Jan 14, 2018

Trailer: Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in BEIRUT

Bleecker Street has released the first trailer for Beirut, a movie set in one of my favorite spy locations that we first heard about in 2015 under the better title of High Wire Act. No matter what they're calling it, this spy movie has a rich pedigree. It's written by Bourne franchise veteran Tony Gilroy, and directed by the always interesting indie auteur Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian). And it stars the very appealing duo of Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), along with Shea Whigham (Agent Carter) and Dean Norris (Death Wish). Hamm plays a former American diplomat who fled his old Lebanon stomping ground in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. A decade later, when he's a washed-up drunk working in the private sector, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operative Pike to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

Beirut opens April 13. Before that, it premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, January 22.

MAN IN A SUITCASE Feature Film TO CHASE A MILLION Coming to Blu-Ray

This is cool! UK distributor Network have been releasing a number of classic ITC shows piecemeal on Blu-ray, one volume at a time. They're in the midst of putting out the great Richard Bradford series Man in a Suitcase that way, and they're offering something a little different. The latest volume available for pre-order is actually the feature film version of the two-parter "Variation on a Million Bucks," re-titled To Chase a Million. Like America's Man From U.N.C.L.E. "movies" (or Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob), a number of two-part episodes of ITC series (or very occasionally standalone episodes) were cut together and released continentally as theatrical Eurospy features. While some are readily available and sometimes even included in the DVD or Blu-ray series sets (A&E frustrated some fans by only including the feature cut of one of the two Saint movies, and not its episodic equivalent; all of the Persuaders! feature cuts are included as standard-definition bonus features on Network's Complete Series Blu-ray collection), others of these movies, like To Chase a Million, are quite rare. Since television and film are paced differently, a lot of these feature re-cuts feel a little clunky (lots of padding) and don't make great introductions to the shows. But they're a treat for fans! I always try to seek out the film cuts, and personally I hope that Network makes a regular practice of high-definition standalone releases of these movies. (They should also appeal to Eurospy collectors only looking for rare movies who don't necessarily go in for TV shows.)

I would love to see both Saint movies get their own Blu-ray releases, especially since Network hasn't yet started releasing that series in HD. (There even exists a commentary track for Vendetta for the Saint with Roger Moore, Johnny Goodman, and Robert Baker, recorded for an American MPI DVD release. It would be great if Network could license that for a Blu-ray.) Just seeing those unique opening titles to The Fiction Makers in HD would be reward enough! Even the lackluster Baron movie, The Man in a Looking Glass, would be neat. (That's another series they haven't yet given the Blu treatment.) Best of all, though, would be some of the super-rare ITC movies, like the Sentimental Agent movie Our Man in the Caribbean. I've never been able to track that one down even as a bootleg, but as best I can tell it incorporates the completely unrelated Sentimental Agent episode "A Very Desirable Plot" (guest-starring Diana Rigg) and the Man of the World episode that introduced Carlos Thompson's Sentimental Agent character, "The Sentimental Agent" (guest-starring Shirley Eaton). How they pulled that off I'd really like to see! So fingers crossed that To Chase a Million represents only the beginning of Network's ITC feature film standalone Blu-ray releases....

In To Chase a Million, former American spy McGill (wrongfully kicked out by U.S. Intelligence when he was set up to look like a traitor) if bequeathed the key to a safety deposit box in Lisbon, supposedly containing $1 million stolen by his friend Stein (the always wonderful Anton Rodgers of The Prisoner and Zodiac) from the KGB before his defection. This sets off a chase across Europe as McGill races to get to it from London before the Russians, Americans, or various other intelligence services and freelancers.

Network's To Chase a Million Blu-ray, featuring a brand-new HD remaster from the original 35mm film elements, is (unlike their series volumes) presented in its rarely seen original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. (The full-screen TV version is also included as a bonus.) According to their website, it is an all-region release, so it will play in regular American Blu-ray players. It's currently available for pre-order from the Network website for £10.00 (including VAT). It will be released on February 19, 2018.

Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 1 (which includes "Variation on a Million Bucks" parts 1 and 2) here.
Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 2 here.
Read my review of The Sentimental Agent here.

Jan 13, 2018

Shane Black and Fred Dekker Pen AVENGERS TV Reboot

Well, the big spy news of the day is undoubtedly the potentiality of a Shane Black/Fred Dekker-penned TV reboot of the greatest spy series of all time, The Avengers. Dekker dropped the news in an interview with print magazine The Dark Side, which then hit the Internet courtesy of Screen Rant. There are very few solid details available, but here is what Dekker told the magazine, verbatim:
It’s The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel. We’re setting it in Britain in the 60’s, and our approach is The Ipcress File meets Doctor Who. At this moment, it’s my favorite thing we’re working on.
That's all we know so far from the horse's mouth. (And I have to say... I quite like Dekker's description!) The studio appears to be Warner Bros. Television. We don't know if there's a network involved, but it might be Amazon, for whom Black and Dekker previously penned the Western pilot Edge (which did not go to series), based on the 1970s Men's Adventure paperback series.

While my gut reaction is to instantly decry any attempt at an Avengers revival that doesn't originate in Great Britain, that impulse is checked by the creative talent involved. Shane Black is one of the greatest working screenwriters. He rose to fame on lucrative action spec script sales in the 1980s and '90s, most famously creating the Lethal Weapon franchise. His spy cred includes the 1996 amnesiac assassin thriller Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. In this century, he's reinvented himself writing and directing smart, funny, pulpy neo-noir fare like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. He's even made a Marvel movie--Iron Man Three.

Early in his career, Black wrote with frequent collaborator Fred Dekker, a partnership that most famously produced The Monster Squad (1987), which Dekker directed. Dekker went on to a less illustrious career than Black, but also earned his bona fides in the spy genre writing the 1991 Richard Greico teen spy comedy If Looks Could Kill and penning a glorious, but un-produced, live-action, 1960s-set Johnny Quest movie. The two partners reunited in recent years to pen the upcoming Predator reboot which Black is directing and the aforementioned Amazon pilot.

All of which is to say that The Avengers are in good hands. American hands, maybe, but hands I'm willing to trust for now. In all likelihood, this will go nowhere. But if it does, I'm willing to take the journey. It can only be an improvement on the 1998 feature film version of the series, which starred Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery.

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, of course, starred as agents extraordinary John Steed and Emma Peel in the original TV series. Steed's other partners included Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), and Tara King (Linda Thorson). The Avengers torch has been kept burning lately in audio dramas from Big Finish (including excellent recreations of lost first season episodes) and comics from Boom! Studios (including a recent crossover with the 1960s TV incarnation of Batman).

