Juggernaut (1974)

Country: United States/United Kingdom
AKA: Terror On The Britannic
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Roy Kinnear, Ian Holm, Clifton James, Jack Watson, Sim MacCorkindale
Music: Ken Thorne

Juggernaut is one of those action flicks from the 1970’s, which by today’s standards seems pretty light on for action. But that’s not to say that the film isn’t good – in fact it’s great! But instead of fuel injected muscular action, we get thoughtful plotting, suspense and drama. By drama, as this film stars legendary hellraiser Richard Harris, I mean a scene where he downs a bottle of whiskey (J&B, of course) and then throws the bottle at the wall to express his frustration. Sure it’s not going to win any major thesping awards, but it shows a man being a man, rather than exaggerated slow-mo, almost homo-erotic shots of a guy as he straps on the weapons he needs to complete his mission. In Juggernaut, Harris plays Anthony Fallon, and while not being a spy or a soldier, he too has a mission. He specialises in disarming bombs. In this instance a fruitcake calling himself “Juggernaut” has planted seven bombs on the ocean liner Britannic. These bombs have been welded into 44 gallon drums, and have been fitted with all sorts of booby traps and trembler switches. This is not just a case of “cut the blue wire!”

The film itself is quite simple. As mentioned, a maniac has put seven bombs on board the Britannic and he demands a ransom — five hundred million pounds. To confound things, the Britannic has sailed into a force eight storm. Fallon and a team of six men, including his best friend, Charley Broddock (David Hemmings) are assigned to disarm the bombs. They fly out in a Navy seaplane and parachute into the rough seas beside the ship. The launch sent out to collect them is immediately swamped by the seas and capsizes. Fallon and his men must swim to the ship and then scale the sides on flimsy swaying rope ladders.

Now all that is the easy part because Juggernaut is an insane genius and the bombs he has planted are designed to test the experience and skill of those who attempt to disarm them. This leads to some of the most emotional scenes in the film, where Fallon and Charlie are working on separate bombs, in separate, sealed off, parts of the ship. They communicate by radio, and Charley follows Fallon’s moves step for step. If Fallon should make a mistake — BOOM — then Charley is to continue on as the lead, and a new man would takes his place as his second. Harris and Hemmings seem to have a natural chemistry together. You’ve got to remember that back then Hemmings compared to Harris was still a young pup. Hemmings had success in the sixties with films like Blow-Up and Barbarella (to a lesser extent) but Harris was the superstar. Con-incidentally, Harris and Hemmings both appeared in Camelot, so maybe that’s where they forged a friendship and the results appear on the screen in this film.

Now all of this tense drama is carefully plotted — more than I care to outline here. But all the questions you ask are answered, like “why not get the passengers off in lifeboats?”

The cast for this film is amazing. Harris and Hemmings I have talked about, but in smaller but equally important roles are Omar Sharif as Alex Brunel the Britannic’s captain; Anthony Hopkins as McCleod, the Police officer who has the job of catching Juggernaut; Ian Holm as Porter, the managing director of the shipping line; and Roy Kinnear as Curtain, the ship’s social director who has the unenviable task of keeping the passenger’s morale up.

Essentially, Juggernaut is a disaster movie, but without being as overwrought as The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. But it works in a similar fashion. It features an ensemble cast who have their own story threads, which provides the emotion and suspense as the story goes along. When a character is caught in a compromising or dangerous situation you empathise with the character as the story has built them up. Now having built up this film in this review, because I think it’s great, be reminded, I love these old school action dramas. I like good old fashioned story telling, and that’s what you get from Juggernaut.

Juggernaut (1974)

Spy Game (2001)

Country: United States / United Kingdom
Directed by Tony Scott
Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams

In the interests of presenting a balanced appraisal of Tony Scott’s career as a film director, it must be said that he has a modicum of talent and has made some entertaining movies – but I find there is a certain sameness to all his films. If you look at some of his recent films, like Domino or Man On Fire, you can clearly see the repetition in the way he presents his films. They are all loud, noisy and violent, and feature stylized editing and use different film stocks to add grain to different scenes. It almost appears to be formula film making. That’s not to say that the films are bad – individually they are quite good – but when you look at his body of work, it’s here that the repetitive patterns emerge. Spy Game though, has something that his other films do not, and that is Robert Redford.

The film opens in Su Chou Prison, and a team of Foreign Aid workers respond to a suspected cholera outbreak. Posing as one of the Aid workers is Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt). While plugging in a portable x-ray machine, Bishop is electrocuted. The other Aid workers spirit him into another room and attempt to revive him, but to no avail. They pronounce him dead and draw a blanket over his head.

