gave you an abundance of characters to develop. This is partly because pre-Bond, spies were generally the bad guys – and quite often there was a ‘whodunnit’ aspect to the films. A lot of the fun was trying to guess which of the myriad of colourful characters is actually an enemy agent. Thankfully, Hotel Reserve is no different and serves up all the ingredients we have come to expect in a tight little package that is totally enjoyable from start to finish.

On the French coast, Hotel Reserve is a modest holiday resort with a mixed collection of guests staying over. Among them is Peter Vadassy (James Mason) who has been studying medicine in Paris and intends to take up a position at a hospital once his naturalisation papers come through. You see Verdassy has an Austrian father, but a French mother. The family left Austria for France when Hitler came to power.

Other guests include Robert Duclos (Raymond Lovell) who is a Frenchman who is quick to voice his opinion on anything and everything in a very loud manner. Then there’s honeymooning couple Andre and Odette Roux (Herbert Lom & Patricia Medina) who ignore the other guests and want to be left in peace. Paul Heimberger (Frederick Valk) is a mysterious German with a secret, and Belgian Henri Asticot (David Ward) is an experienced world traveller. Representing the USA, there’s Warren and Mary Skelton (Valentine Dyall & Mary Skelton) and from Switzerland Walter and Hilda Vogel (Martin Miller & Hella Kürty). And rounding out the ensemble is the Englishman, Major Anthony Chandon-Hartley. As you can see, there’s a lot of characters and they all have their story to tell and their red herrings to sell. It may seem like there is a lot of characters to get to know in a very short space of time, but don’t worry – this film is kind enough to put inter-titles over each of the characters so you quickly know who is who.

The film opens with Peter Vadassy running into town to pick up a roll of film he had shot the previous day. When he arrives at the pharmacy, the shop keeper says it is not ready. As Vadassy makes arrangements to collect the film later, two police officers enter the pharmacy. They insist that Vadassy has a problem with his passport and take him to the police station for further questioning.

Vadassy is taken before Inspector Beghin (Julien Mitchell), a dour man who is the head intelligence officer in the region. There is nothing wrong with Vadassy’s passport. It is the photos on his roll of film that are of interest to the police. At the end of the roll, there are the shots that Vadassy had taken, but at the beginning there are some photographs detailing local military installations.

Luckily for Vadassy, the camera he has taken the shots with, has a different serial number to the one he purchased. It appears that someone has switched cameras with Vadassy. Whoever made the switch is an enemy spy, and most likely will wants the camera negative back. And even more likely, the traitor is also staying at Hotel Reserve, watching and waiting for an opportunity to switch the cameras over once again. Inspector Beghin insists that Vadassy finds out who the real spy is, or he will be deported from France.

This film often gets compared to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, but it isn’t quite in that league, but none-the-less it is still very entertaining. If you enjoy classic espionage thriller like Journey Into Fear, Ministry Of Fear or Sleeping Car To Trieste then you’ll find a lot to like in Hotel Reserve. The novel ‘Epitaph For A Spy’ by Eric Ambler, which is the basis for this movie, was also adapted twice for British television. The first was in 1953, with Peter Cushing as Vadassy, and then in 1963 with Colin Jeavons taking on the role. It seems virtually impossible to find either of these series, but it goes to show that this is a much loved espionage story.

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Secret Mission (1942)

Director: Harold French
Starring: Hugh Williams, James Mason, Michael Wilding, Carla Lehmann, Karel Stepanek, Herbert Lom, Nancy Price, Roland Culver, Walter Gotell
Music: Mischa Spoliansky

One of the writers credited for Secret Mission is Shaun Terence Young – better known to spy fans as plain old Terence Young, who would later direct three of the early James Bond films, as well as Triple Cross and Jigsaw Man.

Made in 1942, of course, this is a war time propaganda piece. It’s all about fighting the good fight for the just cause, but not much fighting actually happens. In the film four men stationed in England are sent on a mission to St. Antoine in German occupied France. The men are Major Peter Garnett (Hugh Williams) who is leading the group. Next we have Captain Red Gowan (Roland Culver). Then we have ex-patriot Frenchman, Raul de Carnot (James Mason), whose family lives in St. Antoine. And bringing up the rear is cad, Private Nobby Clark (Michael Wilding), who has a French wife in St. Antoine who he is not too keen to see.

