Jan 19, 2023

Rare Lindsay Shonteff Spy Movies to Play on the Big Screen in LA

Los Angeles' legendary New Beverly Cinema (owned by director Quentin Tarantino) blew my mind today by announcing that they'll be showcasing movies helmed by exploitation auteur Lindsay Shonteff in late February! And the line-up includes two of his spy movies. No. 1 of the Secret Service (1977) is the top of bill at 7:30pm on Monday, February 27 (paired with "brutal British crime film" The Bullet Machine), and The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967) closes out the double feature on Tuesday, February 28 (along with Curse of the Voodoo) at 9:25pm. 

Shonteff first became associated with the spy genre at the height of Bondmania when he introduced the world to Charles Vine in The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (aka Licensed to Kill) in 1965. (Yes, the movie whose Sammy Davis, Jr. theme song is energetically sung by all the Circus staff in Tomas Alfredson's 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy!) Star Tom Adams reprised the role in two Sixties sequels which Shonteff sat out (Where the Bullets Fly and Somebody's Stolen Our Russian Spy), but Shonteff clearly felt a close attachment to the character, because he revived him under slightly altered names (for legal reasons) throughout the rest of his career with ever diminishing returns. The 1970s saw first Nicky Henson and then The New Avengers' Gareth Hunt essaying the role of "Charles Bind" in spy spoofs No. 1 of the Secret Service (1977) and The Man from S*E*X (1979), respectively, while 1990 found Michael Howe playing a Lamborghini Countach driving No. 1 in the nigh unwatchable Number One Gun. Just prior to No. 1 of the Secret Service (which one-time Bond contender Richard Todd steals as the urbane villain Arthur Loveday), Shonteff tried his hand at a serious spy movie adapting Len Deighton's Spy Story, the unofficial fourth "Harry Palmer" movie. 

But his finest hour in the genre may have come in 1967 when he updated the Sax Rohmer "Yellow Peril" femme fatale Sumuru for the spy craze, with Goldfinger's golden girl Shirley Eaton once more altering her skin color to play the Asian supervillain. Nope, there's nothing remotely PC about any of it, but if you can get past the appalling casting conventions of the time, The Million Eyes of Sumuru is a thoroughly entertaining Eurospy romp! It stars Eurospy stalwart George Nader (Jerry Cotton himself!) and Dr. Goldfoot foil Frankie Avalon as the intrepid agents who go up against Eaton. Amazingly, the New Beverly will be screening a 35mm IB Tech print of this cult classic!

Now let's be greedy and hope that perhaps this Shonteff celebration will continue into March with screenings of The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World, Spy Story, and the two Big Zapper movies. (The Big Zapper was Shonteff's female private detective turned spy, an Emma Peel wannabe who could shoot lasers out of her... well, it was the Seventies and it was Shonteff, so you can guess.)

Sep 19, 2022


AIP’s Vincent Price vehicle Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine was one of the first Sixties Bond parodies I ever heard of, long before I actually saw it. In a way, that was a good thing, because it afforded the movie years to percolate in my imagination, growing far beyond a potential it could possibly live up to when I finally saw it. Ultimately I was bound for disappointment, because, let’s face it, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a far better title than it is a movie. But because of all those years that it lived in my mind as pure potential, I went into it for the first time after college (during college I had tried in vain to track down a 35mm print to program on campus) with a pre-built nostalgia, and nostalgia is a wonderful—and possibly essential—cushion for a movie like this. If you remember it from your childhood, you’ll probably enjoy it more than it deserves to be enjoyed. And the same can be said if you’ve somehow approximated such a nostalgia like I did. But even after that lengthy apologia for liking the movie, I have to admit that I only really like certain parts of it. Most of it is pretty bad.

Made at the height of the Sixties (and here I’m grudgingly conceding that that phrase, which I usually use very positively, can also have negative connotations), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a as much a blend of what was popular then as those Seltzer and Friedberg “parody” movies (usually with “movie” in the title) were in the early 2000s. (Though to be fair it’s a lot better than those!) And since it was made by American International Pictures, it’s a blend of its time that particularly reflects that studio’s output. Therefore it’s as much a parody of their two bread-and-butter genres—Frankie and Annette beach movies and Poe-inspired Vincent Price horror movies—as it is of James Bond. While I’m indifferent to beach movies, I do love those Poe movies… so I’m not being an espionage chauvinist when I say that the only bits that really work are those inspired by the spy craze. And even then the hit-to-miss ratio is probably 50/50... at best.

Appropriately, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine opens with one of the strangest title sequences of any Sixties spy movie. Under a rather great and undeniably infectious theme song performed by the Supremes (available on the stellar Ace Records Sixties spy theme compilation Come Spy With Us), instead of the Bond-style credits most spy spoofs opted for, Bikini Machine treats us to Claymation, courtesy of Gumby creator Art Clokey. And the entire Claymation sequence is built around the stupidest thing in the whole movie: a pair of stupid gold elf shoes with little bells on their pointed toes that Price’s character wears to justify his name, Dr. Goldfoot. I’m aware that I just used the word “stupid” twice in that sentence, but that’s because these shoes are seriously stupid. I don’t know whose idea they were, but I sure am glad that Ken Adam wasn’t struck by a similar necessity to equip Gert Frobe with jingling golden thimbles.

After the titles, we meet an attractive robot woman (Susan Hart) in a trenchcoat and fedora walking through the streets of San Francisco. We learn that she’s a robot woman through a series of stupid gags (there’s that word again… are you detecting a pattern?), like a car crashing into her and getting wrecked (because she’s metal, get it??), or two bank robbers escaping and crashing into her and getting knocked down (because she’s metal!), then shooting her full of holes with no discernable result (because… you’ve figured it out by now, haven’t you?). Then we meet Frankie Avalon being annoying in a restaurant and sporting a really annoying helmet of hair. (Uh-oh. There’s another word that bore repeating twice in one sentence!) The robot woman comes in and drinks a sip of his milk and then spouts out gallons of the white stuff (all from that one sip, apparently) through the “bullet holes” in her body. (John Cleese would recycle the same questionable gag years later in that Schweppes commercial on the original Licence to Kill VHS.) Despite her leakage, the holes (which aren’t visible) don’t seem to have damaged her mechanics one bit, and in minutes she’s successfully picked up Avalon and is heading back to his apartment with him.

