Spy Games: Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! (1966)


In the breezy spy spoof BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! (aka OUR MAN IN MARAKESH; 1966), which was recently released on Blu-ray by Olive Films, we’re introduced to Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall) who has just arrived in Morocco on business. Jessel is obviously looking forward to a little downtime during his trip where he can relax and take in the local color while sipping exotic cocktails poolside. Jessel is a friendly easy-going everyman and he effortlessly starts up a conversation with the charming Kyra (Senta Berger), who travels with him by bus to the swanky Marrakesh hotel where they’re both staying. After reaching the hotel Jessel mistakenly ends up with the keys to Kyra’s room and while unpacking he discovers a dead man in her closet. Naturally, this grisly turn of events sends Jessel into a panic but when Kyra arrives to reclaim her room she convinces him that’s she being framed for murder and the two agree to get rid of the corpse together. This impulsive decision propels Jessel into the shadowy and secretive world of international espionage where mysterious women and dangerous men are willing to risk everything for political power and ill-gained riches.


Spy Games: James Bond is back in SKYFALL (2012)

Warning! There are spoilers on the road ahead.

When the first promotional photo for SKYFALL (2012) was released earlier this year it caused a minor uproar. It was an azure-tinted picture of Daniel Craig’s muscular back as he sits poolside, solitarily contemplating his next move. It was reminiscent of a promotional photo from Craig’s debut as James Bond in CASINO ROYAL (2006) that showed him emerging from the ocean like a Greek god, much like Ursula Andress’ enchanting entrance in DR. NO (1962), which had embedded itself into the minds and imaginations of countless men and adolescent boys decades earlier. The public’s response to Daniel Craig’s wet torso was somewhat mixed but women (and some men) seemed to love the unusual direction that the publicity campaign for SKYFALL took. They openly swooned over Craig’s imposing physique while many male fans of the Bond series were left wondering where was the designer suit, the gun and the girl? Craig’s nudity seemed casual and unrestrained making the character of James Bond appear exposed and defenseless. His body was being artfully used to sell the Bond mystique and in the past that was a job usually reserved for beautiful women. The Bond girls are renowned for their physical assets and have been used as promotional tools for decades but they’ve got competition now. And while it’s true that previous Bond actors including Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan had their fair share of female fans, the character’s masculine charms have never been exploited in such a direct way. 007 is back, quite literally, but he’s not your father’s James Bond and the first publicity photo from SKYFALL illustrates that point beautifully.


Spy Games – International espionage in… Nashville?!

One of the strangest spy spoofs to emerge from the sixties has got to be HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. This oddball musical comedy arrived in drive-ins in 1967 accompanied by the tagline, “If you’re a chicken come with plenty of feathers and a 0-0-0h-7 get-away car!” HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is part espionage farce, part sitcom style comedy and a full-blown musical featuring performances from the movie’s three stars (Joi Lansing, Ferlin Husky and Don Bowman) along with appearances by popular country & western performers such as Merle Haggard, Molly Bee and Sonny James.

Today it might be hard for modern audiences to understand how a movie like this ever got made but in James Bond’s heyday country & western music was gaining a growing audience thanks to increased radio play and popular programs like THE PORTER WAGONER SHOW. At the same time rural television comedies including THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and GOMER PYLE competed with spy themed shows such as I SPY, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, THE PRISONER, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and GET SMART for ratings. B-movie producing brothers Bernard, Larry and David Woolner were eager to cash-in on this strange hodgepodge of pop culture trends and they must have thought they had a surefire moneymaker on their hands with HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. To seal the deal they gave their movie some extra drive-in appeal by setting the story in a haunted mansion and hiring three horror film legends (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone) to co-star.


Spy Games: Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE (1966)

Today is Sophia Loren’s 77th birthday and I decided to celebrate by focusing this month’s installment of Spy Games on one my favorite Loren films, Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE. But before you start reading you might want to take a moment to turn on TCM because they’re airing a batch of great Sophia Loren films today in honor of the event.

* Warning: Spoilers on the road ahead! *

In the ‘60s Stanley Donen explored the fascinating world of international espionage with two entertaining films, CHARADE (1963) and ARABESQUE (1966). Both films were box office hits but CHARADE was also adored by critics and over the years it’s been widely recognized as one of Donen’s best films. And CHARADE is a great movie. It’s a slick and darkly funny Hitchcockian thriller with a tight script and a terrific cast that includes Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. But for my money ARABESQUE is the better film.


Spy Games: Frank Tashlin & Doris Day Go Undercover

In the late ‘60s Doris Day starred in two spy spoofs directed by Frank Tashlin, THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1967) and CAPRICE (1968). At the time Day was 43-years-old and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars but her career was in sharp decline. Critics seemed to relish taking potshots at the movies she appeared in while launching full-blown attacks on her squeaky-clean image. Day was commonly referred to as “the eternal virgin” and when the sexual revolution heated up the actress was unfairly pigeonholed as a perpetual square. The fact remains that while many actresses were regulated to the role of sex object, wife or mother, Doris Day often played independent working-class women with professional careers who reluctantly fell in love. And while Day’s characters may have been prone to clumsy mishaps and verbal blunders, she regularly outsmarted her male costars. Frank Tashlin understood Doris Day’s strengths as a performer and in THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT and CAPRICE he has lots of fun playing with critical assumptions and subverting expectations.


