Symphonic James Bond

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
MSO Pops Series 2008

Sunday 30th March 2008

I’ve always loved the pre-credit sequence to the Bond film Goldeneye, but not for any of the reasons that you are thinking of. As much as I wish to live the Bondian lifestyle, Vodka Martinis (or should that be Martinus – plural?) are not my friend. I’ve made friends with Gin & Tonics on hot days. When the mood takes me, I have formed working relationships with red and dry white wines. And after a fine meal, I have enjoyed the company of a small tipple of port. But above all I enjoy spending time with a good beer. And that’s why I love Goldeneye’s opening sequence. It answers the question I’d wanted to know for years – does James Bond enjoy a beer? And I am pleased to say that the answer is YES!

In the opening scene at the Archangel Chemical Facility, as a swarm of Russian troops storm Bond and Alec Trevalyn’s position, Alec yell’s out “Closing time, James…last call!” Bond’s response is simple, but to the point: “Buy me a pint!”

So with that in mind, I had no compunction about stopping at P.J. O’Briens Pub for a pint of Kilkenny on my way the the (M.S.O.) Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Symphonic James Bond performance at the Melbourne Arts Centre. Suitably lubricated and relaxed, I made my way to the auditorium and found my seat. Sad as this may be, to amuse myself, while the orchestra took up their position, I had to assign each orchestra member, based on appearance, a character from a Bond film. In a symphony orchestra you don’t get many James Bonds. But you do get a few Dr. Kaufmann’s and Kristatos’s, the odd Boris Grushenko, and even a Max Kalba. For the girls, there was a Helga Brandt, a very nice Nataya Simonova and inevitably a Kara Milovy. There was one Dame Judi, and an Irma Bunt too.

I am please to say the conductor and host for the performance wasn’t a hack. It was Carl Davis, who is not only a conductor and Bond fan (naturally), but also a composer, having written the scores to The French Lieutenant’s Women, Champions, Scandal, The Rainbow and Topsy Turvy amongst many others. Setting the style for the show, he came out in a long gold jacket.

During the show, Davis would give brief, casual commentary about the Bond series and each piece of music the orchestra was about to play. I got the impression, that Davis was very knowledgeable but had to dumb down some of his comments just to keep the show moving – which makes sense, because not everybody is a Bond freak like me. But there is one item in the show that caused me a bit of concern. I am sure that Davis knows the truth, but chose to go with the simple overview, rather than clarify the truth. I am talking about the music for the tank chase in Goldeneye, but we will get to that later on. On with the show.

The show opener, naturally enough was The James Bond Theme. Sure it didn’t feature Vic Flick’s famous distorted guitar, but the orchestra nailed it. It sounded right. It sounded good.

Two emotions came over me, when the orchestra started to play From Russia With Love. The first was an almost uncontrollable urge to jump on stage and grab the microphone and belt out the words. But hey, I’m no Matt Monroe. Next as I listened, I almost burst into tears. The song was beautiful, and here I was in an auditorium, listening to some of my favourite pieces of music performed by a complete orchestra, with strings, brass, drums, harp – everything. Could life get any better?

At this point of the show we meet Mary Carewe, the vocalist for the performance. Carewe’s background is in musical theatre and cabaret, so she is more in the style of Shirley Bassey, than say Shirley Manson from Garbage. This has positives and negatives. When she sings the songs of Shirley Bassey, well unfortunately, she is gonna to be compared to Dame Shirley, and inevitably fall short. But when she sings the songs by other performers, if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine what they would be like if Bassey was singing them. Anyway, Mary came out in a shimmering white dress, with naturally a few sequins and belted out Goldfinger. It was good, but I felt it lacked that punch at the end. But those who have heard Dame Shirley tell the story of the original Goldfinger recording session may guess to the reason why?

Mary sauntered off stage, and the orchestra leapt into a great version of Dawn Raid On Fort Knox – the string section working overtime.

The version of Thunderball was bold and brassy – just like it should be.

Next we had the ring-in material. Mary was back on stage to perform a rendition of Burt Bacharach’s (and Dusty Springfield’s) The Look Of Love. In all honesty, this left me a bit cold.

But everything was back on track for the orchestral rendition of You Only Live Twice. This was truly a beautiful rendition, and the percussionists, subtly in the background, gave the song a nice Oriental feel.

The version of We Have All The time In The World was sublime. I don’t usually used words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘sublime’ in my reviews, but somehow saying “Dude, this rocks!” just seems so wrong. But for me We Have All The time In The World is one of greatest and most poignant of the Bond songs, and the M.S.O. captured that sense of melancholy. Excuse me, while I pull out my hanky and dry my eyes.

Mary had the right cheeky swagger to pull off Diamonds Are Forever and from there she strode straight into:

The theme from Live And Let Die is probably a very difficult song to do in one take, with it’s changes in pace. And I think the M.S.O. lurched a bit into the faster sections of the song. Once they were all there, they were together, it’s just some got there earlier than others. Mary appeared to be having a good time, strutting around, belting out Paul & Linda McCartney’s lyrics.

