Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966)

*. I’ve read, somewhere, that Quentin Tarantino considers this to be one of his favourite movies. By now I’m not sure how many movies there are out there that Tarantino hasn’t said this about. It doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
*. Still, if not for Tarantino’s recommendation I doubt this would be a movie on many people’s radar, and I was pleasantly surprised by Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. I wasn’t expecting much, and right from the get-go it raised the bar with a really impressive sequence shot on Rio de Janeiro’s statue of Christ the Redeemer. No, it’s not great filmmaking but it does make good and full use of the location for a totally satisfying intro.
*. The rest of the movie comes down a bit from the top of Corcovado Mountain, but a lot of it is still very good. Mike Connors, who narrowly missed being cast as Matt Helm, is perfectly serviceable as the secret agent “Kelly” (even he’s not sure if that’s his real name, as we find out in one of the wittier exchanges of dialogue). Raf Vallone is better than average as the villainous Mr. Ardonian. Dorothy Provine is a fellow spy who can act the bimbo when the situation demands. Terry-Thomas is killed off in the opening minutes, but is back later as an omnicompetent chauffeur. It’s a good cast.
*. I mentioned Connors narrowly missing out on being cast as Matt Helm. Director Henry Levin would be luckier, being picked to direct the next two Helm movies (Murderers’ Row and The Ambushers) based on the success of this.
*. There are solid production values, as I think was fair to expect from a Dino De Laurentiis production. This is a good looking movie, shot on location in Rio and in studio at Rome. The sets are a fair imitation of Ken Adam. There are a number of truly memorable touches, like the guck Terry-Thomas puts in a car’s radiator that causes it to spontaneously disassemble, the way another car turns into a billboard, a feather boa that conceals a boa constrictor (yoiks!), and even the control panel for the rocket at the end which has a launch button labeled “BLAST OFF.”

*. The plot is, as you’d expect, generic. Indeed it would be pretty closely reworked in Moonraker. Ardonian is going to launch a satellite that will irradiate the entire Earth, killing off the sex drive of the human race. Apparently his motives are at least partially altruistic, as he feels overpopulation is going to lead to mass famine and cannibalism in the near future. Luckily he has a bunch of women in cold storage that he will later be able to repopulate the world with himself. Actually, that sounds a lot like the plot to Casino Royale as well, a film they rushed to be released ahead of.
*. The role of women in these sorts of movies is something that’s interesting to consider a little more deeply. In the Bond films there’s always lots of eye candy, both in the form of the Bond girl and (sometimes) a Bond villainess. But it’s only in the Bond spoofs that they went overboard in creating the figure of the fembot, or had plots involving making women into brainwashed sex slaves. Those are two points I find noteworthy: that this presentation of women is not part of the Bond mythos but is nearly ubiquitous in its parodies. So where is the missing link?
*. I don’t know how many fans this one has aside from Quentin. Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating (his lowest) and Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film calls it “The worst Bond imitation known to man.” I don’t understand this. There were a lot — and I mean a lot — of Eurospy movies put out in the ’60s and almost all of the ones I’ve seen are a lot worse than this.
*. So judged alongside its peers I think this is actually pretty good. It’s derivative to be sure (the scene where Kelly listens to the villains plotting from below comes from Goldfinger, Ardonian’s use of an electric chair to rid himself of difficult partners is from Thunderball) but there are enough original touches to keep it interesting, at least for genre fans. For a movie with no aspirations beyond providing a bit of fun that’s good enough.

