The Man With The Golden Gun: Reader's Digest

Another curio. Again, for something different, I thought I’d post a few pictures from the 1966 Reader’s Digest version of The Man With The Golden Gun. The Illustrations are by Roger Coleman.

Look closely at the images. Does Bond’s face look familiar? Sure, it’s Sean Connery. Of course, when The Man With The Golden Gun was made into a film, it was Roger Moore who played Bond.

The Man With The Golden Gun: Reader's Digest

The Man With The Golden Gun: Reader’s Digest

Another curio. Again, for something different, I thought I’d post a few pictures from the 1966 Reader’s Digest version of The Man With The Golden Gun. The Illustrations are by Roger Coleman.

Look closely at the images. Does Bond’s face look familiar? Sure, it’s Sean Connery. Of course, when The Man With The Golden Gun was made into a film, it was Roger Moore who played Bond.

The Man With The Golden Gun: Reader’s Digest

Shamelady (2007)

Directed by Eric Saussine
Serge Rotelli, George Kaplan, Irina Bogomolova, Alice Suzan, Shirley Lambert, Simon Hamilton, Lucy Atkinson
Music by John Barry

The hard core Bond fans out there will realise that Shamelady is the property that Ian Fleming bought in Jamaica. He re-christened it ‘Goldeneye’ and from there he wrote his eleven James Bond novels, and two collections of short stories.

The film opens with a bomb destroying a wing of Buckingham palace. A message is sent to the government by the terrorist organisation, SPECTRE, claiming responsibility. SPECTRE have also sent letters to the newspapers implying that several Islamic groups are responsible for the attack. No one is sure of the truth and the public are in a panic. Spectre have also put into operation a new evil scheme where they have financially infiltrated several large UK companies.

‘M’, the head of MI6 calls on her best man, James Bond, secret agent 007 (Serge Rotelli) to track down SPECTRE and put an end to any evil scheme that they are planning. The only lead is a gambler named Jacques Descarpes (George Kaplan), who has been using the companies funds at a roulette wheel in a Casino in Monte Carlo. Bond, as the services best gambler, is to go to France and attempt to beat Descarpes.

Shamelady is a French fan film, so it is not canonical 007. However it is put together pretty well for it’s limited budget, and if you’re a Bond fanatic you’ll find a lot to enjoy. As it is a fan film, the level of enjoyment comes from your knowledge of the Bond series. For example, during a fight sequence, Bond is knocked to the ground. His opponent with two simple hand movements, gestures for Bond to stand up and try again. Accompanying these hand gestures are two musical rings on the soundtrack. To the average viewer this will mean nothing. But to a Bond fanatic who has watched Goldfinger countless times, and recalls the fight between Bond and Oddjob at Fort Knox, this small gesture is a loving homage – and reasonably funny.

In Shamelady there are so many sequences like this. They may not mean much to a Bond ‘tourist’ but for the Bond fans, it is priceless entertainment (especially if it’s late at night and you’ve had one too many lagers).

As I mentioned (twice now), it’s a fan film, so it is not for commercial release. If you like to trackdown and download a copy of this film head to Constellation Studios.

It is in French, so you may have to download the .srt file as well.

Incidentally there is a book by James Mayo called Shamelady. It features Bond imitator Charles Hood. The first Charles Hood book, Hammerhead was made into a film starring Vince Edwards.

Shamelady (2007)

Bullet To Beijing (1995)

AKA: Len Deighton’s Bullet To Beijing
Directed by George Mihalka
Michael Caine, Jason Connery, Mia Sara, Michael Gambon, Patrick Allen, Burt Kwouk, Sue Lloyd (voice only),
Music by Rick Wakeman

Bullet To Beijing may be passable entertainment for those who have fond memories of the Harry Palmer films from the sixties (don’t we all?). But in reality Michael Caine is too old for this type of film. Thankfully, at least, Caine plays Palmer as his age, and on a couple of occasions announces, “I’m too old for this!”