The men are ferried across the Channel, through the mines, until they are just off the coast of France. From there, they have to make their own way in a dingy. Once on French soil, Garnett and Raoul hide out at Raoul’s family home, and Gowan and Clark hide at Clark’s wife’s home.

The real weakness of the film is the mission itself, which is ill-defined. It seems like a case of ‘let’s go see what Jerry is up to!’ While intelligence gather was no doubt very important during the war, in this instance it doesn’t really add up to a ‘Secret Mission’ as we’d expect in a spy film today.

The story is also riddled with subplots involving the loved ones of Raoul and Nobby. While Nobby’s plight is mostly comic relief, poor old Raoul plays the serious and dour, but at the same time righteous and patriot Frenchman, who fights to get his country back. With German occupation in his hometown, this only causes conflict between him and his family. Maybe Raoul would have been a far more sympathetic character had he not been hampered by Mason’s dodgy French accent.

The film has one or two lighter moments. One of them is when Garnett and Gowan, posing as Champagne salesmen talk their way into German Intelligence headquarters for the region. The Germans realise that the men are frauds, but believe that they are from the Gestapo checking up on them. The scene is a breath of fresh air in a rather drab film.

Generally this type of film enthrals me. I love the old character driven pieces from the thirties and forties, but unfortunately this one just doesn’t stack up.

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The Saint In London (1939)

Directed by John Paddy Carstairs
George Sanders, Sally Gray, David Burns, Gordon McLeod, Athen Seyler, Henry Oscar, Ralph Truman, Ballard Berkeley, John Abbott
Music by Marr Mackie
Based on the short story, ‘The Million Pound Day’ by Leslie Charteris

In some ways, The Saint In London is one of The Saint’s most espionage based stories, but to tell you why and how would ruin some of the twists and turns that this story has to offer. As The Saint films of this era where barely more than B-grade programmers with rather stripped down stories, to reveal the twist would be criminal, so I’ll refrain.

You know, I like George Sanders as The Saint. He only made five Saint films, and then went on to become The Falcon (much to the chagrin of Leslie Charteris, who sued RKO claiming that The Falcon was The Saint in all but name). But Sanders as The Saint is very effective, even though some of the stories used (or the adaptations at any rate) were sub standard. Sanders shines through. He was a class act, and this shows through in his portrayal of the character.

The film opens with Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (George Sanders) arriving by car at the exclusive Restaurant Maxy. As he is about to enter, a man at the door asks for a cigarette. The Saint obliges, but as he lights the cigarette, the man who happens to be a thief, lifts Templar’s watch. As he does so, a police officer notices and tries to intervene on Templars behalf. The Saint protests that the officer must be mistaken and produces a watch from his pocket. It is in fact the pickpockets watch, which The Saint had swiped, as recompense for the pickpocket taking his.

Once inside the restaurant, The Saint orders a drink and a meal. Then rather sheepishly, the pickpocket makes his way into the restaurant and to The Saint’s table. He introduces himself as Dugan (David Burns), and trades watches with The Saint. The Saint offers Dugan a meal and a job as his valet. But Templar isn’t at the restaurant to meet Dugan. He has a prearranged dinner engagement with old chum Richard Blake (Ballard Berkeley). Berkeley has been having a spot of bother with a gentleman named Bruno Lang (Henry Oscar). And it turns out with good reason. Lang is in fact an underworld mob boss. Templar agrees to help Blake and arranges to meet Lang at a party. Along with Lang, he also meets Penny Parker (Sally Gray), who realises that Templar is up to something, and the ‘nosey’ side of her nature wants to find out what it is.

Templar first notifies Bruno Lang that he is on to him, by leaving a calling card on the steering wheel of Langs Car. The card say ‘Bruno Lang Vs. The Saint’. Lang shrugs it off as a joke, but Templar makes his way to Lang’s home, breaks in and riffles through the documents in the safe. He finds what he is looking for, and then makes a hasty exit. On his way out, he runs into a security guard who has been walking the perimeter of Lang’s estate. Templar knocks the guard down and makes a run for it.

Luckily for The Saint, the very, very nosey Ms. Parker has followed him to Lang’s. She hears the gunshots as the guard fires after Templar. She gets into Templar’s car and starts the engine. By the time Templar comes bounding out, the car is moving and he hitches a ride on the running boards.

As they speed along the road, away from the scene of the crime, they come across a beaten man running down the road, fearing for his life. Templar offers assistance, firstly by hiding the scared man in his car. And then by secondly raising his boot into the chest of the goon who was chasing the poor guy.

Templar and Parker take the man to a hotel and The Saint arranges for a doctor to come and see the man. Once he is patched up, the man reveals himself to be Count Duni. Duni is a foreign diplomat who was sent to England to oversee the printing of new currency for his country. Unfortunately he had been captured by some of Bruno Lang’s goon and was forced to sign over for the printing of an extra million pounds. Lang and his mobsters intend to ruch this new money into circulation as the new currency is released. That way it would be untraceable.

As complicated as all that seems, it is even more so. You see, when Templar rescued the Count, and clobbered Lang’s goon, a police officer noticed. Well he noticed Templar clobbering the goon then making a quick getaway. The officer wrote down the car number plate and passed it onto his superiors. It isn’t long before it crosses the desk of Inspector Claud Teal (Gordon McLeod) of Scotland Yard. Naturally Teal has been trying to catch The Saint for years, and is soon investigating.

The Saint In London is a pacey little thriller with a fine resolution. The one strange thing about this episode, is usually a character like The Saint, has one ‘hanger on’ who acts as comic relief. In this episode, he has three – Penney parker, Dugan, and even Inspector Teal. I suppose this only serves to make The Saint seem even more dashing. All in all, this is not bad.

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The Avengers (1998)

Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Starring: Ralph Feinnes, Sean Connery, Uma Thurman, Jim Broadbent, Eddie Izzard
Music: Joel McNeely
‘Avengers Theme’ by Laurie Johnson
Song ‘Hurricane’ performed by Grace Jones

You know I loved the original Avengers TV series – c’mon, we all do!. It is with a heavy heart that I report that The Avengers movie is a major disappointment. All the ingredients are there for the film to work. The film has a great cast. Ralph Fiennes fills the bowler hat rather well, and few actresses could fill the black leather catsuit as curvaceously as Uma Thurman. Sean Connery is Sir August DeWinter, the villain of the piece. And thankfully the film-makers haven’t tried to Americanise The Avengers. Everything is very British: – ‘Bowler Hats’, ‘Afternoon Tea’, ‘Red London Double Decker Buses’, sporty ‘E-type Jaguars’. All but Union Jack underwear. So where did this film go wrong?

In practically every department. Ralph Fiennes fills the bowler hat well, but seems to lack the joie de vivre that Patrick Macnee displayed. But Fiennes, out of all the actors in this film, comes off the least unscathed. Uma Thurman looks great, but she is terrible in the role. I realise Dame Diana is a tough act to follow, but Uma is ice cold in this performance. I never thought I say that Sean Connery is simply awful in a movie. Sure he’s been in bad movies, but he is usually the best thing in them – for example Meteor, Zardoz and Highlander 2! But in The Avengers Connery reaches a new low. I guess a large proportion of the blame should go to the script writers who had him mouth lines like, ‘I enjoy a good lashing before teatime’. So despite the great cast in this film, nearly all of them give the worst performances of their lives.

The next big mistake the film-makers made is that they couldn’t decide if they were making a few set in the sixties, with all the mod fashion that goes with it, or making a new updated version of The Avengers for a new younger generation. Instead we got a film that hard back to the sixties, but has all these dreadful high tech gizmos and display screens.

The overall look of the film is rather gloomy, despite it’s mod sensibilities. In it’s defence, the story is about the ‘weather’ and ‘storms’ but even then, all the interiors are grey and dark.

The story is a bit of a muddle too, but it does feature some ‘Avengers’ moments, that could have almost been lifted from the sixties series, but in the futuristic setting they look wrong, or simply don’t work.

The plot concerns the theft of the Ministry Of Defence’s Prospero weather shield. The main suspect is Dr. Emma Peel, due to the fact the have video footage of her committing the crime. She claims to be innocent, and is teamed up with secret agent John Steed to find out who the true culprit is. Their investigations lead them to eccentric recluse, Sir August De Winter.

Their are rumours that a better ‘director’s cut’ of this film exists, but as the film did so poorly, there are no current plans to release it. Who knows – over a passage of time, it may one day see the light. But I don’t hold much hope of it even being significantly better. There are simply too many things wrong with this film, and most criminally of all is it lacks that humour, and I’ll use the term again, the ‘joie de vivre’ that the original television series had. I hate to say this, but I wouldn’t bother tracking this down. If you need an Avengers fix, go back to the originals.

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Le Professionnel (1981)

Director: Georges Lautner
Starring: Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein, Jean-Louis Richard, Cyrielle Claire, Michel Beaune, Elisabeth Margoni, Marie-Christine Descouard
Music: Ennio Morricone

Le Professionnel is a good old fashioned adventure spy flick. Well, it starts as an adventure, then it turns into a revenge flick, but either way it is still very entertaining, and buoyed by the presence of Jean Paul Belmondo who stars as ‘The Professional’ of the title. Belmondo play Joss Beaumont who is one of the French Secret Services best operatives. He has been trained to the highest level in weapons and tactics. He has been taught to live off his wits and not rely on backup from other agents or gadgets. But as this film opens, a mission has gone wrong. Beaumont is in the ficticious African country of Malagawi, and he is standing in the docks in a court of law. Beaumont has been accused of the attempted assassination of the leader of Malagawi, President N’jala. In the courtroom, Beaumont admits to the assassination charge. He also admits that he was working alone, and not coerced by any political power. During the proceedings though, Beaumont collapses. Court is adjourned and Beaumont is shuffled into a side room. Here he is held down and injected with a magic potion. The potion makes Beaumont compliant to his captors will. Court is readjourned and Beaumont admits to all crimes against the country, and admits that the full penalty of the law should apply in his case.

Beaumont is convicted an sent to a primitive African prison where he is tortured and treated as a slave. During his two years of incarceration, Beaumont befriends a native prisoner, and they formulate a plan to escape – it’s the one where one man pretends to have stomach cramps etc…I am sure you’ve seen it before. Their ploy works and the two men escape and head to the village where the African prisoner came from. Unfortunately the Malagawi army is on their tail and follows them to the village. The soldiers shoot up and burn the village. Beaumont’s companion is shot during the insurgence, but Beaumont, armed with a sniper’s rifle, shoots a few key soldiers and during the confusion he manages to escape.

The film then moves to Paris – we know this because of the aerial shots of the Eiffel Tower. Back on his home turf, Beaumont announces his return to France by sending his superiors at the French Secret Service a telegram. The telegram is in a code that has not been used for over two years, and takes a while to decipher. Once they do, the heads of the Secret Service and the government are in for a shock…

You see, two years ago, Beaumont was sent to assassinate President N’Jala – that much is true. But he did it on the orders of his superiors in the French Secret Service, who in turn were following orders from the French Foreign Minister. But by the time Beaumont had arrived in Africa, the situation, politically, had changed. President N’Jala was now an ally and the need for his death was no longer warranted. But the Secret Service chose not to abort the mission. Instead they sold out Beaumont to N’Jala’s Secret Police.

Now Beaumont is back, and his telegram states that he is going to go through with his original mission – kill President N’Jala. Coincidently, N’Jala is going to be in Paris over the next three days, involved in some diplomatic discussions. This gives Beaumont plenty of time to carry out his mission, and provide plenty of headaches for the Secret Service.

One of the many headaches, on top of protecting the President of a foreign nation from assassination by a highly trained operative, is that Beaumont may go to the press and release details of his original mission and his subsequent betrayal. The truth would cause the government quite a great deal of embarrassment.

Ultimately there is only one option that can be employed by the government and the Secret Service; and that is to silence Joss Beaumont permanently. The man selected to do this is the sadistic Rosen (Robert Hossein), who get’s off on hurting people. In his attempts to capture Beaumont, he manipulates and abuses those that Beaumont still has a connection wife, such as his wife, Jeanne (Elisabeth Margoni) and his oldest friend, Valeras (Michel Beaune). This begins a cat and mouse game between Beaumont and Rosen which dominates much of the film.

Le Professionnel is professionally made entertainment. Despite the quasi-political nature of the story, the film isn’t too deep. The plot machinations are simply to showcase Belmondo’s brand of death defying mayhem. As usual, Belmondo does most of his own stunts, and while they aren’t as outrageous as some of his other films, he still gets to climb about on the ledges on building and participate in a high speed car chase through the streets of Paris.

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The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

Director: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaise, Demond Llewelyn, Bernard Lee
Music: John Barry
Title song performed by Lulu
Based loosely on the novel by Ian Fleming

The Man With The Golden Gun is the most psychedelic of the Bond series or at least tries to be. The villains lair, which is revealed in the opening sequence, and features in the finale is a carnival of flashing coloured lights, revolving mirrors, robotic toys and wall high video screens. But despite all the toys it isn’t that trippy. As such, it provides the setting for one of the Bond series weakest endings. The story for two thirds of it’s running time is okay, but it is always leading to the showdown between Bond and The Man With The Golden Gun, Francisco Scaramanga. And that showdown is a bit disappointing.

