Category Archives: 1960s

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

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*. “A motion picture for every man who ever gave the back of his hand to his beloved . . . and for every woman who deserved it. Which takes in a lot of people!” You won’t see an ad line like that on many movie posters these days. But in 1967 it wasn’t too extreme.
*. But that’s just the ad line. More disturbing is the way the movie presents Petruchio’s taming tactics. He’s really quite rough, and the movie plays up the humiliation and degrading of Katherina more than the source requires. Since its first production people have argued over just how sexist a play this is, with various sides being taken. That said, this seems to me to be a pretty sexist film version.
*. The Taming of the Shrew has always held the stage, in various forms, because it plays well as a blunt and bawdy comedy. It also helps that it can be taken apart quite easily without losing anything that makes the core story less enjoyable. Getting rid of the Christopher Sly “Induction,” for example, is an obvious first step.
*. That said, Zeffirelli jettisons a lot. Hortensio is diminished both in terms of his lines and his standing. It’s hard to see how, in this film, he and Petruchio could have ever become friends. There is also no explanation given for the sudden appearance of the widow he marries at the end.
*. Lucentio, played by Michael York, also gets short shrift. But then this was a star vehicle, with Burton and Taylor both investing in the production. It was Michael York’s first film.
*. The credits read: Screenplay by Paul Dehn / Suso Cecchi D’Amico / Franco Zeffirelli With Acknowledgements to William Shakespeare, Without Whom They Would Have Been At a Loss for Words.
*. If you’re a purist, you’re allowed to be upset. Shakespeare’s language is sacrificed in order to get more rousing, physical humour in, and the big lines are repeated. Indeed, one big line that gets repeated — “Of all things living a man’s the worst” — isn’t in Shakespeare at all.
*. But what are you going to do? Shakespeare has always been adapted to contemporary tastes. You have to play to your audience. The badinage about the sting in the wasp’s tail (“What, with my tongue in your tail?”) would have been raunchy on the boards of the Globe, but probably goes over most heads today.

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*. I’ve never thought that much of Elizabeth Taylor as an actress. But she was a great star, and she brings enough of that quality to this role to make it work. Her eyes have a real fire and fertility in them and she looks quite zaftig and heaving even buried under all that drapery.
*. Richard Burton, on the other hand, appears to be slumming it. I don’t get the sense that he was trying very hard (despite the fact that he sank a lot of his own money into the film). His Petruchio is one of the least sympathetic I’ve seen, and it’s worth saying that he is not an unsympathetic character, at least necessarily, in Shakespeare. Was this Burton’s fault? Or was it the ’60s?
*. I first saw this movie in an edited form when we studied the play in high school. I enjoyed it and thought it really brought Shakespeare to life. Perhaps it’s because of that association, however, that I find it juvenile and inadequate today.

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Curse of the Fly (1965)

*. When is a Fly movie not a Fly movie? The Fly II (1989) didn’t have much to do with a fly getting into one of the transporter pods but simply had the fly DNA passed down to Martin Brundle by way of a genetic inheritance from his dad. So it was a Fly movie of the second generation. Curse of the Fly, however, being the third and final instalment of the original run, goes even further afield. As far as I could tell there weren’t any flies in it at all, or even any reference to them. The earlier movies are sort of shoehorned into the mix, in a very awkward fashion, because we’re dealing with the son and two grandsons of the original scientist, working on the same technology. Except the son in this case isn’t Phillipe Delambre (the little boy in the first film) but rather someone named Henri. And I think the events of Return of the Fly are skipped over completely.
*. The transporter technology has been improving, so that now instead of just beaming across a room you can instantly zap yourself from London to Montreal. Alas, there are still some kinks in the system, as people who go through the process suffer from melting skin and accelerated aging. But nobody turns into a fly.
*. Henri Delambre is just a run-of-the-mill mad scientist. The hero of the story is his son Martin, played by George Baker. In the intro Marin picks up a girl named Patricia (Carole Gray) who is running away (in her underwear, for no apparent reason) from an asylum. The two fall in love, rapidly, and decide to get married. “But you don’t know anything about me,” she says. “You don’t know anything about me either,” he replies, “and I don’t need to know.” So it’s set.
*. They should have spent some more time finding out. At the family manor house the Delambres are keeping a stable full of their failed experiments, including a former wife of Martin’s named Judith (don’t worry, they got a “Mexican divorce”). And Martin is starting to suffer the effects of transportation sickness himself. Meanwhile, Patricia was only locked away in the asylum because she had a breakdown when her mom died. So I guess that makes them kind of even. Then, as the experiments continue and the police search for Patricia the failed experiments start getting restless, leading to some frightening confrontations between Patricia and the first Mrs. Rochester (who only looks like she has a bit of plaster stuck on one side of her face).
*. Also present in the house are an Asian couple who serves as housekeepers. He is Tai, played by Burk Kwouk (the Pink Panther’s Cato). She is Wan, played by Welsh actress Yvette Reese in some unconvincing Oriental make-up. Together they are Tai and Wan. I think that was meant as a joke.
*. If all this sounds terribly overwritten, that’s because it is. It made me think of all the Hammer stuff that was coming out in the ’60s. It looks like a Hammer film too, which probably shouldn’t surprise us given that it was directed by Don Sharp, who was doing a lot of work for Hammer at the time. It was shot at Shepperton Studios and financed in part by the Eady Levy, a tax on box office intended to support British filmmaking. Not a good look for government funding of the arts.
*. I’ve had some fun cracking wise on this one, but the fact is it’s no fun at all. It’s dreadful. The way the Delambres treat the victims of their experiments is disconcertingly cruel, but the two sons don’t seem to object to it much. They only want to “get on with” their lives and stop spending so much time in the lab.
*. You might get your hopes up when you see the opening shot of the window exploding and the glass flying toward the camera. I take it the window was actually above the camera and the glass was just falling down. It looks neat. But from that opening shot it’s all downhill until the final credits, which ask “Is this the end?” Thankfully it was, at least for another twenty years. Then David Cronenberg came along.

