Golgo 13: Supergun

Created by Takao Saito
English version published by Viz Media 2006

I am hardly an expert on Manga films. In total, the animé feature films I have watched could be counted on one hand. And I hate to admit, my ignorance of Manga comics is even greater. But Golgo 13 is a character whose adventures I have enjoyed, and when I saw a copy of one of the Manga comics I had to pick it up. Now Golgo 13 has been carrying out ‘hits’ for over four decades, and as the cover of this book states that it was ‘created’ by Takao Saito, rather than ‘written’ by, I’d guess these adventures were put together by some new kids on the block. I say ‘these’ because there are two stories in the book, the first major story is The Gun At Am Shara and the second lesser one is called Hit And Run.

What surprised me about the book is that it doesn’t take place in a fictional universe, it happens in our world and uses real events as a backdrop. The major story, The Gun At Am Shara uses the aftermath of the Gulf War as it’s setting and Saddam Hussein as a villain. The President of the United States, although never named, looks a lot like Bill Clinton.

The Supergun is not a reference to Golgo 13’s marksmanship, or even the weapon he is carrying on the front cover. It refers to a gigantic cannon built by Saddam Hussein and hidden at a secret dam facility in Iraq.

The story starts in 1991, and a UN Inspection Team in Iraq intercepts a truck carrying a large section of pipe. The Iraqi officer insists that the pipe is for the construction of a dam, and the Inspection Team are obligated to let the truck continue its journey.

Six years later a spy satellite catches a glimpse of the pipe reflected in the lake at Am Shara, but the pipe hasn’t been used as a part of the super-structure. It appears to be a barrel of a Supergun. Saddam has ambitious plans for the gun. He is planning to fire a huge rocket at the United States – his target: The White House.

America’s dilemma is that they cannot destroy the gun with an air-strike as that would destroy the dam itself, which would not only decimate the water supply for that area, but also kill thousands of innocent civilians in the pursuant flood.

Instead they chose to send in a specialist to sabotage the gun. That specialist is Duke Togo – better known as the legendary assassin, Golgo 13. It’s a bit of a character turn-around, and I don’t know if this is ‘updating’ the character for a modern audience – as we a living in a time of ‘terror’, or simply the ‘new kids’ who have written this tale, have not been particularly faithful to Saito’s original character. Anyway, Golgo crosses into Iraq, over the Jordanian border; posing as Mr. Kobayashi, a reporter from the Japanese News Agency.

Once again I was very surprised by the story. From the films, I had an impression of the type of story I would get, but this is just a bloody good espionage story. The beginning could come from a movie like The Peacemaker or Patriot Games with high tech satellite imaging, and boffins interpreting the intel. In fact the first 50 pages of the book are filled with this – and while it is fascinating and laying down a nice platform for the story, it also means that we are 50 pages into the story before Golgo 13 makes an appearance.

Those of you, who care of about such things, may have noted that Golgo 13: Supergun bears more than a passing resemblance to Frederick Forsyth’s The Fist of God which was published in 1994. Although this American edition of Supergun was published in 2006, I cannot establish when it was originally released in Japan.

The second story, Hit and Run is only slight, but it is tougher and punchier than Supergun. It starts in San Francisco in 1979, with a mob boss behind the wheel of his flash, fuel-guzzling car. Unfortunately his mind isn’t on the road, but on the gorgeous babe who is sitting beside him. As he drives, he hits a pedestrian and leaves the woman for dead. The victim’s fiancée is an ex-cop – a very bitter and angry ex cop. Why is he an ex-cop? He left the force after he failed to protect a man from Golgo 13’s sniper’s rifle.

The story may be short, but it’s filled with gratuitous illustrated violence, sex and swearing – all good things!

This graphic novel is very enjoyable, but not as a Golgo 13 adventure. As you’d be aware by now, that I love my spy films and books, and on that level, this book really satisfies, but as a Golgo 13 story (from my limited experience) this appears to be very different to what I am used to. Turning Golgo 13 into a good guy, just seems wrong!

If you are interested in the intrigue behind the real ‘Supergun’, then head over to Jeremy Duns’ new blog The Debrief where he has posted an article about the mysterious death of Saddam’s scientist Gerald Bull.

Golgo 13: Supergun

Mission Impossible: The Council (1967)

Country: United States
Director: Paul Stanley
Starring: Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Paul Stevens, Vincent Gardenia, Nick Colasanta, Paul Lambert, Vic Perrin, Joan Staley, Stuart Nisbet, Robert Phillips, Eduardo Cianelli
Mission Impossible Theme: Lalo Schifrin
Music: Jerry Fielding

The poster above is a bit of a jib. It is a poster from the 1969 Mission Impossible movie, Mission Impossible versus the Mob. It just so happens that the two-part episode The Council made up a portion of the film and the images are appropriate to the story. But before we get to the review, I have some sad business to attend to. Obviously I have written this review to commemorate the passing of Peter Graves. With the refurbishment of the PtK website I have fallen a little behind in my writing, but many of the COBRAS have posted then own moving obituaries to Peter Graves, so I don’t feel that that moment has passed without the attention it warranted. Like most spy fans I am terribly saddened by the passing of Peter Graves. Graves was a charismatic actor with a resonant voice (and a great sense of humour which is borne out by his role in Flying High/Airplane – ‘do you like Gladiator movies Johnny?’). He brought authority and conviction to his roles – which made him the perfect actor to play authority figures or team leaders. His most popular character was Jim Phelps, team leader of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) on the classic television show Mission: Impossible.

Over the three years that Permission to Kill has been running I haven’t written up too many episodes of Mission: Impossible (three, I think). The show is routinely difficult to write up. But therein lies the beauty of the show. The structure is one, which deliberately keeps a few parts of the IMF team’s plan hidden, so there are a few twists at the end. A linear deconstruction of the plot is almost superfluous; short of noting every occurrence in sequential order, which would subsequently spoil the show for potential viewers.

Therefore my reviews are stripped down to a brief overview of the mission and a look at some of the exploits that the team get up to. The Council, parts 1 and 2, were the eleventh and twelfth episodes of the second season of Mission: Impossible – the second season was the first to feature Peter Graves as IMF Team Leader Jim Phelps (the first season featured Steven Hill as team leader Dan Briggs).

As the episode begins, Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) pulls up outside a recording studio in his blue convertible. He goes inside, up the stairs to a deserted recording studio, wherein he finds a newly pressed vinyl record. Jim drops the needle and the familiar voice of Bob Johnson rings out: “Good Morning, Mr. Phelps!”

The target is a mobster named Frank Wayne (Paul Stevens), who is described as the Number One man in the Syndicate (even as Number One, it appears that Wayne has superiors). But Wayne is responsible for handling the Mob’s finances and has managed to arrange for ten-billion dollars to be shipped off shore into Swiss bank accounts.

Jim’s mission — should he choose to accept it — is to retrieve Wayne’s financial records and hand them over to the appropriate authorities. And of course, bring Wayne’s whole organisation down.

Back at his apartment, Jim goes through his regular routine of sifting through the photos of IMF agents and then from this group, selecting the best agents for the mission. The astute viewer may note that the general rule is that Jim discards the black and white operatives and chooses the ones in colour. The ones with colour photos happen to be Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), Cinnamon Cater (Barbara Bain), Barny Collier (Greg Morris) and Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus). Newcomer to the team is Dr. Emerson Reese (Stuart Nisbet) who is a plastic surgeon.

In this episode, Jim takes on the role of Carl Daley, who is the Senate Committee’s new Chief Investigator, and as such, is a man who is dedicated to bring down the mob. When we first meet Jim (as Daley), he gatecrashes Wayne’s country estate, armed with a search warrant. With Barney tagging along as a state Marshall, they begin to tear Wayne’s house apart looking for incriminating evidence. Jim’s charade gets right under Wayne’s skin – – but he stops short of violence. After all, he is well connected. Within minutes, Wayne’s attorney,  arrives with a court order overturning the warrant. The judge who signed it happens to be in Wayne’s pocket. Jim and Barney are forced to leave empty handed.

Although Jim and Barney’s incursion has been disruptive it doesn’t stop Wayne from getting down to business. A small time mobster named Jimmy Bibo (Nick Colasanta) wants a council with Wayne and several other heads of the Syndicate. The task that Bibo is frequently assigned by the Mob, is to travel to Switzerland with their monthly payments and deposit them in the bank. But over the last year the payments have been short by around one-quarter of a million dollars. Bibo isn’t too bright and has been skimming a little money off the top for himself. Of course this doesn’t sit well with Wayne and the other bosses, and Bibo is sentenced to death.

The mob’s method of disposing of traitors is pretty cold-blooded. Wayne’s number one henchamn, Johnny (Robert Phillips) walks Bibo out to a secluded corner of Wayne’s estate. Johnny throws Bibo a shovel and tells him to start digging. Bibo goes to work digging his own grave. Once it is deep enough, Johnny knocks Bibo down into the ditch and then starts shovelling the sand back in, even though Bibo is still alive. One Johnny is done, Bibo is left to suffocate.

Luckily for Bibo, Jim, Barney, Willy and Dr. Emerson are all on hand, hiding behind the trees. Once Johnny has departed, the IMF team rush over and dig Bibo up, and with the Dr. Emerson’s help, manage to revive him.

Alive again it doesn’t take much to convince Bibo that he should help the IMF team to bring Wayne down. After all this chicanery, we haven’t even got to the IMF’s main ruse yet — and the reason that they need Jimmy Bibo. It appears the Bib has been a life-long friend of Wayne’s — they grew up on the same street together. Bibo knows everything about the way Wayne moves and talks. He is the perfect man to teach Rollin how to impersonate the mob boss — and you know what that means folks? Yep, Some of those life-like rubber masks that the show has become so famous for.

The first part ends with an elaborate scheme where Rollin slips into the shoes of Wayne. In the process, and into the second part, Barney is shot, Willy is slugged, and Jim is tailpiped and blown to smithereens. The only one who comes off relatively unscathed is Cinnamon, but even she has a hairy moment where the mob want her silenced. As you’d expect, over the length of part 2, all the disparate elements come together, with a swag of deviations and plot twists, which cause the viewer to ask, ‘is this part of the plan or has it all gone horribly wrong?’ And that’s the beauty of Mission: Impossible – you never know until the end!

Over the past year or so, fans of spy cinema and television have lost quite a few shining lights – Patrick McGoohan, Joseph Wiseman, Tony Kendall (of Kommissar X fame), Richard Whyler, Ken Clark and I sure a few I haven’t mentioned. Each of these actors have affected me in some way. But Peter Graves wasn’t just an actor for a spy geek like me. Mission: Impossible was such a huge show, that the terms used in it, have passed into our cultural vernacular. The other day, I was playing a golf video game with my son – the commentator said ‘your mission, should you choose to accept it’. I know, it’s completely un-related, but that’s the strength of the show – the phrases, the music, and even the style have permeated popular culture so much, that sometimes I am sure younger people do not even know where it originated. And the reason that the show has become so ingrained with popular culture is down to one man, Peter Graves. And I for one, will miss him. Goodbye Mr. Phelps.

Remembrances of Peter Graves:
• Double O Section
• Una Plagia De Espias
• Spy-Fi Channel
• Mister 8
• Bish’s Beat
• Spy Vibe
• Quantum of Bond

Mission Impossible: The Council (1967)

OSS 117 Terror in Tokyo (1966)

Original Title: Atout coeur à Tokyo pour O.S.S. 117
AKA: OSS From Tokyo With Love
Country: France / Italy
Director: Michel Boisrond
Starring: Frederick Stafford, Marina Vlady, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Jacques Legras, Valery Inkijinoff, Henri Serre
Music: Michel Magne
Based on the novel by Jean Bruce

I thought it was time to get back to presenting tales of slick secret agents, beautiful babes and nefarious villains with insidious plots for world domination. OSS 117 Terror in Tokyo delivers all that and more.

OSS 117 Terror in Tokyo is the fifth of the seven OSS 117 films (that is if you don’t count the two recent Jean Dujardin films, or otherwise it is nine OSS 117 films), and it is the second starring Frederick Stafford as Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath.

The film starts with a cranked car chase. OSS 117 is in the back of a car that is being chased by two cars full of unknown assailants wielding machine guns. The vehicle that OSS 117 is in, after some slick manoeuvring, drives into a stone quarry where a helicopter is waiting for them. Conveniently, there are some barrels of fuel at the entrance to the quarry, beside the road. OSS shoots the barrels and the petrol floods out onto the road. Next he produces a cigarette lighter and sets the fuel alight. The pursuing vehicles drive into the wall of flame as Hubert makes his getaway.

Back at headquarters, it is explained that the opening scene was actually a failed rescue attempt where OSS 117 was to rescue a fellow agent named Clark, who was investigating a ‘new undetectable missile’. The makers of this missile are blackmailing the governments of the world for one hundred million dollars. To prove that they are genuine, the unnamed evil organization (let’s just call them ‘the Organization’) threatens to blow up a US base in the Far East.

After the destruction of one of a US base in the Far East, the Top-Brass are convinced that the threat is genuine, and assign Hubert to Tokyo to find out what he can. His contact is an operative named Ralston who has mysteriously gone missing. However, fearing the worst, Ralston passed on instructions that if anything were to happen to him, then the firm is to watch over and protect a girl at the US Embassy named Eva Wilson (Marina Vlady).

Within no time, Hubert is on the job and interrogating Eva. She explains that several months prior, she met an officer in a nightclub – then her memory of the evening is blank. She woke up in a strange room on the outskirts of Tokyo. Later a Japanese gentleman turned up with some photos of her and the officer in rather uncompromising positions. The gentleman promised not to send the photographs to her husband in Washington (it’s a long distance marriage) id she would divulge certain information – being the radio codes for US base 124 – which just so happens to be the US base that was destroyed by the Organization.

Knowing that Eva Wilson is the only link to the Organization, Hubert chooses to pose as her husband and hopes to flush them out. Which he does, resulting in some memorable set-pieces – one being a car chase on a winding mountain road, and another being a great fight scene in a Japanese Bath house.

