Dec 30, 2012

Len Deighton Writes About James Bond in Brand New E-Book

The Deighton Dossier posted a very exciting announcement last week about a brand-new e-book by Len Deighton about Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory and James Bond! Now let's just take apart that sentence for a second. The first amazing nugget of information for spy fans is... Len Deighton has written a new book! Okay, okay, it's an e-book, and only a short one at that (Amazon calls these short titles "Kindle Singles")... but it still marks the first new publication from one of the world's foremost spy writers in nearly seventeen years! (The final Bernard Samson novel, Charity, came out in 1996.) Then the second amazing thing in that sentence is that this e-book finds one of my very favorite spy writers, Deighton, writing about another, Fleming! Historically, Deighton was part of the group of espionage novelists including John le Carré and John Gardner who came along in the Sixties writing books that were direct reactions to, or perhaps even rebellions against, Fleming's James Bond novels. Deighton's unnamed spy, star of his first several novels (immortalized on film by Michael Caine as Harry Palmer), was the polar opposite of 007and very intentionally so. While Deighton no doubt respects Fleming, his creation and the popularity it brought the genre he writes in, his overall aversion to Fleming's fiction seems not to have abated over the years. But very little is said about Fleming overall. Instead, Deighton's Kindle Single James Bond: My Long And Eventful Search For His Father deals with the cinematic 007. And Deighton had far more involvement with that incarnation of the character, some of which he reveals here for the first time. With Harry Saltzman, who produced the Palmer movies, he made some small contributions to the script for From Russia With Love. And for Kevin McClory, who Deighton knew well, he contributed to one of the many incarnations of Warhead, the film that eventually became Never Say Never Again. This e-book makes a great read, and is very informative. Since Deighton knew some of the figures involved better than others, a somewhat slanted opinion is to be expected. Based on my own research over the years, I'm not sure I agree with all of his conclusions (but then I wasn't there and he was!), but I'm still thrilled that he wrote them up and published them for us to read. I highly recommend this e-book to fans of Bond and Deighton alike... and therefore to all spy fans. It should be noted that you don't need a Kindle device to read these books. There's a Kindle app available for many smart phones, and a reader for PCs as well. So there's no reason not to spend the $1.99 on Amazon!

Dec 25, 2012

Merry Christmas From the Double O Section!

Best wishes to all for Peace on Earth, goodwill to men... and lots of spy presents under the tree! I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and perhaps get a chance to see Skyfall one more time with friends and family.

Dec 24, 2012

Tradecraft: Former Templars Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy Join the Cast of the New Saint Pilot!

Wow! After years and years of percolating and percolating and nothing ever reaching fruition, the brand new Saint project that finally materialized (and is already shooting) just keeps getting better and better! Yesterday, Deadline reported that former Saint stars Roger Moore (who played Simon Templar in the classic ITC TV series of the 1960s before he became Bond) and Ian Ogilvy (who played Templar in the Seventies revival series Return of the Saint) have joined its cast. As previously reported, Adam Rayner (Hunted) plays the new Simon Templar in this latest incarnation of Leslie Charteris' immortal literary and screen hero. I take it as a good sign that my two favorite Saints to date are now on board. Hopefully, they'll rub off on Rayner and he'll become my third favorite! Moore was already attached to this version as a producer (along with his son Geoffrey), and had previously been slated to do a cameo in the defunct Saint in New Orleans project (which was to star James Purefoy), so it's very welcome news, but not that surprising to learn that he'll turn up on screen in this one. But Ogilvy is a bit more of a surprise, and equally welcome. Let me just take a second here to give him his due. Moore's Sixties interpretation was so definitive that Ogilvy is sometimes overlooked (and his series was not nearly as successful), but he's a great actor who made a truly wonderful Saint. The first thing I ever saw him in was an episode of The Avengers, and I immediately thought, "wow, that guy should play the hero in his own series!" I didn't realize it at the time, but he did exactly that in the following decade, and he did a fantastic job filling Moore's very large shoes. So it's a thrill to see them both on board this latest incarnation of a character to whose history they've both contributed so greatly. In the newest version, Moore will play "Jasper" and Ogilvy will play "The Banker." (The name Jasper rings a bell with me... Is that a character I should recognize from the Saint books?) Those kind of sound like cameos, but the rest of the cast is shaping up quite impressively as well. Alias' Greg Grunberg will play a government agent, Enrique Murciano (CSI) will play recurring Saint foil Inspector Fernack, and Thomas Kretschmann (24Cars 2King Kong) will play the villain Rayt Marius, who appeared in several Charteris novels. It was previously announced that Eliza Dushku would play another recurring character from the books, Templar's sometime girlfriend Patricia Holm. This list of characters would certainly seem to back up the producers' claim that this version of The Saint will stick closer to Charteris!

Dec 21, 2012

The 2012 Spy Fan's Guide to Last Minute Holiday Shopping, Part 2: TV

Yesterday I talked about all the great spy movies to consider as possible Christmas gifts this year, or ways to spend your Christmas gift cards. Today I present some ideas of TV shows on DVD and Blu-ray...


Perhaps the rarest spyish release of the year comes from down under. I honestly never thought I'd see this one get an official release... but now we have one! Australia's Madman label released a Region 4 PAL DVD of the rarest of all of The Saint's TV incarnations, the 1987 telefilm (and failed series pilot) The Saint in Manhattan, starring Australian Andrew Clarke as the infamous Simon Templar. This is the version that, true to its time, recast Templar in the Magnum mold, complete with mustache and Italian supercar (a Lamborghini Countach). Obviously it didn't go to series, but I personally think it's better than its reputation would indicate... and I like Clarke. Until this year I'd only ever seen it in a grainy, third generation VHS recording, so I particularly welcomed this quality DVD. You can watch a short clip from The Saint in Manhattan on the Madman website... but it's not totally indicative of the production as a whole. The cost is $14.95AU, which might seem steep for a single 50 minute TV episode, but for Saint completists it's definitely worth it. So if you've got one of those on your shopping list, and they own an all-region player, you can make them awfully happy with this obscure treasure. Of course, you don't have to go all the way to Australia to find great spy TV releases this Christmas...

For spy fans with well-heeled benefactors, this year's must-own big ticket DVD set is Mission: Impossible - The Complete Series. This 56-disc collection includes every single episode of every single season of the greatest American spy series of the Sixties and Seventies, as well as both complete seasons of its late Eighties revival! That's a lot of Peter Graves. Normally I'm somewhat averse to gimmicky DVD packaging, but this giant stick of dynamite with its trademark fuse is just too cool! And, unlike so many of these complete series gift sets, it's also not needlessly chunky: there isn't any wasted space in this packaging, making it utilitarian as well as cool. It would ultimately occupy less shelf space than all the individual season sets. Another advantage of this gift set over the seasons on their own is that it comes with an exclusive bonus disc. I still haven't seen a complete rundown on the contents of this disc, though, and the only things that Paramount initially teased us with weren't all that impressive. Still, this set is all-out cool. Unfortunately, it's also $370, and even Amazon's significant discount only reduces it to $267.84.

If the spy fan on your list already has all the individual Mission: Impossible seasons and, like me, craves more Peter Graves, then for a lot less you can get them the complete series of another Graves show: the Antipodean Western Whiplash (review here), which made its Region 1 debut this fall from Timeless Media. It's not spy, but it is Graves, and it is cheap.

For a Western that is about spying (and assuming the spy fan on your list already has the most essential spy Western, The Wild Wild West), Timeless has another recent release of interest: Yancy Derringer - The Complete Series, starring future Tarzan Jock Mahoney as a secret agent operating in 19th Century New Orleans.

Returning to contemporary spy shows of the Sixties, this year you can finally get someone the Robert Wagner show It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series. The set first came out last year this time from Entertainment One, but then I recommended against buying it because the poor quality of the presentation of later seasons and the shoddy, excessively bulky packaging (this is the kind I do hate) weren't worth the offensively high asking price of $150. But this year the price is reduced to an affordable $44.49, which is actually very reasonable for three seasons on 18 discs! And regardless of the quality of some of the transfers, the show itself is top-notch Sixties spy entertainment. You can also get The Complete First Season on its own for thirty bucks (and the quality of the first season transfers is unassailable), but if you're gonna do that, why not shell out the extra $14 for the two remaining seasons?

Replacing a long out of print (and incomplete) release of dubious legality, Film Chest's Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp Complete Collector's Edition surpasses the old version in all respects. The 3-disc Collector's Edition contains all of the Saturday morning ABC show's 17 episodes (each of which actually featured two separate 15-minute adventures) transferred from the original ABC vault masters (rather than dubbed from off-air VHS recordings), plus bonus content like the  music and videos of the all monkey band Evolution Revolution, whose segments were introduced on the original series by ape talk show host "Ed Simian." If you're unfamiliar with Lancelot Link, he was (as you'd probably deduce from that cover art) a chimpanzee secret agent. He worked for the secret organization APE (Agency to Prevent Evil) and tangled with the nefarious agents of CHUMP (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan). All characters were played by trained primates and voiced by human comedians. Such a concoction could only have arisen from the spy-mad Sixties (indeed, Lancelot Link might be the ultimate product of the secret agent mania spawned by James Bond which trickled down to all facets of the media), but Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp didn't actually hit airwaves until 1970. (It ran until '72.) Your enjoyment of the series will no doubt be predicated upon your personal tolerance for languidly paced human-voiced monkey antics with jokes recycled from Get Smart, and you're probably better qualified to judge that for yourself than I can. But for a certain breed of spy fan, this release will make a most welcome Christmas gift!

For decidedly more serious Sixties spy fare, you can't do much better than Man in a Suitcase. Richard Bradford stars in this ITC series as an American secret agent tossed out by his own agency whose freelance adventures take him all over Europe. It's downbeat enough to appeal to spy fans with a more serious palette than lighter ITC fare like The Saint or Department S, but still ITC enough to be a lot of fun. Man in a Suitcase: Set 2 (review here) made its Region 1 debut early this year from Acorn Media, though while that's possibly a better collection of episodes overall, you're better off starting with Man in a Suitcase: Set 1 (review here). Either way, you're getting great spy television! And a great gift.

Acorn Media also released another gritty UK cop/spy show this year, Special Branch: Set 1, marking the Thames Television series' Region 1 DVD debut. It may be called Set 1, but rather confusingly, it's not the show's first season. Acorn are following the same strategy they did with Callan: they're beginning with the first color season from the Seventies, which is actually the show's third season. However, that decision works a little better for Special Branch than it did for Callan because whereas that show plunged viewers confusingly into the middle of an ongoing, serial plotline, Special Branch was completely rebooted when it switched to color. Even the stars are different. Derren Nesbitt led the cast of the black and white series; the color episodes star George Sewell and Callan's Patrick Mower. Despite the very conspicuous "Classic British SPY Drama" tag on the packaging (which I certainly think looks cool), I'd say that Special Branch leans more toward a cop show overall. (The first episode won't give you any hint of espionage.) But there are plenty of spy-oriented episodes down the line, and while nothing could be the equal of CallanCallan fans will be attracted to the similar gritty tone, as well as the presence of Mower. Speaking of Callan (review here), while it may not be new this year, it would still make a great Christmas gift as well, and is really a must-have for any spy fan who's still yet to see it. (Set 1 and Set 2, comprising the entirety of its color series, are both available in Region 1.) Another classic, can't-go-wrong Seventies UK spy show is The Sandbaggers. Any of those DVD sets under the tree will make a serious spy fan very happy indeed!