Jan 11, 2018

Trailer: Mark Strong in DEEP STATE

Fox Networks Group has released the first trailer for Deep State, the new action/espionage drama starring frequent spy star Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kingsman) as a former agent lured back into the game. Shot as a regional scripted commission for Europe and Africa, Deep State currently has no U.S. broadcaster. Hopefully one of the FX cable networks sees it as a good fit and picks it up domestically. It premieres April 5 in Europe.

Trailer: The Looming Tower

Hulu has released the first trailer for The Looming Tower, their upcoming event series about inter-agency friction between the CIA and FBI in the late 1990s that led to the intelligence failure of 9/11.  Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower features Alec Baldwin as CIA Director George Tenet, Jeff Daniels as FBI counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill, Michael Stuhlbarg as counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke, among a huge ensemble cast.

The Looming Tower premieres February 28 on Hulu.

Jan 10, 2018

Tradecraft: Black Widow to Finally Fly Solo?

Variety reports that Marvel Studios may finally be moving forward with a standalone movie about superspy Natasha Romanoff--the Black Widow. This is something spy fans have wanted to see ever since it was first announced that the character would appear in Iron Man 2, played by Scarlett Johansson. Since then Johansson has reprised the role in five more films (including Marvel's The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War), with two more in the can (including The Avengers: Infinity War, due this spring), but never starred in her own solo movie. (This despite Johansson being the only Avengers cast member to gross $450+ million in her own original movie outside that franchise.) It looks like that may finally be rectified.

According to the trade, Marvel President Kevin Feige has tapped screenwriter Jac Schaeffer to pen the script. Despite a track record that can't be argued with, Marvel have been surprisingly slow out the gate to launch a female-driven superhero franchise. They're finally doing that with Captain Marvel (starring Brie Larson and featuring Samuel L. Jackson's return as Nick Fury), due in 2019, but hiring a female writer to crack a Black Widow feature demonstrates a realization of the cultural moment we're in, and, hopefully, a commitment to further female-fronted superheroics. Schaeffer first attracted attention with a comedic spec script about an alien invasion interrupting a baby shower. That script, The Shower, was recognized on the prestigious Black List (favorite scripts of the year as voted on by Hollywood assistants), and now has Anne Hathaway attached to star. Since then Schaeffer has also written Nasty Women for Hathaway, a female-centric remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bedtime Story.

The trade stresses that, "sources say [the Black Widow movie] is still very early development, as the film has no greenlight, but naming a writer is the closest the studio has come to moving forward on a standalone pic." Marvel hasn't yet announced any titles of their "Phase 4," which will follow the two upcoming Avengers movies, but the earliest we could possibly see a Black Widow would be 2020. I really hope it happens!

Schaeffer certainly won't be lacking for source material. The sexy former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow, is one of Marvel's foremost espionage-oriented characters, second only to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She has a rich history in comics dating back to the Sixties. Three beautifully produced Marvel Premiere hardcovers collect this secret agent's most essential adventures in matching volumes. Black Widow: The Sting of the Widow presents the character's first appearance (in a silly costume in an issue of Iron Man) and earliest solo adventures from the early Seventies, after she'd gotten an Emma Peel makeover, ending up in the black catsuit with which she's still most closely associated. These early Black Widow comics will surely be of interest to collectors and hardcore fans, but casual fans looking for a great introduction to the character are better off picking up the second volume in the series, Black Widow: Web of Intrigue first.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue offers an excellent primer on the character containing some of her classic appearances from the early Eighties, including an excellent comic drawn by my second-favorite spy artist (after Steranko), Paul Gulacy.  (Look for a cameo appearance by Michael Caine!) Black Widow: Web of Intrigue contains this and several other seminal tales of the red-haired Russian superspy. A third volume, Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider collects a pair of Marvel Knights stories from the late Nineties (including one by Queen & Country scribe Greg Rucka).

My two favorite modern-day Widow storylines have yet to receive the hardcover treatment, sadly, but are available in a pair of out-of-print trade paperbacks. Richard K. Morgan's Black Widow: Homecoming and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her put the focus on espionage above superheroics and are among the very best Marvel spy stories. I hope they end up in their own Premiere volume one day. More recent Widow stories include Black Widow: Deadly Origin, Black Widow and the Marvel Girls, Black Widow: The Name of the RoseBlack Widow: Kiss or Kill, three volumes of beautiful material by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto (including the one pictured at the top of this story), and two (comprising her most recent series) by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. Most of the character's  adventures with Daredevil from the 1970s are included in Essential Daredevil: Volume 3. Last year, Black Widow was also the subject of a large-format character retrospective/art book, Marvel's The Black Widow: Creating the Avenging Super-Spy: The Complete Comics History.

Jan 9, 2018

New RED SPARROW Trailer and Poster

20th Century Fox has released a new trailer and a very cool poster for Red Sparrow, the upcoming movie adaptation of Jason Matthews' terrific 2013 spy novel  (which made my list of the best spy novels of the last decade). The trailer makes it clear that certain changes have been made to the material, but of course that's to be expected in any adaptation. The movie is clearly being positioned as a star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, whereas the book is a two-hander focused equally on Russian double agent Dominika and her CIA handler Nate Nash, played on screen by Joel Edgerton. (I'm still not sold on him in that role, but none of the trailers so far have shown enough of him to really go by.) Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer, though he previously worked with her on several Hunger Games movies), opens March 2. If you haven't yet read the book, I highly recommend doing so before then! The third and final book in Matthews' Egorova/Nash trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate (the improbably topical plot of which has apparently undergone some changes since it was first announced), hits stores two weeks earlier, on February 13.

Dec 23, 2017

Tradecraft: Lionsgate Dates THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

Deadline reports that Lionsgate has set an August 3 release date for the Mila Kunis/Kate McKinnon comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me. Late summer has proven a successful slot for R-rated, female-driven comedies like Bad Moms and Girls Trip. (I don't know if The Spy Who Dumped Me will be R-rated.) Directed by Susanna Fogel and written by Fogel and David Iserson (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a friend of mine--which makes me very excited about this project!), The Spy Who Dumped Me follows a woman (Kunis) whose discovery that her ex is a spy plunges her and her best friend (McKinnon) into an international espionage adventure. Outlander standout Sam Heughan (who played Roger Moore's son in A Princess for Christmas), Charlies Angels: Full Throttle villain Justin Theroux (who cameoed as a very Bondian figure in a certain recent blockbuster) and Gillian Anderson (Johnny English Reborn) also star.

Dec 20, 2017

See DANGER: DIABOLIK on the Big Screen in Los Angeles New Year's Weekend

Los Angelenos have a rare opportunity to see one of the greatest spy movies of the Sixties on the big screen New Year's weekend. (Technically I suppose it's a caper movie, but I've always contended that Sixties spy movies are defined by imagery, sound, and tropes more than plot. And by those terms, this is perhaps the ultimate spy movie!) Mario Bava's 1967 masterpiece Danger: Diabolik will screen in 35mm at Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema as a midnight movie on Saturday, December 30. (That means it actually starts at 11:59pm on Saturday, playing into Sunday morning.) And I'm so jealous of anyone who will be in town! Sadly I will not. But if you'll be in L.A. that weekend, you are in luck. Danger: Diabolik stars John Phillip Law (Barbarella), Marisa Mell (Secret Agent Super Dragon), Adolfo Celi (Thunderball), and Michel Picoli (Topaz). Read why I love it so much in my review, here.

Tickets are $8, and available online from Brown Paper Tickets or at the theater box office.

Dec 19, 2017

First Trailer: SICARIO 2: SOLDADO

Sony has released the first trailer for Sicario 2: Soldado, the sequel to Denis Villeneuve's 2015 thriller Sicario, which emerged as one of the best spy movies in a year packed with spy movies. The follow-up is directed by Stefano Sollima (Gommorah), and once again written by Taylor Sheridan (Wind River). Benecio Del Toro (Licence To Kill), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War), and Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) all reprise their roles from the first movie, joined this time by Isabella Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Catherine Keener (Get Out). From this trailer, it looks as if Sollima has done an incredible job maintaining the look and tone of Villeneuve's film while raising the stakes. Owing a clear debt to Clear and Present Danger, Soldado (as it was formerly known) looks more like a Tom Clancy movie than the new Jack Ryan TV series. Unfortunately, we've got to wait until June 29, 2018 to see if the film lives up to this glimpse.

Dec 18, 2017

Upcoming Spy Blu-Rays: Entertaining '80s Obscurities

Two cult Eighties spy flicks never officially available on Region 1 DVD are, in both cases rather surprisingly, making their way to Blu-ray early next year.

1982's The Soldier (tagline: "You don't assign him. You unleash him.") was among the first of the blisteringly gung-ho 1980s Cold War spy movies that made a resurgence with Reagan's presidency after all the paranoid, anti-CIA films of the scandal-ridden Seventies. Ken Wahl (Wiseguy) stars as the titularly code-named CIA super-agent tasked with thwarting KGB-backed terrorists threatening to unleash chaos in the middle-east by detonating a nuclear bomb in a Saudi oil field. The ultra-Eighties action jumps from West Berlin to Washington to Saudi Arabia as The Soldier teams up with the Mossad. The cast also includes Alberta Watson (La Femme Nikita, 24), Joaquim de Almeida (Clear and Present Danger), Jeffrey Jones (The Hunt for Red October), and Klaus Kinski(!) (Our Man in Marrakesh) as a KGB assassin. While it's never had a North American DVD release, Kino Lorber will release a Blu-ray on February 27, 2018, generously including trailers and an audio commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill... along with awesome cover art! Retail is $29.95, but that will likely go down on Amazon nearer the release date.

Maybe it should be classified as a guilty pleasure, but I really enjoy the early Jean-Claude Van Damme flick Black Eagle (1988). Coming on the heels of Bloodsport by only a month, Black Eagle hit theaters just on the cusp of JCVD's stardom. Van Damme (Maximum Risk, Jean-Claude Van Johnson) isn't the hero, but the antagonist, a brutal KGB agent. Japanese martial arts star Sho Kosugi (Ninja Assassin) plays the hero, a CIA agent deployed (against his will) to recover a laser weapon from an F-111 downed in the Mediterranean. Good fights and excellent Maltese scenery (as well as some underwater action) make the movie worth watching. For a movie that's never even had a regular DVD release in North America (that I'm aware of), Black Eagle is surprisingly getting the full 2-disc Special Edition treatment from the MVD Rewind Collection! The Blu-ray/DVD combo will, happily, include both the 93-minute theatrical version and the superior 104-minute uncut, extended version of the film. It also boasts a slew of special features, including deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer (which was awesome), the featurettes "Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend" (HD, 21:26) (featuring new 2017 interviews with Sho Kosugi and Shane Kosugi and more), "The Making of Black Eagle" (HD, 35:50) (featuring new 2017 interviews with Director/Producer Eric Karson, Screenwriter Michael Gonzalez and stars Sho Kosugi, Doran Clark, Shane Kosugi and Dorota Puzio), "Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme" (HD, 19:20) (Brand new 2017 interviews with cast and crew tell stories about working with the legendary action star), and "The Script and the Screenwriters (HD, 27:14) (new 2017 interviews featuring Michael Gonzales, Eric Karson and more)... as well as a "collectible poster." Whew!

To recap, someone made a 35-minute documentary about the making of Black Eagle. Did you ever expect to see that? I didn't, but I can't wait to watch it! Retail is a steep $39.95, but hopefully that price will drop on Amazon as we near its February 13 release date.

If you're interested in movies I blog about, please consider ordering or pre-ordering from the Amazon links included in the articles to support the Double O Section. Thank you!

First Trailer for the New, Rebooted STRIKE BACK on Cinemax

Cinemax has released the first full trailer for their upcoming, rebooted new season of Strike Back. This will mark the third distinct iteration of the action series, following the more cerebral, more espionage-oriented UK original (review here) starring Richard Armitage (Berlin Station) and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), and the sexier, more action-packed U.S. Cinemax continuation (review here) with Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton. The latest incarnation features a larger, four-person anti-terrorist team comprised of Daniel MacPherson, Roxanne McKee, Warren Brown and Alin Sumarwata, but clearly retains the focus on extreme military action familiar to fans of the previous Cinemax series. The new episodes (which debuted this fall on SkyOne in the UK) premiere Stateside on February 2 at 10pm. Take a look!

