Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Spies)
Oh, is it that time of the week again already? Why, yes, I believe it is.
One thing that a lot of older spy movies (and Private Eye which is next week) share is basic misogyny and sexism as well as racism and stereotyping. James Bond movies and Bond knock-offs are especially “strong” in the sexism and misogyny. I do keep that in mind but also know that many of the movies are products of their times and include aspects that I and others decry today.
Being one who grew up watching the James Bond films, I tend to be partial to the Sean Connery Bond. Dr No (with Ursula Andress) set the “standard” if you will for the entire franchise. From Russia with Love then Goldfinger (maybe the most iconic Bond of all). Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever (with Jill St John) round out the Connery Bond films (recognizing that there was a later one but since it is almost a duplication of Thunderball, I tend to not include it).
George Lazenby was Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (with Diana Rigg) before Roger Moore took over in Live and Let Die (with Jane Seymour). I guess this is about the time when I started not paying that much attention to Bond films as The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker are about the last of them I’ve actually watched more than once. I will mention the first Casino Royale which was a bit of a Bond spoof as David Niven plays Sir James Bond and Woody Allen plays his son, Jimmy Bond. And Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, and Terrence Cooper all play “007.” (Note: I had (and really still have) one serious crush on Joanna Pettet – /vestigial sexism)
Dean Martin played a Bond knockoff called Matt Helm in The Silencers, The Ambushers, and The Wrecking Crew. James Coburn got to play Derek Flint in Our Man Flint and In Like Flint. Both the Helm movies and the Flint movies took the spy gadgetry and over the top scenes of the Bond movies well beyond ludicrous.
Going back to a little less extreme spy I’ll pick up with The 39 Steps, which is a Hitchcock directed classic. While not a spy thriller in the classic sense, To Have and Have Not is set in wartime and offers more than enough intrigue, plus the first pairing of Bogart and Bacall. Charade has Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (and Walter Matthau as the bad guy).
The Day of the Jackal, Malone, Mr & Mrs Smith, and the various Jason Bourne (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum) all cover assassins in some fashion or another. I guess I can add Clear and Present Danger to this list as well as we get to see Harrison Ford projecting righteous indignation. While Ahnuld doesn’t get to directly assassinate as his primary job in True Lies, he does manage to kill a few. Of course, being a more recent spy film, the bad guys are Muslims now instead of dirty Commies.
I was debating whether I wanted to include Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes films as private eye/detective or spy. While some of the Rathbone Holmes films I enjoy such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Woman in Green, and Terror By Night are based on “crimes,” there were more that were set in WWII or just after where the spies were caught usually before they could get away with their nefarious deeds of course (we won’t talk about how Holmes moved from turn of the century Victorian England to WWII and just after without aging any extra.) There’s Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Sherlock Holmes in Washington, and Pursuit to Algiers.
Other posts in this series are Essential Movies, Westerns, Historical Settings (pre-1500), Historical Settings (post 1500), Sword and Sorcery, Science Fiction, War Movies, Crime and Punishment, Music, Song and Dance – and Elvis, and Sports.
And because I can: