I, Spy: The Barter (1966)

Directed by Allen Reisner
Robert Culp, Bill Cosby, John Abbott, Philip Ober, Lisa Jager, Roger C. Carmel, Joan Blackman
Title theme by Earle Hagen

Here’s a quick one. The Barter is an episode of the I, Spy television series which starred Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson and Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott. For the one or two of you who have never seen an episode of I, Spy, the premise is pretty simple. Robinson and Scott are spies, but Robinson also happens to be a professional tennis player. Scott acts as Robinson’s trainer. Using the world’s tennis tournaments as cover, Robinson and Scott are able to travel the world with relative ease.

The episode opens in Russia. Professor Shenko (John Abbott) is burning documents in a fireplace. Shenko is one of Russia’s pre-eminent philospher’s and he is going to Tokyo on a lecture tour. Accompanying him are two burly KGB agents, who just so happen to be the countries judo and pistol shooting champions.

Professor Shenko wants to defect to the West, but his KGB minders will stop any attempt he makes. That’s were Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott come in. They have to work out a plan to snatch teh Professor.

Mr. Sommer (Philip Ober), an ex-pat American who lives in Tokyo agrees to help. He is a widower with a young daughter named Lin (Lisa Jager). Robinson and Scott use Sommer’s home as a base, and later, a place to hide the Professor, off the beaten path.

Robinson and Scott want to attempt the snatch at the Hotel Savoy where Shenko is staying. To get the penthouse suite next door to Shenko, Scott poses as the Ambassador of an African nation. Once in the suite, our two intrepid heroes waste little time and quickly have the Professor in their custody. They take him back to Sommer’s home, which is just an intermediate step before smuggling the Professor out on a freighter. But things go awry.

The Russian’s find out where Shenko is being held and in retaliation, they kidnap Sommer’s daughter Lin. Representing the Russians is a shady businessman, Gordon Merritt (Roger C. Carmel). He is the go-between. His job is to arrange the exchange of Lyn for the Professor.

Now Robison and Scott have their work cut out for them, trying to find a way to get Lin back safely, while still holding on to the Professor. But the Russian’s have one weak link. Their choice of ‘go-between’. Merritt likes to drink, so Robinson and Scott ply him with liquor.

I, Spy was always a well produced show with (on occasions) actual location footage. This episode is one of the many fine stories, that this show dished out over it’s three seasons (from 1965-68).

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I, Spy: The Barter (1966)

To Trap A Spy (1965)

Country: United States
Director: Don Medford
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Luciana Paluzzi, Patricia Crowley, Fritz Weaver, David McCallum, William Marshall, Ivan Dixon, Will Kuluva, Miguel Landa
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

To Trap A Spy was the first of The Man From UNCLE movies. Like all the UNCLE movies, it was put together from two episodes of the television series. The episodes for this film were ‘The Vulcan Affair’ and ‘The Four Steps Affair’. Because they were two separate stories, certain liberties were taken when they were edited together. One of the strangest, is that the villains of the piece are an outfit called WASP. But if you listen carefully and watch the actors lips, you can see that this is an overdub. The villains were originally THRUSH.

The show starts with a car skidding to a halt on Old Post Road in Arlington, Virginia. The driver, who happens to be Agent Lancer (Miguel Landa) from UNCLE has been shot in the stomach. He staggers from the car and enters an overgrown estate. As he makes his way towards the house, another car pulls up and two armed WASP operatives get out and follow. Lancer makes it to the house and enters, locking the door behind him. He calls for Angela, but nobody responds. He climbs the stairs to the second floor and burns the secret information he was carrying in the fireplace. Then he phones UNCLE headquarters direct. He passes on the following information to Mr. Allison (Will Kuluva), the head of UNCLE: ‘When the Premier of Western Natsumba visits the plant, they’re going to assassinate…’ The phone line is cut before he can finish his message.

Then, from out of the bathroom, Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) walks into the room. She is shocked to see Lancer this way, and quickly agrees to help him make it out of the house and to a doctors. Their plan is to leave by the top window and climb out over the roof. As Lancer prepares to leave, Angela flicks ona light switch, which aloows Lancer’s silhouette to be clearly seen in the window. One of the WASP goons, armed with a machine gun (earlier they were only carrying pistols!) mows Lancer down. It appears that Angela wasn’t a nice girl after all, and is working for WASP. But WASP realise that they didn’t stop all of Lancer’s message to UNCLE HQ, and plan to do something about it.

