May 24, 2011
The next monthly wave of titles from MGM's MOD program, the Limited Edition Collection, includes some real spy gems! Most exciting is the spy movie that Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman collaborated on between Dr. No and From Russia With Love: 1963's Call Me Bwana, starring Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg. Long unavailable on home video and never before released in widescreen (though it's run that way on TCM), this title is probably best known to Bond fans for the in-joke in Sean Connery's second 007 outing. Bond's ally Kerim Bey uses 007's Q-issued sniper rifle to shoot the Bulgarian KGB stooge Krilencu as he attempts to escape his safe house through a secret exit in the mouth of Anita Ekberg on a poster for Call Me Bwana painted on the side of his building. (In Ian Fleming's novel, it was Marilyn Monroe.) But Bwana is notable for more than that; it's a spy movie in its own right. When an unmanned American space capsule crash-lands in the African veldt, the CIA sends self-professed African expert Bob Hope (The Road to Hong Kong) to retrieve it. The other side sends beautiful secret agent Anita Ekberg (The Cobra) and scientist Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and soon all the interested parties find themselves on safari together. In typical Bob Hope fashion, hilarity ensues. Much of the Bond team established on Dr. No remains in place here, including editor Peter Hunt, production designer Syd Cain, composer Monty Norman, D.P. Ted Moore, title designer Maurice Binder and scribe Johanna Harwood.
The 1969 Eurospy movie The File of the Golden Goose doesn't quite live up to the promise of its all-star cast (which includes Edward Woodward, Charles Grey, Yul Brynner, Walter Gotell, Ivor Dean, John Barrie and Adrienne Corri), but it's still a welcome release on DVD. American Secret Service agent Brynner is sent to England where he teams up with Scotland Yard detective Woodward to go undercover to bust a brutal counterfeit gang known as the Golden Goose. All the double-crossing expected of the spy genre ensues, but the stodgy movie feels more like a generic Forties or Fifties noir (thanks in part to some unnecessary narration), belying its origins as a remake of 1947's T-Men. Director Sam Wanamaker made a much better Eurospy movie the following year, The Executioner, which has already been issued on MOD from Columbia.
Don Sharp's 1975 political thriller Hennessy is a real surprise! Based on a story conceived by Deadlier Than the Male star Richard Johnson, its contriversial subject matter ensured an extremely limited release in Seventies Britain, and it's never been very widely available since. Fans have long demanded it on DVD, but probably never thought it would actually happen. Rod Steiger plays Hennessy, a peaceful Irishman driven to extremism after his wife and child are killed during violence in Belfast. As retribution he plots to assassinate the Queen of England by bombing the British Parliament when the Royal Family is in attendance. Johnson plays the Special Branch operative out to stop him, and Eric Porter plays an IRA thug out to stop him as well, out of fear of British reprisals in Ireland for such a horrific act. Trevor Howard, Lee Remick, Patrick Stewart and Queen Elizabeth II herself (via stock footage) co-star.
Diana Rigg fans will be pleased to note that this wave of titles also includes Peter Hall's 1968 version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Rigg (between The Avengers and Bond) as Helena. Judi Dench, decades prior to playing M, also appears, as Titania. Impossibly young versions of Ian Holm (Game Set Match), Helen Mirren (RED), Michael Jayston (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Barbara Jefford (who lent her voice to Daniella Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love) round out the dream cast.
Though there are no pre-order links up yet, all of these titles will be available soon from online outlets like Amazon and Screen Archives Entertainment.