The orchestra seemed to like Marvin Hamlisch’s material. They really excelled on The Voyage To Atlantis and Nobody Does It Better. Mary was back on stage for the later and gave it her all.

After a brief interval, Davis was back on stage in a purple coat, and Mary had changed into a heavily sequined gunmetal coloured frock. For Your Eyes Only is not one of my favourite Bond songs, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the music – just to Mary’s dress. Sorry.

Ah, Moonraker it’s like a delicate flower, and amongst the bombastic, brassy Bond themes, it does tend to be over looked. I like the song, and Mary’s rendition was good, but this song is more of a showpiece for the orchestra.

The Man With The Golden Gun is probably the crudest and most brash of the Bond songs, and as such, it is also the most fun. Again Mary strutted around the stage, asking the question we all ask: Who will Scaramanga Bang next?

The Living Daylights was an orchestral highlight. The song is big, bold and brassy and the M.S.O. really hit their stride with this one – and how many more times do you think I can use the words ‘Bold’ and ‘Brassy’ in this review? It’s the alliteration I like. Bond. Big. Bold. Brassy. Bombastic.

Mary was back onstage in a new purple frock for a License To Kill which was fine.

Okay folks, this is where the controversy starts. The first musical selection for Goldeneye was A Pleasant Ride In St. Petersburg (Tank Chase). As I understand it, the producers of the bond movies weren’t too happy with Eric Serra’s score for this section of the film, and his refusal to use the Monty Normal James Bond Theme. The producers had Serra’s orchestrator, John Altman rescore the entire tank chase sequence. Davis in his pre-song commentary describes how Serra had to juggle to energy and power of the action scene with the cool suaveness of the Bond character. I think he should have mentioned Altman’s involvement. But hey, that’s real nitpicking. In the end though, musically, this is the weakest musical number in the show. After the show I even heard comments describing the number as ‘boring’.

This was followed by a routine version of Goldeneye.

So we move from the worst number, to in my opinion the best performance of the show. Earlier I mentioned how Mary Carewe could evoke Shirley Bassey. Well here she does. I have never been a huge fan of Garbage’s theme for The World Is Not Enough – I didn’t hate it – but didn’t really embrace it either. But here, with the M.S.O. evoking the spirit of John Barry’s Orchestra, and Mary Carewe evoking the spirit of Dame Shirley, musically I was taken back to a time when all Bond song’s were great (before Madonna). Seriously, the song came alive and seemed like a proper Bond song, rather than a pop song stuck at the front of a Bond movie.

Mary and the orchestra followed their show-stopper with a solid, but not particularly inspired cover of You Know My Name.

The M.S.O. reprised The James Bond Theme and we all clapped very loudly.

For an encore, we were treated to an earnest rendition of the criminally ignored, Surrender from the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack, originally performed by k.d. Lang. It was a nice way to end the show.

In in all it was a pretty good show. As it’s a symphony orchestra, I get the impression that depending on the venue, where you sit, can have a bit of a bearing on the sound that you hear. I thought the sound quality was very good, but on occasions the brass section did overwhelm things, but then again, maybe the musicians just got excited and played louder and louder. And who could blame them. Hey, I wanted to join in singing, remember! But if by reading this, you feel you have missed out on something, don’t despair. It looks like Carl Davis and Mary Carewe have combined with many symphony orchestras around the world to bring you this show. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s coming to your neck of the woods soon.

The linked soundtrack albums were put together by THXjay at The Crime Lounge and feature some tracks not on the original recordings.

Symphonic James Bond

CIA Codename: Alexa (1992)

Directed by Joseph Merhi
Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, O.J. Simpson, Michael Bailey Smith, Alex Cord, Pamela Dixon
Music by Louis Febré

Some films almost hurt to watch. CIA Codename: Alexa is one of them. It is B-grade trash, but it is certainly fast paced and features plenty of noisy gunplay and explosions.

The film opens with the entire Californian Police Force arriving at a Top Secret Government Facility with lights blaring and sirens wailing. Inside the building are five terrorists who have five hostages. These evil doers are working for an even eviler guy named Victor Mahler (Alex Cord). The terrorists job is to steal a micro chip that will make a nuclear bomb, one hundred times more powerful than it is now. But the scientists must have only made one of these chips and then forgot how they did it, because this chip is the only one of it’s kind in the world and whoever has it can control the world. That make sense to you? Don’t worry, it didn’t to me either!

The terrorists steal this chip, and the leader of the group swallows it. By this time the police have completely surrounded the building. The negotiator on his megaphone asks that the terrorists release the hostages. The bad guys respond by throwing one of the hostages out of a sixth floor window. (Remember that. These guys are on the sixth floor of this Top Secret Government Facility.)

At this point Special Operative Mark Graver of the CIA (Lorezo Lamas) arrives on the scene and takes charge of the siege. The terrorists demand a fully fuelled helicopter to make their escape. Instead, Graver gets on a police motorcycle and rides through the front glass door. Then he shoots the bad guys.