And while we're on the subject of classic British spy series of that era, you certainly can't overlook Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy! I listed the new version among my movie suggestions yesterday, but the 1979 miniseries is equally essential. (Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the rare novel to enjoy two excellent adaptations.) And Acorn released the best looking home video edition ever of the miniseries earlier this year when they put it out on Blu-ray. Not only does the Blu-ray look as good as UK television of that vintage will ever look, but it also boasts some great special features. First and foremost, it includes as deleted scenes all the bits from the UK broadcast originally excised when the U.S. broadcast was reconfigured from seven episodes to six, making this the first time that American viewers have ever had the opportunity to see those wonderful scenes (totaling 11 minutes)! On top of that, the Blu-ray also includes half-hour interviews with le Carré and director John Irvin.

Hm, this was supposed to be the Seventies section of this loosely thematically grouped guide, but it's turning out to be the Acorn section. Well, that's okay. I like any company that puts out so many Sixties and Seventies spy series! Here's a less well-known one that might make it an even better gift, as plenty of spy fans are unlikely to have seen it yet. Former man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn won an Emmy for the 1977 miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors, based on the Roman à clef The Company by former Nixon aide and Watergate figure John Ehrlichman. The novel is Erlichman's fictionalized account of the events leading up to the Watergate scandal, and follows veteran CIA agent turned Director of Central Intelligence Bill Martin (loosely based on real-life DCI Richard Helms) as he attempts to keep secret a report exposing the Agency's past misdeeds. To do that, he crosses paths with figures based on Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Hubert Humphrey and Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman. Cliff Robertson stars as Martin, Jason Robards plays the Nixon-like President Richard Monckton, and Vaughn plays the Haldeman figure. Andy Griffith co-stars along with spy vets Stefanie Powers (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.) and Barry Nelson (the original James Bond in the '54 Casino Royale). The 3-disc, 6-episode set comes with an 8-page bonus booklet with articles on the historical background of the program, the Vietnam War, peace movements in America, Nixon’s visit to China, and the Watergate scandal; plus brief biographies of the political figures of the period.

Moving on to the Eighties and lighter fare, Scarecrow and Mrs. King: The Complete Third Season would make a great gift for fans of the lighter side of the genre. For some reason this show always makes me think of Christmas, even if there was (I think) only one actual holiday-themed episode. Scarecrow and Mrs. King, which was really the only bona fide hit spy series of the 1980s on American television, pairs professional secret agent Lee Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner), codename "Scarecrow," with perky Washington housewife Amanda King (Kate Jackson). It's light and played for laughs and romance over thrills, but at it's best it sometimes evokes the spirit of The Avengers, were that classic transplanted to Reagan-era American suburbia. (Read my review of Scarecrow and Mrs. King: The Complete First Season here.)

Of course, vintage spy shows, great as they are, like Tosca, aren't for everyone. But we're living in a renaissance of spy TV, so there are also plenty of contemporary spy shows on DVD with which to stuff stockings!

Leading that renaissance is the best new spy series of the last year, Homeland, the first season of which is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment. Claire Danes stars as an obsessive CIA agent on anti-psychotics (a fact she's forced to hide from her superiors in order to retain her security clearance) who's convinced that a newly freed American POW (Damien Lewis) is not actually the war hero he's celebrated as but a turned Al Qaeda sleeper agent. Mandy Patinkin excels as her Agency mentor, who reluctantly turns a blind eye to her illegal surveillance operation. It's a thoroughly addictive, multi-layered series not just about spies but spying itself, and the effect such a career and the responsibilities that go with it have on its practitioners. All of the characters are extremely well drawn, and all of the actors are compelling to watch. Homeland is fully deserving of all the awards it's won, and I heartily hope spy fans who weren't able to see it on pay cable station Showtime will discover Homeland: The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-ray... making it a perfect Christmas gift. Trust me, after watching the exemplary pilot episode, they'll be hooked.

Cinemax's first U.S. season of Strike Back is on the polar opposite end of the spectrum of cable spy series from Homeland. As cerebral as that show is, Strike Back is totally mindless, turn-your-brain-off entertainment of the very best sort. If the spy fan on your list is more into that side of the genre, then the Strike Back: Cinemax Season One DVD or Blu-ray will make an ideal gift. Cinemax's Strike Back (reviewed here) is packed with fun, exciting, over-the-top spy action of a sort rarely seen on American television, boasting impressive locations ranging from New Delhi to Capetown to Darfur.

USA's Covert Affairs straddles the line quite comfortably between Homeland's braininess and Strike Back's action-packedness. Covert Affairs - Season Two, a 4-disc, 16-episode collection, is the latest DVD set. Covert Affairs, which stars Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham, Kari Matchett and the great Peter Gallagher (though never quite enough of him) got even better in its second season, and one impressive Berlin-set episode made my Best of 2011 list. There are even more actual foreign locations in Season 2, from Istanbul to Paris to Stockholm, and their presence really elevates this series above other spy shows that dress up Burbank as whatever locale that week's script calls for. Covert Affairs: Season Two is packed with bonus material, including deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reel, Piper Perabo's Comic-Con Intro (from last year's panel) and a featurette called "Covert Affairs on Location."

Back to the slightly more obscure, Missing: The Complete First Season is another one that fans might have missed on TV during its brief run on ABC. Yes,  Missing was their "Taken with a lady" spy series starring Ashley Judd as a former CIA agent fighting her way across Europe to rescue her missing teenage son, all while evading the intelligence agencies of America, Italy and France along the way. But its quality surpassed that recycled premise. The best part is that, unlike most American TV shows, Missing was actually filmed in Europe! And the locations are among the show's highlights, along with the impressive action scenes. (Read my full review of the pilot here.) Sean Bean (GoldenEye), Cliff Curtis (Colombiana) and Adriano Giannini co-star. Extras on the DVD set include deleted scenes, bloopers, and the featurettes "Production Journal: Istanbul," and "Genesis Piece."

Of course, while obscurity makes for great gifts, there's something to be said for success as well. Burn Notice has been a huge hit on USA for six seasons now, making its latest DVD set, Burn Notice: Season Five, a pretty surefire gift as well. The fifth season of USA's flagship spy series was certainly an interesting one. The creators finally shook up the formula, which had honestly become a little stagnant, by having Jeffrey Donovan's formerly burnt spy Michael Westen finally rejoin the CIA... at least as a consultant. This new role opens up the scope of Michael's missions, and finds him on assignment overseas as an actual spy rather than just helping people in need in Miami. He also strikes up a somewhat uneasy partnership with his Agency handler, Agent Dani Pearce (Lauren Stamile), and finally comes face to face with the shadowy nemesis who burned him all those years ago. Overall, I thought it made for a marked improvement over the previous season for a show that's never less than thoroughly entertaining to begin with.

Another hit series likely to make a great gift is Person of Interest: The Complete First Season, available on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo sets. The CBS show, produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonah Nolan, is basically The Equalizer meets Batman... and that's pretty cool. I find star Jim Caviezel (the 2009 Prisoner remake) and his Batman voice kind of hard to take, but the show's got enough going for it that I can get past that. Besides, co-star Michael Emerson (Lost) is awesome. Caviezel plays a former CIA operative looking to atone for his shadowy past by helping the helpless (those with the odds against them) with the aid of Emerson's tech billionaire, who controls a massive surveillance network that can predict what people will be involved in violent crimes. Extras on both sets include an unaired extended pilot episodes with audio commentary as well as a commentary track on the broadcast pilot, a gag reel and the featurette "Living in an Age of Surveillance."

Okay, back to the more obscure! I never expected to see a Region 1 release of the 1989-90 ITV series Frederick Forsyth Presents, but thanks to Timeless Media Group, we got one this year, and it's priced just right for a stocking stuffer. That awkwardly Photoshopped cover isn't representative of the six classy TV movies contained on 3 discs within. These movies are mostly based on novellas contained in Forsyth's book The Deceiver. Alan Howard (best known as the voice of the Ring in the Lord of the Rings movies) plays unorthodox spymaster Sam McCready, Forsyth's answer to George Smiley. McCready generally takes a backseat, however, to the people he's manipulating in each story. This formula enabled the producers to bring in big guest stars for each film, including Elizabeth Hurley, Lauren Bacall, Brian Dennehy, Beau Bridges, Chris Cooper, Phillip Michael Thomas, David Threlfall and Peter Egan. The ones I've seen are solid productions, and I'm not sure why this series isn't better known. It deserves a place beside other solid Forsyth adaptations like The Day of the Jackal (indeed, one of these stories concerns Carlos, the international terrorist the media dubbed "the Jackal" after Forsyth's book!), and especially the Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine starrer The Fourth Protocol. (Fans of that film should definitely give this release a try.) This budget release, priced at just $14.98 (and even less on Amazon) will no doubt prove to be one of those nice little gems for spy fans eager for more serious espionage dramas in the serious vein of le Carré... making it an ideal gift for both giver and receiver.

Of course, "serious" isn't everybody's taste! On the opposite end of the spectrum is a show that's not only the silliest spy series on television, but one of the very best: Archer! Fox always releases Archer seasons right after Christmas, so even though Archer: The Complete Season Two came out nearly a year ago on DVD and Blu-ray, this is the first Christmas it's been available to gift. The wildly irreverent, always inappropriate Archer remains one of my favorite spy shows on TV, and as I said in my post about the Best Spy Television of 2011, I find it very impressive that the writers managed to maintain the high level of quality in its second season. That's particularly tough for a parody series. The secret, of course, is that Archer is much more than a mere spy parody. It's a dysfunctional family comedy that happens to be set in a spy agency. As I said before, the extremely raunchy humor is definitely not for all tastes, but if it is to someone's liking, they'll no doubt appreciate the excellent animation and cool spy style on top of the gags. The same day Season Two came out, Fox also made Archer: The Complete Season One widely available on Blu-ray for the first time, so that could make a good gift as well! The high-def version was previously a Best Buy exclusive, and Archer's top-notch design and crisp animation make it one show that truly benefits from high-def presentation.

Oh look, we're back to Acorn again! Wish Me Luck: Complete Collection brings together all three seasons of this 1988-90 WWII espionage favorite. At the height of the Second World War, France is occupied and all of England is in peril. Col. James “Cad” Cadogan (For Your Eyes Only's Julian Glover) will use any means necessary to get the intelligence he needs—even sending civilians to work undercover behind enemy lines. Based on the real-life stories of women recruited by Britain’s Special Operations Executive, this suspenseful drama series follows wife and mother Liz Grainger (Kate Buffery) and half-Jewish factory girl Matty Firman (Suzanna Hamilton) from training in England through the terror of their daily lives in Nazi-occupied France. Wish Me Luck originally aired on ITV for three series and was broadcast on U.S. public television in the 1990s. Jeremy Northam and Jane Asher co-star. The three seasons were all issued individually, but this complete collection is the way to go, gift-wise! And it's available at a terrific bargain price on Amazon right now.