Topaz (1969)

*. A lot of people thought Hitchcock was played out after Torn Curtain. Topaz is, in my opinion, much worse. It was also (not coincidentally) the longest movie Hitchcock ever made, his most expensive, and his biggest box office failure.
*. You’d be forgiven for thinking his career was over, but Frenzy, which I think is pretty good, was still in the wings. And in his defence, there’s some truth to the fact that neither Torn Curtain nor Topaz were movies he really wanted to make. He had difficulties with both productions, from which he seems to have finally withdrawn here, either falling asleep while shooting or leaving the set altogether and letting someone else take over. John Forsythe just found him “very sad.”
*. The film was the studio’s idea. Hitchcock wanted to do Frenzy but was meeting resistance. So even after the failure of Torn Curtain he was basically assigned to do another Cold War spy drama, a genre that by now had totally passed him by.
*. Apparently he was interested in making a “realistic Bond picture,” but I’m not sure what he might have meant by this. According to Leon Uris, author of the bestselling novel Topaz was based on, Hitch knew nothing about modern spies and had little interest in politics. His “research” consisted of rewatching The Spy Who Came In from the Cold.
*. You can tell right from the opening credit sequence how little interest and effort was being put into the project. A still photo of a Red Army parade turns into stock footage of the same. We’re a big step down from the sub-Bond credits of Torn Curtain already.
*. “A most unhappy picture to make,” in Hitch’s own words. The script was being written up to the same day of shooting. The process shots don’t just look artificial but laughable. There were no stars (he’d had enough of them after working with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews). Instead there was Frederick Stafford as a sort of EuroBond (not the financial instrument). He’s stiff and uninspiring. Pauline Kael called him an “Arrow-collar-shaving-cream-ad hero.”
*. But then I think perhaps the biggest drawback here, among many, is that we don’t like anyone. The secret agent Devereaux is adulterous without being passionate, and so is his wife. Well, they’re French. But who else can we warm to? Roscoe Lee Browne as a Harlem florist/undercover man possesses the only charm in sight, and John Vernon as mini-Fidel has the only charisma.
*. The one shot, and it’s a shot not a scene, that everyone singles out for praise is the flowering death of Karin Dor. For a movie that runs an unforgiveable two hours and twenty-three minutes this isn’t enough. Sure there are a few other moments of interest, but that’s all.
*. There were three different endings filmed, and indeed it was released in these different versions for different markets. All are included on the DVD. I don’t know which is the worst. I guess the airport scene is the best. But as I’ve said many times before, if your movie has three endings then it really doesn’t have any. You’re just flailing.
*. In his video appreciation included with the DVD Leonard Maltin does his best to salvage what he can for it. “Not first-tier Hitchcock but very solid second-tier Hitchcock, and second-tier Hitchcock is better than almost first-tier everybody else.” I don’t agree with this. It’s bottom-tier Hitchcock, and that is not better than almost anyone else.
*. I do agree with the point he makes that “good is no small achievement” for most movies, but this was a major studio production, and even though Hitchcock was disengaged (Kael: “lazy and out-of-touch”) I still think he might have come up with something better than this. On no level, even the most basic, did I enjoy any part of Topaz. It’s actually worse than just a bad movie. It’s a joke.

