A Wholly Biased Review of Some 1960s "Spy" Movies (Non-James Bond)
When most people think about "spy" movies, the name James Bond most likely comes to mind, and with good reason. The Bond movies are usually blockbusters and are a lot of fun to watch (especially the latest one, "Skyfall" -- great flick!) But there are others which more accurately portray the intelligence profession and/or, if not so accurate, are still entertaining. I am focusing on a handful of movies that I think are representative of the genre but may not be as well known (or remembered) as the Bond films. They are (in alphabetical order):
Assignment K (1968)
The Executioner (1970)
Our Man Flint (1966)
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
Torn Curtain (1966)
One of my favorite actors, Stephen Boyd, who ostensibly heads a toy company. In reality he is the head of a British spy network Unfortunately for him, his cover is blown and enemy agents (presumably East German) kidnap his beautiful girlfriend (Camilla Sparv) in order to force him to reveal the identities of his agents. It is a fast moving story with beautiful scenes of Austria and some great ski sequences. The ending contains more than one surprise. Leo McKern plays the "bad guy" and I had trouble getting by that after seeing him in a comical role in the Beatles' movie "Help" but somehow it works.
It came out in 1970 but obviously it was filmed in the 1960s so I'm including it here. This one has George Peppard as British intelligence agent John Shay who grew up in the US (thus explaining the lack of a British accent). Set in England, Shay is convinced a former colleague, Adam Booth, is a double agent and Shay sets himself up as judge, jury, and executioner, even though his superiors clear Booth of any wrongdoing. Joan Collins provides the love interest as Booth's wife and the mistress of a British scientist. Plenty of plot twists to keep you interested and of course there is a surprise ending.
Our Man Flint
I wonder how this one would be received today. James Coburn plays Derek Flint, a former agent of ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage) who is brought out of retirement to combat a bunch of mad scientists from something called Galaxy, who today would be known as eco-terrorists! They try to impose their will by causing all kinds of weather extremes (volcanoes, earthquakes, storms, etc.) Of course Flint stops them from succeeding. Strictly tongue in cheek and good fun. Was followed by In Like Flint in 1967 where Flint fights an international feminist conspiracy! The attempt to depose the ruling American patriarchy with a feminist matriarchy is foiled of course. (I wonder if they were still making these today if Flint would go after a giant conspiracy of gay activists!)
The Quiller Memorandum
A neo-Nazi organization in West Berlin murders two British agents and agent Quiller, played by George Segal, is sent into investigate and find the neo-Nazis headquarters, the bead of which is a man named Oktober (well played by Max von Sydow). The story is good but I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the film overall due to the choice of Segal as the lead. He is not subtle at all and just does not seem like a "secret agent." Senta Berger is alluring as a school teacher Segal questions for information (and makes love to) however, although the end of the film makes one wonder whose side she was on all along. Filmed in Berlin and in London.
Now this is one of the better "spy" films I've seen. Based on the Leon Uris novel, a French intelligence agent, ably played by Frederick Stafford, gets involved in the Cold War. A CIA agent (John Forsythe) sends Stafford to Cuba to find out about Soviet missiles being deployed there. Stafford gets the filmed evidence, beds his Cuban mistress, almost gets caught, and makes it back with the film, but loses his wife in the process. The CIA informs him about a Soviet spy ring in Paris called "Topaz" and he uncovers the ring when he returns to France, but not before finding out his ex-wife is the mistress of the head of the spy ring! Full of twists and turns and a great international cast. Recommended.
An Alfred Hitchcock film starring Paul Newman who plays and American scientist who publicly defects to East Germany. His assistant who is also his fiancé played by Julie Andrews, cannot figure out why he is doing this and follows him to East Berlin. It turns out he is not defecting but just acting the part so he can learn what an East German scientist is working on! Once he finds out what he wants, he and his fiancé have to get out of East Germany and the result is a suspenseful chase with the two just one step ahead of the Stasi (secret police). I won't spoil the ending but it's terrific! Recommended.
And James Bond?
Okay. But what about the Bond films? Of course they set the standard for "spy" movies and still do. Six Bond films came out during the 1960s, Doctor No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I happen to think the first four were the best, with From Russia With Love being the "best of the best." I have a special place in my heart for You Only Live Twice as I saw it for the first time in Tokyo (where much of it was filmed) while on R and R from Vietnam, but it was a somewhat weak film overall. On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with George Lazenby playing Bond for the first and only time, was the only Bond film to date that stayed close to the original novel. An excellent film with a sad ending and, in opinion, Lazenby's performance was underrated. And, again in my opinion, Diana Rigg was one of the very best (and classiest) "Bond girls." In the 1970s, the Bond films became almost comedic in nature.
What do I think of the latest Bond (Daniel Craig)? He's terrific and I stated earlier, the latest, Skyfall, is a great film and the ending alone is worth seeing the movie!
What Do YOU Think?
I know there are others I missed, some of the films based on the LeCarre books for example. Feel free to list your own favorites.