In a brazen assault on UNCLE Headquarters, one of the WASP operatives walks into Del Floras tailors, and throws his overcoat over the security screen. Pretending to be removing his jacket for repairs, he gasses the attendant and then opens the door for three other WASP agents. They go the fitting room and pull down one of the coat hooks. The secret entrance to UNCLE HQ slides open. One of the men quickly rushes inside and grabs the girl on the reception desk before she can raise the alarm. She is then gassed, rendering her unconcious. One WASP operative remains in Del Floras. Another takes his position at the reception desk, and the other two, armed with guns and explosive move into HQ towards Mr. Allison’s office.

As the intruders make their way through the complex, they are discovered and an alarm goes off. Three of the WASP agents are captured but one makes it to Allison’s office. But inside he finds Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) protected by walls of bullet proof glass. Solo quickly navigates the maze of glass and shoots the intruder.

After the incident, Mr Allison briefs Solo on his new mission. He is take over from Agent Lancer. It appears that the Premier of Western Natsumba, Ashumen (William Marshall) is in America to visit the chemical plant of Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver). The Premier believes that Vulcan plans to build a similar plant in his small country and welcomes the investment. The truth, though, is rather more sinister. Vulcan’s Global Chemical Corporation is a front for WASP, and when the Premier tours the plant WASP will assassinate him.

Solo enlists the aid of average American housewife, Elaine May Donaldson (Patricia Crowley) in his bid to thwart Vulcan. At college, Elaine used to go out with Vulcan, and all these years later he still carries a torch for her. Solo uses her to get close to Vulcan quickly, which she does successfully.

For fans of David McCallum, and his character Illya Kuryakin, unfortunately he doesn’t appear much. He has two short scenes at the start. But towards the end of the film, if you look quickly, there is an appearance as one of Vulcan’s goons by Richard Kiel, who is best remembered as ‘Jaws’ in the Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Richard Kiel, in his autobiography, ‘Making It BIG In The Movies’ (Reynolds & Hearn, London 2002) had this to say:

‘I must say that the quality of TV shows like The Man From UNCLE and I,Spy far exceeded the quality of movies like A Man Called Dagger or Las Vegas Hillbillys, and I learned much more about acting from working on the TV shows.’

So although Kiel’s part is small, any one who has had the misfortune of sitting through the dreadful A Man Called Dagger will understand exactly what he is talking about. The other Bond Alumni is the beautiful Luciana Paluzzi, who has the substantial part as Angela. Paluzzi played bad girl Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, and her role here is very similar.

To Trap A Spy is a pretty sprightly movie, but it’s television origins are obvious. If you’re a fan of The Man From UNCLE series, then of course, this film will be highly entertaining. But if you’re looking for big screen adventure and thrills with amazing stunts, cool gadgets, and an explosive finale then you may be dissapointed in this production.

To Trap A Spy (1965)

Midsummer Night’s Doom

By Raymond Benson
Appeared in American Playboy Magazine – January 1999

Midsummer Night’s Doom is a short James Bond adventure written to coincide with Playboy Magazine’s 45th anniversary. It is the second short story that Bond continuation author, Raymond Benson wrote that appeared in Playboy, the first being Blast From The Past which ran in 1997. And it goes without saying – I only read Playboy for the articles!

The story opens with a briefing in M’s office. As the story is fairly recent, M is Barbara Mawdsley – for those familiar with the films, but not of any of Benson’s continuation novels, Mawdsley is the character portrayed by Judi Dench. She asks 007 how much he knows about Playboy Magazine and Hugh Hefner. Bond reveals that he once bumped into Hefner whilst on a fishing trip in Jamaica.

Then M explains:
“It’s the bloody leak in the Ministry Of Defense again,” she said. “There is a river of information flowing out of there, and it’s apparently changing hands at parties being held at the Playboy Mansion West, Hugh Hefner’s home in Los Angeles.”