On the subject of WWII espionage, the documentary series Secret War, on DVD from Athena, covers all aspects of wartime skullduggery in all its fascinating glory. It's really interesting stuff, dealing with all the most famous spies of the era, from Christine Granville to Agent Garbo to Dusko Popov. This one is a no-brainer for history buffs on your list, but it's also great viewing for spy fans in general, as the episodes play out like spy thrillers themselves. After all, espionage is one genre where the fact is often as incredible as the fiction.

Of course, spy fans aren't all limited to strict interpretations of the genre. Often detective shows will deal with espionage aspects as well, and a lot of spy fans tend to be detective fans as well. The BBC's Sherlock is about the best thing going in terms of detective shows today, and this modern-day incarnation of Holmes and Watson is particularly interested in the spy side of things, coming from the minds of Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat and Lucifer Box author Mark Gatiss. The first and best episode of Sherlock: Season 2 (available on DVD and Blu-ray), in fact, has a very strong espionage angle. But that's not even the reason to get it. The reason that this is a can't-miss gift for... anyone on your list is because of the spot-on performances by Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) in the lead roles. These guys are great, and everyone should see this show!

Finally, there's another great detective who's been neatly collected just in time for Christmas. Poirot: The Early Cases Collection from Acorn gathers all of the early, hour-long Poirot mysteries in Blu-ray and DVD sets. And David Suchet's interpretation of Agatha Christie's most famous detective is definitive. Like Sherlock Holmes, he sometimes becomes embroiled in espionage, but it's the mysteries and the great performances that make this set an ideal gift for just about everyone as well. These episodes have been collected before, but in multiple, very expensive sets, not easily distinguished as what they are. This marks the first time they've been handily assembled all in one convenient place, and at a bargain cost for everything you get.

Dec 20, 2012

The 2012 Spy Fan's Guide to Last Minute Holiday Shopping, Part 1: Movies

So Christmas is in a few days. Perhaps you're one of those people who gets all their shopping done in October. If so, I envy you. But then again, perhaps you're like me, and you've waited until the last possible moment to get started. In that case, I can help you shop for spy fans on your list easily and quickly! (And you've still got through tomorrow to get free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime, and through Saturday to order with 1-day shipping in time for the holiday.) It's a bit of a tradition at the Double O Section that the Holiday Shopping Guide, no matter when I start writing it, ends up as a last-minute one. But, honestly, that serves most of us just fine. Because the majority of the people reading this list are the spy fans themselves, and in that case I'm here to help you decide how to spend the gift cards you're sure to reap this holiday season! There have been a lot of fantastic spy releases on DVD and Blu-ray in 2012. Here's a recap of the movies.

The biggest item on spy fans' radar in terms of movies this Christmas is undoubtedly MGM and Fox's massive Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection, the year's most anticipated spy BD release. This 23-disc collection collects all 22 official EON James Bond films (rogue productions Casino Royale '67 and Never Say Never Again are already separately available on the format, though the latter is now out of print) in two attractive hardcover book-style disc holders, both of which slide inside a larger, glossy, durable slipcase. It's a very handsome package. On top of all that, there's an extra slot reserved for the Skyfall Blu-ray, when that comes out next year, and another containing an exclusive bonus disc. If the spy fan on your list doesn't already own these movies on BD (and nine of them make their high-def debut in this set), then trust me: they'll definitely be thrilled to find this one under the tree come Christmas morning!

Of course, big ticket box sets aren't in everyone's budget, sadly, but 2012 was a big year for spy movies on DVD and Blu-ray, so there are plenty of cheaper options to choose from!

Action fans everywhere will probably be craving The Bourne Legacy (review here), which hits DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo on December 11 (meaning they'll be unlikely to already have it by the holiday!). Heck, I didn't even like the movie that much, and I still want it—largely for the copious extras found on the combo version, which is the one all hardcore Bourne fans will desire. The combo set includes an audio commentary (with director Tony Gilroy, his brother and co-writer Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy, D.P. Robert Elswit, Second Unit director Dan Bradley and production designer Kevin Thompson), deleted scenes, and the featurettes "Re-Bourne," "Capturing Chaos: The Motorbike Chase," "Enter Aaron Cross," "Crossing Continents: Legacy on Location, "Man vs. Wolf,­" "Wolf Sequence Test," and "Moving Targets: Aaron and Marta"), as well as a digital copy. The DVD on its own just has the commentary, deleted scenes, and the first two featurettes.

Then there's the matter of the biggest hit of the summer, Marvel's The Avengers. Obviously it's not the Avengers that spy fans think of first, but this relentlessly enjoyable superhero jam is still noteworthy for espionage aficionados (and probably just about anyone you're shopping for this holiday season). In addition to costumed adventurers like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, Marvel's The Avengers also puts the spotlight on the comic book spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and its agents like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Marvel's The Avengers is available as a single-disc DVD, a 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD combo, and a 4-disc Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D/DVD/Digital Copy combo.