Carry On Doctor (1967)

*. The fifteenth Carry On movie, which puts it right in the middle of the pack (there were 31 total). Apparently they were thinking of winding things up, as the two previous films — Don’t Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel, both released the same year as this — hadn’t done well. But box office for this entry was good, and next up was Carry On . . . Up the Khyber, often regarded as the high point of the series.
*. The Carry On movies can be characterized as either exotic in time and place or domestic. This is one of the domestic features, and it’s really quite circumscribed. It might have still worked, but there’s a sense of tiredness to the proceedings. Sidney James was recovering from a heart attack and spends most of the film in bed. Frankie Howerd joins the cast in a leading role but other members of the gang are relegated to minor parts. Charles Hawtrey is Mr. Barron, a husband suffering from sympathetic pregnancy symptoms. He has no good lines or role to play. Joan Sims is Ms. Gibson, a deaf nag. Peter Butterworth is . . . someone with something wrong with him. He’s that marginal.
*. There’s little plot, even by Carry On standards, and a lot of stuff that isn’t funny at all. I was particularly mystified by what anyone could have thought was funny about Ms. Gibson being deaf and having to have everything repeated for her. Then there’s a later scene where she gets married to Howerd by a deaf priest, which is even less funny. Not because picking on deaf people is politically incorrect, but because it isn’t funny. In fact, it’s downright annoying. And I say I find this mystifying because I don’t see how anyone involved here couldn’t see that. I can only imagine Howerd and Sims looking over the script and asking “Where’s the joke?”
*. This isn’t one of the better Carry On movies, at least in my book. Though if you’re nostalgic for this style of humour, punctuated with exclamations like “Crikey!” “Cor!” and “Phwoar!”, you might get a smile out of some of it. To me it just seems lazy and tired. That the series still had so much longer to run is, in hindsight, remarkable.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

*. Five movies may not sound like a lot, but Bond movies had become such huge media events that Sean Connery had had enough (for now). What’s remarkable, at least to me, is that the producers took the opportunity to actually do a bit of a franchise reset with the recasting of the lead role. It’s not just that George Lazenby is a new face. This feels like a different Bond movie, right from the start.
*. What’s also surprising is that they gave the keys to such an established and profitable property (not to mention the Aston Martin) to someone who had never been in a movie before and indeed had no real acting experience at all. Lazenby was chosen after being seen in a chocolate bar commercial. That his performance here has gone on to become a fan favourite says something about just how good your acting chops have to be in such a vehicle. As director Peter Hunt (who had worked on all the previous Bond films but would only take the helm for this one) put it: “I am not saying he [Lazenby] is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star.” Very true.
*. Pauline Kael thought Lazenby “quite a dull fellow.” This is too harsh. He does have charm and physical presence, even managing to pull off a ruffled dicky and a kilt. But he is lacking the sparkle we associate with a true star, like Connery. He also gives a faint air of feeling somehow superior to the proceedings. And self-assurance is a quality that cuts two ways.
*. In any event, he was one and done as Bond, which is just another of the things that make this film sui generis in the canon.
*. The other big thing that sets it apart being the fact that it’s “the one where Bond gets married.” And here we can say that at least he married the right girl. Right both in the actress, Diana Rigg, and in the character, Tracy.
*. They’d originally wanted Brigitte Bardot for the part but I think Rigg, best known for being Emma Peel on The Avengers, is perfect. She is full of fire and fun. I love how she works her mouth in the scene where she’s driving around the ice-bowl smash-up derby, even getting her tongue in action at one point. And she really sells that fight at the end, perhaps drawing on her TV work. I just didn’t understand why they had to make such a big deal out of her cleavage. Rigg was all legs.

