The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World (1965)

AKA: Licensed To Kill

Country: United Kingdom
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Tom Adams, Karel Stepanek, Peter Bull, John Arnott, Felix Felton

Music by Herbert Chappell (as Bertram Chappell)

The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World is the first of three low budget Bond imitations starring Tom Adams as Charles Vine. The other two films are Where The Bullets Fly and Somebody’s Stolen Our Russian Spy. As the title The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World suggests, Vine is the agent that the British Secret Service turn to when 007 is actively engaged on another mission. The next thing you should know is that this film was directed by Lindsay Shonteff whose cinematic vision and sense of humour parallels that of a sixth grader with a cam-corder. To be fair though, out of all the Shonteff schlock I have seen, this is the most professional and watchable – far better than his later work on The Million Eyes Of Sumuru and No. 1: Licenced To Love And Kill.

It is also my duty to advise you that there are two versions of this film. The original is the English version, which is called Licensed To Kill. The second version, which they repackaged for American audiences is called The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, and that is the version I am reviewing here. The most obvious difference between the two versions is that the US version had a Sammy Davis Jnr. theme song and new titles.

The film opens with Swedish Professor August Jakobsen enjoying a stroll through South Hill Park in London. The setting is idyllic. As Jakobsen stops to observe some ducks swimming in a pond, he is passed by a lady pushing a pram with her twins in it. She stops to adjust their blanketing, then pulls out a bloody great machine gun that had been nestled between the infants. She mows the Professor down; packs the weapon away and continues her walk through the park.

After a rather static title sequence the story is unveiled. Professor August Jakobsen was working with his brother Henryk on a project they called ‘Re-Grav’. The purpose of ‘Re-Grav’ is to provide technology (at this early stage it is only a blue print) that will reverse the gravitational field. On a low level this could revolutionise transport, with cars and planes able to hover above the land. Applying a military application, ‘Re-Grav’ could make countries safe from nuclear missile attack, as it would repel the missiles.

Now that August is dead, Henryk is to carry on and complete their research which he intends to sell to the British. The official handling the purchase of Jakobsen’s research is Walter Pickering of the Foreign Office. Pickering approaches Rockwell, the head of the British Secret Service and demands protection for the scientist. Due to budget restraints, the Secret Service can only spare one man to babysit Jakobsen. Pickering wants it to be the agent that handled that ‘gold smuggling’ operation (get it?) Rockwell says that he is unavailable, but he has another agent who can do the job, Charles Vine (Tom Adams). Rockwell describes Vine as being ‘tough, discreet and dedicated’.

As the film cuts away to Vine, we find out that he is very dedicated. Dedicated to the moral corruption of swingin’ sixties British dolly birds. He is in bed when he receives a phone call requesting that he returns to headquarters for a mission briefing.

Vines mission is to protect Professor Henryk Jakobsen and his research assistant, Julia Linberg as they complete the ‘Re-Grav’ research. This isn’t quite as simple as it may seem, because the Russians are interested in acquiring Jakobsen’s research, as is another secret private organisation. Vines first test is upon his return from the airport with the Professor and his assistant where they are ambushed by a carload of fake police officers. It gives Vine his first opportunity to show off his shooting prowess.

Naturally over the course of the movie there are numerous attempts on the Professor’s life, but Vine always intervenes. Some of the assassins sent to do their worst include Vladimir She-He. With a name like ‘She-He’ it will come as no surprise that this villain likes to cross dress. Director Shonteff liked the idea and character so much that he would recycle him/her in No. 1: Licenced To Love And Kill, which starred Gareth Hunt as Charles Bind. Vine also has to battle an evil doppelganger, Major Kroptkin, a Russian agent who has had plastic surgery and taken voice lessons to appear as Vine. Finally there is another Russian killer called Sadistokov. He is so tough and loves to kill so much that he moonlights as a supervisor at a slaughterhouse.

