Movie Review: Our Men in Bagdad aka Il gioco delle spie (1966)
This one’s a rarity: one of the hardest Eurospy movies of all to track down. In fact, the esteemed authors of the indispensable Eurospy Guide concluded at the time of publication (in 2004) that this “sadly elusive” and “key” film “remained stubbornly unavailable.” They predicted that it would appear with time, and fortunately it has, but certainly not in an optimal format. The version under review is taken from a full-screen Italian TV broadcast with no English subtitles. Not speaking a lick of Italian myself, that meant I had to rely on the visuals alone to guide me. Fortunately, a lot of those visuals are pretty cool–and many typical spy setpieces (involving frogmen and helicopters and shootouts and the like) occur without dialogue anyway. I don’t like reviewing a movie whose dialogue I can’t understand, but with no alternatives available, I will endeavor to do so, working from the clues on screen. (Though bear in mind, I could be as off in my interpretation of what’s going on as Woody Allen was when he helpfully “translated” those Japanese films into What’s Up, Tiger Lily?... but I doubt it.)
plot summary on the IMDB. Hanin is Alex, Calhoun is Sadov and blond Eurospy stalwart Marandi (perhaps better known for her role in Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires) is Sonia–all as Russian as you can get. And they’re, apparently, out to stop the Americans from getting this oil contract! It’s an interesting and unique point of view. But how could it have been a popular one at the height of the Cold War? Well... it gets more interesting. By midway through the film, it’s clear that one of our trio is actually a traitor–an American mole. But who? This tricky little narrative twist allows the filmmakers the chance to make their character both hero and antihero at once. A hero to the audiences–most of whom would have been in Western nations–and a traitor to the other characters in the film. This backwards perspective actually works better than the much more famous A Dandy in Aspic, in which we’re asked to sympathize with a traitorous protagonist who is really a Russian agent operating as a mole in British Intelligence. Of course, all the double-crossery also makes viewing a lot more confusing when you’re watching the movie in a language you can’t understand!
Topkapi, but it’s still a pretty innovative solution! All of this is very well done, and director Paolo Bianchini keeps his camera refreshingly fluid (he loves circular rotations, and they work well here) and has an eye for cool shots and angles to keep things interesting (like shooting part of the traditional briefing-with-the-boss scene through a decorative glass bowl in the office), but to me the real highlight of this film is the Sixties Baghdad scenery. (That’s assuming it was really shot in Baghdad, but I’ve no reason to believe otherwise.) Baghdad is obviously a hotbed of spies today, and the subject of films like Green Zone and The Hurt Locker (neither of which were actually shot there), but it’s an underused location in Sixties spy cinema. If a Eurospy is going to head to the Middle East, it’s usually Beirut. I’m struck in this footage by what a beautiful city Baghdad once was! On the edge of what I presume is the Tigris River, it looks like an exotic oasis resort town, not a capital that will spend its next four decades embroiled in terror and violence. The locations are all very nice.
The Eurospy Guide, and a at least the movie itself has surfaced, true to the authors’ optimistic prediction.
A big thanks to Rich for the chance to see this rare gem!