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The Liquidator (1965)

“The name's Oakes. Boysie Oakes.”

It doesn't really work, does it? But in the mid 1960s everyone was trying to cash in on the James Bond craze. Rival spy series included Matt Helm, Harry Palmer, Bulldog Drummond and Derek Flint. MGM's hopes for a Bond rival were pinned on Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator.

Taylor's character is an ex-army sergeant who is inducted into the British secret service by spy master Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard). Mostyn has been tasked by his boss (Wilfrid Hyde-White) to recruit an agent to carry out unofficial assassinations off the books. Mostyn recalls an incident in wartime Paris, shown in a black and white flashback sequence, when he was rescued by Oakes from two would-be assassins. Unbeknown to him, Oakes's heroics were mostly accidental. Oakes goes along with the plan, smitten as he is with the money he's paid, the E-Type Jaguar he's given, the swanky '60s bachelor pad apartment and the endless parade of bea…

The 39 Steps (1935)

For me, The 39 Steps is the quintessential Hitchcock film. Other films may have weightier themes or a more complex subtext, but The 39 Steps boils the Hitchcock thriller down to its essential elements – a shocking murder, an innocent man on the run, a beautiful blonde and a MacGuffin so irrelevant that few people can remember what it was all about.

The film is based on John Buchan's 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, but the translation to film is so loose I think “inspired by” would probably be the more accurate description. In fact, the film strays so far from the novel that the writers had to create a new explanation for the title, having forgotten to include the actual steps that feature in the book.

The hero of Buchan's novel is Richard Hannay. On a visit to London from South Africa, he finds himself mixed up in a spy plot when one of his neighbours, a freelance American agent called Scudder, is murdered by enemy spies. He had stumbled onto a sinister plot and has crucial…

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

In the mid-1970s the James Bond series was in trouble. Harry Saltzman, one half of the original Bond producing partnership, was embroiled in financial difficulties with his outside business interests, and left the series following 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun. That film had been the least successful in the history of the Bond series, rushed into release the year after the more successful Live and Let Die. The first two Roger Moore films had latched onto popular trends in contemporary cinema, Blaxploitation in the case of Live and Let Die, and the kung fu craze in The Man with the Golden Gun, but the Bond series was looking increasingly like a 1960s hangover on its last legs.

The next Bond film then, the 10th in the "official" Eon Productions series, was something of a make or break effort for Bond. Albert R. Broccoli was now the sole remaining producer of the series, and he gambled that audiences were ready again for a dose of grand escapism. The next film would b…