I found this film to be an absolute riot and a joy to watch (I must have been in just the right mood), but it is far from perfect. The villains are ill defined and when they are revealed are not particularly menacing or imposing. But the action set pieces are very competently put together, and as the story progresses, the plot has just the right degree of outlandishness that I have come to expect from a Eurospy production. Fans of the James Bond series in particular will find a lot to enjoy. The film has a hint of Thunderball about it, which is not so very surprising considering Terence Young’s participation — he was one of the writers, who adapted Jean Bruce’s novel. But what I truly found fascinating — and I am not suggesting any plagiarism on anybody’s part here — is that this film features a few ideas that would be expanded upon in The Spy Who Loved Me made eleven years later. The film features a giant yacht that can swallow other ships and even has its own little dock inside. It’s not on the same scale as the Liparus in Spy, but the similarity is eerie. The co-incidence is taken a step further at the climax, when Hubert sits behind the control desk of The Organization’s missile console. As the missile flies through the air, Hubert re-routes the projectile so its target is now the The Organization’s headquarters on the yacht. By the way, this yacht is not just a little sailing ketch, this floating lair houses a scientific setup to rival Dr. No.

OSS 117 Terror in Tokyo is a terrific little film and Frederick Stafford makes a believable and charismatic hero. Stafford also played OSS 117 in the previous film in the series, Mission For a Killer, which is reportedly even better than this (I haven’t seen it). If that is the case, then it must really be a humdinger, because this film delighted me no end. Yeah, it is EuroSpy, and I know sometimes the pacing and style of EuroSpy films take a bit of getting used to. But Terror in Tokyo more than meets the audience half way. After the success of Jean Dujardin’s recent OSS 117 films, the sixties films were re-released on DVD in France, in beautiful widescreen prints, but unfortunately (as the dastardly French often do) they didn’t see fit to include an English dub or subtitles. That is a real pity because this series appears to be worth seeking out.

Below is the first few minutes of the film. Posted on YouTube by: Tallyortoby

THE OSS 117 films are:
OSS 117 is Not Dead (1956)
OSS117 Unchained (1963)
OSS 117 Shadow of Evil (1964)
OSS 117 Mission For a Killer (1965)
OSS 117 Terror in Tokyo (1966)
OSS 117 Double Agent (1968)
OSS 117 Takes a Vacation (1969)

The two recent parodies with Jean Dujardin are:
OSS 117 Cairo: Nest of Spies (2007)
OSS 117 Lost in Rio (2009)

OSS 117 Terror in Tokyo (1966)

Nick Carter: Operation Snake

Author: John Messmann
Publisher: Tandem Books
Published: 1969
Book No: 51

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.

Nick Carter: Operation Snake

Vengeance is Ours!

vengSexton Blake Library (5th Series / Book 10)
Author: Peter Saxon
Publisher: Mayflower Dell
Release Year: 1965

Of all the hundreds of stories featuring master sleuth, Sexton Blake, I have only read but a small handful, and the majority of these have been from (or set in) the 1940s and ’50s. This is the first time I have encountered a swinging sixties Blake, and while I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say that the character seems out of place, I would say that the publisher has made a concerted effort to modernise Blake and make him appealing for the sixties generation. Therefore he often seems like a different character – rather than an out of place character. In this novelette he doesn’t even do any detecting. He is hired as a bodyguard, but I am getting ahead of myself. First here’s a brief overview of the plot.

The story opens in Africa, in a small country called Lubanda. The people of the Nbanda Valley have gathered to listen to a speech by a political animal named Joseph Dingala. Dingala’s specialty is manipulating audiences and whipping his crowds in mass hysteria. In this instance, his speech encites the poor black villagers to revolt against the white settlers in the area.

Conveniently, the white settlers have gathered for a party at the Kilinzana Club. Not that they have much to celebrate, as they are in the middle of a drought, and the country is dogged with civil unrest.

When a large bush fire is spotted to the south, the men from the club rush off to fight it before it burns down the whole district. The women and children are left at the club until their menfolk return. Well that’s the plan. However, encited by Dingala’s speech an army of native storm the club and kill all the women and children.

A year passes, and Dingala has moved onto become the Minister of Home Affairs of the newly formed Republic of Lubanda. Requiring financial aid, Dingala plans a visit to London for government talks.

In the interim, the men from the Kilinzana Club have sold up their properties in Africa and have moved back to London. When they hear that Dingala is coming to London, they all meet together once again to plan his assassination.

Dingala is set to stay at the very exclusive Golden Towers Hotel, and as Sexton Blake is retained by the insurance company that cover the Hotel, he has no choice but to act as bodyguard during Dingalas visit. So as I mentioned earlier, no detecting from the great detective. He knows what the crime will be – assassination. And he knows the men who will attempt it – the men from the Kilinzana Club. The entertainment comes in the form of reading as Blake outwits each of the twenty men from the Club as they take their turn to kill the Africa Leader. The story also takes a few shortcuts on the way, and a few of the assassins are rounded up by the police, so in effect maybe only eight to ten assassination attempts take place.

The central premise of this story, as you have no doubt gathered, is that Blake has to protect the thoroughly reprehensible character of Dingala. The conflict arises out of the fact that the members of the Kilinzana Club are not necessarily villains, just men who have experienced (and are experiencing) extreme grief and loss. To rub salt into the wound, the man that caused that grief is not only free, but living the high life of an international jet-setter. The men from the Kilinzana Club simply want a modicum of justice and it just so happens that Sexton Blake is standing in their way.

One of the more interesting elements of the book, remembering that it was published in 1965 are the reference and allusions to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Even down to the choice of weapon that one of the Kilinzana Club snipers chooses – a Manlicher – which is alegedly the same rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used.

The story, Vengeance is Ours!, while being fairly brisk and providing a few small thrills, is pretty poor. There are typos (that maybe the typesetter’s fault), and poor phrasing throughout. It actually reads like a first draft, but where the author was never given the opportunity to revise and correct his story. Then again, the Sexton Blake Library may have been a real ‘bang ‘em out’ proposition and spending time honing and crafting the story may have never really been a consideration.

From the back:

There was blood on the hands of the Right Hon. Joseph Dingala, the blood of women and children massacred in the Kilinzina Club in the confused years before the African state of Lubanda emerged into independence.

And now Dingala was coming to England for Government talks, coming to an England which housed menfolk of the Kilinzina Club, men who had sworn to avenge their families’ deaths.

To Sexton Blake the task was given to save Joseph Dingala from assassination by these fanatical and determined men.

Could even Blake guard an African Statesman in his luxurious penthouse suite – with twenty determined men sworn to killing him – or perishing in the attempt…

Please note: Inside the book, the white settlers club is referred to as the Kilinzana Club. On the cover, it is referred to the Kilinzina Club. I guess that sums up how much care was taken in the preparation of this book.

Vengeance is Ours!

Vengeance is Ours!

Sexton Blake Library (5th Series / Book 10)
Author: Peter Saxon
Publisher: Mayflower Dell
Release Year: 1965

Of all the hundreds of stories featuring master sleuth, Sexton Blake, I have only read but a small handful, and the majority of these have been from (or set in) the 1940s and ’50s. This is the first time I have encountered a swinging sixties Blake, and while I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say that the character seems out of place, I would say that the publisher has made a concerted effort to modernise Blake and make him appealing for the sixties generation. Therefore he often seems like a different character – rather than an out of place character. In this novelette he doesn’t even do any detecting. He is hired as a bodyguard, but I am getting ahead of myself. First here’s a brief overview of the plot.

The story opens in Africa, in a small country called Lubanda. The people of the Nbanda Valley have gathered to listen to a speech by a political animal named Joseph Dingala. Dingala’s specialty is manipulating audiences and whipping his crowds in mass hysteria. In this instance, his speech encites the poor black villagers to revolt against the white settlers in the area.

Conveniently, the white settlers have gathered for a party at the Kilinzana Club. Not that they have much to celebrate, as they are in the middle of a drought, and the country is dogged with civil unrest.

When a large bush fire is spotted to the south, the men from the club rush off to fight it before it burns down the whole district. The women and children are left at the club until their menfolk return. Well that’s the plan. However, encited by Dingala’s speech an army of native storm the club and kill all the women and children.

A year passes, and Dingala has moved onto become the Minister of Home Affairs of the newly formed Republic of Lubanda. Requiring financial aid, Dingala plans a visit to London for government talks.

In the interim, the men from the Kilinzana Club have sold up their properties in Africa and have moved back to London. When they hear that Dingala is coming to London, they all meet together once again to plan his assassination.

Dingala is set to stay at the very exclusive Golden Towers Hotel, and as Sexton Blake is retained by the insurance company that cover the Hotel, he has no choice but to act as bodyguard during Dingalas visit. So as I mentioned earlier, no detecting from the great detective. He knows what the crime will be – assassination. And he knows the men who will attempt it – the men from the Kilinzana Club. The entertainment comes in the form of reading as Blake outwits each of the twenty men from the Club as they take their turn to kill the Africa Leader. The story also takes a few shortcuts on the way, and a few of the assassins are rounded up by the police, so in effect maybe only eight to ten assassination attempts take place.

The central premise of this story, as you have no doubt gathered, is that Blake has to protect the thoroughly reprehensible character of Dingala. The conflict arises out of the fact that the members of the Kilinzana Club are not necessarily villains, just men who have experienced (and are experiencing) extreme grief and loss. To rub salt into the wound, the man that caused that grief is not only free, but living the high life of an international jet-setter. The men from the Kilinzana Club simply want a modicum of justice and it just so happens that Sexton Blake is standing in their way.

One of the more interesting elements of the book, remembering that it was published in 1965 are the reference and allusions to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Even down to the choice of weapon that one of the Kilinzana Club snipers chooses – a Manlicher – which is alegedly the same rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used.

The story, Vengeance is Ours!, while being fairly brisk and providing a few small thrills, is pretty poor. There are typos (that maybe the typesetter’s fault), and poor phrasing throughout. It actually reads like a first draft, but where the author was never given the opportunity to revise and correct his story. Then again, the Sexton Blake Library may have been a real ‘bang ‘em out’ proposition and spending time honing and crafting the story may have never really been a consideration.

From the back:

There was blood on the hands of the Right Hon. Joseph Dingala, the blood of women and children massacred in the Kilinzina Club in the confused years before the African state of Lubanda emerged into independence.

And now Dingala was coming to England for Government talks, coming to an England which housed menfolk of the Kilinzina Club, men who had sworn to avenge their families’ deaths.

To Sexton Blake the task was given to save Joseph Dingala from assassination by these fanatical and determined men.

Could even Blake guard an African Statesman in his luxurious penthouse suite – with twenty determined men sworn to killing him – or perishing in the attempt…

Please note: Inside the book, the white settlers club is referred to as the Kilinzana Club. On the cover, it is referred to the Kilinzina Club. I guess that sums up how much care was taken in the preparation of this book.

Vengeance is Ours!

Espionage Cinema & Television in the 21st Century

Here’s a little piece I wrote earlier this year for Wes Britton’s Spywise website, where he invited spy fans from all around the world to look back at the most influential spy films, television shows and books of the first decade of the 21st Century. Due to the format the final piece took, this article had to be broken up to fit in with the other contributions – which worked well. If you haven’t checked out the series, you should head over to Spywise and read the articles.

None-the-less, breaking the article down into smaller segments did diminish the theme I was putting forward, and thought it was worth re-posting here in its entirety.

The spy film has changed quite substantially over the last ten years. Genre conventions that were established in the ‘60s have made way for a new style of spy thriller where the trusted Walther PPK has been replaced by the Motorola, Nokia, or whichever phone company has paid the most for product placement.

I would suggest that the mobile phone is the most powerful espionage tool ever. Think about some of your favourite spy films. Maybe they include Dr. No and Where Eagles Dare. They are two of mine. Remember the opening to Dr. No? After the title sequence, Strangways and his secretary were scheduled to make their regular radio transmission back to England, when Dr. No’s three blind mice assassinate them. In a world with mobile phones, routine transmissions are unnecessary. Sure Dr. No’s ‘hit’ may have still happened, but it wouldn’t have been a missed radio transmission that alerted London to the fact there was a problem. In Where Eagles Dare, during the mission, Richard Burton’s character, Major Smith reports that the radio isn’t working (Broadsword calling Danny Boy). Imagine if each of the operatives had been armed with a Blackberry. In fact, Smith’s whole ruse would have fizzled rather quickly with modern technology. The Nazi hierarchy could have ascertained the identities of the foreign agents in minutes.

Now think of all the films you have seen with enemy agents tracking down a piece of micro film. With phone technology that’s completely redundant. Now the images can be sent almost instantly. Video footage too. There’s no need to smuggle film out of a country. Just email it, or upload it. Poor old Henri Bark died for nothing at the start of The Eiger Sanction – remember that icky bit, where he swallowed the film so the bad guys wouldn’t get it – and then they cut open his throat to retrieve it? If he had emailed it, he would have lived. I have laboured the point somewhat, but you can see the argument I am presenting about phones, technology and why spy films have had to change.

Another detour before moving into the twenty-first century, I first thought it was worth revisiting three key films from the 1990s – building blocks if you will – that were instrumental in laying the foundations for the evolution of the modern spy film.

Firstly, we have Phil Noyce’s Patriot Games (1992), in which there is a small sequence where Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is in a command centre watching via satellite, images of an incursion on a terrorist base in the dessert. This small section, at the time, was quite groundbreaking, setting the foundations for a new style of spy thriller. Ones where logic and information are the tools for power, rather than guns or gadgets.

peaceThis small snippet of hi-tech mayhem was expanded upon in Mimi Leder’s The Peacemaker (1997), wherein the use of ‘intel’ and satellite imaging is quite frightening in its depiction. There is almost a ‘Big Brother’ aspect to the military’s use of technology in tracking down their subjects.

And finally, the new age of hi-tech intelligence gathering reached its logical evolution in Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998). Enemy of the State’s influence has built in momentum and filtered through the spy films and television through the whole first decade of the twenty-first century. While, Patriot Games and The Peacemaker were telling films in they both presented the use of modern technology, like satellite surveillance, as a potent tool in modern espionage; they still played out as relatively conventional spy thrillers. Enemy of the State was the first film to build the whole story around that technology. And while you can argue that Enemy of the State isn’t a really great spy film (it works better as a paranoid thriller in the style of The Pallalax View), its influence has affected the way people approach making spy films.

Now you are probably wondering what is the key difference between these three films and the spy films that went before them. The answer is simple – two words – ‘Real Time’.

