Mar 30, 2011

Against All Enemies: Another New Tom Clancy Novel On the Way

This is kind of surprising.  After a seven-year hiatus following The Teeth of the Tiger, Tom Clancy is delivering two mammoth new spy thrillers within six months of one another.  2010's Dead or Alive, which debuted in hardcover in time for Christmas, doesn't even come out in paperback until September... but that's not stopping Clancy from unleashing another new hardcover novel, Against All Enemies, this summer.  Due out June 14, the 768-page novel is co-written with Peter TelepDead or Alive was also written with a collaborator (Grant Blackwood); perhaps that's the secret to Clancy suddenly becoming so prolific.  In the past, he had collaborated on (or in many cases merely lent his name to) various series of paperback originals, including Op-Center, NetForce and Splinter Cell. (Former James Bond continuation author Raymond Benson penned the original novel in that series and a follow-up, Operation: Barracuda, under the pen name of David Michaels.) But Dead or Alive marked the first occasion on which the author collaborated on a book in his signature Jack Ryan series. It's unclear right now whether or not Against All Enemies is set in the Ryan Universe, though it is definitely a hardcover being billed as a Clancy original, and not part of one of those other series.  (The only other hardcover, fictional novel Clancy had previously collaborated on was Red Storm Rising, an adaptation of a videogame he conceived, and not part of the Ryan oeuvre.)  Borders offers the following description:
CIA agent Max Moore is a man on a mission. An unholy alliance between Islamic terrorists and Mexican drug cartels threatens the safety of America's southern border. Moore's new team has to infiltrate the warring cartels in order to uncover the plot, but doing that is next to impossible when there's a war on America's doorstep.
Whether it's a Jack Ryan story or not, this certainly sounds like vintage Clancy.  (Sort of like Clear and Present Danger meets The Sum of All Fears, in fact.)  And a vintage Clancy title, too (recalling Richard Clarke's seminal book of the same name on the War on Terror). Actually, I'm surprised he hadn't used it already! So while the next Jack Ryan movie remains in limbo (as reported yesterday), Clancy fans can at least get their fix in print—and plenty of it.

Read more about Against All Enemies here.
New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Fair Game

One of the best spy movies of 2010 hits DVD and Blu-ray this week from Summit Entertainment: Fair Game, from Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith and producer of Covert Affairs. In Fair Game, Liman finds the Le Carré-esque spy story at the heart of the infamous Valerie Plame affair, and makes the most of it, bringing the same "in the moment" sort of hand-held, real-time camera work that captured the action in Bourne to the conference rooms of CIA headquarters in Langley–and making intense debates just as exciting as a car chase! (Read my full review here.) The only extra seems is a commentary track with the real Valerie Plame Wilson (played marvelously by Naomi Watts in the film) and Joe Wilson (played by Sean Penn), which is a bit disappointing.  I would have like to hear from Liman. Still, Fair Game is a fantastic spy movie (among my favorites of the year), and well worth checking out at home if you missed its limited theatrical run. Retail is $22.99 for the DVD and $30.49 for the Blu-ray, though both are available much more cheaply on Amazon, of course.

The Alan Bennett Collection

Perhaps even more exciting are Alan (The History Boys) Bennett's Cambridge Spies teleplays "An Englishman Abroad" and "A Question of Attribution" making their Region 1 DVD debuts as part of BBC's Alan Bennett Collection.  "An Englishman Abroad," filmed for television in 1983 and directed by John Schlesinger, follows English actress Coral Browne (playing herself) on a cultural exchange in Moscow where she meets a mysterious Englishman.  He turns out to be exiled double agent Guy Burgess, one of the notorious Cambridge Spies.  Bennett's play reimagines the real conversations they had on all sorts of subjects, exploring Burgess' extreme homesickness and his motives for betraying his country.  Charles Grey also appears.  Bennett's fascination with the Cambridge spy ring continued in "A Question of Attribution" (1991), also directed by Schlesinger.  In that play, James Fox plays Sir Anthony Blunt, who served as Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures even after his private confession of espionage.  "A Question of Attribution" imagines a conversation between the spy and the Queen (Fawlty Towers' Prunella Scales). Geoffrey Palmer (Tomorrow Never Dies) also appears. In addition to those two spy stories, you also get Bennett's plays "A Day Out," "Sunset Across the Bay," "A Visit From Miss Prothero," "Our Winnie," "A Woman of No Importance," "The Insurance Man," "Dinner at Noon," "102 Boulevard Haussmann," and "Portrait or Bust." This set was previously released on R2 DVD in Britain as Alan Bennett at the BBC. The Region 1 version of this 4-disc set retails for $54.98, but can currently be had from Amazon for about forty bucks.

