Category Archives: 1960s

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.

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.

Charade (1963)

*. Charade is a movie pulling in several different directions, indicated by the pot-pourri of genre labels that are cheerfully slapped on it like so many old airline stickers on a piece of luggage. It’s a spy movie, a screwball comedy, a romance, a Hitchcockian thriller . . .
*. Actually, just the name Hitchcock evokes most of the rest. And this is very much a Hitchcock homage. So much so that I found myself wondering what Hitch himself thought of it. The Birds came out this same year, but after that it was Marnie, Torn Curtain, and Topaz. He must have felt envious at Stanley Donen getting such a great script to work with, and Cary Grant too.
*. The movie is fluff, but it’s great fluff, expertly turned out in all departments. Stanley Donen’s bread and butter had been directing musicals in the ’50s, and when musicals went out of style he had to expand his repertoire quite a bit (one of his last films would be Saturn 3). He adapted well, but I think directing in genres is a specialist skill, which is why you don’t see many great directors of horror, or comedy, or musicals, successfully making the career jump. In part because directing is a difficult, demanding job and it’s hard to be a master of more than one set of skills, and in part because genre is like a personal style that goes with one’s own creative tendencies and sensibility. Hitchcock, for example, had a sense of humour, but if he’d made comedies they might have turned out to be just as bad as those of the Coen brothers.
*. I don’t know how far I’d want to take this, but I think what really works in Charade is the energetic pace. You’d be forgiven forgetting Grant’s age (he was on the verge of retirement, and thought he was too old for such parts), and the film’s dated sense of glamour. It’s a lively spy comedy, but mostly it’s a dance with Grant and Hepburn. Really, some big musical numbers are all that’s missing.

*. The screenplay by Peter Stone has as it’s whole raison d’être the production of a series of twists. These are not unexpected or surprising, but are enjoyable nonetheless. There is some light repartee, but nothing too sly or Bondish. Some reviewers were put off by the violence, but certainly by today’s standards it’s all pretty family-friendly. We can even be sure that Regina is going to be made an honest woman by becoming the new Mrs. Thornhill. Or Mrs. Canfield. Or Mrs. Cruikshank.
*. You couldn’t go wrong with these players either. Of course the two leads are right, though I think Grant sometimes plays too broad. And what a supporting cast! James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass as the three nasty stooges looking for their gold. Walter Matthau as rumpled as ever but still cast against type. And even Jacques Marin doing a pretty good Poirot. I wanted more of all of these guys.
*. But what are we to make of Regina (Hepburn)? I like to imagine she’s actually a spy herself and has been playing these men all along. That’s the final twist waiting to be revealed in some post-credit sequence. I mean, doesn’t she seem a little too confident and capable? Isn’t the frightened widow business all an act? Of course she’s the comic naïf, wandering good-naturedly through the minefield of the plot, but I do like to think of her as being secretly in control of the proceedings. And I also like not being told.

From Russia with Love (1963)

*. Starting with Dr. No in 1962 the James Bond movie franchise has been one of the longest continuously-running and most successful series in history. I think only Godzilla has been around longer. And, as with Godzilla, I’ve been a fan of Bond since I was a kid.
*. As you’d expect with such a long-lived series there are endless lists and opinions given over what was the best of the Bond films, who was the best Bond, the best villain, the best Bond girl, and even items like the best Bond car. Because there have been so many Bonds it’s hard to be definitive. Daniel Craig is as appropriate and excellent a Bond for his day as Sean Connery was for his, or Roger Moore for his. It’s hard to pick a greatest-of-all-time.
*. That said, my own pick for best Bond will always be Connery, and for best Bond film I’d say either From Russia with Love or Goldfinger. Why? Here are some of the main reasons.
*. (1) Ian Fleming was not a great writer. Not even a great hack writer. But From Russia With Love was one of the better Bond novels, and the one Fleming personally thought was the best. It’s sharply focused on a single Russian (not SPECTRE) plot to kill Bond, and engages us right away with its set-up. The screenplay makes the necessary big-screen additions (more scenes in Istanbul to make use of various locations, a more thrilling heist of the coding machine, the final two action sequences involving Bond vs. the helicopter and Bond vs. the motorboats), but still has at its heart the same basic storyline, which has Bond going mano a mano against his greatest adversary.

