Here’s a film I learnt about from Bob over on the Eurospy Forum. Apparently it’s the second in a series featuring secret agent Alex Dynamo – the first film is SOS Operacion Bikini
Fantomas Vs Scotland Yard is the third and final of Andre Hunebelle’s sixties revival of the Fantomas character. If you haven’t noticed yet, I find the Fantomas films to be wild exuberant fun. But if you are looking for closure in the Fantomas series – that is, you want Fantomas captured, or at least an explanation of why he does all these evil deeds – well, you’ll be sadly disappointed. This film is more of the same.
A Rolls Royce follows a procession of Highland pipers through the streets of a Scottish village, before winding it’s way out of town and to a castle in the country. The castle is the residence of Lord Rashley, one of the word’s richest men. In the Rolls is Walter Brown who has been retained to draw up an insurance policy for Rashley.
But Brown is not all that he seems. In fact he isn’t Brown at all, but arch criminal Fantomas, in one of his life-like replica masks. For those of you who are joining us late, that’s one of Fantomas’ specialties – impersonating them using these life life latex masks. When he is appearing as himself, he appears with a blue, bald synthetic face (I know, on the poster it looks a bit green).
Fantomas assures Rashley (Jean-Roger Caussimon) that he doesn’t want to destroy the world just yet. He wishes to pillage for a bit longer. And so to his latest evil scheme – The super villain has a proposal for Rashley, which runs along the lines of: ‘if the rich want to continue living they will have to pay a tax!’ A life tax. Fantomas has set up a company to collect fees from the world’s wealthiest people. If they do not pay, Fantomas will kill them.
After his proposal, Fantomas leaves Rashley’s estate by helicopter. As he circles overhead, he tosses out the real Walter brown’s lifeless body, which crashes down at Lord Rashley’s feet.
It isn’t long before the press get hold of the story – ‘another Fantomas killing!’ Naturally, at the forefront of any journalism relating to Fantomas is Fandor (Jean Marais). As soon as the story breaks, coupled with his trusty photographer, and girlfriend, Helene (Mylene Demongeot), he is off to Scotland to track down the evil mastermind once more.
Meanwhile Lord Rashley is implementing his own plans to defend himself against Fantomas. To do this he requires the services of the world’s foremost law-enforcement authority on Fantomas – who just so happens to be Commissioner Juve (Louis De Funes). Rashley invites Juve and his dim-witted assistant Bertrand (Jacques Dynam) to Scotland, expecting that they will capture the blue headed fiend.
Later the world’s richest men all gather at Lord Rashley’s Estate to discuss Fantomas and the ‘life tax’ that has been imposed on them. During the meeting, Rashley lays out his plan to capture Fantomas in his castle. But their are further complications – Rashley’s assistant, Andre Bertiere (Henri Serre) has hatched a plan with Rashley’s wife (Françoise Christophe) to kill the Lord and inherit all his money. Unfortunately Fantomas’ plan has put a spanner in the work. But Bertiere is a resourceful young chap and he approaches some local gangsters for help. Their plan is to bump off Fantomas, but not to tell the ‘wealthy victims’ that Fantomas is dead. Instead they will collect the tax. But Fantomas is not a dimwit, and is quickly onto the gangsters plan. His response is simple, he places a ‘life tax’ on the gangsters as well. The gangster, now feeling rather threatened, hatch another plan. This time it is to join with Rashley and the other millionaires to rid the world of Fantomas once and for all. Well, this plan is rather flawed too, because Fantomas has killed Lord Rashley and is now impersonating him.
While all this plot convolution is going on, we are treated to the usual repetoire of gags from Louis De Funes as Juve – a dash of derring do from Jean Marias as Fandor – and Mylene Demongeot looks as beautiful as always.
Fantomas Vs Scotland Yard is as enjoyable as the previous two Fantomas films, and while this was the end of Andre Hunebelle’s trilogy, it wasn’t the end for Fantomas. The evil mastermind would pop up in productions from all around the world. For those wishing to hunt the madman down, amongst his many appearances, you can find him in Iron Claw The Pirate and Saazish, which features the fabled Bollywood Fantomas.
Get Smart, although a comedy series, is iconic television. On this site you’ll stumble on a great many spy comedies. As you read these reviews, you’ll also realise that many of these films are absolutely dreadful. I have surmised that this is because a great number of the so-called ‘straight spy’ films already have a healthy dollup of humour in them. To make a parody of something that is already humorous requires going off at the deep end to get even greater laughs. And no doubt there is an element of ‘going off at the deep end’ in Get Smart. But Get Smart is layered like a fine homestyle lasagna. There are many comedy styles displayed over the length of an average episode. There is broad slapstick farce, parody and satire. And it’s the last of these, ‘satire’ where the real comedy gold comes from. The best laughs come from not going ‘out there’, but rather going ‘in there’. They look at the minutiae of work for a bureaucratic body. Many of the laughs do not come from the absurdity of a mission – they stem from the apparatus in place to send an agent on their mission. This is exemplified by the ‘cone of silence’ that Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86 (Don Adams) always insists upon when receiving a mission briefing from the ‘Chief’ (Edward Platt). But before we go any further, maybe it’s best that we have a brief look at the ‘Get Smart’ universe.
In the television series Get Smart, there are two spy organizations. The first is ‘Control’ which represents ‘good’ and ‘niceness’. The second is ‘KAOS’ which represents ‘evil’ and ‘badness’. Control’s two gun agents are Maxwell Smart and his partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon). KAOS, on the other hand has an ever-changing cadre of evil-doers intent of subjugating the world. Some of the villain’s names may even sound vaguely familiar to you – there’s Bronze Finger and Dr. Yes. That’s right, get Smart is a parody of the Bondian universe, but added to this, Smart’s continual ineptitude puts him on par with another mid-sixties comedy icon, Inspector Clouseau – as portrayed by Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther films. Maybe it’s no co-incidence, after the success of Get Smart, that Peter Sellers would actually play James Bond later in the decade, in the abhorrent comedy spoof, Casino Royale.
Although Maxwell Smart may be the bastard son of Bond and Clouseau, he has spawned his own progeny in the form of Austin Powers, Johnny English, and in the recent revision of OSS 117 portrayed by Jean Dujardin. Get Smart proved that a well-written spy comedy could work, and over the years there have been many attempts revive the formula.
A wise man once said, ‘there’s no such thing as an old joke if you haven’t heard it before’. For me, growing up in an outback town, where television was an endless rotation of re-runs, you were bound to hear jokes time and time again. They were all old jokes. For some shows, this meant that they quickly overstayed their welcome. However, Get Smart was a shining beacon in such an environment. The running gags – the old jokes – actually got better with age. ‘Sorry about that, Chief’, ‘Missed it by that much’, ‘Would you believe…’ are lines that are indelibly burnt into the subconscious mind of any regular Get Smart viewer. These catchphrases, even through repeated episode after episode, season after season, took on a life of their own. When watching an episode, there was a perceptible tingling of anticipation, while you waited for Smart to deliver one of these signature lines. Usually the set-ups were so transparent, it was easy for the viewer to join in (not that I am one to talk to my television).
Of course, the main reason for the show’s success was the casting of Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, and Barbara Feldon as 99. Naturally these two were provided with quality scripts written by the likes of Mel brooks and Buck Henry, but what’s sewerage to a magistrate is caviar to a psychopath – or in English, in the hands of different leads, the show would have appeared quite different. This is born out in the Get Smart movie, The Nude Bomb, which didn’t feature Barbara Feldon – and basically was crap! The magic wasn’t there.
Mr. Big was the first episode in the Get Smart series and was the only one made in black and white. As such, when the program was shown in repeats, quite often this episode was left out. But from the very beginning most of the familiar Get Smart trademark lines and situations were already in place.
The episode opens in a theatre in Washington DC. A symphony orchestra is playing to a sell out crowd, and seated in the audience is Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86 for Control. During the show, much to the chagrin of those seated around him, Smart’s shoe phone rings. In this day and age with mobile phones and almost instant communication, a portable phone may not seem like the world’s coolest gadget, but back in 1965 this was cutting edge technology and ferociously funny.