The two best spy movies of 2011 both hit DVD early this year, but that doesn't mean everyone has them already, and you couldn't ask for better stocking stuffers than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Tomas Alfredson's 2011 film adaptation of the John le Carre classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (review here), starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, is available on both DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo. As with all Universal releases, the combo pack is the version to get if you care about extras, and it's likely that fans of this complex masterpiece will. While you're at it, why not go ahead and buy them the book, as well? It's my all-time favorite spy novel (review here), and spy fans who enjoy the more cerebral side of the genre are likely to love it.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the latest and by far the best film in the movie series based on the classic TV show, and is available as a single DVD and a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo. Once again, if the person you're buying for likes special features, the combo's the version to go with. It comes with trailers, deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Brad Bird, and 13 featurettes. You can't go wrong with one of the most entertaining spy movies of the last decade!

There are spy movies out there to meet all tastes! Shopping for someone who likes spies and romantic comedies? Try This Means War. McG's action comedy about two agents competing for the love of the same woman wasn't totally to my taste (review here), but  romcom fans are likely to enjoy it more. Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play the spies; Reese Witherspoon is the woman. It's available on Blu-ray and DVD, and the former includes an extended cut of the film along with a wealth of bonus material including (perhaps tellingly) three different alternate endings. (I'm still curious to see those.)

If you're looking to turn on spy fans to something they might not have seen, Steven Soderbergh's action spy movie Haywire would make a great gift on DVD or Blu-ray. It didn't really find its audience in theaters at the beginning of the year, but in some ways that makes it even more attractive as a Christmas gift! And if the person you're buying a gift for is a fan of Bourne or Bond, or likes strong action heroines, then it should be right up their alley. I was a big fan. (Read my review here.) MMA fighter Gina Carano makes a star-making debut (thanks largely to Soderbergh, who tailored the entire movie to her talents) as Mallory Kane, a freelance secret agent hung out to dry by her superiors and caught up in an international conspiracy involving private security companies, the CIA, MI6 and Chinese dissidents, among others. Haywire a whole lot of fun, and Soderbergh concocts one action scene after another that you haven't seen before. Co-stars Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Antonio Bandaras are all fantastic, but it turns out Carano didn't really need that kind of back-up, because so is she.

Another recent title that might prove a surprise to people who missed it in the theaters late last year is Johnny English Reborn, an unexpected eight-years-after-the-fact follow-up to the 2003 Rowan Atkinson spy spoof Johnny English. It's also available on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo, and it's a very funny spy send-up, and the only one so far to successfully spoof the Daniel Craig-era James Bond. If you're looking to make a spy fan laugh, this is a good choice. (So is the original Johnny English, which made its North American Blu-ray debut this year as well.) The DVD release includes a commentary track with director Oliver Parker and writer Hamish McColl, deleted and extended scenes with director intros, a gag reel, and a featurette on "The Wheelchair Chase." The Blu-ray/DVD combo has all that plus four more featurettes ("The English Files: The Making of Johnny English Reborn," "Working With Rowan," "Gadgets" and "English in Hong Kong"). So that's the one to get.

Here's another comedic spy that a lot of fans might not have heard of, but will definitely entertain people with a love of Sixties spies and superheroes and a silly sense of humor. The entire first season of the hit web series The Adventures of Super7even is available on DVD from the show's official site with all sorts of cool extras, including interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers, and even a gallery of artwork designed in the style of Sixties lobby cards by my fellow spy blogger, Permission To Kill's David Foster. One of the weirdest and coolest corners of the spy genre has to be the decidedly odd fumetti and fumetti neri subgenre of the mid-to-late Sixties, an offshoot of the Eurospy movement which found the Italian James Bond wannabes dressing up in tights and masks. (The Fantastic Argoman and Diabolik are prime examples; you can read all about them and others of their ilk in my Costumed Adventurer Week recap.) Hollywood stunt man-turned-director Scott Rhodes very obviously shares my affinity for this unique marriage of spy and superhero, and he's single-handedly revived it with his web series homage to the likes of Superargo and Argoman, The Adventures of Super7even! (No direct relation to the eurospy Super Seven - two words - who liked to call Cairo.) If you've never seen Super7even in action, you can sample his adventures on YouTube. But if there's a spy fan on your shopping list who loves the distinctive fromage of the Eurospy genre, they're sure to get a kick out of this highly creative series. This unique gift, a 2-disc set, can be ordered for $14.99 plus $3 shipping and handling directly from the Superseven website.

Luc Besson is always reliable for a neo-Eurospy actionfest each year, and this year he actually gave us two. Taken 2 won't be out on DVD until after Christmas, but the high concept spy/sci-fi mash-up Lockout is available on DVD and Blu-ray. (And dirt-cheap right now on Amazon!)Both formats contain an unrated cut of the movie and the featurettes "Breaking Into Lockout" and "A Vision of the Future: Production Design & Special Effects." The gimmick with Lockout was that this time the neo-Eurospy action takes place... in space! And Guy Pearce is just the guy to pull that off. He makes a great wisecracking badass (sort of a cross between Burn Notice's Michael Westen and Escape From New York's Snake Plissken), and it's really too bad that this movie didn't catch on and do for his career what Taken did for Liam Neeson's. Once again, though, that makes it a good find for fans of this sort of daffy action.

Act of Valor is another pretty daffy action movie, but the hook here is that the action itself is real. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh had the impressive idea of filming actual Navy SEALS on training maneuvers, thus giving them action sequences worthy of Michael Bay at a fraction of the budget. Unsurprisingly for a film starring non-actors, this is no timeless piece of cinema, but it is entertaining and exciting. Writer Kurt Johnstad deserves a lot of credit for generating a decent story (about SEALS rescuing a captured CIA agent, which leads to intel on an imminent act of terror) out of the various training maneuvers he had to work with (raid at sea, firefight in the jungle, etc.)! Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox, this one should appeal to action fans and military buffs.

