Hot Enough For June (1964)

Country: England
Directed by
Ralph Thomas
Dirk Bogarde, Sylva Koscina, Robert Morley, Leo McKern, Roger Delgado, John LeMesurier, Richard Pasco, Eric Pohlmann, Richard Vernon, Amanda Grinling, Noel Harrison, Derek Nimmo
Music by Angelo Lavagnino

Some people do not like the films of producer Betty E. Box, and director Ralph Thomas. I am not one of them. I think they are some of the more enjoyable examples of sixties British cinema. Amongst their output are films like The Thirty Nine Steps (the Kenneth More version), The High Commissioner, Deadlier Than The Male and Some Girls Do. Okay, they are all spy films and I have a penchant for spy films, so that makes me a tad biased.

The film opens with Roger Allsop (John Le Mesurier) turning up at MI6 headquarters. He walks down a long corridor to a large counter. Onto the counter he places a large black leather bag and starts to retrieve items from it. First there are several passports, then a shoe with a hollowed out heel, a revolver, and lastly a lucky rabbit’s foot. Although this foot didn’t bring too much luck to it’s owner. You see these are the personal effects of a secret agent who has just been killed. The attendant behind the counter picks up the items and places them in a cubby hole which has the number 007 allocated to it. Now MI6 need a replacement.

Enter Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde). Whistler is an unemployed writer who turns up at the Labour Exchange to collect his unemployment benefits. Much to his chagrin, rather than just collecting his money, he is also sent to a job interview at a glass manufacturing company. This glass company is actually a front for MI6, and it is headed by Colonel Cunliffe (Robert Morley).

Whistler turns up for his job interview late, hoping that would dissuade them for employing him. But Cunliffe and MI6 need a man who speaks Czech for their next mission to Prague and Whistler, who is bi-lingual seems like the perfect man for the job. Whistler really doesn’t want the work, but changes his mind when Cunliffe offers him a particularly obscene amount of money as a salary.

So next Whistler is off to Prague to meet Mr. Galushka (Eric Polmann), the head of the state run Zapopaki Glass Works. Whistler he been told that the instructions for a new glass making technique with be handed to him at the works, but he must identify himself with the phrase, “It’s hot enough for June.” The contact in Prague will respond with, “Arrr, you should have been here last September.” Even with the cloak and dagger code words, Whistler still believes everything is above board and he is simply doing some business with a neighbouring glass factory.

Whistler checks into a hotel and waits to be summoned to the Glass Works. When his summons arrives, he finds Vlasta Simoneva (Sylva Koscina) waiting downstairs as his liaison and driver. Up until this point the film has been a gentle paced comedy. The humour has been smile producing rather than inducing belly laughs and has been carried largely by Robert Morley who appeared to be having a good time hamming it up. But now at the twenty three minute mark, Sylva Koscina has entered the story and the film shifts to a romantic comedy. In most romantic comedies the relationship starts out rocky, and Hot Enough For June is no exception.

The trip to the glass works doesn’t go well after Whistler makes some heavy handed comments about the Communists shooting each other. Vlasta can barely contain her contempt for this arrogant young Westerner who sees fit to criticise her way of life.

Once at the glass works, Whistler is given a grand tour by Mr. Galushka. As Whistler travels through the factory and talks with the staff, he slips the ‘hot enough for June’ phrase into each conversation, but no-one responds with the counter phrase. As he is about to leave, he stops at the washroom to wash his hands. The washroom attendant starts talking about the weather, giving Whistler the perfect opportunity to drop ‘hot enough for June’ in the conversation, but before he can, Galushka interrupts and drags Whistler away. Though now, Whistler is convinced that the man in the washroom is his contact and contrives to revisit the glass works again in two days time.

But in the meantime he must wait, and what do you do when you’ve got two nights and a day to kill in Czechoslovakia? You attempt to seduce Vlasta Simoneva. Whistler starts by asking her out for a drink that evening which leads to dinner later on at a colourful restaurant.