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The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

*. This should have been good. The anti-Bond, Cold War-spy movie was at its peak, with both The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Ipcress File released the previous year. Once again there was a recently published bestselling novel as a source and a quality cast and crew. But The Quiller Memorandum is a dud.
*. Where did it go wrong? Director Michael Anderson doesn’t have any of Sidney Furie’s flare or the playfulness of the Bond franchise, but he handles the locations well. John Barry, who scored Bond as well as Palmer, acquits himself well. Most of the cast is quite good. Max von Sydow, coming off playing Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told, changes gears to play Oktober. In hindsight he was just entering into a long career playing memorable heavies. Blofeld in Never Say Never Again, Leland Gaunt in Needful Things, the Director in Minority Report, even the evil Brewmeister in Strange Brew. Alec Guinness is so aware that he could do his role half asleep that he even plays one scene incongruously in his pyjamas and housecoat.
*. I think everyone understood the basic idea here as well. Agent Quiller (George Segal) isn’t a gadget man. In fact, I don’t think he even uses a gun. There are no exotic locales, aside from Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, or fancy hideouts. The bad guys have their base in an abandoned mansion, the good guys on a vacant floor of an office building. Berlin itself doesn’t look that far advanced from Vienna in The Third Man. Or London in The Ipcress File. In other words: run-down and grungy.

*. All this is to the good. The problem? If I had to point a finger it would at Harold Pinter. As the review in the Monthly Film Bulletin from the BFI put it: “Based on a popular spy thriller, adapted by a fashionable playwright, and acted by a distinguished international cast, The Quiller Memorandum had everything in its favour even without the spice of topicality gained from the recent neo-Nazi successes in West Germany. But spy thrillers depend on constant action and narrative twists, whereas plots and Pinter simply do not mix. In disposing of most of the storyline he has virtually thrown the baby out with the bathwater. All that remains is a skeleton plot which barely makes sense and is totally lacking in excitement.”
*. Pinter should have been a good fit for the material. His plays are full of the looming dread and obscure, coded language of the spy world. But the script here is awful. Much as I admire Pinter as a playwright, I’m not giving him a pass.
*. It’s based on The Berlin Memorandum, the first of what would be 19 Quiller books by Elleston Trevor (a pseudonym). For some reason, however, the titular spy Quiller is turned into an American. I can understand the box office appeal of having an American star, but it leaves the movie not making any sense. What is the CIA doing teaming up with the Brits on this case?
*. A larger question concerns what is even going on. Quiller isn’t up against commies, but Nazis (it’s still too early for them to be neo-Nazis) in Berlin. What is their secret plan? I’ve no idea. As far as I can tell the movie never says. On the commentary track Eddie Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer do their best to sell the notion that Nazis were a real threat at the time. But I don’t think they were. I think there was just some popular interest in what war criminals who escaped justice might be up to. This sold well, as evidenced in such works as The Odessa File and Marathon Man, but I don’t think it has much to do with whatever’s going on here.
*. As an aside, when the movie was released in Germany they erased any mention of Nazis (which shouldn’t have been hard since I don’t think there are many). Instead, the bad guys are commies. Which means the censored version of the movie actually makes more sense.

*. So there’s no real plot to speak of. Just on the level of the basics the action makes no sense. Why do the Nazis let Quiller get away? Why does he, as Pfeiffer puts it, just walk into the Nazi base and get captured without any realistic back-up plan? Then why does Oktober let him wander about the streets of Berlin all night? And perhaps most perplexing of all, what is George Sanders doing here?
*. Things don’t even work on the level of dialogue. I think Pinter enjoyed playing around with some of the back-and-forth spytalk, but there’s only a bit of this and it’s all incidental. Meanwhile, the one place where I thought he’d shine, the interrogation scene, is totally flat, with no memorable lines. No “Choose your next witticism carefully.” No “Is it safe?” Not even a “Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?” Instead it’s just Oktober being malevolent and urbane but then getting angry and yelling at Quiller when he doesn’t respond.
*. Then there’s George Segal. Whatever you think of him as an actor, it seems obvious to me that he’s miscast here. I couldn’t buy him for a second. He just doesn’t have a dark side, and in general doesn’t seem tough enough. I blame the hair. Might he have worked as Derek Flint? I think so. Would James Coburn have been a better Quiller? Ditto.
*. I did like the understated ending. There’s a nice quiet bit of business involving a bomb in a garage, and after that things just sort of trail off. Von Sydow and his gang are call captured, but we only find out about that from a telephone call. Then there’s the showdown with Senta Berger that isn’t. I don’t think there’s any ambiguity here, but at the same time there’s no resolution. I’m sure the final sequence was meant as a nod to The Third Man, only inverted. Given Berger’s profession it’s actually quite a bleak ending, as she is free to presumably corrupt the next generation.
*. Ending on such a high (low) note isn’t enough, however, to salvage a misfire of a movie. The potential was definitely there, and there are a few good scenes, but the total is a lot less than the sum of its parts.