Avalon is Craig Gamble, a bumbling agent of Secret Intelligence Command (or SIC, which I think is supposed to pass for a joke) who decorates his walls with a picture of Sherlock Holmes, apparently for inspiration. The robot woman is named Diane, and she talks with an annoying put-on Southern accent and, we and Gamble soon come to learn, wears only a gold lamé bikini underneath her fashionable spy trenchcoat! (The latter makes up for the former.) But what made her pick him?

The answer comes back at Dr. Goldfoot’s lair, where we meet the diabolical mastermind and his sidekick, Igor (occasional Elvis cohort Jack Mullaney). While Vincent Price deserves an iconic entrance in any movie he makes, it’s kind of undercut here by those stupid gold shoes, which really are quite stupid. (Have I mentioned that?) I am not a production designer, nor a fashion maven, but I am confident I could have designed much better gold shoes for the same purpose. And regular readers will know that I am not given to making such claims. Anyway, it transpires at Goldfoot HQ that the idiotic Igor programmed poor Diane to go after the wrong man. While Gamble hasn’t got two pennies to rub together, she was supposed to be seducing Avalon’s beach buddy Dwayne Hickman, as millionaire playboy Todd Armstrong. (As either an inside joke or laziness, Hickman’s character is named after Avalon’s character in Ski Party, and Avalon’s Craig Gamble is named after Hickman’s character from that movie.) To Igor’s credit, the two actors do look a lot alike (in a very generic Sixties heartthrob way), and that fact actually makes the movie a little bit confusing. The fact that Gamble turned out to be a secret agent was just bad luck—or bad scriptwriting. Luckily Dr. Goldfoot can operate Diane by remote control, and he’s able to reprogram her to suddenly walk out on Craig and set off to lay a trap for Todd.

Diane’s trap for Todd involves bending over and pulling her trenchcoat far enough aside to expose a glimpse of that golden behind as she pretends to inspect a flat tire. It also involves Dr. Goldfoot somehow taking remote control of Todd’s car, and driving him backwards until he sees Diane. (Dr. Goldfoot possesses a magical universal remote long before its time, and uses it primarily for making cars drive the wrong direction and various things blow up. He also threatens people with it a lot, though I’m not sure if he’s threatening to blow them up or to reverse them.) One glimpse of Diane, however, is enough to make Todd forget that it might be a little suspicious and just a tad weird to find yourself suddenly pulled backwards by an unseen force while driving. Their meeting also offers the movie’s choicest bit of dialogue—and, yes, it’s every bit as sexist as you would expect/hope for from a movie called Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

“Thank heavens you came along, darling, I’m completely flat!” declares Diane as she opens the front of her trenchcoat.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” replies Todd, ogling her gold bikini-clad breasts jutting out of the London Fog.

So what’s all this about? Well, sadly all of Dr. Goldfoot’s ingenuity is expended on a simple gold digging scheme. Diane is supposed to get millionaire Todd to marry her and then make him sign over power of attorney to her (which is of course the same as signing it to Dr. Goldfoot). Honestly, I find it a little disappointing that Dr. Goldfoot has the ingenuity and the wherewithal to build perfectly human-looking robots and universal remotes that control anything, and yet the best scheme he can come up with is gold digging. Why not aim higher, Dr. G? Why not strive for world domination? (Well... that's what sequels are for!)

Anyway, Igor’s error with the target has accidentally tipped off an agent of SIC to the mad doctor’s big gold digging plot. Fortunately for Dr. Goldfoot, though, he’s not a very good agent.

Gamble’s code number is only Double O and a half. “Why they won’t even let you carry a gun until you get a digit instead of a fraction!” yells his boss and uncle, Uncle Donald (genuine comic genius Fred Clark, of Zotz! and Hammer's Curse of the Mummy's Tomb). Donald’s not really in any position to berate his nephew, though, because he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer himself. When Igor shows up in his office dressed in what looks like a Sherlock Holmes Halloween costume (deerstalker and Inverness cape) claiming to be SIC director Inspector Abernathy, Donald believes him despite Gamble’s protestations.

The gags in this movie are mostly lame (as opposed to lamé), and recycled for the hundredth time. When an upper file cabinet drawer is closed, a lower one pops out knocking someone on the head. A beautiful girl robot is mis-programmed (Igor!) and starts talking like a Brooklyn gorilla. When Igor tries to spy on his boss using a periscope, Dr. Goldfoot splashes some ink on the top end giving Igor a black ring around his eye from the viewer. (Actually, that one's still kind of funny.) Even the spy-specific jokes tend to fall flat a lot of the time. Igor shows Dr. G a new attaché case (pronounced the American way, not the British “attachee”) with its own From Russia With Love-style gadgetry. What surprises does it have in store?  Would you believe a fist with a boxing glove that pops out and punches someone when they open it? (Neatly and obviously accomplished by situating a stuntman underneath the table the case is set on, easily able to reach through a hole in the table and the case.)

While the jokes often fall flat, highlights come in the form of random outbursts of go-go dancing, whether from Dr. Goldfoot’s bikini girls (whose default mode seems to be set as “go-go,” befitting their gold bikini costumes) or in nightclubs. (There’s a odd number from a band all dressed up as Fred Flintstone credited as Sam and the Apemen and accompanied by—you guessed it—go-go girls. But for some reason the go-go girls aren’t dressed in fur bikinis, just regular bikinis.)

