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Le point de mire

Oswald's ghost
For those who like fast moving plots and every two minutes at least three bodies, this movie (translated "Focal Point") will be a terrible disappointment. There will be three bodies for sure, but in the whole movie. It starts with a photographer, who dies – apparently accidentally - in Antwerp. His wife gets intrigued by the affair, not realizing that all here moves are closely watched by people she trusts, and even by her neighbors. Slowly but surely a plot is unveiled, that has lots of similarities with Lee Harvey Oswald's tragic adventure, if Arlen Spector will forgive me not to believe in magic... It's a so-so movie, very French, very 1970's, that seems sponsored by Gitanes cigarettes. The music alternates all the time, now you hear cheerful accordion, then it are somber, menacing notes. During the latter, often close ups of a black American car is personifying that looming menace, moving in for the final kill as a wolf pack.

Singer Jacques Dutronc ("worldfamous in France" with songs like "Il est cinq heures, Paris s'éveille" plays one of the conspirators, but that's rather PR than a real bonus. Serge Gainsbourg too did some similar stints, that must have been fun for his fans, but didn't really lifted those movies to a higher echelon. I'd rate Point de mire 6,5/10, it's not terribly bad, but it is not super either. If you like this kind of "lone nut" set ups, you'd better go for "I...comme Icare" with Yves Montand.

Train d'enfer

My name is Donadieu, An-toi-ne-Do-na-dieu
When fishermen find the body of a dead man in their nets, secret agent Antoine Donadieu starts investigating the murder. He soon learns that a Chriscraft that might have something to do with the murder has been spotted by a witness. It leads Donadieu to a luxurious villa, where some strange characters are living, including a violent valet called Hamlet, a painter with some resemblance with Salvator Dali and a gorgeous Senta Berger-like vamp with tempting lips, played by Austrian belle Marisa Mell (1939-1992). (After a terrible car crash in 1963, two years before this movie was made, she underwent heavy plastic surgery in the face)

Donadieu is an unconvincing answer to James Bond,unraveling a plot that might have endangered world peace. But except for an American car with a telephone, Donadieu's impressive knowledge of judo and karate and a laser gun, there are no exotic weapons nor fancy gadgets in the movie. The plot is only moderately enjoyable, and nor the beautiful locations, nor some nice cars (watch out for the superb silver Alfa Romeo sports-car) nor Mell can save this movie.

With his 52 years, Jean Marais was already an aging actor, and it really shows. Frankly, I don't get it, why his presence is supposed to be a plus for this movie. Furthermore, this film somehow hesitates too much between a serious spy flick à la "Spy who came in..." and a funny parody. It definitely is rather the latter, but it misses the humor and wild exaggerations which make Bond fans enthusiastic. As such, Train d'Enfer might be a disappointment for both Le Carré-fans and Bond-aficionados. Cameo role for reporter-radio star-actor and "Grosse Tête" Leon Zitrone (1914-1995)

I'd rate it something between 5 and 6/10. Based on the French video issued by Video Paradiso (VHS 508886)

Espion, lève-toi

When sleepers meet the Big Sleep
Sebastien Grenier is a successful French businessman, who has been living in Switserland for several years. He's married to a German professor of literature. But Grenier has a secret: he used to be a field agent for the French secret service SDECE. However, as the years went by, he certainly don't expect a wake up call any longer. He couldn't have been more wrong… Similarly as with CIA-agents, once SDECE, always SDECE… He's played by a somewhat grumpy, tired looking Lino Ventura.

It all starts with a RAF style execution of a passenger in a tramway by a leftist terrorist group. From then on, Grenier gets caught in a whirlwind of events, leading to several other violent deaths. The "where's" and "when's" of these events are announced in a cool voice by a narrator. (Several other spy movies use a similar semi-documentary approach, others use a "telex"-message for the same purpose). The first victim is Henri Marchand, another SDECE-agent, played by Bernard Fresson. Many Americans will remember him as the French commissaire Barthélémy in French Connection II, with his funny clashes with "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hacklman.

Grenier soon realizes that he might not live very long anymore. But who is the spider in the deadly web around him ? Is it the mysterious and cold "Richard", played by Bruno Cremer ?(of "Maigret"-fame). Or is it Jean-Paul Chance, a slick Swiss high official from the Justice Department, who seems to be extremely well informed by whatever Grenier is doing. (Chance is played by Michel Piccoli, who clearly enjoys irritating the Grenier-character). Who's systematically knocking out several pawns on the international chess game, and why ? In the end, the French former agent will manage to shed some light into some dark corners. What he doesn't realize is that the gun, pointed at his back is hidden in another shadowy corner. Or is he ?

Not a bad movie, but by far not as good as "Le silencieux" (1973, also with Ventura. Maybe the movie doesn't really manages to create a real mysterious atmosphere of clear and present danger, as for example "La septième cible" manages to do in a better way. The way the secret agents communicate with each other also has something laughable, it all looks so terribly boyscoutish. It also made me seasick to see how sparkless the Grenier-Gretz "couple" apparently had become. They were clearly at the brink of a total burn out, before death took its toll… In fact, the whole movie has something extremely depressing: the tired looks of Grenier, his moody interactions with his business collaborator, his secretary and his wife, and every one involved in the story. The soundtrack consists of a sober, efficient but also somewhat depressing march, yet another Morricone creation. Even the landscapes of Switserland surely wouldn't be the ones I would use to attract more tourists

Londra chiama Polo Nord

Courteous Curt's Englandspiel
Fairly close based on the Englandspiel-episode during the Second World War. An Abwehr or Counterspy unit of the German Army (unit III-F) manages to capture an English radio-operator dropped in the occupied Netherlands. In stead of torturing or executing him, like the Gestapo surely would have done, Colonel Bernes (Curd Jürgens) treats the prisoner with respect and according to international laws.

After a while he persuades the prisoner to send a new radio message to London. As taught during his training, the British agent deliberately makes no mistakes in his message. This should have set off alarm bells across the Chanel, as he normally was supposed to make well defined mistakes at specific places in his message. Such an extra security measure is called a "security check".

To his amazement though, London goes on sending agents , weapons, munitions and all kind of goods to the Netherlands. In the meantime, a German radio operator has closely studied the way the "signature" of the British radio-operator, and is soon able to imitate his way of communicating perfectly. When a captured British agent manages to escape and to get back to England, Bernes's operation is in danger. But the German fox has other tricks on his sleeve… In real life, this Operation Nordpol was led by Major Hermann Giskes (1896-1977). His team managed to arrest 59 agents between 1941 and 1943, from which 54 were executed in September 1944.

It is still inconclusive whether the British made terrible mistakes, leading to the death of more than 40 agents, or whether they knew what had happened, but deliberately went on sending agents to the Netherlands, supposedly to mislead the Germans. Some researchers claim the idea might have been to make Berlin believe that an invasion soon would take place in Western Europe. This way London was hoping to keep as much as possible German soldiers in the Netherlands, giving the Russians more time to organize their counter offensive on the Eastern Front. As long as the British refuse to give access to all the SOE archives, the truth will remain buried. And since opening up the archives would reveal either incompetence OR incredible cynicism, it is rather unlikely that this will soon take place.

Historically relatively accurate, and an interesting movie for "completists" of 'serious' spy movies. Jürgens plays an almost father-like figure, a courteous gentlemen, just doing his job, without hate or fanaticism. Based on the German version of the movie.

Blind Ambition

And I know, from first hand experience...
(spoiler alert)

US domestic policy was completely shaken up in the 1970's by what was happening in South-East Asia, and of course by the Watergate-scandal. This TV series is an account of the latter, mainly based on the book "Blind Ambition" of John Wesley Dean III, one of the key figures of that episode. This production also was based on the autobiography "Mo" written by his wife Maureen

After some years in the Justice Department, Dean was asked to join the White House Staff as a counsel to the President while still being in his early thirties. We see his gradual rise on "Macho Mountain" as he called it. Although he is a counsel to the President, he hardly has any direct contact with the "P", until the Watergate Scandal erupted. Then, things radically changed. Dean became a kind of Hans Brinker,putting his fingers in the dike whenever water started to threatened to drown the President. In the end however, there were too many holes for only 10 fingers. When Investigators and the press started to close in on Nixon, Chief of Staff Haldeman and Domestic Affairs Adviser Ehlrichman tried to protect their King by throwing Dean to the wolves, sacrificing him like a pawn. Dean however was far too well acquainted with those kind of political chess board tactics, not to see the danger. His loyalty to the President had its limits: he refused to become a scapegoat. He hired a very expensive but skillful criminal lawyer, and started to fight back against his former employer, the President of the USA.

Watergate was a far more complicated story than the "third rate burglary" White House press attaché Ziegler suggested it was. There also was the break in in the offices of D. Ellsberg's psychiatrist, the childish dirty tricks D. Segretti was inventing to cause confusion and havoc in the Democratic Party, the attempts to tamper with documents to make it look like JFK ordered the murder of Vietnamese president Diem, etc. A story with a bunch of rather colorful figures à la Liddy with his bizarre Gemstone-charts and his Love Boat-project (see below), CIA-man and spy novelist Hunt, shady anti-Castro Cubans, well dressed men carrying attaché cases with tens of thousands of dollars of hush money... You'll meet them all in this interesting TV series. So, I do not really agree with one of the reviewers here, who wrote that watching this TV series makes it unnecessary to read 2O books about Watergate. If you are only moderately interested in politics, and haven't the slightest idea about who Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Ziegler, Colson, Gordon Liddy, Howard E Hunt, Donald Segretti & Co. were, you won't be able to understand the complicated storyline. A storyline that follows the real events, or at least, the story as told by John Dean. But then again, the same is true for other Watergate movies like "All the President's men" and "The final days".

