Sep 30, 2017

Tradecraft: Bond Producers Tap Jude Law for Next Spy Movie; Paramount to Distribute

Let the speculation end. James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have chosen their next leading man: Jude Law. This, of course, is not for the untitled Bond 25, which we all know will star Daniel Craig (the man himself announced it on Stephen Colbert's show over the summer), but for their female spy franchise starter The Rhythm Section, in which Law (Spy) will play opposite star Blake Lively. Variety reports that Paramount will handle worldwide distribution, which is new information since the film was first announced in July. IM Global will finance, and Wilson and Broccoli will produce through EON Productions. Unlike a lot of non-Bond films announced by EON (including the spy movies Remote Control and No Place to Hide), it looks like The Rhythm Section will actually happen. According to the trade, "the film will begin production this fall and will likely shoot in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland." No details are offered on what kind of role Law will play in the adaptation of Mark Burnell's 1999 novel.

While I'm hugely excited about the prospect of EON launching a franchise centered on a female spy, the most interesting news in the Variety story is the part about Paramount. If EON are working with that studio, could that be a hint that they will also partner on the next Bond movie? EON and MGM are currently seeking a distribution partner following the expiration of their Sony deal after SPECTRE, and several studios, including Paramount (as well as upstarts like Annapurna, Amazon, and Apple), are said to be eagerly pursuing the opportunity. Could Paramount's involvement in The Rhythm Section be part of a larger deal including 007, or possibly a trial run for EON to see how they like working with the studio? Only time will tell, but the prospect is an interesting one. Paramount, of course, already has a robust spy franchise in Mission: Impossible, but are probably eager for more, especially after the Jack Ryan brand moved to television.

Sep 28, 2017

New Spy Blu-Rays Out This Week: OSS 117 and DIMENSION 5

Kino-Lorber unleashed a tidal wave of Sixties spy goodness (and a little enjoyable Sixties spy mediocrity as well) in high definition this week. The main attraction is definitely their OSS 117 Five Film Collection, a glorious box set of five of the best Eurospy films of all – the Andre Hunebelle-produced OSS 117 movies. The B-picture on this bill is Dimension 5, an American poverty row spy picture from 1966 best known for co-starring Oddjob himself, Harold Sakata, as the Yellow Peril baddie, Big Buddha. None of these movies have been available before in America in legitimate digital form, so Kino are also offering both the OSS 117 set and Dimension 5 in standard def on DVD.

The OSS 117 Five Film Collection doesn't include all the OSS 117 films, but it does include all the Hunebelle-produced ones, which are the ones that matter most. Kerwin Mathews (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) stars in the first two, Frederick Stafford (Topaz) in the next two, and John Gavin (the American actor who was actually cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever before a record-setting million dollar payday lured Sean Connery back into the fold) stars in the final film. While most audiences are probably familiar with Agent OSS 117 (if at all) through the superb Jean Dujardin spoof movies from the 2000s, Jean Bruce's literary character actually pre-dates 007. Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name OSS 117, appeared in over 200 novels and a handful of films, of which the ones presented here are the most essential. For more on OSS 117, read my in-depth overview of the character and his screen appearances here.

I've reviewed each of these movies individually before, but off of gray market English-dubbed DVDs. I'll update my reviews soon to address the Kino Blu-rays, which appear to use the same HD transfers as the recent French Blu-rays from Gaumont. OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963, review here) may be black and white, but it's a few years ahead of From Russia With Love, incorporating terrific underwater action with its villains' lairs and breathtaking European locations well before Bond ever made a dive on screen. OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok (1964, review here) follows Mathews to Thailand, where he takes on a caped supervillain. OSS 117: Mission for a Killer (1965, review here) introduces Stafford, co-starring with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Mylène Demongeot (Fantomas), one of the most beautiful Eurospy babes of all. They hunt Nazis in Brazil, providing a lot of the basis for the later Dujardin parody movies. OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo (1966, review here) is my favorite film of the batch, and again beats Bond to the punch on multiple counts, including many Tokyo locations, geisha baths, and a ship with a bow that opens to swallow up smaller ships. It's tempting to credit the extra Bondian touches to co-writer Terrence Young (director of several seminal Connery Bond flicks), but his actual involvement is said to have been minimal. OSS 117: Double Agent (1968, review here) has plenty of Bond connections of its own. Beyond star Gavin being a notable footnote in 007 lore, legitimate Bond players Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and Curd Jurgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) also star. For my money, Jurgens actually makes a more memorable OSS 117 villain than Bond villain.