But things aren’t as they seem. We already know that Whistler is a spy – even if he doesn’t realise it himself. But the Czech Secret Police aren’t so stupid. They know he’s a spy and have assigned an agent to find out what he is up to. That agent, as you may have guessed is Vlasta Simoneva. Complicating things even further is that the head of the Secret Police (Leo McKern) in this part of the world happens to be Vlasta’s father.

The next day Whistler and Vlasta spend the day jaunting around Prague doing the type of things that young couples do. There’s a spot of swimming at the local pool, which gives Koscina an opportunity to parade around in a bikini. I believe that parading around in a bikini was almost a trademark for Miss Koscina. In Deadlier Than The Male, when we are first introduced to her character, she is in a bikini – albeit carrying a speargun. In A Lovely Way To Die, once Kirk Douglas is in the picture it doesn’t take her long to strip down pool side either. As the day wears on, the jaunting around turns into flirting and finally our young couple, after a rain storm end up at her home in soggy clothes. Naturally they take them off and, well you know….

The next day Vlasta is relieved of her escort and intelligence gathering duties. It is deemed that she has gotten too close to her subject. Another driver takes Whistler back to the glass factory, and this time he successfully makes contact with the agent in the washroom. As the contact hands over the top secret information, it finally dawns on Whistler that he is a spy. Up until this point, it has all bee a lark, but now the game is serious.

Once Whistler returns to his hotel, he finds out how serious. The Secret Police, including Vlasta’s father, turn up to arrest him. Whistler escapes by hiding in a cupboard, and then makes his way out into the unfamiliar streets of Prague.

An extensive manhunt is launched to track Whistler down, but somehow he manages to stay just one step ahead of the police. His objective though, is to make it to the British Embassy. Unfortunately the Secret Police are counting on that too, and have stationed a barricade of men at the gates, so Whistler cannot get past. Instead he returns to Vlasta’s home. At first she is skeptical about his intentions. She believes he is using her to smuggle out State secrets. Whistler dispels that notion when he throws the information that he received into the burning fireplace. Vlasta, once again in love, agrees to help him escape to freedom.

Hot Enough For June is a pleasant film, but as a romantic comedy, it doesn’t really work. As a romance the story is a bit forced and contrived, after all Vlasta is an intelligence officer who chooses to use ‘romance’ and ‘sex’ as a tool to get close to her target. She isn’t forced to use this technique; it her option. With that as a starting point, it’s hard to believe that over a day, that she’d do a complete backflip over a man that she despises on first meeting. And furthermore, betray her country and father for this same man. But I guess Bogarde and Koscina display a certain amount of on-screen chemistry that almost makes you believe this could happen.

As a comedy, the film is very light. There aren’t any laugh out loud moments, but here are quite a few scenes that produce broad grins. Robert Morley makes the best out of the comedic moments in the script.

All-in-all Hot Enough For June isn’t ground breaking or life changing cinema. It’s the type of film that you watch and enjoy, but really don’t know why. Well, …actually I know why! It has Sylva Koscina in it. For me that’s enough of a drawcard. As always she lights up the screen in every scene she is in. Digressing for a second, some people are perplexed at the success of Peplum films. ‘Why would you want to see a steroid bloated man with no neck toss around paper mache rocks?’ The truth is you don’t (well not much, anyway. Maybe a little bit). You watch Peplum films for the girls dressed in candy coloured, flimsy negligees. And Sylva Koscina was a ground breaker in that area, when she starred opposite Steve Reeves in Hercules, and Hercules Unchained. No-one could wear a negligee quite like her. When Eurospy films came along, she was quick to slip out of her negligee and squeeze into a bikini, with equal success.

The sixties had a great many sex sirens. Some of them are still household names, and some are now relegated to cinema history. Sylva Koscina appears to fall into the later category, and is one of the most neglected and under-rated actresses ever.

Hot Enough For June (1964)

Sebastian (1968)

Country: United Kingdom
Directed by David Greene Dirk Bogarde, Susannah York, Lilli Palmer, John Gielgud, Ronald Fraser, Nigel Davenport, Donald Sutherland Music by Jerry Goldsmith

Sebastian is a wildly uneven British spy film, but oh so very enjoyable. At times it doesn’t seem to know if it is a romantic comedy, a character study, or a hard edged spy film. Thankfully, the film almost works during all its various tone shifts.

