The Saint In Palm Springs (1941)

Director: Jack Hively
Starring: George Sanders, Wendy Barrie, Paul Guilfoyle, Jonathan Hale, Linda Hayes, Edmond Elton
Music: Roy Webb

The Saint In Palm Springs is a highly entertaining entry in the RKO Saint series. The films opens with an ominous cable message. It reads ‘ARREST SIMON TEMPLAR…ARRIVIVING SS MONROVIA…WANTED FOR MURDER’. As Simon Tempar, AKA The Saint (George Sanders) arrives in New York, two polieman are waiting at the docks to arrest him. They clumsily try to put a set of handcuffs on Templar, but after some jostling, the two officers end up handcuffed to each other, while The Saint disappears into the night. Templar goes dirrectly to Inspector Henry Fernac (Jonathan Hale) to enquire about the murder charge. The charge is in fact a ruse. Fernac wanted to see Templar. He has a favour to ask. An old friend of his, Peter Johnson (Edmund Elton) is trying to transport $200,000 in rare stamps, which he has smuggled out of Europe, from New York to Palm Springs. Two attempts have been made on the man’s life, and Fernac would like The Saint to act as a body guard.

The Saint goes to a hotel to meet Johnson and suggests it may be better if he carries the stamps. Johnson goes to the safe, which is in another room to retrieve them. As he opens the safe, a shadowy figure at the window fires a pistol. Johnson drops dead. At the sound of the shot Templar rushes in. The killer hasn’t had time to retrieve the stamps and tries to make it back to the window. A fight breaks out, but Templar is knocked back on the bed, giving the perpetrator time to escape.

Despite Templar’s failure to protect Johnson, he decides to continue with the job. He will take the stamps to Johnson’s neice, Elna (Wendy Barrie) in Palm Springs.

Templar makes the journey by train. On board in a saloon car, The Saint sees a attractive lady, Margaret Forbes (Linda Hayes) trying to write a letter with a broken pen. She has ink over her fingers. Templar offers her his pen, and she continues to write. Once finished she returns the pen. Templar uses the opportunity to ask her if she’d care to join him for a drink. She agrees, but first she must remove the ink stains from her fingers. Simon waits while she disappears for a few minutes.

But her actions are not quite what you’d expect. First she rips up the note. It was just a ploy to meet Templar. Then next she goes to Templar’s sleeping compartment and searches his baggage. She doesn’t find what she is looking for, and rejoins Templar in the saloon.

In Palm Springs, Templar and Forbes, just happen to be staying at the same hotel, the Twin Palms. Also at the Hotel is an old friend of Templar’s, Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates (Paul Guilfoyle). Gates is the house detective, but prior to this, he was a pick-pocket and a thief. Naturally, there are also a host of other suspicious characters staying at the hotel too. After all, this film is essentially an old-fashioned ‘whodunnit’, with nobody quite who or what they seem.

At first glance, this may seem like a mystery crime film, but as the story progresses, it becomes more obvious that this isn’t just a gang of hoodlums after the stamps, but a ring of foreign agents. It’s a little bit complicated to explain, but you have to look at why the $200,000 was converted into stamps in the first place. Simply, this film is set around the time of the Second World War (but America had had entered it yet). In Europe, Hitler would not allow anyone to take anything of value out of occupied Europe. Many Jewish people were forced to leave with nothing. By converting the cash to stamps, it was an easily concealable way to get his cash out of Europe. And therefore, it must be assumed that those chasing the stamps are Nazi agents, but his is never really mentioned or explained.

The Saint In Palm Springs is one of the good entries in the series, aided considerably by George Sanders as Templar. Sanders has the right amount of wit and charm to play The Saint. These films did not have a whole lot of money thrown at them, and the sets weren’t too special, and the action set pieces were limited. This is why the films stand or fall on the dialogue, and the way it is delivered. This is where Sanders comes to the fore. It may only be a B-grade programmer, but I think it is a pretty good one. If you enjoy The Saint, this is one to seek out.