Now I take it that most of you will have seen one of Tom Cruises Mission Impossible films. And as such you would have seen how hard it is to get into Top Secret Government Facilities. Especially one on the sixth floor. But Graver just rides a motorcycle in. I guess he rode up the stairs. Or maybe took the elevator, which the bad guys weren’t watching – even though the front glass doors have been shattered by a motorbike. It just doesn’t ring true to me. It’s sloppy.

Next we cut to the funeral service for the leader of the terrorist operation. Under the command of Alexa (Kathleen Kinmont), who also works for Victor Mahler, a group of masked terrorists burst through the doors of the church brandishing machine guns. Alexa orders her men to check the body in the coffin, much to the stunned amazement of the church assembly. They run a sensor over the body and find the chip. But they haven’t got time to remove it now, so they remove the body from the coffin and take it with them. One of Alexa’s men is a little trigger happy and delights in shooting up the church and killing the priest, but the gunfight attracts the attention of the police. More sirens. More flashing lights.

Alexa’s body retrieval mission fails as the police surround the church. The terrorists drop the body and run off in different directions. This results in another fire fight. Lot’s of shots are fired, a few cars explode and few people die. Alexa manages to run off, but not too far. Hard ass cop, Nick Murphy (O.J. Simpson) manages to capture her, after she has single handedly beaten up about ten cops.

Back at the police station, as Alexa is being interrogated, she swipes a gun off a policewoman and using her as a hostage tries to escape from the police station in her underwear. She nearly makes it except for the intervention of Special Agent Graver, who arrives on the scene in the nick of time.

Graver tells Murphy that the case is a CIA operation now and he will be collecting Alexa the next morning. Murphy isn’t happy. He has dead cops and a priest and his only lead is being taken away.

Graver takes Alexa to a Top Secret Government Facility which is underneath a sewage treatment plant. It isn’t a hollowed out volcano, but it is a nice try! Here the film becomes a cut-rate version of La Femme Nikita. Graver and his team have to coerce Alexa to work for them or they’ll kill her.

The musical score by Fouis Febré is of the worst kind. It is plinky, plinky synth rock, with soaring guitar over the top. In places it is so loud that you can’t make out the dialogue – but then again, maybe that a good thing. Some of the acting in this film is amateur. Pamela Dixon as Graver’s CIA chief is particularly bad.

You can pick up a copy of CIA Codename: Alexa and it sequel CIA Target: Alexa at any bargain bin DVD shop. Whatever the price, you’ll have paid too much. This film is crap. It’s a sad day when O.J. Simpson is your most emotive actor. It’s so bad, it makes me long for the production values and characterisations in a Steven Seagal film. Don’ bother.

CIA Codename: Alexa (1992)

What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966)

Directed by Woody Allen (and Senkichi Taniguchi)
Tatsuya Mihasi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tadao Nakamaru, Susumu Kurobe, Woody Allen
Music by The Lovin’ Spoonful

“Meet me in the bedroom in five minutes and bring a cattle prod!

What’s Up Tiger Lily? Is a bit hard to explain, but here goes. At the height of the Bond craze in the mid sixties, Woody Allen went and bought himself a Japanese spy film called Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (International Secret Police: Keys Of Keys), which had been released the previous year. Woody completely wiped the sound from the film and added his own dialogue and soundtrack.

The film starts with a string of scenes from Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi with the original Japanese dialogue. Then we cut to an introduction with Woody Allen and an interviewer. Woody explains the concept behind the movie and how he put it together. After the introduction, the titles roll. They feature a little animated Woody running over a selection of candy coloured spy girl images – scantily clad girls with guns etc.

Then the movie proper begins. Loveable rogue, Phil Moscowitz (Tatsuya Mihasi ) is an agent for the Asian Bureau of the International Secret Police. But despite his position, Phil spends most of his time womanising in a schoolboy kind of way. If there’s a keyhole to the women’s showers, you can be sure that Phil’s eye is pressed up against it. These days his actions would be considered sexual harassment, But Phil is just a good time boy looking for a bit of nookey. When we meet Phil, he is in a strip club watching a tasseled performer gyrate on stage. After the act, Phil is asked to dance.

Rather than having the original dance sequence, Woody cuts in a musical performance by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Everybody knows the Spoonful’s song Summer In The City but most of their material didn’t have that hard edge. It is more in the ‘folk’ style, and frankly rather annoying. Don’t get me wrong I like a bit of folk music but not in a spy film. It’s out of place. But I guess that is what Woody was trying to do – place sounds and words that you wouldn’t normally associate with spy films, over the top of the film. But by adding a performance clip, it comes off as ‘snouts to the trough’ for a few mates – rather than an obtuse juxtaposition of music.

We next meet Phil in his hotel room with the girl he met at the strip club. As she takes a shower, Phil prepares for a night of love. However, as he takes off his jacket, a bullet shatters the room window and narrowly misses Phil. A few more shots follow. Phil kills the lights, grabs his gun, and sticking close to the wall enters into a fire-fight with his would be assassin.