The film opens with a small pre-title sequence where we see Mr. Sebastian (Dirk Bogarde) running through the streets in Oxford. He is running late for a ceremony where the Prime Minister is to be presented with an honorary degree. Dressed in red ceremonial robes, as he makes his way to the ceremony, he almost collides with a jeep driven by Rebecca Howard (Susannah York). Howard is a quick witted and smart mouthed, modern liberated woman, whereas Sebastian is of a slightly older vintage. He comes from a more rigid background. As you can imagine, these two don’t take an instant shining to each other. Howard abuses him for running in the street. He pays her no mind, and quickly moves on.

But there is something about Sebastian’s aloof manner that intrigues Howard, so she spins the jeep around and follows him through the streets. As he jogs to his appointment, she asks him some questions, to which he makes cryptic replies. Then quizzically he asks her name – but rather than getting her to say it, he gets her to rattle off the letters backwards, which she does. Then he asks her how many words can she make from the letters that make up the word ‘thorough’. She quickly rattles of a dictionary full of word variations. Sebastian is impressed. He gives her his card and says ‘if you’re looking for a job come and see me’.

We then launch into the title sequence, which was put together by Richard Williams, who also created the titles for the Boysie Oakes adventure, The Liquidator. Underneath the titles we see Mr. Sebastian interviewing a whole swag of girls. He asks them all a series of cryptic questions and most respond in a miserable fashion. You see Sebastian is the head of the code breaking section in British Intelligence and he continually has to hire new talent to break enemy codes. Why he chooses to employ only women is never fully explained, but as this is a swinging sixties, Carnaby Street type of scene, man, let’s just go with it.

After several months, Rebecca Howard finally calls Sebastian looking for a job. She is called in for an interview and is one of the lucky few who pass all the tests. She is put through security training, and when ready sent off for her first day on the job. She heads to a high-rise office block and catches the elevator to the top floor. The office is a huge open space populated exclusively by women – well almost. Upstairs in his office, overseeing the room, Mr. Sebastian presides over all the girls in the room. He has all the girls breaking top-secret Russian codes. Howard’s first assignment is to crack a code relating to a prisoner who has just escaped from Wormwoods Scrubs.

Pardon my sexism – because this is what the film wants me to say (and say in a cockney accent) – this films pulls the dastardly trick of having one hundred pieces of love-er-ley English crumpet, all made up and all that, in a room all together – but rather than depicting them as sex objects, it shows them as quick witted, super-smart assets for the intelligence community – and Mr. Sebastian treats them as such. Well that is until he falls in love with Rebecca Howard. The couple have a tenuously balanced relationship where he represented the old school tie boy’s club, and she represents the modern free-spirited liberated woman. Like they say – opposites attract.

Of course the romance is doomed to failure like many office romances. But like I said at the top, this film changes tone many times and now it’s a hardened spy film, and Sebastian ends up captured by a particularly nasty chap by the name of Toby (Ronald Fraser)…Yes, Toby! I know he doesn’t sound like much of a villain but let me assure you he is quite evil.

This may be a silly thing to say – but that has never stopped me before – but I think Sebastian is one of the quintessential British spy films from the sixties. It may not be the best, but it has elements of all the best the genre has to offer. It has adventure like the Bond films – spying as a dirty business like a LeCarré film – it has that tried and true chestnut, ‘sex as a weapon’ which is inherent in any good spy film – it has glamorous girls – it has a fantastic soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith – it has trippy drug inspired visuals – the only thing it seems to be missing is an Aston Martin and a car chase. That aside, this film deserves to be widely seen by anyone who is interested in spy films or sixties culture in general. Do yourself a favour and track down a copy.