*. As for Tracy, she seems just the kind of privileged yet empty wild child that Bond might fall in love with. She needs an intervention, and frankly so does he. They’re both damaged goods, though stylishly so. I don’t think Lazenby and Rigg have much personal chemistry (my understanding is that she didn’t have much time for him), but on screen they work well enough, and their chemistry is, I think, helped by the fact that she’s the experienced actor.
*. Another change of pace is actually a throwback. The arc the Bond movies were on was heading toward ever sillier plots, stunts, and gadgetry, but here, while the plot is indeed silly (though it sticks pretty closely to Fleming’s book), the gadgetry is done away with and there’s more emphasis on old-fashioned fisticuffs. Lots of fisticuffs. It’s a very physical movie. Even Tracy gets slapped and then finally knocked out with a punch by her loving father (who had helpfully told Bond earlier that “What she needs is a man to dominate her.”)
*. This sense of being grounded but still spectacular when it needs to be received a big boost by the production coup of being allowed to film at a revolving restaurant in the Alps just before it opened. This would be Blofeld’s lair Piz Gloria, a name that the restaurant would later take as its own. This isn’t some Ken Adam set but a real place, and it feels like one. Some locations don’t have a studio substitute, even at Pinewood.
*. Sticking with Blofeld’s eyrie, the climactic attack with the helicopters coming in high out of the rising sun shows why Peter Hunt was the right guy for the job. It’s built out of a series of terrific shots that are ahead of almost anything we’d seen in a Bond movie before. This is great stuff.

*. Here’s another thing that’s new, and even perhaps unique. In the scene where Bond is running through the town being pursued by Irma Bunt and Blofeld’s agents we’re aware of something that Danny Peary picked up on. This Bond is “actually scared.” He even startles in fright at a man in a polar bear costume. You can’t imagine the “other fellow” getting frightened like that. And it all leads up to the scene where Bond, vulnerable and huddled into his coat so as not to be recognized, has Tracy skate up to him in all her leggy glory. It’s a bit of magic, and I can’t think of another moment like it anywhere in the Bond canon.
*. A more realistic, darker, and more cynical Bond movie. Not as much fun, but then fun wasn’t on the menu. Though it’s certainly not without its silly moments. People firing machine guns while skiing downhill? That’s silly (though it looks just as good here as it would in The Spy Who Loved Me, with both scenes being supervised by Willy Bogner). Falling into the snowblower was also silly, but a bit shocking for the time. I wonder if it was the inspiration for the similar scene at the end of In Order of Disappearance.
*. Blofeld’s plot to send his bevy of brainwashed bimbos out into the world as Angels of Death is also silly. It’s in Fleming’s novel, but it plays like any number of other spy movies with psychedelic hypnosis subplots (The Ipcress File, Our Man Flint). I also had to shake my head at Blofeld’s motivation. He just wants amnesty and recognition of his status as a count? As Tracy points out to him, she’s already a countess and it’s no big deal. “A very curious thing, snobbery,” as M puts it.
*. I like Telly Savalas as Blofeld. He suits the part much better than Donald Pleasence. He’s darker and more dangerous, and even funnier too in his own way. I don’t think Blofeld is as unhinged as Pleasence played him in You Only Live Twice. This Blofeld is more down to earth and charming. But locking Bond up in what is literally the only room in his cloud-top castle that can be escaped from strains credulity just a bit.
*. John Barry’s score gets a lot of praise, and much of it is on point, but I miss having a theme song. Of course with a title like that Barry knew it would be impossible (thinking, correctly, that the lyrics would make it sound like Gilbert and Sullivan), but the opening credits here, with their recap of scenes from previous movies in the series, just seem dreary to me.
*. Then there is the song “We Have All the Time in the World,” which is sung by Louis Armstrong. It went on to become a hit but I don’t care for it. It plays too much like what Roger Ebert identified as a film cliché around this time. In his review of Play Misty for Me (1971) Ebert called this the Semi-Obligatory Musical Interlude, which is “the scene where the boy and girl walk in the meadow and there’s a hit song on the sound track.” It’s movie shorthand for a couple falling in love. Useful from a practical point of view, but still a cliché.
*. I mentioned the lack of gadgetry, but there is in fact a safecracking machine and a portable photocopier. The latter being the kind of thing you now buy for $20 at an office supply store. Yes, times change, but I still wondered why Bond was bothering with printing out duplicates of all the papers when he could have just taken pictures of them with the miniature camera we later see him using. I guess a portable photocopier just seemed too neat a novelty to resist (in the next movie, Diamonds are Forever, the use of a card key was a similar novelty that has now become mundane and ubiquitous).
*. The Angels of Death are credited by nationality. But who was the Australian girl? Or the American, German, Irish, or Israeli? They’re not wearing national costumes.
*. Though it received mixed reviews when it came out it’s gone on to be considered one of the best of the Bond films, with many fans ranking it as their favourite. I wouldn’t put it that high but I would place it in my top 5. Despite its hefty running time it moves really well, is technically accomplished (Steven Soderbergh thought it “the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment”), and perhaps most remarkably it successfully readjusts the formula to go with a new star. It’s different from the other Bond films, but in a good way.
*. I have to end on a personal note. James Bond meant a lot to me growing up. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the first Bond movie I saw, in a hotel room in the ’70s on a black-and-white TV set (though as best as I recall it was not the televised version that was recut and that apparently had Bond providing narration). For years I thought it had been filmed in black-and-white. Anyway, I was just a kid. I think this was even before I had read any of Fleming’s books, and though I can’t remember exactly what I felt at the time I did go on to become a fan. So while I’ve forgotten a lot of these movies over the years, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the few that has stayed with me. I guess you never forget your first time.

Some Girls Do (1969)

*. There were three Harry Palmer movies with Michael Caine in the 1960s. Four Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin. Two Flint movies with James Coburn. Even a couple of Dr. Goldfoot adventures (a rare instance of the villain being the franchise). And also two Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond flicks.
*. But that was it for those heroes. Meanwhile, in the 1960s alone there were six James Bond movies (seven if you count Casino Royale), and as of 2020 there have been 27, with more, I’m sure, on the way. I don’t think we can attribute this all to the strength of the Bond brand either. The Bond films were better movies. Meanwhile, I don’t think anyone would want another Bulldog Drummond picture after this.
*. To be honest, I’m not sure many people wanted another Bulldog Drummond picture after Deadler Than the Male. But they basically got the same thing served up over again, with the same star (Richard Johnson), same director (Ralph Thomas), and even the same plot. Once again a criminal mastermind (James Villiers, who likes to dress up like the Duke of Wellington in his off hours) has collected a bevy of beauties to kill off a bunch of high-ranking men in order to sabotage some big corporate deal. The first scene is nearly identical to that of Deadlier Than the Male, only with the sexy stewardess opening a plane door to suck the victim out to his doom instead of blowing the jet up in mid-air and parachuting to safety.
*. Of course these movies were part of the ’60s wave of Bondmania, though it’s interesting to note in this regard that Drummond isn’t a spy. Instead, I believe he’s some kind of insurance investigator. He also doesn’t seem to use the nickname Bulldog very much here. At least I don’t recall it being used. He’s just Drummond. Hugh Drummond.
*. So basically a retread of Deadlier Than the Male, which wasn’t much good in the first place. Bond on the cheap, which is something you notice the most in the action scenes. The girls, headlined by Daliah Levi, are hot, and the camera a little more leering. Though this time out many of them are genuine fembots, albeit still unlikely to be able to resist Drummond’s charms.
*. Actually, the tech angle is the most interesting thing about Some Girls Do. The villain’s master plan involves the use of an “infrasound” weapon in the form of what looks like a radio, which may be meant as a commentary on the pop music at the time. But what I really enjoyed were the little things like the Deluxe Auto Vac, an early Roomba, and those ’60s Ericophon (or cobra) telephones that seem so weird and totally impractical. I mean, they look neat but form doesn’t always follow function, does it?
*. Otherwise this is less than the original. There’s a drippy theme song and Drummond’s nephew is replaced by some twit from the British embassy for comic-relief. The plot didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but then I wasn’t paying much attention. It’s really disposable stuff.

Deadlier Than the Male (1967)

*. In From Russia With Love (Ian Fleming’s novel, not the film), when Red Grant gets the drop on Bond in the train carriage he warns him not to try any “Bulldog Drummond stuff.” Grant would know about Drummond because his residence is strewn with “garish paperbacks and hardcover thrillers.” Bond might not because he reads Eric Ambler.
*. Today I think the number of people who have read a Bulldog Drummond novel must be approaching zero. I know I haven’t. From what I can gather he was a Mike Hammer kind of guy, though also an English gentleman. Good enough for hopeful studio types to try and launch him in a spy franchise in the midst of ’60s Bondmania. After all, he’d been sort-of big on the big screen in the 1930s so at least he was a brand name. And why not cast Richard Johnson as Drummond, the guy who had been Terence Young’s original choice to play Bond? Johnson had turned the part of Bond down because he was under contract at MGM, but would be back (in a movie released just a couple of months after this one) playing yet another Bond clone in Danger Route, and Bulldog Drummond again two years later in Some Girls Do.
*. Given its obvious links to Bond I don’t think comparisons, however unflattering, are out of line. The thing is, they had a lot of the right ingredients here for a successful movie.
*. Cast? Johnson is excellent. Elke Sommer looks sexy wearing whatever (or next to nothing). Her body actually has a very modern buff quality to go with the curves, which wasn’t the fashion in the 1960s. She looks here like she’s been working out. Nigel Green is the same fallen member of the establishment he was in The Ipcress File, and just as good. The bikini killer crew are beautiful. Steve Carlson is Drummond’s gee-whiz nephew. Milton Reid is the Oddjob bodyguard, a part he played in countless movies over several decades (including three Bond pictures that I’m aware of).
*. The script is by Jimmy Sangster (not based on any of the Drummond novels) and it has the virtue of actually making a bit of sense. The sexy assassins are bumping off CEOs in order to achieve a series of corporate takeovers. Of course their methods (exploding cigars, spear guns, paralyzing drugs) are a little far-fetched, but I could at least understand the broad outlines of their plan. Why bother with ruling the world when you can just get rich?
*. The score has a jaunty and catchy movement to it that I don’t think John Barry would have been ashamed of, and the theme song was actually a single by the Walker Brothers (none of whom were related, or even named Walker).