Quiz the one hundred-and-eleventh: Just a note (Part three)

Do you really? Do you know who I am? Well, my name is on this blog. File this week’s quiz under nostalgia. I suppose if I keep doing these things long enough I’ll have to include one on text messages. But for now you’ll have to put up with an earlier form of note.

See also: Quiz the twelfth: Just a note (Part one), Quiz the thirty-first: Just a note (Part two).

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Arabesque (1966)

*. Very much a second act to Charade. Screenplay co-written by “Pierre Marton,” which was a pseudonym adopted by Charade writer Peter Stone. Stanley Donen returning to direct and Henry Mancini scoring. Costumes by Christian Dior instead of Givenchy. The part of David Pollock had been written for Cary Grant but he’d basically retired so Gregory Peck was in. Despite the fact that none of the Arab characters is played by an Arab, Sophia Loren was at least more exotic than Audrey Hepburn and qualifies as Mediterranean. Alan Badel (a Brit) and Carl Duering (German) are laughable sheiks.
*. The main change-up in terms of the plot is that the gender roles have been reversed. Now the male lead is the naive innocent, oddly hooking up with a duplicitous female secret agent. Otherwise it’s a movie that very much follows up its predecessor, while doubling down on the Hitchcock.
*. What I mean by that are the number of sequences that play very much like Hitchcock’s set pieces. The trip to the eye doctor that goes bad. The flight through the zoo. The pursuit of the cipher at the racing track. The only problem with these is that when you try to do Hitchcock this literally you only highlight the difference between what you’re doing and the real thing. Brian De Palma only sometimes got away with his homages, while Gus Van Sant fell on his face.

*. Instead of looking to Hitchcock for more guidance, Donen resorts to gimmickry. He affects a lot of weird camera angles and tricks where he shoots through objects (a chandelier, an aquarium) or plays with distorted reflections. Personally I didn’t object to this, but at the same time I didn’t think it added much. After a while you just sort of smile and roll your eyes. There are a few spots though where it is rather clever.
*. Some of the action sequences also seem more than a little forced. As I was watching Peck and Loren dodge the wrecking weight from a crane I made a note to myself wondering if they could have come up with a more awkward way for the bad guy to try to do them in. I didn’t think so, but it does wind up with a pretty spectacular finale. Only a little later, however, our heroes are being hunted through a field by a . . . combine harvester and a couple of tractors. I thought this might have been even more awkward, as a combine isn’t really a hard vehicle to avoid. Like I say, I think they were reaching here.
*. I think I’m on safe ground in saying most people don’t like Arabesque as much as Charade, but personally I don’t think it rates far behind. Peck and Loren are easy to watch, and I’d hate to have to choose between them and Grant and Hepburn. In addition to having a pet peregrine falcon, an accessory fit for any good Bond villain, Badel’s Beshraavi also has a foot fetish. That made me laugh. Some of the dialogue and situations are still worth a smile, though the mod terrorist Yussef with his “daddy-o”s was a bit too much. The climax on the spectacular Crumlin Viaduct (the film was shot just before it was demolished) is pretty good, for the day. It’s all meant as entertainment and I think it’s put forward well enough, if not quite work of the first rank.

Thunderball (1965)

*. I’ve written quite glowingly (at least by my standards) of the first three Bond films: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. With Thunderball the franchise was truly off and running, being a property that was one of the most anticipated movies ever made. Its budget was greater than the first three movies combined, and it did the best box office yet.
*. Still, I find it the first real misstep in the series. Not a bomb by any stretch of the imagination, but just not as good. Or, as Pauline Kael put it, I think exactly, in her review: “Not bad, but not quite top-grade Bond. A little too much underwater war-ballet.”
*. Things go wrong right from the start. The pre-credit action sequence features a good fight, but ends in silliness with Bond taking a jet-pack off the roof of a chateau and then spraying bad guys with water cannons from his newly-equipped Aston Martin (the water tanks it must have been carrying are hard to imagine). This struck me as just being pranks and hijinks, and that’s a feeling that was reinforced when the action turned to the spa and Count Lippe dials up the power on Bond’s back table, leading him to lock Lippe into a steam cabinet. Were they really trying to kill each other? Or just playing silly games?
*. Tom Jones put everything he had into trying to sell one of the worst of the Bond theme songs, whose lyrics neither he nor the songwriter knew the meaning of. They’d wanted to use “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” sung by either Shirley Bassey or Dionne Warwick, but to be honest I didn’t like that one any better. They just didn’t turn over any aces for this movie.
*. Terence Young back directing for his third and final round of Bond (Guy Hamilton had taken the reins for Goldfinger). But by now the series belonged to Sean Connery. They give him more killer quips, like parking a murdered Luciana Paluzzi at a table and explaining “She’s just dead,” or shooting a heavy with a speargun and saying “I think he got the point,” but his best bit is silent, when Paluzzi asks him to give her something to put on when she gets out of the tub and he hands her a pair of slippers, then sits down facing her. That’s a great bit of Bond stuff, and really I can’t think of another Bond who could have pulled it off.
*. There’s a fair bit of action but I didn’t think it was that well done. Or, to be fair, while it may be well done a lot of it is underwater (which is what ate up a lot of the budget) and I don’t find underwater action very thrilling. Everything is in slow motion. Even the stirring Bond secondary theme that I raved about in my notes on From Russia With Love has to be slowed down here and still can’t save the final “underwater war-ballet.” As Kael said, there’s just too much of this stuff.
*. Several critics have also complained that it’s hard to tell who the bad guys and the good guys are in the underwater scenes. I don’t understand this. They wear different coloured diving suits so it’s pretty obvious. I don’t like the underwater scenes, but not for that reason.
*. The story wasn’t so much based on Ian Fleming’s novel as an original screenplay that had been written to be the first of the Bond movies and which Fleming later turned into a book. Apparently it took over forty years to sort out the legal disputes. Putting such questions aside, it’s actually a pretty good story, but for the first time in the series I got the sense that the producers were more interested in showing off the beautiful locations than tying them into the plot in any interesting way. Men wanted to dress like Bond, make love like Bond, and now vacation like Bond in Nassau.

*. A quick aside here: When the original double-0 team is assembled and sent off to find the missing nukes Bond is first assigned to Section C, which is Canada. No way, M! Not going to happen! Bond has seen a photo of Domino in a bikini (and her dead brother, who he recognizes) and wants to go to the Bahamas. This made me wonder if Bond ever visited Canada. I don’t believe he did.
*. Another aside: on the DVD commentary John Cork (of the Ian Fleming Foundation) does a nice job pointing out various slip-ups in continuity due to the way the film was shot and edited into a different order. I think most of these are invisible and make sense, but I didn’t understand why he felt the need to say “while many might identify these as continuity problems they are actually skillfully made edits.” No, they are both. If a character’s clothes change between shots then that’s a continuity error, however many days of filming it may have saved.
*. As in earlier instalments the main supporting players — Claudine Auger (Bond girl) and Adolfo Celi (Bond villain) — are dubbed, but it doesn’t matter because they both look the part. I mean, I don’t know why Largo is such a hard out for Bond in the final punch-up, but he does look nasty with his shock of white hair, eye-patch, and black scuba suit. Auger, in the meantime, looks good in a swimsuit but I’m still sad that Raquel Welch never got a shot at being in one of these flicks. She was pursued here but appeared in Fantastic Voyage instead.
*. So what happens to the scientist at the end who releases Domino and gets rid of the bomb trigger? I guess he’s got his ring buoy, even if he can’t swim. He’s sort of like the guy who shuts the bomb off at the end of Goldfinger, just showing up out of nowhere to save the day and then disappearing.
*. The final shot of Bond and Domino being yanked off the raft was too much for me. Wouldn’t they have suffered some pretty major dislocations being picked up like that?
*. Young thought Dr. No the most interesting of the Bond films, From Russia With Love his favourite, and Thunderball . . . the one that did the best box office. That’s not a bad summary. Success would mean the series would keep going, and indeed Thunderball would even be remade in 1983 as Never Say Never Again. That later movie would drag Connery out of retirement, and his lack of interest showed. Here, however, he still seems to be game, though I think his commitment was about to fade.
*. I’m a Bond fan and I’ve seen Thunderball many times. Watching it again certainly didn’t hurt. It’s still a fun movie. But it also marks a gentle falling off in my book. The series had much worse, but also some better, to come.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

*. Of course given that there was a lot of money in the spy genre in the mid-60s it was inevitable that American International was going to try to cash in. But can we at least say they were making an honest effort with this one?
*. I think we can. In Norman Taurog they got an Oscar-winning direct to take the helm, though admittedly that had been over thirty years earlier for Skippy (and if you’ve even heard of Skippy, much less seen it, you’re an award-winning cinephile yourself). It also had a huge budget, at least for this studio, being the first AIP picture to cost over $1 million to produce.
*. I’m not sure all that money was well spent, but it does show that an attempt was being made to make something good. And, for the most part, I think it succeeds.
*. To a large extent the production was limited by the desire to stick with formulas that AIP knew best. Hence, instead of a true spy parody it’s an even stranger amalgam of one of the Vincent Price Poe confections and a beach-party flick.
*. In the former case, it’s got Price as Dr. Goldfoot, who needs only be a villain scheming of global domination but turns out in the end to be yet another mad inquisitor, one who even wears a cape and has a dungeon full of medieval torture instruments in his basement. In fact, he’s even got a full-scale working model of the pendulum from Roger Corman’s Pit and the Pendulum (1961). Of course it’s the same machine, and they even reuse some of the same longshots. The portraits of Dr. Goldfoot’s ancestors are also depictions of characters that Price played in previous movies.
*. With regard to the beach-party angle, we’ve got Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman as the co-leads (their characters swapping the names they appeared under in Ski Party a year before), along with a bevy of girls in bikinis. Hell, Harvey Lembeck even has a cameo in his biker outfit, and Annette Funicello is a girl in the dungeon.
*. But wait, there’s more! Or at least there was going to be more. The film was originally intended to be a musical as well, and apparently Price was upset that they cut out all the songs. Except for The Supremes singing the theme, which is actually quite a catchy little tune.
*. Given all this, the spy stuff is actually pretty thin. They were mainly trying to ride the coattails of Goldfinger, which had come out the year previously. Avalon’s character works for the spy organization S.I.C. (Secret Intelligence Command), where he has the code name of Double-O-and-a-half. Or at least that’s what his uncle, the Command’s San Francisco office head, calls him. Or Double-O-and-a-quarter if he’s mad at him. What the number means is that he’s not only not licensed to kill but can’t even carry a gun. In the U.S.!
*. I’m not sure what the S.I.C. actually does and like I say this part of the story is very thin. But because Avalon bumps into one of Dr. Goldfoot’s bikini girls by accident he uncovers a mad plot involving the fembots. Or perhaps not so mad. As far as these evil masterminds plotting world domination go, Dr. Goldfoot’s scheme is pretty sensible. He basically programs these gold-digging beauties to seduce the richest men in the world and then have them sign over their fortunes to their new mistresses/brides. I like the old honey trap better than threatening to blow up the planet.
*. The humour isn’t even spy-related, as it would be with most of theother Bond spoofs. Instead it’s broad, Three Stooges stuff. Dr. Goldfoot has an imbecile assistant named Igor that he’s raised from the dead and that he has to slap around a lot. There are old gags like the guy being caught in the Murphy bed and spraying himself in the face with a bottle of seltzer. I guess you can’t go wrong with the classics.
*. I’m not a fan of car chases, especially in comedies. They ironically bring everything to a screeching halt. The one we end up with here is maybe a little better for all of its craziness, not to mention tearing up the streets of San Francisco a few years before Bullitt, but it just feels like they were running out of things to do. Then there’s a coda, leading up to “The End?” I wonder what the first movie was to end with that. This movie came out a couple of years ahead of Spider Baby, which also does it. I don’t know who did it first though.
*. Overall, however, I have to admit I liked this one. It’s silly and kind of sexy, which is a hard combination to pull off. There’d be a follow-up directed by Mario Bava, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, apparently because Bikini Machine did well in Italy. It seems to me it should have played well anywhere. There’s plenty of nonsense here for everyone.

