Oct 30, 2007

Happy
Blog-iversary, Double O Section:
One Year Old Today

Today, the Double O Section has been around for one year. It’s hard to believe! It’s been a good year for spies. When I started this blog, Casino Royale was looming on the horizon, and Daniel Craig was still an unknown quantity. The two-disc special edition Bond DVDs weren’t out yet. No seasons of Mission: Impossible existed on DVD! A lot’s changed, and it’s all been covered here. Many of those things I just mentioned figured heavily in my very first set of posts, a list of the seven top spy-related people or things on my mind a year ago. At the time, I vowed to do more such lists, but never really did. It might be a nice idea to do one a year, a sort of "state of the union of spying," but I don’t have another one prepared right now. Instead, over the next few days, I'll revisit that original list and check in on those people and things one year on...
Random Intelligence Dispatches For October 30, 2007

Tradecraft: Bond 22 Script Done

In a story about the impending Writers' Guild strike on the cover of today's Hollywood Reporter, it's revealed that Paul Haggis has delivered his completed draft of the next James Bond movie to anxious Sony Executives. If the writers strike on Thursday, Haggis won't be able to do any further work on the script. But since he's finished, hopefully the movie will be unaffected by any strike and proceed on schedule. If there's still work to be done, I wonder if producer Michael G. Wilson would do it himself? He's got a number of Bond writing credits under his belt, but I doubt he'd want to piss off the Guild. An interesting prospect to consider, nonetheless.

Poor Pierce Goes Direct To DVD

I hope this isn't indicative of where Pierce Brosnan's post-007 career is headed. His latest movie, which he also produced through his Irish Dreamtime production company, is going direct-to-DVD in the United States, courtesy of Lionsgate. Formerly titled Butterfly On A Wheel, the movie has had its title changed to the infinitely more generic (and more direct-to-DVD sounding) Shattered. It's also been given an awful cover that fails to elevate it above the direct-to-DVD status. See the details at DVDActive. That's really too bad. I can't speak for this film because I haven't seen it, but Brosnan deserves better. Based on his recent performances in Seraphim Falls and, particularly, The Matador, I can't imagine he fails to give it his all as a murderous kidnapper. Furthermore, co-star Gerard Butler should have been able to get this movie theatrical bookings on the success of 300! What a shame. The DVD hits stores Christmas Day, and features a director commentary and some deleted scenes. Retail is $26.98.

The Equalizer Finally Comes To DVD

One of the last 80s action shows still unavailable on DVD will finally be released by Universal on February 12, 2008, reports TVShowsOnDVD.com. Callan star Edward Woodward plays McCall, a former British Intelligence operative who goes to work for "The Company," using his unique skill set to right wrongs and generally equalize things. 24 mastermind Joel Surnow contributed a number of scripts, and got his start as a producer on this show. All twenty-two Season One episodes will be included on Universal's 5-disc set, which will cost $49.98.

Dr. No Gets Limited Theatrical Re-Release

As part of United Artists' 90th Anniversary celebration (aren't they jumping the gun by a decade on the festivities?), there will be part a travelling film festival including Dr. No. It will come to twenty cities around the US, playing in arthouse theaters. Other titles on the bill will be A Fistfull of Dollars, Annie Hall and Rocky. Dr. No also features in a recently issued collection of UA titles including Fistfull and The Pink Panther, and may be included in a massive ninety-film collection released this Christmas.

Moneypenny Diaries Plot Revealed

The Literary 007, a fantastic new blog from the creators of the excellent Young Bond Dossier on all things bookish and Bond, has landed a plot description for Samantha Weinberg's third and final novel in the Moneypenny Diaries series. (Minor SPOILERS follow for people who haven't yet read the first two volumes.) Final Fling is set in 1964 and '65, and some major events impact the Bond universe. Apparently Bond gets sacked, Moneypenny demoted, and M forced to resign! I'm glad to see that Weinberg is taking advantage of not being bound to Fleming texts for those years (the last two entries having been closely tied in with Fleming's You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun), but I wonder how this will all work with Sebastian Faulkes' Devil May Care, which is set in 1967. Are the series meant to stand entirely on their own? That would be kind of strange, since The Moneypenny Diaries is already tied in with Charlie Higson's Young Bond series. Maybe everything will return to the status quo by the end of Final Fling, but that seems somewhat unlikely based on the build-up involving present-day events in the first two volumes. Curious! I really can't wait for this book.

Oct 25, 2007

Austin Powers 10th Anniversary Edition

DVDActive has pictures of a new Region 2 10th Anniversary Edition of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and Amazon.co.uk has it for sale. The disc comes out December 3. There is no word yet on an American version, but I wouldn't be surprised if Region 1 gets this disc as well. It's strange that New Line hasn't revisited the title earlier. Unfortunately, there's surprisingly not a lot of new material on this release, save for a 17-minute featurette called "Austin Powers: A Shaggadelic Decade," an Interactive Quiz and a snazzy new cover that's extraoridinarily reminiscent of the Region 1 cover of Jason King! Appropriate, since Powers probably owes more to King than any of the many other spies he, um, borrows from. I think Meyers even cites Jason King on the commentary track from the original DVD release, which is still included, along with all the other original features.

Oct 23, 2007

New Spy DVDs

Today is a huge day for spy-related DVD releases!

The Company

First, and most directly spy-related, is Sony’s two-disc release of the Ridley Scott-produced TNT miniseries The Company, based on the book by Robert Littell. Chris O’Donnell stars as a young man caught up in the early days of the CIA; the great Alfred Molina plays his mentor, and Michael Keaton plays real-life spy hunter James Jesus Angleton. Angleton is, of course, the historical figure upon whom Matt Damon’s character was based in The Good Shepherd, and based on the special features (I haven’t had a chance to watch the miniseries itself yet), The Company looks to have a lot in common with that film. Not only does it cover many of the same actual events and feature the same characters (whom The Good Shepherd vaguely fictionalized), but it also looks very much the same, art direction-wise, and sounds the same, as Jeff Beal’s music is quite reminiscent of Bruce Fowler and Marcelo Zarvos’. Of course, my major complaint about The Good Shepherd was that, as long as it was, it was too short for the story it was trying to tell, so perhaps The Company fares better over three two-hour episodes. In one of the two making-of featurettes, producer Scott mentions some rival stories in production (The Good Shepherd and what else?), but he and John Calley proceeded undaunted, with a script by Black Hawk Down scribe Ken Nolan. Although relatively brief, both featurettes are worth watching, and fans of Littell’s books will be interested in Nolan’s comments on adapting one of them.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 1

Regular readers certainly know how excited I am about this release, as I’ve written quite a lot about it in the past. I think this show was probably my most anticipated DVD of 2007, and Volume 1 is finally here! Twelve discs of historical Indiana Jones adventure, and dozens of meticulously-produced documentaries on the subjects featured in the episodes. Volume 1 doesn’t actually get into the lengthy espionage stage of Young Indy’s career, but it lays the groundwork for it. Going in chronological order (rather than the order in which they originally aired), this set features five adventures of the 9-year-old Indiana Jones (played by Cory Carrier), and two of the teenage adventurer, played by Sean Patrick Flannery. Each “episode,” however, is really a new movie-length adventure, made up of two actual television episodes put together. The original series, then titled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, ran as hour-long episodes on ABC from 1992-93, and featured wrap-around segments with an elderly Indiana Jones (George Hall) recalling his exploits. These segments are not featured on the DVDs. The movie length seems appropriate, though, since the big name directors and guest stars, exceptionally high production values, and breathtaking location photography (shot in thirty-five countries around the world!) gave the series a very filmic quality.

The Mario Bava Collection, Volume 2

There are no spy movies to be found in Anchor Bay’s second box set of Bava films (the director’s Danger: Diabolik is available as a Special Edition from Paramount, and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs has yet to see a DVD release, although I believe Fox/MGM own the rights), but plenty of other genres are represented, from giallo to gothic to Western to sex comedy. Best of all, this box sees the reissue of two-and-a-half long out-of-print ELKE SOMMER movies, Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil! (The half is accounted for by House of Exorcism, an appalling version of Lisa re-cut by producer Alfredo Leone into an Exorcist knock-off.) Regular readers are no doubt familiar with my feelings on the sexy spy star Sommer, and her co-star in Lisa and the Devil (the Devil himself) is no less than the very best Blofeld, Telly Savalas. Her equally charming Deadlier Than the Male partner, Sylva Koscina, also appears. Ms. Sommer contributes a commentary track to House of Exorcism, and Tim Lucas does to four others.

Executive Action

Finally, Warner Bros. releases a catalog title today long in demand by fans of the Seventies conspiracy breed of spy movie: Executive Action, starring Burt Lancaster. Executive Action offers a believable, documentary-style account of a sinister plot behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Oct 22, 2007

Book Review: James Bond Encyclopedia

For a while, Bond fans could always look forward to a new, official, lavish, fully-illustrated coffee table book on their hero to coincide with each new movie. But now, they don’t even have to wait for a new movie; they can pretty much expect one every year! The latest officially-sanctioned offering is James Bond Encyclopedia (no "The," strangely), by John Cork and Collin Stutz. Cork is one of the constants on these books (along with the same assortment of official publicity stills), having co-authored The James Bond Legacy and Bond Girls Are Forever, as well as producing the fantastic special features on all the Special Edition Bond DVDs and publishing Goldeneye, the now defunct official magazine of the Ian Fleming Foundation, during the nineties. After sitting out last year’s Art of James Bond (by Laurent Bouzereau), he’s back on the case with this one. It’s a wonder he has anything left to say on the subject of 007, but his name is a mark of assured quality, and a good indication the book you’re holding will be accurate and as error-free as humanly possible.

Cork and Stutz have put a lot of research into this volume, managing to offer up a few nuggets that will surprise even the most dedicated of fans, and even readers of Cork’s previous books. (Plenty of the information will be familiar, too, but that’s to be expected of a book such as this.) Frustratingly, owing to the nature of the encyclopedia, they don’t provide sources for much of this information. For example, they say that Carter, 007's associate in Madagascar at the beginning of Casino Royale (listed in the "Supporting Cast" section), was bitten by the cobra in the pit and died from the bite. The movie certainly doesn’t make his fate clear, and I’ve always wondered what happened to him. So it’s good to know, but I’m curious as to from where they got that information! Is it stipulated in the screenplay? Is it gleaned from viewing scenes cut from the final film? Some form of sourcing would be appreciated.

In a similar instance, the biography in their entry on James Bond himself is well-written and a great capsule for someone just getting their feet wet in Bondian waters. But again, they don’t reveal where much of the information comes from. I can identify some bits as coming from certain movies (the "First in Oriental languages at Cambridge" bit is obviously from You Only Live Twice, although Raymond Benson did a good job of reconciling it in his novelization of Tomorrow Never Dies with the schooling Fleming provided for Bond... so I guess they’re not using novelizations as sources here...), and a lot from the dossier on Bond that was available on the official website around the release of Casino Royale, but not everything!

Perhaps the authors are simply picking, choosing and embellishing, doing their own reconciling of multiple conflicting sources. If that’s the case, though, I’d like to know. Speaking of reconciling, they come up with a good excuse for the differing birth dates listed for Commander Bond in various places (6 May, 1961 on the medical records in The World Is Not Enough, 13 April, 1968 on the passport in Casino Royale, etc.): As 007 is a spy, the documents are usually cover papers, and it’s hard to say if any actually reflect his true birthday! (They explain that the April 13 date in Casino Royale was chosen because that was the day on which Fleming’s Casino Royale was first published in 1953, one of those nifty facts I hadn’t known.)

As you may have gathered from the birthday example, most of the entries treat the characters (like Bond) as if they were real people, focusing on what Cork and Stutz, in their introduction, call "the world inside the Bond adventures." So the information you find under the entry "Anya Amasova," for example, will be that she "arrives in Moscow after a period of leave with her KGB agent lover..." and not that she was dreamed up by Christopher Wood in the second draft of his screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me or something. (I’m making up that bit about the second draft, by the way, but I would be interested in knowing the truth.) So, personally, I would have preferred a book that gave production information about all the characters, and treated them as fictional creations rather than real people. But that sort of take has been done many times before (including in Stephen Jay Rubin’s Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia), so perhaps a fresh approach is a good thing.

Confusingly, though, the authors don’t fully embrace even that approach. They sometimes break the "fourth wall" to reveal a behind-the-scenes tidbit, or continuity reboot, and there are also entries on the filmmakers, in their own sidebars. The authors could have had more fun with the conceit, as Andrew Pixley did with his The Avengers Files, a similar alphabetical listing which treated all the characters as if they were real people, but gave extensive information on their creators as "chroniclers" in elaborate footnotes (which also listed the sources for all information provided).

