The Road to Hong Kong (1962)

Director: Norman Panama
Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Joan Collins, Robert Morley, Walter Gotell, Dorothy Lamour
Cameo appearances: Peter Sellers, David Niven, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra
Music: Robert Farnon
Songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen

I’ll confess that I am too young (ha, ha) to have watched and been a fan of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. And this is the only ‘Road’ movie that I have seen. I chose to watch it because of the espionage related plot. From other sources this film is generally derided for being the weakest of the ‘Road’ movies, but from my point of view this is a fairly decent 1960’s spy spoof.

What I find quite remarkable is that Road To Hong Kong was released in the US on 22 May 1962, a good 4 months before Dr. No was released in the UK (I mention the UK because The Road To Hong Kong was filmed in England. Incidentally Dr. No wasn’t released in the US till January 1963). Why am I comparing release dates? Well, The Road To Hong Kong is one of the better Bond send ups – only it was made before there were Bond films to send up. Firstly, the film features a title sequence by Maurice Binder. Secondly the production designer is Syd Cain, who worked uncredited on Dr. No (under Ken Adam), and as head on From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Live And Let Die. Apart from Bond, Cain worked on, Hot Enough For June and The Billion Dollar Brain. Then we have the cast: Walter Gotell appeared in seven Bond films and provided the voice of General Gogol for the James Bond Jnr animated series. Next we have Niven and Sellers, who both appeared in the 1967 comedy version of Casino Royale. Okay Robert Morley and Joan Collins never appeared in a Bond film, but both of them are not strangers to the world of espionage. Morley appeared in Hot Enough For June, Some Girls Do, and When Eight Bells Toll, plus many others. Collins appeared in the TV shows The Persuaders, Mission Impossible, and The Man From UNCLE. Theatrically she appeared in Subterfuge with Gene Barry. I think I have laboured the point, that while The Road To Hong Kong may not have been a very successful ‘Road’ picture, it was a very fertile training ground many of the people behind Bondmania and the spy-craze that swept the world during the sixties.

Let’s have a look at the story. After the title sequence, which features a vaudevillian dance routine from Hope and Crosby, the film opens in Hong Kong, at the American Intelligence Organisation headquarters. They are concerned, because the Russians have just sent two men around the moon in a spacecraft. The most disconcerting thing for them though, is that the cosmonauts have American accents. They play a tape recording to demonstrate. The voices are of Hope and Crosby. At that moment a girl, Diane (Joan Collins) is allowed into the room. She claims to have knowledge of the space mission. She says it wasn’t the Russian who sent up the spacecraft. It was a group called The Third Echelon. She describes them as ‘more desperate, more intelligent, and infinitely more dangerous the the Americans or the Russians’. Diane, who used to be an agent for The third Echelon, explains the story via flashback…

Ten days previously, in Calcutta, Harry Turner (Bing Crosby) and Chester Babcock (Bob Hope) are trying to sell a ‘Fly It Yourself’ interplanetary space suit to a gullible crowd. Harry is spruiking the suits virtues, how anyone can fly it, and you can go anywhere you want to go with one. These spacesuits consist a silver top and pants. Added to this are a helmet with a propeller on the top, and an engine, with another propeller strapped to the backside. To continue the Bond association, which I started in the opening paragraphs, the suit is like a cross between Little Nellie, the gyro-copter used in You Only Live Twice and the jet rocket pack that Bond used in the pre-title sequence in Thunderball. The innocent dupe, who was going to test fly the suit for the crowd does a runner at the last minute. Harry convinces Chester to put on the gear and demonstrate. Needless to say, it all goes horribly wrong.

Chester ends up in hospital with amnesia. He cannot remember Harry, or even his own name. Chester is then taken to the best neurologist in India, who just happens to be Peter Sellers. Sellers Indian routine will be familiar to anyone who has watched Blake Edwards The Party. I know that in some circles, The Party is considered a comedy classic, but in my opinion, Sellers cameo in this movie is funnier. But that is a personal taste thing, you’ll have your own opinion.

Sellers cannot restore Chester’s memory but he recommends a lamasery in Tibet (for those that don’t know, a ‘lamasery’ is where the ‘lamas’ live, as in Dalai Lama etc…). So, Harry and Chester prepare to catch a plane to Tibet. At the airport Diane is meeting an agent who has stolen a top secret Russian rocket fuel formula. The formula is passed to Diane on a series of cards, which she secrets away. In turn, she is to pass them on to a photographer who will take shots and make microfilm. The photographer is also to meet her at the airport. She’ll recognise the photographer from a symbol on his luggage – three concentric circles. Naturally there’s a mix up with the baggage, and Chester winds up carrying the photographer’s case. Diane approaches him and slides the formula into Chester’s coat pocket. Then Harry and Chester board their plane for Tibet, before Diane has time to realise her mistake.

Harry and Chester arrive at the lamasery, and indeed they can cure Chester. In fact the secret herb that can restore his memory, can also help him remember anything he reads. Chester takes the drug and is cured. But now Harry and Chester are not allowed to leave the lamasery. They belong to the temple. This wont do, so the boys escape using the old patty-cake routine. Once you see it, you’ll know what I mean! As Harry and Chester are con-men always looking for an angle to make money, they also steal a phial of the herbs. They figure they can use it on stage for a ‘memory routine’.