The Bourne films, the Daniel Craig Bonds, Body of Lies, the television show 24 all owe their continuous intelligence style to Enemy of the State. In spy films you no longer need the briefing scene. Communications and intel gathering have evolved so much, there is no need for direct contact. It’s now done via laptop, through an earpiece, and/or a mobile phone.

Let’s look at some of the more successful espionage filmed entertainments of the ‘noughties’ and see how they played out.

The Bourne Identity (2002)
bourneRobert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity had been filmed before as a TV mini series starring Richard Chamberlain, and while it was fairly faithful to the book, it unconsciously highlighted some of the clichés inherent in the story. When Doug Liman remade it as a movie, he dumped a lot of the contrived spyjinx and turned the story into a tight, cohesive and intelligent spy drama. One of the key elements to the film is ‘knowledge’. From the moment Jason Bourne arrives at the Bank in Zurich, he is being watched. Street cameras, satellites, phone records, past associations; everything and anything is at Treadstone’s fingertips, for use in their hunt for the elusive Jason Bourne. Equally Bourne is adept at gathering intel. He may not have the resources of those hunting him, but he thinks on his feet.

One of my favourite sequences in the film occurs as Bourne tries to escape from the US Embassy in Zurich. First he obtains a radio and earpiece from one of the security guards on site, so he can listen as security teams search the building trying to locate him. Secondly as he makes his way through the corridors, he takes a fire evacuation map off the wall, so he actually knows where he is going. It seems so simple, yet it once again highlights the importance of knowledge.

Casino Royale (2006)
The high tech, real time style has been slowly been drip fed into the Bond series. The first noticeable sequence was in Goldeneye (1995), where Bond, Tanner and M, watch in real time, satellite images from Sevrenaya, where General Ouromov has just stolen the ‘Goldeneye’ satellite. But despite this high-tech modern opening, it is just a precursor to the usual hands-on, Bond style mission. Equally, in the pre-credit sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), M and staff watch on as Bond completes a mission at an arms bizarre in the Kyber Pass. Once again, after having established a high tech, modern approach to espionage, it is then tossed aside for a traditional Bond style adventure.

Casino Royale was the film that revitalised the Bond series. I won’t waste too many words on the plot, as I am sure you’ve seen it and have your own opinion. Prior to Casino Royale, most Bond films had in place a formula wherein Bond met with M and received his mission instructions, and then once the mission was declared, he’d set about the task presented. But in Casino Royale, – and this is continued in Quantum of Solace (2008) – the mission is never really declared. M, who used to appear only at the beginning (and at the end, usually as a comic signoff), now appears throughout the whole film, working in real time alongside Bond. Each piece of information he gathers is passed onto to HQ, and equally each bit of new information gained by HQ is passed onto Bond. M and Bond are now working alongside each other. Once upon a time, Bond’s most trusted weapon was his Walther PPK. Now, in the 21st Century, it is his mobile phone and laptop.

Body of Lies (2008)
bolI’ll admit, I didn’t really warm to Body of Lies as a piece of entertainment, but I admire the films professionalism, and once again, presented front and centre is intel and communications. It is interesting to note, that Ridley Scott, the brother of Tony Scott, who directed Enemy of the State, directs this film.

Throughout Body of Lies, during key scenes in the film, in Jordan and the Middle East, field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in constant contact with his controller, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crow), who is located in the United States. It almost seems comically incongruous, if it the events portrayed weren’t so serious, as Hoffman goes about his normal life, with family and kids, all the while there is micro receiver, transmitter in his ear. In real time, at home or at work, Hoffman is virtually in the field – in another continent – alongside Ferris.

24 (2000-2009)
Leaving films for just a moment, the television series 24 fully embraced the real time scenario, but in many instances as far as the modern spy story goes, let itself down by not embracing the new technology and live-feed intelligence gathering that went with it. Instead, the time is filled with differing story threads, which play out in real time, but the stories themselves are pretty much in the old-school tradition. In fact, much of the drama in this series is achieved by the characters being out of contact with HQ.

Both Body of Lies and 24 offer a nice segue into the other major influence that has affected spy films in the 21st century — the ‘War on Terror’ in the wake of 9/11. One of the first cinematic responses to the attack on the United States was the film United 93, which was directed by Paul Greengrass. Now United 93 cannot really be considered a spy film, but one of it strengths was that it was played out in real time in an almost documentary style. There was no attempt to flesh out the characters. These were not characters – they were real people, as you would see people on a street. You do not know them, and you don’t know what is going on inside their head. If you walk past them you may hear a piece of conversation but unless you’ve been near them for some time and eavesdropping, the snippet of dialogue is meaningless. Watching the film was almost like a being a fly on the wall – most likely a wall that you were glad that you weren’t really on.

It is interesting to note that director, Greengrass’ technique would be adjudged to be suitable for cinematic espionage material, and he would go onto helm the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, where in which, he applied his unique directorial style.

The 9/11 attacks, not only emphasized the importance of hit-tech real time intel, but also, due to the people who carried out the attacks, made us question that attacks were no longer mounted from across the sea, but now possibly from within our homeland. The phrase ‘Sleeper Cell’ suddenly entered our vernacular. The sleeper agent is nothing new to espionage cinema. One of the best films utilising the ‘Sleeper’ plot device is The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where Lawrence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, the son of a prominent politician, who was captured during the Korean War and brainwashed in Manchuria. Other examples include Don Siegel’s Telefon, which featured numerous Russian agents scattered across the United States. Hearing a passage of poetry by Robert Frost could trigger each agent. Even On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had Blofeld’s Angels of Death, and presented at the denouement in The IPCRESS File, where Harry Palmer has to fight to overcome his programming; he too is in fact a sleeper agent.

But all the examples cited above have one thing in common. Each of the ‘Sleepers’ has been brainwashed. They actually do not want to carry out their tasks. But what made the 9/11, and subsequent terrorist attacks, so chilling is that the ‘Sleepers’ had not been brainwashed (well, not in the traditional sense – that’s a debate for another time). Here the ‘Sleepers’ lived among us and where prepared to kill the very people that they lived and worked with every day. Of course, such a potent psychological concept – and the resultant paranoia that it brings with it, would make its way into films and television.

Of course, this can manifest itself in two ways. The innocent, who is suspected of being a sleeper agent as we find in the film Rendition. Or alternately, featuring the person, or cell that is functioning with the community, such as Showtime’s amazing television series Sleeper Cell.

Rendition (2007)
rendRendition received quite a cool reception from some quarters upon release. Many people questioned its factuality and it’s depiction of realism. The truth is that Rendition is not intended as a ‘realist’ piece of cinema. It is a morality tale, questioning the path that the West was taking in its ‘War on Terror’ campaign. If you look at the characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep; their character names hint that this is simply a fable to make you ‘think’ about what is going on. Incidentally, Gyllenhaal’s character is named ‘Freeman’ and Streep’s is ‘Whitman’. When you consider that the story is about the arrest and removal of an Egyptian born American, to a foreign country under suspicion of terrorist acts, then names like Freeman and Whitman almost slap you in the face with their blatant symbolism.

The film is a morality tale, and what makes it work, and not make it a ‘fairy tale’ is the central performance of Omar Metwally as Anwar El-Ibrahimi; the aforementioned Egyptian born American. El-Ibrahimi’s journey as a harrowing one, and while at times that may make the film hard to watch, it also makes this film, one of the most powerful in the last ten years.

Sleeper Cell (2005-2008)
Showtime’s Sleeper Cell – the first series anyway – was an amazing piece of television, presenting, as it did, maybe not a balanced, but a unique and different view of terrorism. In the show, each terrorist is presented as a fleshed out human. Why they have chosen the path they have is explored, and how they fit in to US culture is depicted rather chillingly. One moment a character maybe teaching math at a local high school’ the next he is planning a deadly anthrax attack on the local shopping centre.

sleepThe series is bound together by two central core performances. The first is Michael Ealy as Darwyn Al-Sayeed, a deep cover CIA agent whose mission is to stop the terrorist attack the sleeper cell is planning to perpetrate. Ealy’s character is dragged through the wringer over the course of the series, and each emotional bump in the journey packs a wallop. It doesn’t hurt that Ealy is a good-looking guy with piecing green eyes. Then there is Oded Fehr as the utterly charming, charismatic and deadly Faisal Al-Farik, the leader of the terrorist cell. Farik maybe the most evil character in the series, but there too is much duality to his character. Whilst not planning terrorist attacks he is seen as the coach to a junior baseball team. That in essence is Sleeper Cell’s major coup; it makes evil men, at times seem rather likeable and normal. If you met some of these characters in the street, you may even like them and consider them friends, without knowing what atrocities they may be planning.

In some ways, Sleeper Cell presents an explanation as to why and how the events on 9/11 happened. It’s a question many of us asked – ‘How!’ and ‘Why?’ Sleeper Cell is one of the few shows to address these questions, and as such makes it possibly one of the most important shows of the last decade.

As we move into the second decade of the Millennium I can only speculate as to what we’ll see in espionage cinema and television, and the most likely tact will be to continue as it is going, embracing new technology and surveillance techniques as it goes. But then again, much of this is cyclical. Maybe people will become fed up with realism and crave escapism once again and with it we will get outrageous fantasy stories. Or maybe around the corner there is an emotional character piece that will influence films for years to come. Whatever transpires, espionage cinema will continue to do what it has always done – thrill, inspire, disgust, amuse, horrify, question our morality, unite people, cause conflict, tell the truth, spread lies, analyse the politics of the day, and most of all ‘entertain’.

smallbugDavid Foster lives in Melbourne Australia where he works as a Graphic Designer. In his spare time he studies Film and Communication at the University of New England and writes for his espionage themed blog, Permission to Kill.

Espionage Cinema & Television in the 21st Century