James Bond (Roger Moore) is summoned to M’s office. M (Bernard Lee) presents Bond with a package that has been sent to M.I.6 headquarters in London. Inside the package is a golden bullet and etched on the side are the numbers 0-0-7. It looks like somebody wants James Bond dead, and that someone happens to be Franscisco Scaramanga. Scaramanga is the world’s most expensive and dangerous assassin. He is known as the ‘man with the golden gun’ because he always uses a gold bullet to kill his targets. On top of that, he charges one million dollars for every target – it’s not bad work if you can get it! M relieves Bond from duty. M.I.6 cannot jeopardise a mission by having an agent shot while on active duty. Bond suggests that if he found Scaramanga first, then the tables would be turned. M agrees and begins tracking down the mysterious ‘man with the golden gun’.

Bond’s first port of call is a nightclub in Istanbul. A Double-O agent had been killed there many years previously by Scaramanga. The agent had been with an exotic dancer named Saida when he was killed, and now she uses the remnants of the bullet as a lucky charm, wedged in her navel. After some gentle coercion, Bond obtains the bullet and takes it to Q-Branch. Q (Desmond Llewellyn) examines the bullet and the mineral content of the gold that it was made from. Q ascertains that the gold could have only come from one part of the world, the Far East, and only one man in that part of the world is equipped to make some specialised bullets. His name is Lazaar and he works out of Macao.

Bond pays a vist to Lazaar and threatens to kill him unless he leads him to Scaramanga. In fear for his life, Lazaar offers to help, but he is only a small link in the chain. He takes the golden bullets to a casino where they are collected by a lady. As it happens, Lazaar has another shipment of bullets ready to be delivered. As he takes them to the casino for collection, Bond follows and watches.

At the casino, the bullets are collected by Andrea Anders (Maud Adams). She leaves and catches a hydrofoil to Hong Kong and then checks into a hotel, all the time with Bond discreetly on her trail.

Later, Bond convinces one of the hotel staff to open the door to Andrea’s hotel suite. Inside she is taking a shower and does not hear Bond enetre the room. After she has exited the shower, Bond asks her where he can find Scaramanga. She refuses to say. In one of Roger Moore’s more brutal scenes as Bond, he gives her a backhand across the jaw and then literally twists her arm. She tells Bond that Scaramanga has an appointment that evening at a Hong Kong night club called the ‘Bottom’s Up’.

As this Bond film is set in Asia, and at this time Kung-Fu films were exceedingly popular, it is not surprising that The Man With The Golden Gun jumped onto the martial arts bandwagon. The scenes aren’t too successful because Roger Moore is not too convincing as a martial artist, and most of the scenes fall to Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Tek Oh), who plays Bond’s contact in Hong Kong.

The Man With The Golden Gun of the title is played by Christopher Lee, and he is pretty good in the role, but he is at his most charming and menacing when he is simply conversing with Bond. Whenever Scaramanga has to engage in any type of action it comes off as silly (this probably has more to do with the script, than Lee’s acting ability). On such scene is where he has to slide down, on the soles of his feet, an embankment of flattened steps (don’t ask!), and then roll into a somersault, grab his gun and fire at the target. Equally silly, is when he has to pilot a flying car. Lee is at his best as an urbane gentleman – not as a two bit action hero.

Hervé Villechaise is Scaramanga’s diminutive manservant Nick Nack who at the height of 3′ 11″ is not a particularly threatening henchman. In fact, he is one of the few villains in the Bond series who is not killed.

There are two main Bond girls in The Man With The Golden Gun. The first is Maud Adams. Adams plays Andrea Anders, the woman who sets the whole chains of events in motion by sending James Bond one of Scaramanga’s golden bullets. The bullet usually signifies the recipient is to be the next target for assassination by The Man With The Golden Gun, but in this instance it is simply a ploy to drag James Bond into Miss Anders game. And she is quite prepared to use her body to sweeten the deal, if it will get her what she wants.

The next Bond girl is Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight. Goodnight is the good girl in this movie, but she is also lumbered with some awkward comic relief moments.

After George Martin had taken over the musical reigns for Live And Let Die, it was back to the maestro, John Barry for the score to The Man With The Golden Gun. It was Barry’s seventh score for a Bond movie, and it is lighter than previous scores, to suit Roger Moore’s lighter interpretation of Bond. But as always, it is good to have John Barry back in control, and in the chase sequences where he, once again, comes into his own with pounding rhythms and driving horns to underscore the action.