I therefore would recommend the viewer to first read at least one good book on Watergate, or at least some Wikipedia fact sheets. Drawing up a short "Who was who during Watergate" also certainly helps, if you want to enjoy these interesting but complicated movies.

Also, always keep in mind that not all participants in the Watergate Scandal agree with Dean's version of the facts. Gordon Liddy for ex. has a very different recollection of what happened in the early 1970's. He also got into a serious legal battle with Dean, when he started to claim that Maureen Dean had been part of a call girl ring. But then again, Liddy probably never forgave Dean for having made fun of him during his dry and serious exposé of his strange Gemstone plan. Liddy also wanted to hire a boat and to change it into a floating bordello with the intention of blackmailing well known Democrats. When he told his small audience that the broads he had in mind could be well trained for the job, and that he knew "from first hand experience" that they were not stupid, Dean couldn't resist bursting into laughter because of Liddy's unlucky way of expressing what he meant. Liddy pleaded guilty after Watergate, and insisted on staying in prison until the last day of his 55 months sentence to show the world his loyalty. He considered Dean to be disloyal and a traitor.

Also, not all events are explained very well in "Blind ambition". For example, who the heck is the French "madame" Dean is "visiting" while in Paris: how did he know her, and what is her exact role in the Watergate scandal ? She seems to be very well informed and interested about the political events taking place in Washington.

I don't think Sheen did a bad job as an actor in this TV series. However, when you compare his looks with those of the real Dean, you really wonder why he was selected for this role. Sometimes he rather looks like James Dean than like John Wesley Dean in this movie. Why not having given the role of Maureen Dean to let's say Farah Fawcett then, it would have been equally illogical.

Frankly, I also had expected a more hyper-kinetic, mean looking Chief of Staff Haldeman, snapping orders at the speed of a Gatling gun, and picking in everyone's feathers all the time. In stead we got a relatively nice version of "the Brush" as he was known in those days. I also expected a far more cynical Domestic Affairs Assistant Ehrlichman, underlining systematically his dissatisfaction about the bunglers surrounding him by raising one eyebrow as he was known to do. However, the pipe-smoking actor portraying Chief Justice Mitchell really was a cool Doppelgänger !

Except for those little flaws, a very good movie, but only recommended for people interested in political scandals, American history, law students, future journalists etc.

Dark City

What's your excuse Danny ?
The description "Film Noir" still seems to cause lots of confusion: some people seem to think that every black & white movie with some cynicism in it is a Noir movie. By extension, Dark City is often labeled as Noir. It's OK with me to use jargon, but let's only use it correctly, shall we…

Although Dark City certainly has elements of the Noir genre, there is a very simple reason why this movie really don't qualify as such: indeed the cynical main character Dan Haley slowly but surely turns into a better man, gradually allowing his conscience to play a more important role in his life, and taking several correcting steps after a life of causing sadness and anger. In the end, there's even the promise of a bright future for him with torch singer Fran. All this is very un-Noir ! That doesn't make it all of a sudden a bad movie. On the contrary !

To me, Dark City actually has a very clever psychological plot. All along the way, we get bits of information about why Haley has become a cynical hoodlum. He has been a courageous soldier during the war, but the infidelity of his British wife led him to kill her new love interest. Charges against him were dropped, but it clearly left him quite cynical about interpersonal relationships. Still, he's not rotten to the core. We get first evidence of this, when he discovers that his poker game buddy Augie has been cheating in a game that left L.A. business man Arthur Winant penniless.

Another indication of his double feelings about the world around him can be found in his relationship with Fran:

Fran: Don't you ever need somebody Danny ? Danny: What for ? Fran: Just to need…

Although he keeps on pushing lovesick Fran away when she's once more trying to get too close to him, he will remain -in his own particular way- loyal to her.

So, if one of the reviewers complaints about the lack of chemistry between Heston and Scott, he seems to have completely missed the point this movie is trying to make. Of course there are no sparks flying around here !!! Heston's character is still too much influenced by his troubled past, by the betrayal of his love by his British wife and a friend. He's still in the process of adapting, of regaining some hope. In the end of the movie, he's only beginning to think about romancing again.

Then, several small elements distributed cleverly along the storyline like Tom Thumb's crumbs will lead to big changes in Haley's life. His friend Soldier's remark that he's "Worse than the others" is one of these little seeds, that makes him reflect about his actions. Another one is dropped, when Swede tells him about the Irish boy he killed during a boxing contest. Swede brought all the money he could find to the mother of the deceased young man, but she spat him in the face. This element makes Haley review his reactions concerning Victoria. Victoria too has an important impact on his life, as he sees how she's taking care of Billy, protecting him against uncle Sidney, and how difficult she must have got it, after her husband came back from the war. (Unless he was boasting, he is supposed to have been involved in Special Operations, a kind of work that generally leaves no one without psychological changes. The man is a heavy drinker, and although he has a gorgeous wife and a young son, he's soon playing Casanova in Chicago, dating Fran). Fran too drops several little seeds in Haley's mind, and so does the Police Captain. Although he remains outwardly cynical, all these little drops soon find a way to his heart. The fact that he was upset when he discovered that Augie had been cheating during the poker game already made it clear he wasn't rotten to the core. There still was the possibility for him to change his life. The several meetings with people he has after the suicide of Arthur Winant all turn out to be guiding lights to the right path of life again. And in the end, the patience and extreme loyalty of Fran is rewarded.

So, although this film starts as a Film Noir, this clever movie is in fact about how all kind of positive little events can set in motion important positive changes in someone's life. It's about hope, about starting all over again, about how something positive still can come out of sad events, such as a suicide. Real Film Noir isn't about optimistic at all. The main characters are cynical and self serving, and don't go through changes. Or if they do, it's only to become even more cynical at the end. See for ex. Fred MacMurray's character in Pushover, or Lizabeth Scott herself in Too late for tears. That's Noir with a capital N.

I was extremely pleased by this movie. I'm still trying to find out who actually sung the songs Lizabeth Scott's singing in this movie. Although she took 2 ½ years of singing lessons in the 1950's, and even released an LP, she never reached a sufficient good level to leave an impact as a singer. But the female singer who sang the songs in Dark City surely did. It are haunting melodies such as "Letter from a lady in love" or "Old black magic", sung with a sultry voice. Globally: nice storyline, fine cast, a movie that's worth adding to your collection ! 9/10

Gorky Park

Gruesome triple murder inquiry by Moscovite police
To my amazement, several IMDb reviewers seem to have problems with trivial issues such as Russians speaking British-English, or Finland being used as a location in stead of Russia.

What is the point of discussing something that was politically unavoidable at the time ? Which western spy movie actually took place in Russia before the Wall came down ? Generally, Finland or Austria provided very good alternatives. This is true for Billion dollar brain or Enigma (1983) Wouldn't it be silly to write off every SF movie that is supposed to take place on Mars, simply because it was actually filmed on Planet Earth ?

Frankly, the accent-issue too is absurd and irrelevant. I have a feeling some reviewers just want to show the world how observant they are. Whatever the Russians might have spoken, they would have found a reason to complain about it. If they would have used NY slang or English with a ridiculous Russian accent, they would have made fun of it. And if the Russians actually would have spoken Russian, probably the same people would be the first ones to have complained about the color of the subtitles on the snowy landscape, or the simplified translations.

SPOILER ALERT: Curiously enough, none of these observant observers seem to have been intrigued by some weak points in Gorky Park's plot. For those who already have seen the movie, let's name a few ones:

1) The corrupt American fur importer Osborne is supposed to have excellent connections with KGB and the brass of the Militia. So why didn't he ask them to take care of his little problem ? He might even have earned some extra praise by his KGB buddies, for having been a finger man for such "dangerously deviant" individuals, as they surely would have been called in those Cold War days. In stead, he's doing the bloody work all by himself, in a happy-happy-Helloweenish way.

2) Osborne goes to great lengths to make identification of the bodies "impossible". How he managed to do so, without turning the white snow carpet in this remote spot of Gorky Park into a slaughterhouse scene remains a mystery. But OK, let's accept he's some kind of artist in this kind of work: all his prudence seems to have been superfluous, as within a few days, the 3 bodies are discovered.

3) Furthermore,quite ironically, this unusual way of skinning heads and fingers was like a "Killroy was here"-signature for Renko...

4) To make matters even worse, Osborne's KGB and militia friends seem to be completely unaware of Renko's stubbornness. They don't make him stop in time his inquiry. This at a time when numerous jokes were told about how tight KGB-control were. Or don't you know why the KGB always operated in teams of 3 agents: one who could write, one who could read and one to keep an eye on those two dangerous intellectuals…

Still, hold on... This is a movie after all… And as all reviewers know, the rules of the game of watching movies is to be able to not analyze everything so rationally, and to allow some part of silliness to pop up now and then. And if you're able to do this in Gorky Park, you'll really enjoy this movie. marvelous ! Hurt did a top notch job as the stubborn and honest police man, deliberately taking great risks to uncover the truth. Some people found his acting work quite "wooden" in this movie. Again, I'm sure that would he have been more exuberant, showing more emotions, the same people would have wondered why he was clowning his way through this movie, a la Robin Williams. Is it so difficult to understand that he's just portraying a very professional cop, the only one with a 100 % rate of resolving crimes he has been investigating. He's the son of an even more famous and respected Militia man, who could afford frivolities as being not well shaved, as Renko's superior complains.

