Permission To Kill (1975)

Directed by Cyril Frankel
Dirk Bogarde, Ava Gardner, Bekim Fehmiu, Timothy Dalton, Frederic Forrest
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permission To Kill (1975)

The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy (2003)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy (2003)

Roger Explosion (1994-96)

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

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

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

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

Roger Explosion (1994-96)

Hannay (1988-89)

TV Series 13 Episodes
Directed by David Giles, Guy Slater, Jeremy Summers.
Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Gavin Richards Christopher Scoular

Who is Hannay? Richard Hannay was a character created by John Buchan, and first appeared in the book The Thirty Nine Steps. He subsequently appeared in further adventures (Greenmantle is the easiest to locate).
Why is Hannay important? Along with Somerset Maughm’s Ashendon and Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Hannay is considered one of the characters that inspired Fleming and subsequently the whole sixties spy boom.

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

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

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

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

The Episodes Are:

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

Hannay (1988-89)

The Naked Runner (1967)

Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Frank Sinatra, Derren Nesbitt, Peter Vaughan, Nadia Gray, James Fox
Music by 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.

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 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 (1967)

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 Your 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

Codename Jaguar (1965)

Our Man Flint: Dead On Target

Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Ray Danton, Sharon Acker, Lawrence Dane, Donnelly Rhodes, Gay Rowan, Franz Russell, Linda Sorensen.
Music is uncredited.

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.

Our Man Flint: Dead On Target

Mata Hari (1985)

Directed by Curtis Harrington
Sylvia Kristel, Christopher Cazenove, Oliver Tobias, Gaye Brown, Gottfried John, Anthony Newlands
Music by 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.

Mata Hari (1985)

Johnny English (2003)

Directed by Peter Howitt
Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, John Malkovich, Ben Miller, Tim Pigott-Smith, Kevin McNally
Music by 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 creations (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.

Johnny English (2003)

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.

I Spy Returns (1994)