Mar 29, 2011

Archer Renewed For Another Season

Hooray! It was expected, but it's still nice to see this confirmed: Deadline reports that FX has renewed the awesome, hilarious and undeniably offensive animated spy comedy Archer for another season.  According to the trade blog, "The animated comedy has received a 16-episode order, with three episodes slated to run behind It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia in the fall and the rest airing in early 2012." As I've mentioned before, I love Archer. The bar was set high in the first season, and so far it's been faithfully maintained in the second.  I'll gladly welcome these sixteen more next year!  The producers have pulled off a pretty amazing feat on this series.  Sterling Archer (who creator Adam Reed once described as James Bond with none of the good qualities) is probably the biggest jerk and all-around most despicable character on television (even moreso than Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm persona), yet you still root for him. That's impressive.

Tradecraft: Malcolm Gladwell Hatches Another Spy Plot

Deadline reports that Disney has hired Malcolm Gladwell to "smarten up" a spy drama called Hexum from Spy Games screenwriter David Arata. According to the trade blog, Hexum follows "a CIA threat-assessment analyst, an alternative-thinking brainiac who is relegated to a distant corner of the CIA where he assembles theories nobody pays attention to. By connecting a series of seemingly random occurrences, he uncovers a sinister adversary planning an imminent global threat. And of course, his biggest challenge is to get anybody to believe him." Sounds interesting. Hopefully Gladwell makes the world of threat assessment gel for audiences better than it did in AMC's short-lived series Rubicon, whose sole season has yet to get a DVD release.
Tradecraft: Jack Ryan's Return Delayed Again

Somewhat unsurprisingly (given the long and troubled history of this reboot), Deadline reports that the wait will be even longer before we see Chris Pine's Jack Ryan in action. Just last month we heard that Steve Zaillian, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who worked on both Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies, would tackle the problematic script for Paramount's reboot of the Tom Clancy series starring Pine.  Well, according to the trade blog, Zaillian has changed his mind and is moving on.  So the writing gig is up for grabs again, and the studio doesn't have a script they're happy with in time to film this spring, as planned.  Which means that Pine will have to move on to the Star Trek sequel scheduled to shoot in the fall before he gets his turn as Clancy's famous CIA analyst and future President.  In the interim, it's possible that director Jack Bender (Lost) might move on as well.  (And who could blame him?)  The project supposedly remains a priority for franchise-hungry Paramount, however, and is merely delayed, not dead in the water.

Mar 28, 2011

Tradecraft: The Professionals Movie Gains Momentum

Trade blog Deadline reports that the feature remake of Avengers producer Brian Clemens' cult Seventies British action series The Professionals that we first heard about nearly a year ago is gaining steam at Lionsgate UK. Richard Walen (Captain America) and Callum McDougall will produce.  McDougall has been involved with the James Bond movies in some capacity since at least The Living Daylights.  He's served as a co-producer or executive producer on the last three, and his face will be well known to fans who watched the excellent behind-the-scenes featurettes on the Casino Royale Collector's Edition.  McDougall actually has a Clemens connection, as well, having worked as a production manager on the pilot of Clemens' 1990s spy series Bugs.  Another notch on his resume that suits him well for producing The Professionals is a stint as key second assistant director on the 1989 series Saracen (full review here), which owes a hell of a lot to Clemens' original Professionals.  So, all in all, I'd say this guy is well qualified to produce a new version of that! When last we heard, Neil Marshall (Centurion) was attached to direct, but that no longer appears to be the case.

The Professionals were super-agents Bodie and Doyle (Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw), assigned to the elite, extra-legal covert anti-terrorist unit CI5 under the auspices of the grizzled George Cowley (Gordon Jackson). Deadline reports that Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler and Jason Statham are all on the producers' wish list to play Bodie or Doyle, and that Liam Neeson and Gary Oldman are being sought for the Jackson role. In another fifteen or twenty years, Statham would actually be the perfect heir to Jackson... but I can't really think of the right man for the job right now. (I'm surprised Ray Winstone isn't on that list, though.)Neeson would be good, no doubt, but he really isn't grizzled enough. Neither is Michael Kitchen, but he'd be good! Personally, I'd like to see Statham and Clive Owen as Bodie and Doyle... or maybe Statham and Jude Law.
Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Destructors and Cloudburst

MGM's latest wave of MOD titles in their "Limited Edition Collection" will include two not-quite spy movies that will nonetheless be of interest to readers here. Currently available to pre-order from Screen Archives EntertainmentThe Destructors is not the 1968 Richard Egan Bond knock-off (which I'll get around to reviewing here one of these days), but the 1974 Michael Caine movie also known as The Marseille Contract.  Though Anthony Quinn plays some sort of American agent, it's really more of a crime movie than a spy movie. Quinn hires a professional hitman played by Caine to take out an untouchable drug lord played by James Mason.  The action all unfolds in the south of France, and as I recall, the locations (shot beautifully by my favorite DP, Douglas Slocombe)are really the film's highlights.  I haven't seen this movie in about ten years, and honestly I remember very little of it.  My recollection is that it's not very good, but does offer up one great car chase, alone worth the price of admission. The chase, coordinated by frequent Bond car chase guru Rémy Julienne, prefigures his 1995 Aston Martin/Ferrari rally in GoldenEye, playing out over the same twisty Côte d'Azur roads. All in all, I'm looking forward to seeing this one again. 

