"… it won't be the nicotine that kills you!"

smokin’ spies

A part of the appeal of spy films is watching agents live the high life. They live the life we’d all like to live. With the exception of ‘saving the world’ their lives have very few consequences. They are always in the most glamorous places, with the most glamorous people and, of course, doing the most glamorous things with little regard for the price they may have to pay – both emotionally and financially. Unlike real life, an agent is never short on cash, or seen sweating over the outcome of a roll of a dice or a spin of the wheel in a casino (an enemy agent may, but not the hero). An secret agent’s rent is always up to date and the phone company is never chasing him over a delinquent payment. I assume these everyday expenses are picked by the agency.

A secret agent always has an excellent wardrobe. No ‘off the rack’ shopping for them, male or female. The clothes are always tailored impeccably, even if they will date badly in years to come (the baby blue towelling jumpsuit the Sean Connery wore in Goldfinger springs to mind).

So they look good and aren’t encumbered with the burdens that everyday people encounter. Sure they may have to disarm a nuclear weapon in ten seconds but how often do those situations arise? Not very often. This leaves our operatives with plenty of leisure time. How do they chose to use that time? By indulging in all manner of vices.

Now back in the sixties and seventies these vices were seen as the height of sophistication. They were notches on your gun belt. A good spy would smoke at least two packs a day, down a good bottle of scotch, and then go to bed with a beautiful, willing sexual partner.

While drinking and sex are still socially acceptable (well maybe not in the main street – but you know what I mean), smoking is now particularly scorned upon. Now it is not the purpose of this blog to condone smoking in any way, but obviously it is a motif than runs heavily throughout espionage movies, particularly in the sixties, and one that bears further investigation. First some examples.

Smoking scenes in espionage movies:

In You Only Live Twice James Bond (Sean Connery) has finally been captured by his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Locked down in Blofeld’s impregnable control room, Bond asks for a cigarette. Blofeld insists that “… it won’t be the nicotine that kills you!” Bond takes a drag and counts to three. The cigarette houses a tiny rocket which kills one of the guards, giving Bond the opportunity to attempt to escape. He fails.

Murderers’ Row, starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm, features a cigarette that fires a poisonous dart into an enemy (similar to above, hmmmm?) Helm then throws the empty pack onto the dead man revealing the Surgeon Generals warning in an attempt to get laughs.

• Deano is at it again in The Ambushers. This time, Matt Helm is facing a firing squad. He requests a final cigarette. His request is granted, but his cigarette emits laughing gas rather than the usual smoke, allowing him to affect his escape.

• In The Quiller Memorandum, one of the code phrases is, ‘do you smoke this brand?’ as George Segal as Quiller holds out a cigarette to a fellow agent.

• In From Russia With Love, Connery as James Bond uses the code, ‘do you have a match?’ again with cigarette in hand.

All the five films above are from the sixties. So, back then, smoking was presented as a perfectly acceptable behavior. Or on the flip side, In Dr. No and enemy agent swallows a cyanide pill hidden in a cigarette, and in Deadlier Than The Male, an oil executive has the back of his head blown off after drawing back on a Corona Corona cigar. So maybe smoking was presented as dangerous, but not quite in the fashion that the anti-cancer council would appreciate.

That’s the sixties, but popular culture’s view on smoking hadn’t changed much in the seventies. Smoking was still okay. Yul Brynner, famous for his anti-smoking campaign after his death, is clearly seen lighting up in Night Flight From Moscow. In fact, he complains that the cigarette he is offered may be too mild for him. Roger Moore as James Bond in Live And Let Die lights himself a large stogie while shaving.

By the eighties and nineties things started to change. On screen heroes became more physical, mainly due to the success of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. With their physicality came a healthier body attitude.

So in the new millennium, smoking isn’t presented as being glamorous any more and is not looked on so favorably. In fact, during Timothy Dalton’s tenure as James Bond (mid to late 80’s), he had to fight to smoke in the films, believing it to be true of the Character he was playing – a man living on the edge and indulging in all life’s pleasures and vices. But Dalton’s successor, Pierce Brosnan chose not to smoke. In the opening sequence on Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan as Bond is seen clobbering a smoking soldier after offering him a light. To cap it all off Brosnan’s Bondian quip as the man falls to the ground is, ‘Filthy Habit’. Now we have to travel back in time to the sixties or seventies to view secret agents with a cigarette in hand. Times have changed.