The Saint In Palm Springs (1941)

The Software Murders (1989)

Director: Henry Herbert
Starring: Simon Dutton, Shane Rimmer, David Ryall, Dinsdale Landen, Malcolm Stoddard, Pamela Sue Martin
Music: Serge Franklin

With the recent news that James Purefoy is going to be the next Saint, I thought it was time to revisit a few older adventures. In 1989, The Saint was revived for six, two hour (90 minutes with ads) tele-movies. Simon Dutton plays the debonair Simon Templar (AKA The Saint), but got lumbered with some clunky scripts. One of the tele-movies, The Brazillian Connection was even written by Anthony Horowitz, who would later find fame as the best selling author of a string of children’s books, especially the Alex Rider series.

The show opens of a beachfront property in California. Jack Rushden is looking into the deaths of three prominent scientists for his friend Simon Templar. He is doing his research by entering all the information into his computer. The computer finds a connection: all three were working on ‘explosive detection devices’. Jack rings up Templar (Simon Dutton) in London and tells him the news. Then he proceeds to send the information via modem (don’t know if they were using an early version of the internet?) to Simon.

Halfway through the upload, Jack’s doorbell rings. He breaks off transmission to answer the door. A man is waiting with a drawn pistol. He shoots Jack. The killer then gets on Jack’s computer and sends the message ‘Jack fell down and broke his crown’. Then he follows it up with ‘And ? came tumbling after’. The killer knows that The Saint is on the other end of the transmission, because he then flashes the Saint symbol up on the screen.

We next see The Saint packing his suitcase and donning a fake moustache and glasses. As he is set to leave, his doorbell rings. At the door is Inspector Claude Teal of Scotland Yard. Teale asks Templar about his telephone call from Rushden. Templar evades the question and asks how Jack died. Teal now wants to know how Templar knew that Rushden was dead. As it is impossible for Templar to have flown to California and back to kill Rushden, he isn’t really a suspect, but Teal gives him a hard time any way. After the usual by-play, the Saint is free to leave.

Somehow, it is never really explained satisfactorily, The Saint’s investigations lead him to a conference being held at Willard House in the English Countryside. The Saint joins the conference and investigates the people there.

I think Simon Dutton is quite good in the role of The Saint, but in this adventure he is lumbered with some amateurish supporting actors, a sluggish script, and a low budget look and feel. With The Saint we expect a certain amount of glamour, colour and high-life (maybe even a touch of jet-setting). But this production is pretty bland.

The best thing about this production is that they have made The Saint a criminal again; a privateer who robs from the rich, or manipulates events for his benefit and financial gain. In earlier incarnations of The Saint (on television), his criminal dealings could only be hinted at, in fear of upsetting the viewing audience. But by the late 80’s times had changed significantly enough that The Saint could be portrayed slightly more like the character as originally written. But generally this story is slow paced and not particularly involving. It would have been better if it had been edited down to an hour.

Any story with a plotline revolving around computers is going to date quickly. What seems cutting edge today, will seem clunky in a few year’s time. The same with this production. The phosphorescent monitors and use of a modem across the Atlantic may have seemed cutting edge in 1989, but today it is laughable and obsolete. Speaking of obsolete, Serge Franklin’s synth rock score hasn’t stood the test of time either. In fact, I don’t think it was any good to begin with, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, it now sounds quite dated. It is so bad it is almost distracting.

If you are a Saint fan, you may feel that you have to watch this, and whatever I say will not stop you. While I am hardly a Saint completist, I have seen my fare share of Saint adventures, and would have to rate this as the worst I have seen. Despite Dutton’s performance, this one is for the fans only.

The Software Murders (1989)

Sahara (2005)

Directed by Breck Eisner
Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, Lambert Wilson, Glynn Turman, Delroy Lindo, William H. Macy
Music by Clint Mansell
Based on the novel by Clive Cussler

For years I have been hoping that they’d make a decent series of movies from Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventures. While Sahara is closer in spirit to a Pitt novel, and is far superior to the abhorrent Raise The Titanic, it still misses the mark. Those familiar with Cussler’s novels know that he specialises in labyrinthine plots, usually with an event from the past, having an effect today. Obviously, for a two hour movie, many of the subplots have to be jettisoned (and thankfully, the film-makers removed the Abraham Lincoln subplot), but the ones that remain seem to have been scrambled and lost their purpose. For example; in the book Pitt and Al Giordano are sent on a mission to find the source of a deadly red algae that is polluting the Niger River and causing severe environmental problems. In the movie, Pitt and Giordino stumble upon the red algae whilst hunting for a confederate Iron Clad battleship in Africa (more on the plot later). As you can see, the events between the book and movie are similar but motivations change, and in a sense the characters have changed. Pitt in the movie is more of a treasure hunter than an operative (special projects engineer) for NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency).

Onto the movie. The film opens in Richmond, Virginia. It is 1865, and the American Civil War is drawing to a close. A Confederate ironclad battleship is being loaded with coins, before running a blockade on the river and disappears into the night.

After this prologue, we move to present day and into Nigeria. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) is a W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) operative who is investigating a disease that seems to be spreading at an alarming rate. All the people she discovers with the disease have all recently been in Mali. Because of an ongoing civil war, the W.H.O. will not allow Eva and her partner, Carl (Delroy Lindo) to cross the border.

One of the men that Eva has recently discovered with the disease, had recently returned from Mali with his father. The father works in a lighthouse on the coast. Eva decides to drive out there alone to get a blood sample. But some people aren’t happy with Eva’s work. She is causing too many waves and needs to be silenced. Some Arabs dressed in black jellaba’s follow her to the lighthouse. Outside Eva is attacked and pinned to the ground. One of the men pulls out a large knife, but before he can use it, a three-pronged bolt from a spear-gun skewers his hand. Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) springs out of the sea and into action and rescues Eva. She passes out and is taken back to the Martha Anne, a NUMA research vessel that Pitt is currently serving on. NUMA are currently retrieving an ancient artefact from the ocean floor.

When Eva awakens, the ship is a hive of activity as a sarcophagus is raised from the ocean. The relic is to be unveiled at the Lagos museum that evening. Whilst on board, she meets the NUMA team. Pitt, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), Rudi Gunn (Rainn Wilson), and Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy).

Just before the unveiling, from one of his dubious contacts, Pitt receives news on a mysterious Iron Clad that legend has it, was wrecked in a storm, off the coast of Africa. Most people, think that the legend is a load of bunk, but not Pitt. Pitt is obsessed with finding the wreck of the Confederate Iron Clad Battleship, the Texas. He has followed clues over the years, that have led him to believe that it made an ocean crossing all the way to Africa.

Eva Rojas attends the unveiling of the sarcophagus, at the Lagos Museum. Through Admiral Sandecker she is introduced to a wealthy industrialist, Yves Massarde (Lambert Wilson) who has contacts in Mali. Eva hopes, that he can get her permission to go into Mali. Massarde isn’t quite what he appears to be. Sure he could get her into Mali, as he has entered into a dodgy agreement with the warlord ruler of Mali, General Kazim (Lennie James). But Massarde, doesn’t want her interfering with his plans, but tells her that he’ll ‘see what he can do’.

Meanwhile Pitt’s contact has given him a Confederate Dollar coin. Apparently only five such coins were struck up as samples before the end of the Civil War. Four of the samples have been found. The fifth was given to the captain of the Iron Clad, Texas. And rumour has it, in this neck of the woods, that the Iron Clad actually sailed up the river Niger to Mali in 1866. Pitt is excited. He believes he is getting closer to finding the wreck. Sandecker on the other hand, believes that Pitt is chasing a ghost story, but still gives him three days to investigate. He also gives him permission to use his very expensive, high powered motor boat, the Caliope.

The next morning, waiting at the docks are Eva and Carl. Sandecker has arranged for them to hitch a ride with Pitt, Giordino and Gunn. The trip begins uneventfully, and the NUMA team drop Eva and Carl off at a village along the river, and then continue their quest. Thinking the ship may have sunk, they tow a sonar buoy behind the boat. When the readings are incorrect, they reel the buoy in and discover that it is covered in red algae. On a flowing, fresh water river, this is very strange. Gunn takes a sample to be analysed.