The film opens with weary old Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) who works M.I.5, staking out the North Korean Embassy from an apartment across the street. Outside the front of the Embassy are a group of rowdy student protesters. Weaving his way through the crowd towards the gates is a Russian genetic research scientist, Anatoly Kulbitsky. Caught up in the melee of protesters, Kulbitsky is confronted by an old lady with a needle in the handle of her umbrella. She jabs Kulbitsky and he falls down almost dead. To onlookers, it looks like a heart attack. Within seconds, Palmer is on the scene and hears the dying man’s last words – ‘Red Death’.

Later, Palmer is called to the office of his superior, Colonel Wilson, but rather than being given a new assignment, he is made redundant and thrown on the scrap heap. Soon after, Harry receives a phone call offering him work. The details are sketchy, and for more information he has to meet the caller at the Savoy Hotel. Palmer arrives for the pre-arranged meeting, but no-one is there to greet him or explain the situation. He is however delivered an envelope with a substantial amount of cash, and a plane ticket to St. Petersburg in Russia.

Palmer doesn’t have a better offer and catches the flight. At the other end, waiting for him, is Nikolai (Jason Connery). It ends up being a lively welcome as a cell of Chechen terrorists aren’t too happy to have Palmer in the country. Nikolai quickly bundles Palmer into a car, with the Chechens following close behind. As you’d expect in this kind of film, this results in a high speed car chase. What differentiates this car chase from the hundreds of other car chases in spy films, is the backdrop of St. Petersburg. Cinematically speaking, it is not a city that we have seen on the screen many times before. Incidentally, later in 1995 (the year of release), the streets of St, Petersburg would feature in another chase, but this time the vehicle involved would be an army tank, and the driver would be James Bond – the film, Goldeneye.

The chase becomes even more interesting when Nikolai and Palmer exchange their car for a boat, and while still being pursued, race along the St. Petersburg waterways. After some deft marksmanship by Nikolai, they are free to continue their journey. They end up at a waterside mansion owned by Alexi Lexovitch – AKA: ‘Alex’ (Michael Gambon). Alex is a former KGB officer and now heads one of the many groups vying for power in Russia after the fall of Communism. Alex is also the man with the money, and Palmer’s new employer.

As a legacy of his days with the KGB, Alex is also the overseer of a drug company. This drug company has produced a particularly nasty pathogen nicknamed ‘Red Death’. Apparently this ‘Red Death’ has been stolen, and Alex wants Palmer to retrieve it for him.

In St. Petersburg, Palmer does a bit of snooping around, visiting a few old contacts from his days as a field agent. His enquiries pay off. He is advised to get on the Bullet to Beijing (a train). The ‘Red Death’ will be on board. But no-one is sure who the courier is. The train is a smorgasbord of characters, each with dual stories – one good, one bad – so you never quite know who to trust. Among the passengers is Nikolai, who has been following Palmer. There’s Natasha (Mia Sara), who works for Nikolai (maybe), and an ex-CIA operative named Warner (Michael Sarrazin). There’s also a group of nasty ex KGB members on the train. Anyone who has had a look at my recent review for Sleeping Car To Trieste should have an idea on the spy hi-jinks that they get up to on the train. There’s the secret discussions and brokered deals in the confined compartment spaces, and the open gamesmanship in the dining car.

The plot, a screenplay by Peter Welbeck (a pseudonym for producer Harry Allan Towers – you may remember him from the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu series in the sixties), isn’t too bad, but isn’t as engaging as it should be. I wonder if the film would have worked better if it wasn’t a Palmer film and another actor was cast in the lead? Then it would simply be another spy film, and it wouldn’t have to live up to the three earlier films in the series. And that is the biggest problem facing this film. The first three films, and especially The IPCRESS File are considered classics. If you love spy films, next to the Bond series, they are essential viewing. If this film wasn’t a Palmer film, maybe it would be easier to assess it based on it’s merits rather than in connection with, and as a continuation of the past films.