Additionally, this MOD wave also includes the rare 1951 title Cloudburst, one of famed British horror studio Hammer's rare flirtations with espionage (along with Passport to China, Shatter and their Dick Barton series). Robert Preston plays an American WWII vet working as a codebreaker for a secret division of the British government... but that's as far as the movie goes into spy territory. Despite his job, the movie is considered a more standard noir mystery about the hunt for a killer. Still, rare Hammer movies always catch my eye, and I'm excited to finally have a chance to watch this.

Mar 25, 2011

Tradecraft: Comedy Central Books Comedy Spies

Deadline reports that Comedy Central is finalizing a pilot order for a series called Black Jack from Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green. According to the trade blog, Michael Starrbury's script centers on covert operative Black Jack who, "after 20 years as the most kick-ass special ops agent the US government has had on its payroll, finally goes too far and is de-commissioned. He's sent home to begin the most treacherous mission he's ever faced -- normal life." Green will direct the pilot and produce the series along with Starrbury, Danny McBride, Jody Hill and Matt Reilly. Green's latest movie is Your Higness, starring McBride and James Franco, but before he fell in with this comedy crowd he was better known for stark indie dramas like George Washington and All the Real Girls. I thought Pineapple Express (whose script contained a great Thunderball joke that didn't make it into the final film) was one of the best blends of action and comedy that I've ever seen, so he's probably the right guy to helm a spy comedy. The pilot order is still cast-contingent, meaning the cable net has to approve the star. I really wish they could afford Kiefer Sutherland, because I'd love to see him send up his Jack Bauer image!

Mar 24, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: MI-5: Volume 9

TV Shows On DVD reports that, true to their promise last fall, BBC Home Video will release the next season of MI-5 (aka Spooks) this summer rather than making American spy fans wait a whole year between volumes, as we've had to in the past. This move will put America on the same schedule as Britain, and hopefully means we'll be able to get the next season (10) as soon as it wraps up its UK TV run. It's an altogether more appropriate arrangement for a series that tries (to some degree) to keep up with the latest headlines. MI-5: Volume 9 will hit American shelves on July 12, 2011. SRP for the 3-disc set is in line with the recent Volume 8, much cheaper than previous volumes, at $39.98; of course it will be availabe for even less than that online.
Tradecraft: The Bourne Contenders, Part 2

Deadline has another story about possible stars for Tony Gilroy's The Bourne Legacy, a Matt Damon-less spinoff from the Bourne franchise—and this one has slightly more actual information in it than the last one. The trade blog reports that Dominic Cooper, Joel Edgerton, Garrett Hedlund and Luke Evans are all scheduled to read for the lead role in the first week of April.  Now, that doesn't mean that any of them will end up getting the job, but they're all definitely testing for it.  Interestingly, it seems that one of the primary qualifications for playing this American agent (assuming the new spy hero hails from the same Treadstone spy factory as Jason Bourne/David Webb, which drew from the ranks of the US armed forces) is not being American.  Hedlund is the only candidate of the bunch born in the States.  (Yet also the least exciting of the bunch, I think.) Oddly, I don't really care about that, but considering how up in arms we'd all be were so many Americans ever in contention for James Bond, it's an interesting observation.  Another interesting observation is that the three candidates from the British Commonwealth are also potential successors to the Bond mantle whenever Daniel Craig decides to turn in his PPK. (For my money, Cooper's the most likely to be in the running in that sweepstakes—and he has some interesting Bond connections already, having starred opposite Bond Girl Rosamund Pike in An Education and opposite former 007 Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!) That in itself represents a shift in direction for the Bourne series, casting-wise, since Matt Damon seemed to have been selected largely because he's such a vigorous anti-Bond type. His non-Bondness, in fact, was probably in part responsible for the franchise's remarkable success to date. It certainly tricked people into believing the filmmakers' line that the Bourne movies were something entirely fresh, and not in fact very well-made imitations of the Bond films. (For the record, I love the Bourne movies, and fully recognize that they in turn have influenced Bond and all action films in general, but that doesn't alter the fact that without James Bond there would be no Jason Bourne, literary or cinematic.) Read the full Deadline story for the names of other possible contenders not currently scheduled to test for the part.
Tradecraft: BBC America Teams With BBC On Period Spy Thriller