Like I mentioned earlier, Shonteff’s work is pretty crude and this film does have a few rough edges. But in spite of that The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World isn’t too bad. This is mainly due to the enthusiasm of the cast. Tom Adams is athletic and throws himself around with suitable vigour. He may not move like a cat-like Connery, but he looks like he could handle himself in a stoush. The other cast members, even though their characters are little more than broad stereotypes, acquit themselves reasonably well too – enough to sell the scenes they are in, despite the non existent set and production design. I guess the fact that this film was received well enough that they followed it up with two sequels, probably indicates that this film punches a little bit above it’s weight. It’s no masterpiece, but as another Bondian knock-off it does the job.
The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World (1965)

The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

AKA: The 1000 Eyes of Su-Muru, The Slaves of Sumuru, Sumuru
Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Starring: Frankie Avalon, George Nader, Shirley Eaton, Wilfred Hyde White, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm
Music: Johnny Scott

Director, Lindsay Shonteff is singularly responsible for some of the worst spy films ever made, No 1 Licensed To Love And Kill readily springs to mind. And I am afraid The Million Eyes Of Sumuru does nothing to redeem Shonteff in the ‘million eyes’ of spy movie fans all over the world.

Maybe Shonteff isn’t solely to blame for The Million Eyes Of Sumuru. Producer Harry Alan Towers may have to share some of the burden. He is the man who bought us the sixties, Christopher Lee, series of Fu Manchu films. Some footage from the second Sumuru film (Seven Secrets Of Sumuru – AKA Future Women), featuring Shirley Eaton, mysteriously found its way into The Blood Of Fu Manchu. Apparently Miss Eaton was not happy about it, and who could blame her.

The film opens with a Chinese funeral procession. A group of young men march along behind the coffin, while on the side of the road, a girl watches on. Then we hear a voice-over from Sumuru herself (Shirley Eaton):

’This is the funeral of the richest man in the world…
These are his seventeen sons…
Soon they will share his fate…
Along with all other men who oppose my will…
The eyes of this girl are watching them…
As maybe, some other girl’s eyes are watching you…
I have a million eyes…
For I am Sumuru!’

A bomb goes off as the procession crosses a bridge and the seventeen sons are killed, and the titles roll.

Then we meet Sumuru in the flesh. She lives on an island with her own private army of women. But there is a problem with one of her disciples. One girl, operating out of Rome, has done the unthinkable – she has fallen in love! Sumuru decides to travel to Italy and ‘take care’ of the traitor personally. A voice over provides another piece of Sumuru’s manifesto:

’In the war against mankind, to achieve our aim, a world of peace and beauty ruled by women, we have but one weakness, which must be rooted out and destroyed…Love!’

We see these words put into action, when three women in black bikinis, drown a woman in a white bikini. So much for love!

Still in Rome, next we meet C.I.A. agent Nick West (George Nader). He is greeted by Sir Anthony Baisbrook (Wilfred Hyde-White), who works for H.M.G. (Her Majesty’s Government). It appears that the girl who was killed, is the secretary for the Syronesian Chief Of Security, Colonel Medika (Jon Fong). Sir Anthony seconds West into finding out who the killer is. Along for the ride is Tommy Carter (Frankie Avalon). Carter is not a swinging sixties secret agent. He’s just a spoiled dilettante with too much spare time. You see, his father left him eighteen million dollars – that’d do it!

West meets with Medika and they thrash out the path the investigation will take. But soon after the meeting, Medika is kidnapped by Sumuru’s agents, and West is left to solve the remainder of the puzzle, along with a little help from Carter, of course.

Sometimes when I jot down a synopsis, as I read back, I think ‘that doesn’t sound bad’. And Sumuru, on paper at least, has all the elements to make a great spy film. Unfortunately it is lumbered with poor dialogue, poor cinematography, and generally poor direction. There is an air of cynicism and perversion that pervades the whole film. You would expect a film that features a scantily clad all girl army, to be slightly erotic. Or at least a good perv, but this film features weird camera angles that make beautiful girls look distorted and ugly, and a script that forces them into acts of cruel violence, that make them unappealing. Even taking a feminist view, that it is a film about empowering women is undone by the cruelty.

So begs the question, why watch The Million Eyes Of Sumuru? I would suggest that you don’t, but if you had to, it would be for Shirley Eaton. Eaton was the Golden Girl from Goldfinger and her image, covered in gold paint, is indelibly burnt into the minds of sixties spy fans. Other than that, avoid at all costs.

The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (1979)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Starring: Gareth Hunt, Fiona Curzon, Nick Tate, Geoffrey Keen, Gary Hope
Music: Simon Bell
AKA: The Man From S.E.X.

With the passing of Gareth Hunt last week, I thought it fitting to review No. 1: Licensed To Love And Kill, although it’s probably not the way he’d want to be remembered.