I’ve spent a lot of time detailing shortcomings that amount to personal preference and nitpicking. Of course, when there have been as many books on the subject of the Bond films as there have, that’s really the kind of stuff a reviewer has to tackle! But for someone who hasn’t read loads of other volumes on the topic, James Bond Encyclopedia is a great place to start. It fills a void in the current market as an "introductory" book on Bond movies. If you’re not prepared to delve into as much gloriously obsessive detail as offered in James Bond: The Legacy, but still want broader coverage than found in the more specific Bond Girls Are Forever or The Art of James Bond, then this is the ideal place to start. Furthermore, the same goes for its pictures. It may not offer a lot that dedicated readers haven’t seen before, but it does offer a truly amazing assortment of handsome, color images in one place, as lavishly illustrated as any DK book. The layout, typical of the publisher, is truly beautiful, and helps suck the reader into the page. This aspect is certainly an improvement over Rubin’s volume, which provided only black and white stills.

Even if their choices on how to arrange the book are questionable, Cork and Stutz have been successful in differentiating their book from Rubin’s, which is definitely a good thing. Precisely because it’s arranged differently, reading it is an entirely different experience. The authors are completely successful at the goal they set for themselves in their introduction: "We have tried to have fun with this book and make it somewhat like James Bond’s world. The enjoyment is not in the logic, but in the discovery, the visual sweep, and the intricate details." It’s similar to reading the source books for the 80s James Bond roleplaying game. You can flip through pages and pages of weapons, then browse the fictional biographies of Bond Girls. You don’t read it cover-to-cover, as you might The Legacy, and you don’t necessarily flip to a specific entry as you would with Rubin’s Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. A different reading experience is definitely enough for me to recommend this book to Bond completists as well as neophytes, especially when it’s so beautifully produced.

Oct 21, 2007

The Authorised Biography of 007... And A Long Lost Young Bond Appearance

I've only briefly mentioned the recent British reissue of John Pearson’s James Bond: The Authorised Biography (as it's now titled), seeing it as just another edition of the book, hardly worth noticing. True, it’s been out of print for nearly twenty years, but it wasn’t too difficult to track down used copies. (It was issued at least twice in paperback in the US, and once in hardcover; there was also at least one of each in Britain.) However, Century, the publishers of this newest hardback edition, have managed to promote the 1973 book better than Ian Fleming Publications or John Murray have done with the latest official James Bond continuations, Samantha Weinberg’s The Moneypenny Diaries.*

CommanderBond.net has been tracking the reviews in the British press, and there have been at least two prominent ones so far, which is sadly two more than the very deserving first instalment of Weinberg’s series, Guardian Angel. Century seem to be pushing The Authorised Biography as a new novel (no doubt to cash in on the UK success of Charlie Higson’s similarly-themed Young Bond series), and their misleading campaign managed to fool The Daily Mail’s critic at first. Writing for the paper, Marcus Berkmann admits, "It's all really a huge extended gag, but meticulously and lovingly researched," but goes on to conclude, "The problem, curiously, is Bond himself. Pearson writes wonderfully well about the charismatic Fleming, but his 007 is strangely colourless. This is, after all, supposed to be literature's ultimate Alpha Male, but Pearson's Bond comes over as a collection of mannerisms and slightly bufferish attitudes. Even David Niven got closer to the character than that." Ouch!

Sinclair McKay of The Telegraph was far more impressed, praising Pearson’s effort as "a clever, bittersweet disquisition on what becomes of our heroes. But more than this, it is also a shrewd running critical commentary on Fleming, going some way to explain the outbreaks of bleakness and sourness in the original novels, and also ingeniously explaining away a lot of their absurdity. It is an enjoyable exercise in having cake and eating it." That latter review frankly made me want to revisit the book myself! And it makes me think that this new edition is a little bit more important than a simple reissue (even from a collector’s standpoint) if its garnering such attention. I can’t imagine IFP are very pleased about that, since Pearson’s book directly contradicts events in their two current Bond series, Young Bond and The Moneypenny Diaries, and probably in Sebastian Faulkes’ highly-publicized upcoming Bond novel. (At least that one’s sure to get noticed by the critics!)

James Bond: The Authorised Biography by John Pearson (author of The Life of Ian Fleming) is now the only continuation novel in print other than those in the two aforementioned series put out by the new regime at IFP. None of Kingsley Amis, Christopher Wood, John Gardner or Raymond Benson’s books are currently available. Personally, while I fully appreciate the focus on Fleming’s own works, I believe all the books should be reprinted. Omnibus editions would be a good idea (since there are so damn many of them!), with markedly different covers from the current Fleming line, so as to avoid confusion with the official, canonical, original product.

It should be noted that James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007 (as it was originally published in England by Sidgwick & Jackson, complete with the American spelling) was not the only fictional spy biography published in the Seventies, nor the only one to feature James Bond! In 1977, Weidenfeld & Nicolson published John Steed: An Authorized Biography: Volume I: Jealous in Honour by Tim Held. At Eton, the young Steed encounters not only Patrick Macnee (invoking the same sort of deceptive co-existence of the real and the fictional found in Pearson's book), but also a very different James Bond than the one portrayed in Charlie Higson's books or Pearson's:

One factor which seems to have contributed to John's unhappiness at this time was the bullying which was an unfortunate feature of life in the school - or at least in those circles in which Steed moved. The main bully was a boy called Bond, later to achieve a certain notoriety in a career not totally unlike Steed's. Indeed their paths were to cross several times in adult life, seldom with profitable results. Although Bond was only two or so years older than Steed (a fact which will doubtless be disputed by Bond and his cronies) he was a great deal bigger. One of his fetishes was to make smaller boys stir his evening mug of cocoa for him, just as in later life he was to make a laughable affectation out of his insistence on dry martini cocktails being stirred rather than shaken. One day he demanded that Steed perform this service. Steed refused. Bond again insisted.

'Who the hell do you think you are?' enquired Steed, suggesting at the same time that he should pick on someone his own size.

'Bond, James Bond,' replied the bully, clearly expecting young Steed to fall grovelling at his feet.

'Well, Bond,' said Steed evenly,'If you'd like to present yourself behind the Fives Courts by Jordan in half an hour's time I'll show you in the only language you apparently understand, precisely why I have no intention of stirring your rotten cocoa.'

Alas, poor Bond! He had never heard of the Bodger business at Lydeard Lodge. Thirty minutes later he was waiting behind the fives courts, aglow with cocky truculence. Thirty-five minutes later he was being half dragged home by two of his familiars, his jaw and his ego both equally badly bruised. Yet even this success made little difference to Steed's happiness. He continued to find Eton not to his taste.
John Steed: An Authorized Biography was only published in one edition, never to be reprinted. It is very hard to come by today, and sought by both Avengers and Bond collectors.