*. The climactic battle is silly, but a fun idea. Johnson and Green have it out on a giant chess board as the pieces are directed by voice commands. You can’t quite credit it, but I have to say I’ve seen a lot worse. Plus there’s the usual business about a bomb about to go off and all the rest of it.
*. So like I say, the ingredients are here. But then most of these Bond rip-offs had no trouble getting the right ingredients together. Where they fail, as this one does, is in their combination. What the Bond movies managed to do, somehow, is find a perfect balance between danger and humour, real violence and good fun. In Deadler Than the Male that line is hopelessly blurred, to the point where it’s never clear to what extent what we’re watching is meant as a spoof and how much we’re meant to take (semi)seriously.
*. Take the scene where Drummond’s nephew gets captured by Sommer. He’s tied up and has his fingernails torn off and cigarettes put out on his chest, the after effects of which we will later see quite clearly. And yet the whole scene is played as a joke.
*. While I’m being critical I’ll also mention one my least favourite movie clichés. This is the scene where someone is being run down by a car (or sometimes a truck, or horse and carriage) and could easily avoid being hit by simply dodging to one side. In this movie this is repeated twice in the same scene set in a parking garage. At any point the guys being chased by a car could simply duck behind a pillar and that would be the end of it, but instead they insist on running right in front of the car that’s bearing down on them. Clichés are bad enough, but the stupid ones really frustrate me.
*. Directed by Ralph Thomas, who I think is best known for doing some of the Doctor and Carry On movies. From his charmingly frank summation of his career I think we can find some suggestion of what went wrong with regard to this movie not settling on any distinct or consistent tone. He described himself as “a sort of journeyman picture maker and I was generally happy to make anything I felt to be halfway respectable. So my volume of work was enormous; I had a lot of energy and made all kinds of pictures. If you make all kinds, you score a hit sometimes. I made thrillers, comedies, love stories, war stories, one or two adventure things. Some filmmakers have a lot of talent and genius for it; others simply have a lot of energy and I’m afraid I belong in the latter category!”
*. That’s where I’ll leave it. A movie with lots of things to like but the whole isn’t nearly as interesting as the parts. Not a bargain-basement Bond, but one that trades at a big discount. Not nearly stylish or polished enough to play in the same league, and not sure enough of itself to be consistent with any single coherent vision. Today it’s largely forgotten — along with, to be fair, most of the rest of Bondmania. As the Highlander said, there can be only one.

The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

*. Frankie Avalon in a spy comedy released by American International. It’s 1967 and you’re probably wondering if this might be another Dr. Goldfoot movie.
*. It’s not just Avalon. The arch-villain Sumuru’s plot for global domination is actually quite similar to Dr. Goldfoot’s. She’s going to send her sexy agents out to seduce and marry the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men, making her the power behind their thrones. That’s the plot of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and I guess it makes as much sense, or perhaps even more, than most of these plans for global domination.
*. Alas, her plans are undone by the weakness all women (even supervillains like herself) have for men, their near perverse need to be dominated by mojotastic hunks like George Nader. Sure they may enjoy the thought of running the world, but they’re still women and so feel the need to be dominated.