‘Hef’ is not the bad guy. His legendary parties are simply being used for the exchange. The seller is a rockstar named Martin Tuttle, whose ex-wife worked for the Ministry of Defense. She’d smuggle out secrets and give them to Tuttle, who’d fly them back to the US and then pass them on to the Russian Mafia at the Playboy parties.

Unknown to Tuttle, his ex-wife has been picked up by the authorities, and she has revealed the whole scam. But it is up to 007 to follow Tuttle to the Playboy Mansion and find out who his contact is.

In this instance, Tuttle is carrying the microfilm plans for infrared focal plane arrays (a camera device that can imitate the human eye and then process the data it receieves).

The Playboy party is a theme night – the annual Midsummer Night’s Dream party. The guests are expected to attend wearing their pajamas, nightshirts or (of course) exotic lingerie. Bond arrives at the party in his pajamas covered by an Oriental silk house coat. Soon after he meets ‘Hef’ who acts as ‘Q’, handing Bond a gold pen which acts as a radio transceiver, and the accompanying earpiece.

Also attending the party is Tony Curtis (from The Persuaders), Robert Culp (from I, Spy), and Jim Brown. There is also a borish Russian film-maker called Anton Redenius.

The story is an interesting diversion, but some of the passages are cringe worthy. Sure Bond is somewhat of a hedonist and is in a familiar environment when surrounded by beautiful women and dining on fine food. But I don’t see Bond as a disco dancer (even if it is with Miss October 1994).

Also I don’t like Bond entering or mixing with the entertainment industry. It also bothered me in Benson’s 2001 novel Never Dream Of Dying. I always see Bond mixing with (and battling) men with old world power and money. The entertainment industry, by it’s very nature is all smoke and mirrors, and ultimately fickle. One minute you’re up – next you’re down. So I don’t see characters from the film or music industries as having any gravitas.

I realise my point of view is without foundation in the real world. Anyone with large amounts of money has power, and as such can be a worthy adversary for James Bond. But in the Bond universe, I feel we need villains who are worthy of Bond’s snobery.

Having said all that, Midsummer Night’s Doom is a light Bondian confection written purposely to coincide and compliment Playboy Magazine’s 45th anniversary. The story is not exactly a throwaway piece, but certain liberties have been taken to bring the Playboy universe and the Bond universe together. It’s not exactly a snug fit. While some elements click, others do not.

I wouldn’t consider this story core bond material, so unless you’re a hardened Bond enthusiast (and I suspect there’s quite a few of you out there), I wouldn’t go hunting high and low for a copy of Playboy – January 1999.

Midsummer Night’s Doom

The Ambushers (1967)

Directed by Henry Levin
Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Beverly Adams, The Slaygirls
Music by Hugo Montenegro
Based loosely on the novel by Donald Hamilton

Along with James Bond and Derek Flint, Matt Helm is one of the cinematic world’s best known super-spies. As portrayed by Dean Martin, Helm was an inebriated womaniser who consistently saved the world while delivering a string of boozing and bosom jokes.

The Ambushers is the third and weakest of the four Matt Helm films, following The Silencers and Murderers’ Row; and preceding The Wrecking Crew. As with all the films in the series, it is easy on the eye. Along with the scantily clad females, there are plenty of lurid fashions, set designs and colourful lighting. It seems like a large portion of the budget went into making these parts of the movie look great. But it appears no money was spent on the special effects which resemble a ‘sparkler’ on a birthday cake.

Onto the plot, what little there is. The film starts with I.C.E.’s latest weapon, a Flying Saucer, being stolen during a test flight. The saucer is unique in that it can only be flown by women as the electro magnetic field produced by the craft is deadly to men (makes perfect sense to me!)

The pilot of the Flying Saucer is Sheila Sommers (Janice Rule) and she is forced to make a landing in Mexico where she is captured and tortured by the maniacal Caselius. Caselius has a penchant for torture and deviant sexual behaviour.

Meanwhile, Matt Helm (Dean Martin) – international superspy and freelance photographer is at the ‘Intelligence Counter Espionage’ (I.C.E.) rehabilitation centre brushing up on the latest espionage techniques. As Helm brushes up against one of the Slaygirls, he discovers the booby-gun.