*I chalk up the lack of critical interest in The Moneypenny Diaries to an idiotic initial marketing strategy that backfired horribly. For some reason, IFP let John Murray pretend like they had acquired "real" documents, belonging to the "REAL" Miss Moneypenny and telling the "truth" about James Bond. While the literary conceit works in the context of the books (a conceit established by Ian Fleming in a jokey throw-away line in You Only Live Twice, and first exploited by Pearson), attempting to fool mainstream media and the public into believing such a ridiculous story was a grievous error in judgement. I suspect it led instead to critics writing off Ms. Weinberg’s impressive novel as a joke, or something for die-hard Bond fans only (many of whom were also alienated by the lame ploy), and not for general consumption. Both beliefs are fallacies. Weinberg’s Moneypenny Diaries (published under the pseudonym of "Kate Westbrook") are legitimate novels worthy of critical notice, and excellent additions to the Bond canon.

Oct 18, 2007

Book Review: Hurricane Gold

Under a shiny gold cover, Charlie Higson’s third Young Bond novel finds the 14-year-old James Bond far from the safety of Eton, where his adventures usually begin. James is accompanying his aunt Charmian (a Fleming creation mentioned in You Only Live Twice, but fleshed out by Higson to be an anthropologist) on an expedition to Mexico in 1934. A powerful storm forces Charmian to deposit James in the company of two bratty siblings, JJ and Precious Stone (I’m surprised Fleming himself didn’t think of that one!), while she flies off into the jungle with the children’s father, WWI air ace Jack Stone. While James is holed up with the spoiled siblings, a vicious gang of thieves break into their house in the middle of the storm and take Precious and JJ hostage in a Key Largo scenario. And all that happens in just the first few chapters!

Hurricane Gold could be seen as Higson’s homage to Doctor No, with most of the action taking place on the run through the jungle, culminating in a diabolical obstacle course very similar to that of the good doctor. However, it ultimately owes more to Indiana Jones (specifically Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) than to any James Bond book or film. One breathless escape leads directly into another, filling the book with pretty much wall-to-wall action. The plot of Higson’s last Bond novel, Double or Die, was driven by a complex puzzle, a coded message that James and his friends needed to decipher. Clearly, the author wanted to go in the exact opposite direction with his next book, requiring no puzzle-solving–and very little thought whatsoever!–of his young hero, who is whisked along on a breathless thrill ride, primarily driven by external forces. Throughout Hurricane Gold, and in stark contrast to Double or Die, James is required to react far more often than he is to act. That formula makes for a pulse-pounding page turner, as they say, but ultimately a less rewarding read than the previous book.

In one breathtaking sequence, James helps Precious and her little brother escape the storm–and the gang. They try to move inland, away from the ravaged coast, only to be literally thrown backwards by a rising river in another spectacular action scene. In the aftermath of the ensuing flood, they once more run into the gang, which is led by an enigmatic American named Mrs. Glass.

James and Precious are again taken prisoner, again escape (getting separated from third-wheel JJ in the process), and again run into a member of the gang. Eventually they escape from him, only to once more be recaptured. One of Ian Fleming’s more memorable villains once analyzed his recurring run-ins with the adult James Bond thusly: “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but a third time it's enemy action.” Auric Goldfinger understood that only so much could be chalked up to coincidence, as did Fleming, who divided the villain’s eponymous book into three sections, appropriately entitled “Happenstance,” “Coincidence” and “Enemy Action.” There’s only so much coincidence a villain–or a reader–will accept. Higson seriously strains credibility this time out by allowing a third and fourth instance of coincidence before James and Precious finally take some not particularly well thought-out action against their enemy. Their action leads them directly into the clutches of another villainous type, known as El Huracán.

We meet El Huracán in the book’s first chapter, wherein we also get our first glimpse of his deadly, critter-filled obstacle course, La Avenida de la Muerte. El Huracán runs a haven for criminals on the run–provided they have lots of loot and are willing to live out the rest of their days on his island paradise. Throughout the book we occasionally cut back to El Huracán and his island, setting up the inevitable confrontation between El Huracán and James Bond, and young James’ equally inevitable ordeal in La Avenida de la Muerte. Unfortunately, since James and Precious are not on a course that will naturally lead them to El Huracán, we also resign ourselves that this meeting will have to be manufactured, and these “teaser” chapters have the unfortunate effect of making all that leads up to that meeting seem a bit like treading water. (Exciting water, nonetheless!)

All of Higson’s other Young Bond novels have had a clear mission for James, even though it’s not one officially assigned to him by a government agency, as in Anthony Horowitz’s rival teen spy series. In SilverFin, James had to discover what happened to his friend Red Kelly’s missing cousin. In Blood Fever, he had to save the captured sister of a fellow Eton student. And in Double or Die, he had to locate and rescue his kidnapped professor. His only goal in Hurricane Gold is survival, for himself and for Precious. Survival is a perfectly good goal for adventure stories, but it somehow doesn’t feel as Bondian.

Among the many threats to that survival, James encounters every imaginable sort of reptile and disgusting insect. These include scorpions, wasps, mosquitoes (with which James has already tangled in Blood Fever) and army ants. The latter provide that particularly gruesome death scene for a baddie that’s become a staple of the series when a column of the unstoppable fiends cut and bite their way through a paralyzed thug. All of the above-mentioned insects provide plot points, but for good measure Higson also throws in botflies, who provide nothing but some extra grossness that the author seems to believe (correctly, I suppose) that his young male readers crave. I suppose if you’re crafting a boys’ adventure story set in the jungle, you need to include the real-life version of the popular urban legend about insects laying eggs in people’s skin for the maggots to later feed on and burrow out of. Don’t make the mistake of reading the botfly chapter while eating lunch, as I did!

Overall, Higson has really embraced that “boys’ own adventure” mantra this time around. Judging from the popularity of the series in England, he seems to know what boys want, but in Hurricane Gold that mentality unfortunately leads the series away from roots that feel Bondian and steadfastly toward the more gross-out elements of serial-inspired adventures like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Despite my criticisms, there is still plenty to like in Hurricane Gold. Once again, Higson manages to slyly sneak plenty of nearly undetectable education into his action, and it’s all fascinating stuff. (Fleming himself, a professional journalist, was a master of this, but he didn’t have to be quite as sly about it as his intended audience–at the time, anyway–wasn’t young boys.) Kids will learn about pre-war geopolitics, Mexican history and jungle zoology. Even though they’re not specifically designed to educate, like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the Young Bond adventures offer far more information than a lot of Young Adult literature.

Readers are also treated to another cavalcade of memorable characters. Even though James’ stable of Eton friends (who we just got to know a lot better in the last book) sit this one out, he encounters a number of memorable allies and enemies. American gangsters Strabo, Whatzat and Manny the Girl are all well-drawn antagonists, and worthy predecessors (or successors, depending on how you look at it) to Fleming’s many gangster types, like Shady Tree, Whisper, Slugsy and Horror. (Fleming always seemed fascinated with eccentric American gangsters.) There’s a Japanese semi-villain named Sakata (in a nice tribute to the Oddjob actor) who teaches James some of his first lessons in hand-to-hand combat, and a proto-Marc-Ange Draco/Kerim Bey figure who straddles the line between good and evil, and makes young James a tempting offer at a very different life than the one he goes on to lead. Finally, Precious Stone is a wonderful creation. Whereas all the other Young Bond Girls have been very (almost anachronistically) capable, self-sufficient, even tomboyish lasses, Precious is a very girly girl. She starts out a lot like Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott, but actually undergoes a more believable transformation over the course of the book, not only growing as a person, but becoming a more likable character.

Hurricane Gold may be Charlie Higson’s weakest entry so far (Blood Fever is his best), but it’s still a fast-paced, action-packed adventure, and certainly not an embarrassment to the James Bond brand. Even at its weakest, the Young Bond series is still first rate YA fiction, and first-rate James Bond. All of Higson’s books so far have managed to rank among the very best of the 007 continuation novels, and even if its target audience is children, I can’t recommend the series highly enough for adult Bond fans.

Oct 17, 2007

New Spy Books Available From DK

DK released two new fully-illustrated, large-format hardcover tomes this week of interest to spy fans: the long-awaited James Bond Encyclopedia and 24: The Ultimate Guide. It’s kind of odd to see 24 given the DK treatment, since their Ultimate Guides are usually for more family-friendly franchises like Spider-man or Star Wars. But author Michael Goldman has managed to compile the best guide book to the series yet, fully illustrated in that somewhat incongruous DK style. The book is divided by seasons. John Cork and Collin Stutz’s James Bond Encyclopedia isn’t quite as user-friendly, as it’s organized by categories instead of in the purely alphabetical format one expects of an encyclopedia. It takes some getting used to, but there are advantages to the unusual format. For example, gadget-lovers can entertain themselves by reading that section in its entirety instead of slogging through entries on Girls, Villains and Vehicles to find what they’re looking for. And most of all, the way this book is organized goes a long way towards separating it from Stephen Jay Rubin’s fifteen-year-old tome, The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. I’m sure that was important to the authors.

Oct 12, 2007

Tradecraft For October 12, 2007

Clooney Spies Tourist

George Clooney just can't stop spying. Following his role as an assassin in the Coen Brothers' comic CIA thriller Burn After Reading, he might write, direct and/or star in another espionage role. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov have picked up the rights to an upcoming novel by Olen Steinhauer entitled The Tourist. The trade reveals: "Picked up in early manuscript form, the story is described as being a contemporary international thriller in the vein of John le Carre and Graham Greene and follows a spy who must risk everything to reveal a conspiracy after he's suspected of a murder he didn't commit."

Roger Moore Makes Bio Official

Roger Moore's agent revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that the actor is indeed writing an autobiography, as has been rumored all week. The British tabloids first reported the story, but as usual they got it wrong. The Sunday Mirror claimed (in typical sensationalist style) that the "explosive, warts-and-all" memoir would tell of the actor's "colourful sex life" and "his romps with Bond girls." That didn't sound like Moore, who's always been the very picture of class and didn't seem the sort to kiss and tell. Sure enough, the trade reports that "Moore said in a statement that he would like to write 'a warm, amusing, and maybe even slightly emotional volume.'" Doesn't sound very "explosive," but it's sure to be a great read. Moore's biographer and long-time assistant Gareth Owen, who also penned the recently updated Pinewood Story, will ghost-write the book and told Reuters, "He is a great raconteur." Anyone who's heard any of the actor's audio commentaries on the Bond DVDs or The Persuaders knows that's true. Sir Roger's book deal is said to be worth £1 million. Moore received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week, and turns 80 in just a few days.

Van Houten Lies Too

Star of last year's WWII spy thriller Black Book Carice Van Houten, rumored to have been in contention for a Bond Girl role in Bond 22, has joined the cast of another spy movie instead. The Hollywood Reporter reports that she'll play Leonardo Di Caprio's love interest in Body of Lies, "an Iraq-set spy thriller being directed by Ridley Scott." Like all Scott movies, Lies co-stars Russell Crowe. It's written by Oscar-winning Departed screenwriter William Monahan and based on the book by David Ignatius.

Spies For Tots

According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Disney Channel has gone into production on a new Playhouse Disney pre-school series titled Special Agent Oso starring Sean Astin as the voice of Oso, a fuzzy, lovable, bumbling special agent-in-training who enlists the help of viewers at home to complete his missions." The show, created by Ford Riley, will debut in fall 2008. Each episode will be comprised of two eleven minute adventures.

Oct 11, 2007

Roger Moore Receives Star On Walk Of Fame

Sir Roger Moore was honored today with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Fans crowded the street to witness an impressive ceremony presided over by Honorary Mayor of Hollywood Johnny Grant. As former James Bond co-stars like Richard Kiel, Lois Chiles and Gloria Hendry mingled with other showbiz types and signed autographs for eager onlookers on the other side of the barriers, Moore's Escape To Athena co-star (and girl from U.N.C.L.E.) Stefanie Powers (of whom Moore speaks quite fondly on his Live And Let Die DVD commentary) introduced the man of the hour. Two-time Felix Leiter David Hedison (who very graciously signed lots of autographs before the ceremony) then spoke warmly about his friend, recalling the first time they met, in Cairo, long before the pair acted together on The Saint, Live And Let Die or Ffolkes.

Hedison claimed that Moore had gotten him more acting jobs over the years than his agent or manager, and without demanding ten percent. Actress Ruta Lee, who worked with Moore on his pre-Maverick TV series The Alaskans in 1959, joked about her lifelong crush on the actor, praised his wife Christina, and lauded Moore for his extensive charity work with UNICEF and other organizations.

After being presented with some sort of proclamation and a loaf of bread by a local politician, Sir Roger himself addressed the crowd, in his usual charming, self-deprecating manner. "I've had a love affair with Hollywood for many, many years," he confessed. "Which is why I'm thrilled that I have this star down here that people can walk on." He told a few choice stories about his early years in Hollywood, then recalled his tenure as James Bond: "I did seven and then, sadly, I had to retire from the Bond films because the girls got too young. Or maybe I got too old... I can't remember which, but either way, it was disgusting." Yes, Sir Roger is as funny in person as he is on his DVD commentaries, and presumably will be in his recently announced autobiography (for which I can't wait, even if it is being ghost-written).

Moore's well-deserved star is appropriately located at 7007 Hollywood Blvd (outside a touristy trinket shop whose windows are lined with tiny porcelain crucifixes and movie star photos), a block west of the famous Graumann's Chinese Theater and a little over a block east of Pierce Brosnan's star. His sidewalk neighbors are Rory Calhoun and Bugs Bunny. Much was made of the address, and of the year in which the ceremony occurred.





Upcoming Spy DVDs

Executive Action

Somehow I missed this title when it was announced, but that makes it all the sweeter now, because it's just around the corner! Warner Bros. will release the well-regarded but previously hard-to-see 1973 Burt Lancaster conspiracy thriller Executive Action on October 23, the same day The Company and the first volume of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones (which is what they're now officially calling The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) come out. That's shaping up to be a huge day for spy discs! Executive Action focuses on the Kennedy assassination and presents a plausible alternative to the official Warren Commission account. Retail will be $19.99.

Help! Is On The Way!

EMI have pushed back the long-awaited DVD premiere The Beatles' spy parody Help! by one week. The highly-anticipated double-disc set will now debut on November 6, 2007. I've updated my original story to reflect the new date.

The Name's Hope. Bob Hope.

Bob Hope is not really a name one readily associates with spy movies, but MGM's upcoming Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection actually contains quite a few movies of interest to spy fans. In They've Got Me Covered (1943), Hope plays a reporter trying to crack a Nazi spy ring in Washington, D.C. Dorothy Lamour plays his girlfriend. Reading the plot description, I suddenly realized that I've seen this. I loved this movie as a kid, and have sometimes recalled scenes and tried in vain to remember what movie they were from. I guess I'll have my chance come December 4! (I hope it lives up to those memories...) The Road To Hong Kong finds frequent travelling companions Hope and Bing Crosby as vaudevillian con men caught up with Cold War spies. This last (and many would argue least) of the Road To movies was made in 1962, and predates the epic Sixties spy craze ushered in by 007 that same year. (Even at the bottom of their game, Hope and Crosby were ahead of the curve!) Spy stars Peter Sellers, Joan Collins, Robert Morley and Walter Gotell also appear. Boy, Did I Get the Wrong Number (1966, available on DVD for the first time ever in this set) co-stars sultry spy siren Elke Sommer as a European actress (quite a stretch!) famous for her bubble bath scenes who's grown sick of Hollywood. The Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection will contain seven films total and retail for just $39.99.

Oct 9, 2007

Tradecraft: HBO Developing Spy Sitcom

The Hollywood Reporter reports that HBO is developing "a workplace comedy about an elite counterintelligence unit hidden undercover as disgruntled civil servants" called Intelligence. The show is created by Michael Patrick Jann, who recently directed the brilliant Lord of the Rings episode of HBO's Flight of the Conchords. Alias alumnus Bradley Cooper and certified comic genius Patton Oswalt (Amazing Screw-On Head) are both attached to star and co-executive produce along with Jann.

Oct 8, 2007

Fall TV Watch: Chuck

I thought the second episode of Chuck was much better than the first. The show is a lot more comfortable in its own skin now; it’s a spy comedy, and it’s happy to stay that way. Episode 2 was definitely funnier than the pilot, but still action-packed. It’s a good blend.

The supporting cast is also starting to gel better. Chuck’s odd family unit comes together well in the second episode (very reminiscent of the Cohens in co-creator Josh Schwartz’s The O.C.), and we get a better sense of his sister Ellie’s personality. It’s interesting to see how all the outsiders fit into their group, too. Best friend Morgan still annoys us almost as much as he annoys Ellie, but at least he’s settling down. The two special agents protecting (or trying to kill, depending on the orders of the day) Chuck each manage to worm their way into the family too, with varying results. I like the relationship that’s developing between Chuck and CIA agent Sarah, and she’s developing enough of a clear character that actress Yvonne Strzechowski manages to overcome those generic qualities I mentioned in my first review of the pilot. Her antagonistic relationship with the show’s breakout, scene-stealing star, Adam Baldwin (NSA Agent Casey), is probably the best one going so far. All of their moments together were great, and Baldwin got a lot of humor out of his new cover job at the Buy More where Chuck works. Let’s just say you don’t want to shoplift at that particular Buy More. The whole setup turns out to have been a means of getting three spies (two of them professional, one a total outsider) working together at a mini mall, which is a great idea. I can’t think of many missions that would have mandated such humorous covers. By working these schlub jobs, the super-agents are now regular people like us viewers, and it makes them easier to relate to.

The villain wasn’t much to speak of this week, but he was pretty tangential to the story anyway. This episode was about building character relationships, and he was just a means to that end. (And also served to conveniently explain away any hopes Chuck might have of getting rid of all the secret information now embedded in his brain.) I liked the choice of Iggy Pop’s "Lust For Life" as a theme song (although it seems like the opening music may change each week), and I liked that Chuck has access to ABC secrets in that billion dollar brain of his, not just NBC! (He knows what really happened to Oceanic Flight 815!) Chuck is an entertaining show, and I’m still sticking with it.

The third episode airs tonight at 8 on NBC. You can catch up on episodes you missed by watching them online at NBC.com.
Movie Review: The Kingdom (2007)

Peter Berg’s The Kingdom is an incredibly frustrating movie because it can’t ever decide just what kind of movie it is. Ultimately, it’s a very good action movie wrapped inside a very bad Message Movie (which doesn’t even seem to know what its message is), and the mix just doesn’t work. It goes out of its way to establish itself as a Syriana-like serious examination of Middle East politics, even going so far as to open with a five minute documentary on the history of America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The documentary is necessarily slight, but it’s well executed. Unfortunately, it sets the tone for an entirely different film than the one to come.

The Kingdom begins in earnest with a massive terrorist attack on an American housing complex in Ryadh, Saudi Arabia. Among the hundreds dead is an FBI agent. Back in Washington, Jamie Foxx briefs a team of other FBI agents on the attack, and they have a discussion on "why do they hate us?" I realize that the filmmakers need to get their exposition across somehow, but doesn’t the FBI circulate weekly memos on such issues so that schoolyard-level discussions among its rapid response teams are seldom necessary? Foxx pulls strings to have his team on the ground in Saudi Arabia to conduct an investigation of their own. The role of FBI agents overseas is a very interesting topic for a spy movie, and one rarely addressed realistically (although some Eurospy flicks had G-men inexplicably doing the job of the CIA). Despite a promising premise, though, The Kingdom quickly drops all pretense of realism.

The team, consisting of Foxx, Jason Bateman and spy stalwarts Chris Cooper and Jennifer Garner, con-duct a sub-CSI investi-gation despite poor initial cooperation on the part of the Saudis. They don’t need to do any sort of impressive analysis to break the case wide open, or to demonstrate any kind of Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning. All they need to do is dig part of an ambulance out of a watery hole, and then read the name of the hospital that’s written on it. They essentially follow their clue to a nest of terrorists in a wholly unfriendly neighborhood and then proceed to kill everyone, Rambo-style.

If The Kingdom were content to be a solid but disposable shoot-em-up, I would have no problems with its many lapses in credibility. But since it strives to present itself so seriously (and begins with that documentary!), those moments become inexcusable. For example: after fighting hard to do the impossible and get his team cleared to be on Saudi soil, which we’re told is a huge diplomatic hurdle, Foxx responds to an unhelpful Saudi general by punching him out! I’m pretty sure that would not only undo all the good will he tried hard to establish, but possibly lead to war. His team is no better. Jennifer Garner insists on wearing tight, "booby-revealing" T-shirts, and gets offended when she’s asked to cover up. Wouldn’t an FBI field agent as well-trained as her character is supposed to be at least know and respect the customs of her host country, even if she didn’t agree with them? The newswomen who report from that part of the world all manage to dress in a respectfully conservative manner! When the Saudi customs officials give Jason Bateman’s character trouble because he has Israeli stamps on his passport, he gets surprised and offended, and immediately cops an attitude. Since anyone who watches a little TV knows to expect such trouble, I would imagine the FBI would also know, and refrain from sending an agent who traveled frequently to Israel. (Or at least issue him a different passport that didn’t reflect that fact!)

The action comes mainly in a self-contained forty-minute section near the film’s end, and it’s good action. It’s not quite up to the intensity of The Bourne Ultimatum, but it’s close, and shot in the same gritty, "put the audience right in the middle of it" style. It bears all the stylistic hallmarks of Michael Mann, which should come as no surprise since he produced The Kingdom. Still, it represents remarkable steps forward for Peter Berg as an action director in his own right. (If only this was an action movie!) Alias fans will be glad to see Jennifer Garner in full ass-kicking mode again, after a string of romantic comedies. Her hand-to-hand (and every other part) confrontation with one of the terrorists is the highlight of the whole movie.

Despite the appealing grittiness of the action, there still isn’t a trace of realism. A very small group of Americans invades an entire neighborhood of RPG-firing Arab terrorists and kills enough of them to satisfy even Sylvester Stallone. In the ultimate stab at escapist Hollywood wish-fulfillment, they also manage to net an Osama bin Laden-like mastermind in the process. If that was the kind of movie Peter Berg wanted to make, I really wish he had just made it. I have nothing against mindless Rambo-like action, just as long as it doesn’t put on airs. The Kingdom wants to be Rambo with morals. It doesn’t work. If it had kept its sights low brow, I would have enjoyed it. Instead, we go from all this shoot-em-up stuff to a pretentious wrap-up which attempts to pinpoint the cause of all the violence in the Middle East. The Kingdom desperately wants to appear smart when it would have made a much better movie had it been content with being dumb.

Some critics have taken The Kingdom to task for shamelessly co-opting horrific images out of recent and current events in the news for entertainment, and suggested that these events should remain off limits to action filmmakers. I disagree. Take The Kingdom to task for doing it badly, by all means, but not for attempting to make an action thriller against a modern-day geopolitical backdrop. The Cold War proved an extremely fertile setting for movies about international intrigue and espionage, even when the danger seemed most real. Though Bond and Bourne and Mission: Impossible have carefully avoided the very threats that keep real-life spies so busy these days, I think it’s certainly possible to make an accessible, mainstream action movie based on contemporary events. The Kingdom isn’t it, but hopefully something like Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies will manage that trick with more success.

Oct 7, 2007

Roger Moore To Get Star On Hollywood Walk Of Fame This Week

Sir Roger Moore will be honored with a well-deserved star on the world-famous Walk of Fame in Hollywood, CA this coming Thursday, October 11, at 11:30am. Moore's will be the 2,350th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star will appropriately be located at 7007 Hollywood Blvd, off of Orange Avenue. Stefanie Powers and two-time Felix Leiter David Hedison (who also worked with Moore on The Saint and in Ffolkes) will be guest speakers at the ceremony. Pierce Brosnan is the only other James Bond actor with a star on the Walk of Fame, at 7083 Hollywood Blvd. (Someone please get Sean Connery a star ASAP!)

Sir Roger will also host the World Magic Awards this week, which will be broadcast on MyNetwork TV in the U.S. later this fall.

Oct 5, 2007

Ang Lee's New Spy Movie In Theaters This Weekend

Fall always means Oscar contention for distributors, which means that the spy movies get more serious. Gone are the summer action extravaganzas; here come the thought-provoking examinations of history, current events and the psychological toll of being a spy. Will this year bring another Lives of Others? Only time will tell. Last week's The Kingdom (which really belonged in the summer) certainly wasn't it, but maybe Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee has a shot.

Lee's new NC-17-rated epic, Lust, Caution, is being advertised as "an erotic espionage thriller." Based on a short story by Chinese author Eileen Chang, the film stars newcomer Tang Wei as a shy drama student recruited into an assassination plot in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. At the behest of her new controllers, she transforms herself in order to seduce a Japanese collaborator to orchestrate his assassination. But unused to living a life of deception, she soon finds herself falling in love with her target.

Lust, Caution won top honors at the Venice Film Festival last month. I hope that bodes well for the film. I'm a fan of most of Ang Lee's work, and I'm definitely looking forward to his shot at the spy genre. The trailer looks great.
Comic Review: Left On Mission #4

After suffering some of the unfortunate delays that seem a given with indy comic publishing, BOOM! StudiosLeft On Mission #4 finally hit comic shops last week with no loss of momentum whatsoever. Issue 3 was primarily an interlude in the action to focus on character development through a lengthy flashback. Number 4 thrusts those characters, in whom we’re now more emotionally invested than before, right back into the thick of it, guns (literally) blazing. It also features the return of one of the more compelling supporting characters, the ambitious, possibly psychopathic Agent Painter.

Reactivated CIA agent Eric Westfall has tracked his former flame, Emma (now gone rogue, though possibly for noble and topical reasons) to Morocco. Like in the best spy movies, writer Chip Mosher, artist Francesco Francavilla and colorist Martin Thomas (whose contributions still add immeasurably) take some time to let us explore this exotic setting. This has been a particular strength of this series since Issue 1, and once again Francavilla manages to evoke another well-selected thrilling location in beautiful detail. He gives us the visual, and Mosher gives us the smells, through Westfall’s instructive dialogue to Painter. Together, the creators do a great job of putting the reader in the heart of North Africa.

Westfall demonstrates some handy tradecraft with all the finesse of Michael Weston, allowing a potentially explosive transaction to play out. Each party believes themselves to be in command of the situation, which Francavilla sets up very nicely with a two-page splash providing a fish-eye view of all the participants and their rooftop sniper backup. The story still churns along at a very brisk pace, but Mosher understands the importance of the set-up. From conveying a great sense of place to constructing a believable playing field for the eventual action to unfold upon, each issue of Left On Mission builds to a satisfying climax and another cliffhanger ending. Like most comic book miniseries, the story will probably read best when collected together in trade paperback (which it will be this December), but it’s also the rare modern comic that delivers the goods with each individual issue as well. Fans of Burn Notice and The Bourne Ultimatum will find a lot to like here.

Oct 2, 2007

Review: Saboteur

Saboteur is not top-shelf Hitchcock, and certainly not his best black and white spy movie, either, but even the master’s lesser efforts are preferable to almost anyone else’s attempts at the man-on-the-run subgenre. Robert Cummings plays Barry Kane, a worker at a Glendale, California airplane factory who finds himself wrongfully accused of starting the arson fire that killed his best friend. Only he can identify the true saboteur (played with excellent menace by Norman Lloyd), a man the police don’t even believe exists. Barry follows his only clue and embarks on a cross-country journey to prove his innocence and bust open a ring of Nazi spies.

Saboteur was made shortly after America’s entrance into WWII, and the British director lays on the propaganda thickly, packing in enough American patriotism to give Michael Bay a run for his money. In the course of his odyssey (and it is a literal Odyssey, adhering somewhat loosely to Homer’s epic), Barry learns valuable lessons about America and what makes it great. Essentially, why it’s worth fighting for at all costs. When he stumbles into the cabin of an old blind man after escaping police custody, still wearing handcuffs, the sightless seer takes him in, offers him food and warmth, and reiterates the Constitutional concept of "innocent until proven guilty," teaching the concept to his niece, Pat (Priscilla Lane), who was ready to condemn Barry and turn him in to the police. And when Barry and Pat (now dragged into Barry's plight against her will) are caught stowing away aboard a traveling circus caravan, the freaks educate them - and us, the audience -on the merits of democracy by voting on whether or not to allow them to stay aboard. (The primary dissenting voice in the matter is a midget with a none-too-subtle Hitler mustache.) And the wholesome Pat, an all-American model whose pretty face graces every billboard they pass, teaches Barry the value of patriotism itself.

It’s not just the characters who hammer home the patriotic message, but the locations as well. Barry’s journey takes him past majestic purple mountains and amber waves of grain, past the mighty Hoover Dam, presented as a spectacular example of American ingenuity (and endangered by the Fascist saboteurs), and finally to the Statue of Liberty herself. Yes, the symbolism is constant and heavy-handed, but it’s admirable how whole-heartedly Hitch threw himself into the war effort. And the story moves along at a brisk pace, too, with plenty of action scenes, including a desperate all-or-nothing leap from a bridge into churning rapids to escape the police, which I suppose Andrew Davis (who remade Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder as A Perfect Murder) must have been homaging in The Fugitive.

The movie’s two most memorable setpieces come towards the end. Barry follows the saboteur all the way to New York, to an upscale party thrown by the prominent, wealthy Nazi sympathizers behind the sabotage plot. Exposed, Barry and Pat find themselves trapped out in the open. In a lengthy, tour-de-force shot that prefigures the director’s "single take" movie Rope, the camera moves with the couple as they dance an entire song, discussing their escape options. The shot remains steady on them as the background (always fully in focus) swirls around. Again, not subtle, but highly effective. Barry tries first to escape by dramatically informing another guest that the party is "a hotbed of spies and Fifth Columnists!" but the guy thinks he’s drunk. Next he tries making a public spectacle of himself to ensure safe passage out, but the trick doesn’t serve him as well as it does Cary Grant a decade-and-a-half later in North By Northwest. The other memorable setpiece, and the film’s most famous sequence, comes in the final reel as Barry finally confronts the real saboteur atop the Statue of Liberty. Suffice it to say, one of them falls off, plunging to his doom in the shadow of Liberty.

Fortunately, there are enough thrills in Saboteur that it holds up as more than mere propaganda. And it’s aided by a sharp script co-written by Dorothy Parker that crackles with the pithy witticisms she’s known for. (The spy ring is composed primarily of wealthy New Yorkers, a circle with which Ms. Parker was imminently familiar!) For a top-notch example of propagandist, wartime Hitchcock, and an action movie decades ahead of the birth of the genre, watch Foreign Correspondent. But for an entertaining way to pass an hour and a half from an era when patriotism was pure and carried none of the stigmas it’s acquired since, you could do a lot worse than Saboteur.
Tradecraft: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Scripter

Buried at the end of Variety's article about writer Peter Morgan's follow-up to The Queen is the news that the British scribe is also working on a new movie version of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Working Title. No further details are given on the project.

Le Carre's book was famously (and many would argue perfectly) adapted into a TV miniseries in 1980 starring the incomparable Alec Guinness as Le Carre's antihero, George Smiley. It was followed by a sequel, Smiley's People, in 1982. Denholm Elliott stepped into the role for the 1992 TV movie A Murder of Quality, but it was difficult for even a great actor like him to fill Guinness' shoes. I imagine whoever plays the part in the new movie will face the same challenge, but there are a lot of intriguing possibilities out there. Jim Broadbent, for one, leaps to mind. Rupert Davies played Smiley prior to Guinness in the 1965 film The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Peter Morgan won acclaim last year for a pair of royal scripts; he wrote both The Queen and The Last King of Scotland. The Queen was the second movie in his "Tony Blair trilogy" with actor Michael Sheen playing the PM. Sheen will reprise the role for Morgan's follow-up, focusing on Blair's relationships with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Morgan is also doing a polish on the script for the American remake of acclaimed British political thriller State of Play, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.