Having said that, it may be the Palmer touches that make it acceptable spy viewing, rather than a b-grade stinker. Although said ‘Palmer touches’ are laid on rather heavily at the start. As Palmer enters Colonel Wilson’s office, he is told to “Close the door, Palmer”, echoing Colonel Dalby (Nigel Green) from The IPCRESS File. In the same scene, as Palmer defends his performance as an agent, he mentions that ‘IPCRESS file affair’ and that ‘Funeral In Berlin’. It’s written very clumsily. I know that being ‘self referential’ is hip, but here it doesn’t add to the story, and instead of making us ‘old’ fans feel ‘special’ because we know what he is referring to, it simply makes us cringe. But once Harry moves from London to Russia, the film improves and it reminds us why we liked Harry in the first place. And the scenes between Caine and Jason Connery, especially the discussion about the ‘Honeypot Trap’ work well. I’d guess that because Sir Michael has been friends with Sir Sean for so long, that Caine has probably known Jason since he was a child. They seem to have a natural report.

Bullet To Beijing is a low budget TV movie. If you remember that, and don’t expect a big brassy spy thriller then you’ll find this an acceptable time killer.

Bullet To Beijing (1995)

Spy Hard (1996)

Directed by Rick Friedberg
Leslie Nielson, Nicolette Sheridan, Charles Durning, Andy Griffith, Marcia Gay Harden, Stephanie Romanov, Barry Bostwick,
Cameos by Dr. Joyce Brothers, Ray Charles, Hulk Hogan, Robert Culp, Fabio, Mr. T, Pat Morita
Music by Bill Conti

After the success of Airplane (or Flying High as it is known in Oz), Leslie Nielson went on the star as Lt. Frank Drebin, first in the tv series Police Squad and then in three The Naked Gun movies. Nielson was a resounding success as a comedy actor, after years of playing the straight guy. But a part of this success was to do with the material provided by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker. Capitalising on his success, Neilson went on to make more scattershot comedies in the Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker style, but lacked the spark and quality of jokes that the original product had. Spy Hard is one of these lesser comedies. It has one or two good moments, but on the whole it is not particularly funny and therefore a pretty poor film.

The film opens with Dick Steel, Agent WD40 (Leslie Nielson) rushing by chopper to the headquarters of evil doer, General Rancor (Andy Griffith). Rancor has stolen a scorpion missile and intends to use it for some evil deed (it’s not really specified, but no doubt involves the death of countless innocent people). Steel parachutes out of the helicopter and lands in Rancor’s compound. As Rancor attempts to leave with the missile, Steel attaches a bomb to Rancor’s helicopter and blows it up mid air. The shock from the blast sends Steel’s fellow agent Victoria Dahl (Stephanie Romanov) over a cliff and to her death.

After the title sequence, it is fifteen years later, and Agent Barbara Dahl (also Stephanie Romanov) is breaking into Rancor Industries. Somehow Rancor survived Steel’s bomb, but now is missing his arms. He doesn’t have steel hands, he has steel arms. He captures Barbara Dahl and straps her to the nose cone of his new weapon, a giant rocket. Naturally, Agent WD40 is called out of retirement to once again thwart General Rancor.

Like so many other films of this kind, Spy Hard serves up scenes borrowed form other popular blockbusters of the day, but twisted to fit into the story. Here they reference Mission Impossible, Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid, In The Line Of Fire, Cliffhanger, Speed, Pulp Fiction, Home Alone, Sister Act and True Lies.

The best sequence in this film is the titles by Weird Al Yankovic. It borrows heavily from Thunderball with silhouettes swimming through the background, but it doesn’t limit it self to finely proprotioned models and scuba divers. I kid you not, that this is the only bit in the movie that I laughed out loud at.

Generally, I don’t mind comedy spy films, but maybe because the straight up spy films have so much humour in them to begin with, the exaggerated versions tend to fall flat on their face. This film is pretty poor. It makes the Austin Powers series seem like high art. I’d give this one a miss.

Spy Hard (1996)