Price himself camps it up to the extreme (surprise, surprise), parodying his own other AIP performances and even donning costumes from a few of them at times. To that end, the movie becomes more and more of an AIP in-joke as it proceeds (complete with an Annette Funicello cameo), and eventually Gamble and Todd end up in Dr. Goldfoot’s torture chamber, getting a tour that includes portraits of all his illustrious forebears (again bearing certain resemblances to famous Price roles past) and lots of familiar torture implements. It’s poor Todd who ends up strapped down beneath the swinging pendulum from The Pit and the Pendulum.

But then, in its final act, something unexpected happens. The movie becomes… really fun! The undisputable high point of the film is the fifteen-minute-long final chase through the streets of San Francisco in which the heroes and villains keep changing vehicles. It’s accomplished mostly through obvious rear projection, but the San Francisco scenery is quite real. The heroes (Gamble and Todd) start out in a gadget-laden Cadillac spy car whose gags include inflatable seats that inflate when you don’t want them to and a steering wheel that switches sides between the driver and the passenger at inopportune moments. The villains start out in a motorcycle and sidecar that become detached in the course of the chase and eventually manage to re-attach themselves. When Dr. Goldfoot uses his magic remote control device to blow up their spy car, the heroes swipe a red convertible (a Sunbeam Alpine, like Bond drove in Dr. No), and when the motorcycle and sidecar end up smashed on the front of a train, the villains (their faces coated in black soot, just like a cartoon character’s after surviving such a collision) appropriate an E-Type Jag. Eventually the heroes are on a bicycle while the baddies commandeer a San Francisco cable car—and manage to drive it right off its tracks and all over town! By the end the good guys are in a boat on a boat trailer careening wildly down San Francisco’s steep hills. It’s all pretty fun, really, in a typically zany way.

The end titles feature those stupid gold shoes again (though not Claymation this time), performing a disembodied dance (accomplished simply—and effectively—enough with a dancer dressed all in black dancing in front of a pitch black background) alongside gold bikini-clad go-go dancers—and similarly disembodied writhing gold bikini tops and bottoms. (That’s actually a really cool effect!) All of which handily beats (and makes up for) the Claymation opening in my book.

Even though Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine leaves things open for a sequel with Dr. Goldfoot and Igor surviving their cable car crash (and subsequent bombardment by gunboats) and turning up on the plane winging our victorious heroes off to Europe, the end credits instead tout the next beach movie, The Girl in the Glass Bikini. Which kind of brings us back to this movie’s title. Say it out loud to yourself. Think about it. Based on that title more than my (or any) review, I suspect you already know if this movie is for you or not.

Jul 12, 2022

The Next "James Bond" Novel Puts the Crosshairs on the Double O Section

No sooner has Anthony Horowitz completed his trilogy of excellent, period-set James Bond novels than the next iteration of Ian Fleming Publications' literary continuations appears on the horizon via HarperCollins: Double or Nothing, by Kim Sherwood. And this one forsakes 007 (for the moment, anyway) to put the crosshairs on 003, 004, and 009... and the whole Double O Section! It should be unsurprising, given the name of this site, that I find that prospect tantalizing. Since I was a kid, I've been very curious to read about the adventures of the other 00 agents! 

Usually when we meet them in the movies, they're already dead or just about to die. The only other active agents we've ever really gotten to know well were Suzie Kew and Briony Thorne in Jim Lawrence's Daily Express James Bond comic strip, Nomi in No Time to Die... and I suppose we ought to also count Scarlett Papava in Sebastian Faulks's thoroughly disappointing Devil May Care. (Read my review here.)

Now, I know. You might ask, "What's the point of a James Bond continuation novel without 007?" To which I would point out that this has actually worked very successfully in the past! Some of my very favorite Bond continuation novels ever are Kate Westbrook's (aka Samantha Weinberg's) Moneypenny Diaries trilogy. (Read my review of the second one, Secret Servant, here, and read my in-depth interview with Weinberg about writing the series here.) Weinberg put the spotlight on Moneypenny, and created thrilling and original narratives in the familiar setting of Fleming's Secret Service. 

Kim Sherwood has already demonstrated her bona fides in her Twitter feed and on her website, and it sounds like she knows her spy stuff. (Not only is she well versed in Fleming, but she's also a Modesty Blaise fan!) I can't wait to see what she does with Fleming's supporting characters and the new 00 agents she creates in her Double O Section trilogy! The first book, Double or Nothing, is due out September 1 in Britain. A signed edition with stenciled page edges is also available exclusively from Waterstones (pictured below). No U.S. publication date has been announced so far, but Sherwood recently hinted on Twitter that such an announcement might be imminent. 

Apr 6, 2022

Tradecraft: KILLING EVE Spawns a Cold War Spin-off

On the eve of Killing Eve's series finale (airing this weekend), Deadline reports that "producer Sid Gentle Films is in early stage development on [a] spin-off, though it hasn’t got a greenlight yet." The spin-off (for BBC America and AMC Networks) would focus on Fiona Shaw's character, Carolyn Martens... but not as the cool, commanding spymaster we met in the show's first season. Instead, the potential spin-off would focus on her early days with MI6. From what we know of her history on the show, that could be incredibly compelling! Presumably such a series would focus on her time on Russia Desk and in Moscow during the waning days of the Cold War, when she recruited a crucial asset. I'm not so interested in this potential series because of its Killing Eve connection (though I do love that show's wit and tone and performances, and it would be nice to see them continue), but because of its setting. We don't see many Cold War era series, and when they do come along, I'll always be watching! It would be particularly cool to see one set in the late 80s with that focus. The Americans of course reveled in its 80s setting, but that was focused on Soviet agents undercover in America. A show about a British agent operating in Moscow at that time would be very different! 