Also at the rehab centre is Sheila Sommers. After he ordeal with Caselius she is traumatised an cannot remember a thing. She is pale white and pasty and refuses to have anything to do with men. That is until some bad guys make an attempt on her life. Matt Helm comes to the rescue at the last minute, and wins Sheila over. But that’s not all he wins. It seems he also wins her hand in marriage. When Sheila comes out of her catatonic state she believes she is married to Matt Helm. It was an old cover that they had previously used on a mission together, and now it seems like that is all she can remember. And as only women can fly the Flying Saucer, she gets to tag along with Helm on his mission to Acapulco. Why are they going to Acapulco? The only clue that they have to go on is that Sheila remembers a jingle for a Mexican beer company called Montezuma. Figuring it must be a lead, Matt is assigned to do a photographic shoot for a magazine, for the Brewery and it’s owner, Jose Ortega (Albert Salmi). And naturally, Mrs. Helm goes along as his assistant.

Ortega just so happens to be the number one henchman for Caselius. Caselius isn’t affiliated with any evil organization, like “Big O”. He works for himself and plans to sell the Flying Saucer to the highest bidder.

But back to the brewery. Not that this needs to be pointed out, but as you can imagine, placing drunken Dino in a brewery results in our perpetually pissed superspy being, well …more perpetually pissed. The height of boozy excess occurs when Matt Helm falls into a vat of beer.

The matt Helm films were never meant to be high-art. In fact they aren’t even low-art. But they do provide a platform for Martin’s humour, and for the girls to show an ample amount of cleavage. What’s wrong with that, I ask? Apart from The Slaygirls who linger in the background of many of the scenes, the film features Janice Rule as Sheila Sommers. Rule, while being a talented actress (maybe too talented for a Matt Helm film), isn’t as strong and charismatic as Stella Stevens from The Silencers or Elke Somer from The Wrecking Crew. But in it’s favour, The Ambushers has the luscious Senta Berger in the all-too-small role of Francesca Madeiros. She too is trying to track down Caselius.

After musical scores by Elmer Bernstein and Lalo Schifrin for the first two films, the series turns to Hugo Montenegro for the score to The Ambushers. Montenegro’s swinging tunes are okay on the ear, but don’t really follow the action or the story as it progresses. The music never reflects danger, excitement or romance. It simply bops along happily whatever the scenario may be. It may make for a fine pop album, but doesn’t make for a really good soundtrack to a spy film.

At the end of the day, you either love or hate Dean Martin’s drunken antics. If you’re on the negative side, then nothing that I have said here will make you want to sit through this. But for the fans, it’s not the best, but it is harmless fun and provides plenty of opportunities for Martin to trot out a string of familiar one liners.

The Ambushers (1967)

Fear In Fun Park (1989)


Director: Donald Crombie
Starring: Simon Dutton, Ed Devereaux, Rebecca Gilling, Richard Roxburgh, Nikki Coghill Max Cullen, Anthony Wong, Ernie Dingo
Music: Peter Best (Title theme by Serge Franklin)
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

As an Australian, I am particularly parochial about local productions. I like a good story where I recognise the landmarks and the settings in which the story takes place. To find out that there was a Saint tele-movie set in Australia delighted me no end and naturally I had to track it down – and that search has taken me quite a while – but finally I have got my opportunity.

Now there’s a reason that it has taken me so long to find this film; namely that it hasn’t been available. Why would a series based on a popular character like The Saint be held back and made unavailable I ask? Watching the first ten minutes of Fear In Fun Park gave me the answer. It’s bloody terrible. In my reviews for The Software Murders and The Blue Dulac, I have been fairly scathing of the acting on display; and let’s be honest, I watch a lot of shit, so I am quite forgiving of shortcomings in low-budget productions. But here the acting reaches the bottom of the barrel. And I am not talking about hack actors – most of the Australian cast have been around the traps for quite a while – and capable of much better than this. Even the accents seemed to be bunged on. Look I grew up in rural Australia, and would suggest I have a very broad ‘Aussie’ accent, but the characters in this film make me seem like an English language professor. I am guessing they are trying to ‘ocker’ up the show to make Simon Templar seem even more like a fish out of water. Maybe there is even a bit of an attempt to latch onto the memory of Crocodile Dundee which was a massive hit in 1985.

