A Study In Terror (1965)

Director: James Hill
Starring: John Neville, Donald Houston, John Fraser, Anthony Quayle, Barbara Windsor, Adrienne Corri, Frank Finlay, Judi Dench, Robert Morley, Peter Carsten
Music: John Scott
Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“Hullo Luv, after a bit of fun?”

A Study In Terror may not be one of the more recognised Sherlock Holmes feature films, but it is extremely enjoyable and dripping with atmosphere. Albeit garish late sixties atmosphere.
This Holmes adventure has the venerable sleuth matching wits with Jack The Ripper. Holmes and The Ripper would meet again in the excellent film, Murder By Decree. This film has just enough facts scattered throughout the story to drag you into The Ripper’s world, but not enough to turn it into a classic Ripper story. And in a way that is a good thing. This is first and foremost a rip-roaring Sherlock Holmes adventure, and examining the Ripper legend down to the finest minutiae would slow down the story and ruin the cracking entertainment that has been placed before us.

In this production John Neville is Sherlock Holmes. Apart from Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, I can’t recall seeing Neville in anything else. But he plays a good Holmes. Donald Houston occupies the role of Dr. Watson. Having recently seen Houston as a Nazi spy in Where Eagles Dare I found it hard to trust the guy. If I was Holmes, I wouldn’t turn my back him. I guess he is okay, and thankfully doesn’t play the role as a buffoon.

The film opens in Whitechapel on a foggy night. Walking the cobbled streets, a lady of the night is stabbed in the throat by an unseen assailant.

Next we are dropped into a vibrant pub scene. One of the girls, Polly Nichols is caught stealing a gent’s purse and is thrown out onto the streets. As she makes her way home, she is grabbed from behind and dunked into a water trough. As she flounders in the water, she is stabbed repeatedly.

Then we meet Annie Chapman (Carry-On favourite Barbara Windsor). She is all decked out in red and walking the streets after being kicked out of her lodging for being behind in the rent. She scours the town looking for a bed for the night, but all she finds is the blade of Jack The Ripper.
Sherlock Holmes is drawn into the case after he receives a mysterious parcel in the post. It is a case full of medical instruments. Holmes quickly deduces that it comes from a pawn shop in Whitechapel, and once belonged to a member of the Osbourne family.

Holmes arranges a meeting with obstreperous Lord Osbourne. Osbourne isn’t particularly helpful, but Holmes finds out the case once belonged to his son Michael Osbourne, who ran off to France to become a doctor. Holmes also finds out through Michael’s younger brother, Lord Carfax (John Fraser), that Michael dropped out of school and returned to England and was last seen in Whitechapel where he had married a prostitute, named Angela (Adrienne Corri). As this is a Sherlock Holmes there is plenty more plot convolution.

I didn’t expect much from A Study In Terror, but I got a great little Sherlock Holmes thriller which is a lot better than many of the better known Holmes films. The opening line in the film is “Hullo Luv, after a bit of fun?”…and I think that is a perfect introduction to this film, and sums up it’s contents too. It’s bloody good fun.

A Study In Terror (1965)

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)

When Eight Bells Toll (1970)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Etienne Perier
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Nathalie Delon, Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Derek Bond
Music: Angela Morley (as Walter Stott)
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean

Hannibal Lektor as a secret agent! I’m sorry but Anthony Hopkins performance as ‘Hannibal The Cannibal’ was so successful, and much imitated, that it has now moved beyond a mere performance in a movie, to being a part of popular culture. No matter what Hopkins did in the past or may do in the future, now he will always be compared to, or judged as Lektor. But long before The Silence Of The Lambs, Hopkins portrayed a cold, ruthless secret agent in this adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s novel, When Eight Bells Toll. Back in 1970, Hopkins was in reasonable shape and it didn’t seem like such a stretch for him to play a two-fisted, highly skilled secret agent. This is not the case in the recent film Bad Company, where he seemed completely out of place.

The film opens at sea, with secret service agent, Philip Calvert (Hopkins) in scuba gear. He surfaces near a large freighter at anchor, and proceeds to haul himself up the anchor chain and onto the deck. He makes his way to the radio room and opens the door, only to be looking down the barrel of a gun. The man holding the gun has a steely gaze and doesn’t waiver a muscle. Calvert begins to realise something is not right. This bloke doesn’t speak or move at all. Calvert moves closer and takes the pistol from the man’s hand. The movement causes the radio operator to topple over revealing a knife in the centre of his back. He is dead – just propped up to seem life like. This is someone’s idea of a joke. As Calvert searches more, he finds another dead body. Who are these two men? I am glad you asked, but to find out we have to flash back to a few days previously.

A helicopter lands in the gardens of a giant white mansion. This building is in fact Secret Service Headquarters. Calvert alights from the helicopter and is met by Hunslett (Corin Redgrave). Hunslett, although an agent, specialises in intelligence gathering and does very little field work. He outlines there current problem to Calvert. It appears that several bullion ships have been hijacked at sea. In the film it is never adequately explained why gold bullion would need to be transferred by ship – but let’s just take it as a given that it is important. These ships are hijacked and the crews are taken to Ireland where they are released a few days later. By this time the ships have vanished. Calvert and Hunslett have to come up with a plan to stop the theft and round up the people responsible.

The plan they come up with involves hiding two men to act as radio operators on board the next bullion ship. If it is hijacked, the men will transmit the ships location at designated times, and Calvert will follow behind in another boat. It will come as no surprise that the two men chosen for the mission are the two men that Calvert found dead in the opening sequence of the movie. Calvert and Hunslett don’t have free reign though. They are answerable to Sir Arthur Arnford Jones (Robert Morley). Jones is a stuffy bureaucrat who doesn’t like Calvert’s brash and arrogant manner. But against his better judgement, Jones allows the plan to be put into action.

It’s another eccentric performance from Robert Morley, not too dissimilar to his role in Hot Enough For June – but whereas Hot Enough For June was a gentle comedy, this film is a straight laced action adventure. Thankfully, half way through the movie, Morley gets with the program and pulls it in, and the film is all the better for it.

Every good spy film has a villain, and in When Eight Bells Toll it is shipping magnate, Sir Anthony Skouras. Playing the part is seasoned character actor Jack Hawkins. Hawkins looks quite ill in this movie, and his dialogue has been looped by Charles Gray.

When Eight Bells Toll is actually a pretty good little movie. It may not have the globe trotting excesses of a James Bond film, but it has some fine set pieces, and drips with atmosphere. The cinematography around the Scottish coast is as breathtaking as it is inhospitable. At times, you can actually feel cold and a little sea-sick when watching this film.

There’s one action scene that I think warrants a special mention, which involves a helicopter that Calvert is travelling in, being shot out of the sky and crashing into the sea. The scene is tense and well staged. All in all, this is a good one and worth looking out for.

When Eight Bells Toll (1970)