If he seems a somewhat 1-dimensional character, it is just because he's obsessed to do his job as good as his father would have done it. He's probably also very well aware that he's walking on eggs with his investigation. He's not at all sure his superiors will back him all the time, and he's understandably tense. I don't know, one could go on debating about it, and still not convince everyone. To me, Hurt found the right balance in playing his role of obstinate but also careful cop. Lee Marvin too was an excellent catch, giving Osborne all the arrogance and self-confidence he needed. The whole support cast too was fine, nobody over-acting in an irritant way, nor anyone lacking flair or talent.

The specific angle of the storyline too is special. Not the triple murder part, but the fact that this is a US movie about an efficient Russian militia man, hunting down a corrupt US business man and killer. (See Telefon from 1977 for a similarly surprising plot). If you take into account that Gorky Park was filmed in the era of Reagan's "Evil empire" rhetoric, one will understand how surprising this movie must have been at the time.

Finally: I was very pleased with the reviews on this movie, pointing out to some special cosmetics aspects (the special use of make up) of it, and the one making a link between the social status of the "Russians", and the different British accents they were using. The top brass indeed sounded somewhat snobbish, as they probably would have too if they would have spoken Russian. Once more, this underlines how efficient this movie uses whatever it can to lift the quality of it.

3 ½ stars out of 4.


Don't call us, we'll call you...
Telefon has several good trumps, but suffers here and there in a painful way from budget restrictions. The latter becomes clear within the 5 first minutes, as we see KGB people using a Mercedes van, while a top man sits waiting in a limo from the same German car company. Not really substantial, but it nevertheless gives the movie instantly something cheap, a made for TV-only label.

One could debate about whether the presence of Donald Pleasance is helping or not. His acting is always a double edge sword: on the one hand, it is funny to see him exploit at the maximum the small roles he got, by using the most futile objects like a handkerchief ("Hell is a city"). On the other hand, he often portrayed the bad guys in a somewhat too pronounced and stereotypical way, which takes away a part of the suspense. His role in Fantastic voyage is a good example, and the same happens in Telefon. His blond whig he uses in the beginning of the movie adds to the "cheapo" character of the movie.

Maybe the budget was somewhat mismanaged ? The blowing up an entire valley surely was impressive, and added credibility to the real menace the USA was facing. On the other hand, a few fireballs less here and there, but eastern European looking cars in stead would have been a nice compromise.

Not withstanding these small imperfections, I quite liked this decent movie. Using brainwashed people to perform dirty jobs of course wasn't a new idea. In movies such as the Manchurian Candidate and Parallax View, this road already had been explored. What gives Telefon that extra menacing touch, is the fact that the 50 people on the KGB list live ordinary lives, unaware of the looming danger. We briefly meet a mother planning to make pancakes for her kids, a priest busy decorating his church, the owner of a helicopter taxi with money and marital problems, the owner of a car repair shop etc. And then, each of them is abruptly called away from their ordinary day-to-day lives. It almost would make you look quite suspiciously at friendly neighbors, who might or might not be too on a KGB-list, waiting to be activated and perform one specific task of death and destruction. The fact that one of the victims is used to destroy a disaffected military installation even adds an extra dimension to that lurking menace.

This juxta-position of potentially dangerous people amids an innocent surrounding is of course no new formula. Still, it is used with cleverness here in Telefon. Still, maybe the generally somewhat too mild tension needed some extra punch here and there to make this a classic spy movie. (By the way, was it the CIA who was taking pictures from Borshov and Barbara, when they met at the airport ? It's not really followed up)

Bronson was strictly "mission first" during 90 % of the movie, and immediately set the tone by asking Barbara not to be "so damned cheerful." But the American sun and beautiful all American girl Lee Remick had no trouble at all to melt the Soviet ice, and working at a détente at personal level. They look a bit like an unlikely silly pair, with no sparks flying around, just some decent double entendre (miles and miles to go...) Still, I always liked silly pairs ! Certainly much more than the all too obvious and slick matches such as in Hitchcock movies à la North by Northwest. Urk !

Anyway, don't let such details spoil the fun. Nor should you be distracted by the very 1970's cheap looks of the motel rooms etc. "Domino principle" too had similar shortcomings, still it is fun to see that movie again every now and then for its own merits.

Telefon is indeed –as another reviewer pointed out- "the ultimate détente movie", made in an era in which strategic arms limitations were agreed upon, and the Helsinki agreements were signed by 35 countries. Before that, in the post-Watergate period, we already got some movies, critical of the CIA or more shadowy agencies and security companies, such as "The Conversation", "Three days of the Condor" and "The Domino Principle". Here, things are even taken a step further: Russian agents are on high alert, because one of their own renegades is trying to trigger off a Third World War. So they send their top agent to the USA to clean up the mess... If a new McCarthy would have emerged under Reagan,Bronson and Remick would have been blacklisted because of what would have been labeled this "pinko" movie.

In a way, the international diplomatic situation got once more reflected in the history of movie making. In 1943-45, there were some very pro Russian movies made by Hollywood,such as The North Star (1943) or Mission to Moscow (1943). After that came red scare movies such as the Red Menace or I married a Comminist. Things chanced again after the death of Stalin and the disgrace of Sen. Mc Carthy. The Bette Davis movie "Storm Center" (1956) for ex. is one of those movies that takes a more balanced approach to communism. Sputnik and Cuba once again made the pendulum move to the other side, while it swung back to the center left with efforts like Telefon. As such, this movie is an interesting witness of its time.

The Kremlin Letter

Z-team in a maze, plot in a haze
Maybe I'm using after-the-facts explanations, not intended when this movie appeared in 1970. But somehow, Kremlin Letter (KL) started to make more sense, once I saw the spy intrigue as rather an excuse for parading a set of seedy, vicious characters,drifting on a sea of self-serving cynicism. The team of the shadowy Tillinger Foundation seems to come right out of a catalog of the finest human weaknesses: the greed, boredom and perversity of The Whore, the stereotypical homosexuality of Warlock, the deadly cynicism of Ward. On the other side of the Wall, things aren't better either: the wickedness of Erika Kosnov, the ruthlessness of her KGB-husband, the scheming Bresnavitch…

The Z-team of useful weaknesses is send to the USSR. They want to find a document, which in reality is nothing more than a bait for a sinister trap, designed by a revengeful agent. A bit thin, no ? For a start, the content of the letter is far-fetched, weakening the plot. A letter, written by a top CIA man without approval of the highest political circles, promising military assistance to the USSR, if China would threaten Moscow with nuclear weapons ? Come on.... Why would a high ranking CIA man put something like this on paper, and sign it without approval of the White House ? What would be the value of such a letter, without White House backing ? The KL is supposed to have been stolen by the Russians, does it mean that the Russians managed to open a safe in the CIA headquarters ? But who told about the existence of that letter to outsiders ? And how can the Z-team be sure that once they have retrieved the real letter, no copies have been made etc. But hey, it's a movie, let's allow some space for exaggeration...

Even if one doesn't get much answers in the movie… Watching KL often feels like having to carve one's way through a dense forest of question marks. I haven't red the book yet. But if you are acquainted with the enormous difference between the screenplay and the book of "The Quiller Memorandum", you'll know that some prudence is indeed necessary here. Where the Quiller movie left me with a similar kind of dissatisfaction as KL, Adam Hall's book turned out to be excellent, putting everything in perspective and making more sense than the movie. So, maybe reading Noel Behn's book will have the same effect. At least the writer is supposed to have interesting background, having worked for the Army's CIC.

Comparing KL with movies like "Spy who came in from the cold" therefor may be somewhat odd. OK, both movies are of course quite complex, both deal with betrayal and double crossing, but "Spy" left me much more satisfied in the end. It's based on a solid book, and the movie sticks closely to it. So, most questions one could have during the movie therefor have dissolved at the end of it.

The intention of KL seems to be quite different. It seems to seek deliberately to leave a different impression at the end. It doesn't care for answering all the questions, and seems to be seeking purposely to be more intriguing. But again, I might be explaining things with hindsight, not intended in 1970. It would take more research, to see if indeed the movie was promoted that way. Did the marketing boys and media spin doctors at the time try to sell KL as a "delicious dive into perverted cynical circles", "a stroll amidst a block of skyscraping human weaknesses", competing to tower above the other weaknesses ? Or did it try to reach the spy movie audience, and therefor failed catastrophically at the box office ? However, it certainly is not a good sign however, if indeed Huston didn't comment a lot about this child of him...

