Our Man Flint 1966 ****

Our-Man-Flint-posterPerhaps a ‘franchises of yesteryear’ tag is required for the Derek Flint IP, now forgotten, but originally conceived and executed with the aim of giving James Bond a run for his money. The two Flint films are parodies of the Bond universe, but not out-and-out parody like the Austin Powers films; for the many who grew up with Our Man Flint as a Saturday night tv staple, there wasn’t much to choose between the laconic due of Flint and Bond.

Certainly, Fox got the right man for the job in terms of James Coburn. Already a household name from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, Coburn was a lithe, charismatic leading man, ideal for a super-spy like Flint. Flint is portrayed as a ladies man, obviously, but also a martial arts guru, a fitness freak, a master of weapons and has a Holmesian gift for science and detection. Most significantly of all, Flint is American; in the first film, he notes an eagle used for nefarious purposes ‘An Anti-American eagle, that’s diabolical!’ he muses, and it’s clear that Flint is a home-grown US studio riposte to the Bond stiff-upper lip.

Our Man Flint takes a while to get going, with Flint engaging in a number of minor side-missions in his efforts to represent ZOWIE, the Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage in their battle against the fiendish GALAXY, who are using the weather to hold the world to ransom; strangling a thug named Hans Gruber in a toilet stall in Marseilles is probably the highlight. But once the action shifts to Galaxy island, a remote encampment where women are hypnotised into being pleasure units as a brand extension for Galaxy, whose motto is “Communication and Control’, Our Man Flint hits a more swaggering gear. Derek Flint infiltrates their compound and whispers ‘You are not a pleasure unit’ to the many bikini-clad girls inside, a white male saviour to lead a feminist revolution.

Our Man Flint is one of the best off-brand Bond variations, with an excellent leading man, a slightly different angle, and a climax that’s certainly in the right ball-park in terms of combatting excess with excess; the Galaxy compound, complete with an aerial monorail, is something to beyond, as are the rather cool jumpsuits that Coburn wears. On this evidence, there’s plenty to suggest that Flint could have rivalled Bond, but alas, a cut-price sequel cut off the oxygen before Our Man could really breathe.

The Jigsaw Man 1983 ***

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Are YOU looking for daily updates on Arthur Negus? Almost certainly, the answer is no. And yet, I have news of the ancient, long-passed BBC antiques expert, because he drifted across the stream of my Amazon Prime account like the answer to a madman’s prayer during last night’s perusal of Terence Young’s forgotten 1983 thriller The Jigsaw Man.

As a teenager, The Jigsaw Man seemed exactly like the kind of drab espionage fare best avoided, but either the film or my tastes have changed because this critic found himself drawn to such musty charms. But how to persuade others to join me? After an exchange with no less august a figure than Derrick from excellent review site The Ferguson Theater ( http://derricklferguson.wordpress.com/) about films that have merits outside of their conventional values, I came up with this shortlist of ten further reasons to watch The Jigsaw Man, an all-star spy caper very loosely based on the Cambridge Five. Michael Caine plays a Soviet defector who returns to the UK to play a cat and mouse game with British authorities, but no simple summary can capture the many facets of such an enterprise….

  • Would you like to see Donald Pleasence’s house? For indeed, it is the Chiswick maison of the British character actor that forms the backdrop to key scenes here.
  • There are no cameos from Captain America or the Hulk here, but how about a brief nod and a wink from British household entertainer Max Bygraves to add value?
  • While we’re talking cameos, would a brief hello from composer and national treasure Sir William Walton help seal the deal?
  • Would you like to see screen titan Sir Laurence Olivier face to face with David Kelly, best remembered as Basil Fawlty’s Irish builder in Fawlty Towers?
  • Have you ever hoped to see a car chase through Royal Windsor safari park, with monkey and giraffe action included in the fruit-stand-toppling action?
  • What kind of cultural value would you put on seeing James Bond and Rocky Horror star Charles Gray without his wig?
  • Talking of Bond, how about reuniting classic Bond director Young with regular stars in his films like Gray, Sabine Sun and Vladek Sheybal, instantly recognisable via From Russia With Love, and his impeccable musical performance in The Apple?
  • Speaking about reunions, how about bringing Olivier back in tandem with Michael Caine, years after their brilliant combination in Sleuth?
  • Why not have Michael Caine speak, not only in a comedy Russian accent, but a third comedy voice which is supposedly an Oklahoma oilman? Or dress up as a priest?
  • And why not throw in any other available British character actors, lets say, Robert Powell, Susan George and Michael Medwin to fill out the cast?

The takeaway is; there are other reasons to watch a film other than because it’s good by some definition. The Jigsaw Man had various, well-documented production problems, and key scenes are rushed and garbled; the flashback seems to have been lifted from another film. If you’re seeking thrills, don’t bother. But is you’re interested in Britain, film-stars, nostalgia or any number of cinematic ephemera, The Jigsaw Man is well worth exhuming from whatever dusty crypt it has lain in since 1983. The link is below…

The Amateur 1981 ****

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Reputed to be in development as a reboot for Hugh Jackman for a good few years now, Charles Jarrott’s The Amateur is a tense, effective revenge thriller than makes the best of its mix of cold-blooded espionage and hot-blooded anger. A sense of righteous grievance is harnessed by a shocking opening as a terrorist gang storm the American embassy in West Germany and execute an American (Sarah Kaplan) while being filmed by live-tv crews. Widower Charles Heller (John Savage) is no secret agent, his speciality is mathematics and decoding messages, but when the CIA intelligence forces that he works for don’t respond for political reasons, Heller takes things into his own hands by infiltrating Eastern Bloc spy-networks in the hope of finding who killed his wife. This is all rather more plausaible that usual, Heller uses his ability to hack into the CIA files to find declassified information and force the CIA to offer him some grudging support by blackmailing them; The Amateur makes a virtue of its savvy view of dirty black ops. Christopher Plummer, Marthe Keller and Arthur Hill are all names familiar to genre fans, and Robert Littell’s screenplay ducks many of the clichés expected. The Amateur seems to have been taken out of the system for some reason; just for fun, below is included a link to purchase a DVD for a cool $100 plus. Why that should be so high is an interesting question; The Amateur does a violent but professional wet job that should have left more of a cultural imprint than it did.

https://www.amazon.com/Amateur-John-Savage/dp/B0007WQGW2/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=the+amateur&qid=1564310377&s=gateway&sr=8-3

https://trakt.tv/movies/the-amateur-1981

The White Crow 2019 ***

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Ralph Fiennes clearly digs Rudolph Nureyev; for his third film as director, he’s attempted to capture the story of one of the world’s greatest dancers, which some success. Fiennes’ previous efforts (Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman) were real duffers, but with a leading man who looks the part in Oleg Ivenko, The White Crow is more than passable. The title refers to the Russian notion of otherness, of an individual who is separate from the pack; a black sheep in our parlance. Flashing back and forward to key moments in Nureyev’s life as he ponders defecting during a tour to Paris, the attempts to get under the waxen skin of the individual are fairly shallow; Nureyev rages at a toy-shop owner whose range of toy trains bore him, or glowers as his patient tutor (Fiennes) refuses to acknowledge his genius. But things pick up in the final stretch when Nureyev faces a choice to defect to the West or return to his family in Russia; the facts are compelling in these final scenes, and the choice is presented with some gravity. Anyone with a feeling for dance, and Nureyev in particular will be interested in this, and Fiennes doesn’t short-change us with the ballet scenes, which looks authentic and feel right. But much of the presentation is dull, the photography of Russia and Paris is so grim and deliberately out of focus that it’s hard to watch, and Hare’s script is dry and lack insight. But a bit like the Queen biopic, a film about this subject only needs to be halfway good to be watchable; the legend of Nureyev carries the film.

Madame Sin 1972 ***

sinProduced by Robert Wagner, this nutty spy caper takes place largely on the rather lovely and certainly picturesque Scottish island of Mull, and the tiny town of Tobermory, recognisable from the children’s tv show Balamory. Released in 1972, David Greene’s feature reflects a growing problem in Scotland; the creation of Thought Factories by criminal geniuses like Madame Sin (Bette Davis), where sound waves can be used to cleave the unwitting into two like apples, and thoughts can be implanted into unwary Polaris submarine commanders like the one played by Gordon Jackson here. For a tv movie, released to cinemas when no execs bought into the daftness on show, Madame Sin is pretty lavish stuff, with classy support from Dudley Sutton, Denholm Elliot and Space 1999’s shape-shifter Catherine Schell, and the story, while on the brisk side, is reasonably fresh, But Davis is the highlight here, clearly having fun as a Fu Manchu-style super-villainess and spitting out truly outlandish dialogue like “How would you like your submarine, gentlemen, gift wrapped?’

https://www.amazon.com/Madame-Sin-Bette-Davis/dp/B07JMM8888/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=madame+sin&qid=1562234022&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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The Looking Glass War 1970 ***

Something of a curiosity in the John le Carre stakes, this 1970 thriller gets quite a few elements right, notably the personnel at The Circus; George Smiley is dropped from the original book, but Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ralph Richardson and Paul Rogers all fit the bill as the crumpled espionage handlers with the power and life and death in their hands. The film’s centre is Leiser (Christopher Jones) a Polish defector who becaomes a pawn in international espionage games when he’s recruited to spy on East German missile sites. The first half of the film does well to suggest how and why Leiser accepts the offer, but things get a little simplistic once the mission begins, and a final bookend doesn’t quite work. Hopkins seems to have been none too impressed by Jones and his James Dean mannerisms, but it kind of works for the film that Leiser is so much of a fish out of water. The Looking Glass War feels like a compromised efffort, but with a script by le Carre himself, it springs to life whenever Hopkins and Richardson are on screeen, and Frank Pierson, director of the 1976 A Star Is Born, creates some striking compositions.

Bridge of Spies 2016 ***

bridgespies1044A well-upholstered thriller from Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies deals with a real-life Cold War drama as James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) gets lured into the murky business of spy exchanges. After a successful courtroom defence of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), Donovan tries to broker a deal in East Germany to exchange the enigmatic Abel for two other spies. Bridge of Spies is packed with absorbing details, and the atmosphere of East Germany is well caught. But it’s the acting that elevates the material; Rylance is electric in a showy role, but Hanks’ contribution should not be overlooked; he brings an everyman quality to his well-spoken lawyer, and provides a happy and empathetic centre even when the diplomatic and espionage twists get very complex indeed.