Outlining all the twists and turns that take place in a Dirk Pitt adventure is a huge task, but needless to say that Eva and Pitt’s paths cross again. And, of course there are quite a few large scale action set pieces along the way. One of the highlights is a boat chase on the Niger River, when a flotilla of General Kazim’s armed patrol boats try to stop Pitt, Giordino and Gunn. The chase ends when the NUMA boys pull a ‘Panama’. What’s a ‘Panama’? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

The casting for Sahara is interesting. The film is miscast, but nowhere to the same extent as Raise The Titanic. McConaughey is rather laid back as Pitt. Pitt, in the novels had a little bit of ‘military’ about him, but McConaughey is more of a beach bum. But his easy going style strangely won me over as the film progressed. Steve Zahn, as Al Giordino, is also miscast. Giordino, in the books is big and strong. Zahn doesn’t look physically imposing, but his performance in the film is great, in a slight comic relief kind of way.

After the failure of Raise The Titanic and the lack lustre performance at the box office by Sahara it may look as if Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt stories just aren’t good cinematic fodder. I beg to differ. If you look at the success of National Treasure you can see the Pitt formula in action. The opening scenes with a frozen boat are similar to Cussler’s Atlantis Found. Another film that had a touch of Cussler, was Out Of The Blue. Sure, it veers to weird drug culture gangster film near the end, but for three quarters of it’s running time, the underwater salvage scenes could come straight from any Pitt novel. I am sure with a polished script (and so far that seems to be the hardest part), and a decent team behind the camera (and in the water), we could see a great Dirk Pitt film in the future – But will it ever happen?

The Dirk Pitt novels are:

The Mediterranean Caper (AKA: Mayday)…1973
Raise The Titanic…1976
Vixen 03…1978
Night Probe…1981
Pacific Vortex…1983
Deep Six…1984
Inca Gold…1994
Shock Wave…1996
Flood Tide…1997
Atlantis Found…1999
Valhalla Rising…2001
Trojan Odyssey…2003
Black Wind..2004
The Treasure Of Khan…2006

Sahara (2005)

Charlie Muffin (1979)

Director: Jack Gold
Starring: David Hemmings, Ralph Richardson, Sam Wanamaker, Pinkas Braun, Ian Richardson, Shane Rimmer, Jennie Linden, Clive Revill
Music: Christopher Gunning
Based on a novel by Brian Freemantle

Charlie Muffin is a film out of time. It could be considered a late entry into the ‘hard bastard’ cycle of spy films of the 1970’s, but it also mixes up a few other styles as well. The Charlie Muffin character is a bit of a dinosaur. He is a throw back to the sixties. He’s a lot like Harry Palmer. He’s a working class spy, operating in a haughty gentlemen’s club. But like Palmer, he knows his tradecraft and continually infuriates his superiors with his insubordinate ways.

Even the casting of David Hemmings as Muffin, and Clive Revill as his opposite number, Berenkov, reinforce the sixties links. Both actors were at their prime in the sixties. The film that Hemmings is most identified with is Antonioni’s Blow Up, and Revill starred in a whole swag of swinging sixties films, including Modesty Blaise, Kaleidoscope, The High Commissioner, The Double Man, Fathom and The Assassination Bureau just to name a few.

At the other end of the scale, in a more modern mould, playing a head of the service is Ian Richardson. Richardson has almost made a career of playing officious bastard’s, and this role is no exception, coming straight after Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. He also revisited this style of character in The Fourth Protocol.

Despite the time travelling and variance in style, Charlie Muffin has a good Cold War story to tell. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it may seem a little dated now, but this TV movie is pretty entertaining.

The film opens in East Berlin. Charlie Muffin is a scruffy looking British spy with dirty shoes. But he has captured Russian spy Alexei Berenkov (Clive Revill). Helping Charlie with the coup are two younger but ambitious upper-class agents, Harrison (Tony Mathews) and Snare (Christopher Godwin). Harrison and Snare have very expensive and clean shoes. Now the three men have to get back to the West. It is agreed that Muffin will drive out, while the other two cross the checkpoint on foot.

Harrison and Snare go first and make it safely. Charlie, on the other hand is cautious. Rather than drive across, he offers the car and papers to a East German who wishes to defect. The East German gladly jumps at the opportunity and drives the car up to the checkpoint. As the car moves up, bright spotlights are flicked on. It appears that the sentries at the checkpoint were waiting for this car to attempt a crossing. The driver panics and tries to escape. This is met with a volley of machine gun fire, that kills the unwitting pawn. The tragedy is watched from the shadows by Charlie. He is not a happy man. It looks like someone had set him up.

Back in London, Charlie’s boss, Cuthbertson (Ian Richardson), despite the success of the mission, is embarrassed to see Charlie return alive and well. And as further insult to injury, Charlie gets demoted and sent on leave. You see, Muffin isn’t from the right class. He isn’t a ‘gentleman’ agent. He was a tool (or if you’ll pardon the Bond analogy – a blunt instrument) used by British Intelligence’s former Head, Sir Archibald Willoughby, (Sir Ralph Richardson). But times have moved on. A man like Charlie is no longer needed. He is expendable.

Meanwhile is Russia, a plan is being put into operation to get Berenkov back. This involves General Valery Kalenin (Pinkas Braun), one of the top men in the KGB. Kalenin’s plan is simple. He needs somebody to ‘trade’ for Berenkov. So he has to capture a high ranking British spy. He does this by coming out into the open. First he turns up at a reception at the British Embassy in Moscow. The British and CIA all believe he is about to defect and send agents to broker a deal. Cuthbertson sends Harrison and Snare, but their attempts end in failure. Reluctantly, they ask Charlie to take over the mission.

Charlie Muffin even though it is a TV movie, is a very good cold war spy drama. It is aided considerably by a great cast. If it has a slight weakness, it is the ending, which is a bit too up beat. Not that I want all the characters to die, but this veers off towards a caper film, which was completely unnecessary. But still, this production is better than a lot of the other dross that is out there. Highly recommended.

The Charlie Muffin books by Brian Freemantle are:

Charlie Muffin (1977)…aka Charlie M
Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie (1978)… aka Here Comes Charlie M
The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin (1979)
Charlie Muffin’s Uncle Sam (1980)…aka Charlie Muffin U.S.A.
Madrigal for Charlie Muffin (1981)
Charlie Muffin and Russian Rose (1985)…aka The Blind Run
Charlie Muffin San (1987)…aka See Charlie Run
The Run Around (1988)
Comrade Charlie (1989)
Charlie’s Apprentice (1993)
Charlie’s Chance (1996)…aka Bomb Grade
Dead Men Living (2000)
Kings of Many Castles (2001)

Charlie Muffin (1979)

The Case Of The Eiffel Tower (1954)

Director: Steve Previn
Starring: Ronald Howard, H. Marion Crawford, Archie Duncan, Martine Alexis, Sacha Pitoeff
Music: Paul Durand

The Case Of The Eiffel Tower is an episode of Sheldon Reynolds Sherlock Holmes TV series from the 1950’s but the plot for this one is heavily espionage based, so I thought I drop it in here on Permission To Kill. The show opens with a dead body lying on the cobbled streets of London. Two ‘Bobbies’ are looking over the body. On his person they find one hundred pounds, an unusual French coin, and a cryptic note. It all points to some clandestine espionage goings-on. So thinks Inspector Lestrade (Archie Duncan), who is quickly on his way to Baker Street to consult with Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes (Ronald Howard) realises the coin is in fact hollow, and secreted inside is some valuable information. Then he deciphers the note, and decides to impersonate the dead courier. The next morning he approaches an organ grinder and flashes the French coin. He is told to go to Westminster Bridge and collect a cane from another operative waiting there. Holmes collects the cane. Hidden inside the handle is another message. It makes reference to the ‘highest tower of all’. Holmes deduces this is the Eiffel Tower.

Holmes, Watson (H. Marion Crawford) and Lestrade rush to catch the next boat to France, then make there way to Paris by carriage. At the tower, Holmes and Watson go up to meet the next link in the spy chain, while Lestrade waits down below. On the observation platform, Holmes is approached by two members of the spy ring. They are aware that their courier in England is dead. At gunpoint they demand the coin. Instead Holmes throws it off the tower. It lands near Lestrade who doesn’t notice. A young lady strolling by, sees the coin and picks it up. She asks Lestrade if it is his. He answers in the negative. She keeps the coin and strolls off.