Dec 15, 2017

Tradecraft: Female Blaxploitation Agents Reactivated on Big and Small Screens

Blaxploitation heroines Cleopatra Jones and Christie Love are both making comebacks... with an espionage twist. Deadline reports that ABC is resurrecting the 1974 TV movie and subsequent series Get Christie Love!, but dropping the exclamation mark and adding spying. Christie Love, as played by Teresa Graves, was a police detective. But in the new version starring Kylie Bunbury (Pitch, Under the Dome), is, according to the trade, "an African American, female CIA agent who leads a highly trained elite ops unit. Beautiful and charismatic, Christie transforms into whoever she needs to be in order to get the job done especially when it’s down to the wire and the stakes are life and death." The new "action-packed, music-driven" hour-long drama hails from Power creator/showrunner Courtney Kemp and producers Vin Diesel, Debra Martin Chase and Shana C. Waterman.

This news comes on the heels of an earlier Deadline story reporting that sexy, karate-chopping government agent Cleopatra Jones (one of Christie Love's inspirations) is also making a comeback--on the big screen. Jones travels the world smashing drug rings under the cover of being an international model with a gloriously flamboyant wardrobe that would make Fatima Blush jealous. According to the trade, "the studio has set Misha Green (Underground, Lovecraft) to write the script and produce a film that will present the heroine very much as the female answer to James Bond." Deadline points out that "those comparisons were made when the original hit film was released, partly because Jones was so adept at martial arts and drove a Corvette Stingray fully equipped with automatic weapons." Tamara Dobson (Amazons) starred in the 1973 original (opposite Never Say Never Again's Bernie Casey) and its less successful 1975 sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. The Cleopatra Jones movies stood out from many of their grimmer blaxploitation brethren thanks to their sharp comedy. No one has yet been cast to fill Dobson's shoes.

Dec 8, 2017

Quartet Releases Two Expanded Spy Soundtracks: CASINO ROYALE and THE RUSSIA HOUSE

Quartet Records have announced half a quartet (sorry) of newly expanded spy scores. And the two movies are about as far apart as you can get within the same genre: Jerry Goldsmith's somber, intimate, jazz-infused score for the 1990 John le Carré adaptation The Russia House, and Burt Bacharach's infectious, iconic score for the bloated 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale.

Fred Schepisi’s film of The Russia House starred Sean Connery as one of le Carré’s most memorable characters, Barley Blair, a publisher who becomes unwittingly entangled in East/West spy games and a dangerous romance with Michelle Pfeifer’s Katya. James Fox, Roy Scheider, Michael Kitchen, and Klaus Maria Brandauer co-starred. Besides a romance between two of the screen’s most popular stars, the film was notable for being one of the first Western movies to be shot in Russia, and makes an excellent time capsule of the late Soviet era. Goldsmith’s score was atypical for him in that era (coming right after the more bombastic Total Recall), and remains controversial among fans of the composer and le Carré. The decision to go with a sax-driven, romantic jazz sound reflects Blair’s own musical taste. The original MCA album contained 61 minutes of music, but Quartet have dug up an additional 15 minutes’ worth of previously unreleased material including what they call “some key suspense cues.” According to the label, “the new edition was produced by Mike Matessino, with tracks prepared by Neil S. Bulk (Die Another Day) and mastered by Matessino from the original mixes by Bruce Botnick. The package includes a 16-page full color booklet with [le Carré fan] Dirk Wickenden providing in-depth liner notes and musical analysis of this masterful Goldsmith score.”

As for Casino Royale, you're probably asking, "Hasn't that score already been reissued twice in time this blog's been around?" And you would be right. (Or at least partially right, because you don't seem to be counting the Varese Sarabande reissue which was pretty much identical to the original Varese release, and apparently a subsequent reissue of one of the legitimately expanded versions.) The famous score, long sought after on LP owing to its reputation among audiophiles as the ultimate demonstration record, was first released in an expanded edition by Kritzerland in 2010. The original master tapes were allegedly damaged or destroyed, so they set about repairing the issues caused by that damage. They also attempted to replicate the vaunted sound of the LP by including as a bonus program a direct transfer of the record itself. Then in 2012, Quartet put out a 2-disc release with lavish packaging and a stellar, 60+ page book of liner notes by Gergely Hubai in honor of the film's 45th anniversary. That release was motivated by the discovery of a quarter-inch stereo tape copy of the original album in the vaults of Sony Music Spain, and new access to MGM's DVD elements which permitted a complete film score release (albeit reflecting the sound mixer's dialogue-motivated volume shifts) for the first time. Both of those releases were limited editions, and both sold out. Apparently there was even a second printing of the Quartet one. And now they are releasing a brand new 50th Anniversary edition with completely different audio. Here's the label's reasoning:
This edition is an important landmark for this legendary score, and we can proudly say that it now sounds better than ever. This new edition has been produced, restored and mastered by wizard engineer Chris Malone, rebuilding the score from the ground up. Malone’s work has focused on addressing unintended technical anomalies (such as filling dropouts and covering analogue splices) rather than broadly applying a modern sound palette. He has eschewed dynamic range compression and retained the brilliance of the original recording. Because the LP program derived from the original film recordings (with some edits made for a more pleasure listening), we have included it on our CD and added all the music composed by Bacharach that was not on the LP to make a 77-minute CD. The bonus tracks are in mono (music stems are still the only available source to date), but Chris has worked them in a very different mood from our previous edition, respecting the mono without adding any stereo reverb and carefully restoring each track in a very warm way. We can say the sound is day and night compared with our previous edition. Live and learn.
So they seem to be, sort of, apologizing for their previous version? Understanding its less than ideal sources, I never had any issues with it and appreciated its completeness. Though I still preferred the sound on the Kritzerland version, and it sounds as if Malone may have approached this new one along the same lines they did. The new Quartet release appears to be just one disc as opposed to the 45 Anniversary's double-disc version, and does not include the original booklet. It does, however, boast all-new liner notes (20 pages of them!) by film score expert Jeff Bond. It's kind of strange that this odd-duck step child of the Bond saga as by now proven to be the title most frequently revisited on CD, but they've got me curious. I'll definitely be buying this one, as I have all the others. They always sell out, so my advice is to act quickly if you've missed out on the previous limited editions.

The discs can be ordered now directly from Quartet, or pre-ordered from Screen Archives Entertainment:

Casino Royale
The Russia House

Coming on the heels of La-La Land's recent expanded Die Another Day score, this winter is proving a boom time for collectors of spy soundtracks!

Dec 1, 2017

New JACK RYAN Trailer

Amazon has offered fans another glimpse today at their upcoming Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan TV series. John Krasinski (13 Hours) stars as Clancy's famous CIA analyst hero in an original storyline not based on one of the books. Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.) and Graham Roland (Lost) run the show and executive produce along with Mace Neufeld, Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, Andrew Form, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross. Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan will premiere sometime next year on Amazon Prime. (And it's one of the spy events I'm most looking forward to in 2018!)