On the phone is the Chief of Control. It appears that the evil organization KAOS are up to their usual tricks and the Chief wants to brief Smart for the new mission. Control has a rotation policy when assigning agents to missions, and unfortunately, it is Smart’s turn once again. Max rushes to headquarters.
During the briefing it is explained that Professor Hugo Dante (Vito Scotti) has been kidnapped by KAOS. Along with the Professor they have taken his latest invention called the ‘Inthermo’ – yes, it is Dante’s Inthermo – groan! The Inthermo is a laser weapon that can convert heat into immense destructive power. Control know that KAOS is being the kidnapping because, Mr. Big (Michael Dunn) has radioed in a ransom demand for one hundred million dollars.
Smart is assigned to find and destroy KAOS and Mr. Big, and then find the Professor and return the Inthermo. To assist him on his mission, he is to be teamed up with a new partner, Agent 99, who is to meet him at the airport.
There is not too much point outlining much of the plot as each episode only runs for half an hour (even less if you count the time set aside for adverts). Mr. Big is a fine introduction to the Get Smart series. Some of the bumbling that would become inherent in later episodes in the series is slightly missing in this pilot episode. There is a fight scene towards the end of the show, where Smart actually looks like a competent agent and handles himself admirably.
Get Smart was quality comedy television, made at a time when most shows of it’s type were family based sitcoms. Get Smart broke that formula and came up with something quite new in television entertainment. Forty years down the track, and the shows freshness may have been diminished by the countless imitators and followers, but the show was groundbreaking in it’s day and deserves to be looked upon as one of the classics of the spy genre.
Oh No! It’s another links post, and once again I find myself falling back on the finely honed – like a sharp knife – writing skills of Todd over at Die Danger Die Die Kill. For your reading pleasure, here is the Hong Kong spy film, The Black Falcon – but this one has a bit to offer Eurospy fans. To find out more click here.
I must admit, I haven’t watched this one yet, but from Todd’s review it seems like it worth hunting down.
Original Title: Niente rose per OSS 117
Directed by Renzo Cerrato, Jean-Pierre Desagnat, Andre Hunebelle
John Gavin, Curt Jurgens, Margaret Lee, Luciana Paluzzi, Robert Hossein, Rosalba Neri, George Eastman
Music by Piero Piccioni
Out of all the OSS 117 films from the sixties and seventies – there’s seven in all – this one held the most interest for me because it stars John Gavin as secret agent OSS 117. As many of you may be aware, John Gavin was cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. After some last minute negotiations – and a hefty sum of money – Sean Connery was convinced to don the tuxedo and toupee once more. Subsequently, Gavin was paid out. But I have often wondered what kind of Bond he would have been? This French Italian co-production is as close as we’ll ever get to knowing.
After the titles and a swinging organ theme tune by Piero Piccioni – that is to say that the theme features someone playing a groovy electric organ – not pertaining to Mr. Piccioni’s appendage and any uses he may (or may not) have put it to – we find out that the bank job was a set up. The bad-ass perpetrator was secret agent Jonathan Roberts (John Gavin). I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t OSS 117 supposed to be Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath? You’ve got to remember that this is an English dub, and his character name has been Anglicised. So if you don’t mind, to keep things simple, I will refer to out dashing hero as ‘Roberts’.
So our dashing hero, ‘Chandler’, wastes no time in worming his way into the bedroom of celebrated Spanish dancer, Concitta Esteban (Rosalba Neri). After, what we can only presume was a vigourous bout of bedroom acrobatics, he takes a little nap. At that time there is a knock on the door and a newspaper is slipped underneath. The paper contains a large front page story on the exploits of ‘Killer Chandler’. Concitta, fearing for her life, calls the police. They promptly arrive and after a minor scuffle, Chandler is taken into custody.
The drivers of the van are soon overcome by the knock-out gas and grind to a halt. The helicopter lands and Chandler is spirited away to the secret headquarters of the evil organisation. In fact this evil organisation is called ‘The Organisation’. I know – it’s not very creative, but I guess by this time all the really good A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.s had been used.