*. (2) Robert Shaw. Enough said. I can’t think of a single movie that I haven’t loved him in. Quint, of course, in Jaws (Spielberg had cast him after seeing him in this movie). Mr. Blue in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin and Marian (squaring off against Connery again). Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons. Aston in The Caretaker. Claudius (yes, Claudius!) in Hamlet at Elsinore. Lonnegan in The Sting. I can’t think of a more perfect complement to Connery and I can’t get enough of seeing them opposite one another. Even if Shaw had to stand on an apple crate when they were filmed together since he was four inches shorter. This is star power: when you can’t take your eyes off an actor even when they’re not saying anything. And Shaw doesn’t speak until the movie is more than half over!
*. (3) I’ll grant the theme song by Lionel “Oliver!” Bart is drippy. They had to hold the lyrics for the end credits and run an up-tempo mix to go with those jiggly opening credits. But to make up for it John Barry introduces what became known as Bond’s “secondary theme.” That’s the music that plays during the theft of the Lektor device. I can’t praise this bit of music enough. Though it’s not as well known as the main Bond theme I think it’s every bit as good (though for some reason the series seems to have dropped it after Moonraker). This is what an action score can be, and in my opinion it’s one of the top five I’ve ever heard. They don’t write them like that anymore. I don’t think anyone can.

*. (4) Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana Romanova doesn’t get a lot of love as a Bond girl, but I like her. She had to be completely dubbed, as she was Italian and her English-with-a-Russian accent wasn’t working. (As an aside, dubbing was used a lot in the movies of this period. In Goldfinger, next up, Gert Frobe would be dubbed as well.) She’s one of the more likeable Bond girls. I love her shrug when Bond tells her that “Captain Nash” will be joining them for dinner. Obviously she’s not thrilled by Shaw’s company, but whatever. Then there’s the scene where she licks her finger to hold it up against the wind when she’s on the speedboat. I wonder if that was improvised. It’s adorable.
*. (5) The rest of the supporting cast comes up aces too. Lotte Lenya is unforgettable as Rosa Klebb. Pedro Armendáriz in his last role as the genial but deadly Turkish host Kerim Bey. Walter Gotell in the first of many appearances as a SMERSH thug. Vladek Sheybal as the chess master and master plotter. And Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell back as M and Miss Moneypenny. They could have dubbed the whole lot of them, because how could you go wrong with this bunch of faces? What a line-up.

*. So it’s a great Bond movie. The first great Bond movie, and maybe the best ever. Director Terence Young on the commentary calls it “far and away” the best and apparently it was Connery’s and Maxwell’s favourite. Though there were other good ones, the series peaked early.
*. It’s also a movie of several firsts. The first pre-title teaser sequence for a Bond film. The first appearance of Q (Desmond Llewelyn), a character credited as “Boothroyd.” Q has gadgets, in the form of a briefcase full of goodies for Bond, but they don’t overload the plot yet. In other words, things were really starting to ripen without becoming overripe. “It was with this film that the Bond style and formula were perfected,” according to producer Albert Broccoli. And where do you go from that?

*. The budget was double that of Dr. No but still cheap at $2 million. They really got their money’s worth, though given how big the Bond pictures were about to get it’s amazing looking at this and seeing just how much of a shoestring production it was. The international location shots are mixed in with really crude studio sets for the hotel rooms, and the repetition of shots (of Rosa in the meeting with Blofeld, of Bond being strafed by the helicopter) are Low Budget Film School 101. Not that it doesn’t work. I didn’t even notice how, after the walk-through of the SPECTRE camp they loop back to a different shot of them entering it again. Then there is the cheesiness, like the cat fight (an almost pornographic bit in the novel) and the shots of the train superimposed over the scrolling map.
*. The helicopter chase scene was based on the crop duster sequence from North by Northwest. Less obviously, Young meant the opening scene taking place on the grounds of the big house on SPECTRE island to be an homage to Last Year at Marienbad. Hm. Well, it had just come out a couple of years previously. Still . . .

*. Would anyone be allowed to shoot inside Hagia Sophia today? And could they have thought of a more conspicuous place to make a drop?
*. No, I don’t think Terence Young was a great director. But he was very capable and knew what worked. Look at that scene where Shaw stalks Bond while walking inside the train while Bond is out on the platform. Not a shot that makes you stand up and cheer, but one that absolutely works.
*. Simon Winder: “The Cold War has, weirdly, completely vanished, leaving behind such peculiar debris as From Russia with Love, a book and a film which will appear as strange to future generations as abandoned Kazakhstan rocket silos or fallout shelters.” Well, sure, it was a film of its moment. But I think it’s held up great as entertainment.

*. The line where Grant talks about Bond having to crawl and kiss his (Grant’s) foot isn’t in the book. Was it improvised? Bond is, of course, a gentleman agent (what he’s called in the trailer) and a snobbish member of the upper class. He’s on to Grant as soon as he orders the wrong wine at dinner. In the book though Grant is a psychopathic serial killer triggered by phases of the moon, not someone with much of a class consciousness. He’s only working for the Russians because they let him kill people. Was being a lefty something that made him more villainous?
*. I was admiring how Bond kept his hat on throughout the scene where he jumps from the train, takes out the driver of the truck, and escapes from the helicopter. Then, as soon as he’s on the motorboat, he switches over to a captain’s cap. Back in the day it was important to wear the proper lid. Plus Connery was apparently wearing a hairpiece in the movie anyway.
*. The credits even end with a notice that Bond will be back in Goldfinger. As Broccoli says, from here on out the formula was set. And why? Because it was obviously working so well. Perhaps not one of the greatest movies ever made, but one of my favourites even after more viewings than I can count. And I hope I get to watch it again as many times.

Never Take Candy from a Stranger (1960)

*. A British (Hammer) production whose original UK title was Never Take Sweets from a Stranger. Set in Canada, though the opening titles inform us that it’s a story that could have happened anywhere. Which is nice to know.
*. It’s never said where in Canada we are but my best guess is New Brunswick. There’s a lot of logging going on in Jamestown and one mention is made of St. John and the St. Lawrence River. Not that it matters, but I was curious.
*. Not a successful film at the time, for what I think are pretty obvious reasons. The subject matter isn’t a lot of fun: the patriarch of the town’s richest family is a pedophile, but is protected by his wealth and power. It’s basically a message movie, controversial when it came out and still unsettling.
*. Unfortunately, like a lot of Hammer productions it takes a good idea (the story is based on a play called The Pony Trap) and gives it a mostly indifferent execution. The pursuit of the two girls through the forest by the pervy killer is actually well done, and it comes after a decent if predictable bit of courtroom drama. But it never really grips the way it should.
*. It’s daring even today. Or should that be especially today? The landscape has evolved and the issues raised have become more complicated. But perhaps not surprisingly it’s a movie that pulls back from being too edgy. The word “bastard” even had to be dubbed out to “swine” for release in the U.S., which is kind of weird since “swine” is about as British as “sweets.”
*. I say it pulls back mainly because the creepy old man isn’t a credible villain. Exactly how he gets the girls to undress for him isn’t clear since he seems to be totally nonverbal. How he catches up to them is a live question too, as he seems to have suffered a stroke at some point and can only stagger around through the woods a bit like Frankenstein’s monster (a comparison that goes along with his inability to speak).
*. In other words, he’s a beast and not a villainous man, which blunts some of the horror. What remains is a disturbing but not very enjoyable movie that remains a bit of a curiosity. For many years it dropped out of sight entirely, again for the more or less obvious reasons. And yet the subject matter of children at risk remains relevant, as (perhaps even more depressingly) does the social analysis. Clarence Olderberry Sr. is still with us, but so is Jr. I think we know better how to protect ourselves from the old man, but his son is still running loose.