The Ipcress File (1965)

*. Success leads to imitation and parody. In the case of the Cold War spy story in the wake of Bondmania though there was an alternative path, which was correction. Why not make espionage less glamorous, more realistic, grubby, even mundane? Why not add in some darkness and moral ambiguity? Thus was born Bond redux. That Harry Saltzman, who produced the early Bond films, would also produce The Ipcress File was perfectly apt. He would profit from both the disease and its cure.
*. Enter Len Deighton and his tetralogy of spy novels, three of which were made into movies with Michael Caine as the British spy Harry Palmer (a nom de scène; in the books he’s unnamed).
*. I can’t remember who it was that said bad books make good movies, but when considering the spy genre it does have the ring of truth. The thing is, Ian Fleming was a terrible writer. Deighton is much better: funny, clever, intelligent, and even at times a bit adventurous. He uses words like “azoic” and “horrisonous” just for kicks. I’d rather go back and read him than all but one or two of the Bond novels any day. But, for better or for worse, Bond became the franchise hero while Deighton’s protagonist is largely unknown. After a run of successful novels (four) and movies (three) in the 1960s Palmer made one more appearance in the mid ’70s (Spy Story) and a couple of TV movies (not written by Deighton) in the mid ’90s.

*. I think I know what some of the problem was. Deighton wasn’t that great at movie writing. The action scenes in his books don’t play like movie scenarios, and indeed at times they can be hard to follow. The film version of The Ipcress File is a very free adaptation of the book, getting rid of all of the stuff in the South Pacific where the Americans are testing a neutron bomb. Perhaps that seemed too Bondish. What they’ve added, however, are lots of great movie touches. That opening scene of the kidnapping where the different man appears in the train carriage is totally new. There’s nothing like it in the book.
*. Alas, the one thing they couldn’t really change, because it’s so central it gives us the title, is the brainwashing stuff. Too bad. I was trying to think of movies that have done a good job dealing with brainwashing or hypnosis. Of course there’s the tour de force of The Manchurian Candidate, but aside from that I couldn’t come up with anything. I think because all of the action takes place in someone’s head and it’s almost impossible to present this credibly. In this film they take the approach that would go on to become very familiar — the man strapped into a chair while lights and pictures play all around him, a la The Sorcerers, A Clockwork Orange, The Parallax View (there seems to have been some anxiety underlying all this about what television was doing to us) — but even with Michael Caine doing his best, I still wasn’t buying any of it.

*. Michael Caine has been with us for so long, and he’s so familiar, not least for being in so many crumby parts, that it’s easy to forget how good he can be. He’s in top form here as the almost-too-smart-for-his-own-good Palmer. And he’s backed up with some capable supporting players too. Nigel Green is particularly well cast as the eccentric Dalby, complete with Imperial moustache, while Guy Doleman fits the bill as the dour Ross.