Deadline reports that BBC America will co-produce a new six-part hour-long drama with the BBC called The Hour. According to the trade blog, "it is a spy thriller set behind the scenes of the BBC’s newsroom in London in the mid 1950s and stars Dominic West (The Wire), Romola Garai (Emma) and Ben Whishaw (Bright Star) locked in a highly competitive, sharp-witted and passionate love triangle." I love the idea of a BBC spy thriller set in the 1950s. The only problem is, the BBC's own baffling description of the series doesn't mention the spy element at all, so I'm not totally sure where Deadline is getting that from. I like the cast, though, and the period setting, so I hope they're right.  What is intriguing in the BBC's near-incomprehensible summary (it makes a little more sense if you read the paragraphs backwards) is the claim that "viewers will witness the decade on the threshold of change – from the ruthless sexual politics behind the polite social façade of the Fifties to the revelations that redefined the world for a new generation."  Actually, that sounds like good TV to me spy or not, but obviously it doesn't really bear mention here if it turns out to be not.  The Hour comes from Kudos, the production company behind Spooks (MI-5).  Speaking of Spooks, Spooks alumni Tim Pigott-Smith and Juliet Stevenson costar along with Anton Lesser, Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Oona Chaplin.

Mar 22, 2011

Alex Rider's Final Mission

The clock runs out today for teen spy Alex Rider. Anthony Horowitz's bestselling series comes to an end with today's publication of Scorpia Rising, the last Rider novel. In a rare occurence, the American edition from Philomel actually precedes the British edition from Walker, which isn't due out until March 31. (But the Brits get the superior cover art, so it all evens out in the end!) Will Alex survive his last mission? Legions of fans (well, American ones, anyway) will soon know the answer. But whether he does or not, Horowitz told NPR in an interview last August that "there is no way forward. The book is without any question the end of a very long journey that I have been taking." Scorpia Rising may well be the end of the road for Alex Rider, but certainly not for Horowitz. The Foyle's War creator was recently tapped to pen the first ever officially licensed Sherlock Holmes continuation novel, which is due out this fall. It's a move designed to further perpetuate the copyright holders' claim on the character, but despite their motivations, I have no doubt that Horowitz will deliver a fantastic and faithful adventure for the master detective.

Scorpia Rising, a $17.99 hardcover, is currently available at 40% off from Amazon.

Read my review of the previous Rider novel, 2009's Crocodile Tears, here.
Read my review of Eagle Strike (2004) here.
New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Finally!  A substantial week of spy DVD releases!  It's been a while since we've had so many.  Which isn't to say that there haven't been any; it's just that there've been few enough during February and most of March that it's been very easy for me to let the demands of real life overcome my  best blogging impulses again and again.  I will soon do a recap post summarizing all of the spy and spy-related DVDs I've passed over in the last several weeks, but for now, here's the lowdown on the wide offering available today! As usual, you can help support the Double O Section by ordering through the provided Amazon links. (Thank you!)

Scarecrow and Mrs. King: The Complete Second Season

The highlight of the week's releases for me has to be Scarecrow and Mrs. King: The Complete Second Season. I've been eager to see more of this show ever since I finished the first season on DVD nearly a year ago (review here). Scarecrow and Mrs. King, which updated the spy-teamed-with-talented-amateur dynamic of The Avengers for America in the 1980s, was really the only bona fide hit spy series on American television during that decade. As The Avengers found bizarre espionage plots in the mundane and ordinary of 1960s Britain (milkmen, nurseries, butlers, cats), Scarecrow and Mrs. King explored such conspiracies hidden beneath the surface of Eighties suburbia (Avon ladies, Winnebegos, football). Again and again, secret agent Lee Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner) found himself facing a scenario that really called for the expertise of an "ordinary housewife," which was his queue to call upon his (not so talented at first) amateur sometime partner, Mrs. Amanda King (Kate Jackson), who was exactly that. But the series isn't purely romantic wish fulfillment for housewives. (And even that was not a new notion here; it was integral to the formula of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. two decades earlier.) It's a genuinely entertaining light spy adventure that should appeal to spy fans of all stripes - especially those with a fondness for Eighties TV. The suggested retail price is $39.98, but it's more than $10 cheaper on Amazon right now.

The Tourist

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's widely reviled attempt at a throwback to the light and easy tone of the glossy Hitchcock (and Hitchcockian) thrillers of the Fifties and Sixties comes to DVD, Blu-ray and DVD/Blu-ray Combo today courtesy of Sony. It didn't go over well with critics (or audiences, for the most part), but I have to say, I didn't hate The Tourist. In fact, while I can certainly see why others did, I found a lot to enjoy in it. It's not a particularly good movie, but it's a fun one for fans of that sort of fluffy entertainment with big stars in haute couture capering around beautiful, exotic European cities. Venice, in fact, is the real star of the film, and von Donnersmarck makes it look amazing. If you're a fan of the travelogue side of the spy genre, you might well be surprised. Furthermore, The Tourist marks Timothy Dalton's return to spying (more or less) as a chief Interpol agent, and that alone is worth the price of admission for fans of his 007. His part isn't very big, but stick with it, because he gets more screen time in the third act. In fact, he gets to go up against former Bond villain Steven Berkoff (Octopussy), which is pretty cool! Megastars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star alongside Dalton and Venice. Extras on the DVD include a commentary with von Donnersmarck, the featurettes "A Gala Affair" and "Bringing Glamour Back" and an outtake reel. The really interesting sounding featurettes, unfortunately, are reserved exclusively for the Blu-ray releases, which include all that other stuff as well as the additional featurettes "Canal Chats," "Action in Venice" and "Tourist Destination - Travel the Canals of Venice." Retail is $28.95 for the DVD, $34.95 for the BDand $38.96 for the combo, but of course you can find all three cheaper on Amazon and other sites.