Nov 25, 2017

Expanded DIE ANOTHER DAY Soundtrack

La-La Land Records, the company behind such spy fan favorites as the Mission: Impossible television soundtrack box set and this year's fantastic Wild Wild West TV soundtrack, has announced the first authorized, expanded release in fifteen years of any James Bond score that isn't called Casino Royale. And it might seem at first like a surprising title to get that treatment: the 2002 Pierce Brosnan movie Die Another Day, scored by David Arnold. While relatively few fans would put forth Die Another Day as one of the series' best entries, I've always enjoyed Arnold's score in the film. The original soundtrack album, however (issued on the Warner label), was disappointing, as it left off many of my favorite pieces, instead squandering precious data space on "enhanced CD" frills like two music videos, a music video making-of, and a "James Bond Poster Gallery." So, personally, I welcome an expanded Die Another Day score! Especially since this one contains the track I've most wanted ever since crashing the movie's Los Angeles premiere: "Cuban Car," Arnold's spectacular, Cuban-tinged take on the James Bond Theme that plays when 007 drives a 1957 Ford Fairlane out of Havana. But La-La Land's 2-disc release contains a lot more new music than just that track.

Featuring more than an hour of never-before-released score music, the whole album runs over 148 minutes (48 tracks compared to the original release's 15)--longer than the run time of the film itself. This is because it includes alternate versions and different mixes, and even orchestra-only versions of tracks that were originally fortified with a lot of 2002-appropriate electronica. The mixture of "the time-honored romance and swagger of classic Bond," as the press release puts it, and "cutting-edge electronics" (a mixture first brought to the series by John Barry on his final Bond score, The Living Daylights) was a particular specialty of Arnold's at this time, and for those of us steeped in the electronica of the era (the sound of my college years!), it was thrilling. He first tantalized us with the Propellerheads collaboration "Backseat Driver" in the largely traditional Tomorrow Never Dies, then fully committed to the electronica sound in his second score, The World Is Not Enough and its signature instrumental "Ice Bandits." Die Another Day was probably his most even balance of traditional and electronic, before (appropriately) taking the series back to its more classic sound with the 2006 Daniel Craig reboot Casino Royale. One of Arnold's particular skills is the ability to create a score that completely captures its time (in this case 2002), but in a timeless manner that doesn't sound instantly dated (like the aural cocaine of Bill Conti's disco-infused For Your Eyes Only).

Produced by David Arnold and Neil S. Bulk (a dyed-in-the-wool Bond fan as well an expert in his field), and mastered by Doug Schwartz from new transfers of analog stereo tapes provided by the composer, La-La Land promises, "this 2-CD deluxe presentation showcases Arnold’s score in a revelatory fashion that’s sure to leave listeners shaken and stirred in the best possible way!" It also features in-depth liner notes by Tim Greiving, "including new comments by the composer." Strictly limited to 5,000 units and retailing for $29.98, the double-disc album will be available to order from the La-La Land website as of noon Pacific Time on Monday, November 28--just in time for the holidays and making the perfect stocking stuffer for the Bond fan in your life. ("I thought Christmas only comes once a year!" Sorry; wrong Brosnan movie.)

Here's the full track listing for La-La Land's 2-disc, expanded Die Another Day:

Disc 1 (Score Presentation)
1. On the Beach (extended version)**† 3:56
2. Bond Meets Moon* / Hovercrafts* 2:16
3. How Do You Intend to Kill Me Now, Mr. Bond?* 2:02
4. Hovercraft Chase† 3:48
5. Bond to Jail* :49
6. Some Kind of Hero? 4:32
7. Kiss of Life*† 4:46
8. Peaceful Fountains of Desire* 1:05
9. What’s In it For You?* / Cuba* 1:21
10. Cuban Car*† :50
11. Jinx Jordan 1:28
12. Jinx & James 2:03
13. Wheelchair Access*† 2:22
14. Jinx, James and Genes* 5:14
15. Gustav Graves’ Grand Entrance*† 1:34
16. Blades*† 3:12
17. Bond Gets the Key* / Virtual Reality*† 2:01
18. The Vanish* / Bond Goes to Iceland*† 2:10
19. The Explanation* 1:36
20. Icarus 1:23
21. Ice Spy*† 3:00
22. A Touch of Frost 1:50
23. Laser Fight 4:36
24. It Belongs to His Boss* / Double Agent* 2:34
25. Whiteout† 4:55
26. Bond Kidnaps Skidoo*† 2:29
27. Iced Inc.† 3:08
28. Ice Palace Car Chase*† 4:57
Total disc 1 time = 76:47

Disc 2 (Score Presentation Continued)
1. Switchblades*† 3:23
2. Antonov 11:51
3. Antonov Gets It*† 3:20
4. Moneypenny Gets It* 1:11
5. Going Down Together 1:32
Total score time = 98:04

Additional Music
6. On the Beach† 2:50
7. Hovercraft Chase (film version)**† 3:47
8. Some Kind of Hero? (film version)** 4:32
9. Peaceful Fountains of Desire (alternate ending)* 1:06
10. What’s In it For You? (orchestra only)* :41
11. Welcome to Cuba 2:07
12. Jinx Jordan (orchestra only)** 1:28
13. Jinx & James (film version)** 2:07
14. Wheelchair Access (original version)*† 2:22
15. Party Trick (source)* 1:37
16. A Touch of Frost (film version)** 1:50
17. Laser Fight (film version)** 4:38
18. Whiteout (full mix)**† 4:55
19. Antonov (film version)** 11:51
20. James Bond Will Return*† 3:54
Total additional music = 49:45
Total disc 2 time = 71:43
Total album running time = 148:30

* Previously unreleased
** Contains previously unreleased material
† Contains “James Bond Theme” written by Monty Norman

Not included, you'll notice, are the dreadful title song by Madonna (my personal least favorite of the series... which isn't to say I don't own the single, with its six club remixes!) or "Bond Vs. Oakenfold," Paul Oakenfold's remix of The James Bond Theme (somewhat lacking in comparison to the awesome Moby "re-version" of just five years earlier), so you completists may want to hang onto your original Warner Bros. soundtrack album as well. (The music video making-of is actually pretty good, too, as much as I disapprove of such content on CDs, and I don't believe it's included on the Die Another Day Blu-ray.)

Nov 6, 2017

Tradecraft: Ed Brubaker's Comic Book VELVET Coming to Television


According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount Television is developing a series for its corporate sibling The Paramount Network (as Spike TV is soon rebranding) based on Ed Brubaker's acclaimed Image Comics series Velvet. After their historic, espionage-tinged run on Marvel's Captain America (a run which saw the introduction of the Winter Soldier and the death of Steve Rogers, and largely shaped the cinematic Cap), writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting reunited at Image to create the Cold War-era female spy series Velvet. The premise is basically, "What if Moneypenny was really a badass secret agent in her own right?" posed before Dynamite Entertainment decided to take the actual character in that direction in their own comics. Only Brubaker's premise continued "...and she had to solve/avenge the murder of 007?" It's an interesting starting point, and it fuels an exciting story rich in the conventions of the genre while also subverting them.

Kyle Killen (Lone Star, Awake) will pen the pilot script, while Brubaker and Epting themselves will serve in producing capacities. Velvet is a great comic that would make a great TV show. I really hope this makes it to series, and I really hope Paramount keeps the comic's period setting.

Want to get caught up on the comic before it comes to television? Every issue of Velvet to date has been collected in a massive (yet affordable!) deluxe hardcover edition, available from Amazon.

Nov 5, 2017

Tradecraft: Munn Replaces Saldana on Assassin Pic HUMMINGBIRD

We heard back in February that Columbiana's Zoe Saldana would be taking another crack at the assassin genre with John Tyler McClain's Black List script Hummingbird. But now Deadline reports that due to a scheduling conflict with the Avatar sequels, Saldana has had to bail out. Now Olivia Munn (Mortdecai) will replace Saldana as a "black-ops assassin whose latest mark forces her to confront her true identity." Videogame veterans Marcus Kryler and Fredrik Akerström will direct.

Park Chan-Wook to Direct le Carré Miniseries THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, According to Daily Mail

Bart Forbes' frontispiece for the 1983 Knopf limited edition
I don't normally post news items originating in UK tabloids, but this is too dynamite to let pass. And besides, it comes from The Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye, who has proven time and again to be the exception to the tabloid rule, and provided many solid scoops in the past. His track record with spy movies (and particularly James Bond) is especially good. According to Bamigboye, the next BBC/AMC John le Carré miniseries production following the enormous success of The Night Manager will be The Little Drummer Girl, based on the author's 1983 novel. Once again, The Ink Factory (le Carré's sons' production company) will produce, and once again they've proven to have impeccable taste when it comes to directors. Bamigboye reports that legendary Korean director Park Chan-Wook will helm! For those of you familiar with the auteur's work, let that sink in and bask in the sheer awesomeness of the possibility. For those of you who don't know, Park, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy helmer Tomas Alfredson, is a master visual stylist. While he has directed a spy-themed movie before, 2000's Joint Security Area, he is better known for his Vengeance Trilogy, which includes his most famous film, Oldboy. He also helmed the stellar and unique vampire tale Thirst, the Hitchcockian English-language suspense film Stoker, and the sublime 2016 erotic con artist thriller The Handmaiden, based on the Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith. (For my money, that one's his masterpiece to date.) I would be excited about any Park Chan-Wook miniseries. And I would be excited (obviously!) about any John le Carré miniseries. Put together, I'm ecstatic! I really, really hope that Bamigboye is on the money this time.

According to the report, British actress Florence Pugh, who shot to fame with this year's Lady Macbeth and will next be seen as Cordelia to Anthony Hopkins' King Lear in a star-studded BBC production, will take on the lead role of Charlie, a naive young actress recruited by Israeli Intelligence into the "theatre of the real"--to infiltrate a Palestinian terror organization. She soon finds herself seduced by both sides and caught in the middle. Bamigboye reports that the 6-part miniseries will shoot in 2018 and retain the novel's late Seventies/early Eighties setting (though the subject matter obviously still rings topical today). The Little Drummer Girl was previously filmed by George Roy Hill as a feature in 1984, starring a notoriously miscast Diane Keaton.

Locations in the novel include London, Mykonos, Munich, Vienna, Bonn and Tel Aviv, but there's no way of knowing at this stage which ones will be used in the miniseries. (Key book locations were changed and omitted from The Night Manager.) Bamigboye does report, however, that Park "intends to make good use of locations."

This is a very, very exciting project that I'll certainly be keeping a close eye on. Let's hope for some official announcements soon!

Thanks to Casey and Clarissa for the heads-up on this one!

Nov 2, 2017

Trailer: J.K. Simmons' New Berlin-set Spy-Fi Series

Starz has premiered the first trailer for Counterpart, their upcoming Berlin-set, Cold War-inspired spy series with a sci-fi twist. And it looks, frankly, pretty freaking awesome! J.K. Simmons (Burn After Reading) stars–in dual roles, no less!–along with Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer), Ulrich Thomsen (The World is Not Enough), Stephen Rea (The Honourable Woman), and Sarah Bolger (Stormbreaker). Justin Marks (The Jungle Book) created the series, and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) directs the first two episodes. Simmons plays a low-level bureaucrat at a Berlin-based U.N. intelligence agency whose life changes when he receives a walk-in defector from "the other side"–his own doppelganger. Counterpart premieres January 21, 2018.

Nov 1, 2017

Batman Drives Bond's Aston

In issue #2 of Sean Murphy's Batman: White Knight miniseries, on shelves today, a tuxedoed Bruce Wayne is shown arriving at a party in a car instantly familiar to James Bond fans. And, should there be any doubt, Murphy has given it the license plate "DALTON007." The car, of course, is the Aston Martin Vantage driven by Timothy Dalton as Agent 007 in The Living Daylights (1987). And Murphy, who is best known for Vertigo titles like American Vampire, Joe the Barbarian, and Punk Rock Jesus, sure draws it nicely! (Man, I would love to see him do a Bond comic for Dynamite....) Bond himself was drawn driving this car by John M. Burns in the 1993 Dark Horse miniseries James Bond: A Silent Armageddon.

Of course, this is far from the first Aston Martin originally made famous by Bond to be driven by Bruce Wayne. In fact, Batman's playboy alter-ego has a fairly extensive history with the marque. He's been drawn driving Astons in several comics, most notably when artist Jim Lee put him in a Vanquish in the third issue of his and Jeff Loeb's landmark Batman story, Hush. That was in 2002, the same year that Pierce Brosnan drove a Vanquish in Die Another Day. But the association has also been present in movies. I think it was James Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz who first put Bruce Wayne in an Aston Martin in his unfilmed 1983 Batman movie script. Zach Snyder finally realized that ambition onscreen in his (otherwise abysmal) 2016 movie Batman vs. Superman, in which Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne drives a classic 1950s Aston Martin DB Mk III, the very car that Ian Fleming had 007 drive in his novel Goldfinger! (By the time the story was filmed, it made sense to update it to the then-current DB5, and thus history was made.) The same type of car might also be familiar to spy fans from appearances in the premiere episode of Danger Man,  and in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. Season 2 episode "The Children's Day Affair."

For more on Batman/Bond connections, check out this 2008 article, "His Name is Wayne, Bruce Wayne."

Oct 31, 2017

The Double O Section is 11 Years Old

I haven't had too much time to post lately, but I still wanted to follow tradition and mark this blog's 11th anniversary. It's kind of odd that I don't remember beginning this rather time-consuming but thoroughly enjoyable hobby at Halloween time, but I think that was probably the same year I first wore my Prisoner costume, which I've trotted out again and again many times since. So there was probably some spy synergy in the air. Well, there definitely was, since Casino Royale was right around the corner, along with a batch of Special Edition James Bond DVDs we were all quite excited about. For a nostalgic look at what spy things were exciting eleven years ago, take a look at my very first series of posts--a list about exactly that. Of course there are lots more great spy things to be excited about now, and I look forward to blogging about all of them! I expect to be posting a lot more in November than I was able to in October. Happy Halloween, and thanks for reading all these years!

Tradecraft: Networks Pursue Spy Comedies

Apparently spy comedies are hot this season. Two separate networks are developing them. CBS's is called Need To Know, according to Deadline, and is a traditional multi-camera sitcom set at the CIA. The pilot was co-written by Scott Weinger (a writer on Galavant and Black-ish, but perhaps best known as the voice of title character in Disney's Aladdin) and Zach Ayers (State of Affairs), based on Ayers' own experiences working for the CIA's top secret training video department. Actor Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory, Florence Foster Jenkins) and actress Jocelyn Towne will produce through their company Wildline Entertainment. 

Meanwhile, according to a separate Deadline story, ABC has won a bidding war with a put-pilot commitment for action-comedy Whiskey Cavalier, starring Scott Foley (Scandal), written by David Hemingson (The Catch) and produced by Bill Lawrence (Rush Hour, Cougar Town). According to the trade, "Whiskey Cavalier follows the adventures of FBI agent Will Chase (codename: Whiskey Cavalier) — played by Foley — who, following an emotional break-up, is assigned to work with CIA operative Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge (codename: Fiery Tribune). Together, they lead an inter-agency team of spies who periodically save the world (and each other) while navigating the rocky roads of friendship, romance and office politics." Personally, I really like the idea of an Avengers-style will they or won't they male/female duo adventure series set against the backdrop of inter-agency rivalry! I hope this one moves forward.

Oct 7, 2017

Trailer: Amazon's JACK RYAN Series

Today at the New York Comic Con Amazon unveiled the first extensive look at their upcoming series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski (13 Hours) as the CIA analyst previously embodied by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine. I like that Ryan protests being sent to interrogate someone, insisting he's just an analyst... but I'm a little worried about how quickly the trailer cuts to Ryan running around with a gun. I think the key to successfully adapting Clancy's books is making sure that Ryan always remains an analyst, and when he gets into extraordinary situations (like a shootout on a nuclear submarine, or dangling from the open door of Air Force One on a Moscow runway) it's clear that, while capable, he is severely out of his element. Here's hoping that's exactly what this contemporary update of Clancy's classic character who originated in the Cold War does!

Tradecraft: Titan Announces New PRISONER Comic Book

Unpublished art by Gil Kane, inked by
Steve Leialoha 
Patrick McGoohan's iconic Sixties ITC series The Prisoner has been returning in a lot of different mediums lately. Big Finish did a surprisingly good job with their audio adventures, which are not so much sequel, remake, or reboot as an alternate version of the original story. The less said about AMC's 2009 miniseries version, the better. Now Titan Comics have announced a new Prisoner comic book. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the comic will be out next year with Peter Milligan (X-Statix, Hellblazer, Human Target) writing and Colin Lorimar (The X-Files) illustrating. While The Prisoner celebrated the 50th anniversary of its UK debut last week, the comic will be timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its American broadcast. It won't be set in the Sixties and it won't focus on McGoohan's iconoclastic Number 6; instead it will be a contemporary continuation of the original story, focusing on Number 6's modern-day successor. I first became a fan of Milligan's on his controversial run on X-Force (which became X-Statix), a twisted, surreal, and highly irreverent approach to a beloved property that in my mind makes him the perfect scribe for a modern-day Prisoner comic. "For a story where all is ambiguous," he told the trade, "it’s hardly surprising that everyone takes from The Prisoner something different. Like most people I had my own theories, my own twisted notions – mostly Kafkaesque and existential — of what was really going on in those mock Italianate dwellings. Personally, the stranger and more baffling it was, the better it suited me."

The Prisoner will fit well in Titan Comics' impressive roster of iconic British brands. The company currently has licences to publish comics based on Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Hammer horror (I encourage all Brian Clemens fans to seek out their new Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter comic!), among other popular UK-based TV and movie properties. Wouldn't it be fantastic if The Prisoner proves successful enough to lead to comic book revivals of other ITC classics?!

This is far from the first Prisoner comic book. The most famous adaptation to that medium may be one that was sadly never published, the great Jack Kirby's legendary attempt for Marvel in the early Seventies. Before that, another comics superstar, Gil Kane, made an attempt (scripted by Steve Englehart) that also went unpublished. (In news that might even be more exciting than the new comic, Titan will also be producing an oversized hardcover Artist Edition presenting the original art for both of these never-published adaptations! I'll post more news on that as I can get it.) In 1988, DC published the 4-volume, prestige format The Prisoner: Shattered Visage by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith, a then-contemporary sequel to the original series featuring an aged Number 6. The most recent Prisoner comic was published by Marvel in 2009, and tied in with the AMC miniseries, not the original show. While I'd love most to see new stories about McGoohan's Number 6, based on Titan's track record and Milligan's stellar past work, I'm very much looking forward to this modern take!

Sep 30, 2017

Tradecraft: Bond Producers Tap Jude Law for Next Spy Movie; Paramount to Distribute

Let the speculation end. James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have chosen their next leading man: Jude Law. This, of course, is not for the untitled Bond 25, which we all know will star Daniel Craig (the man himself announced it on Stephen Colbert's show over the summer), but for their female spy franchise starter The Rhythm Section, in which Law (Spy) will play opposite star Blake Lively. Variety reports that Paramount will handle worldwide distribution, which is new information since the film was first announced in July. IM Global will finance, and Wilson and Broccoli will produce through EON Productions. Unlike a lot of non-Bond films announced by EON (including the spy movies Remote Control and No Place to Hide), it looks like The Rhythm Section will actually happen. According to the trade, "the film will begin production this fall and will likely shoot in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland." No details are offered on what kind of role Law will play in the adaptation of Mark Burnell's 1999 novel.

While I'm hugely excited about the prospect of EON launching a franchise centered on a female spy, the most interesting news in the Variety story is the part about Paramount. If EON are working with that studio, could that be a hint that they will also partner on the next Bond movie? EON and MGM are currently seeking a distribution partner following the expiration of their Sony deal after SPECTRE, and several studios, including Paramount (as well as upstarts like Annapurna, Amazon, and Apple), are said to be eagerly pursuing the opportunity. Could Paramount's involvement in The Rhythm Section be part of a larger deal including 007, or possibly a trial run for EON to see how they like working with the studio? Only time will tell, but the prospect is an interesting one. Paramount, of course, already has a robust spy franchise in Mission: Impossible, but are probably eager for more, especially after the Jack Ryan brand moved to television.

Sep 28, 2017

New Spy Blu-Rays Out This Week: OSS 117 and DIMENSION 5

Kino-Lorber unleashed a tidal wave of Sixties spy goodness (and a little enjoyable Sixties spy mediocrity as well) in high definition this week. The main attraction is definitely their OSS 117 Five Film Collection, a glorious box set of five of the best Eurospy films of all – the Andre Hunebelle-produced OSS 117 movies. The B-picture on this bill is Dimension 5, an American poverty row spy picture from 1966 best known for co-starring Oddjob himself, Harold Sakata, as the Yellow Peril baddie, Big Buddha. None of these movies have been available before in America in legitimate digital form, so Kino are also offering both the OSS 117 set and Dimension 5 in standard def on DVD.

The OSS 117 Five Film Collection doesn't include all the OSS 117 films, but it does include all the Hunebelle-produced ones, which are the ones that matter most. Kerwin Mathews (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) stars in the first two, Frederick Stafford (Topaz) in the next two, and John Gavin (the American actor who was actually cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever before a record-setting million dollar payday lured Sean Connery back into the fold) stars in the final film. While most audiences are probably familiar with Agent OSS 117 (if at all) through the superb Jean Dujardin spoof movies from the 2000s, Jean Bruce's literary character actually pre-dates 007. Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name OSS 117, appeared in over 200 novels and a handful of films, of which the ones presented here are the most essential. For more on OSS 117, read my in-depth overview of the character and his screen appearances here.

I've reviewed each of these movies individually before, but off of gray market English-dubbed DVDs. I'll update my reviews soon to address the Kino Blu-rays, which appear to use the same HD transfers as the recent French Blu-rays from Gaumont. OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963, review here) may be black and white, but it's a few years ahead of From Russia With Love, incorporating terrific underwater action with its villains' lairs and breathtaking European locations well before Bond ever made a dive on screen. OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok (1964, review here) follows Mathews to Thailand, where he takes on a caped supervillain. OSS 117: Mission for a Killer (1965, review here) introduces Stafford, co-starring with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Mylène Demongeot (Fantomas), one of the most beautiful Eurospy babes of all. They hunt Nazis in Brazil, providing a lot of the basis for the later Dujardin parody movies. OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo (1966, review here) is my favorite film of the batch, and again beats Bond to the punch on multiple counts, including many Tokyo locations, geisha baths, and a ship with a bow that opens to swallow up smaller ships. It's tempting to credit the extra Bondian touches to co-writer Terrence Young (director of several seminal Connery Bond flicks), but his actual involvement is said to have been minimal. OSS 117: Double Agent (1968, review here) has plenty of Bond connections of its own. Beyond star Gavin being a notable footnote in 007 lore, legitimate Bond players Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and Curd Jurgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) also star. For my money, Jurgens actually makes a more memorable OSS 117 villain than Bond villain.

All five films are top-tier Eurospy movies. They've also got considerably higher budgets than most Euro flicks of the era (though still not in the Bond league, of course), making them great stepping stones from 007 into the world of his imitators. From what I've had a chance to sample, the high-def transfers look fantastic. My only gripes with Kino's set are that they didn't port over (and sub) the copious extras from the French DVD set, and, more crucially, that they didn't include English audio options. All of these movies were originally dubbed (and quite well) for American release. According to Kino, they were unable to locate those elements in a condition that matched the quality of the remastered picture. Alas. But the English subtitles are excellent, and the French audio sounds great. Overall, this is probably the best treatment any Eurospy movies have ever been given in the United States! And at just under $35 on Amazon, this set is a deal no Bond fan or Eurospy fan can pass up!

Original Enterprise captain Jeffrey Hunter is Justin Power, the spy tasked with taking out Big Buddha in the decidedly lower budgeted Dimension 5. Hunter is a compelling enough leading man, but Power is an unmitigated jerk in the worst Eurospy tradition – and a fairly inept agent to boot. France Nuyen (familiar to spy fans from her many episodes of I Spy) is his Chinese-American support who has all the good ideas, most of which Power ignores since she's a woman. (So astonished is Power when his cut-rate Mr. Waverly boss assigns him a partner with a tiny waist size that the guesses "small boy" and "dwarf" occur to him before female.) Since he can't rely on his wits, Power has to rely on the most preposterous spy gadget ever, a time travel belt. It's slow and it's bad, but if you're a fan of the genre, you probably still need it! Dimension 5 has long deserved a home video release of some sort; I'm kind of shocked the sort ended up being a remastered 4K HD scan! It still doesn't look that great... but it sure looks a heck of a lot better than the grey market copy I reviewed back in 2008. Read that review here.

Please order through the links on this page to support the Double O Section!

Order the OSS 117 Five Film Collection on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Order the OSS 117 Five Film Collection on DVD from Amazon.
Order Dimension 5 on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Order Dimension 5 on DVD from Amazon.

Read my Introduction to OSS 117 here.
Read my review of OSS 117 is Unleashed here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Mission for a Killer here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Double Agent here.
Read my review of Dimension 5 here.