All five films are top-tier Eurospy movies. They've also got considerably higher budgets than most Euro flicks of the era (though still not in the Bond league, of course), making them great stepping stones from 007 into the world of his imitators. From what I've had a chance to sample, the high-def transfers look fantastic. My only gripes with Kino's set are that they didn't port over (and sub) the copious extras from the French DVD set, and, more crucially, that they didn't include English audio options. All of these movies were originally dubbed (and quite well) for American release. According to Kino, they were unable to locate those elements in a condition that matched the quality of the remastered picture. Alas. But the English subtitles are excellent, and the French audio sounds great. Overall, this is probably the best treatment any Eurospy movies have ever been given in the United States! And at just under $35 on Amazon, this set is a deal no Bond fan or Eurospy fan can pass up!

Original Enterprise captain Jeffrey Hunter is Justin Power, the spy tasked with taking out Big Buddha in the decidedly lower budgeted Dimension 5. Hunter is a compelling enough leading man, but Power is an unmitigated jerk in the worst Eurospy tradition – and a fairly inept agent to boot. France Nuyen (familiar to spy fans from her many episodes of I Spy) is his Chinese-American support who has all the good ideas, most of which Power ignores since she's a woman. (So astonished is Power when his cut-rate Mr. Waverly boss assigns him a partner with a tiny waist size that the guesses "small boy" and "dwarf" occur to him before female.) Since he can't rely on his wits, Power has to rely on the most preposterous spy gadget ever, a time travel belt. It's slow and it's bad, but if you're a fan of the genre, you probably still need it! Dimension 5 has long deserved a home video release of some sort; I'm kind of shocked the sort ended up being a remastered 4K HD scan! It still doesn't look that great... but it sure looks a heck of a lot better than the grey market copy I reviewed back in 2008. Read that review here.

Please order through the links on this page to support the Double O Section!

Order the OSS 117 Five Film Collection on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Order the OSS 117 Five Film Collection on DVD from Amazon.
Order Dimension 5 on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Order Dimension 5 on DVD from Amazon.

Read my Introduction to OSS 117 here.
Read my review of OSS 117 is Unleashed here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Mission for a Killer here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Double Agent here.
Read my review of Dimension 5 here.

Sep 19, 2017

Discussing A LEGACY OF SPIES on the Spybrary Podcast

On the latest episode of the Spybrary Podcast, I join host Shane Whaley and Spywrite's Jeff Quest to discuss John le Carré's brand new Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies. At the beginning of the summer, Shane and I discussed the first Smiley novel, Call for the Dead, so it feels appropriate to end the summer discussing the latest one! Furthermore, Jeff and I have been trying to do a podcast together for a few years now, so I'm really happy that Shane finally made that happen. I will be posting a full review here of A Legacy of Spies later, but in the meantime, listen to the podcast to hear my feelings on the book.

Listen to Episode 18 of The Spybrary Podcast (A Legacy of Spies) here, or subscribe on iTunes.

Listen to Episode 006 of The Spybrary Podcast (Call for the Deadhere,

Read "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.

Purchase A Legacy of Spies on Amazon.

Sep 14, 2017

John le Carré's DEADLY AFFAIR Comes to Blu-Ray in Fabulous Special Edition

Amidst the flurry of John le Carré excitement surrounding the publication of the great author's new Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies, an excellent new Blu-ray release of the film of his first book has gone somewhat overlooked. Sidney Lumet's The Deadly Affair (1966) was adapted from le Carré's debut novel Call for the Dead, and starred James Mason as the hero readers knew as George Smiley, here rechristened "Charles Dobbs" because Paramount owned the rights to Smiley following their film of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold the previous year (in which the character only had a small part). That film's screenwriter, Paul Dehn (who also adapted Goldfinger for the screen) also penned the script for The Deadly Affair... and actually managed to make a few improvements on the book! Mason is terrific as Dobbs, and sadly overlooked when we think of screen Smileys thanks to his more famous successors. In my opinion, The Deadly Affair is the most underrated of the films of le Carré's oeuvre. (Read my review of it here.) As such, its home video track record has been a bit spotty. For years it was available only as a rather unimpressive Region 2 DVD, and when it finally got Region 1 attention it was merely as a sparse, featureless MOD title from Sony's Columbia Screen Classics by Request. Now that oversight has finally been redressed, thanks to UK company Indicator, who have released a truly impressive, special feature-laden, region-free, limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo! And the transfer is even more impressive than the supplements. This movie has never looked so good, and takes on a whole new life in Indicator's high-def remaster. Here's a rundown of the set's features:

• High Definition remaster 
• Original mono audio 
• Audio commentary with film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains
The National Film Theatre Lecture with James Mason (1967, 48 mins): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Leslie Hardcastle at the National Film Theatre, London 
The Guardian Lecture with Sidney Lumet (1983, 89 mins): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Derek Malcolm at the National Film Theatre, London 
A Different Kind of Spy: Paul Dehn's Deadly Affair (2017, 17 mins): writer David Kipen on screenwriter Paul Dehn
• New interview with camera operator Brian West (2017, 5 mins) 
• Original theatrical trailer 
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography 
• New English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing 
• Limited edition exclusive booklet featuring newly commissioned writing by Thirza Wakefield , an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film including interviews with James Mason and cinematographer Freddie Young

It also features a cool reversible cover with two choices of poster art and a choice of dark or light spines, either one of which will look good on the shelf next to your Criterion Spy Who Came in from the Cold Blu-ray. The Blu-ray world premiere of The Deadly Affair, a dual format edition, is strictly limited to 3,000 copies; any future pressings, should they happen, won't include the excellent 48-page booklet. (And trust me, you want this booklet!)

The features are excellent, though Kipen misspeaks a couple of times. After reiterating le Carré's claim from his interview on the Criterion Spy Who Came in from the Cold disc that screenwriter Dehn was an assassin for the SOE during WWII, he implies that le Carré trained under Dehn at Camp X with Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee. (Le Carré didn't sign up for spook school until well after the war.) And later he implies that Dehn wrote more than one of the early James Bond movies. It really should have been up to the producers of the special features to edit him better; I get the impression these are just conversational blunders and I suspect he instantly regretted them, as overall he comes across as quite knowledgeable. And despite those minor hiccups, it's great to finally have a documentary shining the spotlight on the underrated Dehn! I learned a lot from this piece, including the fascinating tidbit that Dehn's longtime partner was Hammer composer James Bernard. For some reason Kipen doesn't tell us why Smiley was changed to Dobbs, but this crucial bit of information is covered in depth on the commentary track. He does talk about some of Dehn's earlier, more obscure spy movies, which is great to see. West relates some very interesting anecdotes about cinematographer Freddie Young, and ably gives a great example of just what exactly camera operators and cinematographers do in the form of an amusing anecdote about shooting the scene in theater with Lynn Redgrave. Basically, all of the features are terrific, the transfer looks great, and this is a disc that all le Carré fans and all Sixties spy fans simply need! The region-free disc should be playable everywhere and can be ordered from or Amazon UK. (American consumers may find it works out in their favor to order from the UK.)

Read my movie review of The Deadly Affair here.
Read my book review of Call for the Dead here.
Read my introduction to George Smiley here.

First RED SPARROW Trailer

Fox has released the first trailer for Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence's film of the bestselling Jason Matthews novel. Last year, the book made my list of the ten best spy novels written during the decade I've been writing this blog, so obviously the movie is one I'm really looking forward to... albeit trepidatiously. Joel Edgerton is definitely not who I pictured as Nate Nash, and I'm dubious of convincing chemistry between him and star Jennifer Lawrence (sixteen years his junior), which is crucial to the story. But overall, this trailer looks pretty faithful to the novel, and quite promising! One major change from the book, however, has already been reported by The Hollywood Reporter. According to that trade, real-life Russian president Vladimir Putin, a key character in the novel (and more so in its sequel), has been cut from the film, allegedly over fears of Interview-style retaliation from Russian hackers. Additionally, one of the novel's primary settings, Helsinki, has been replaced by the more familiar and less exotic (though cheaper) Budapest. Red Sparrow opens March 2, 2018, and Matthews' final novel in the trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate (whose plot has changed somewhat since it was first announced, either because of or despite its similarity to world events), comes out a few weeks prior.