Meanwhile, the two spies, Holmes and Watson are racing down the tower in an attempt to be the first to locate the coin. At the bottom, Holmes enlists Lestrade’s help in finding the coin. Lestrade suggests that it is in the possession of the lady who found it on the ground. She, of course, has since vanished.

Holmes identifies the lady as an actress and tracks her to a scaled down Moulin Rouge style nightclub in Montmarte. Holmes, Watson and Lestrade head to the nightclub with a cadre of spies on their trail.

As this is a TV series and each episode runs under 30 minutes, there isn’t too much time for character development. You know that the bad guys are bad, because of the way they look – shaved heads with black twisted moustaches. And even Holmes and Watson are presented in stereotypical fashion. It almost a visual shorthand, presuming that most people are aware of Sherlock Holmes and are aware of his abilities and technique for solving a crime. If this was your first viewing of a Holmes adventure, it may be hard to know what is going on and why. But for most people this will not be an issue.

A quick bit of trivia: H. Marion Crawford who plays Watson in this series, seemed to make a career out of playing second banana Doctor side-kicks to great detectives. He also played Dr. Petrie, Nayland Smith’s friend and confidant in Harry Alan Towers, 1960’s Fu Manchu movies.

The Case Of The Eiffel Tower (1954)

Double Agent (1987)

Directed by Mike Vejar
Michael McKean, John Putch, Susan Walden, Christopher Burton, Judith Jones, Lloyd Bochner, Alexa Hamilton
Music by Alf Clausen

Double Agent was a Disney Television movie, and while it is enjoyable in it’s way, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

The film starts with confident, cool secret agent Jason Star (Michael McKean) pulling up in his red sports car, outside a dockside warehouse. Looking every bit the secret agent, he is dressed in a white dinner jacket with a bow tie. Inside he has an appointment with one of his contacts, Gerlinde Krueger (Alexa Hamilton). Upon meeting her, Star opines that he has a “nose for trouble and an eye for beauty”. Star and Krueger and there to exchange some top secret overlays (known as the Pinocchio overlays – and feature a cartoon of Disney’s animated character). But Star hasn’t acquired his overlay yet. It will be another two days before the exchange can take place. Krueger disappears into the night. But Star isn’t alone for long. An enemy agent, known as Igor (former wrestler, Big John Stud) is prowling about outside on the roof. Because Star is confident, he doesn’t try to avoid Igor, instead he approaches him and engages in a glib conversation. Igor doesn’t say much and comes at Star with a knife that ‘pops out’ of his glove (a low tech gadget). Igor’s wild swing doesn’t skewer Star, but does puncture a petrol tank. As the two men continue to fight a pool of petrol is gathering at their feet. Igor is forced through a rooftop skylight and falls down into the warehouse below. But somehow he manages to survive. Jason, on the other hand, is standing in a pool of petrol with sparks flying everywhere. The sparks ignite the petrol. Star leaps off the building into the sea as the warehouse explodes in a giant orange ball of flame.

The film then cuts to Jason’s identical twin brother, Warren Starbinder (also McKean). Warren’s life is in stark contrast to his brother’s. He lives a simple domestic life with his wife, Sharon (Susan Walden), and two children, Russell (Christopher Burton) and Meredith (Judith Jones). After the families morning breakfast, Warren heads to work. He works as a veterinarian.

At the end of Warren’s working day, Special Agent Vaughn (Lloyd Bochner) enters the clinic. He tells Warren that his brother is missing, then he takes him to Jason’s apartment. It’s here that he explains that Jason was not in the import / export business but a top flight secret agent. And here’s the bomb shell, they want Warren to replace Jason at the exchange of the Pinocchio overlays. Warren agrees and is soon kitted out in new clothes and behind the wheel of Jason’s red sports car.

Of course, the exchange, which should only take a few minutes, goes horribly wrong. From that moment on, Warren is the fish out of water who’s drawn into this tale of espionage.