The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the weaker Bond films. This is mainly due to the ending. The duel between Bond and Scaramanga works on paper, but not particularly well cinematically. And when the gunfight moves into Scaramanga’s funhouse, the ending becomes repetitive – because we have seen it in the pre-title sequence. It is also predictable – again the pre-title sequence enables you to guess what happens next.

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Masquerade (1965)

Directed by Basil Dearden
Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Charles Gray, Bill Fraser, John Le Mesurier, Roger Delgado
Music by Philip Green
Based on the novel, ‘Castle Minerva’ by Victor Canning

Sometimes when you’ve seen as many spy films as me, you believe you’ve seen the cream of the crop and all that is left is the dregs. Thankfully that is not true. Every now and then I come across a spy film that a) I know little about, and b). is a rollicking piece of entertainment. Masquerade is one such film. Most films of this type have received a great deal of fanfare and are readily available on DVD. Strangely this is not the case for Masquerade – currently it is one of the great sixties spy films that is still ‘missing in action’. So if you get the chance to watch this little gem, grab it with both hands.

The story concerns the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Ramount, which has an oil trade agreement with Britain. This agreement is due to expire and the English are keen to renew the contract.

Currently, Ramount is under the rule of Regent Ahmed Ben Faïd (Roger Delgado). Ben Faïd does not favour renewing the British contract and would rather deal with countries behind the Iron Curtain. But Ben Faïd is just the care-taker ruler of Ramount. The rightful heir, Jamil is only two weeks away (his fourteenth birthday), from ascending to the throne and taking control of the country. Jamil is pro-English, and would renew the oil contract.

So for Ahmed Ben Faïd, to retain his power, and to get his own way, the solution is simple – he must kill Jamil. The British Secret Service fear that there may be an attempt on Jamil’s life and hatch a scheme – unofficially, of course, – to protect the future leader.

Leading this scheme is Colonel Drexel (Jack Hawkins). His plan is to stage a mock kidnapping of the heir, and spirit him away to Spain until he is old enough to take control of Ramount. Aiding Drexel in his plan, is David Fraser (Cliff Robertson), a down on his luck American, that Drexel knew from the war. Much to the chagrin of the British Secret Service, Fraser is not from Eton, but Drexel vouches that he’ll do a splendid job.

Fraser is professional, but he does have a tendency to get side-tracked. In Spain, Fraser’s attention is diverted by a group of smugglers who wish to ‘borrow’ his high powered speed boat. Amongst the smugglers are such familiar Eurospy faces as the gorgeous Marisa Mell, who plays Sophie, and Michel Piccoli, who is the leader of the smuggling ring.

The film saves it’s first great twist until the halfway mark. I’ll admit that I didn’t see it coming. But once the twist has played out, it opens the floodgates for all sorts of plot shenanigans, and a great deal of viewer enjoyment. This film has a bit of everything – an engaging and unpredictable story line; quite a few nice set pieces and action sequences; midgets with guns; and a great cast of actors to bring it all to life. Track down a copy if you can.

Thanks to Skadog.

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The High Commissioner (1968)

Director: Ralph Thomas
Starring: Rod Taylor, Christopher Plummer, Lilli Palmer, Carmilla Sparv, Leo McKern, Daliah Lavi, Derren Nesbitt, Clive Revill, Bud Tingwell, Burt Kwouk
Music: Georges Delerue
Based on the Novel By Jon Cleary

The book, The High Commissioner, by Jon Cleary, and the film The High Commissioner are two very different beasts. Cleary’s book is more of a police story than a spy story. Central to both versions, however, is a peace conference. In the film, the conference is for a generic ‘world peace’. In the book, the conference is struggling to end the war in Vietnam, and the characters reflect this. Madame Cholon, played in the movie by Daliah Lavi, is supposed to be Vietnamese. Although Miss Lavi is an exotic beauty, she is hardly Asian. Another strange bit of casting is Derren Nesbitt in the role of Pallain. In the book Pallain is of French / Mexican extraction. Nesbitt whose career is peppered with many Teutonic characters is definitely not the right actor for this role, but you have to give the film-makers credit for trying. They dyed Nesbitt’s hair black, darkened his face with makeup, and gave him a silly moustache. Despite their best efforts the transformation does not work.