*. As far as gender politics go this is even more regressive than the brainwashed fembots of spy spoofs from Flint to Austin Powers. Nevertheless, in 1967 it was what they had to work with. And given Sumuru’s plot it at least makes sense that her recruits are all supermodels. The midriff-baring uniforms, however, attract attention the gang might not be seeking.
*. The character of Sumuru actually has a history. She was the creation of novelist Sax Rohmer, who wanted to have a female Fu Manchu (his better known franchise villain). He wrote five Sumuru books but I haven’t read any of them. In fact, I’d never heard of Sumuru before seeing this movie, though Shirley Eaton would return to play her again in The Girl from Rio (1969) and there would be another 2003 SF Sumuru film out of Germany.
*. The other connection to Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is that this is a buddy spy movie. Most spies are loners: Bond, Palmer, Flint, et al. But in Bikini Machine Avalon was paired up with one of Dr. Goldfoot’s prospective victims and here Avalon is teamed with fellow agent Nader. Tommy Carter and Nick West, if you please.
*. Things were rolling along rather predictably I thought until you-know-who arrives. Mr. Klaus Kinski. The one guy who can steal every scene he’s in no matter what the role. Here he saunters on screen wearing a silk dressing gown and manages to take over the proceedings completely despite some awful voice dubbing. How I would have loved to have heard him play it in his own voice (who knows what sort of accent President Boong would have?), and with some of the gimmicks he’d proposed (including an extra-long tongue). As it is all we get is that robe and, later, a terrific wig.
*. Eaton is sort of colourless as Sumuru. Apparently a role she enjoyed, while admitting these were bad movies. Wilfrid Hyde-White shows up just to move things along. There’s an interesting weapon called a “cube amortis gun” that turns people into statues.
*. Despite the fact that they actually spent some money on this one (not a lot, but some) I found the results kind of baffling. There’s some production value, but also more of a porny flavour of exploitation about it. The poster art proclaims “She rules a palace of pleasure,” but does she? It also seems to be a comedy or spoof, but the joking of Avalon and Nader feel out of place.
*. It’s hard to say how to take this one. It’s both offbeat and generic. Most of it is very bad but some parts are fun. At 79 minutes at least it doesn’t drag until the final shootout. What it really needed though was more Kinski.

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

*. For all their setting in the Cold War, the Bond movies are almost entirely uninterested in that epic contest, or in geopolitics more generally. They aren’t political films at all, especially with SMERSH being replaced by the fanciful SPECTRE organization. But Len Deighton was more grounded, and Billion-Dollar Brain (the novel had the hyphen, correctly, in the title) was one of the most political of the “Harry Palmer” stories (I have to put his name in quotation marks because he’s unnamed in the books).
*. This gives the film a bit more of a contemporary resonance, as the fire-breathing anti-communist General Midwinter (Ed Begley) is a type who is still with us (though he’s had to come up with new enemies). And while he certainly comes off as a caricature, I’m not sure that makes him any less realistic. We’ve become used to caricatures in political life in the twenty-first century.

*. It’s also a bit strange how fresh the computer angle feels. Let’s face it, few items have dated as badly as computers. The stacks of punch cards, giant reels of magnetic tape, and piles of paper spooling out of the printer are things that take some of us a long way back. But at the same time, we’re also more used to the idea of computers controlling everything, not to mention automated voice messages (and bonus points if you recognized that the voice belongs to Donald Sutherland, who also has a bit part as one of the technicians).
*. Having said that, it seems a little odd to me that the Brain (the computer) has such a small role to play in this movie. It seems clear that the maniac Midwinter is the one who is calling all the shots. What exactly does the Brain do except make creepy phone calls?
*. Initial reviews, which were mainly negative, complained that the story was hard to follow. Actually, Deighton is even harder. They make a lot of changes to the book, especially at the end, but overall I thought they did a reasonable job of streamlining things. I had no trouble understanding what was going on, even though the book still confuses me somewhat.
*. As with other films in the series a lot of the team from the Bond films gets some work here. The opening titles are by Maurice Binder. Syd Cain did the production design. And that’s Vladek Sheybal, who played SMERSH’s chessmaster in From Russia With Love as the doctor.

