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)

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee, Jack Cassidy, Thayer David, Brenda Venus, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Reiner Schoene, Michael Grimm, Gregory Walcott, Frank Redmond
Music by John Williams
Based on the Novel by Trevanian

SANCTION: A violation of the law, to enforce the law.

I’ll start by saying I am a big fan of Clint Eastwood, but sadly his forays into spy films, The Eiger Sanction and Firefox haven’t been Clint’s grandest moments. Never-the-less, they are still enjoyable in their way.

The Eiger Sanction starts with Agent Wormwood picking up a microfilm on a bridge in Zurich. Upon returning to his apartment, two men burst into his room attempting to retrieve the film. Wormwood swallows the film, but one of the assailants, armed with a switchblade, cuts it from his throat before he can get it down.

Meanwhile, in the United States, ex C2 agent, now an art historian, Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is lecturing a group of students. Upon returning to his office, he finds Pope (Gregory Walcott) sitting at his desk. Pope is a low level C2 agent with delusions of being a hard man. He has been sent to bring Hemlock to C2 headquarters. But Hemlock doesn’t feel too obliging. You see he has retired. Pope insists. Hemlock physically removes Pope from his office (in the usual Eastwood manner).

Afterward, Hemlock is notified that a Pissaro painting is available on the black market. Hemlock is not only an art historian but an avid collector, and has acquired a substantial collection through his black market contacts.

Soon after, ‘Dragon’ (Thayer David), the head of C2 is on the phone and convinces Hemlock to come in. ‘Dragon’ is an albino who has to stay in specially modified rooms dark rooms. Hemlock describes ‘Dragon’ in the film as: ”…a bloodless freak who can’t stand light or cold.” Not only is he physically grotesque, but his methods of coercion are equally reprehensible. He blackmails Hemlock into performing a sanction (assassination) by threatening to inform the IRS about Hemlock’s collection of paintings. Hemlock accepts the mission on the proviso that he receives a letter from the IRS stating that his collection is legal. It is agreed, and Hemlock is sent off to Zurich to kill one of the men who killed Agent Wormwood.

Hemlock completes his mission and returns home. It is not long before ‘Dragon’ is once again chasing his services. This time, ‘Dragon’ gives Hemlock a little more information. Agent Wormwood was in fact Henri Bach, an old friend of Hemlock’s. Hemlock has already liquidated one of the killers, ‘Dragon’ wants him to sanction the other. But they still do not know who the target is. All they have ascertained is that the second killer is a mountain climber and will be climbing the Eiger in the summer, as part of a good will climb involving France, Germany, Austria and the United States.

Hemlock is not only a super cool assassin, and art historian, but he is also a very good mountain climber. That makes him the logical choice for this mission. Hemlock agrees and starts training for the climb.

Well that’s a brief look at the plot, and you can see it’s all good old fashioned espionage fun. So it’s not the plot that let’s the film down. It’s the tone. In his book, The Screen Greats: Clint Eastwood, Alan Frank had this to say about The Eiger Sanction:
‘The Eiger Sanction (1975) was a disappointingly thin and routine spy thriller, with nothing to differentiate it from the dozens of similar that had been produced to cash in on the success of the James Bond movies.’ Frank is close to the mark in his assessment but probably had never read the Trevanian novel on which the film was based. By the mid seventies, the Bond imitators had moved from being mere carbon copies, but to parody. The Eiger Sanction was supposed to be a parody of the Bond movies or their ilk. For example, as mentioned in the film, the head of C2 is ‘Dragon’. But in the film his first name, which is ‘Yurassis’, is never mentioned. Yep ‘Yurassis Dragon’ (say it out aloud). Sure, it’s juvenile humour, but that is what The Eiger Sanction is, or should be about – taking all the Bondian set-pieces and clichés and poking fun at them. Richard Schickel in his biography Clint Eastwood said: ‘A send-up of sorts was perhaps intended, but that is not entirely clear…’

Two elements of the movies that do work well are the music by John Williams (would you expect anything less?), and the cinematography. This definitely a film that should be watched in widescreen. The panoramic vistas are breathtaking, especially in Monument valley, where Hemlock conducts his training for the Eiger climb.

So The Eiger Sanction is a disappointment, but not for what is does, but for what it doesn’t do. Because I am an Eastwood fan, I do tend to cut this film a little bit of slack. I enjoy it, but it is an ‘Eastwood film’. What I mean by that, is Eastwood doesn’t try to make Hemlock a character. It is Eastwood being Eastwood (or at least seventies style Eastwood, before he started branching out). If you have enjoyed The Gauntlet or The Enforcer you will probably find this entertaining. If you are looking to expand your spy film collection, this film is interesting but not really satisfying.

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Journey Into Fear (1943)

Directed by Norman Foster
Joseph Cotton, Dolores del Rio, Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Jack Moss
Music by Roy Webb

Based on the novel by Eric Ambler

The stock players from Orson Welles, Mercury Theatre Company bring Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear to the screen. Often direction for this film is attributed to Welles, but in later life he denied this. Regardless of who directed this movie, it is still a tidy little thriller with pretty good performances.

Here’s the plot. In a hotel room a phonograph hisses and whirs, playing an old copy of Chagrin d’Amour, when the needle sticks, and the same line of the record is repeated again and again. It’s all rather hypnotic and annoying. But the hotel patron isn’t paying attention. His mind is on other things because he is a professional killer preparing for a hit. His name is Benat (Jack Moss).

Meanwhile an American couple, Howard and Stephanie Graham (Joseph Cotten and Ruth Warrick) arrive in Istanbul. Howard Graham works for Bainbridge and Sons, an armaments company. At the hotel, the companies Istanbul representative, Kopeikin (Everett Sloane), meets Graham and shepherds him off to a nightclub, without his wife (to discuss business, naturally). At the nightclub, Graham is lured onto the stage by a magician performing a disappearance act. The ‘trick’ works, but the magician ends up dead with a knife in his back.

All the patrons of the nightclub are sent before the much feared Head Of Secret Police, Colonel Haki (Orson Welles). Haki pays particular attention to Graham, who he believes was the intended target of the murder. Before Graham can get into any more trouble, Haki has put him on a steamer to Batum. It appears a notorious Nazi operating in the area, named Müeller has hired Benat to kill Graham, so it is imperative that Graham get out quickly, and not by the regular routes. Haki promises to take care of Graham’s wife and have her meet him safely in Batum. Kopeikin escorts Graham to the steamer, and at the gangplank wishes him good luck and gives him a pistol.

I must admit, that I love this kind of film. This is one of those ones where various characters from differing backgrounds make a journey together. Some are good. Some are bad, and some are simply along for the ride. Recently I looked at Sleeping Car To Trieste which is in a similar vein, another popular example would be the Humphrey Bogart’s film Across The Pacific.

Any film with Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles is going to compared to The Third Man. Journey Into Fear is obviously not in that class. The Third Man is a classic, but Journey Into Fear is a worthy companion piece. It is a little more simplistic, but that’s not a bad thing. If you like old fashioned suspense thrillers, this film is definitely worth a look.

Incidently, Journey Into Fear was remade in 1975 with Sam Waterston in the role as Graham.

Journey Into Fear (1943)