After his medical, Chandler is brought before the head of The Organisation, ‘The Major’, played rather effeminately by Curt ‘He’s the Devil, Hymie’ Jurgens. As you’ve no doubt guessed, The Organisation deals in death, and The Major has accepted a job from a gentleman named Malik. Malik is a diplomat in an un-named Middle Eastern country, and he makes quite a lot of money out of the chaos and continual infighting amongst the tribesman there. But unfortunately for Malik, there is a peacemaker named Hendrick Van Dyck who looks like he will be able to broker a peace between the warring factions. This won’t do and Malik wants Van Dyck assassinated. The Major assigns the job to Chandler.
I know that earlier on in the review I promised not to change the hero’s name any more. Well, sorry – I lied. To carry out the assassination, Chandler must assume a new identity, and he is to become James Mulligan. So Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, who is Jonathan Roberts, who is impersonating Killer Chandler is now James Mulligan. Got that? Good, we can move forward.
Now at this point in the story, call me stupid if you will (everyone else does), but now that Chandler – er Mulligan dammit, knows who is behind The Organisation, why doesn’t he call in the troops? His mission is complete – he knows who the bad guys are and what they do. Time to shut them down I say – but ‘no’ – Mulligan wants to play out the game a little longer.
Now playing out the game is not the brightest thing that Mulligan has done, because he is given a vaccination injection, to protect him against the nasties in the un-named Middle Eastern country where he is to be sent to. But this injection is actually a poison that has a 24 hour incubating period. Mulligan must receive the anti-dote in 24 hours or he will die, but he doesn’t know this. He flies out and upon arrival passes out. Luckily resident bad guy, Dr. Sadi is on hand to provide the antidote. But this antidote has to be administered over the next three days for it to take permanent effect.
Now at this point in the movie, with its poor plot contrivances, you may be thinking it’s time to hit the ‘off’ button. I know I was. But you’d be wrong. This is where the beautiful Margaret Lee enters the picture. Lee may have never been a household name in the 1960’s but she was a busy girl appearing in a swag of Eurospy films – such as Dick Smart 2.007, From The Orient With Fury, Arriva Dorrelik and many more.
Unfortunately, despite Lee’s presence, when the action in the film is supposed to start heating up, the film begins to plod along. There’s quite a few scenes which provide local colour, but do little to move the story along. The film drags out it’s final few minutes at an infuriatingly slow pace before reaching a rather predictable and uninspired climax.
The films from the OSS series are some of the more polished Eurospy productions from the sixties and as such, this film is probably just worth seeking out. Only ‘just’. And even then you’d have to be a rather forgiving Eurospy fan – but I figure if you’re into watching Eurospy films, then you’re probably used to watching a lot of crap, and most likely perfectly willing to accept this films failures. It could have been so much more – but hey it features the man who could have been Bond.
Thanks to Skadog
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Matt Damon, Julia Styles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Albert Finney
Music by John Powell
Song ‘Strange Ways’ performed by Moby
Based loosely on the novel by Robert Ludlum
On a initial viewing, The Bourne Ultimatum may seem like an incredibly fast paced and complex espionage drama. Well it is, and it isn’t. Let me explain. If you actually look at the plot and the incidents that happen over the film’s running time, you’ll find that the find is light on for story a features only a few action set pieces. The effect of rapid pace and plot complexity come from the techniques employed by director Paul Greengrass, cinematographer Oliver Wood, and editor Christopher Rouse. Visually the most notable technique utilised is the use of hand held camera, but even more powerful is the rapid fire editing. Now I’ll admit I did not sit through the entire movie simply counting the length of time between each cut, but for the few sequences which I looked at, I was astonished to find that there is a cut away at least every eight seconds. Most cuts are made every four or five seconds, but in this film it is not unusual for sequences to be built from wafer thin snippets of only one second in duration. The complexity of each sequence, from simple dialogue exchanges to frenetic chase scenes at train stations, is truly amazing. Greengrass and co, have certainly put in the man hours working out each sequence and how to cover the action from various vantage points, while at the same time keeping the plot – what little there is – moving forward – and retaining comprehension. It is the type of film-making exercise, which in lesser hands, could have turned the film into solely a showcase of style against substance.
