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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 1960's Part 2: MOVIES (THE SPY CRAZE)

Welcome back to my special all month long event focusing on that cool decade of the 60's. For this part I will focus on the biggest and most talked about movies that came out during this progressive and exciting decade.

The 60's yielded several types of films from all genres: historical, comedy, spy, sword and sandals, psychological, and spaghetti westerns. I will break down the decade by genre. The first will be the spy films.
Honey Rider and James Bond
"That's really very fascinating Honey..well not really."

Most critics and audiences agree that the 60's were the watershed era for spy films. And it can all be contributed to one man: Ian Fleming. The author created the most famous super spy in history named James Bond in 1953. Fleming wrote 12 full length novels and two short story collections up until his death in 1964. Hollywood came a calling and in 1962 the first Bond film debuted. It was Dr. No and introduced the world to Sean Connery. Many agree that Connery is the perfect 007. He had the right amount of sex appeal and charm and was a man's man. And he was a pretty good actor to boot. Dr. No also introduced the world to screen siren Ursula Andress as Bond girl HoneyChile Ryder. And while her acting abilities may have been suspect, her physical bodily attributes were on another level. Dr. No proved to be a hit and it was just the beginning. 
Daniela Bianchi
"I know a shortcut back to the hotel darling."

United Artists quickly greenlit the next Bond film, From Russia With Love and that proved to be an even bigger hit. In fact UA would release a Bond film every year for the first 5 years. Connery status shot up to mega-star levels. The next three Bond films: Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice each generated over $100 million dollars in ticket sales worldwide. Bond was the surest thing you could have at the box-office during those days. He was the equivalent of say Star Wars or Harry Potter.  Connery would soon tire of playing the super spy and executives recast the role with Australian newcomer George Lazenby. The film was On Her Majesty's Secret Service and while it was the first Bond film in three years to dip below $100 million, it still made money. And it is regarded now as one of the best Bond films ever made. Still James Bond owned this decade and this franchise would continue on with other actors and have even more success.
Matt, do you think you got enough women there?

Bond kick-started the spy craze and other studios quickly launched their own secret agent to combat evil. One of the more widely known imitators was the swinging Matt Helm (as played by the swinging Dean Martin). This spy series was more tongue in cheek and Martin mainly played it for laughs and lusting after his co-stars. The series did run for four films and featured such starlets as Stella Stevens, Sharon Tate, Ann-Margret, Elke Sommer, and Janice Rule. The plots were far fetched but it was all good natured fun and a good representation of the free-wheeling 60's.
James Coburn's contribution to the spy genre was two films featuring him as spy Derek Flint. Flint was basically an American version of James Bond and Coburn had an easy going charm and you could tell he had fun while playing Flint. The series never really caught on though, and that's why only two films were made.
Oskar Homolka and Michael Caine
"You messed up Harry. Big time"

For a more serious turn at a spy came in the form of Michael Caine as bespectacled agent Harry Palmer. Palmer is not as flamboyant as Bond or Helm but he was extremely intelligent and very good at what he does. And audiences loved him enough to warrant seeing him in three films: The IPCRESS File, Funeral In Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain. These films were a nice change of pace from the other spy films that came out during this decade.
Richard Burton
"I already told you I'm Peter Gibbs from Tacoma..on vacation."

Another serious turn came with Richard Burton as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965). Burton played Alec Leamas based on John Le Carre's best seller. Burton was so good that he received an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. The film was a perfect example of serious cold war espionage.

The Deadly Affair (1966) is a little known spy film starring James Mason and was another Le Carre book. The film was directed by Sidney Lumet.
Cary and Audrey
Other notable films during this time include Charade (1963) with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn; The Liquidator (1965) starring Rod Taylor; The Quiller Memorandum (1966) with Alec Guinness and George Segal; the female version of James Bond in Modesty Blaise (1966) starring Monica Vitti; and Hitchcock's 1969 spy film Topaz.
And the spy craze did not just have success at the theaters. Spies invaded the small screen as well. Patrick Macnee was the super suave John Steed who had a rotating female partner over the years. His first partner was Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman, who starred in the Bond film Goldfinger). She was a good partner but Steed would find his true mate in the form of Emma Peel as embodied by Diana Rigg. She brought a sexy and fun attitude to the show as her and Macnee had a wonderful partnership. This is when the series hit it's creative peak.
The lovely Diana Rigg as Emma Peel

When Rigg left the series in 1968, ironically to film the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a search for a new partner for Steed resulted in the very young 20-year old Linda Thorson as Tara King. But this venture would only last one year as Thorson could not match Rigg's performance. The series was revived during the 70's with Steed being mentor to two agents Mike Gambit (played by Gareth Hunt) and Purdey (played by Joanna Lumley..yes Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous). As before this series only lasted for one season.

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum were Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin as two secret agents who worked for the organization U.N.C.L.E. which stood for United Network Command For Law Enforcement. The series was very successful as it lasted 4 years and 105 episodes. And made household names of Vaughn and McCallum.

I SPY was another successful TV series that starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. What made this series unique was that Cosby was one of the first black actors to be featured in a lead role. Him and Culp had instant chemistry and the series is fondly remembered as one of the best in the genre. It ran for three seasons and 82 episodes.
"Do I have to explain everything to you man?"

Patrick McGoohan was cast as Danger Man, an agent named John Drake who traveled around the world solving murders and aiding foreign countries. Danger Man had an enjoyable 4 year run but most fans know McGoohan from his next role. He was again cast as a secret agent in the trippy 1967 series The Prisoner. After resigning, he is abducted and taken to what looks like an idyllic village, but is really a bizarre prison. His warders demand information. He gives them nothing, but only tries to escape.

Don Adams as Maxwell Smart

Get Smart was one of the rare series that poked fun at the spy genre with Don Adams as the bumbling agent Maxwell Smart, who constantly screwed up missions only to be saved by his partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon). So naturally this was one of the most successful series running for five seasons and 138 episodes.

"Yeah I got it like that" says Simon Templar

Before he had a successful run as James Bond in the 70's and 80's Roger Moore was Simon Templar AKA The Saint. The series was light-hearted and basically gave Moore some training ground before he became Bond.

The Mission Impossible team

Mission: Impossible was a huge success as it featured a team of agents doing the well, impossible missions as led by Jim Phelps as played by Peter Graves. Other agents included Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, Gregory Morris, and Leonard Nimoy.

Other notable TV series include It Takes A thief with Robert Wagner and the spinoff The Girl From UNCLE with Stephanie Powers.
Roger Moore

So spies were quite busy during this wild and fabulous decade. Hope everyone enjoyed my little post about them. And look for the next part soon that will concentrate on the swinging sex comedies.
Monica Vitti as Modesty Blaise


Rick29 said...

Very entertaining and comprehensive overview of the 1960s spy films. I'm a big Bond fan and also enjoyed the Flint films (there was even a made-for-TV Flint flick...without James Coburn). These films were so popular that an Italian film company hired Sean Connery's younger brother to star in a film called (in the U.S.) OPERATION: KID BROTHER. It wasn't very good. However, I enjoy a two-film series with Tom Adams as secret agent Charles Vine. The best of the two was WHERE THE BULLETS FLY.

Irene Palfy said...

Very impressiv post - like that you split the 60s into genres.. and love all the pictures you add! Great work, Monty!

ClassicBecky said...

My gosh, Monty -- what a fantastic look back at this 60's genre! It just brought back a flood of memories, all good. I had major mad crushes on Harry Palmer, Patrick McGoohan and Illya Kuryakin - and, like most girls my age, wanted so much to look like like Diana Rigg, skin tight suit and all (I could have worn one very well, but my Father would never have let me out of the house!)

I'm just overwhelmed -- one of your most excellent pieces, Monty!

Dawn said...

Monty, Groovy post, showcasing the "spy films" of the 60s.. I love all the James Bond, Flint and Helm films. I have been watching many films from the 60's and going back to one of my favorite times in music and films..


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