*. The atmosphere is a wonderful mix of a conservative (brollies and bowlers) but low-rent London that seems far from swinging. Indeed, it’s a city that’s nearly indistinguishable from the Berlin of next year’s The Quiller Memorandum. Then it’s shaken up with trendy direction from Sidney J. Furie. The compositions are all weird angles (high and low), Dutch tilts, and foregrounds obstructing half or more of the frame. If you’re going to discover a body, why not reveal it by shooting down through a light fixture? Or hide half of Dalby’s face behind a furious red lampshade? This is nutty stuff, but it’s quite a lot of fun. They don’t make movies like this anymore.

*. Caine says the studio wanted the scene of Palmer cooking to be cut because it made him look like a “fag” (their word). In fact Deighton, who wrote two books on cookery as well as a regular newspaper “cookstrip” (recipes with illustrations), quite enjoyed cooking. And those are his hands seen in close-up doing the meal prep. I wonder if Caine knew how to cook. Apparently he didn’t know how to drive.
*. Fun stuff, but it winds up on a low note. There isn’t much of a payoff at all, and since they’ve already revealed what’s going on there’s no real suspense. Up until the final act though it’s good work. Not as entertaining as one of the early Bond vehicles, but fine in its own way.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965)

*. The 1960s, being the height of the Cold War, were also the height of the spy movie. Of course the figure who bestrode the cultural landscape like a colossus was James Bond, whose franchise kicked off with Dr. No in 1962. After that the floodgates truly opened, with more Bond movies, then Bond rip-offs, Bond parodies, and also a whole genre of what we might think of as anti-Bond spy movies.
*. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is very much in this latter camp (despite the screenplay being written by Paul Dehn, who was just coming off doing Goldfinger). As Michael Sagrow puts it in his Criterion essay: “Le Carré’s view of espionage as an extension of the ugly, soul-grinding side of Cold War politics was more than a slap at the Bond books’ Byronic derring-do and the movies’ glamour, gimmickry, and jet-setting. It read like an exposé of the spy game’s dirty little secrets, linking the spiritual and emotional calamities of a burned-out fiftysomething British agent to the crises of values that plagued East and West in the mid-twentieth century.” And there’s even Bernard Lee, Bond’s M, showing up as a corner grocer.

*. So, no exotic locations, no over-the-top Ken Adams sets, no bombshell Bond girls. Leamas (Richard Burton) even calls out such fantasies in trying to explain the business to his lover Nancy (Claire Bloom): “What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives.”

*. Honest? Maybe. But realistic? Perhaps in terms of its moral tone. But I don’t find the events here very probable. Still, that air of Cold War-noir seems to have been enough for most people, helped along by the stagey ’40s photography. Aside from that . . .
*. Was Richard Burton really all that good? I don’t just mean that I don’t think I’ve really liked him much in anything, but was he that good an actor? He did, after all, win the Golden Turkey Award for the Worst Actor of All Time. Mostly, I think, for his over-emoting. Which was, in turn, his signature style. Did he ever play light?
*. He came from the stage and maybe that deep-voiced presence worked better in theatre. On screen he always seems like he’s playing some variation of the angry drunk (a role that he may have been playing offscreen as well). He was actually Leamas’s age at the time (39), but looks at least ten years older. Though people did age faster in those days. Even movie stars.
*. I didn’t find him all that credible as Leamas. I didn’t find Nancy credible either, but I think that’s the fault of the part, which doesn’t make much sense to me. I did, however, enjoy Oskar Werner as the too-earnest and hapless East German pawn, and Peter van Eyck as an impassive and untouchable force of . . . evil? Well, everyone is compromised.

*. Sure there are nice subtle touches that capture the bureaucratic nightmare everyone is caught up in. I love how each successive figure Leamas meets on the other side humiliates the previous underling. That has the ring of truth even more than the dingy sets.
*. But while there’s a lot to like I still come away unsatisfied from this one. A lot of the dialogue which is supposed to sound cynical now just seems precious (“I’m a man!”, “What about love?”, etc.) I appreciate the low-key atmosphere, but I think it also contributes to my lack of interest in the climaxes. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think Leamas has actually fallen in love with Nancy or if he only feels a sense of duty toward her at the end. But then I never really bought Burton as a spy, burned out or otherwise. Martin Ritt also presents it all as a drama, with characters playing different roles off against each other in a series of one-on-ones culminating in the trial. Building suspense seems to have never entered his head. So while I’ve praised the photography, which looks great, this just doesn’t feel like a movie.
*. The title has gone on to become famous, even if the movie is less well known. Maybe even less well known than the novel today. I think it’s mostly well done but I just don’t find it that involving.

Goldfinger (1964)

*. I concluded my notes on From Russia With Love by saying how “Cubby” Broccoli thought the formula was set after that film. True in some ways, as it introduced a number of what would become regular features. But that film was also a one-off for the franchise too. Goldfinger, I would argue, is the movie that gave us the complete formula in perhaps its most perfect package. Not coincidentally it also marked the greater expansion of the franchise, with product placement and later marketing tie-ins running wild.
*. So in this movie you get Sean Connery at his most charming, even when first appearing with a seagull stuck to his head, or later dressed in a baby-blue onesie or a three-piece suit (the latter being something I found incongruous, even for a fashionable spy). You get arguably the greatest of all the Bond theme songs, belted out by brassy Shirley Bassey (listen to the demo recording with Anthony Newley doing the vocals to hear what a difference she makes). There’s Bond’s Aston Martin, tricked out with all kinds of gadgets. There’s Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), not as explicitly lesbian as in Ian Fleming’s novel but still submitting to the ultimate straight-maker Bond, who puts her on the path of virtue (I mean, foiling Goldfinger’s plot) after a quick roll in the hay (a swift conversion that would be made fun of in Thunderball). There are set designs by Ken Adam, including the climactic cathedral of gold. There’s another silent henchman in the unforgettable Oddjob (Hawaiian wrestler Harold Sakata).
*. And of course there’s the criminal mastermind Auric Goldfinger. Gert Fröbe provides the physical presence, though his lines are dubbed by Michael Collins. In the “making of” featurette included with the DVD you can watch a screen test by another actor reading for the part of Goldfinger. I can’t imagine getting turned down for a part because the producers wanted someone who couldn’t even speak English. But according to director Guy Hamilton (helming his first of four Bond pictures) they didn’t find out that Fröbe would have to be dubbed until he showed up on set and they started shooting. I find that very hard to believe. Then again, dubbing was ubiquitous at the time. Shirley Eaton is actually dubbed here too. And in Thunderball both Claudine Auger and Adolfo Celli would be dubbed as well.
*. Apparently they’d wanted Orson Welles to play the part but he’d wanted too much money. That would have been fun. But would it have been a better movie? Maybe not.

*. They were in the zone, and with this many things going right they couldn’t miss. The plot is pure fantasy but I don’t think anyone objects. Does it matter that we don’t know who it is who comes in to deactivate the bomb at the end? I mean, who the hell is that guy? Who cares? The countdown ends on 007, that’s all that matters. I was hooked right from the brilliant credit sequence, that gets away with showing many of the film’s highlights in creative ways. The flipping license plates on the Aston Martin superimposed over the model’s lips. The golf ball draining down her cleavage.
*. Guy Hamilton was certainly up to the task. That wonderful opening helicopter shot that takes the man diving from the high platform into the pool and Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) watching through an underwater window is a bravura sequence. Less than a minute of screen time and it lets you know that you can sit back and enjoy things because you’re in good hands.
*. Iconic scenes soon follow. The girl painted gold. Bond’s manhood threatened with a laser (perhaps the first appearance of a laser in a movie; in the novel it had been a saw). There are classic lines. “Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr. Bond. It could be your last.”
*. I mentioned Bond’s hats in From Russia With Love. Here Connery is wearing a toupee. I never noticed. Like I say, they were getting away with everything here.
*. The best Bond movie? As I’ve said, my personal choice is between it and From Russia With Love. This one opens the franchise up a lot more and is more fun. And even today the score can make me tear up, it feels so much a part of me. Mock me if you want. I still love it.