*. The rights were bought before the book was published and I wonder if Deighton was trying to write something more cinematic in the Bond vein. The megalomaniacal villain with a secret lair and a private army, for example. In the book he even has an artificial hand, like Dr. No. But the novel ends on a quiet note whereas they go full Bond here at the end with its epic homage to Alexander Nevsky (even using the same score). None of this makes sense in terms of the plot, but movie audiences had come to expect a bang at the end of Bond and Bond-like films.
*. Ken Russell. Not an obvious choice to direct (he’d mainly been doing television documentaries up to this point), but he was a friend of Caine’s, who recommended him to producer Harry Saltzman (I’ve also read that André De Toth had been tabbed to direct but had an accident, and that he in turn recommended Russell). Caine would soon admit this was a bad decision, calling Russell “a lunatic genius” and “the least ideal man to direct a thriller.” Russell himself would come to consider it a career mistake, wasting a year of his life. He would also feel embittered toward Saltzman, with whom he did not get along.
*. In his Trailers from Hell episode on Billion Dollar Brain Bernard Rose says that Russell didn’t add much to the movie aside from the operatic climax. I think this is wrong. Compared to other spy movies of the time it’s really quite stylish and clever, makes good use of its locations, and moves quite well. If anything, I wish he’d given the actors a bit more room. But then that’s not the kind of movie this is.
*. Caine is solid, as always, even in long underwear or an Astrakhan hat. And this time he’s backed up by a very good supporting cast. Karl Malden and Françoise Dorléac are both believable as a totally untrustworthy pair who shouldn’t be trusting each other. Ed Begley is surprisingly convincing as the sweaty Midwinter, always seeming to be just a moment away from cardiac arrest. Guy Doleman returns as Colonel Ross, which is actually another bit of streamlining. In the novels Ross, who is military intelligence, is a rival of Dawlish, the guy who is the head of Palmer’s organization.

*. There was controversy in the U.S. over the sympathetic portrayal of the Soviets (with Oskar Homolka back as the garrulous Colonel Stok). They might also have taken exception to the Texas oilman being portrayed as a full-throated Christian fascist, complete with all kinds of visual echoes of Nazi rallies and cowboys appearing as stormtroopers. Americans tend to get upset at this kind of thing.
*. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my favourite of the Palmer flicks and the only one I can return to. I find it quite enjoyable, and it’s interesting in a lot of different ways as a historical/cultural time capsule. Alas, Saltzman had originally planned to do five Harry Palmer movies but after this flopped he cut his losses. Caine would go on to make two more Palmer movies in the 1990s, Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in Saint Petersburg, but by then the world had changed. In this movie it’s still called Leningrad, and by the ’90s the Brain really had taken over anyway.

In Like Flint (1967)

*. Our Man Flint made a lot of money, and since I don’t think there was any question that they were aiming to launch a franchise with it a quick sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, unlike the Bond and Harry Palmer movies they didn’t have a series of novels to work from. They needed to write a script then, from scratch and in a rush.
*. I think this goes a long way to explaining why In Like Flint disappoints. It has all the trappings of a parody-Bond spectacle but at the end of the day doesn’t have a story to tell.
*. I don’t mean that the story makes no sense or is otherwise ridiculous. It’s more that there’s no clear sense of what the point of any of it is. Take, for example, the subject of the villains. As with the scientists in Our Man Flint, the women here aren’t all bad. They want to make a better world by putting women in charge. But their methods are hard to figure. Shouldn’t they be brainwashing men instead of their sisters? In fact, that was at first what I thought they were doing. I figured General Carter and his flunkies were all either brainwashed or had been replaced. What good was it doing to reprogram housewives with hairdryers?

*. Then there’s General Carter. What is his aim? Power, I guess. Though I can’t see what it is he wants to do with it. He’s so vaguely motivated that I can’t blame Steve Ihnat’s performance for making him fade into the background. He needed a cat or a metal hand. As Lee Pfeiffer remarks on the DVD commentary, “if there’s one thing this film lacks it’s a key, central villain in it . . . the villains are sort of spread throughout and none of them resonate.” This is a problem with the script more than anything. They had the cast and the sets and some fun action sequences (I particularly like the routine in the gym), but no clear idea as to what any of it was about.
*. It’s hard to say what we’re supposed to think of the women’s movement. They make some good points (at least to a twenty-first century ear), but Flint only sees them as deluded and a joke, and they are only redeemed by throwing their lot in with him and taking down the bad guys through Operation Smooch. I don’t think there’s any way of reading this as progressive. At least the women are not brainwashed into being pleasure units, but are they being brainwashed into being feminists? Or just fembots serving the feminists?

*. As the fake president is led off at the end he quotes Shakespeare, specifically Richard II from the deposition scene (totally fitting), and the Harfleur speech from Henry V (incorrectly, as it is so often). Would you get that in an Austin Powers movie today? And this was Austin Powers’ favourite movie!
*. The original Learjets with the tip tanks were a pretty plane weren’t they? That’s Bill Lear himself (founder of the company) welcoming Flint on board.
*. There are a few nice moments, but overall this doesn’t add anything or go in any new direction. I can tell why Coburn didn’t want to do any more. There are some good parts — I give a lot of credit to Coburn, Jerry Goldsmith, and the production design — but it mainly feels like a rehash, only heavier. Still better than the average Bond spoof, and still watchable over fifty years later, even as something more than a time capsule. As dated as it is, there’s something in Flint that holds up.