It was fascinating to see the reversal in the recent French comedy, OSS 117 – Cairo Nest of Spies, directed by Michel Hazanavicius. Secret agent, OSS 117 Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, as portrayed by Jean Dujardin is almost embarrassed that he doesn’t smoke. Shamefully he confesses that he has been trying to taking up smoking but with little success – he just doesn’t have the taste for it.

"… it won't be the nicotine that kills you!"

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)

OSS 117 Murder For Sale (1968)

Country: France / Italy
Original Title: Niente rose per OSS 117
Directed by Renzo Cerrato, Jean-Pierre Desagnat, Andre Hunebelle
John Gavin, Curt Jurgens, Margaret Lee, Luciana Paluzzi, Robert Hossein, Rosalba Neri, George Eastman

Music by Piero Piccioni

Out of all the OSS 117 films from the sixties and seventies – there’s seven in all – this one held the most interest for me because it stars John Gavin as secret agent OSS 117. As many of you may be aware, John Gavin was cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. After some last minute negotiations – and a hefty sum of money – Sean Connery was convinced to don the tuxedo and toupee once more. Subsequently, Gavin was paid out. But I have often wondered what kind of Bond he would have been? This French Italian co-production is as close as we’ll ever get to knowing.

The film starts off rather briskly. It starts in Washington, and some heavyweights for an un-named spy organisation – let’s call them the OSS just for convenience – are going over some political assassination files. A voiceover states that of all the political assassinations that have taken place, there are only two in which the killer was identified. So the OSS are sure that there’s a secret organisation out there that specialises in murder. They have to come up with a plan that will expose the murderous organisation and bring them to justice.

Some time later, we are in Rome, and a bank robbery is taking place. A villain smashes a second storey window with a suitcase and then, in a smooth fluid movement, leaps down to the footpath below. The jump would have shattered my ankles, but this guy is a pro. He sprints off down the street with the case of filthy lucre in his hand. Several police officers are soon on hand and try to apprehend the thief, but he pulls out a pistol and shoots down the officers in cold blood. Make no mistake, this is one bad-ass perpetrator.

After the titles and a swinging organ theme tune by Piero Piccioni – that is to say that the theme features someone playing a groovy electric organ – not pertaining to Mr. Piccioni’s appendage and any uses he may (or may not) have put it to – we find out that the bank job was a set up. The bad-ass perpetrator was secret agent Jonathan Roberts (John Gavin). I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t OSS 117 supposed to be Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath? You’ve got to remember that this is an English dub, and his character name has been Anglicised. So if you don’t mind, to keep things simple, I will refer to out dashing hero as ‘Roberts’.

So the bank job was a setup to make Roberts look like a bad-ass perpetrator. Well, sort of? Sorry to confuse you, but Roberts has had plastic surgery to make himself look like notorious villain ‘Killer Chandler’ So Roberts, who is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath is now Chandler. Got it? So to keep things simple, I will refer to our dashing hero as ‘Chandler’. I promise I won’t change his name again.

So our dashing hero, ‘Chandler’, wastes no time in worming his way into the bedroom of celebrated Spanish dancer, Concitta Esteban (Rosalba Neri). After, what we can only presume was a vigourous bout of bedroom acrobatics, he takes a little nap. At that time there is a knock on the door and a newspaper is slipped underneath. The paper contains a large front page story on the exploits of ‘Killer Chandler’. Concitta, fearing for her life, calls the police. They promptly arrive and after a minor scuffle, Chandler is taken into custody.

But Chandler’s headline grabbing antics have come to the attention of the right people (‘the right people’ meaning ‘the bad people’). As Chandler is being escorted to prison in a van, complete with motorcycle escort, a helicopter flies overhead. From its undercarriage, lowered via cable is a strange flying saucer type object. As it hangs over the motorcycle escort, it releases a knock-out gas, which causes the motorcycle riders to crash into fences and trees. It is truly a WTF moment, and as a hardened spy film viewer, I must admit a bit of a surprise. I hadn’t seen anything like it. Cool – stupid but cool!