As the shots continue to pepper Phil’s location, he tries to dash across the room. As he runs, the sniper takes aim and fires. Phil goes down. A few minutes later, the assassin comes over to check his handywork. As the assassin approaches Phil’s body, we find out that our hero has only being playing possum. He wasn’t hit at all. Phil literally pulls the rug out from under the sniper’s feet and a fist fight erupts. Now, the fights scenes are where the film is really funny. As the punches fly, Phil yells out a series of catch phrases that are repeated throughout the film. Maybe Woody had been watching a lot of dubbed Peplum films in preparation for this movie, because the dialogue includes lines like: ”Saracen Pig – Saxon Dog – Take this!”

There’s not much point outling too much of the plot, as the story chops and changes to suit the jokes that Woody has written. But you’re probably wondering what the ‘spy story’ is. There is one of sorts. Crimelord, Shepard Wong (Tadao Nakamaru) has stolen an ‘Egg Salad’ recipe, and the good guys want it back. To complicate things further, another crimelord, Wing Fat (Susumu Kurobe) also want a piece of the ‘Egg Salad’ action. This leaves Phil and his partners Suki Yaki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Teri Yaki (Mie Hama) to outwit two gangs of criminals and retrieve the recipe.

In the second half of the film, the jokes fall away and the characters are left to play out the narrative they have been given. By this stage your ears will be accustomed to the unusual and silly voices coming out of their mouths, and therefore the comedic impact is muted.

Sad as this may seem to some people, I find What’s Up Tiger Lily? an infuriating film. I am far more interested in the film underneath than Woody’s egg salad comedy. Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi is an entry in a series of Japanese spy films, and judging from the picture utilised in What’s Up Tiger Lily? they look like they were quite a good deal of fun. The first film in the series appears to be Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: shirei dai hachigo (International Secret Police: Order No 8), which was released in 1963. The next film (according to IMDB) is the curiously titled The Trap Of Suicide Kilometer, which was released in (1964). Then we have Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (International Secret Police: Keys Of Keys), which we have briefly discussed above. And finally in 1967, there was Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Zettai zetsumi (International Secret Police: Driven To The Wall) AKA: The Killing Bottle.

In the end What’s Up Tiger Lily? is an interesting curio from a time when the world went spy crazy. But as a comedy, it struggles to provide laughs over a full 80 minutes. Even if you are a Woody Allen fan, he is not really in the movie. He performs four very brief scenes. Summarising, I’d call the movie an amusing failure.

For the trivia hounds among you, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama appeared in the Bond film You Only Live twice, made a year later.

What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966)

Operation Snake

Tandem Books 1969

I hate to admit it, but I was a Nick Carter virgin. I had never read any of Carter’s adventures, which is practically a criminal offence for a spy fan. I figured I’d better quickly rectify the situation and ducked into the nearest second hand book shop. I only had two to chose from, and for an old paperback, at a fairly inflated price. They must be collectible around here?

The two choices were Operation Snake from the late 1960’s and Tunnel For Traitors published in 1986. Just by looking at the cover image, you can tell why I went for ‘Snake’ first.

This adventure starts with Nick Carter, Agent N3 for AXE travelling in an old DC3 to Khumbu in the heart of the Himalayas. During his flight he flashes back to his mission briefing with Hawk. In Nepal, a religious leader named Ghotak – the Head of the Teeoan People and Snake Society – is planning a coup which will see the Red Chinese taking over Nepal. The Nepalese people fear Ghotak because all who have opposed him have been slain by the Yeti. Yes, the Abominable Snowman. Carter’s contact in Katmandu is Leeunghi, who is an aid to the King.

Carter lands in Khumbu and meets his first contact. He is a fellow agent named Harry Angsley. Angsley is in hospital on his deathbed. He tells Carter that he must go to the Tesi Pass, where he will be met by a guide who will take him the rest of the way. Adding to the mix is a meddlesome English reporter named Hilary Cobb. She tries to tag along with Carter, but he refuses. In response she arranges for Carter’s equipment to be stolen. Carter realises she is behind the theft, and pretends to have changed his mind. She can come along after all. He will co-operate.

Cobb returns his equipment, but suddenly the fun and games are over. Carter strips her down, ties her to a chair, slaps her across the face and tweaks her nipple. Politically correct, Nick Carter aint! He tells her to go home, and leaves her tied up.

Carter then begins his trek through the mountains to the Tesi Pass. Here he is met by a guide who leads Carter further up into the mountains. As they rest, the guide attacks Carter, and tries to send him flying over an ice ledge. Carter gives as good as he gets and kills the impostor. He then marches back down to the pass and meets his real guide. Her name is Khaleen, the daughter of his contact Leeunghi. Naturally she is a looker. She leads him to Katmandu and into the world of Ghotak. Ghotak isn’t happy to have Carter in his world, and arranges for a trio of killer monks to take care of him. But, as you’ve guessed, Nick Carter knows how to take care of him self and gives the monks a lesson in the ways of unarmed combat.