The Ambassador: The Complete Series

I really don't know much about The Ambassador at all, but this late 90s British drama series seems to be more of a political thriller with spy overtones.  According to the copy for this BFS release of The Complete Series, "Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine, Upstairs, Downstairs) stars as Britain's Ambassador to Dublin, Ireland, one of the country's most coveted - and potentially explosive - Embassy posts. Supported by her Commercial Attaché and MI-6 operative John Stone (Denis Lawson - Bleak House), Harriet uses both diplomatic skill and common sense to bravely face issues ranging from territorial disputes, kidnapping and cults to sabotage and murder. Continually under fire, the Ambassador treads a minefield of Anglo-Irish tensions as she strives to prevent her personal life from clashing with her professional career - and her duty to Britain." Lawson's MI-6 agent appears to be a main character, and his missions factor heavily in many of the episodes, whether he's ordered to engage in cover-ups on behalf of Her Majesty's Government or tasked with protecting Collins' titular Ambassador, Harriet Smith. Sounds worth checking out! SRP for the six-disc set is $54.98, though it can be found cheaper at various online retailers.

Bulman: The Complete First Series

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, we have another eagerly-awaited Region 2 ITV release from Network: Bulman: The Complete First Series. Don Henderson makes his third go-round as (now former) Detective Inspector George Bulman, following previous series The XYY Man and Strangers, in this mid-Eighties series that rejoins the eponymous hero after he's left the police force to set up shop as an antiques dealer/clock repairman... but soon finds himself drawn back into the London underworld and international espionage as a private investigator. Thorley Walters (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) also reprises his Strangers role as Bulman's Secret Service contact, William Dugdale, who gets the wily ex-cop entwined with such spy staples as sabotage, subterfuge, defectors, conspiracies and of course a beautiful KGB assassin who uses ice bullets. Bulman: The Complete First Series, a four-disc Region 2 PAL DVD set, retails for £40.84, but can currently be had for just £35.74 from Network's website.

Mar 21, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Burn Notice and Leverage

TVShowsOnDVD reports that the latest seasons of two of basic cable's most fun hour-long shows are on their way to DVD.  According to the website, Burn Notice: Season Four will hit DVD on June 7 from Fox Home Entertainment.  And the great Bruce Campbell (Sam Axe) finally made the front cover for the first time!  (Along with the also-deserving Sharon Gless.)  Like Season Three, this release is DVD-only; there's no Blu-ray.  (Likely this decision is due to the abysmal reviews received by the high-def BD transfer of the second season, the only one issued on that format.)  Bonus features on this set include "never-before-seen bonus footage such as 'Sam Axe's Guide to Ladies and Libations,' 'Burn Notice Roasts White Collar', 'White Collar Roasts Burn Notice,' audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes stunt featurette, gag reel, and tons of deleted scenes!" Retail is $49.98, but of course you can currently pre-order it on Amazon for substantially less at $31.99.

TVShowsOnDVD also reports that TNT's Leverage: The 3rd Season will hit shelves that same day, June 7, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The four-disc set of this lighthearted, latter-day Mission: Impossible includes audio commentaries on all 16 episodes, a gag reel, deleted scenes, and the behind-the-scenes featurettes "On Set with Colton & Aboud: The New Writers of Leverage," "Inside the Leverage Writers' Room" and "Leverage: What Does a Producer Do?" I'm surprised last year's Comic-Con panel isn't included, but that's a pretty generous batch of extras nonetheless. SRP is $39.99.

Read my review of Burn Notice: Season One here.
Read my review of Leverage: The 1st Season here.

Mar 19, 2011

DVD Review: Danger: Diabolik (1968) [REPOST]

DVD Review: Danger: Diabolik (1968) [REPOST]

Mario Bava’s 1968 pop-art masterpiece Danger: Diabolik is not only one of my favorite spy films, but one of my favorite films, period, ever made. Top ten, easily. Diabolik may not be a spy movie per se, but as I’ve often argued on this blog, it is in many ways the quintessential Sixties spy movie, showcasing all the elements the genre requires–despite focusing on a criminal instead of a secret agent as its hero. It plays as a checklist of everything I look for in a great Eurospy caper: stunningly beautiful women, lavish settings, amazing costumes, spectacular setpieces, an infectious score, fast sports cars, underground lairs, bizarre deaths, Adolfo Celi, and, at its core, the most dashing, handsome, charismatic hero you could ask for in the person of John Phillip Law. It’s a near-perfect film (and a clear influence on later productions as diverse as Moonraker, The Beastie Boys’ "Body Movin’" video, CQ and V For Vendetta), from its witty writing (thanks to Bava, Dino Maiuri, Tudor Gates and Saint writer Brian Degas) to its polished look (primarily thanks to Bava and not credited cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi, according to Law on the commentary track) to its pitch-perfect performances. Best of all, it’s endlessly fun. I’ll never grow tired of watching Danger: Diabolik, and I still discover something new on every viewing.