For me, the most interesting thing about the movie was the subtle spy references. In fact, they are so subtle, I almost wonder if they are deliberate or just coincidences. At the start, Krueger refers to Star as ‘Jason, love!’, which I take as a nod to James Leasor’s secret agent (portrayed by David Niven in Where the Spies Are). Then there’s Bochner’s character: Special Agent Vaughn, which I’d suggest is a reference to Robert Vaughn from The Man From UNCLE. And there’s a ceramic white cat that sits on one of Jason’s tables in his apartment. Could this be Blofeld’s cat?

Granted, this is a kid’s movie, and it may entertain fourteen year old boys, but there is nothing new in this production. It doesn’t have a large enough budget to engage an audience with large scale action set pieces. So it stands or falls or the light comedy performance by Michael McKean. And McKean is quite okay. I wouldn’t go seeking this film out, but if it happened to be on TV late at night, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Passable entertainment.

Double Agent (1987)

La Femme Nikita (1990)

AKA: Nikita
Directed by Luc Besson
Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Tceky Karyo, Jean Reno, Jean Moreau
Music by Eric Serra

Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a junkie. Desperately in need of a fix, she and some of her drug addled buddies break into a pharmacist in an attempt to score some goodies to ease their pain. The burglary doesn’t go to plan and the police arrive on the scene with guns-a-blazin’. After the shoot-out, Nikita is the only one of her party left alive but seemingly in a catatonic state. A police officer comes to her aid only to have his brains blown out by Nikita, who barely knows what she is doing. She is then sentenced to thirty years in prison for her crime. That’s the opening sequence of La Femme Nikita, a French post punk, new wave, thriller by director Luc Besson.

Nikita is an animal. One who has rebelled against the system. At the point of being imprisoned, she is made an offer. She can either be trained as a assassin or the sentence can stand. She chooses to be trained. But that means the she becomes a part of the system that she has been rebelling against. But she believes she is tougher than that. She thinks she can complete the training and still be the same anti-social miscreant that she was when she began. But slowly, almost like a military boot camp, her individuality is beaten out of her. They begin to mould her into a cool killing machine. But the strangest thing happens. The more she is stripped down the more she learns to love and be human. I know, it all sounds rather hi-brow and pretentious. But it isn’t.

Over the years this film has become somewhat of a landmark film in the espionage genre. The simple fact that it was remade as The Assassin with Briget Fonda, and turned into a television series with Peta Wilson indicates the power La Femme Nikita had. We all know that spying is a dirty business, but generally it has been dirty men’s business. I know we’ve had heroines like Modesty Blaise and others who have shown that they are equal to the James Bonds of the world. And we’ve had a swag of evil villainesses, such as Sumuru, Madame Sin or even Rosa Klebb who’ve shown the other side of the spy business. But these have all generally been the positive globe trotting style spy films. Never the bleak ‘spying is a dirty business’ performed by morally reprehensible people type of film. I am talking about Scorpio, Permission To Kill or Le Professionnel. All these films have protagonists (I won’t use the word ‘heroes’) who are fairly ugly people. La Femme Nikita is one of the first films to present a female lead in that light. The film even goes a bit further than that, showing how she became that character, and how she was ‘recruited’ by the DGSE.

The cast is pretty good. Parillaud portrays Nikita with a stoic indestructible grace. Tchéky Karyo (you know that French guy who’s in everything but you can’t remember his name) is her case officer and mentor, Bob. Jean-Hughes Anglade plays Marco, the man she meets on the outside. Jeanne Moreau, has a small role as Amande, a lady who teaches Nikita how to be feminine. And Jean Reno, who would later become Leon for the director, Luc Besson, plays Victor – The Cleaner.

Eric Serra has quite a reputation and following after his successful score for The Fifth Element, but quite frankly I find his score to be very incongruous to the images taking place on the screen. His score for Goldeneye has to be the worst Bond soundtrack ever (yep, even worse, than Bill Conti’s work on For Your Eyes Only) and his avant guarde score for La Femme Nikita has dated and doesn’t follow the events of the movie.

La Femme Nikita is a good film, maybe it is even a great film, but it was also the beginning of a new style of espionage films (and television shows). As such, it’s success lead to a whole slew of imitators which have moved on and surpassed the original in many respects. The ‘originator’ deserves credit and respect, but looking back on it now, it probably doesn’t pack the punch that it once did. Recommended

La Femme Nikita (1990)