Later that night there is a ritual being overseen by Ghotak. A ritual to honour the fertility of the Spirit of Karkotek, Lord Of All Serpents. It’s at this ritual that Carter and Leeunghi intend to expose Ghotak as a charlatan. Their plan doesn’t go as planned. The ritual is more of an orgy than a religious ceremony and Khaleen get’s drawn onto the stage, and starts to writhe around and disrobe. Nick goes to her rescue, while Leeunghi enters into a slanging match with Ghotak. As it is one man’s word against another the Nepalese need a sign or symbol to show who’s telling the truth. The end result being that Leeunghi has to go up into the mountains. If he speaks the truth, in three days he will return safely. If Ghotak speaks the truth, then the Yeti will slay Leeunghi. Now it’s up to Nick Carter to reveal the truth and save the day.

As my first introduction to Nick Carter, I was pretty impressed with Operation Snake. It was better written than I though it would be. It has some good, tight, descriptive passages. And as expected, it was fast paced, violent and with a healthy does of sex thrown in. I realise that the Nick Carter books are written by different authors, so the story telling quality can vary from one book to the next. I notice that this one is written in first person, where Tunnel For Traitors is written in third person. I am fond of first person narratives, as you feel you are making the journey with the hero, rather than just having it reported back to you. So on this level, if your a Nick Carter fan, I would highly recommend this entry in the series.

Operation Snake

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Roger Moore, Curt Jurgens, Barabara Bach, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Walter Gotell, Desmond Llewelyn, Geoffrey Keen
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Title Song, “Nobody Does It Better”, performed by Carly Simon

The Spy Who Loved Me is the first James Bond film I saw at the movies. In the town where I grew up we didn’t have a cinema, it was an old fashioned drive-in, and I organised with my friends to go with their families on different nights. This was my Star Wars. This is the film I went and watched again and again.

The Spy Who Loved Me is undoubtedly Roger Moore’s best appearance as James Bond. He seems less wooden than his first two appearances, and while some of his latter appearances were quite good, towards the end he was clearly too old for the role. The movie itself is fast, action packed and ferociously funny. If it has a weakness, it is that it was too successful. Many of the ideas and stunts used in the film have been recycled so many times (even by the Bond series), that a newcomer to this 30+ year old film may find themselves with a case of deja-vu. But remember, The Spy Who Loved Me did it all first with a great deal of flair and polish.

The story concerns James Bond’s efforts to thwart a madman with webbed fingers, Carl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) from starting World War III. Stromberg hijacks two nuclear submarines, one American, the other belonging to the U.S.S.R., and replaces the crews with his own men who have orders to fire nuclear missiles at opposing cities in America and Russia. He hopes the reprisals from the Superpowers will destroy civilisation, leaving him to rule the world from his city beneath the sea. World Domination! Yeah, sure it’s corny, but it is good fun. Apart from planning to start World War III, Stromberg also feeds a female assistant to the sharks.

The girls in The Spy Who Loved Me are stunning. Barbara Bach plays Major Amassova – Agent XXX. She was so impressive, that she was snapped up by Ringo Starr. I guess that’s what being a Beatle can help you do – the one thing that all guys would like to do – and that is marry a Bond girl. Lucky guy. Another eye catcher in the film is Caroline Munro as Naomi. She doesn’t get to say much, but with a wink, she says a thousand words.

Richard Kiel plays Jaws, the menacing physical heavy of the piece, who is seven feet tall, has steel teeth and is virtually indestructible. Jaws was so popular, his character returned in the next James Bond movie, Moonraker. Kiel, in his book Richard Kiel – Making It Big In The Movies – Reynolds & Hearn Ltd 2002, had this to say:

“He (Cubby Broccoli) also told me that they had already considered David Prowse, and, seeing that this didn’t register with me, he explained that David Prowse was the guy in the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars film, then being produced in England. My excitement at the possibility of being in a Bond movie began to dim slightly; it didn’t take much of an actor to be in a head-to-toe suit, especially when James Earl Jones was saying all the words.”

“I had no idea of whether I would live or die, or how the audience would take to the ‘Jaws’ character.”

The film features quite a few little gadgets, but the one that steals the show is the Lotus Espirit. Bond is involved in another car chase and simply drives his vehicle off the end of a pier and it turns into a submarine. The car was such a sensation that it toured the world. I remember nagging my parents to take me to the Melbourne Car Show so I could see the car. My parents gave in and we went to the car show – which was only a four hour drive from where I lived. After seeing the car on the BIG screen it seemed so small. But I was a happy boy.

John Barry wasn’t available to do the score to The Spy Who Loved Me, so the duty fell to Marvin Hamlisch, who’s Bee Gees inspired score is quite good in a seventies disco-funk kind of way. The incidental music in the Mojave Club and at the Pyramids is quite effective too, with a contemporary sound fused with more traditional middle eastern sounds. The theme song, Nobody Does It Better, sung by Carly Simon is one of the more successful songs in the series and was a massive hit.

As you would have noticed, The Spy Who Loved Me occupies a special place in my heart. You can say what you like about Moore versus Connery, or the decline of the Bond films in the seventies. You can even take me to task over the cheesy musical references to Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence Of Arabia – to me it doesn’t matter, The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favourite films of all time.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Icon (2005)

AKA: Frederick Forsyth’s Icon
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Patrick Swayze, Annika Peterson, Michael York, Ben Cross, Patrick Bergin, Jeff Fahey, Joss Ackland, Barry Morse
Music by Mark Kilian and Daniel Light
Based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth

Patrick Swayze has been in the news a bit lately, and while I do not consider my self a fan, I wish him all the best.

