Sunday, June 26, 2016

"Whose Side Are You On?"

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" so goes the saying.  Mankind is a distinctly nasty piece of work, where operational lies are more tolerated than universal truths.  In the world of power broking, honesty is NEVER the best policy.  As a Cold War Kid of the Sixties, I was sublimely brainwashed with the dangerous allure of the Spy.  And it all masqueraded as entertainment.

The worst offender, of course, was James Bond.  I was never fanatically religious, but an early argument for me was, how could this man get a "license to kill?"  How did a government get the authority to override The Bible?  The Supreme Commandment of Ten, "Thou Shalt Not Kill."  Moral rule obliterated like getting permission to drive.  Also Bond is a Company Man, and my contempt for Authority Figures had settled in.

This is why SECRET AGENT and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. appealed to me more.  Early on I questioned whether The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement was a parallel for the dreaded C.I.A., but No!  This outfit had offices throughout the world.  And the early visual connection with the U.N. building, plus logo and title, suggested an international agency; a more efficient Interpol.  And it didn't take long in the former show, to realize that clever agent John Drake was working for corrupt bosses.  A state of affairs that would lead to THE PRISONER.

Not all Spy Movies and Television Shows are cut from the same cloth.  And like Friend and Foe, the sides are often changing.  Or might even be One and the Same.  Six to One.  Half Dozen to the Other.

Summertime was a great time for television in the Sixties.  When regular series went on hiatus and were not just filled with reruns, we were sometimes lucky enough to have the Networks bring in British series for the duration.  This was how we got SECRET AGENT (the American title for U.K. hit DANGER MAN).  And you really couldn't do better.  A smart show, that snuck in as a Saturday Summer replacement.  This would also continue for THE PRISONER. 

Another Summer Surprise was THE AVENGERS.  That first black & white season with Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee was very stylish with substance.  Unlike SECRET AGENT however, the success of the show, diluted with new American production money, put it into the category of Bond Parody.  More cartoon than novel.  More MODESTY BLAISE and less IPCRESS FILE.

So the levels in films of espionage vary.  And it depends on my mood swings how I appreciate each.  Recently I went on a kick seeing how many of the Sixties proto Bond films held up.  Many of them feature the American agent in London and  Europe, like BEN CASEY actor Vince Edwards in HAMMERHEAD, George Peppard in THE EXECUTIONER or the TV series MAN IN A SUITCASE.  The films always offered up the English Dolly Bird like Judy Geeson, plus British support actors such as Robert Morley, Charles Gray or Nigel Green.

The serious spy caper is John Le Carre or Len Deighton territory.  FUNERAL IN BERLIN, THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, or THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.  The tones change if the agent is David Niven, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey, Rod Taylor or Richard Johnson.  It just goes silly and sadistic moving to the Right with James Coburn or the worst, Dean Martin.

I'm currently dipping into THE AMERICANS series.  I'm wary with its C.I.A. spook producer credentials.  I try to avoid getting sucked into jingoistic 24 type propaganda.  THE AMERICANS is well made and certainly its art design is seductive.  Season 2 calls out.  I haven't been able to watch the last Daniel Craig 007 film.  Of the two extremes of spy films, the current Bond is more of a freak than ever to me.  Perhaps my mood will change.  But the only Bond film I admired was of its correct time: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  Only the fish killing each other in the tank scene makes me uncomfortable.

When I was on the air doing SPACE PIRATE RADIO at Y97, my third theme night at ZELO restaurant and nightclub was cloak and dagger oriented.  I was an Eighties Illya Kuryakin turned DJ.  It was a lot of fun.  There was no UNDERCOVER CHARGE.