The film follows the subversive escapades of Italian comic book hero Diabolik, a lithe, mirthful superthief clad in a skintight latex ninja outfit and matching face mask. His girlfriend and willing partner-in-crime is the iconic, criminally sexy Eva Kant (Marisa Mell, looking more ethereally gorgeous than ever in a fantastic blond wig and outrageously mod, barely-there fashions), and the two of them are relentlessly pursued by the single-minded Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli), the only authority figure in this world capable of rational, intelligent thought. And even he isn’t above ridicule: in one scene, Ginko munches on a tiny sandwich while boasting to a gangster over the telephone that "for once, we’ve got special powers!" With his mouth full. (Nicely undermining any talk of police special powers.) Overall, though, Ginko manages to escape the derision reserved for other officials because he is somewhat smarter than them, and certainly more noble.

Bava was fifty-four when he made Danger: Diabolik, but tapped completely into the zeitgeist of the late Sixties youth movement, delivering a candy-coated hymn to anarchy. Diabolik is James Bond for the revolutionary set, appealing equally to the decade’s conflicting appetites for consumerism and rebellion. The character is not a Robin Hood because he doesn’t aim to redistribute the wealth he steals. Then again, he’s not interested in moving it to some offshore account, either, and building a nest egg. After he heists ten million dollars ("the largest single shipment of dollars ever made... at six in the morning") from a disguised convoy at the film’s opening, the buffoonish Minister of the Interior (Terry-Thomas, doing a dead-on Terry-Thomas) suggests it only logical to conclude that he’ll do exactly that. "Logical suggestion, sir," says Ginko to Thomas' annoyance, "but I’m afraid quite useless. Diabolik will handle the ten million dollars, but in some quite different way." What quite some different way? "A way no mind but his could imagine." That way, quite famously, is by spreading the bills out all over his gigantic, rotating circular bed and making love to Eva while rolling around in the cash. (Were paper cuts were an issue?) He merely wants money out of circulation to disrupt commerce and government; what he actually does with it is his business–or, more precisely, his pleasure. (I always find it amusing that the $10 million appears to be largely made up of tens and twenties.)

It’s true that Diabolik already has the ultimate in lavish lairs (comprised entirely of very impressive matte paintings and foreground elements), fashionable clothing, a fleet of sleek and trendy E-type Jaguars and a beautiful, adoring companion, so he’s not above creature comforts. But he still wants more. ("Out for all he can take, caress or get away with!" blared the American posters.) What for? He shows no particular financial ambitions beyond his already immodest holdings. No, he doesn’t want riches to spend; he wants them to make love upon, to decorate his lair, so the government can’t have them. He wants to tear down the very fabric of law and order–and the financial institutions upon which that fabric is slung. He’s a paradoxical consumerist anarchist, the perfect combination for 1968.

All of Diabolik’s heists and crimes are perpetrated against authority. He’s liberal with his use of knives and bullets, but only against police, security guards, mob kingpins and other authority figures. And the movie does nothing to endear audiences to those authority figures, either. With the noted exception of Ginko (portrayed in the Guissani Sisters’ original comic books as Diabolik’s doppelganger), not one of them has an ounce of sense. Terry-Thomas is the Minister of the Interior for crying out loud! It’s certainly no accident that Bava cast someone known only for playing twits. The police officers guarding the initial cash shipment that Diabolik knocks off are equally idiotic. The slovenly, slouching cops fail miserably in their attempts to pass themselves off as upper-crust society types, out for a pleasant drive in the Rolls. And the helicopter that hovers overhead keeping tabs on the situation (what authority is higher than an eye in the sky?) identifies itself on the radio as "Aerial Surveillance Ship #1." Weird call sign? Go ahead, note the acronym. From the very first scene, we’re alerted that in this film, all representatives of the establishment are unmitigated asses!

Bava adheres closely to the character’s comic book roots both in visuals and narrative. In a nod to the fumetti, the story is episodic, but very deliberately so. Each act focuses on a different heist, but also advances the overall story. In Act 1, we see Diabolik pull off a flashy but fairly rudimentary robbery, knocking over the aforementioned disguised cash transport. In the course of his escape, we’re not only treated to a very exciting helicopter/car chase, but also introduced to the love story. And it’s Diabolik’s mad, passionate love for Eva that drives his actions in the second act.