A quick viewing of the cover from this DVD conjures up two thoughts. The first concerns Patrick Swayze. I have never seen Ghost or Dirty Dancing and my first instinct is that I do not want to watch a spy mini-series that features him in it. But that would be a mistake, because Swayze is quite good as the lead, and has aged enough that the pretty-boy image from the 1980’s is never really an issue. Second, is that this mini-series is based on a book by Frederick Forsythe. That should be enough to convince most spy fans that Icon is worth a look. After all, many of Forsythe’s stories have been converted into memorable films, such as: The Day Of The Jackal, The Odessa File and The Fourth Protocol. With that in mind I ventured into this 2 part Hallmark mini-series.

The film opens in an un-named city in the Soviet Union. The year is 1985 and Sergei Akopov is trying to defect to the United States. Things have gone wrong and he is running through the cobbled streets of the city with a squad of Russian soldiers on his tail. A team of Americans are waiting with a car for him, but as Akropov enters the city square, surrounded by soldiers, the Americans want to abandon him, and abort the mission. Another American agent, Jason Monk (Patrick Swayze) is also on the streets. He clobbers one of slower Russian soldiers and takes his gun and uniform.

The soldiers have caught Akopov and have thrown him to the ground. Each of them is giving him a good ‘kicking’ when a car pulls up beside. Colonel Igor Kamorov (Patrick Begin) alights the vehicle and begins to interrogate Akopov. Interrupting , Kamorov’s rough-housing, Monk walks into the middle of the fray and announces that he has orders to collect the prisoner. Kamorov isn’t happy but acquiesces. It appears that Monk’s deception has worked.

But not to be. The American agents with the car panic. They drive into the middle of the city square with their guns a-blazin’ in an unnecessary attempt to rescue Monk. A fire fight breaks out and Kamorov kills Akopov. Monk is bundles off to safety, but is angered by his fellow agents incompetence, and equally upset at the senseless waste of life – namely Akopov’s. Consequentially, Monk retires.

It’s now twenty years later, and Russia is in the midst of an election campaign. The two Presidential hopefuls are General Nikolai Nikolaev (Joss Ackland), and Igor Komarov, who has now retired from the KGB. As the campaign builds momentum, an incident changes the course of the election. A blue utility van is parked outside a Komarov Industries building. Inside the van, there is a vast quantity of explosive. Sitting in a car, a distance away, a guy pulls out his cell phone and punches in a number. The van explodes, killing seven people and injuring forty others. Utilising the distraction that a bomb explosion cause, the guy gets out of his car and calmly walks to the Komarov Industries building and breaks in. He knows exactly where he is going and what he is after. The particular building houses many deadly biological weapons, many of them left over from the Cold War. The guy collects a phial of a biological agent known as Restin 81 and leaves. Restin 81 is a ebola variant that kills about ninety-five percent of people who come in contact with the virus. It is particularly nasty stuff.

Sir Nigel Irving (Michael York) is British Intelligence’s top man in Moscow. He finds out about the theft of the bio-agent, and consults with the CIA about launching a mission to retrieve the weapon. All of this is un-official of course, because they have no right to interfere with Russia’s Police and Intelligence operations. The man chosen to ‘go in’, is Jason Monk. Although he has long since retired, he knows Russia well, is off the books – so Sir Nigel can deny it all if something happens, and Monk is/was a specialist in bio-weapons of the era. Monk now lives the quiet life in Andalusia in Spain. Sir Nigel approaches him with a proposition and $500,000. Monk reluctantly agrees.

As this is a two-part mini-series running just under 170 minutes, their are numerous subplots and a multitude of characters to follow throughout the story – all I have outlined here is a very simple overview. Icon tries to deceive you into thinking that it is a new kind of spy story – that is high-tech and up to the minute. But in reality, despite any glossy veneer, it is an old fashioned spy drama (and that’s good thing!)

Just by using Monk, an ‘old school’ operative who has been out of the game for twenty years to track down the old Soviet era weapon, tells you that Icon’s heart lies in the past. This is re-enforced by the casting of Michael York as Monk’s controller.

As I said at the top, when I picked up a copy of this DVD, I had my reservations about it, but Icon is actually pretty good.

Icon (2005)

Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs (1966)

Directed by Mario Bava
Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Francesco Mulé, Laura Antonelli, Movana Tahi, George Wang
Music by Les Baxter

Programmed For Love And Destruction

Now this one is really hard to explain. In fact I needed it explained to me a few times before I really got it. Firstly in the United States, in 1965 there was a film called Dr. Goldfoot and The Bikini Machine, which starred Vincent Price as a villainous character called Dr. Goldfoot. In that film, Goldfoot made ‘girl-bots’ (it would be a few years until the term ‘fembot’ was coined) to seduce the world’s wealthiest men, and acquire their fortunes. Also in Italy, during 1965 a film was released called Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger (AKA: Two Mafiosi Against Goldfinger), which starred Italian comedy duo, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia.

Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs (1966) or Spie vengono dal semifreddo (The Spy Who Came In From The Semi-Cold) as it is known in Italy was made to be a sequel to both of them. Obviously, they were edited slightly differently to make the content more relevant to their specific audiences. I have never seen the Italian version, but I have been told that it is slightly better than the American version. But that couldn’t be hard as the American version is pretty terrible. Granted, the Goldfoot films were never intended to be more than cheesy light-hearted fair, but film lacks the one essential ingredient for all comedy films – namely comedy. This is the type of film that attempts to get laughs by speeding up the film and adding cartoon sound effects.

But I’ll be brave and soldier on. Seven NATO Generals are due to meet in Rome for a series of wargames. But before each of them arrives, each of them is sent one of Dr. Goldfoot’s Girl Bombs. The Girl Bombs are beautiful, life-like girl robots, but if you kiss them, they explode. And this is exactly what the NATO Generals do. Boom.

One assassination takes place at a hotel where Franco and Ciccio are working as doormen. When Goldfoot walks in, he is discreetly followed by Bill Dexter (Fabian). Dexter is an agent for the Security Intelligence Command (S.I.C.). Franco and Ciccio, for reasons known only to themselves, beat up Fabian, bind and gag him, and then drag him into the hotel’s bathroom. Meanwhile Goldfoot’s Girl Bomb explodes upstairs. Franco and Ciccio realise they have made a mistake and release Dexter, and follow him back to S.I.C. Headquarters. Here Franco and Ciccio get inducted into a spy recruit program.

Later, Colonel Benson (Francesco Mulé), the head of S.I.C. utilises the latest computer technology to select the two best operatives to investigate the deaths of the NATO Generals. Unbeknownst to Benson, Dr. Goldfoot is watching and listening to his every move. Goldfoot, crosses the wires in the computer, so rather than spitting out the names of the best agents, it gives the names of the worst, yep, Franco and Ciccio.

So now, Franco and Ciccio have to stop Goldfoot, whose plan involves impersonating the last NATO General, who he happens to be a dead ringer for. Buried under all this mess, there is a spy story. It’s a plot by the Chinese to take over the world. It’s the usual America and Russia destroy each other, leaving China as the dominant world power to take over. But having said that, if you’re a fan of spy movies, I wouldn’t go hunting for this one. Even if you’re a Mario Bava fan, I’d steer clear. This isn’t worth your time.

Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs (1966)

Out Of Reach (2004)

Directed by Po-Chih Leong
Steven Seagal, Ida Nowakowska, Agnieszka Wagner, Matt Schulze, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Nick Brimble
Music by Alex Heffes

Posted on Permission To Kill you will find quite a few reviews for films starring Steven Seagal. All of them are light years away from Under Siege, undeniably Seagal’s most popular film, and biggest box office success. But if I had to pick one of the films, Out Of Reach would have to be the best. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that this is a good film, it is simply the best of a bad bunch. What lifts this film above the others is the story about child trafficking. Seagal’s relationship with the children in the movie give it a humanity that is lacking in the other films. Having said that, it is also one of the film’s weaknesses. The films focus on the child actors almost steer it towards being a family film, but the films villains are too repugnant and the violence is far too graphic for younger viewers.

Here’s the synopsis: Seagal plays native American William Lancing. It appears that Lancing used to be a C.S.A. agent and had participated is some morally dubious missions. Since then he has gone into a self imposed retirement. Agencies like the C.S.A. don’t let their agents simply walk away, so in effect Lancing is in hiding. He does his penance in the Rockies where he lives a quiet life helping injured animals. His only real contact with the outside world is a young girl, Irena Morawska (Ida Nowakowska) who lives in an orphanage in Poland. Through an outreach program, Lancing and Irena are pen-pals. Each month he writes to her, sending puzzles, codes and ciphers for her to solve. She thinks the puzzles are fun and has no idea that they the remnants of Lancing’s former life.

As Irena reaches her fifteenth birthday, she has to leave the orphanage. To help her, and some of the other girls that have to leave, the Director of the orphanage has arranged for a gentleman named Faisal (Matt Schulze) to collect the girls. He comes to the orphanage, presents each girl with a rose, then whisks them off to a better life. Well, not quite. In fact, Faisal deals in human trafficking, and is about to auction off the girls to the highest bidder.

Before leaving, Irena hands her next letter to Lansing, to the Director of the orphanage to forward on. The letter does get sent forward, but without Irena’s message. Instead a new note has been inserted in the envelope. It says that Irena will no longer be able to correspond with Lancing. Naturally he wants to know why. Even if she has left the orphanage, there should be nothing to stop her from writing. Right?

Lancing boards the next plane to Poland and starts his own investigation into Irena’s whereabouts. Along the way, he teams up with a Polish policewoman, Kasia (Agnieszka Wagner), and unwittingly adopts a boy from the orphanage,Nikki (Jan Plazalski). You can see that the film-makers almost got the family unit happening, with Lancing and Kasia as the surrogate parents, and Irena and Nikki as the children. But as I said at the top, this isn’t a family film. It has a full scale shoot out at a whorehouse, and the film culminates in a vicious sword fight.