The other casting choices for the film are pretty good though. Rugged Rod Taylor is almost perfect as Scobie Malone. I would have loved to have seen him play the role again. Taylor’s career in the late 60’s and early 70’s is interesting in that he played a few characters from successful literary series. It is almost as if he was searching for a nice little film franchise that he could settle into and just churn out film after film, year after year. Unfortunately for Taylor none of the films were hits. Apart from Scobie Malone, Taylor had a crack a Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator, from the series by John Gardner; and in Darker Than Amber he played Travis McGee from the books by John D. MacDonald.

Also well cast is Christopher Plummer as Sir James Quentin. As he is the ambassador, I can forgive that he doesn’t have an Australian accent.

Onto the story…Scobie Malone is a hard working Sergeant in the New South Wales Police force. One morning he receives a summons from the NSW Premier, Flannery (Leo McKern). Flannery has never liked the Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir James Quentin (Christopher Plummer), and has had men checking Quentin’s background searching for dirt. In his quest, Flannery has discovered a disturbing piece of information – Quentin is wanted on an ages old murder charge. Flannery wants Malone to fly to London and arrest the High Commissioner on suspicion of murder.

Malone catches a flight to London and finds that Quentin is quite willing to go back and faces the charges – but not right away. You see, at this moment he is engaged in some important peace talks, and if he were to leave in the middle of proceedings, the fragile peace discussions may collapse.

Malone is not happy about the delay. He is a simple guy, not someone used to black-tie balls and diplomatic soirées. Adding to Malone’s problems, is that someone is trying to kill Quentin. So Malone is seconded into a role as a security advisor and bodyguard for the High Commissioner.

During Malone’s extended stay he gets drawn into the Quentin household. Apart from Sir James, this includes Lady Sheila Quentin (Lilli Palmer) , Joseph – the butler (Clive Revill), and Sir James’ secretary, Lisa Pretorius (Carmilla Sparv). Lisa is a constant thorn in Malone’s side as he tries to carry out his duties. Incidentally, in Jon Cleary’s book series, Malone would later marry Lisa. The script of this film doesn’t really hint at a budding romance, in fact it’s hard to see Malone and Lisa’s relationship growing at all. Let’s just say, that opposites attract.

The High Commissioner is a difficult film for me to review, because I had read a couple of Cleary’s books before I was able to track down the movie…and while I enjoy the movie enormously, it grates on me that it is so dumbed down compared to the book. It’s the old cliché – ‘the book is so much better’ – but here I am reviewing the film, not the book, so ignoring the book, I’d say the film is a fun slice of sixties spy cinema with an engaging cast. I guess that’s not a bad thing.

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The Persuaders: Chain Of Events (1971)

Director: Peter Hunt
Starring: Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Suzanna Leigh, Peter Vaughan, George Baker
Music: Ken Thorne
The Persuaders Theme by John Barry

I absolutely love The Persuaders television series, and for me, Chain Of Events is one of the most enjoyable of the episodes. This one is directed by Peter Hunt, who directed the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the show has a few subtle Bond jokes. It even features the actor George Baker, who played Sir Hillary Bray in OHMSS.

The episode opens in Eastern Europe with a plane landing in a clearing. This is part of an M.I.5 operation. The pilot is to receive a briefcase full of important classified documents from a sleeper agent, which he is to bring back to England. But the Communists are onto M.I.5’s little scheme and switch the case for another one.

After John Barry’s title theme, which every time I hear it I get goose bumps, we are in a paddock in the English country side. Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) is camping out. Despite all his millions, he is roughing it. No tent, simply stretched out before an open fire. Then a clock alarm rings. No it’s not a dream. Danny is not dreaming. The alarm is on the other side of the field. The camera pulls back to reveal Lord Brett Sinclair’s (Roger Moore) palatial camping set up. He has a monstrous sized tent, with all mod cons. Attached to the tent is a giant awning which covers his kitchen area, with a refrigerator, a stove, a coffee percolator, the works… Danny refuses to accept Sinclair’s hospitality. If he is camping, he wants to live of his wits. He will only eat what he can catch, and to that end, he grabs a fishing pole and heads off to the river.