So from a technical standpoint, The Bourne Ultimatum is truly excellent, but the plot for this, the third entry in the series, is pretty limp. If there is a plus to the story, it is that it answers some of the questions that were raised in the first two films, but finding out how Jason Bourne became the man he is, is frankly, by this point in the series, almost redundant.
The film begins almost exactly where The Bourne Supremacy ended. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is in Russia, with the police (and other agencies) hot on his trail. He is pretty badly beaten up after the events at the end of The Bourne Supremacy, but we know he is a survivor and will find a way out of his current predicament.The film skips ahead six weeks, and we are introduced to Simon Ross (Paddy Considine). Ross is an investigative journalist for the Guardian Newspaper. Currently he is in Turin, where he is meeting a contact in relation to a story he has been doing about a CIA operation called Treadstone. Off the record, the source says that Treadstone was only the tip of the iceberg. There was another, more covert arm to the operation called ‘Blackbriar’ which turned a select group of volunteers into highly trained killing machines. The first of these men was Jason Bourne. As Ross is a journalist, and although much of the information passed to him was off the record, he still publishes a lengthy article naming Jason Bourne.
Meanwhile in France, Jason Bourne meets with the brother of Marie Kreutz (for those with poor memories, or simply haven’t seen the first two Bourne films, Marie was the character played by Franke Potente, that Bourne fell in love with, and then was subsequently killed by Treadstone). Bourne explains how Marie died, and also declares that he is going after the people who started it all.
The newspaper article written by Simon Ross has not gone un-noticed, especially by Treadstone. The man assigned to get to the bottom of it is Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). He believes that Bourne must have leaked the information to Ross. Ross is put under surveillance, in the belief that sooner or later we will make contact with Jason Bourne. In a way, Vosen is right, but not because Bourne is the source, but he too is looking for answers.
Bourne contacts Ross, and arranges to meet him at Waterloo Station. Bourne suspects that Ross will be watched by the CIA/NSA, so he takes every precaution. Bourne, discreetly brushes past Ross and drops a brand new mobile phone into his pocket. Then, once out of harms way, he calls him. Ross is initially confused, not realising that his own phone would be tapped, but Bourne puts him straight, and then guides him through a maze of CIA/NSA agents.
Vosen also arranges for an assassin, or ‘asset’ as they like to call them in the movie, to be on hand for when Bourne meets Ross. Once Bourne takes out the bulk of Vosen’s agents, Vosen orders both Ross and Bourne to be killed. Unfortunately Ross isn’t a professional, and amid all drama unfolding around him, he begins to panic. Despite being told to ‘stay put’, Ross tries to make a run for it, but only attracts the attention of the ‘asset’, who shoots him dead.
So Bourne is back to square one. But we know he won’t give up. Now he is going to find out who was Ross’ source, and from there trace the path back to Treadstone and find out the secrets of Blackbriar. For fans of Robert Ludlum’s books, the discoveries and the resolution that this film presents, may represent one of the biggest bastardisations of a literary creation ever! The character at the end of Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity could, and still did live in Ludlum’s Bourne universe, but the seeds sewn in the second film and fully realised here, completely disavow Ludlum’s character. That’s not to say that what is presented on the cinema screens is crap. I am simply stating that the Bourne films and the Bourne novels are two very different beasts.
Although I shouldn’t need to mention this, but Jason Bourne and James Bond are also two different beasts as well. Prior to the release of The Bourne Ultimatum there was a lot of negative press aimed at the Bond series, generated by the Bourne camp. Director Paul Greengrass was quoted on http://www.contactmusic.com saying, ‘audiences identify more with the spy-on-the-run than the shaken, not stirred Agent 007.’ I realise publicity is a big part of marketing movies these days, (and maybe the quotes are taken out of context) but I think that you should talk UP your own project and not belittle someone else.
Once upon a time, the drunken conversation between men at the local pub was ‘who do you prefer Moore or Connery?’ It was a big question, and it elicited some powerful and emotional responses in its time. Now the question is ‘who do you prefer Bourne or Bond?’ Now I am quite happy to accept that some people like Matt Damon more than Daniel Craig (or Pierce Brosnan for that matter). An actor vs actor debate is quite acceptable in my book. It’s ‘old school’. But character vs character? I mean, really, Bond has deviated so much from what Ian Fleming put down on the page, and Jason Bourne too, is far removed from what Ludlum initially wrote. We are talking about two franchise characters, who change and evolve with the times. I know what you’re thinking, Bourne hasn’t changed! Well, I beg to differ – if you look at the Richard Chamberlain television movie from 1988, you’ll see that Jason Bourne Mk I was very different from Jason Bourne Mk II.
But if we must enter into the Bourne vs Bond debate, here’s my two cents for what it is worth. I feel that Bond is the better character simply because he battles international villains – in a world were tourists are blown up on Kuta Beach, or jets are flown into sky-scrapers – it’s good to imagine or fantasize about a character who can deal with and stop those situations – a character who can deal with the problems that we have no control over. James Bond fulfills those fantasies. Whereas Bourne’s enemies are the people that created him. He lives in his own dirty little universe of corrupt C.I.A. and N.S.A. agents. It was only during the first film, The Bourne Identity, when suffering amnesia, did Bourne enter our world, and through his relationship with Marie (Franka Potente), remain there. Once she was gone, Bourne reverted to living as a part of the espionage community, albeit as a loner. Not once, has Bourne saved the world. He is simply trying to escape from his own past – a past he in fact volunteered for.
Overall, The Bourne Ultimatum is a very enjoyable film, but it is a step down from the previous two entries in the series. It seems that they have this great character, (and a great actor playing him) but are not really sure what to do with him. I guess the looming question is where do you take Jason Bourne next? There cannot be too many cynical / self serving CIA/NSA controllers left, who had a hand in Bourne’s programming. Who is he going to go after next? And what would be his motivation?
For your reading pleasure today, I am linking to fellow Teleport City writer, Todd Statdman’s excellent review for Battle Beneath The Earth.
Apart from Kerwin Mathews, the film also features Ed Bishop, who some of you may recall from Gerry Anderson’s UFO series. But for me, he will always be ‘Klaus Hergersheimer’ from Diamonds Are Forever.
Country: United States
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Priscilla Lane, Robert Cummings, Norman Lloyd, Otto Kruger, Alan Baxter, Alma Kruger, Dorothy Peterson, Clem Bevans
Saboteur was Alfred Hitchcock’s first all American film, and it’s not too bad at all. It sits very nicely between The 39 Steps and North By Northwest, while not quite reaching the heights of those two films.
The film begins in an aircraft factory in Los Angeles. Two friends Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) and Ken Mason are on their break when a fire breaks out at the plant. Naturally the two men rush to assist in putting out the blaze. Keane is handed an extinguisher by another employee, Frank Frye (Norman Lloyd). Kane then passes the extinguisher on to Mason who rushes into the hanger. As Mason tries to fight the fire, the hangars erupts in a giant fireball, and he is killed.
Later it is revealed that the extinguisher used was actually filled with gasoline, and attempting to fight the fire made the situation worse. Kane reports how he was handed the extinguisher by Frye, but when management looks at the records, they find that nobody by that name was employed to work at the plant. Suspicion falls upon Kane, who is accused of sabotage. Fearing false imprisonment, Kane sets out on a trek across America in search of Frye in an attempt to clear his name.
Recently I watched Showtime’s television series, Sleeper Cell which is an up to the minute depiction of a terrorist cell planning an attack on American soil. It is strange, going back and watching this wartime propaganda movie, which contains so many very similar themes. Back then though, they weren’t called Sleeper Cells, they were called Fifth Columnists.
Kane’s journey is not an easy one. Apart from being chased by the police, as he begins to unravel the mystery, he also becomes the target for the Fifth Columnists who seem to spring up everywhere. But if that isn’t enough, he then has to deal with the public, who are also on the lookout for the ‘dirty saboteur’. One civilian who gets caught up with Keane in his cross country quest is Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane). When Patricia first meets Kane, she doesn’t believe his story and intends to turn him into the police, but as the story progresses, she becomes a useful ally as the story reaches it’s conclusion.
The film features some nice bumps along Kane’s journey. There’s a very nice sequence at an elegant ball, where Kane tries to impress on the other guests that they are in fact in the midst of a nest of Nazi spies. Much to Kane’s chagrin, the other guests either believe Kane is joking or he is drunk. Hitchcock also has quite a bit of fun during a chase sequence staged at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, where Kane chases his quarry into cinema. That action unfolding on the screen mirrors the pursuit unfolding around the patrons. The climatic scenes take place on and around the Statue Of Liberty. Presenting a famous landmark as a backdrop for Hitchcock’s unique kind of mayhem was a device he’d revisit when he made North By Northwest, where the resolution is played on the Mount Rushmore.
Although Priscilla Lane receives top billing, she is probably the weakest of the main acting ensemble. The three best performances come from Robert Cummings, Otto Kruger and Vaughan Glaser. Robert Cummings is excellent as Barry Kane, the everyman who gets caught up in the web of intrigue. The character isn’t as confident as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps. Hannay had a bit of swagger, and was more than able to take care of himself, whereas Kane is just relentless. He just seems to walk into trap after trap, but his persistence in getting to the bottom of the matter and discovering the truth keep forcing him forward. You can almost sense his frustration. The next actor is Otto Kruger. Good films have good villains, and Kruger plays a classic sophisticated villain, in Charles Tobin. It is never mentioned in the film who Tobin works for, but it is clear that it is the Nazis. As with all the best villains, Tobin doesn’t have to rant and rave to show you that he is evil. In fact he is charming, and dare I say it likable, but that’s why he is so dangerous. He doesn’t lose his temper, and is always in control. The third performance that rates a mention is Vaughan Glaser as Phillip Martin. Glaser’s character is the heart of the film. And remembering that this film is a wartime propaganda piece, Glaser also has the job of extolling the virtues and strengths of American society. It’s a sequence that could be jingoistic and cringe worthy, but he delivers it with sincerity, passion and a hint of humour.
With the possible exception of Steven Spielberg, Hitchcock is the world’s most famous movie director, and as such, many words have been devoted to his films. As with all of Hitchcock’s output, the film has been examined and picked apart by the gamut of the world’s film critics. This attention to his work is quite simply due to the high standard achieved over the body of his work, and while Saboteur may not be a cinematic tour de force, like some of his other films, even a lesser Hitchcock is still a very good and highly entertaining film.
Harry Saltzman, one of the Producers of the Bond franchise went out on his own and produced this ultra cool Michael Caine spy thriller. In The IPCRESS File, which is based on a book by Len Deighton, Caine plays working class secret agent Harry Palmer. Despite Saltzman’s participation, Palmer is very different to Bond.
Imagine James Bond, heading up a team of ninjas, who are standing on the lip of a hollowed out volcano which houses the lair of an evil mastermind. But instead of storming the complex, Bond and the ninjas have to wait for their L101 form to be processed, and they have to receive TX82 clearance from headquarters. Obviously the worlds that James Bond and Harry Palmer inhabit are very different. Bond’s is one of action and instinct, whereas Palmer’s is one of rules, bureaucracy and paperwork. Despite this less glamourous world, The IPCRESS File is an excellent film, and Harry Palmer is an intriguing hero.
One of the thing that has always struck me about The IPCRESS File is that it is not packaged very well. On video in Australia, it first incarnation was in a drab Mondrian inspired package with orange and black lines. Later Village Roadshow released it – the packaging was better with a dominant photographic image of Michael Caine, but it wasn’t flash. When you look at the colourful painterly images of the James Bond, Derek Flint or Matt Helm films of the same era, then old Harry Palmer comes off second best. This subdued promotional approach works both for and against the film. It works against the film in that The IPCRESS File is one of the truly great sixties spy films and deserves to be thrust into the public eye. But it also works for the film in that Harry Palmer is not a glossy spy hero like Bond, Flint or Helm. Palmer isn’t assigned to glamorous missions and he isn’t equipped with an inexhaustible supply of gadgets to get him out of tricky situations. No, Palmer is more like a glorified policeman. But isn’t that what real ‘intelligence work’ is all about – hunting for and then chasing down leads. The villains in Palmer’s world don’t let them selves be known and certainly wouldn’t be found attracting attention to themselves in a casino playing baccarat. It takes a real spy to find them.