The show starts off in Sydney airport and a myriad of characters arrive of various flights from around the world. Naturally, one of these characters is Simon Templar; AKA The Saint (Simon Dutton). He has flown in from Hong Kong, on the request of a Chinese Businessman, whose daughter has gone missing in Sydney. Templar believes she has been snatched up by the Chinese underworld and drugged and forced to work in a brothel.

Also arriving from France are Harry and Aileen Brampton. Harry is the head of the powerful Brampton business empire, but recently his company has slumped, and it looks like he may have to sell off some of his companies assets. One of these assets is Sydney’s Luna Park – called Fun Park in this show (I am sure for legal reasons). Waiting to greet Harry and Aileen, is Harry’s daughter from a previous marriage, Fiona (Nikki Coghill).

Another recent arrival is a young confused Chinese girl who speaks no English. As she waits in the arrivals lounge, Templar offers her assistance. But before she can respond, she is approached by some Chinese business people and shuffled outside the terminal to a waiting car.

At this point Simon bumps into Fiona, who used to be a jetsetter and knows Templar from her old days in London. Their reunion is a pleasant one, and Simon is invited back that evening to have dinner with Harry, Aileen and Fiona. Simon accepts but must check into his hotel first. Fiona offers to drive him into town. As they leave the airport, Templar spots the young Chinese girl, looking rather distressed, ensconced in the back of a black Mercedes Benz as it weaves through the traffic. Templar asks Fiona to follow the car, which she does up until a certain point, where the car gets blocked behind a truck in Chinatown. Templar leaps from the car and tries to follow on foot, but loses the car in a maze of side streets.

Later that evening, as Templar dines with the Bramptons, he meets Fiona’s new fiancé, Justin (an incredibly youthful Richard Roxburgh). Justin is a real estate agent and has been asked to arrange the sale of Fun Park to get the Brampton company out of trouble. The thing is, secretly, Justin has a gambling problem and owes the Chinese underworld $954,000. The only way he can repay his debt is to arrange that Fun Park is sold to the Chinese.

The fly in the ointment, however, is that Fun Park is the legacy of Harry’s first wife, and Fiona would rather take out a loan to keep Fun Park as a family asset that can be handed down from generation to generation, rather than sold off for short term gain. Justin is caught is the middle – if he sells Fun Park, he gets out of trouble with the underworld, but risks losing Fiona. If he doesn’t sell it, then he keeps Fiona, but what good is that, when the Chinese underworld have a mark on your head.

As the story progresses, the threads of the Brampton family’s financial problems and Templar’s investigation into the white slavery ring come together, and this results in some chases through the streets of Sydney, on and over every conceivable landmark the film-makers could get permission to climb (these include the newly constructed Darling Harbour and Sydney Monorail). At times the movie feels more like an advert for the Australian Tourist Commission than a Saint episode (it even includes throwing ‘prawns on the barbie’).

Fear In Fun Park is an amateurish production despite the people in front and behind the camera, which is such a shame, because Sydney is a great setting for a Saint story. The white slavery story itself isn’t too bad, but there are a few too many story threads that probably only resonate with Sydneysiders who were there in the late eighties. One such is the ‘Save Luna Park’ thread, which was an issue when the Park had been left abandoned for years after a fire on one of the rides killed some children. It looked as if the derelict Park would be sold off to foreign investors, who would redevelop the land. Viewers from other parts of the world, particularly now (nearly twenty years later), may wonder what the hell the characters are talking about. Why? What protesters?

As I seem to do with all the Simon Dutton Saint movies, I ‘llsign off by saying that Saint fans may feel compelled to watch this episode, but it really isn’t very good at all. Others should stay clear.

Fear In Fun Park (1989)

Ironfinger (1965)

Another lazy posting on my behalf. This time the clip was posted on Youtube by Snappy Jet.

I don’t know too much about this Japanese production at all. Apaprently it is also known as 100 Shot, 100 Killed. It starred Mie Hama, who also appeared in You Only Live Twice and What’s Up Tiger Lily?. Furthermore it was followed by a sequel in 1968 called Golden Eyes (aka: Booted Babe, Busted Boss).

It seems my quest to watch every spy movie on the planet is an endless one. Everywhere I turn, I find new movies and new series to track down.

Ironfinger (1965)