So, I've had somewhat of a spy movie marathon. As I travel, I like to watch flicks on the plane, and I've watched a motherload of back to back secret agent films at 39 thousand feet.
It's amazing how close these films adhere to the Bond movie tropes: they all have eccentric megalomaniacs as the villains out to take over the world, suave starched collar types as the lead agents, and are littered with sixties style cheesecake. But as cookie-cutter as they are, I wouldn't have it any other way. For the same reason I like my slasher films to paint-by-numbers, I like my Bond-clones to stick to the protocol.
So, we'll start off our journey into the world of spy cinema with The Spy in the Green Hat, then move on to Spy Today, Die Tomorrow (1967)....
The Spy in the Green Hat (1967)
This was actually a two part TV episode of The Man from UNCLE which played theatrically overseas. American audiences couldn't quite bring themselves tho pay for something they could catch on the boob tube for free.
It's easy to make Austin Powers comparisons with just about any sixties spy movie, but this one takes the cake. Complete with diabolical and outrageous plans to destroy the world from a secret lair, a lunatic evil mastermind, disposable uniformed henchmen, and a groovy soundtrack (courtesy Nelson Riddle), this is the very definition of shagadelic secret agent cinema.
Jack Palance plays the role of THRUSH baddie Strago, the film's Dr. Evil, with his usual over the top flair; always slightly psychotic but with a slightly campy Batman villain flair. That's why I like Palance - he's got the overblown intensity of Klaus Kinski without being a scary buzzkill.
So, Palance's character has enlisted the help of a Nazi scientist to redirect the jet stream, turning the Western nations into frozen wastelands, and Greenland into a warm paradise... And the new homeland of The Third Reich. THRUSH will, of course, capitalize on the chaos and rule the world.
His sidekick is Miss Diketon, played by Janet Leigh. The best I can compare this character to is Elijah Wood's character in Sin City. A soulless killer, a mentally sick predator, which Leigh plays to perfection. But unlike Frodo Baggins, she is a stone cold fox.
When Strago orders her to kill a henchman, Miss Diketon unzips her dress to reveal a blade in her garter. You can just imagine male audiences in 1967 easing a little bit closer to the television during this sizzling scene.
So, our two UNCLE agents are dispatched to Sicily to thwart Strago's diabolical plans. After a terrorist attack in a crowded street, Solo is injured, and wakes up in the care of a smoking hot Sicilian babe named Pia.
Solo leaves the care of his Sicilian Florence Nightingale, but is quickly spotted by THRUSH henchmen patrolling the streets. He re-enters Pia's room while she is changing.
As I said, this was released theatrically overseas; but was on TV in the States. I find it very hard to believe that her bare back was on display in American homes in 1967. I would imagine this scene was only shown in the European cinematic release. Still, pretty risqué for the time.
Unfortunately, Pia's mother believes the two have had sexual relations and demands that Solo marry her daughter at once. Of course, it's just a misunderstanding (Solo was just hiding under her bed to avoid detection by THRUSH).
And this is where things take a silly turn. Once Solo escapes, the mother contacts her mob relatives in the States to find him and restore her daughter's dignity. As someone with Italian heritage, I must admit, the mob stereotypes in these old films gets a bit old. I'm not so thin skinned that I'm offended... But, it's just so damn predictable.
While Solo was having his boo boos mended by a Mediterranean lovely, Ilya was actually getting some work done for UNCLE. He managed to infiltrate the THRUSH headquarters and get some Intel on Strago's plot to divert the jet stream.... Oh, and did I mention, he's got a giant laser? (Dr. Evil would be proud)
Eventually, the three factions collide: UNCLE, THRUSH and the mob meet head to head at Strago's island lair. Napoleon Solo uses his dashing charisma to get the mobsters on his side and they manage to overtake Strago's army of idiotic, clueless henchmen - they make Stormtroopers look like expert marksmen.
Did I fail to mention this whole mob plot line is unbelievably retarded? For one, it's highly unreasonable that they'd band together to this extent just to catch a fleeing lover. Second, they're all OLD mobsters, whose glory days were back in Prohibition... How insane is it that they'd manage to overtake a THRUSH base, with a LASER cannon for God's sake? I suppose they are in the film to provide a bit of levity, but they're not particularly funny.
Who's not particularly funny is Strago, who gets a little bit rapey with Pia.. He has captured the lovely Pia in hopes of luring Solo into his clutches. Trouble is, he gets grabby with his captive, and God knows how far he'd have gotten if he hadn't been interrupted by the demented Miss Diketon.
Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned; Miss Diketon is none too pleased to find her cold heart's only love sexually assaulting this Sicilian floozy.
Queue the cat fight....
Pia and Miss Diketon engage in a knife battle atop a table in what may very well be one of the sexiest spy movie scenes ever. Janet Leigh versus Roman wrestling in skirts is the stuff dreams are made of.
But the Italian ends up beating the skilled assassin (which is a tad unrealistic, but I'm far to happy to care at this juncture). Strago and henchmen arrive in time to apprehend Pia, and find an unconscious Miss Diketon on the table. He is very disappointed.
Indeed, his disappointment is such that he dismisses her from his service. Remember what I said about a woman scorned? A vengeful Miss Diketon allies herself with a captive Ilya.... Strago's days are numbered. Now he's got not only the mob and UNCLE after him, he's got a psychopathic killer as well.
It ends in predictable fashion. Strago is electrocuted, and a dying Miss Diketon dies happy knowing he's dead. The mob are happy to learn Pia's still a virgin, and they all enjoy a big plate of meatballs. The End.
It's all pretty campy and dumb, but it's a good time nonetheless. My understanding is that this is considered the best of all the Man from UNCLE movies... Which is a pretty bad indictment of the others, as this wasn't so hot.
Oh, and who exactly is the spy in the green hat? No idea.
Spy Today, Die Tomorrow (1967)
AKA Die Slowly, You'll Enjoy It More; original title: Mister Dynamit - Morgen küßt euch der Tod
Picture a James Bond movie, with all the usual tropes, but it's made by odd humorless Germans, and that's this movie. It tries its little heart out to be a Bond film, but a conglomeration of Bond tropes does not a Bond film make. Plus, it definitely has a slightly weird flavor; a dead giveaway that this isn't your ordinary UK spy flick... There's something very, very German going on here.
So, like any good Bond clone, we have to have an eccentric villain, Bardo Baretti (Amedeo Nazzari), intent on doing something evil on a grand scale. Here, we have a guy who has stolen a nuclear bomb from America and plans on dropping it on D.C, then Munich.
What's eccentric about him? Well, he's pretty boring except for the fact that he periodically downs an entire bottle of alcohol in one gulp, then pulls an area rug from the ceiling and rolls himself into it. Yeah, you read that right. His eccentricity is that he chugs alcohol then rolls himself into an area rug.
Our studly German agent named "Mister Dynamite" (Lex Barker) is tasked with stopping global thermonuclear annihilation. Always with a sly smile, he dispatches nameless henchmen with ease.
Of course, he has the German version of "Q" to help out of a jam. This Q, however, serves as comic relief (yet, is exceptionally unfunny). As he demonstrates the various spy gadgets, he accidentally swallows a smoke bomb.... And Mr. Dynamite makes a fool out of him by demonstrating his skill at throwing his voice (I told you this was odd).
But what of the "Bond' girls? Every secret agent movie has to be well stocked with smoking hot babes. Spy Today Die Tomorrow has some pretty ladies, but is pretty sparing with them; definitely under-performing in the quantity of cheesecake department.
The primary hottie is Miss Forrester who acts as a government administrator, but is really working for Dr. Evil. We get to see Ms. Forrester sunning in a bikini, and posing suggestively to lure Mr. Dynamite (he, of course, falls for the bait).
Then, there are a couple random babes. The first is Dr. Evil's wench whom we meet at the start of the film. Dr. Evil has had enough of her wanton ways, then tells her to get lost.... (And then, naturally, downs an entire bottle before curling up in a rug). Then, we never see her again... So, this had no bearing on the story whatsoever. Obviously, just a cheap means to supply a brief moment of eye candy (and I won't fault them for that).
There are a couple other girls that glom onto our hero - one is a bikini babe who Mr. Dynamite is about to shag... But business calls, and he's picked up in a helicopter to go save the world. She's left high and dry on the beach, wondering why a refrigerator salesman would need to leave on a helicopter. (Yep. That's what he told her. That he's a refrigerator salesman.)
The other "Bond" girl helps him traverse to the main baddie's headquarters unnoticed. This is somewhat of a risqué scene for the time, as we see her from the back, topless.
To put it simply, this is just not any good. And its worst offense is that it is painfully boring. Easily 90 percent of this film is 50 year old men talking about I-don't-care-what.
So, despite its German oddness and the sparse sampling of Euro-hotties, this is one Bond clone that definitely under-delivers. Gilligan says skip it.