The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Directed by Frank Tashlin
Doris Day, Rod Taylor, Arthur Godfrey, Dom DeLuise, Dick Martin, Eric Fleming, Theo Macuse
Music by DeVol
Songs: ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ by Joe Lubin, ‘Soft As The Starlight’ by Joe Lubin and Jerome Howard

Has the world changed so much in forty years? The Glass Bottom Boat is a lightweight romantic comedy that has dated badly. The fact that it has dated, is probably a sad reflection on the state of the world. We should be still able to laugh at Doris Day’s silly pratfalls, but today’s audience has seen all this before. This sort of shenanigans can be viewed on any night by watching re-runs of Bewitched or I Dream Of Jeannie – not that there’s any magic in The Glass Bottom Boat – I am referring to the style of comedy. In fact there are a few very subtle similarities between The Glass Bottom Boat and I Dream Of Jeannie. First both of them are centred around NASA and the space program, and in Jeannie Larry Hagman’s character was Tony Nelson and in The Glass Bottom BoatDoris’ character is Jenny Nelson. Purely co-incidental, I am sure.

The film opens at sea, off Catalina Island. A Glass Bottom Boat carrying a group of tourists is sailing over the undersea gardens of coral and kelp. The tour guide, Axel Nordstrom (Arthur Godfrey) cheesily suggests that the tourists keep an eye out for mermaids. That’s the cue for Jenny Nelson (Doris Day) to dive into the water dressed in a mermaids costume, much to the delight of the passengers. But on this day, Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) is doing a spot of fishing in the area. His hook snares the tail end of Jenny’s costume and he reels it in. Rather unhappily, Jenny surfaces and gives Templeton a verbal spray. He is in a ‘no fishing’ area.

After a poppy animated title sequence, with Doris singing the theme song, we head to NASA headquarters and a press conference. It seems that Templeton is a big shot scientist and he has just invented a gravity device which will help astronauts in space. Also working at NASA as a girl Friday is Jenny. As she leads a gaggle of reporters through the facility, she gets her high heeled shoe caught in a grate. Who should happen along to help her? Templeton tries to assist, but she refuses to have anything to do with him after the mermaid incident. Strangely, Templeton becomes infatuated with this clumsy, hot tempered girl.

Jenny is in fact a widow and her only companion is a dog named Vladimir which stays locked in the house all day. Vladimir goes berserk when the phone rings in the house, so to give the pooch some exercise, Jenny calls the house about three times a day. When the phone rings, the dog starts to run around excitedly jumping over all the furniture. One of the security guards happens to witness Jenny’s calls and finds it all rather suspicious. She counts to ten and then says ‘that’s all for now Vladimir’. The guard thinks it is a code.

Outside of work hours, Jenny fills in her time with night courses at the local college. She studies everything from ceramics to map making. She is also studying creative writing. Templeton sees Jenny’s writing abilities as an opportunity to drag her into his life. As his new gravity device (Codenamed G.I.Z.M.O.) is about to launch him into the ‘big time’, he wants Jenny to act as his biographer. This entails following him around all day.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound very ‘spy’ – it sounds like ‘schmaltzy’ romantic comedy – and you’d be right. But now the spy stuff starts. Templeton’s intends to hold a party at his swinging, hi-tech bachelor pad. After a security check by the CIA, Templeton’s plans go into action. Hired to install a P.A. system to pipe music throughout the house is Julius Pritter (Dom DeLuise). As Pritter connects the wiring, he has a little accident with a banana cream cake which Jenny has brought to the house.

Pritter is in fact a dirty spy, and as he recovers from the banana cream cake incident, he ransacks the house searching for Templeton’s top secret equation. Inside Templeton’s jacket pocket, he finds a mathematical equation scribbled on a piece of paper. Pritter produces a miniature camera and takes photographs of the information. Next link in the spy chain is Theo Macuse. Pritter hands over the microfilm at a carnival shooting gallery. As each of the spy sequences takes place, the music changes to big ‘bombastic’ Bond style music.

The villains of the piece, transmit the equation to their superiors, but the signal is intercepted by the C.I.A. The blame, naturally enough as you would have guessed, falls on Jenny. After all, as Templeton’s biographer, she has access to the latest advances and secrets that NASA has developed, and she has been making coded telephone calls to a man named Vladimir.