Cleanskin is a new spy movie starring Sean Bean as a British agent hunting terrorists in London that got a decent release in the UK, but hit DVD and Blu-ray here in America with little fanfare. I haven't seen this one, but it's supposed to be good. (Reviews indicate an intriguing mix of 24ish action and downbeat, le Carré-esque themes.) And if there's one thing I like finding in my Christmas stocking, it's good spy movies I haven't seen! So this might prove a good surprise stocking stuffer.

Here's another cool Sean Bean movie that a lot of people might not have heard about, but is likely to appeal to fans of James Bond and Ian Fleming. Age of Heroes is a 2011 UK movie about "Ian Fleming's Red Indians," the 30 Assault Unit commando team created by the future Bond author while he served in Naval Intelligence during WWII. Thanks to eOne Entertainment, we finally got it in America this year on both DVD and Blu-ray. The film stars former Bond baddie Bean, and Cloud Atlas's James D'Arcy plays Commander Fleming, so Age of Heroes is likely to prove a nice surprise for the hardcore Bond fan on your list! (And if you want to dig deeper into that fascinating bit of history, you might also consider getting them Craig Cabell's books Ian Fleming's Secret War and The History of 30 Assault Unit: Ian Fleming's Red Indians, as well as Nicholas Rankin's somewhat more accessible Ian Fleming's Commandos: The Story of the Legendary 30 Assault Unit.)

Speaking of real stuff, how about an honest-to-goodness spy documentary? For the historically-minded spy fan, you can't go wrong with The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby (review here). Available on both DVD and Blu-ray, this personal film tells the fascinating story of a man who fought the Cold War on the front lines through the eyes of his son. From his earliest days in the OSS, to his turbulent tenure running the CIA during its most publicly embarrassing era (when it came under the unwelcome spotlight of the Church Committee), to his eventual death under mysterious circumstances, this enigmatic man comes under the microscope from someone who should have known him better than anyone, but didn't. Luminaries as diverse as Bob Woodward and Donald Rumsfeld weigh in with their impressions of Colby, contributing to a fascinating, if necessarily incomplete, portrait.

This year, Criterion finally revisited Alfred Hitchcock's seminal prewar spy movie, The 39 Steps, with new Blu-ray and DVD editions. At the very least, that one was in dire need of an artwork update, and indeed this new cover is far more stylish and in keeping with the company's current Lady Vanishes disc. In addition to a new high-definition transfer, the Blu-ray sports a typically impressive array of new and old supplemental material an audio commentary by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, a 2000 British documentary covering the director's prewar career called Hitchcock: The Early Years, original footage from British broadcaster Mike Scott’s 1966 television interview with Hitchcock, the complete broadcast of the 1937 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation, performed by Ida Lupino and Robert Montgomery, original production design drawings, excerpts from François Truffaut’s (deservedly) ubiquitous 1962 audio interview with Hitchcock, and a new "visual essay" by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff. Don't be misled by any of the many public domain versions of this title that are floating around out there; this Criterion edition is definitely the one you want.

Some of the most exciting spy releases of the year weren't on Blu-ray, however, or even traditional DVD. Following the success of the Warner Archive, just about every studio now has a program for made-on-demand (MOD) discs, enabling them to make deep catalog cuts available on a print-to-order basis.

Assignment K (1968) is one of those elusive spy titles I've been waiting forever for and never actually expected to see released. It's a great rarity from the golden age of the genre sporting a stellar cast including Stephen Boyd, Camilla Sparv (Crossplot), Leo McKern (The Prisoner) and, in a small part, Catherine Schell (On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Furthermore, it's set in the snowy Alps. Really, what more could you want from a spy thriller? Oh, how about this: Sony actually remastered the widescreen print for this MOD release. This is the key to making many a spy fan's holiday very happy indeed!

Another one I've been waiting years for an official release of is The Liquidator (1965), and thanks to the Warner Archive, we got one this year on MOD! The Liquidator is Boysie Oakes, John Gardner’s pre-Bond anti-Bond. Gardner's Oakes books were sort of a direct response to Fleming’s Bond books, and parodies of them. Jack Cardiff's film version certainly latches onto that, firmly hitching its wagon to 007, but feeling more like Flint. (It's got that lavish, widescreen studio feel of a Sixties Fox movie, even if it was made by MGM... and now released by Warner.) It never quite lives up to its amazing Bob Peak poster, or its classic Lalo Schifrin-penned Shirley Bassey theme song, but it's nonetheless a real treat for Sixties spy fans! Rod Taylor (who also starred in the enjoyable Eurospy flick The High Commissioner) stars as Boysie, and Jill St. John’s along for the ride looking great and maybe even contributing just a little bit more to the plot than does her useless Tiffany Case character in Diamonds Are Forever. Warner's manufactured on demand release is completely remastered and anamorphically presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The trailer is also included, and it's one worth watching!

Sixties spy icons Patrick McGoohan and Robert Vaughn (along with Max Von Sydow, Sophia Loren, George Kennedy and John Cassavettes) are among the star-studded cast of Brass Target, an espionage-tinged post-WWII heist thriller now available from the Warner Archive. I'm afraid I haven't seen it, which means I can't tell you much about it... but also means it would make a great present for me, if anyone I know is reading this!