So Palmer is a blue collar spy, and he works for Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman). Or at least he did. At the start of the film, Palmer is given a promotion and a transfer. His new superior is Major Dalby (Nigel Green). Dalby’s department is working on what they call the ‘Brain Drain’ problem. It seems that many of Britain’s best and brightest scientist have either disappeared or have become burnt out and useless. Dalby doesn’t believe it is a co-incidence, and when another scientist, Radcliffe goes missing, Dalby assigns all his men to track him down.
But Dalby’s department isn’t completely clueless. There is one man who has been known to deal in kidnapped scientists – that’s not much of a job description is it? ‘What do you do for a living? – I deal in kidnapped scientists!’ This rotters name is Eric Ashley Grantby (Frank gatliff), and he has been codenamed ‘Blue Jay’. Pamler is assigned to track down Grantby, and like a bloodhound, track him down he does. Through an old contact at Scotland Yard, Palmer learns that Grantby has received three parking tickets over the last year – all in the same location – outside a public library. Palmer gets along to the library and makes contact with Blue Jay. But Grantby doesn’t appear to want to play ball, The telephone number he gives Palmer has been disconnected. It looks like it is back to square one for Palmer.
The IPCRESS File is an amazing film to watch. It is heavily stylised with scenes shot through key holes, phone boxes and lamp shades. Often the angles are skewed to throw the viewer off balance, but never does this visual trickery seem incongruous. It is simply another way of looking at things. It’s almost as if, we the viewers are ‘the spies’ – catching glimpses of something we are not supposed to see.
The score by maestro John Barry is brilliant as well. Unlike some of his work on the Bond series, this soundtrack is moody and tense. The muted trumpet (I presume by Derek Watkins?) is haunting over the zithery strings that make up the bulk of the score.
Uniformly the cast is very good. Michael Caine is an actor I love to watch. I love the fact, that mixed right up with all his great performances – like Get Carter, The Italian Job, Dressed To Kill, and The Man Who Would Be King (how good is that film?) – there is some real shit – like The Island, The Jigsaw Man, Bullseye and Jaws 4. He is (or was – he’s more selective these days) a jobbing actor. When I watch a Michael Caine film for the very first time, there is always this tremendous amount of anticipation. I don’t know what I am going to see. Will it be a masterpiece or is it going to be a ham-fisted piece of trash. But The IPCRESS File has other actors in it besides Michael Caine. It also features Nigel Green. I mean Nigel Green! What an actor! The guy was in Zulu (with Michael Caine – ah, that was a good one), and he was in Play Dirty (with Michael Caine – er, that was a bad one). Green also played my favourite Nayland Smith in The Face Of Fu Manchu. He even popped up in The Wrecking Crew. In the late sixties, the guy was everywhere. Rounding out the cast we have Guy Doleman as Colonel Ross and genre favourite Gordon Jackson as Jock Carswell. Apparently Guy Doleman is an Australian, but I can’t remember seeing him in any Australian shows. Like most Aussie actors in the sixties, he fled to London and plied his craft over there. He played Count Lippy in Thunderball, and then Colonel Ross in the three original Harry Palmer films. That’s all I know about the guy. I am sure he would have worked on quite a few television shows.
The IPCRESS File is one of the classic spy films from the halcyon days of the genre. It’s not Bond, or even a Bond imitator – it’s something different, but that ‘something’ is exciting and mesmerising to watch. If you’re just starting your journey into the world of spy films, this has to be one of your first ports of call. It is a core spy film from the period. If you have seen The IPCRESS File a great many times – well then I am preaching to the converted – may I suggest that you drag out your old battered and worn VHS (or sparking DVD) and give it another whirl. It deserves to be watched again (and again).
I still haven’t got another review ready, so in the meantime, for your reading pleasure, enjoy this short review from houseinrlyeh on his Blog The Horror. ESPy is another in the endless list of spy films that I haven’t seen. The list just keeps getting longer.
To read the review click here.