At the end of the day, the The Glass Bottom Boat is a lightweight affair. But it does go to show how pervasive the James Bond influence was. Even America’s favourite light comedienne, who at the time of this film’s release was entering her eighth consecutive year as a top 10 box office draw, felt the need to make a spy film. Okay, it isn’t a hard core spy film, but none-the-less it features spies, more gadgets than you could poke a stick at, and a glamorous leading man and lady. Now if you’re a fan of Doris, and to a lesser extent, Rugged Rod Taylor, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in The Glass Bottom Boat. Although the film isn’t a musical, Doris sings a couple of numbers, including a brief comical snatch of Que Sera. Those seeking sixties Bondian style thrills will be sadly disappointed.

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Russian Roulette (1975)

Country: Canada / UK
Directed by Lou Lombardo
George Segal, Christina Raines, Bo Brundin, Denholm Elliot, Richard Romanus, Gordon Jackson, Peter Donat, Nigel Stock, Louise Fletcher, Val Avery
Music by Michael J. Lewis
Based on the novel ‘Kosygin Is Coming’ by Tom Ardies

As the Quiller Memorandum is one of the best spy films ever made, I eagerly look forward to any spy film starring George Segal, and Russian Roulette isn’t a bad one, although it sometimes veers towards a police procedural style story rather than an out and out spy film. At the risk of being flippant, it could almost be described as being the Dirty Harry of spy films.

As the film opens, the Russian Premier, Kosygin, is about to tour Vancouver in Canada. Security arrangements are being checked and double checked by both the KGB and the Canadian authorities (with a little help/interference from the CIA and Britain’s Special Branch). Tim Shaver (George Segal) is a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, and like all good cops from 70’s era films, he’s on suspension for striking a superior officer. To keep himself occupied, he is moonlighting for Commander Petapiece of Special Branch (Denholm Elliot). Shaver’s mission is to track down a Russian dissident, Rudolph Henke (Val Avery), and keep him out of harm’s way, while the Premier tours. It is believed that Henke will attempt to assassinate the Russian leader.

Shaver wastes no time tracking down Henke and follows him back to his apartment block. After Henke is settled in his room, Shaver enters the building and quietly sneaks in Henke’s room with his gun drawn and raised. But Henke is gone. The only lead is a trail of blood which leads to a small window and then to the fire escape.

Shaver naturally thinks it is suspicious and believes that someone is setting him up. Even though he is on suspension, he calls in a few favours from some work colleagues. The first is Bogna Kirchoff (Christina Raines) who also happens to be Shaver’s on again – off again girlfriend. Shaver’s other ally is Hardison (Gordon Jackson). Shaver sets his two bloodhounds to work finding out more information about Henke.

Meanwhile a hired thug, Raymond ‘Rags’ Ragoulia (Richard Romanus) from Detroit has arranged for Shaver’s car to be towed away. Without a car, Shaver accepts a lift from ‘Rags’, who appears as a good Samaritan. As they travel, up ahead a van has broken down. ‘Rags’ slows the car to stop and help out, but Shaver realises that it is a trap and after pulling his gun, orders Ragoulia to drive on. The confused hoodlum is just a delivery boy who has been hired by the KGB to do their dirty work – although Ragoulia doesn’t know who his employers are, and passes on little useful information to Shaver.

After his encounter with ‘Rags’, Shaver takes Bogna to dinner. Later events turn ugly when they return to Bogna’s apartment. They find Hardison dead in the bathroom.

Russian Roulette’s story is presented in a complicated way, with the plot threads unravelling before our eyes. At the end, it all makes sense and doesn’t seem quite so complicated, but you are forced to pay attention as you ride along with the characters. The film moves towards an exciting and well staged finale as a motorcade carrying the Russian Premier winds it’s way through the streets of Vancouver.

The film is buoyed considerably by the presence of George Segal. In recent years, appearing in shows such as Just Shoot Me, he has showed off his ability as a light comedian, but let’s not forget the guys was ‘Quiller’ and knows how to put in an earnest performance as a spy – and yes, the poor fellow get’s drugged once again by the enemy.

Russian Roulette also has on a hand a fine collection of familiar supporting actors, such as Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliot and Nigel Stock. Sure this is just a walk in the park for these guys, but it’s great to see familiar faces doing what they do best.