Feb 10, 2022

Full Trailer for THE IPCRESS FILE Miniseries

After a tantalizing but all too brief teaser, a full trailer has been released for ITV's upcoming miniseries version of Len Deighton's famous first spy novel, THE IPCRESS FILE. THE IPCRESS FILE was first filmed in 1965 starring Michael Caine, and the film is an absolute classic. But as Deighton readers know, it necessarily omitted much of the novel. While director Sidney Fury wisely focused on the London portions of the book, it's clear from this trailer that the miniseries will include Harry Palmer's memorable sojourns to Beirut and a Pacific atoll, as well as a snowy landscape that was filmed in Finland, a location not found in the book, but featured in Deighton's later novel about the same protagonist (unnamed on the page) BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN. Perhaps the miniseries will already lay the groundwork for things to come. I'm already hoping it's a smash hit and gets multiple seasons (largely because I desperately want to see the second novel in the series, HORSE UNDER WATER, adapted for the screen; producer Harry Saltzman skipped it in the Sixties). But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, we've still got THE IPCRESS FILE to look forward to! And based on this trailer, I can hardly wait! (For the moment I can't embed it due to privacy settings, but you can follow the link to watch it on Vimeo.)

THE IPCRESS FILE premieres on ITV in the U.K. this March. In America it will air on AMC+, but no date has so far been announced. 
Thanks to Jack for the link!

Mar 29, 2021

THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST is Coming to Blu-ray!

A few weeks ago, Paramount announced a remake of The President's Analyst was in the works. Now comes even better news.... The 1967 original, starring James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, and Severn Darden, is at long last coming to Blu-ray! Australian label Via Vision will release the title via its Imprint imprint (yes, you read that right: two "via's" and two "imprint's") on May 26. It' can be imported from the Via Vision site, and is available to pre-order from American outlets like Amazon (from which this site receives a kickback) and DeepDiscount. Imprint Blu-rays are region-free. The 1080p HD presentation of the film with LPCM 2.0 mono audio comes with brand new special features including an audio commentary by the great Tim Lucas (who recently provided the company with an updated audio commentary for their release of Danger: Diabolik to supplement his classic original DVD commentary with John Philip Law) and an appreciation of the film from Kim Newman, as well as the original theatrical trailer and optional English subtitles. The first 1500 copies will come in a limited edition slipcase. The President's Analyst is one of the all-time great spy comedies, and remains as timely as ever. If you love it as much as I do, you'll already have pre-ordered. If you've never seen it... now's your chance!

Mar 12, 2021

Tradecraft: Paramount Remakes THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST with Trevor Noah

Theodore J. Flicker's 1967 James Coburn satire The President's Analyst is one of my very favorite spy movies. (It's also Coburn's best spy movie... Sorry, Derek Flint.) When describing it to people, I always say that the comedy holds up surprisingly well today... sadly. America is still facing many of the same social  issues Flicker sent up over fifty years ago (from institutional racism to monolithic Big Tech), and it's easy to imagine a remake. Now, Paramount is imagining one... with The Daily Show host Trevor Noah on board to produce and potentially star. According to The Hollywood Reporter, former Obama White House staffer Pat Cunnane will write the script. The premise, about a psychotherapist burdened with all of the President's top secret stresses, will obviously be familiar ground for him! According to his publisher, Cunnane served as "President Barack Obama’s senior writer and deputy director of messaging at the White House, where he worked for six years in many roles."

Per the trade, "Details for the new take are being kept under the couch but it is described as a re-examining the 1967 satire through the lens of the contemporary political landscape." You really wouldn't have to change too much. I do hope the new film retains the original's almost Pink Panther-esque slapstick tone though. It's not too often you see slapstick and satire married together, but Flicker's film did it perfectly. Severn Darden and Godfrey Cambridge co-starred in the original.

Dec 7, 2020

Tradecraft: As Many as 7 New Kingsman Movies in the Pipeline

Deadline reports that Marv Films (Matthew Vaughn's UK-based production company) "is plotting 'something like seven more Kingsman films' as part of the company’s expansion plans." That's... ambitious! But other spy franchises have certainly sustained that many or more. At least one of those seven films is expected to be a spinoff centered on the American spies (including Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges) introduced in the second movie, Statesman. If previous plans mooted by Vaughn are still in effect, another is likely to be a third and supposedly final movie about the characters from the first two films, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and Harry Hart (Colin Firth), said to close out that trilogy. 

The next Kingsman movie we see will definitely be the WWI-set prequel The King's Man, long in the can and delayed by the global pandemic. That's currently slated for February, but likely to change again. It stars Harris Dickinson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Tom Hollander, and Daniel Brühl. With a cast like that an an exciting new time period less well mined by other spy franchises (and even a more serious tone judging from the trailers), I'm hopeful some more of these upcoming Kingsman films are sequels to The King's Man. Perhaps Dickinson and Fiennes will get as many movies as Edgerton and Firth.

According to Marv Group CEO Zygi Kamasa (per the trade), the company also has a Kingsman TV series in the works. 

Sep 3, 2020

NEW JAMES BOND TRAILER: Second Publicity Campaign Ramps Up for NO TIME TO DIE

This week MGM has ramped up the campaign for Daniel Craig's long awaited and highly anticipated fifth James Bond movie, No Time To Die. And as fans are painfully aware, this is actually the film's second campaign. No Time To Die had a whole advertising campaign back at the beginning of this year leading up to a hoped for April release, including many posters and even the much publicized, chart-topping release of the movie's excellent theme song by Billie Eilish. But, as we all know, the global pandemic came along and the April release was scrapped. Since then the film has been set for a November release, though even that has been uncertain given the unpredictable nature of the novel coronavirus. Now it certainly looks like EON, MGM, and distributors United Artists and Universal are doubling down on that November release! The date is proudly proclaimed across this brand new poster (frankly a little uninspired compared to the less typical previous campaign's 1-sheet) and in the brand new second trailer. And it's quite a trailer! As far as I can recall, this marks the first time a Craig Bond movie has had this kind of text tagline: The mission that changes everything begins! 