This film is another shlock exploitation flick from director Lindsay Shonteff, the man who gave us The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World and The Million Eyes Of Sumuru. In 1977, the success of The Spy Who Loved Me brought about a resurgence in James Bond knockoff movies. And Lindsay Shonteff, recycled the Charles Vine series, starring Tom Adams from the sixties. Gareth Hunt plays Charles Bind in this bottom of the barrel addition to the spy genre.

This is actually the second film in a series of three; the first being No. 1 Of The Secret Service starring Nicky Henson as Bind and the third a final film was Number One Gun (1990) starring Michael Howe.

What’s it all about? The film starts with Charles Bind trapped in a jet plane as it hurtles out of control. Bind’s explains the predicament he finds himself in:

’I ask myself, what am I doing, Britain’s number one agent, tied hand and foot, in this jet fighter, with only dynamite for company?’

As any good spy hero would, Bind ejects at the last moment, just before the plane erupts into a ball of flame. He parachutes down to the street, and rips off his coveralls to reveal a pristine white dinner suit underneath. Naturally enough, he has landed exactly in front of the restaurant, where he had a standing dinner engagement with a stunning superbabe. When the lady in question admonishes him for being late, he glibly replies, ’Yes, I was tied up for a while!’ Groan!

After a trashy title sequence, Bind arrives at the Ministry Of Defence Headquarters, and waltzes into his superiors office. In Shonteff’s The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, Charles Vine’s boss was Rockwell. In this instance, Bind’s boss is Stockwell (Geoffrey Keen). Bond fans will recognise Keen as Frederick Grey, Minister Of Defence in several of the Roger Moore era films. Bind is briefed on English Lord Dangerfield, a high ranking diplomat. The Home Office is worried about him, as he has been out of contact for a few weeks. His last known whereabouts, was at the home of an old friend, Senator Lucifer Orchid (Gary Hope), in the United States. Bind’s mission is to find Lord Dangerfield and bring him home. After the briefing, Bind is shipped off to see Merlin, in K Department (a low budget version of Q Branch).

As I have mentioned earlier, this is a cheapjack production and the cinematography is very poor, the whole film looks like it has been filmed through the bottom of a beer glass. There are many shoe-string scenes such as when Bind goes to see Merlin (John Arnatt), the head of the ‘dirty tricks’ department. Merlin doesn’t have an office or a laboratory. He seems to be set up in a boy-scout hall. He doesn’t even have a desk; it’s a fold up table. Merlin hands over a few simple gadgets, and then Bind is off to America to complete his mission.

Nick Tate plays Jensen Fury, a loud, abusive mercenary whose code-name is Ultra 1 – even better than No. 1, get it? – implying he is the fastest and deadliest gunman in the world. His acting is on par with the dialogue his character is given. It is so awful it is painful to listen to. When we first meet Fury he is proving his prowess with a pistol to his new employer, Senator Lucifer Orchid. Fury does this by gunning down innocent people on a beach. He’d rather use live targets, because it keeps him sharp.

Once in America, Bind joins forces with Lord Dangerfield’s daughter, Carlotta Muff Dangerfield (Fiona Curzon), who naturally enough, gets called ‘Lotta Muff’ by Bind. But she is only one of the many girls, Bind get’s involved with. There’s ‘Cutie Pie’ and ‘Sweetie Pie’ who provide a bathing service, and the exotic Asian beauty Fun-ghi. Unfortunately Fun-ghi meets an untimely end, when she dives into a swimming pool filled with acid. You see, the caretaker cleans the pool with acid to kill funghi (Fun-ghi, er, get it? No, you’re right. It is not very funny.)

This film also features a few other chestnuts of the genre. There’s an evil double of Charles Bind, and an malicious midget with a whip. Even the ‘She-He’ character from The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World is repeated.

No. 1: Licensed To Love And Kill is not a particularly good film, but one thing it cannot be accused of, is being slow paced. It moves very swiftly from one bad set piece to the next. If you are a spy film completist and must watch this movie, look out for the stripper with razor blades attached to the tassels over her nipples. Ranking as one of spy cinemas most absurd assassins, as she sways around, the razors begin to spin like aircraft propellers, becoming a lethal weapon. As she approaches Bind, he holds a wooden chair out in front to protect himself. Accompanied by the sound of a circular saw, the chair is reduced to saw dust.

Does Bind survive? Who cares? This movie is crap.

This review is based on the Filmways Home Video Australia VHS cassette.

No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (1979)