Thanks to Tanner at the Double O Section

Sebastian (1968)

Permission To Kill (1975)

Directed by Cyril Frankel
Dirk Bogarde, Ava Gardner, Bekim Fehmiu, Timothy Dalton, Frederic Forrest
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett

It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally got around to reviewing Permission To Kill. You’d think it would be the first film off my bat, but alas, it has taken me a while to scribble down my thoughts on this film. And it’s a film that gets very mixed reviews elsewhere. It seems to be a film that you either love or hate. I hate to be a fence-sitter, but I am in the middle. It isn’t a masterpiece like some people insist. All the characters are rather unlikeable and quite frankly, Ava Gardner’s acting is well below par. It’s like watching a bad daytime soap in places. But it isn’t a turkey either, as it shows spying as a rather un-attractive business, and Bogarde, and Dalton’s performances are very good. Dalton in an early role, steals the show with his snarly intensity.

I’ll give you a very quick overview of the plot, and the characters that make up this labyrinthine tale of cross and double cross. It seems that many years ago, Alexander Diakim (Bekim Fehmiu) was a freedom fighter in a country ruled by fascists (Which country? They don’t say.) But during the struggle, Diakim was forced to flee the country and go into hiding. Here it is nine years later, and he is preparing to return home, and instigate and lead a revolution.

The first character we meet is Alan Curtis (Dirk Bogarde). He is an operative for the Western Intelligence Liasion. W.I.L. don’t want Diakim to go back at this time, and in an attempt to dissuade him, they put together an operation that will change his mind. But for the scheme to work, they need the co-operation of five people.

The first person in Melissa Lascade (Nicole Calfan). She too is a revolutionary, but not for any particular cause. She is motivated by money. And while she is very attractive, she is also a killer – an expert with firearms.

The second person is Scott Elliot Allison (Frederick Forrest). Allison is an idealistic journalist, and happened to be involved in Diakim’s revolution years ago. In fact Diakim saved Allison’s life.

Next on the list is Francois Diderot. Francois is an eight year old boy who lives in France with his adoptive parents.

The fourth person is Charles Lord (Timothy Dalton). Lord works in the finance section of the Foreign Office, and in the past, the Office had provided a fighting fund for Diakim. A loan that Diakim has been unable to repay.

And the final recruit is Katina Petersen (Ava Gardner). She once had a relationship with Diakim.

Curtis has bullied, manipulated, blackmailed, and lied to all of these people to get them to co-operate. But whatever his methods, he manages to get them all assembled in a small village in Austria. Of course, they are all unaware that other people are involved and are billeted out to various hotels, and chalets.

Here is where the story gets a little complicated and a whole lot deceptive. Allison has the first attempt to dissuade Diakim. And Allison is doing it from the heart. He arranges a meeting and talks to Diakim in person. He tells Diakim why he should wait until the West will support his return. Unfortunately the message falls upon death ears, because Curtis has been telling Diakim’s people that Curtis works for the C.I.A. Now hang on. It’s Curtis’ plan that Diakim shouldn’t go back. Why should he sabotage it by spreading false rumours about Allison? Ah, that would be telling!

Next we have Katina. It is now her turn to convince Diakim not to go. But she starts to get a little edgy, and doesn’t want anything to do with Curtis. Then Curtis, drags out Francois Diderot. Yep, the little boy. It seems that Katina is his mother and she gave him up for adoption when he was born. And adding to the level of convolution – guess who the father is? You got it, Diakim.

And where does Charles Lord fit into the picture? As I mentioned earlier, that he works for the Finance section of the Foreign Office. A section that had lent Diakim money. It is Lord’s job to pretend to be collecting the debt. And, or offering a bribe that he should stay. Of course, Diakim is too proud to accept the bribe, but that leads us into another plot strand that I won’t go into here.

As you can see, each of the characters has their own backstory and each of the character’s fates is intrinsically tied to the fate of Alexander Diakim. The story almost works, but the sheer level of twists and turns negate the clever aspects of the story. As I said at the outset, Permission To Kill is not a masterpiece but it is a reasonable spy thriller, and made in the same vein that so many of the early seventies spy films where. Gone were the glamorous days of the sixties, and in their place were gritty realistic spy stories, that had unpleasant people doing dirty little jobs. On that level, Permission To Kill may be one of the more successful attempts at showing that side of the game. But compared to a contemporary film, like The Bourne Identity (the Damon version), which also shows spying as a dirty business, younger audiences could find Permission To Kill to be rather cold, and in places, boring.

Permission To Kill (1975)