The drivers of the van are soon overcome by the knock-out gas and grind to a halt. The helicopter lands and Chandler is spirited away to the secret headquarters of the evil organisation. In fact this evil organisation is called ‘The Organisation’. I know – it’s not very creative, but I guess by this time all the really good A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.s had been used.

Upon arrival, Chandler is given a medical examination, and who should be his doctor but Luciana Paluzzi. Paluzzi was a regular fixture in sixties spy films – and I feel my life is all the better for it. Undoubtedly her most famous role is as the evil S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Fiona Volpe in Thunderball.

After his medical, Chandler is brought before the head of The Organisation, ‘The Major’, played rather effeminately by Curt ‘He’s the Devil, Hymie’ Jurgens. As you’ve no doubt guessed, The Organisation deals in death, and The Major has accepted a job from a gentleman named Malik. Malik is a diplomat in an un-named Middle Eastern country, and he makes quite a lot of money out of the chaos and continual infighting amongst the tribesman there. But unfortunately for Malik, there is a peacemaker named Hendrick Van Dyck who looks like he will be able to broker a peace between the warring factions. This won’t do and Malik wants Van Dyck assassinated. The Major assigns the job to Chandler.

I know that earlier on in the review I promised not to change the hero’s name any more. Well, sorry – I lied. To carry out the assassination, Chandler must assume a new identity, and he is to become James Mulligan. So Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, who is Jonathan Roberts, who is impersonating Killer Chandler is now James Mulligan. Got that? Good, we can move forward.

Now at this point in the story, call me stupid if you will (everyone else does), but now that Chandler – er Mulligan dammit, knows who is behind The Organisation, why doesn’t he call in the troops? His mission is complete – he knows who the bad guys are and what they do. Time to shut them down I say – but ‘no’ – Mulligan wants to play out the game a little longer.

Now playing out the game is not the brightest thing that Mulligan has done, because he is given a vaccination injection, to protect him against the nasties in the un-named Middle Eastern country where he is to be sent to. But this injection is actually a poison that has a 24 hour incubating period. Mulligan must receive the anti-dote in 24 hours or he will die, but he doesn’t know this. He flies out and upon arrival passes out. Luckily resident bad guy, Dr. Sadi is on hand to provide the antidote. But this antidote has to be administered over the next three days for it to take permanent effect.

Now at this point in the movie, with its poor plot contrivances, you may be thinking it’s time to hit the ‘off’ button. I know I was. But you’d be wrong. This is where the beautiful Margaret Lee enters the picture. Lee may have never been a household name in the 1960’s but she was a busy girl appearing in a swag of Eurospy films – such as Dick Smart 2.007, From The Orient With Fury, Arriva Dorrelik and many more.

Unfortunately, despite Lee’s presence, when the action in the film is supposed to start heating up, the film begins to plod along. There’s quite a few scenes which provide local colour, but do little to move the story along. The film drags out it’s final few minutes at an infuriatingly slow pace before reaching a rather predictable and uninspired climax.

One of the co-directors on this film was Andre Hunebelle who had just come off directing the Fantomas trilogy with Jean Marais. Hunebelle, had also directed several of the earlier OSS films and by this time was battle hardened in presenting convoluted espionage stories. But even his input here can’t seem to save this film. After a sprightly start, this film quickly bogs down and becomes pretty muddled.

The films from the OSS series are some of the more polished Eurospy productions from the sixties and as such, this film is probably just worth seeking out. Only ‘just’. And even then you’d have to be a rather forgiving Eurospy fan – but I figure if you’re into watching Eurospy films, then you’re probably used to watching a lot of crap, and most likely perfectly willing to accept this films failures. It could have been so much more – but hey it features the man who could have been Bond.

And speaking of which, in closing, how does John Gavin stack up as a secret agent? Would he have made a good Bond? Na! He is a bit like Tom Adams – perfectly acceptable in a knock-off role, but as the real-deal, I just can’t see it.

Thanks to Skadog

OSS 117 Murder For Sale (1968)