Diabolik’s first crime enables the police to invoke "special powers," putting pressure on mob kingpin Valmont (Thunderball’s Adolfo Celi–dubbed to sound much less polished and charming than Largo) to do their work for them, and capture Diabolik. ("It takes a thief to catch a thief," reasons Ginko.) Act 2 centers on a more elaborate heist, with Diabolik liberating a priceless emerald necklace from a visiting British dignitary’s wife within a castle crawling with Ginko’s men. The episode of the necklace doesn’t end there, however, as Valmont snatches Eva (the one thing Diabolik cares about above all others), ostensibly to ransom her for the emeralds. We’re also treated to more fantastic action (including a freefall from Valmont’s airplane and a shootout on a beach) and one of the two best freak-outs ever filmed when police raid one of Valmont’s drug dens in order to pressure him. (For the curious, the other one occurs in a Patrick Macnee movie called Bloodsuckers.) The scene, set to some of Ennio Morricone’s trippiest music ever, is a hilarious parody of "hippy" culture. Yes (despite some influential pundits’ misunderstanding of the scene), it’s a parody–and very intentional. This isn’t out-of-touch filmmakers (like some at Hammer or ITC) trying in vain to replicate youth happenings; this is a joke. Don’t believe me? Check out the standout day player decked out in plants who frolics about high on whatever all the kids are taking, getting in a final pirouette as the cops show up! This is clearly Bava reveling in a comic mastery he wasn’t always able to display in his horror movies. Also laugh-out-loud funny is the ultra-square gangster in a pinstripe suit who remains rigid despite the vibe and distributes drugs to the youths in a hilariously surreptitious manner.

By the third act, things have escalated to the point that Diabolik must steal the world’s largest gold ingot (twenty tons–all of the country’s remaining gold supply has been melted into it), and heist it from a moving train. The plan involves Eva distracting a truck driver by wearing the shortest of short shorts, and the two of them in some Thunderball-like underwater action. This act also brings Ginko and his men to his very doorstep. It’s a very tight script, much moreso than the ones Bava often worked with. (Not that the director couldn’t do great things with the flimsiest of scenarios.)

Along the way, Diabolik revels in every opportunity to undermine the system. When Terry-Thomas’s minister gives a press conference about his first robbery, Diabolik and Eva show up disguised as photographers (each in some amazing sunglasses) and distribute laughing gas to the crowd (but only after carefully administering themselves handily labeled "anti-exhilarating gas capsules!"). Thus they make a literal laughingstock out of the minister, forcing his resignation. Later, when the government offers a huge reward for his capture, Diabolik decides that if they’re putting their money to such bad use they don’t deserve to have it. So he blows up all the banks and tax bureaus! Terry-Thomas is forced to grovel once more on TV, pleading with his people to come forward and pay the taxes they think they owe.

In addition to the structure, the film’s aesthetic also evokes comic books at every opportunity. Two animated sequences stand out: in one, we see the spread of Ginko’s police forces across a map of city streets leading into the freakout sequence. In another, Valmont’s men use an Identikit gizmo to recreate Eva’s face from a prostitute’s description. The hand-drawn face expands and contracts against multiple primary color backgrounds, changing many times before settling on a likeness not to Mell, but to the comic book depiction of her character. Both sequences play out to particularly trippy, discordant music.

Furthermore, the very composition of the shots also recalls comic books–specifically their panels. Bava frequently uses vertical and horizontal elements in his foregrounds and backgrounds to break up the frame into simulated panels, including the latticework of a telephone booth, an open bookcase and a car’s rearview mirror. He uses the latter again and again as Diabolik drives, so that you have a full-frame image of him and Eva in the car driving, with the road ahead (also in a panel of its own, framed by the windshield) and, in the form of the rearview mirror, an insert panel showing a close-up of one of their faces as they talk. Coolest of all, the director even uses the limitations of the effects at his disposal to his advantage. He plays up the thick greenish outline around characters’ faces in certain rear-projection shots to further establish panels within the frame.

That’s not the only instance in this film in which Bava uses perceived limitations of special effects to his advantage. After making off with the emerald necklace, Diabolik dashes out onto the roof of the castle and sees a catapult: a possible means of escape! The pursuing policemen burst out just in time to see the catapult spring forward, flinging what’s supposed to be Diabolik into the sea. To a jaded audience, well used to such special effects, it’s clear that no stuntman performed this feat; it’s only a dummy in his suit that was launched over the edge. The police are fooled, but the audience is not. We know it’s a dummy! We assume that we’re seeing through the artifice of the filmmaking. But we’re wrong! Bava’s tricked us! It was really a dummy, not just behind the scenes but in the world of the film as well! Diabolik’s still up here, naked. He put a dummy in his suit and launched it into the sea to fool the police, and it worked. It also worked on us, because Bava used our preconceptions to fool us. He played on our expectations. In doing so, he tips his hand, revealing the craft of movie making in a similar manner to his famous final shot in Black Sabbath when Boris Karlof is revealed to be riding a dummy horse in the confines of a movie studio.