Another rarity that I've long sought after despite its decidedly poor reputation is The Day the Fish Came Out, which made its home video debut (I believe) on Fox's new Cinema Archives MOD program. This 1967 farce from the director of Zorba the Greek follows two pilots, an assortment of secret agents and a lot of locals as they hunt for two nuclear bombs which have gone missing somewhere along the Greek coast. The cast includes Tom Courtenay (Otley, A Dandy in Aspic), Colin Blakely (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), Candace Bergen and future Saint Ian Ogilvy. Unfortunately, as Fox is new to the MOD game, they're not yet producing product of the same quality as Warner, Sony and MGM. As a result, this rare film is presented in a shoddy full-screen TV print. Oh well. When a movie's this rare, I'll take that over nothing.

Speaking of rare spy movies with bad reputations... The Phynx is so rare that until this year, practically nobody had ever seen it, even though it was originally released in 1970, albeit for just a few weeks. For some reason, Warner pulled it after those few weeks and never put it out again in any form until now. Why was that? Is it truly that bad, or a lost gem worthy of rediscovery? I haven't seen it yet myself, so I can't say, but I can say that the clip on the Warner Archive website showing Harold Sakata (complete with his Oddjob hat) instruction new spy recruits makes it a must-see for hardcore Bond fans. It's intended as a zany Sixties-style send-up, and the plot (which I imagine is a loose term to apply) involves the U.S. government creating a Monkees-like pop group and training them as spies to rescue notable American icons like Johnny Weissmuller and John Hart (the Lone Ranger) from Albania, where they've been kidnapped. This is for people who like Sixties Youth Culture extravaganzas made by people very out of touch with Youth Culture, like Skidoo or Wild in the Streets. If you're looking to get a spy fan something that's just plain odd, chances are this is your best bet.

...which isn't to say that the Dr. Goldfoot movies aren't odd, but they're odd in a much more comfortable way. This release (an actual DVD, not MOD) came as quite a surprise this year. With no fanfare whatsoever, a double feature disc of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and its sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (both starring Vincent Price), stealthily showed up on Walmart shelves. While the first film was available years ago (in a non-anamorphic transfer) as a Midnight Movies DVD, this budget release marks the DVD debut of the Mario Bava-directed sequel. And both movies sport anamorphic widescreen transfers! No longer a Walmart exclusive, this double feature disc has now become available on Amazon as well.

Returning to MOD titles, The Scarlet Coat (1955) is a very different sort of spy story: a Revolutionary War swashbuckler about that most infamous spy of all, Benedict Arnold, and the American double agent trying to root out his treachery. Cornel Wilde stars alongside George Sanders and Honey West herself, Anne Francis.
The 5-Man Army (1969) is another historical MOD title, set not during the American Revolution but the Mexican Revolution. It's not really a spy story though. It's a Spaghetti Western and a heist movie, but it also amounts to an Old West Mission: Impossible! The inimitable Peter Graves himself plays the team leader, just as on that show. Unfortunately there's no sign of Greg Morris or Peter Lupus, but You Only Live Twice's Tiger Tanaka, Tetsuro Tanba, and Spaghetti regular Bud Spencer make more than adequate surrogates! On top of that, future giallo master Dario Argento co-wrote the screenplay. This is a must-see for fans of Graves and Mission: Impossible.

Terence Young's Thunderball follow-up Triple Cross is another classic Sixties spy yarn too long absent on DVD that made its Region 1 debut this year thanks to the Warner Archive. Triple Cross tells the true story of Eddie Chapman, a charismatic British thief who signed up to spy for the Nazis so that he could in turn offer his services to the British as a valuable double agent. His life also inspired Ben MacIntyre's bestseller Agent Zigzag, which is in development now as a movie from Tom Hanks' company. Christopher Plummer stars in Young's version, along with James Bond veterans Gert Frobe and Claudine Auger, and fellow spy regulars Romy Schneider (Otley) and Yul Brynner (The Double Man). This is another one Bond fans will no doubt want.

This year's catalog titles weren't all on MOD, however. One of my favorite 80s movies and one of my favorites of the cat burglar-forced-to-spy subgenre, Lassiter made its long-awaited (by me, anyway) DVD debut in 2012! Hen's Tooth Video, a company who specializes in obscure but brilliant films (and to whom I shall be forever indebted for their Region 1 release of my favorite Eurospy movie, Deadlier Than the Male), released this 1930s-set Tom Selleck adventure (along with another one, High Road to China, which made it to not only DVD, but also Blu-ray). Selleck plays the suave titular cat burglar, operating in prewar London. When British and American Intelligence get wind of a major diamond shipment moving through the German embassy, the spooks force Lassiter to pull another job—for them, It Takes A Thief-style. As he plots the heist, he finds himself between two beautiful women: his sweet, long-suffering girlfriend, played by former Bond Girl Jane Seymour, and sexy femme fatale Lauren Hutton. Persuaders! composer Ken Thorne provides the jazz-heavy, period-appropriate soundtrack. It's a really fun movie, and for my money Selleck's best theatrical effort. This one would make not only spy fans happy, but also caper enthusiasts and Magnum aficionados.

Another good catalog title came out from Scorpion Releasing: the ultra-Bondian 1971 Alistair Maclean thriller Puppet on a Chain. I never expected to see this one turn up in Region 1 except maybe on MOD, but the Scorpion disc is an actual DVD. Maclean's action-packed plot follows American agent Paul Sherman (Sven-Bartil Taube) to Amsterdam on the trail of an international drug cartel. His investigation leads him to the drug syndicate's island castle owned by an offbeat religious group, and into one of the most exciting speedboat chases ever filmed. (Comparable to Live and Let Die!) This release boasts not only a new 16x9 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, but also an audio commentary by Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer and Todd Garbarini and film historian Paul Scrabo, an alternate scene, and the theatrical trailer.

Stay tuned for another post coming up very soon about all the great spy television there is to choose from this year...