They fly back to Calcutta, and in their hotel room they decide to test the herbs. For the test they need something to read, and Chester pulls out the rocket formula from his jacket pocket. Chester takes the herbs, and reads the cards. Harry tests him on his knowledge and as he is successful, burns the cards. Unwittingly, now the formula only exists in Chester’s mind.

Diane is still after the formula, and makes an arrangement with Harry. She will pay them $25,000 if they will go to Hong Kong and recite the formula. It is an offer too good to refuse, and off go our two intrepid heroes. Harry and Chester arrive at the home of the leader of the Third Echelon. By an amazing elevator, they are taken to an underground, and underwater lair which houses a rocket base. I must make mention of the set design at this point. It is all staggering good. Sure it is a little on the cartoon side, after-all this is a comedy, but everything from the control rooms, the rocket launch site, the submarines, and even the interior of the rocket capsule, with the banana feeding machine is extremely well done.

The leader of the Third Echelon is Robert Morley. He demands that Chester reveals the secret formula. But this time the herbs don’t work (they have been substituted for tea). Chester cannot remember. Harry and Chester are sentenced to be killed. Their reprieve comes via one of the scientists, Dr. Zorbb (Walter Gotell). He suggests that they send Harry and Chester up into outer space instead of the two monkeys that were originally going to be sent.

As you can see by the plot, it’s all very silly, as you expect from Hope and Crosby. But generally it is all pretty good fun. As this is the first ‘Road’ film in ten years for the boys, there are plenty of jibes about their respective ages. And as you’d expect, it’s the banter between the two stars that really drive this film along. Sure, you heard some of the jokes before (‘walk this way’), but these guys are old friends. For fans of the other film in the series, don’t expect too much from Dorothy Lamour. Her role is barely more than a cameo towards the end. As I mentioned at the top, as a ‘Road’ film, this may not be the funniest or the freshest, but at the beginning of the sixties, film styles were changing, and maybe without even realising they were doing it, the team behind The Road to Hong Kong were providing a taster of things to come.

The Road to Hong Kong (1962)

Where The Spies Are

Director: Val Guest
Starring: David Niven, Francoise Dorleac, John Le Mesurier, Cyril Cusack, Eric Pohlmann, Nigel Davenport
Music: Mario Nascimbene
Based on the novel by James Leasor

Many years ago, I read one of James Leasor’s Jason Love Adventures. It was Passport To Suspense, and had the hero battling neo-Nazis in South America. It was a rattling good read and I have always intended to read a few more of Love’s adventures, but I haven’t gotten around to it. But I have finally got my steel claws on a copy of the film version of Passport To Oblivion – filmed as Where The Spies Are (thank you RRD). I must admit that in my minds eye, David Niven just doesn’t seem like Jason Love, but anyway let’s look at the film.

The film opens with titles by sixties design guru Robert Brownjohn. Brownjohn also did the titles for From Russia With Love and Goldfinger – he also did the album cover for The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed. Unfortunately these titles aren’t as visually compelling as some of his other work. It is essentially a burning piece of paper, but we are compensated by a groovy instrumental theme by composer Mario Nascimbene (featuring an organ solo by Jimmy Smith).

After the titles, the film opens in Moscow. A British defector is lecturing a group of KGB students on some of the more covert Western espionage secrets. As examples, projected on the screen behind him are British agents and enlargements of the weapons and gadgets that they use. One of these M.I.6 operatives is Peter Rosser and he is stationed in Beirut.

The film then cuts to Beirut and to Agent Rosser. We follow Rosser to the Hotel Al Cazar, where he is captured by enemy agents and ultimately killed.

Back in England, the head of M.I.6, Douglas MacGillivray (John Le Mesurier) needs a replacement for Rosser fast. It seems there’s more trouble brewing in the Middle East (that’s a new concept). As security has been broken, they can’t use their regular agents. They need a man from their ‘B’ list. For cover, they check a list of events happening in Beirut that week. There happens to be a malaria conference.

There is only one doctor on the ‘B’ list: Dr. Jason Love (David Niven). M.I.6 think he is the perfect candidate, but now they have to convince him to go. M.I.6’s preferred method of coercion is blackmail. Love’s one weakness is that he is a Cord enthusiast – Cord being a make of car. M.I.6 offer Love a rare model Cord, ‘the Baron’. Love grudgingly accepts and sent off on the mission.

Love travels via Rome, where he meets a fellow operative, Vikki (Francoise Dorleac). As he has a few hours to kill before his connecting flight to Beirut, he heads back to Vikki’s apartment for, er, refreshment. In the end he overstays his visit and misses his flight. This is a godsend for Love, because the plane blows up, just after take off.

Love finally makes it to Beirut, and his adventure really starts. One of the characters Love meets is Parkington played by Nigel Davenport. And for a short while he gives this production the ‘toughness’ it has been lacking. In fact, on the strength of his performance, I’d have liked to see him play Love rather than Niven.

The film works and fails on Niven as Love. Niven is such a likeable actor that he effortlessly carries this production. It’s his screen presence that makes this film watchable. At the same time he is possibly too charming –and too old. Love, although middle aged is a man of adventure. His passion for exotic sports cars and fast driving indicate that he is a man who enjoys an adrenalin rush. Whereas Niven (at his age) is a man of leisure, rather than adventure. You would expect to find him in a fine restaurant drinking a superior bottle of vintage wine, rather than in a sports car with his foot mashed down on the accelerator. Niven’s a great actor, but he was simply miscast in this role.

The film itself, doesn’t seem sure of whether it’s a comedy or a serious spy film, and the shifts in tone make it hard to sit back and settle into this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I felt it could have been so much more. And maybe if they had got it right we would have seen more Jason Love films on the cinema screen.

Where The Spies Are

Casino Royale (1967)

Directed by John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath
David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Daliah Lavi, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Joanna Pettet
Music by Burt Bacarach
Title song by Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass
Song, ‘Look of Love’, sung by Dusty Springfield
Inspired by the novel by Ian Fleming

“Casino Royale is either going to be a classic bit of fun or the biggest f*ck up since the Flood. I think probably the later.”
David Niven – ‘The Moon’s A Balloon’

Please do not confuse this version of Casino Royale with the 2006 version starring Daniel Craig. There was also an episode of Climax Theatre based on Casino Royale. It was made in 1954, and starred Barry Nelson as ‘Card Sense’ Jimmy Bond. This is the 1967 version, which is one of the worst examples of sixties excess and indulgence. The story of this production is an oft told one and I’ll leave it to the experts to elaborate (For those interested, may I suggest that you track down a copy of the book ‘Martinis, Girls And Guns’ by Martin Sterling and Gary Morecambe. It is a well researched overview of the series from Dr. No to The World Is Not Enough and fleshes out many of the production dramas that have happened throughout the series). The simple points are: this is not an official entry in the Bond series, and it is a comedy.

Where do you start when reviewing this film? I could do a synopsis of the plot, but there is not much point really – the film is all over the place – probably the result of having multiple directors. I could outline the characters, but each character gets renamed James Bond, so that would be confusing. Then what has the film got going for it? The cast, maybe. Although most of them probably cross Casino Royale off their resumés when looking for other work.

• David Niven plays Sir James Bond, a retired secret agent who is called back into service, when ‘M’, the head of M.I.6 is killed. At the start, Sir James stutters and as the film progresses, he becomes more youthful, and loses his speech impediment – I am not sure why?. The film also intimates that Niven is the real ‘James Bond’, and upon retirement, his name and number (007) were passed on to keep the legend alive. Sir James is not pleased about his successor’s womanising – most probably a dig at ‘Connery Bond’. I am not making any groundbreaking comments when I say Niven made a lot of shit. This is one of his greater follies.

• Then we have Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, who is one of the many characters who is renamed ‘James Bond’ in this film. It’s a ploy designed to confuse the enemy. It’s so effective, it confuses the viewing audience as well. As with Niven, it is no secret that Sellers made a lot of shit. Apparently Sellers was going through a prima-donna phase when he made this movie and refused to work with Orson Welles. Their scenes were shot separately.

• As mentioned above, next we have Orson Welles. He comes off relatively unscathed, as his role is essentially a cameo. One wonders what he could have done with the character of Le Chiffre if the film had been played straight.

• Ursula Andress pops up in the film. Revered as the first Bond girl, from Dr. No, it’s a shame to see her in this trash. She looks great though. She plays Vesper Lynd (also renamed James Bond).

• Then we have Daliah Lavi. I am a big fan of Miss Lavi, who appeared in a swag of spy films in the sixties – The Spy With A Cold Nose, Some Girls Do, The High Commissioner, and The Silencers to name a few – but here she is reduced to just another ‘James Bond’ in this massive ensemble cast.

• Deborah Kerr plays Agent Mimi, who also happens to be M’s wife, Lady Fiona McTarry. Apparently she is an agent for SMERSH…but I am not really sure. She gets to put on a Scottish accent and be silly.

• Joanna Pettet plays Mata Bond. If you haven’t all ready guessed she is the offspring from Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

• And after all that, we have Woody Allen. Woody is Jimmy Bond, Sir James Bond’s nephew. Jimmy is so scared of his famous uncle, he is rendered speechless whenever he is in his presence.

What else can I tell you? The film has everything thrown at it: cowboys, indians, the French Foreign Legion (represented by Jean Paul Belmondo), American Gangsters (well, George Raft standing by the bar tossing a coin), and even Frankenstein’s monster. Despite all this, it just isn’t funny and isn’t that the point of comedy, to raise a laugh?

SPOILER AHEAD: At the end of the film, all of the major characters die. It is supposed to be funny, but it really is a final insult by this truly awful film. I know the Bond fans who have not seen this film will be strangely drawn to it, but don’t do it. It is not a Bond film, and really, it would be better if it were just forgotten.

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

Casino Royale (1967)