All in all, Russian Roulette is a fine thriller. It doesn’t spoon-feed the audience and you’ll have to pay attention – it’s not the type of film where you can knock back a sizeable amount of your favourite tipple and expect to know what’s going on. The actions scenes are few and far between, but at no stage does the film seem boring, and like all good thrillers from the seventies, it has a touch of paranoia about it. It’s not in the same league as The Parallax View, but it does feel like Shaver is going it alone, with operatives closing in from both sides. Recommended.

Russian Roulette (1975)

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Fistful Of Yen
Directed by John Landis
Evan Kim, Master Bong Soo Han, Ingrid Wang, Nathan Jung, Eric Micklewood, Derek Murcott, Alberto Issacs

Now it’s time to get a little bit silly. The Kentucky Fried Movie is a collection of comedy sketches put together by the Kentucky Fried Theatre creators Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker. The trio are better known these days for Airplane (Flying High), Hots Shots and The Naked Gun. Fans of those films will know what type of humour to expect.

One of the sketches in The Kentucky Fried Movie is a mini movie called a Fistful Of Yen, which is an elaborate and hilarious send up of Enter The Dragon. The movie begins on the Isle Of Lucy and we witness the detonation of a thirty megatonne nuclear bomb.

Three days later British Intelligence, Asquith (Eric Micklewood) and Pennington (Derek Murcott), are watching footage of the explosion, which they have stolen from the Russians. The man behind the explosion is Dr. Klahn. Klahn lives in a hidden fortress in the Harts Mountains. An apart from detonating nuclear bombs, Klahn has also kidnapped Ada Gronick, who is a famous Chinese nuclear physicist.

Asquith and Pennington’s briefing session features footage of Klahn’s top henchmen. The first is Butkus, Klahn’s bodyguard – ‘he is tough and ruthless.’ Next is Kwong, Klahn’s chauffeur – ‘he is rough and toothless.’

The briefing is over and Asquith states, ‘We need someone to find a mountain fortress, defeat an army of deadly killers, and come back with Ada Gronick.’ Thankfully, Pennington knows just the man to ask. He hires Mr. Loo (Evan Kim) for the assignment.

Loo arrives at the hidden fortress to join Klahn’s army. As he walks through the grounds, hundreds of martial artists are kitted out in white, and practising their skills. Some are breaking boards and bricks; others are toughening their hands by thrusting them into cauldrons of hot sand and gravel. One group of men are practising their derby throwing skills (like Oddjob, Harrold Sakata, in Goldfinger).

At the induction ceremony, Dr. Klahn (Master Bong Soo Han) greets all the new men. He says:
‘We are building a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude.
We forge our spirits in the tradition of our ancestors.
You have our gratitude!’

It may not read like much on paper, but if you have seen Enter The Dragon, Master Bong Soo Han’s impersonation of Hahn (Sek Kin) is fantastically funny. The lines get a work out through the rest of this show (on a telephone answering machine, and after one of Klahn’s sexual encounters).

Now that Loo has penetrated the hidden fortress, there is not much point in outlining more of the plot. The movie only goes for thirty-one minutes, too reveal more would ruin the show, but most of it is pilfered directly from ‘Dragon’.

But I will draw your attention to a couple of scenes to illustrate the low brow humour in this satire. In one sequence, three of Klahn’s guards have failed in their duties and have to be punished. Their names are ‘Long Wang’, ‘Hung Well’, and ‘Enormous Genitals’. I hear you groan. Another of my favourite gags is when the klaxon alarm goes off – it’s a sight gag, sorry, but you’ll have to watch it, to get it.

As if the martial arts skill of Mr. Loo wasn’t enough, this film also comes equipped with Big Jim Slade.

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Secret Agent Man: From Prima With Love (2000)

Produced by Barry Sonnenfeld
Directed by Perry Lang
Costas Mandylor, Dina Myer, Dondre T Whitfield, Paul Guilfoyle, Musetta Vandor, Jsu Garcia, Kevin McNulty
Music by David Bergeaud
Song, ‘Secret Agent Man’ performed by The Supreme Beings Of Leisure

Barry Sonnenfeld (Wild, Wild, West) produced this television series that ran for twelve episodes in the year 2000. The series, while being enjoyable, in all honesty must be considered a flop. There are a few reasons for this. The first is the look of the show. The series is quite light-hearted and the cast provided a few sparks, but the show is filmed in a very cold and sterile manner. The look is predominantly black and blue and it is edited in an overtly digital way. I understand that they were attempting a sort of hi-tech realism, but all it does is de-humanise the characters and proceedings. And the editing ruins the flow of any action sequences. Rather than our hero (or heroes) being able to land a clean punch on a villains chin, he is rendered impotent by the chopping up and distortion of his movements.

The next weakness, and this is probably a budget restraint, is that the globe-trotting in the show in all fairly non-descript. One location or country seem the same as the last. When the team are sent on a mission to Paris, the locations seem exactly the same as a mission in New York. Isn’t one of the joys of watching a globe-trotting agent, is watching him (or her) in exotic places with beautiful people? Secret Agent Man never strikes me with the tourist bug.

That’s the negatives. Let’s look at a few positives. Firstly the cast. Our hero is Jason Monk, played by Australian actor Costas Mandylor. Mandylor plays Monk as a smart arse. He stops short of arching an eyebrow, but certainly plays up the sexist and un-PC aspects of his character. It helps that his character is a classic womanising secret agent in the sixties mould. Mandylor is quite good, but probably isn’t everybody’s idea of the square jawed espionage hero.

Monk rarely gets to work alone. His partner is Holliday played by Dina Myer. She is every bit Monk’s equal and knows it, but is reduced to being second banana because she is a woman. The sexism in the screenplay is deliberate and played for all it is worth. The relationship and gamesmanship between Monk and Halliday does occasionally dip into American sitcom territory. I would suggest, had the series continued, by season four that Monk and Halliday would have been married

The next member of the team is Davis (Dondre T Whitfield). He is the gadget master and technical whiz on the team. On occasions, in certain episodes, he comes to the fore and becomes a fully-fledged field agent, but generally his appearances are barely more than cameos. At times he tends to be almost like David Ketchum as Agent 13 in Get Smart. He didn’t exactly hide in garbage bins and mailboxes, but did turn up unexpectedly, offer a witticism and some advice and them disappear without a trace. The performance by Whitfield is likeable but he rarely has enough to do.

And finally there is Paul Guilfoyle as Brubeck, the US head of the organization. He is an interesting and refreshing change to the usual, crusty ‘M’ type. He is flippant and snide towards his agents, and adversaries for that matter. But he can afford to be, as he has complete faith in his agents and a confidence that everything will work out fine. He doesn’t seem to be under any pressure at all, despite the diabolical situation the organization is facing.

From Prima With Love is the first episode in the twelve episode series. Even though the action begins from the first scenes, this series is a slow starter due to the lack of characterisation. The show opens at the Walter Reed Army Hospital. A man is rushed into the secured medical wing for emergency surgery after a gunshot wound to the chest. As the medical staff attempt to save the man, outside on the perimeter, behind a high wire fence, a young man assembles a large gun. He then fires the weapon through the fence at the hospital building. The gun does not fire bullets, rockets or grenades, but an electro magnetic pulse (EMP). This pulse renders all electrical and electronic equipment useless. The doctors cannot operate in the dark without equipment. The man dies.

At an un-named intelligence agency, Chief Brubeck and Davis are in a flap. They have been trying to develop a portable, directional EMP weapon for years, but it seems like the bad guys have beaten them to it. The only problem is they don’t know who the bad guys are. Therefore, the organisation needs it’s best man on the job. That happens to be Jason Monk, and currently he is on leave. In fact, he is on a date and doesn’t welcome the intrusion. The intrusion, however is not from his organisation – they can’t find him – it’s from an enemy agent named Prima. She wants to defect.

Prima used to work for an evil organisation called Trinity. She tells Monk that they are the ones who have developed the EMP weapon. But Trinity aren’t the type of outfit that you can simply walk away from and they send agents to kill Prima. When this fails, Trinity raises that stakes – unless Prima is returned to them, they will use the EMP weapon on public targets like Heathrow Airport or in the Paris tunnel.

Despite this being the first episode in the series, the show starts like all the characters are old friends. There is no attempt to introduce the characters, and only through watching the show does a picture slowly emerge of who they are – what they do, and whose side they are on. Obviously, this coldness dissipates as the series progresses (or more correctly, you view more episodes from the series) – but it is still a hurdle to cross in this first episode.

In the end Secret Agent Man is entertaining but not quite serious or hi-tech enough to compete with shows like Alias or La Femme Nikita. It also doesn’t have the budget or the gloss to be a modern day equivalent of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or I Spy. What you have is a series that has its heart in the right place but didn’t strike the right balance of espionage ingredient to be a qualified success.

Secret Agent Man: From Prima With Love (2000)