As Danny marches along, he bumps into Franz Schubert (Peter Vaughan). Schubert mistakes Danny for a man named Baxter. Danny corrects him, and continues on his way. Next Danny sees a blonde lady, Emily (Suzanna Leigh) running through the trees calling Baxter’s name. Confused but unperturbed, Danny continues to the river and then throws in a line. What he hasn’t initially seen, hanging in the tree overhead, is a man in a parachute. Danny helps the man down. He is almost dead, but he has enough strength to unclip the briefcase he was carrying, and clamp the handcuff around Danny’s wrist. Danny now is chained to the briefcase and cannot find the key.

Danny wanders off to get help, but in the meantime, M.I.5 have found their courier dead and the briefcase missing. They naturally assume that foreign agent has taken the case, and call all their operatives into the area, with orders to kill. Naturally there actually are foreign agents in the area, and they want the briefcase too. So poor old Danny is everyone’s target, and he’s not too happy about it.

Like most of The Persuaders episodes, apart from the chemistry between Moore and Curtis, the show is buoyed by the great range of character actors, all familiar faces, who fill the support roles. In Chain Of Events we get Peter Vaughan who made a career out of playing slimy villains in many films. Some of his more notable espionage appearances were in The Naked Runner, Philby, Burgess And Maclean, The Macintosh Man, and Hammerhead amongst many others. Suzanna Leigh’s credentials included Subterfuge and Deadlier Than The Male.

The Persuaders was a very good series and there weren’t really any dud episodes, so you could pick any of them and be assured of a good time…but this is one of my favourites.

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The Hour Of The Assassin (1987)

Director: Luis Llosa
Starring: Erik Estrada, Robert Vaughn, Alfred Alvarex Calderon, Orlando Sacho, Francisco Giraldo
Music: Fred Myrow

This South American derivative of The Day Of The Jackal is loud, poorly directed, and poorly edited. It’s rare, even when I am watching a bad film (and heaven knows I watch enough of those), that I don’t find something to enjoy, but by the 40 minute mark of this turkey, I just wanted the movie to end. Maybe if The Hour Of The Assassin had been tightened up, so it actually only ran for an hour, then maybe I wouldn’t be so down on this movie. But this production is bottom of the barrel.

The movie is set in the fictitious South American country of San Pedro, and they have just elected a new President, Roberto Villaverde (Francisco Giraldo). Villaverde, who has yet to be inaugurated, plans sweeping reform to the country, leading it towards democracy. Naturally, such radical changes are not welcomed by those who like the status quo.

The film opens with the President-elect, surrounded by heavy security, brushing past the press to his car. Then an escorted motorcade weaves through the streets. A cadre of villains have positioned themselves along the motorcades route, and ambush the President-elects car. At the centre of the ambush is a school bus full of kids, which the ambushers have hijacked. It’s hard to return fire at a bus load of kids.

Villaverde’s car breaks out of the blockade and a high speed pursuit and gun battle ensues. Its a clumsily edited, noisy and particularly uninspired sequence. The highlight, is when the Presidential vehicle collides with a fruit vendors stall. How many times have you seen a car chase, where a vehicle collides with a fruit vendors stall?

Eventually all the bad guys are dead except one. He had been on a motorbike, and now is lying injured on the road. The Chief of Security walks up to the bad guy and shoots him, only after telling him that he ‘blew it!’ So now we know who the bad guy is – the Chief of Security. But Villaverde is safe for now, but he will go into hiding until the inauguration.

The Security Chief meets with a bunch of other military officials who were also behind the attempt on the Villaverde’s life. This had been their third assassination attempt that had failed. They need a new strategy, and decide to call in a specialist. This man is Martin Fierro (Erik Estrada).

Arriving in San Pedro is Sam Merrick (Robert Vaughn). Merrick is an American CIA agent, and he believes another attempt will be made on Villaverde’s life. He also realises that group assassinations haven’t worked, so most likely, the next attempt will be made by a single sniper on inauguration day. Merrick then sets out to find who that man could be.

The Security Chief arranges for Fierro to get across the border without any paperwork. Merrick was expecting something like this, and questions one of the border patrol guards. Just as the guard is about to reveal who has organised for Fierro to get through, he is shot dead.

Just in the interests of a fair-minded review, I have tried to find some positives in this movie. Even then it’s a bit of a double edged sword. Robert Vaughn’s performance in this film is quite okay, and he shows he still has screen charisma, but he is too old for this shit. The other passable element is the pan flute on the soundtrack. It’s not an instrument that we are used to hearing in an action film and it has a nice feel. But it is only used for the peaceful moments.. For the action scenes, the score reverts to synth rock which is appalling.

I’d give The Hour Of The Assassin a miss.

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