Jul 8, 2020

Tradecraft: Damian Lewis and Dominic West to Star in A SPY AMONG FRIENDS Miniseries

It's a real spies' reunion for the miniseries version of Ben MacIntyre's superb non-fiction book A Spy Among Friends! Nearly everyone involved has some serious spy experience on their resume--and many of them have worked together before. It's no wonder the book has attracted such an array of veteran talent; for my money it's a strong contender of the best spy biography ever. MacIntyre uses the close friendship between the notorious double agent Kim Philby and loyal MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott to frame the story of the notorious Cambridge spy ring that shook the foundations of British Intelligence--and the Cold War at large. 

According to Deadline, Damian Lewis (Our Kind of Traitor) will reunite with his Homeland producer Alexander Cary (the Taken TV show) to star as Elliott. Dominic West (The Hour, Johnny English Reborn) will play Philby, who has been portrayed in the past by Toby Stephens, Tom Hollander, Anthony Bate, and Billy Cruddup. Both Lewis and West were readers in the series of celebrity-read James Bond audiobooks.

Cary will write the six-episode miniseries, and Nick Murphy, who directed the recent dark BBC/FX version of A Christmas Carol, will direct. Both will produce, as will Lewis, whose production shingle Rookery was also behind the recent docu-series Spy Wars, which the actor hosted. The series will be a co-production of Sony and ITV Studios for Spectrum Originals and UK streamer BritBox. It's tentatively scheduled to air in fall of 2021, but of course like all things now that's dependent on the novel Coronavirus. Lewis has an obligation to finish his commitment to his Showtime series Billions first once production resumes.

MacIntyre's book has already been adapted as a two-part 2014 BBC documentary, Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal, which was presented by MacIntyre and starred David Oakes (You) as Philby and William Beck (Casualty) as Elliott in re-enactments. Previously, Lionsgate had optioned the TV rights to the book back in 2014 with writer Bill Broyles (Under Cover, Entrapment) attached, but nothing ever came of that.

Apr 14, 2020

Tradecraft: U.S. Remake of French Series THE BUREAU in the Works

Deadline reports that an English language version of the international hit French spy series The Bureau (Le Bureau des Légendes) is in the works. Per the trade, Paris-based Federation Entertainment, the production company behind the series, "said that negations are underway for remakes of The Bureau in both the U.S. and South Korea." The original French version airs in America on cable network Sundance, and has found great success in markets all over the world. It stars Mathieu Kassovitz (Haywire, Munich), and Bond villain Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace) came aboard in the fourth season.

Apr 6, 2020

Remembering Honor Blackman

The spy genre has lost a Great today. The Guardian reports that Honor Blackman has passed away at the age of 94, "of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus." It's crushing to lose two of the key Bond Girls in a matter of months, Blackman's death coming on the heels of Thunderball's Claudine Auger in December. And while she will probably be best remembered for her definitive portrayal of Pussy Galore opposite Sean Connery in Goldfinger, Blackman's mark on the spy genre is far greater. For me, she'll first and foremost always be Cathy Gale, John Steed's first regular female partner on the UK TV classic The Avengers.

Cathy Gale was ultimately overshadowed by Steed's more famous subsequent partner, Emma Peel (played to perfection by another future Bond Girl, Diana Rigg), but Gale's and Blackman's place in television history cannot be overstated. Cathy Gale was television's original badass, leather-clad female spy, paving the way not only for Mrs. Peel, but for Honey West (producer Aaron Spelling was inspired to create the show by Avengers episodes he saw in England, and reportedly first offered the role to Blackman, who turned it down), The Bionic Woman, Alias's Sydney Bristow, and every other leading lady of espionage to throw an attacker over her shoulder, as well as non-spy heroines like Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Quite simply, there had never been an action-oriented female protagonist on television before Honor Blackman's groundbreaking performance. She changed the game. In part, this was due to Blackman inheriting scripts that had been originally written for another male partner for Steed (following his first season foil, Ian Hendry's Dr. David Keel), which were hastily rewritten for her, but kept the character involved in the action in a way women hadn't been previously on TV. But in a larger part, it was due to Blackman's undeniable and very physical presence: she played Cathy as a woman definitely not to be trifled with! And she learned judo for the role, impressively dispatching stuntmen twice her size on a regular basis on episodes that were at the time taped live. Her obvious talent even led to the publication of a book, Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defense.

Prior to playing Cathy Gale, Blackman was known for glamour more than ass-kicking. But she'd already racked up a pretty impressive roster of spy roles. Foremost among them was a regular role on the 1959-60 ITC wheel show The 4 Just Men (review here), in which she played Nicole, secretary to Paris-based Just Man Tim Collier (Dan Dailey). That was a series very much of its time in all respects, so Nicole was no Cathy Gale, but Blackman nonetheless imbued her with the quick wit and spark that would later define her more famous character alongside her martial arts skills. She also made pre-Avengers appearances on other ITC series like The Saint, Danger Man,  and The Invisible Man, as well as U.K. spy and detective series like Top Secret (sadly lost), Ghost Squad, and The Vise, while also turning up in spy movies like Conspirator (with Elizabeth Taylor), Diplomatic Passport, and the original 1953 TV movie version of Little Red Monkey (penned by wartime BSC spy Eric Maschwitz and adapted two years later into a feature film version). Other notable film roles during this period include Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the Eric Ambler-penned Titanic drama A Night to Remember (1958), the Dirk Bogarde suspense drama So Long at the Fair (1950), and the Hammer noir The Glass Tomb (1955). Following the international success of Goldfinger, Blackman surprisingly didn't make many more spy appearances. The notable exceptions were the superior 1968 Goeffrey Jenkins adaptation A Twist of Sand (a movie in dire need of a Blu-ray or at least DVD release!), opposite Deadlier Than the Male's Richard Johnson, and a 1983 TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence mystery The Secret Adversary. In the late Nineties, Mike Meyers dreamed of getting Blackman and Connery to play Austin Powers' parents, but that didn't happen and Michael Caine ended up playing his dad. While not playing spies, though, Blackman continued to have a robust post-Bond career, including a re-teaming with Connery in the 1968 Western Shalako, a pair of 1970s cult horror movies, Fright ('71), and Hammer's final genre flick of that incarnation, To the Devil a Daughter ('76), opposite Christopher Lee, and, more recently, a very memorable comedic turn in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). She also continued to make her mark in television, too, with recurring or starring roles on Doctor Who, The Upper Hand, and Coronation Street, and guest appearances in ColumboDr. Terrible's House of Horrible, Midsomer Murders, and New Tricks.

Her early fame from The Avengers brought her an unlikely career milestone in 1990 when an infectious novelty single she had recorded with Patrick Macnee in the early Sixties, "Kinky Boots," became a dubious Top 10 radio hit at Christmastime. Some have described it as "embarrassing," but as far as I'm concerned both of those stars had enough infectious charisma to pull it off even if they're not really singers! (I'm also partial to the B-side, "Let's Keep It Friendly," about the characters' platonic relationship on the show.)

Blackman has also had a successful theater career, including productions of "The Sound of Music," "My Fair Lady" and "Cabaret," and a couple of touring one-woman shows. It was one of these performances that brought her into my out-of-the-way neck of the woods when I was in high school in the mid-Nineties. I took in the show, which was amazing, and then managed to meet her backstage. Blackman was the first Bond celebrity I'd ever met, and she did not let me down. She seemed genuinely happy to meet with fans, and gladly signed a Goldfinger trading card for this starstruck teen while regaling me with stories from her days on The Avengers. She even weighed in with a decidedly non-PC answer on a debate I'd been having at the time with a friend about whether Bond and Pussy's roll in the hay was truly consensual. "Darling," she told me, eyes sparkling, "it was Sean Connery. Any woman would have wanted it!"

That sparkle remained ever-present as she remained a public figured right up to the end, always reliable for some media appearances whenever a new Bond movie came out. She never turned her back on the franchise, or publicly showed any resentment for the "Bond Girl" label that followed her throughout her career. She also continued to be a cheerleader for The Avengers, despite having left the series just before its transition to film and color... and the American broadcast that cemented its global fame.

In Blackman's final episode of The Avengers (after her Goldfinger casting was already public news), Steed bade farewell to Cathy Gale with a typical request of a favor, beginning, "And as you're going to be out there anyway, pussyfooting along those sun-soaked shores..."

"You thought I might do a little investigating," she finishes, knowing him all too well. She demurs, asserting her well-earned right to a vacation. "You see I'm not going to be pussy-footing along those sun-soaked shores," she corrects her partner, "I'm going to be lying on them." Pussyfooting or lounging, Honor Blackman has certainly earned her trip to those sun-soaked shores. While more terrestrially, the modern spy genre forever owes her an enormous debt. Blackman was a true trailblazer, who transformed the role of women in the spy genre from femme fatales who relied exclusively on their sexuality to equal participants in the action, undaunted by superior force and unmatched in combat skills.

Feb 13, 2020

There's a New James Bond Song! Listen to Billie Eilish's "No Time to Die"

Wow! We're so close to the release of a new Bond movie now that a new James Bond theme song has been released into the world! Listen for yourself to Billie Eilsish's title track to the twenty-fifth EON 007 movie, No Time to Die. Eilish recently won all the Grammies, pretty much, and performed at the Oscars. It seems pre-ordained that this track will shoot to the top of the charts. Eilish reportedly wrote the song with her brother, Finneas. Hans Zimmer composed the film's score.

Dec 6, 2019

SOME GIRLS DO (1969) Comes to Blu-Ray!

Eurospy fans, your collective prayers have been answered! The Sixties Bond knockoff (a term I use with great affection) title I've heard most often requested is finally coming to Blu-ray! In the UK, anyway. So American Eurospy aficionados who don't yet have all-region Blu-ray players (and you really ought to), add them to your Christmas lists! On February 17, 2020, Network will release the Bondified Jet Age Bulldog Drummond movie Some Girls Do (lesser sequel to the greatest Eurospy movie of all, Deadlier Than the Male) in Region B high-def. On the same date the title will also make its standalone DVD debut (Region 2). Both releases are quite notable, because they mark the first time ever that this title has been available in its native 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. It was previously available only on a Region 2 double feature DVD from Network paired with Deadlier Than the Male (which the company has offered on its own on Blu-ray for some time now). While that title came in widescreen, the Some Girls Do on offer was a panned and scanned 4x3 version--and transferred from a rather iffy source. Hopefully (and presumably, given the new aspect ratio), Network have uncovered a better source print for the new 1080p HD transfer. So even if you don't have an all-region Blu-ray player, but do have an all-region DVD player, you'll still have a way to finally see this movie the way it was meant to be seen!

Some Girls Do (1969) stars Richard Johnson (Deadlier Than the Male, Danger Route), Daliah Lavi (Casino Royale, The High Commissioner), Beba Loncar (Fuller Report, Lucky the Inscrutable), James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only, Otley), and the great Robert Morley (Hot Enough For JuneTopkapi) in a scene-stealing role as cooking teacher "Miss Mary." Here's Network's description of the movie:
Richard Johnson returns as Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond in this action-packed take on the exploits of H.C. McNeile's famous fictional hero - this time with an added dose of late '60s whimsy when Drummond comes up against a gang of armed, gorgeous fembots! Some Girls Do is presented here as a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its original aspect ratio.
Drummond is hot on the trail of his nemesis, the devious Carl Petersen, who is hell-bent on sabotaging the new British fighter airplane. Peterson must be stopped - whatever the cost - but this time he's protected by a bodyguard of murderous female androids!
Special features are limited to the theatrical trailer and an "extensive image gallery," but just having this title in its proper aspect ratio is reason enough to buy the disc! And to have that great, great poster art on the cover! (My own Some Girls Do UK quad with that key art hangs in a place of pride in my apartment protected by UV-coated museum glass.)

Pre-order the Blu-ray from Network here.
Pre-order the DVD from Network here.
Read my review of Deadlier Than the Male here.

Dec 4, 2019

James Bond is Back in the NO TIME TO DIE Trailer!!!

It's here! The trailer we've been waiting so long for! And our first lengthy look Daniel Craig in action as James Bond since SPECTRE in 2015. (I'm a little surprised at how direct a sequel to that movie No Time To Die appears to be.) Check it out:

Dec 3, 2019

NO TIME TO DIE Character Posters

In anticipation of tomorrow's trailer debut, MGM have released six new character posters for No Time To Die. They include Ana de Armas as Paloma (above), her Knives Out costar Daniel Craig as James Bond (sort of channeling GoldenEye Pierce Brosnan in his combat gear), Lashanna Lynch as Nomi, Ben Whishaw returning as Q, SPECTRE's Lea Seydoux returning as Madeleine Swann, and Rami Malek as Safin. No Time To Die, the 25th official James Bond movie (and Craig's fifth) opens in April. The first trailer will debut tomorrow morning on Good Morning America.

First Trailer: Marvel's BLACK WIDOW Movie!

Black Widow will be the first of Marvel's superspies to get her own movie (preceding Shang Chi by a year), and today Marvel released the first trailer. And it looks pretty cool! I'm honestly surprised about how many images come directly from the various Black Widow comics over the years. Clearly, the character's first standalone film will contain some flashbacks to Natasha Romanoff's early days as a child raised to be a KGB assassin in Moscow's infamous Red Room. Scarlett Johansson has played the role in seven Marvel movies (most recently the all-time box office champ Avengers: Endgame), but this will be her first solo feature.

If you want to play catch-up on the comics and see where some of those images in the trailer come from, there are some collections out there that make that possible. (And even more are due next year in the lead up to the movie!) Three beautifully prodcued Marvel Premiere hardcovers collect this secret agent's most essential adventures in matching volumes. Black Widow: The Sting of the Widow presents the character's first appearance (in a silly costume in an issue of Iron Man) and earliest solo adventures from the early Seventies, after she'd gotten an Emma Peel makeover, ending up in the black catsuit with which she's still most closely associated. These early Black Widow comics will surely be of interest to collectors and hardcore fans, but casual fans looking for a great introduction to the character are better off picking up the second volume in the series, Black Widow: Web of Intrigue first.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue offers an excellent primer on the character containing some of her classic appearances from the early Eighties, including an excellent comic drawn by my second-favorite spy artist (after Steranko), Paul Gulacy.  (Look for a cameo appearance by Michael Caine!) Black Widow: Web of Intrigue contains this and several other seminal tales of the red-haired Russian superspy. A third volume, Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider collects a pair of Marvel Knights stories from the late Nineties (including one by Queen & Country scribe Greg Rucka).

My two favorite modern-day Widow storylines have yet to receive the hardcover treatment, sadly, but are available in a pair of out-of-print trade paperbacks. (They'll also, happily, be collected in a new single volume next year!) Richard K. Morgan's Black Widow: Homecoming and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her put the focus on espionage above superheroics and are among the very best Marvel spy stories of this century. Other recent Widow stories include Black Widow: Deadly Origin, Black Widow and the Marvel Girls, Black Widow: The Name of the Rose and Black Widow: Kiss or Kill. Most of the character's adventures with Daredevil from the 1970s are included in Essential Daredevil: Volume 3. as well as the color Daredevil Epic Collection: A Woman Called Widow.

Trailer for Bravo Reality Competition Show SPY GAMES

EW shared the first teaser today for Bravo's upcoming reality competition series Spy Games. According to EW, the show "features 10 contestants living together in a large house and attempting to gather intel on their fellow players while competing in challenges designed by three former spies, alumni of the CIA, Secret Service, and FBI. Players will be eliminated until one remains to claim a $100,000 prize." Apparently the format is in some ways based on a real-life World War II-era scheme known as Station S, "in which civilians were recruited and relocated to a 'remote estate' to be trained as spies." Spy Games, which is hosted by model and martial artist Mia Kang, premieres on Monday, January 20, 2020, at 10/9c. I tried to embed the video, but Bravo's own awful, awful video platform (which is really quite terrible) automatically plays a Real Housewives promo instead. So check out the trailer here.
Thanks to Jeff for the intel alert!

Dec 1, 2019

NO TIME TO DIE Trailer... Trailer!

The first actual movie footage of the next Daniel Craig James Bond movie, No Time To Die! Not the actual trailer yet (that's due on Wednesday), but the trailer for the trailer! And it looks amazing! Consider my appetite whetted. This premiered during football tonight in the U.S.

Nov 15, 2019

Third Jean Dujardin OSS 117 Spy Comedy Begins Filming!

A whole decade after the release of his second OSS 117 spy spoof, Lost in Rio (review here), Jean Dujardin (who picked up an Oscar for Best Actor in the interim) has at long last stepped back into the role that brought him international fame. Cameras began rolling this week on a third OSS 117 comedy, as announced by director Nicolas Bedos via video of a clapperboard on Instagram. OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire (literally translated as OSS 117: Red Alert in Black Africa, which very much has the ring of a Jean Bruce novel title, but the ultimate English title is unlikely to be a direct translation of the French one) is scheduled to film in Paris and Kenya, with Bedos (La belle époque) taking the reins from Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), who helmed the first two. Hazanavicius and Bedos both contributed to the controversial 2012 sex comedy portmanteau The Players, which also starred Dujardin. Jean-François Halin, who co-wrote the first two OSS 117 comedies with Hazanavicius and went on to create the very funny, Sixties-set comedic spy series Au service de la France (known as A Very Secret Service in America, where it streams on Netflix) handles solo scripting duties on this one. Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent), Fatou N'Diaye (Spiral), and Wladimir Yordanoff (currently appearing with Dujardin in An Officer and a Spy) are also among the cast.

Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name OSS 117, began life long before Dujardin. The redoubtable secret agent was the brainchild of French author Jean Bruce, and starred in a series of 234 novels (of which only a handful have ever been translated into English) beginning in 1949 (and thus predating Ian Fleming's more famous superspy). The books are serious spy stories, and the character was initially treated seriously on screen, too, beginning in the 1950s, but most famously in a series of five exceptional Eurospy movies directed or produced by André Hunebelle (Fantomas) between 1963 and 1968. (Read my review of my favorite, OSS 117: Terror in Tokyo, which presaged many James Bond moments, here.) Once notoriously hard to track down in English-friendly versions, Kino Lorber has now, happily, released a set of those five films on DVD and Blu-ray. For a more in-depth history of the character and links to my reviews of all the films, see my post OSS 117: An Introduction.

In 2006, Michel Hazanavicius revived the character in the hilarious send-up OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (review here). That first spoof was set in the Fifties and brilliantly parodied the early Bond films (with Dujardin partly channeling young Sean Connery) and Alfred Hitchcock movies... along with the prevalent casual racism and sexism of that era. The 2009 sequel was set in the late Sixties, spoofing the Sixties Bond movies and Eurospy movies.

A third film has been mooted ever since, always intended to be set in Africa. At one point it was supposed to be set in the Seventies and parody blaxploitation movies, Jason King, and Jean-Paul Belmondo action flicks, as well as the Roger Moore Bond movies (and fashions) of that period. Now, presumably since so much time has passed, Premiere reports that OSS 117: Alerte roughe en Afrique noire will be set in the 1980s. While I'm sorry we won't see Dujardin sporting Peter Wyngarde-style fashions, the Eighties setting will still provide ample opportunity to spoof the Moore Bond films and Belmondo, whose own African spy epic The Professional was made in 1981.
Thanks to Jack for the red alert on this one!

Oct 14, 2019

USA Shares Amazing TREADSTONE Clip on Eve of Premiere

USA's Bourne spin-off series Treadstone premieres tomorrow night. While I've been surprised by the paucity of advertising in the real world, the network has released many, many clips online over the past month--enough, seemingly, to create a fairly good assembly cut of the pilot episode! But they've saved the best for last. A clip with an extended fight scene and a chase across European rooftops shared today by the International Spy Museum really demonstrates that they appear to have captured the tone and feel of Doug Liman's 2002 movie The Bourne Identity. (The lead actor also seems to have been cast at least partly for bearing a slight resemblance to Matt Damon.) This has me very excited to sample the series tomorrow night! Watch the clip here.

Read my review of the novel that started it all, Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, here.

Treadstone premieres on Tuesday, October 15, at 10/9c on USA.

Oct 13, 2019

John le Carré Teases New Smiley TV Series, Potentially Starring Jared Harris

In a great profile in Saturday's New York Times promoting his new novel Agent Running in the Field, author John le Carré  reveals that his sons' production company, The Ink Factory, are plotting an epic new TV series about his most famous character, spymaster George Smiley. "According to le Carré," asserts the article's author, Tobias Grey, "The Ink Factory now plans to do new television adaptations of all the novels featuring Cold War spy George Smiley - this time in chronological order. 'That means that if you actually go back to the first big conspiracies in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, you've got to consider how Smiley ages and how young he was at that time,' le Carré says. That would mean finding an actor who can play younger than the Smiley incarnated by Gary Oldman in the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Le Carré says that his sons are interested in casting the British actor Jared Harris, whose performance they all admired in the recent TV mini-series Chernobyl." Harris (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Allied), interestingly, was originally cast in Tomas Alfredson's 2011 le Carré  adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as Circus (MI6) chief Percy Alleline, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, in which he played Professor Moriarty. Toby Jones took on the Alleline role, and embodied the character perfectly. Besides Oldman, Smiley has been played in the past by Denholm Elliott, James Mason, Rupert Davies, and, most memorably, Alec Guinness in two famous BBC miniseries.

A new miniseries version of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was first announced back in 2016 as a follow-up to the hugely successful le Carré miniseries The Night Manager. Le Carré worked with the producers and writer to crack their take on the material, and that work led him to write a whole new sequel to the book, A Legacy of Spies, but did not yield a series. Instead, The Little Drummer Girl (2018) proved to be the next le Carré miniseries, but work continued on The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Now, apparently, that project has grown in scope and morphed into this one. I've long craved a long-form TV series about le Carré's Circus, devoting a season to each book and dropping in the short stories from The Secret Pilgrim at the appropriate historical moments and, most crucially, finally giving us a television version of the (to date unfilmed) middle book in the Karla trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy. This sounds like it could turn out to be exactly that! (Though hopefully they'll begin at the real beginning with Call For the Dead, and not The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.) It's a most tantalizing prospect!

Read my George Smiley Primer here.

Oct 5, 2019

First Poster for NO TIME TO DIE, Daniel Craig's Last Outing as James Bond

I've never quite understood the concept of "James Bond Day" (or "Global James Bond Day?"). But maybe that's because since I was 11, I don't think there's been any day I haven't thought about James Bond! Maybe there are people out there who need reminding? Anyway, to mark this year's James Bond Day, MGM and EON have released the first poster for Daniel Craig's final outing as Bond, No Time To Die. No Time To Die, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Jeffrey Wright, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Billy Magnussen, David Dencik, and Rory Kinnear, opens in the U.S. on April 8, 2020.