The electrocution has blown all the fuses in the prison, and the guards frantically try to return electrical power. Meanwhile, Bishop, whose body has been left on it’s own, slowly begins to return to life. First his colour returns and then he regains consciousness. He wasn’t actually dead. Beforehand, he had taken a drug to only make it appear as though he was dead.
Now free to move around in the dark, Bishop starts searching the cells. The first cell he opens contains a man who has been badly beaten. He is not the person that Bishop is looking for. As a gesture, Bishop hands over a stick of bubble gum and then continues his search. The next cell contains a woman whose face is covered. Bishop takes her arm and takes her back to the gurney in which he had been lying. The gurney has a false bottom, in which the female prisoner hides. On top, Bishop resumes his position as a dead man, and then an accomplice posing as a Aid worker wheels Bishop supposedly dead body to an ambulance for removal from the prison. It looks like the operation is going to be successful, but as the ambulance is at the front gate, one of the guards discovers the Asian prisoner that Bishop gave the gum to. The prisoner is blowing huge bubbles, and the guards twig that something is amiss. They stop the ambulance at the front gate and Bishop is taken into custody. He is immediately convicted as a common criminal and is to be executed on the next day at eight in the morning.

Back in Washington, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) is awoken in his bed by the C.I.A.’s Hong Kong section chief, Harry Duncan (David Hemmings). He advices that Bishop has been captured, and that if Muir wants to read about it before his superiors do, he should get into work pretty darn quick.

After thirty years in the field, it is Muir’s last day at the C.I.A. Half of his belongings have been packed and he was hoping for a easy day. But not to be. He races into headquarters, and gleans what information he can about Bishop’s capture. It appears that Bishop has gone rogue. The operation he undertook in China was not approved by the C.I.A., and an embarrassment to the country. The U.S. President is due to visit China in the next few days, and the C.I.A. intend to disavow Bishop and allow him to be executed. This doesn’t sit well with Muir, who recruited and trained Bishop.

Due to the delicate nature of the situation, a task force is set up, and Muir is called in to provide some information and background on Bishop’s motives and methods. As Muir is asked a battery of questions, the film flashes back to 1975 and the last days of the Vietnam War. Muir requires a sniper to carry out a hit on a Laosian General, but the man he has in mind for the job, had been killed in a mortar attack that morning. As a replacement Bishop is selected. Bishop succeeds in the mission and Muir is impressed. Next Muir puts in motion a plan that will see Bishop join the C.I.A. As the task force briefing continues, Muir relates stories about Bishop’s subsequent recruitment in Berlin and then looks at a mission that took place in Beirut.

Maybe I am too old for a film like Spy Game. I hate the way it is put together and the way it is edited. Incidentally the editor happens to be Christian Wagner who also acted as editor of Die Another Day. My opinion on that debacle is stated earlier in that review and verges on abuse, so I won’t revisit that once again. So begs the question, why watch Spy Game? Robert Redford! His scenes where he plays the ‘spy game’ with the task force are mesmerizing. This is not just about acting – it’s about commanding a scene and in particular, conveying ‘experience’. In the film, the new kids on the block in the C.I.A. may have all the latest hi-tech toys – but nothing beats old-fashioned ‘trade craft’. At one point in the film, Muir says ‘…technology gets better all the time and that’s fine, but most of the time all you need is a pocketknife, a stick of gum and a smile.’ And at the risk of making a clumsy analogy, the same applies to the making of this film – the film-makers may have all the latest hi-tech toys – but nothing beats an old fashioned professional plying his craft. You can finesse all around Redford – jumps cuts, fading to black and white, ramped footage, whatever! – it doesn’t matter because Redford is an old school movie star and he knows how to lay down a scene. If you watch this film, don’t pay attention to the MTV stylization – pay attention to Redford and enjoy watching a professional do what he does best.

Spy Game (2001)

Charlie Muffin (1979)

Director: Jack Gold
Starring: David Hemmings, Ralph Richardson, Sam Wanamaker, Pinkas Braun, Ian Richardson, Shane Rimmer, Jennie Linden, Clive Revill
Music: Christopher Gunning
Based on a novel by Brian Freemantle

Charlie Muffin is a film out of time. It could be considered a late entry into the ‘hard bastard’ cycle of spy films of the 1970’s, but it also mixes up a few other styles as well. The Charlie Muffin character is a bit of a dinosaur. He is a throw back to the sixties. He’s a lot like Harry Palmer. He’s a working class spy, operating in a haughty gentlemen’s club. But like Palmer, he knows his tradecraft and continually infuriates his superiors with his insubordinate ways.

Even the casting of David Hemmings as Muffin, and Clive Revill as his opposite number, Berenkov, reinforce the sixties links. Both actors were at their prime in the sixties. The film that Hemmings is most identified with is Antonioni’s Blow Up, and Revill starred in a whole swag of swinging sixties films, including Modesty Blaise, Kaleidoscope, The High Commissioner, The Double Man, Fathom and The Assassination Bureau just to name a few.

At the other end of the scale, in a more modern mould, playing a head of the service is Ian Richardson. Richardson has almost made a career of playing officious bastard’s, and this role is no exception, coming straight after Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. He also revisited this style of character in The Fourth Protocol.

Despite the time travelling and variance in style, Charlie Muffin has a good Cold War story to tell. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it may seem a little dated now, but this TV movie is pretty entertaining.

The film opens in East Berlin. Charlie Muffin is a scruffy looking British spy with dirty shoes. But he has captured Russian spy Alexei Berenkov (Clive Revill). Helping Charlie with the coup are two younger but ambitious upper-class agents, Harrison (Tony Mathews) and Snare (Christopher Godwin). Harrison and Snare have very expensive and clean shoes. Now the three men have to get back to the West. It is agreed that Muffin will drive out, while the other two cross the checkpoint on foot.

Harrison and Snare go first and make it safely. Charlie, on the other hand is cautious. Rather than drive across, he offers the car and papers to a East German who wishes to defect. The East German gladly jumps at the opportunity and drives the car up to the checkpoint. As the car moves up, bright spotlights are flicked on. It appears that the sentries at the checkpoint were waiting for this car to attempt a crossing. The driver panics and tries to escape. This is met with a volley of machine gun fire, that kills the unwitting pawn. The tragedy is watched from the shadows by Charlie. He is not a happy man. It looks like someone had set him up.

Back in London, Charlie’s boss, Cuthbertson (Ian Richardson), despite the success of the mission, is embarrassed to see Charlie return alive and well. And as further insult to injury, Charlie gets demoted and sent on leave. You see, Muffin isn’t from the right class. He isn’t a ‘gentleman’ agent. He was a tool (or if you’ll pardon the Bond analogy – a blunt instrument) used by British Intelligence’s former Head, Sir Archibald Willoughby, (Sir Ralph Richardson). But times have moved on. A man like Charlie is no longer needed. He is expendable.

Meanwhile is Russia, a plan is being put into operation to get Berenkov back. This involves General Valery Kalenin (Pinkas Braun), one of the top men in the KGB. Kalenin’s plan is simple. He needs somebody to ‘trade’ for Berenkov. So he has to capture a high ranking British spy. He does this by coming out into the open. First he turns up at a reception at the British Embassy in Moscow. The British and CIA all believe he is about to defect and send agents to broker a deal. Cuthbertson sends Harrison and Snare, but their attempts end in failure. Reluctantly, they ask Charlie to take over the mission.

Charlie Muffin even though it is a TV movie, is a very good cold war spy drama. It is aided considerably by a great cast. If it has a slight weakness, it is the ending, which is a bit too up beat. Not that I want all the characters to die, but this veers off towards a caper film, which was completely unnecessary. But still, this production is better than a lot of the other dross that is out there. Highly recommended.

The Charlie Muffin books by Brian Freemantle are:

Charlie Muffin (1977)…aka Charlie M
Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie (1978)… aka Here Comes Charlie M
The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin (1979)
Charlie Muffin’s Uncle Sam (1980)…aka Charlie Muffin U.S.A.
Madrigal for Charlie Muffin (1981)
Charlie Muffin and Russian Rose (1985)…aka The Blind Run
Charlie Muffin San (1987)…aka See Charlie Run
The Run Around (1988)
Comrade Charlie (1989)
Charlie’s Apprentice (1993)
Charlie’s Chance (1996)…aka Bomb Grade
Dead Men Living (2000)
Kings of Many Castles (2001)

Charlie Muffin (1979)

The Dolly Dolly Spy (1968)

Produced by Stanley Canter and Desmond Elliot
David Hemmings as Philip MacAlpine

Author Adam Diment wrote a series of novels featuring swinging secret agent Philip MacAlpine. The Dolly Dolly Spy, The Bang Bang Birds, The Great Spy Race, and Think Inc. were amongst his output. But I was intrigued by the blurb of The Thriller Book Club edition of The Bang Bang Birds (1968), which had this to say:
‘At present The Dolly Dolly Spy is being filmed starring David Hemmings as Philip McAlpine. A Stanley Canter / Desmond Elliot production for release by United Artists, Trans America Corporation.’

I can find no other information on this project. Did filming, in fact start? Did the name change? Did another actor take over the lead role. I have no idea, but would dearly like to find out!

The Dolly Dolly Spy (1968)