If you are a fan of Steven Segal (there must be one or two of you out there), then you may find Out Of Reach an entertaining diversion for an hour and a half, but beyond that, there’s not enough espionage for it to be a good spy flick, it’s too violent for a family film, and there’s not enough mayhem for it to stand up as a good action movie. What you are left with is a film that looks quite okay, in a moody European way, and has a few good set pieces, but as a whole never really satisfies. And the most annoying aspect of this film, is that some of the dialogue appears to be overdubbed later, and that Seagal (who was an executive producer on this flick), didn’t even dub his own lines. When the star / producer can not even be bothered to fix up the films mistakes, then you know his heart isn’t in the project. If he doesn’t care, why should we?

Out Of Reach (2004)

The Uranium Conspiracy (1978)

Directed by Gianfranco Baldanello, Menahem Golan
Fabio Testi, Assaf Dayan, Janet Agren, Sigfried Rauch, Oded Kotler
Music by Coriolano Gori, Dov Seltzer

Knowing that this film was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two men behind Cannon Films didn’t fill me with hope that this would be a quality production. Added to that, the film has now passed into public domain, so I figured this film is the bastard child that nobody wanted. But all that aside, while The Uranium Conspiracy isn’t a top tier spy film, it is certainly better than a lot of the rubbish I sit through. This is mainly due to the charismatic lead actors, Fabio Testi and Assaf Davan. Their energy keep you watching this film, when by all rights you should have turned it off.

Renzo (Fabio Testi) is a ‘soldier of fortune’; a mercenary if you will. For the last two years his employers have been Mossad, and he has been working undercover at a uranium mine in Zaire. Renzo watches everything and takes notes. He knows that something big is about to happen because a large shipment is going out, and they have received twice the usual price and it has been paid for in advance.

That evening at the Black Sheep Night Club, where topless African dancers writhe around, Renzo is engaged in a ‘stress relief’ session upstairs. He is interrupted, much to his chagrin, by his Mossad contoller, Dan (Assaf Dayan). Renzo passes on the information. Well most of it anyway. He doesn’t give names because he hasn’t been paid yet.

Dan scurries off and relays the information to his chiefs. They agree to pay the money, so Dan and Renzo meet once again, but this time in Venice. Renzo is paid and he says the buyer is a company called Asmara. They have a chemical processing plant in Salzburg, Austria.

This film can’t be faulted for it’s globe trotting quotient. In the first ten minutes we have skipped from Zaire to Venice, and now to Austria. The duo find Asmara’s headquarters, and stakeout the plant all day, seated in their car. Not a single person has entered or left the plant all day till Helga (Janet Agren) finishes her shift. As she is their only lead, Renzo decides to make contact with her (in more ways than one).

Renzo follows her and contrives to talk to her (the answers to a German crossword puzzle). But he is a fast worker, and is soon back at her place and probing her for information. She doesn’t know that much. She works alone, and takes her instructions either by telephone or fax. Her boss is a man called the Baron.

Meanwhile, Dan sneaks into the chemical plant and photographs a few documents. He finds out very little, except the signature on the bottom of the companies documents belongs to the Baron. Ultimately, Renzo and Dan have found out the same thing through different methods. But I’d guess Renzo enjoyed acquiring his information more than Dan.

Using the system that Helga described, Dan and Renzo make an appointment to meet the Baron, but Renzo pretends to be a Saudi Arabian Prince. Their ruse works, and they get into the Baron’s chateau. Once inside, they clobber a few guards and break into the safe. Inside they find the details of the yellow cake shipment. Here the trail branches into two sections. One is a paint factory in Milan, which Dan chooses to investigate. The other is a ship in Amsterdam, which is where Renzo heads.

Unfortunately for Renzo and Dan, because their investigation at the Baron’s chateau was so invasive, the Baron and his men now know that someone is investigating them and there is a information leak. They trace this back to Helga. She tells them about Renzo. Figuring that he will turn up sooner or later in Amsterdam, they drag Helga with them so that she can identify Renzo again, should their paths cross.

Naturally, their paths do cross, and this leads to a pretty good rooftop fight scene. This in turn is followed by a better motor boat chase through the canals of Amsterdam. Sure it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in movies like Live And Let Die or Puppet On A Chain but it is still well staged.

The last third of the film is set on board a freighter carrying the yellow cake. Renzo has managed to get himself captured, and Dan has taken it upon himself to rescue him. Adding to the drama, mines have been planted along the hull of the freighter by Mossad, and they are set to blow.

The Uranium Conspiracy is by no means a classic, but it is vastly better than I expected. The locations are the real star of the show. The travelogue feel of this film is perfect for a Euro-spy film. Scenes are shot against a swag of fantastic European locations, but it never feels like ‘hey we’re in Venice – let’s get as much background footage as we can.’ It’s more a case, of this is where the action happens to take place.

The Uranium Conspiracy (1978)