Anyway, if being intriguing, keeping us guessing was the real intention of the movie, it's clear it didn't succeed. Several reviewers criticizing bitterly the script missed the point it might have been the intention of the makers to weave some mystery, to wrap the intrigue in confusion. And if so, of course the main characters aren't likable as Tom Cruise or Renee Zellweger ! If the theory above is correct, that must have been exactly the point the movie wanted to make. But as said before, several reviewers missed that point. Without wanting to be insulting, this either says something about the reviewers, either about the movie. OK, KL doesn't have the clearcut and logical structure à la "Spy who came in…", nor does it have the same hip qualities as "Ipcress file". At least it has a top notch cast ! Richard Boone was outstanding as the falsely jovial, cynical team leader with his potato shaped nose. I also liked von Sydow very much as the efficient, ruthless KGB man (he is supposed to have killed off the population of a whole village, just to find a few suspects) with one damaging weakness, his love for a wicked woman. He seems to have made a career and a fortune out of playing such ruthless, efficient characters: Oktober in "Quiller Memorandum" or the hit man in "3 days of the Condor"

Strangely enough, the movie may not have been released officially on video in English, but CBS FOX edited it dubbed in French (1987). Did it maybe get a better reception here in Europe ? Anyway, as the original movie is otherwise impossible to find on either video or DVD, I immediately bought it, when I came across it in a second hand store in Brussels. And even if KL has serious flaws, I'm glad I did !

The Quiller Memorandum

What have they done with my book, ma ?
Take a solid, healthy chicken's egg out of the hen house or the fridge… Now throw out all the substance, and just keep the eggshell. Dril several holes in it, the size of a pin, one the size of a small coin. Finally, paint the result in Barbie pink and baby blue… That's more or less what happened to Adam Hall's spy novel for this movie. If you have seen this movie, and it leaves you very dissatisfied or with a bunch of bright orange question marks, don't worry ! You HAVE been watching it carefully. Don't start thinking you missed something: it's the screenplay who did !

Believe it or not, but in the original story there's a pinch of "Satan Bug" (1965),as it involves a Jewish scientist who wants to wipe out the Nazi community in Argentina with a dangerous germ. There's also a sniff of "Downfall" /"Der Untergang" (2004) in it: the Inga from the book has been as a child in the Führerbunker playing with the Goebbels' offspring, until "Uncle Adolf" committed suicide. There's also a part in Hall's book, that could have been a chapter from "Enigma" (2001), as Quiller has to decipher a complicated message from a friend. This part is done in a very detailed way in the book. Hall's book is also full of psycho-analysis à la Freud. In his novel, Inga is working initially for Oktober, which she always considered as being almost as tough as the only man she ever looked up at, Uncle Adolf. So, when she notices that a captured Quiller is not giving in to Oktober's interrogation techniques, her desperate need for a strong figure starts to shift from the Nazi to Quiller. The Quiller of the book is a survivor of the concentration camps by the way. Now he's working for a unit called the Z-police and Z-commission. This "Zentralstelle" was established after the signing of the London Agreement, and tracked down about 7000 Nazi war criminals. (See Wikipedia for more information about the Zentralstelle or Z-Commission)

Quiller is called to Berlin, as the previous British agent, Kenneth Lindsay Jones has been found floating in a lake, killed by a sniper's bullet. As he hasn't been in Berlin since long, the Z-commission have prepared a memorandum with all the information available about a (neo-)Nazi group called "Phönix". Hence the title of the book. What the Z-people don't know is who the leader is, nor where they are hiding. In the end, it turns out that this leader of "Phönix", SS general Zossen has since the war become a respected member of the new German government under a false name. It's a quite complicated spy novel, but one with a storyline that makes sense. I can't say the same for the movie, I have to say. First at all, the title is never explained. Secondly, we don't hear about the Z-Commission, the London agreement. The Quiller in the movie is as British as Rockefeller, while Pol has become British. And no mention is made of him having been in a KZ during the war. I'm also irritated with what has become of the character of Inga, the disappearance of the germ side-plot, and I could go on for a while… That's why I think this egg not only has substance, but what is left is full of holes, leaving the critical watcher quite dissatisfied at the end.

Harold Pinter may be a BIG name with a large cohorte of aficionado's, but frankly, what he has done with this novel is nothing less than a shame. Can you imagine what would have become of let's say "The day of the jackal" script, if he would have used the same frivolous surgical techniques he used on the Quiller-memorandum ? Would the OAS top have met the Jackal in a Mexican desert ? Or would Pinter maybe have dropped the whole OAS angle ? Thrown out the special gun ? Would the cold blooded killer invented by Forsythe have become a somewhat bumbling American with a Okie accent ? I'm neither very pleased with the choice of George Segal as Quiller. He was fun in "St Valentine's day massacre" (1967), he really gave me the creeps as the smiling but menacing Peter Gusenberg. But as Quiller, no… Somehow, he's not the right man in the right place, and certainly not someone I would sympathize with, as one should do with the hero of a movie. Max von Sydow though was very well cast as the gentleman-Nazi. Senta Berger is an extremely beautiful and elegant woman, but in this movie she's no longer a survivor of the Hitlerbunker as in the book, but a nice gentle school teacher, with a mysterious undertone.

The cameo's of George Sanders and Alec Guinness are of course top notch, but these wonderful actors only have a few Lines to say. The house in which Oktober questions Quiller is superb, and so is the Mercedes "Adenauer" used in this movie. But all this Barbie pink and baby blue extra's can't save this movie. A missed opportunity, Mister Pinter.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The ghost of McCarthy
Excellent movie, I agree with the other commentators on that issue: 9/10 In stead of making yet another resumé of the story, let me get a little deeper into the points I do NOT agree with made by almost all commentators.

According to Kevin McCarthy, at the time this movie was made, there was no symbolism or allegorical message in it, underlining that Jack Finney never wrote the book with that intent. That sounds a very reasonable explanation to me, which most people seem to want to ignore. It's not the movie-lover who's speaking now, but the political scientist, asking to keep things into historical perspective. It's all too easy to discover the ghost of McCarthy in almost everything that's from the 1950's.

First at all, you don't have to be a Goebbels to understand that it would be against the basic rules of propaganda to try to get a political message across by means of a SF movie, using an allegory. Most people who love SF or horror movies surely won't have made a link between this movie and McCarthy at the time. When you are a little bit into political thrillers of that period, you'll know that this kind of "Red scare" messages were presented in a much more straightforward way than through allegories, to make sure the largest possible audience got the message. You want a good example ? Try "Whip Hand" (1951): in this movie, a remote village is taken over by Communists, testing and planning to use WMD against the USA. To make sure even the Simpletons understand how evil and mean the Commies are, they are using a Nazi scientist to conduct these experiments. That's plain, straightforward, just as "Red Menace" or "I married a communist" (Woman on Pier 13) were.

Secondly: thinking that Kevin McCarthy was chosen for the lead role because of his family name is quite ridiculous ! Let's not forget that McCarthy had already become a villain by 1954, whose megalomania had led to sneer attacks against some of the most decent people in the Armed Forces. McCarthy and Roy Cohen had become very unpopular by then, and lots of Americans agreed they had gone too far. Furthermore, Hollywood sure wasn't sad that his political career was all over. They had been a victim too of the violent attacks of the Wisconsin senator. And see... 1956 was the year in which Bette Davis played in "Storm Center", which can be viewed as Hollywood's way to close the McCarthy chapter. His downfall led to his heavy drinking, and by 1957, the Senator died, aged not even 50 !

It could be argued with as much basis as for the "Commie"-angle, that this movie is rather depicting the fears of small town people against overworked, overstressed and emotionless people from the big cities, buying into property in their neighborhood, acting cold and distant, not joining the local people in their little bars or cultural activities. So we get a nice juxta position here of rural/town, jovial, pleasant/robotlike, friendly and helpful/cold and distant. Using juxta positions is a commonly used formula in movies. To make a menace even more menacing, you first depict something good, friendly innocent, and then in comes the evil. There are two possibilities:

1) an external menace (aliens like in Bodysnatchers, communists like in Whip hand, psychopaths like in Key Largo or Petrified Forest)or something not clearly defined or paranormal, like in "The Mist".

2) innocence etc suddenly becoming a menace. "Village of the damned" and "Children of the damned" are in which nice and innocent children (in stead of cozy rural America) are taken over by an evil force, that make them extremely clever, emotionless, robotlike and dangerous.

So, is there no message at all in this excellent movie ? Maybe it makes more sense to see the movie as just an entertaining thriller. The rest is all speculation.

By the way, this psychological state of mind of no longer recognizing family members and friends really exists: it's called a Capgras delusion.

(Spoiler alert) Finally: there are indeed some holes in the story (the sudden change of Becky Driscoll after she fell asleep). The biggest hasn't been mentioned in the 3-4 last pages of comment: why would a highly advanced alien invader choose of all places a small village in California ? And why in just one village, and not in hundreds at the same time.

But hey, this is a movie, and a very entertaining one: if you can't accept such things, stick to documentaries… It's the magic, stupid ! 9/10

Kent State

Balanced fiction made 10 years after the facts
The movie shows the events at Kent State Univeristy between April 30th 1970, when Nixon announced his plans to invade Cambodia, and May 4th, when the National Guard killed 4 students, and wounded several others. Beware…. This is not a documentary, no 100 % true account of what actually happened. This is clearly acknowledged by the filmmakers at the end of the movie.

Just to give one example, I haven't made a deep study of it, but most of the photo's I've seen from the actual protesting students show youngsters with less Easy Rider-looks than those depicted in the movie. It even seems to have been somewhat a surprise that these tragic killings happened in Kent, as this University had a rather slightly "conservative" reputation.

On the positive side, I'd like to underline that this movie is really doing its best to show things from different perspectives. There's room for the student's point of view,but also for that of the Guardsmen, the university staff...

To begin with, not all students were happy with what was taking place, and a certain percentage therefor wasn't protesting, just went on going to the classes. Those who were protesting, didn't seem to care very much for strong debates about international politics. There's not much healthy discussions going on about peace versus Real Politik, or about who could be a good replacement for "dear Henry". I have the impression that f. ex. French students were having much more heated philosophical and political debates. In Kent, it seems most students just repeated somewhat hollow slogans (What do we want ? Peace ! When do we want it ? Now !). They were therefor rather protesting with their heart than relying on good arguments and alternatives. A black student sees the protests against the war and military service as something purely "white",showing there even was a racial side to the protests.

On the other hand, the movie also makes a balanced portrait of the Guardmen. Some try to be friendly towards the students, talking with them, even wearing a flower in their rifle, or romancing. We learn that some of them had no experienced at all, and they look somewhat bewildered, finding themselves in a campus. Most of the Guardsmen are terribly tired, because of earlier confrontations with Teamsters. Only a small number seem to be nasty little sadists, but they aren't very popular within the NG itself.

It will probably remain unclear, whether the Nixon administration was somehow involved in discrediting the student movement. When the ROTC building is set afire, some students are wondering aloud who these guys with their torches are, suggesting they were not known to them. And when the unpopular military wooden building is starting to burn, only a few seem to be singing "Come on baby light my fire". Others shake their head in disbelief, as this act of vandalism seems to be a step too far for them. The movie also shows the differences between the staff members of the University. Some authors suggest that about 10 Guardsmen seem to have been targeting specifically certain students. Historians and researchers haven't come up with absolute proof to make this claim stick. And until now, none of the Guardsmen have been convicted for the death or the wounding of students.

To this European reviewer, this movie therefor seems to do its utmost to give a balanced picture of the events. Not all students are portrayed as crypto-communists, as the Nixon administration depicted them to a shocked public opinion. At the same time, the movie clearly shows the National Guard too wasn't a fascist monolith, as some students seemed to think. To be able to come up with a balanced portrait, the movie makers created a number of fictitious characters. Therefor it is no longer a 100 % true account of the events. For those who prefer the true facts, there are several (good) books available. I have begun reading "The truth about Kent State" by Peter Davies for example.

Many Americans who see themselves as "True patriots" still don't find today -with hindsight- reasons to have at least some sympathy for the 1960's / '70's student's movement. However, maybe they will appreciate how this movie shows the difficult situation in which the NG found itself at the campus. Anyway, whatever one's point of view, it's definitely ALWAYS a sad fact when young people lose their life or get seriously wounded, for whatever reason. Made 10 years after the facts, this relatively prudent movie apparently still couldn't convince many Americans about the solidity of this statement.

The House on Carroll Street

Hitchcock's baby
Excellent and entertaining movie in many regards. The 1950's atmosphere is caught very well: elegant clothing, superb cars, leafy New York streets, New York's Grand Central Station and a cameo role for the shiny Chicago Express. The OST by George Delarue too is worth while listening to. It does more than just underpin the action in the movie, it stands perfectly well on its own legs.

I've noticed some reviewers made a link between the looks of Ray Salwen (Mandy Patinkin) and a young Richard Nixon, who was heading the House on Un- American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the early fifties. I'd rather compare the smug Salwen figure with Roy Cohn, McCarthy's right hand and ax man. (Patinkin would have been a perfect choice for the main role of "Citizen Cohn" in 1992, although James Woods too did a nice job) As other reviewers have pointed out, there are indeed some similarities with Hitchcock movies from the 1950's. All shots show clean streets, nice looking people, shiny cars… You won't see any hoodlums, hobo's, mean looking motorcycle gang members. There's not even the page of a newspaper pushed around by the wind in the New York streets. Even the bad guys that kill the German young man with a knife are dressed up as if they come from the horses or some fancy restaurant. The romance between McGillis and FBI man Cochran (Daniels) too is treated in a very 1950's way. To many viewers, this will be seen as a lack of chemistry between the two main characters. However, to my h.o. an all too steamy relationship would have somehow spoiled this elegant movie, and especially slowed down the pace considerably.

OK, there are a number of weak points in the scenario: it's highly improbable that a hush hush operation of smuggling Nazi's into the US would have used such an "unsafe safe-house" as the one in Carroll Street. ID papers would have been arranged for, while those war criminals were still in Europe, to reduce as much as possible the risks. And it's rather silly seeing a Senator's aide going as far as entering into Emily's bathroom. Very intimidating, OK, but I'd rather think this kind of a job would have been left to some low ranking goons. And finally, what the heck is he doing on the roof of New York's Grand Central Station ??? Still, nobody complains about similar weaknesses in let's say "North by Northwest", or "Sabotage". Indeed, this movie doesn't pretend being a semi-documentary, like De Niro's "Guilty by suspicion" (1991) or Citizen Cohn are. And as pure entertainment, House on Carroll Street does a nice job. I'd rate it 8/10

North of Shanghai

The fifth column in the newspaper
Helen Warner, a famous US newspaperwoman is send by her boss to Shanghai. Gangsters -angry about her exposing them in front page articles- have threatened the newspaper. So her boss thinks she deserves a break, a holiday far away, and expenses paid. Little did he know she would stumble across yet another scoop and… a sweetheart!

Traveling by boat took quite some time in those days, and all sorts of people took the opportunity to get acquainted. Remember Bogart meeting Mary Astor in "Across the Pacific". Helen too meets her love interest-to-be, in the shape of Jed Howard, a somewhat noisy but sympathetic war reporter. During the same trip, a strange incident takes place: an intruder was waited in Helen's cabin, and insisted in getting the film from her camera. He explained he was upset about being recognizable on some of her pictures. Somewhat irritated but also rather puzzled, Helen hands over the film.

When Helen and Jed arrive in Shangai,they hear about the Japanese invasion of the north of China. Jed decides to go there with his Chinese cameraman. Helen -who hasn't told Jed she's a famous reporter too- decides to drop her holiday. She gets in contact with the local antenna of her newspaper. Soon she finds out that quite strange things are happening in that office. To begin with, the man who took her film on board of the ocean liner pops up here of all places. Although he denies having left the country recently, she identifies him via a scar. Helen also quickly has complaints about the strangely unprofessional and clumsy behavior of her local boss. But there is something bigger going on... Jed's cameraman is murdered in the street. Soon, it becomes clear that a fifth column is very active in providing valuable military information to the invaders. (Although it's never clearly said they are working for Germany –the movie is from 1939-a decoration behind the main plotters throws a strange shadow, in which something that looks like a swastika can be identified)

No impressive action scenes, no dialogs which are nice little verbal ping pong games, and the baddies don't have the charisma of let's say Sydney Greenstreet or Peter Lorre. A nice little B-spy movie though, not particularly brilliant but still quite enjoyable. Rather something for completists. 7.5/10


Up with people versus Frank Zappa
While testing a new nuclear device, the Americans lose it accidentally in the Syrian desert, just across the Israeli border. No idea why the test didn't take place in let's say the Mojave dessert or in New Mexico... But hey, let's not be too critical before the third minute of this movie has begun. At the same time, an Arab terrorist group led by a Frank Zappa lookalike attacks an Israeli school bus transporting sweet, happily singing Jewish kids. Only a female armed guard will survive the vicious attack. Later, she will identify the leader of this treacherous act. The angry Israelis decide to send -once again- a vengeance team across the border with Syria, to deal with Zappa and his hot rats.

Meanwhile in the Pentagon ! Every reasonable person would think the US would be rather upset by having lost their latest lovely little nuke, in a Syrian desert of all places ! So, the logical thing to do would be to send an Airborne Division backed up by the Navy Seals stacked in some heavily armed transport helicopters, to secure the safe return of the lost nuke, right ? Well, actually no… The Americans just happen to have a nuclear weapons specialist on holiday in Israel, in the "dynamic" shape of David Janssen taratata...

Now, I see David clearly has many fans here on IMDb, maybe because of his more entertaining "Fugitive" legacy. So I already know I won't make myself popular by making fun of him. But frankly, in this movie his dynamism is comparable to that of a koala with a tommy ache. And when it comes to charisma, think in terms of let's say a rusty water tap. Believe it or not, in Warhead, he's even worse than in the extremely boring 'Swiss Conspiracy' of 1978. Anyway, Washington sends Dynamic David ('DD') by parachute and equipped with a do-it-yourself instruction booklet on how to defuse N-weapon into Syrian territory. Sleep tight, little children !

Now, you don't have to be a BBC World Service reporter to know that the Syrians keep a rather VERY close eye on their border with Israel since the Yom Kippur war. So, maybe DD's aircraft already had some stealthy characteristics, as Koala Man lands without causing alarm bells to go off in Damascus. Other possibilities are the stupid Syrians were all asleep during his landing, or he was dropped in Israel and strong desert winds blew him over the border ? Anyway...Fortunately enough for the Syrians, child killer Zappa and his bunch of rats aren't sleeping... Imagine their surprise when they discovers super-DD in his bomber jacket in the middle of the desert, leaning over a cigar shaped thing with a funky flashing red taillight... No wonder they're getting "slightly curious" about what he's up to. Wouldn't you be ? Now, DD isn't happy at all with this undisciplined bunch of Arabds standing around him. How can he be concentrating on his difficult disarmament task, if they're noisier than young teenagers in a museum of Roman art ??? He's even showing some degree of irritation, when they want to take away the metal cigar, paid for by US taxpayers. But well, since there are 20 of 'them' and only one DD, he's soon convinced that giving up this US property might be a wise thing to do. Especially since he definitely intended to play in "Swiss Conspiracy" the next year, just to irritate this reviewer...

After this extremely thrilling and clever humhum action, the filmmakers decided some funny interlude would counterbalance the serious first part of this movie. So, prepare yourself for a very didactic humhum portrait of Arabs. They are more or less portrayed in the same way as Jews were in Goebbels' sponsored films: very stupid, extremely ugly, in a word, as quite an insult to humanity. Enjoy the scenes in which these nasty child killers are trying to push the handsome little US nuke on the back of their truck. Even super-zen DD starts to get slightly uneasy about so much clumsiness, as the nuke isn't completely shock-free. Fortunately enough, marauding Israeli Defense Forces in search of autographs of Zappa all of a sudden appear. And just like in Entebbe, they efficiently make mashed potatoes out of that bunch of clumsy Arabs in a matter of minutes.

After the last ones have fled away with their tail between the legs, the smoke on the battlefield starts to clear. High time to have a closer look at that IDF elite unit. OK, I'll concede that one could hardly expect the Israeli team to look like a well disciplined SS unit. For a start, that would be politically slightly incorrect. But really, was it absolutely necessary to come up with a mixture of "Up with people 1977" and "Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth" ? Because, believe it or not: you're in for a sniff of wigs, a slice of the most stupid looking spectacles, and a pinch of extremely "clever" hum-hum jokes about Arabs. Furthermore, in the next chapters, this "elite" team will perform a catalog of "don't"s in the art of war. Just to name one thing, what military unit would take a 'tea break' on the bottom of some sort of small version of the Grand Canyon, becoming a very nice target practice for snipers hidden on surrounding rocks ? Except maybe the army of San Marino... Well, if you have half an hour to spend one day, have some fun by watching this movie and try to find these flaws yourself. Honestly, I've identified at least 12 ridiculous situations. In the end, sending the Swiss Guards dressed in their carnival outfits seemed a better idea than to send this Funny Dozen.

I gave this movie a 1/10, only because the zero wasn't available. You'll have to introduce the D category of movies to be able to label it correctly.

Rough Shoot

How to hunt hares... and catch spies in stead !
US Col. Robert Tanie lives with his wife in a cottage in rural England. While hunting on hares, he stumbles on someone he suspects being a poacher or a smuggler. Hoping to scare off the trespasser, he takes a shot at him, and sees the man fall down. Having used non lethal munition, he's very surprised to discover the man's actually dead. What he doesn't know is that the actual killer is a sniper, belonging to a spy ring. Later, he meets Sandorski, a Polish officer (you could describe him as something between Tarfu –see Sabotage agent- and Hercules Poirot). This Sandorski is working together with some British cloak and dagger people, that are keeping a close eye on some suspicious characters, who are also roaming around on the hunting grounds. Sandorski has discovered the presence of strong lights, that are intended to help a plane land in the darkness on these remote surroundings. It soon turns out some shady characters are expecting a mysterious plane with a passenger that clearly doesn't want to use more common ways to travel to the UK. Tanie and the Polish officer manage to change the position of landing lights, and "kidnap" the passenger. It turns out to be a scientist from the Eastern bloc, who wants to meet a communist spy in London.

The novel was by Geoffrey Household, the screenplay by nobody less than Eric Ambler. The action is more important than the psychology of the characters or the dialogs. The movie starts at a somewhat slow pace, but gradually, things are becoming more and more interesting, building up toward a nice climax in Madame Tussaud's. The movie is at times somewhat unnecessarily complex: the presence of a Polish officer with a cavalry sword (!) doesn't add much strength to the storyline. Also, it would have made more sense if Col. Tanie was enjoying retirement with his beautiful wife on the English countryside, so I was surprised to see him use a (US ?) uniform at times, which suggested he was not. And why would spies meet in Madame Tussaud's in stead of in a safe house ?

Still, it's certainly a nice little movie: although no A-stuff, certainly a better than average B-movie. Joel McCrea is alright as the not particularly bright Colonel, and Evelyn Keyes is well cast as his helpful but also curious and somewhat impatient wife. I'd rate it 7.5 to 8/10 However, if you want to see a much better UK spy movie from the same period, try to find High Treason.

Agents secrets

A certain 'je ne sais quoi'
I'm sorry if I don't blindly join the many admirers of this movie, who would like to rate it 11/10 if it would have been possible. Since I don't run for Senator, I don't mind making possibly unpopular remarks. Don't get me wrong: Agents Secrets certainly is an interesting movie, worth while having in your collection. But to me it is not the gem many people describe. My main complaint is that the movie simply isn't surprising enough to earn that status.

Let's remain honest: 2 combat divers, send to blow up a ship with time bombs, accompanied by a back up team posing as a pseudo couple ? Rather watch the excellent movie "The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy" from 1989. Illegal arms-for-diamond-trade ? Done several times before ! American agents clearly informed about what the "Frenchies" are up to (Echelon ? Moles ?...)… Déjà vu ! Someone framed by 150 gr. of heroin hidden in his or her luggage ? How many times has this not been seen before ? Also used in 20, 30 other movies: the main character gets kidnapped by the "opposition", but somehow miraculously manages to cause a traffic accident, after which of course he's the only survivor… I'm not even mentioning the somewhat unbelievable sideplot of Brisseau finding extremely quickly the professional (???) killer who shot one of the combat divers, and making quickly in between a trip to Spain to kill her.

Now, having said that... Strangely enough, even if Schoendoerffer really used too many wrong ingredients for a surprising plot, his spy flick isn't a bad movie at all. Not because of clever dialogs about international security or about the loneliness or the dangers involved with the spy business however. In contradiction with some other comments, I didn't found Agents Secrets a particularly good psychological study about secret agents… Don't expect a Simenon-like experience, with a relatively bleak plot as an excuse to paint vivid psychological portraits, as the Belgian writer often did. The few moments something "psychologic" is happening, it is far too cliché to be of any merit.

Other things that make some spy movies very interesting are superb locations. Agents Secrets can't have earned its reputation based on this argument. Don't expect to see superb cars nor –there needs to be something for everyone- breathtaking bathing beauties à la Bond either...

So, what is it, that makes me not calling Agents Secrets "not a bad movie" ? Strong pro's are the quick pace of the plot, underpinned by interesting "nervous" camera movements. The ultimate trump though is the excellent cast. Well, exception made for the cliché looking villains who kill a French agent in the strong first minutes of the movie: they look like the stereotype gang members of Pablo Escobar.

I wonder... Maybe the film would have gained strength if the killers remained invisible, anonymous, like a constant menace on the background.

For all this, a 7/10 seems to be an honest score.

Break in the Circle

Forgettable cheapy
Being one of those "completists" who try to find every political thriller or spy movie that has been made during the Cold War, it is inevitable that every now and then, I buy a bad one. It took me some time to find a seller on Ioffer who could provide me with a copy of acceptable quality of "Break in the circle". Unfortunately enough it turned out to be rather a C-movie, based, on quite a poor storyline, extremely forgettable dialogs and with absolutely no spark between the two main characters.

Capt. Skip Morgan (Forrest Tucker), an English adventurer possesses a boat, which he's not always strictly using for completely innocent trips. One day he's contacted by a "Major Hobart", who's task it is to arranges a meeting between Morgan and the rich German Baron Keller. The businesslike baron turns out to have an adventurous job for Morgan: to go to Hamburg, find out about the whereabouts of a professor called Pal Kudnic, and to smuggle him to England. His offer is accompanied by a generous sum of money. Keller also tells a phony story about why he goes to great lengths to get Kudnic to England. Morgan isn't really the man to ask a lot of questions, but the word "action" however sounds like music in his ears. He more or less kidnaps Lisa (Eva Bartok), the girl he's in love with. The feelings aren't mutual at that time, and furthermore, Lisa is working for the police. Together with shipmate Dusty, the trio crosses the Chanel and arrive in Hamburg. It soon turns out a group of Russian thugs are also interested in Kudnic.

The big finale in Germany is a not particularly spectacular chase between one of the very first types of helicopters and the truck in which Morgan transports Kudnic to Hamburg. After the helicopter hit some high voltage wires, the truck can continue without any trouble to Hamburg. During the trip, Kudnic tells Morgan he's a chemist, specialized in polymers. Once back in the UK, first Lisa, than Baron Keller try to overpower Morgan at gunpoint, to make sure his little investment also delivers the gains he was hoping for: the knowledge stored in the head of Prof. Kudnic. In the end, the police however has the last word.

Believe me, it's really a bleak, stupid storyline, not at all entertaining. The characters aren't very likable: the captain is rather shouting all the time in stead of just talking, and a wooden Lisa clearly needed a kiss before becoming a little bit more human. In a word,forget about this movie ! Don't be fooled by the magic words "Hammer Studio", and try in stead to find the 20 times better movie "High Treason" from 1951. That one should be in the collection of every one who likes good, entertaining spy movies and political thrillers !

Ring of Spies

The "infamous five" (Portland Spy Ring case)
"Ring of spies" is a sober but faithful reconstruction in documentary style of the events surrounding the British "Portland Spy Ring". On January 7th 1961, 5 people were arrested in London in connection with espionage activities in the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment in Portland. It was the first major success against a spy network in the UK. It also remains a case which is still today shrouded in a lot of mystery.

Spider in the Portland web was Konon T. Molody, who took the alias of "Gordon Lonsdale". As a facade, this Russian spy posed as a Canadian businessman, renting jukeboxes, bubblegum and gambling machines. This cover allowed him to travel extensively without raising suspicion. Being full of pep, having good looks, lots of cash and a shiny Studebaker, he had lots of beautiful girlfriends attending his cocktail parties. However, behind his "olé olé" facade, he was a skillful KGB-agent, well trained to handle special photographic equipment and to run a spy ring. He was assisted by alias "Peter and Helen Kroger". The Krogers were living in a cozy bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive in the leafy suburb of Ruislip in West-London, posing as sellers of antique books. In reality they were Morris and Lona Cohen, two veteran communist agents, who had previously been involved in the Rosenberg spy case. They managed to slip through the holes of the FBI dragnet, and established themselves under a new -false- identity in the UK. It is interesting to point out that the Ruislip bungalow was situated nearby a US Air Force base. The "Krogers" were responsible to send the material Lonsdale brought to them to Moscow. That material came from two civilians working at Portland, Harry Houghton and Ethel Gee.

Houghton was a staff member of the naval attaché of the British Embassy in Poland in 1951. Already at that time, attracted by easy cash, he was involved in illegal activities, including in black market operations. Starting innocently with coffee, he turned to lucrative medical drugs, a bit like Harry Lime in the "Third Man". He needed the money for entertaining a girlfriend and for his heavy drinking. This vulnerability made him an interesting target for the Polish secret police UB. However, their new asset spoiled it all, by causing outrage during a party at the Embassy in 1952.

This is the starting point of "Ring of spies". After this incident, Houghton is send back to the UK. Although his drinking habits made him a security risk, he gets cleared for a job in the secret Portland facility, specialized in submarine warfare. Pure mismanagement ? Made possible thanks to the intervention of a sufficiently high ranking British civil servant with ties to the Soviets ? Things become even stranger, when somewhere in 1955 or '56, Houghton's wife introduced a complaint against her husband. She told the authorities that her husband brought secret documents to his home. After a rather sloppy investigation (?), the accusation was brushed aside as being unfounded, merely the result of the frustrations of a woman badly treated by her husband. In 1956 she divorced him, and Harry's money problems started again. This led him to move to a small caravan. Probably in the same year, agents from the Eastern Bloc contacted him again, and offered him cash in exchange for secret papers. With the help of his colleague Ethel Gee, he's soon able to move to a nice house and to buy a car, making exactly the same mistakes as Aldrich Ames (see "Traitor within") many years later.

Peter Wright describes in his controversial book "Spy Catcher" how the revelations of a Polish source dubbed "Sniper" helped the British and Americans to identify Houghton, than to pick up the trail that led to Lonsdale and the Krogers. The British had to be particularly careful not to scare off professionals such as Lonsdale or the Krogers. Therefor, it is interesting to combine watching "Ring of spies" with the 1987 movie "A pack of lies". To quote Writerasfilmcritic, who wrote an excellent comment for IMDb about it : "Pack of Lies" is a very interesting drama (about) MI5 agents, led by Alan Bates as "Stuart", (who) skillfully manipulates a well-intentioned British family into believing that they are merely police on a routine investigation who need to use their home (...) "just for the weekend", in order to surveil a suspect who has been tracked into their neighborhood. (End quotation)

POL depicts how MI5 sets up a surveillance in the Ruislip home of Bill and Ruth Search, who happened to live just across the Krogers. The presence of the MI5 agents is soon causing tremendous stress for the Searches,especially for the shy Ruth, who only has one real friend… Helen Kroger! (In POL she looks more flamboyant as the real one)

The defection of "Sniper" to the West, accelerated the arrests of the Portland Spy Ring. Interestingly, Peter Wright is convinced that Moscow knew that Lonsdale had been identified by MI5, but willingly sacrificed him to protect a super-mole within the British intelligence community. Someone within MI5 or 6 who told Moscow all about the progress in the counter-espionage effort against the Portland Spy Ring.

Both Lonsdale and the Krogers received long term prison sentences, but were released a few years later, in exchanged for a British spy. And even this sordid affair had a little bit of fairy tale-quality, as Houghton and Gee married, once they got released from prison.

The Rhinemann Exchange

Our man in Buenos Aires
Burt Kennedy's "Rhinemann exchange" based on Ludlum's book, has a relatively complex and somewhat far-fetched storyline. At the end of the war, German rocket scientists in Peenemunde are in desperate need for industrial diamonds for their V-1's and V-2's. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Americans are faced with serious problems to produce a more efficient gyroscope for their bombers. Shadowy figures like Walter Kendall (Claude Akins) and General Swanson (Vince Edwards) have found in the German Erich Rheinemann a way to a potentially extremely lucrative business deal. In exchange for industrial diamonds, the Germans are prepared to hand over to the American conspirators the blueprints of their top notch gyroscope. The U.S. company that would get the contract to build the gyroscope, would be allowed to equip thousands of B-17's, B-24's and other bombers with this special equipment. General Swanson is of course not backed up by his superiors, so the deal is highly secret. Swanson contacts Col. Edmund Pace -played by Larry Hagman- and ask him to find him a good intelligence operative who can organize the exchange. (Many non-American movie fans would be surprised to see how active Hagman has been, before reaching international stardom as the sardonic "J.R." in "Dallas"). Col. Pace suggests his protégé, agent David Spaulding (Stephen Collins). Before the war, Spaulding was a successful polo-player and flamboyant playboy. During the Blitzkrieg in Poland, both his father and his girlfriend Irene get killed, after the Germans bombed the hotel in which they were staying. Spaulding is recruited by G-2 -Army intelligence- , because of his language skills, his background as a Construction engineer and because he's someone who likes "the game". After an extensive training in close combat, he was send for several years to Spain.

Since both Spaulding's father, Irene and a mistress he had while he was active in Spain were killed by Germans, Swanson prefers not to let him know all the details of "Operation Tortugus". Indeed, what would be the use of telling him that industrial diamonds will be given to the Germans in exchange for the gyroscope's blueprints ? Spaulding surely would jeopardize the deal. So, in stead he's led to believe that the Germans offer the blueprints because they no longer believe in Germany's chances to win the war. The murky exchange will take place in Buenos Aires, being a neutral territory. Spaulding will be accompanied by Dr. Eugene Lyons, who's job it is to analyze the blueprints, to make sure the Germans are not selling junk.

To his big surprise, Spaulding's latest love interest, Miss Leslie Jenner Hawkewood also has been transfered to the US Embassy in Buenos Aires. From that moment on, all kind of strange events start happening... Spaulding gets attacked, someone broke into his room... No wonder he becomes very suspicious about the blonde Hawkewood. Things become even more complicated, when his British counterpart during his Spanish years –Geoffrey Moore (Jeremy Kemp)- also seems to be in Buenos Aires, while Kendall claims the man is actually dead… Now, what's your guess... Will Spaulding manage to outsmart the villains and get the girl in the end ?

The main problem I had with this TV mini-series –except for the somewhat far-fetched scenario was that both clothing, hairdo and interior decorations quite often gave me the impression I was watching an episode of Charlie's Angels rather than a WW 2-epic. The cars for sure are superb. However, the nice silver/blue Jaguar sports car driven by Miss Hawkewood is clearly of the XK-series, which was produced AFTER the war ! The way the Germans like Heinrich Stolz ((Bo Brundin) are presented, is quite cliché too, and that makes the Rhinemann Exchange not as good as it could have been. I'd rate it 6.5/10.


A time bomb for Franklin D.
World War 2 is at its end. On the stage of an empty concert hall, British officer Pemberton Grant is playing absentmindedly piano, thinking back of the past... All of a sudden, a man working in this concert hall shows up to see who's playing the piano. Grant starts telling him about his meetings with Nathalie Trubetzin, a mysterious woman during crucial stages of his military intelligence career. They started out as lovers, but as time went by, their romance came to an end. When he met her again in 1943, she turned out to be married. Grant discovers that her husband is involved with Nazi arms smugglers. When he tries to persuade Nathalie with incomplete proof, she brushes it away, thinking he's just jealous of him. Grant though is sure her husband is up to something, and he discovers that the Nazi agents are plotting to kill US President Roosevelt, who's due to meet with Stalin and Churchill for a top conference. Nathalie, who dearly loves her husband is now faced with the facts, and with pain in her heart, she decides that this plot has to be stopped. She contacts the Soviet representatives in Teheran. Together, the Russians and the British manage to arrest these fifth columnists. At the time this movie was made, the Russians still were considered as Allies who had helped to crush down Hitler and his clique. Just as movies like 'North Star' (1943)or Tourneur's 'Berlin Express' (1948), this one still is quite friendly toward Moscow. Things would change under the McCarthy era, with titles such as Red Menace, Woman on Pier 13 or My son John.

Actually, the Germans did try to kidnap Roosevelt in Teheran in November 1943. The idea was to send a team of 40 men led by Otto Skorzeny and Walter Schellenberg to Iran. However, the Russians managed to do the unthinkable: ... to infiltrate in this SS-team... ! Their agent Nicolas Kouznetsov did send out a timely warning. So, when the German team arrived in Teheran, it all ended with a shoot out with the Russians in the streets of Teheran. Roosevelt later arrived with 70 bodyguards, and the top conference with Stalin and Churchill went on without further incidents.

South of Panama

Enjoyable, but not as good as "Across the Pacific"
Chemist Paul Martin (Hugh Beaumont) has invented a special kind of paint, intended to use on airplanes, to make them less vulnerable to anti aircraft guns. As this invention could boost the security of the Panama Canal, the scientist is bringing a visit to a military base in that area, to demonstrate what his invention is all about. (Using "with kind permission" of the RAF a model of a Hudson. Some authentic newsreels showing clusters of bombers have been added to the movie) The leader of a (German ?) spy ring, who uses the role of hotel manager as a cover, has intercepted a telegram from the scientist to his sister, who's staying in that hotel. In it, the brother asks her not to come to the airport to pick him up. The hotel manager however sends her another telegram, asking her to come to the airport. This way his agents will recognize who they will have to kidnap. The sister however realizes that something isn't OK. In stead of rushing to her brother, she runs to a man standing behind her brother, and starts to embrace him. Mike Lawrence (played by Roger Pryor) later turns out to be a reporter, is of course somewhat surprised, but isn't minding too much being kissed by the blonde. (Pryor already played a reporter before, in "Missing Girls' from 1936). The enemy agents mistake him for the scientist. The attempt to kidnap him fails however. Several other attempts to lay hands on the formula of the special paint will be made, but of course the enemy agents –hey, this is a 1941 movie after all- will be outsmarted by the hero.

In fact it's a rather silly story, since it's quite strange that such an important scientist with an invention vital for US security is staying in a (not so) ordinary hotel. The logical thing to do with such a VIP would have been to keep him locked in a military camp, guarded by a bunch of mean looking MP's. But well, you'll have to accept this illogic part of the script, for otherwise there wouldn't be a story of course. Like often in the 1930's-1940's, the movie isn't politically correct towards Afro-Americans either. The filmmakers apparently just couldn't resist to add a scene, in which the friendly black hotel servant unnecessarily has to roll with cliché bulging eyes, after a corpse hidden in a cupboard fell down on his back. At that time, it were only whites who were supposed to be heroic and quick with their fists, saving beautiful ladies in distress or the country against vicious saboteurs and spies. The role of Afro-Americans then often was reduced to such grotesque stereotyping scenes. Finally, as so often in spy movies, the female lead character is playing a night club singer. Yet another aspect of a not so resourceful script.

I quite enjoyed Virginia Vale though. She clearly had a lot of fun playing night club singer Dolores Esteban. (A kind of fun that reminded me a bit of that of French actress Mireille Darc in the spy spoof "Les Barbouzes") This part of her double role allowed her to talk with a zany Spanish accent, and teasing reporter Mike Lawrence about a certain blond lady (the scientist's sister). In fact -unknown to Lawrence at the beginning- Dolores happens to be that same blonde, covered with a black wig, to give her a "latino" appearance. It's only at the end of the movie that he adds 2 and 2.

I'd give this B-movie a 6/10. Although better than ridiculous films such as "Adventure in Iraq" (1943), "Panama Menace" aka "South of Panama" is by far not as good as "Across the Pacific" (1942) with Bogart & Sydney Greenstreet. Rather a movie of interest for the "completist" collecting spy movies/political thrillers than for the average viewer hoping to spend a pleasant evening. The movie seems to be relatively obscure by the way:I didn't come across whatever lobby cards or posters of it in any of the main selling places (Moviegoods, Heritage Auctions etc.) To find a copy of the movie itself, check out eBay USA or, you'll certainly find it there somewhere. Ben Vanhees Belgium


Another Alan and a clown less might have done the trick
Without realizing it, two newsreel reporters took pictures of a surviving nazi-leader in front of a bank, while filming fashion mannequins in the streets of New York. The German, who was thought to have died during the war, was inquiring if he could recuperate a large sum of money. He needs it, to be able to continue Hitler's dream after the dictator's death. He is helped by a criminal gang, which is only in it for a slice of the money, not for political reasons. Hal Ericson's description in the All Movie Guide of the gang as being a "secret neo-nazi gang" is therefor incorrect. The gang will make several attempts to recuperate the film and its negatives, including by kidnapping one of the reporters. The boss of the two reporters however discovers whose face has been captured on the newsreel, and contacts the authorities.

The problem with this rare B movie is that it just can't decide whether it wants to be a kind of political thriller, a crime movie or some kind of comedy. The final result therefor isn't very bright, without being terrible at the same time. The movie sure is watchable till the predictable end, but well... The script isn't always very convincing or logical. While the Nazi leader's henchman doesn't hesitate to kill one of the criminals, the 'hero' has more luck, and only gets knocked out with a gun on his head. Dialogs are quite poor, no cute « one-liners », no quick exchanges of wisecracks etc. Well, the hero's colleague is trying to be a funny guy every now and then, but the movie would have done perfectly well without this kind of clowning.

Alan Baxter may be in the words of Hal Ericson a "character actor", but you won't see very much of it in this movie. Alan Ladd playing like he played in The Glass Key though would have made a good choice. That would have given the movie that extra status it desperately needed to rise above its mediocrity. The soundtrack doesn't help either. While the main title track you'll hear while the names of the actors are shown is OK, the music during the key moments of the movie doesn't support the action. I'd rather qualify it as simply irritating. I'd give it a 6/10

The Amateur

A story with just too many coincidences, but superb settings !!!
A leftist terror group erupts into the US Consulate in München, and takes a number of hostages, including Americans. The hardboiled team demands the immediate release of a number of fellow terrorist, otherwise the US hostages will be shot dead at a rate of one per hour. A "post Münich '72" discussion takes place between German and US spokesmen to determine what to do. As the terrorists' demands aren't met within the imposed deadline, one of the hostages gets executed in cold blood. The young woman who got shot dead was the girlfriend of a CIA computer specialist. But at the same time -strange coincidence- , the killer too is working for the CIA, and has infiltrated the terrorist cell. The boyfriend of the executed girl -although an "egghead" or CIA bureaucrat- wants to avenge her death by killing systematically all the members of the cell. He learns that they are hiding in Easter Europe. As the CIA doesn't seem to be inclined to help him, he uses some arm twisting techniques to force the Director of Central Intelligence to change his stance...

The film certainly isn't bad, but at the same time I couldn't call it fantastic either. Therefor, the story is built on just too much coincidences and unlikely events. Also, the idea of the non-experienced CIA man managing to do unlikely things, exactly because he's no trained and therefor predictable field agent has been treated in a much more convincing way in "Three Days of the Condor".

Christopher Plummer was doing a relatively nice job as Professor Lakos, but on the whole, I found the actors too neither sensational, neither incredibly bad. Same thing for the OST. That is -to me at least- the weak point of the movie: it is in almost all its aspects "just average", nothing more, nothing less.

The strongest side of the movie is the excellent choice of locations. The chosen Austrian landscapes, and a few Skoda's here and really give the impression the movie has been shot somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Action immédiate

Excuse my Français, mesdames, messieurs...
If you're fond of 1950's US cars, women's clothes and hairdo's, mid century modern interiors and nice houses, don't miss this movie. Furthermore, the dialogs are quite funny, with a hint of Oscar Wilde here and there.... (Aaah, I'm a victim of my reputation. No,it's your reputation that makes victims....) Unfortunately enough, most of the jokes only work in French, and you'll need to master the subtleties of the French language to understand the comic angle: so keep in mind that 80 % of the power of the dialogs will be lost, when you're watching a translated or dubbed version.

I'm quite surprised that some of the commentators seem to have missed the point, that Action Immediate clearly aims at being a parody of spy/gangster movies, but even more of the French intellectual lover-boy. The first remark is the reason why the bad guys have to look as cheap imitations of tougher gangsters or spies. The second remark is why special agent Francis Coplan is quite different in this movie than he is in the books of Paul Kenny. Sure.... Henri Vidal clearly is no Jean Marais (Fantomas) nor an Alain Delon (Les Félins, Scorpio...) or one of their US counterparts. He has no square jawbone, piercing eyes, no highly muscular feline body... He's neither a smooth operator à la Cary Grant, when it comes to approach the ladies. His exuberant clumsiness rather reminds me of Jean-Paul Belmondo in the 1970's, not exactly France's most handsome actor either, but still popular with the ladies.

Could it be, than, that the underlying message this movie is sending out is that, well, some women rather fall for "cute" clumsiness in the Droopy-style, and appreciate some wisecracking communication much more than the ice-cold semi-god like types as often portrayed by Alain Delon or Clint Eastwood ? Aha ! Think that one over ! The makers of this movie clearly wanted to appeal to a larger crowd than the Francis Coplan fans. And frankly, the Paul Kenny character known to the readers of the Fleuve Noir-detective novels –editor of the Coplan books- would probably have been far too brutal for the average 1957 French or Belgian moviegoers. In the books there was more room for violence and 'sex', less for the wisecracks.

This deliberate choice for more innocence certainly will have disappointed a lot of Coplan-fans... But well, the quite funny dialogs surely pleased lots of others... And still appeal to me...But then again, I never quite liked the modern answer to these so-called old fashioned movies ... Dialogs with as much as possible "prohibited words" just for the fun to shock never quite appealed to me... Try "Doublecrossed" (1991) with Dennis Hopper as a mild introduction if you don't know what I mean...

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