Spy Games: Double Agents (1959)

In this month’s installment of Spy Games I decided to focus my attention on Robert Hossein’s French thriller DOUBLE AGENTS (aka La nuit des espions; 1959). Countless espionage films have scrutinized the dangerous world of the illusive double agent. These masters of disguise who successfully manipulate government organizations are one of the spy genre’s most effective plot devices. But Hossein’s film explores the dilemma of the double agent in a truly unique fashion.

This unusual low-budget film tells the taut and involving story of two WW2 spies who are ordered to meet at a secluded cabin in the French countryside and exchange some important documents. One of the spies is a beautiful blond (played by Marina Vlady) with a bad case of nerves. She trembles when she hears unfamiliar sounds like distant thunder and creaking floorboards. She also speaks fluent German and sings German songs. The other is a tall dark and handsome man (played by Robert Hossein) wearing a Nazi uniform. His sad eyes and sensitive disposition seem at odds with his wartime activities. When the two first meet they mutually assume they’re both German spies but soon afterward the man claims to be a British double agent in disguise. The woman follows his lead and admits to being a British double agent as well but neither of them has any real proof of where their allegiances lie. Only they know if they’re loyal to Britain or Germany. DOUBLE AGENTS spends almost all of its 80-minute running time focused on these two desperate and solitary individuals as they attempt to confirm one another’s identity in the claustrophobic confines of the isolated cabin. The two spies will wine and dine each other, dance, make passionate love, viciously fight and finally discover their true identities. But all is fair in love and war and exposing the truth comes with a high price.


Spy Games: 6 Months and Counting

We’re 6 months into the year-long celebration of James Bond’s 50th anniversary and I thought it would be a good time to take another look at the various worldwide tributes and festivities that have accompanied it. Here at the Movie Morlocks I’ve been regularly sharing new posts about various espionage films under the title “Spy Games” but I’m not the only one observing the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise. Below are a few of the highlights from the last 6 months as well as some exciting things Bond fans can look forward to before year’s end.


Spy Games: Dirk Bogarde – The Reluctant International Man of Mystery

British actor Dirk Bogarde never played James Bond but he did appear in a handful of interesting spy films made during the ‘60s and ‘70s. He may not have resembled the tough, no-nonsense brute that many associate with 007 but Bogarde’s devilish charm, quick wit, understated elegance and roguish good looks made him a good candidate for playing the British secret service agent or his evil nemesis. For my latest installment of Spy Games I thought I’d take a look at the various spy spoofs and espionage thrillers that Bogarde appeared in and discuss their questionable merits. While some might find Bogarde’s contributions to the spy genre unimpressive, I think the following films are indispensable fun and fascinating footnotes in the actor’s long and impressive career although Bogarde himself would probably disagree with me.

Most of the spy films Bogarde appeared in weren’t particularly successful at the box office and critics rarely gave them the time of day. In numerous letters and books that the actor published he openly admits that he often took these roles to pay the bills. There was little motivation to make these movies besides a paycheck but today they’re testaments to Bogarde’s incredible professionalism, renowned talent and passion for his craft, which is apparent in every one of these movies. No matter how flimsy the script was or how disengaged his fellow cast members became, Bogarde proves himself to be a consummate professional. He’s an actor’s actor if there ever was one.


Spy Games: Matchless (1967)

Following the phenomenal success of United Artists’ early James Bond films many Hollywood studios tried to mimic their crowd winning formula. One of the most successful attempts to cash in on Bond’s appeal was OUR MAN FLINT (1966) starring a tall, lanky and laid-back James Coburn. The film was produced by Saul David for 20th Century Fox and although it spoofed the Bond films with a knowing wink and wide smile, it also had its own kind of charm and wacky appeal. OUR MAN FLINT was followed by a sequel (IN LIKE FLINT; 1967) and there were plans to make more Flint movies but unfortunately they never materialized. Today the Flint films aren’t as popular or well known as the Bond films but they were wildly successful during their day and they’re credited for making James Coburn a star. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the popularity of the Flint films led to them being spoofed as well.


Spy Games: The Prize (1963)

For my third installment of Spy Games I thought I’d take a look at Mark Robson’s THE PRIZE (1963) starring Paul Newman, Elke Sommer, Edward G. Robinson and Diane Baker. Last year The Warner Archives made THE PRIZE available on DVD for the first time and their release of this chic espionage film is commendable. I don’t know if the film has ever looked or sounded better but it definitely benefits from Warner’s careful restoration. It’s the perfect popcorn movie for a slow Saturday night if you’re willing to endure a few stiff line readings and bypass Robson’s uneven direction. The film’s appeal lies in its ability to dazzle the senses and entertain audiences without ever taking itself too seriously.


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