On top of being clever and visually arresting, Danger: Diabolik is also an incredibly sexy movie. Even if they’re both a bit crazy, Diabolik and Eva share a genuine love and a very healthy sex life. When they meet in the middle of a job in a tunnel, fully knowing that the police are hovering just outside looking for them, the pair can’t keep their hands off each other. They’re so in love! As soon as they arrive back at the incredibly mod hideout (accessed via a fake mound in the landscape that lifts up to reveal an underground passage), she tells him to "be quick" in the shower. They can’t wait to find each others’ bodies once again. Despite being in a long-term relationship, they’ve lost none of the spark. (Of course, they do spice things up with games: making love in heaps of money, roleplaying as prostitute and john while reconnoitering a potential target, etc.) The two actors’ chemistry together is phenomenal, which may come partially from the fact that they were involved off-set at the time, one of many juicy facts revealed by Law in the DVD’s commentary track.

The characters aren’t the only ones with sex on the brain. Bava crams more sexual imagery into this movie than an entire Hitchcock film festival! From the stalactites in the cave leading to Diabolik’s underground lair to the vertical pipes in the organ that serves as its alarm to the gearshift in his Jaguar that Eva excitedly shifts for him when she’s turned on as he races down a winding road, there are phallic symbols everywhere. And after stealing the gold ingot, Diabolik sets about melting it down. Eva looks on eagerly as he wields a large hose between his legs, preparing to issue molten gold from it into a mold. We see him and his hose framed between her statuesque legs, just in case we still don’t get it. Then we see her bite her lower lip as the gold spurts out. It’s ridiculously over the top, but so appropriate for this movie! And really rather shocking for 1967. In poking fun at the sexuality in James Bond films with scenes like this, Danger: Diabolik actually manages to one-up 007 on that count.

From the shot compositions to the performances to the action to the suggestive situations, there is no part of Danger: Diabolik that isn’t a sheer joy to watch. Bursting with Sixties style and fashions, it is an absolute must for fans of the era, and also compulsory viewing for James Bond and Eurospy afficionados. But it’s not a movie that should be limited to any sort of niche audience; it’s a movie for all. It’s sheer entertainment.

I’m generally a fan of the cult favorite TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, but they did a grave disservice to cinema in general when they wrongheadedly selected Danger: Diabolik as their final "experiment," thus poisoning a generation against what’s really one of the greatest movies ever made with their riffing. (It’s not even a very funny episode, since genuinely bad movies lend to better jokes.) Fortunately, a lot has been done since then to correct this misapprehension.

In 2005, Paramount issued a fantastic special edition DVD, boasting not only a great widescreen transfer (utilizing the better of the two available English language tracks; an inferior one had circulated widely as a bootleg before then), but also a number of excellent special features. Foremost among them is a truly stellar commentary track by John Phillip Law and the erudite publisher of Video Watchdog and Bava biographer Tim Lucas. It’s both informative and entertaining. Law candidly recalls lots of great stories from the set, and Lucas makes sure there’s never a lull in the track with a plethora of behind-the-scenes facts about nearly everyone involved in the production. (His book, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark also contains an entire, exhaustively researched chapter on the movie–and is the final word to date on its making.) The Beastie Boys’ music video "Body Movin’" is also included, and that’s a real treat as well. It utilizes clips from the film mixed with new footage of the musicians playing the roles themselves. Beastie Boy and director Adam Yauch provides a commentary on that. There’s a good (if ultimately too short) featurette called "From Fumetti to Film" in which comic artist Steven Bissette makes the credible case for Danger: Diabolik being the best comic book movie ever, and both the U.S. teaser and theatrical trailer round out the special features. The disc is sadly out of print in America at present, though still easy enough to find used. (I’m hoping this moratorium is only temporary while the studio prepares an even better special edition for Blu-Ray, but I have no evidence supporting that theory.) It’s still available in Region 2, but sadly without the features.

Since then, Lucas’s book has fueled a much-deserved renaissance in Bava films in general, and Danger: Diabolik frequently makes the rounds of revival cinemas. Celebrity fans like Joe Dante and Edgar Wright have also done their part to reclaim this misunderstood classic from the schlock status unfairly bequeathed it by MST3K.

There is so much more I’d love to write about Danger: Diabolik, but a review can only be so long. In short: this is a truly fantastic film. If you’ve never seen it, make sure to rectify that at your earliest opportunity!

For more on the fabulous set design of Danger: Diabolik, be sure to check out Jason Whiton's fantastic article on the subject over at Spy Vibe.

This review was originally published on the Double O Section on March 7, 2009 hereDanger: Diabolik was the second entry in an ongoing series devoted to My Favorite Spy Films. Other entries so far include: