Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Influences on and Failures of Alfred Hitchcock

Killers, Traitors, and 007: The Influences on and Failures of Alfred Hitchcock

By Wesley Britton

"In principle, I should lay it down that the existence of secret agents should not be tolerated, as tending to augment the positive dangers of the evil against which they are used. That the spy will fabricate its information is a commonplace. But in the sphere of political and revolutionary action, relying partly on violence, the professional spy has every facility to fabricate the very facts themselves, and will spread the double evil of emulation in one direction and of panicked, hasty legislation and unreflecting hate on the other."
(Alfred Hitchcock quoting Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent. Spoto 172)

In Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film (2005), I devoted many pages to Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, the book begins with the quote above when I introduce the themes of my overview using The 39 Steps as a touchstone. I traced how literature, as in the books of Joseph Conrad and John Buchan, helped frame what Hitchcock chose to bring to the screen, how the director reflected historical trends, and how he contributed to the changing roles of women in spy movies.

Here, I will not repeat what was covered in Beyond Bond. This is not a complete overview of Hitchcock's career in spy movies and has little to say about the classic films that essentially shaped the spy genre from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) to North by Northwest (1959). Instead, I offer here Hitchcock's connections to actual espionage and the Bond mythos. What follows are a series of notes regarding influences on Hitchcock followed by a detailed analysis of why he failed to revive his reputation in the 1960s in Torn Curtain and Topaz.


Hitchcock and the Irish Troubles

According to Patrick McGilligan, "A remarkable percentage of Hitchcock films revolve around sabotage, espionage, or assassination. His villains in these stories tended to be ideological fanatics turned traitors or terrorists." In McGilligan's view, these situations and characters were foreshadowed by the actual story of Reggie Dunn, a notorious killer Hitchcock knew first hand, both being schoolboys together at St. Ignatius where Dunn was a noted athlete. After WW I, however, Dunn became embittered over British policy regarding Ireland and joined the IRA as an assassin. On June 22, 1922, Dunn and Joseph O'Sullivan (or Sullivan) murdered Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson on a London street, Wilson reportedly the planner of a slaughter of over 500 Ulster Nationalists. Dunn and Sullivan were captured and put on trial in July, the pair said to have born themselves with calm and composure and made no plea for mercy. *1* The pair were hung at Wandsworth Prison on August 10.

According to McGilligan, stand-ins for Dunn in Hitchcock's canon began with John Laurie as Johnny Boyle in Juno and The Paycock (1930). This film, set during the Irish Revolution, was Hitchcock's first use of one of his major themes, "of ideological extremism as a spreading stain that distorts idealism and destroys innocence." This "first opportunity to explore how politics have corrupted history" was, as it happened, Hitchcock's first 100% talking picture. McGilligan also pointed to Peter Lorre in The Man Who Knew Too Much as a Dunn stand-in, also as Hitchcock's first major villain. *2*

Hitchcock and World War II

Thereafter, while never an expert on the craft of espionage, Hitchcock spent much of his career looking for real-life models like Dunn for inspiration. While his connections into real spy circles were minimal, he did have his brushes with true secret agents. During the 1930s, a small group of British expatriates in Hollywood operated "as a virtual cell of British Intelligence with the goal of nudging America toward involvement in the war." McGilligan claimed key figures included actors Reginald Gardner and Boris Karloff, whose brother John Pratt worked in the London office of MI6. *3* Directors Robert Stevenson and Victor Saville and Hitchcock scriptwriter, Charles Bennett, were also involved. In the midst of this stealth campaign on England's behalf, Hitchcock attended meetings of this group. Some were asked to seduce possible German operatives. Reportedly, Charles Bennett claimed to be among them, asked to seduce a lady to see about her loyalty or if she was a double-agent. *4* According to McGilligan, so too was Reginald Gardner, and his liaison clouded his marriage. Shades of the future Notorious.

Hitchcock's spy thrillers of the 1930s shared the spirit of this group. For but one example, the memoir, Personal History (1935) by American correspondent Vincent Sheen, inspired Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, a film noted for the closing scene of a reporter pleading over the airwaves for America to come to the aid of England. One uncredited writer, brought in at the 11th hour to help flesh out the character of the kidnapped idealistic scientist, was Richard Maibaum, later to be a significant scripter of James Bond films. In McGilligan's account, Maibaum reportedly told Hitchcock the script wasn't very logical. "Oh dear boy," Hitchcock responded with a grimace, "Don't be dull. I'm not interested in logic, I'm interested in effect. If the audience ever thinks about logic, it's on their way home after the show and by that time, you see, they've paid for their tickets." *5* Among the first audiences were members of FDR's cabinet, his advisor Harry Hopkins, and Nazi chief Joseph Goebbels who deemed it a masterstroke of propaganda.

Not to overstate the case, Hitchcock did participate in several quasi-covert acts during the war. He flew to England to help shape propaganda films in support of the Free French. One was the 26 minute three-reeler, Bon Voyage, which included espionage elements. Later he flew to Washington to consider a propaganda film for a prospective World Security Organization. But the U.S. government decided the concept would be too inflammatory in the post-war climate. It was on this trip Hitchcok first picked up hints of the atomic weapon which led the director to investigate the use of uranium, a Mcguffan in the 1946 Notorious.

In the 1950s, Hitchcock again looked to fact for inspiration. The political backdrop for the original 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much had been the rise of Hitler; for the Americanized 1956remake, Hitchcock had anti-Communism in mind. He had devoured news about convicted spy Klaus Fuchs in 1951 and the disappearance of Fuch's colleague, Italian-born nuclear physicist, Bruno Potacorvo and his presumed defection to Russia. As Potacorvo was a professed British Communist, McGilligan says, Hitchcock wanted British Reds for his spy ring in the remake, substituting them for the old Nazi stand-ins. But, strangely, even during the McCarthy era when Hollywood was under pressures to fan the anti-Red flames, the studios tamped down on this aspect of the film so an unnamed country was used. *6*

Enter: James Bond

"A new breed of spy literature was being born. This film had the usual suave British hero lipping sly double entendres, being pursued by a bevy of half-naked girls, and using technical gadgetry to challenge the imigination. The dark Russians were depicted as men with dirty fingernails, ill-fitting clothes, sinister, brutal, mysterious, dedicated to false gods. Except for one Russian--a female agent of KGB portrayed by a large-busted Italian actress whose Russian accent was unbelievable."
(From the novel, Topaz, inspiring a Russian defector to laugh out loud.)

Hitchcock was a fan of the Ian Fleming novels, and considered making films of them as far back as the 1950s. During the '60s, however, his interest was to direct a classic anti-Bond film. Hitch began looking at political thrillers seeking inspiration. He screened Seven Days in May and The Manchurian Canidate, and spoke with Canidate author Richard Condon for script ideas. According to McGilligan, after trying another go with a John Buchan novel, the oft-considered Green Mantle, Hitch realized the Richard Hannay stories were now out of date, quaint. But Buchan helped recharge his batteries at the moment when Hitch Resented how the 007 films were liberally borrowing scenes from North by Northwest. He felt the Connery vehicles were turning what he had done into comic-book adventures. *7* He'd been making spy films since 1934, so he had a reputation to uphold. His quest was to make the ultimate realistic James Bond adventure.

But, during the '60s, it turned out Hitchcock himself was out of touch. He discussed the idea of looking at a "Cambridge Spy Ring" defector in a film with novelist Vladimer Nabokov who turned him down. *8* Nabokov felt Hitchcock didn't know enough about security details or how modern espionage operators worked. So Hitchcock turned to novelist Brian Moore, who was admired by spy writer Graham Greene, to work on the anti-Bond project that became Torn Curtain in 1966. Needing box-office draws, he cast Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, at first planning to emphasize the woman's point of view--what would the wife of a Guy Burgess or Anthony Blount think after they'd learned their husband was a traitor? Newman and Andrews thought they'd be starring in a new Notorious--but the script didn't reach that level. According to Patrick McGilligan, "the only thing faintly Notorious about Torn Curtain was the Mcguffan, the anti-missile-missile formula sought by Paul Newman. Hitchcock had anticipated the atomic bomb for his 1945 film . . . Torn Curtain likewise anticipated war weaponry of the future." (While many others have pointed to Ronald Reagan's look back to his own Brass Bancroft films of the WW II years as his inspiration for his S.D.I. "Star Wars" missile defense shield, McGilligan believed the then governor of California watched Torn Curtain and took note. *9*)

"In our organization, we have to adapt many bizarre ways to communicate."
"Yes, that's the right word."
(Torn Curtain, 1966)

Then--and now--Torn Curtain serves as an example of major cinematic bungling. Even before the film's release, writer Brian Moore was so disgruntled, he lobbied to get his name off the credits. To be fair, casting wasn't the problem. Newman, in particular, was convincing enough as a nuclear scientist out on a private mission, the actor more than capable of conveying intelligence, bearing, and independence. For a comparison, when Gary Cooper was cast for Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger, he asked for simple lines as he knew he couldn't deliver dialogue expected of a learned physicist. *10*

Andrews too clearly had the depth to play Newman's equal, both his love interest and his assistant well versed in scientific theory. It was the script that eroded Andrew's performance as Sarah Sherman when she was asked to deliver lines more suited to idealistic films from a previous era. For example, begging Michael Armstrong (Newman) to bring along a would-be elderly East German exile on their escape and stating the pair needed to help East German villagers seemed concepts tossed in from, well, another time.

There was nothing wrong with the premise of the film. Indeed, the first half showed Hitchcock wanted to move away from the lucky amateurs that had distinguished his earlier films from The 39 Steps to North by Northwest. Instead of a Richard Hannay or Roger Thornhill being innocent civilians being drawn against their wills into the mysterious worlds of espionage, Michael Armstrong was a strong-willed scientist convinced only he can draw secrets from a fellow scientist behind the Iron Curtain. He doesn't believe intelligence agencies would know what to look for. He has to convince his own government he can handle the job and then arrange to escape after his staged defection. As the first act progresses, it becomes clear his mission will be complicated when his fiancee' follows him to Berlin, at first unwilling to believe he's a traitor, and then his partner as they maneuver their way home.

But after the first 45 minutes, Torn Curtain disintegrates into one of the worst possible spy films by any director. Perhaps Hitchcock was too interested in emulating The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and decided for a bare-bones approach to the last acts. But the situations and dialogue didn't lend themselves to a more cerebral style. During the scenes where Newman is pretending to be a defector, the story plods with little real menace. The most dramatic scene was of Armstrong and the German scientist matching wills and wits with formulas scrawled on a chalkboard. Then, after a short bicycle chase that briefly gives the story some movement, the movie bogs down completely with little action, no music, and no classic Hitchcock set-pieces. Instead, we got a prolonged scene of Julie Andrews--with her noticeable British accent--standing on a Berlin street trying to get directions to the post office from Germans who can't understand her. The point of this scene was? Inside a café, Newman and Andrews sit while an elderly woman gushes at length about what a joy it would be to go to the U.S. The plot point here is obvious--to account for how the pair will find the post office and their contact. A much, much shorter scene would have kept the pace up, but the pace has long been lost. The problems are with execution of every kind, and the blame is clearly in Hitchcock's lap.

"We are in a state of grave national crisis," Sanderson Hooper blurted as if speaking to himself.
"I'll say we are," the President answered with a tinge of irony in his voice. "Once we walk out of this room, people can start getting killed."
(Prelude, Topaz. Leon Uris, 1967)

Still, Hitchcock wanted his anti-Bond film. So he turned to the Leon Uris novel, Topaz, which wasn't a property he was excited about but was the best available at Universal Studios. This novel was partially based on the true story of KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn (New Lies For Old, The Perestroika Deception) and his escape from Helsinki's Russian Embassy in 1961. This plot was augmented with the tale of a French agent finding evidence of Russian missiles in Cuba. Again, Hitchcock hoped for a new Notorious, espionage with romance.

However, like Nabakov, Uris was distressed to find the director wasn't interested in, or knowledgeable of, political complexities. In Uris's view, the director's frequent references to Notorious showed Hitch was hopelessly out-of-date. "He didn't seem to understand how a real secret service worked," Uris stated. If there was a single important cinematic influence on the project, it was the 1965 The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, based on the John Le Carre novel. Hitchcock and his staff watched the film several times. Realizing Uris was correct, Hitchcock asked for briefings with several intelligence officials including George Hawkens, a former deputy inspector general for the CIA.

As with Torn Curtain, complaints have never been targeted on the cast. the only known actor to feature in Topaz was John Forsythe as the American spy official investigating the Russia/Cuba/French connection. Thinking he could launch his own star, Hitchcock turned to Frederick Stafford, whom Hitch had spotted in a French Bond rip-off, O.S.S. 117 in which Stafford played a secret agent tracking smugglers to Brazil .*11* In Topaz, Stafford played French agent Andre Deverole who gathered intel provided by his Cuban mistress, a widow of a top revolutionary. She was played by Karen Dor, the bad girl in the James Bond outing You Only Live Twice (1967). *12* But Dor didn't spur Hitchcock on to investing much energy in her, reportedly because she refused to suggestively chomp on a cigar.

On one level, it's easy to see why the director wasn't excited about the 1967 Leon Uris novel. The book had more in common with fictional accounts with nuclear destruction as a backdrop rather than the fancy of 007 or the Berlin-London-Moscow oriented novels of Le Carre', Len Deighton, and other British writers. Books and films like Seven Days in May and Failsafe dealt with the very real fears of a holocaust brought centerstage in the 1962 Cuban crisis. The stakes were much higher than in the plots of Blofeld or the small departmental Cold War battles in most realistic spy fiction of the day.

In a sense, the book was ahead of its time with a quasi-journalistic approach that became popular when the master of this style, Frederick Forsythe, published the highly influential The Day of the Jackal in 1971. Before that landmark novel, espionage fiction was not dominated by research-oriented epics using layered storytelling, multiple points-of-view, a large cast of characters, and international settings as varied as in Topaz. All these elements became staples when Tom Clancy looked to Forsythe and redefined the spy genre in the 1980s.

Before all that, Topaz the novel, set in 1962 in the months leading up to the October Cuba missile crisis, appeared in a decade of British-dominated films and books. The focus on the French secret service was a bit out-of-step, but was one of the first serious American responses to the high-brow British efforts without the trappings associated with 007. There is no body count at all in the book, little violence until the final sections, but rather many scenes revealing how the covert Cold War was actually going on. Many names were obvious substitutions for leaders like Charles De Gualle. One high-level source in the historical events inspiring the book was Fidel Castro's sister, Juanita, converted in the novel to the mistress of the French agent, Andre Devorole.

Certainly, any director working with this source would need to have stream-lined the plot and either dumped or reduced the importance of many characters. Some Uris scenes should have struck a chord with Hitchcock, especially for someone so intrigued with defectors. When the Russian officer watches the Process of agents Americanizing his wife and daughter, the very human sadness of losing his cultural identity was good drama. Likewise, Andre Deverole was prone to dehabilitating attacks of narcolepsy, a visual weakness that distinguished him from typical heroes. And there was a very Notorious element when Juanita saves the life of Deverole by giving herself to a very disagreeable Cuban official. But the latter chapters, after a interlude set during World War II, would need Hollywood treatment no matter who adapted the script. (One would think Hitchcock would have had special interest in the war flashbacks as they involved the history of the Free French organization of De Gualle, a group Hitchcock helped promote with his underemployed Bon Voyage project.)

In the end, the much awaited film was the most expensively produced movie of Hitchcock's career with built-in publicity to fan interest at the box-office. Contemporary readers and viewers of the movie adaptation would have
known of the story's unusual reputation. Uris's account led to speculations that the plot, involving a mole in French Intelligence close to Charles De Gualle, might have been based in fact. An international scandal brewed and indeed a mole was found (McCormick 178). One scene in both novel and film, in which a French spy for the Soviets died falling on a car, was based on fact (Wise 87). And French unhappiness with the novel was well known as Uris portrayed Charles De Gualle as a paranoid demigod, angry with his treatment by the Americans and British in WW II and far more concerned with his personal reputation than ridding himself of a traitor at his elbow. In the book, the French secret service comes to the conclusion the entire Cuban situation was an elaborate hoax by both Washington and Moscow to reduce France to a second-rate status by discrediting their intelligence agencies. With all this, with every possible advantage, Topaz only contributed to a lagging reputation for the former Grand Master of espionage.

Still, this 1969 bust, like most films with a new life on DVD, has earned new appreciation--with Topaz rising to slightly better reactions than responses to Torn Curtain. But not to any high degree. The consensus among reviews posted at Amazon is that Topaz was, like Torn Curtain, overlong without suspense. It's another film with minimal action, much sustained dialogue, and no trademark Hitchcock visuals. But this uneven film has earned praise for some elements. According to Dan Jardine for Apollo Movie Guide, a few saving graces included:

"There are moments here where the master displays a deft touch, particularly in the extensive use of silence to allow the camera, rather than the dialogue, to convey information, and most memorably in the murder of a Cuban spy (Karin Dor), where Hitchcock plants the camera on the ceiling, so we can watch transfixed as her glorious purple gown spills out beneath her like a pool of royal blood. Thematically, there are some interesting complications in the development of a subplot involving our French spy hero Andre (Frederick Stafford), whose extramarital relationship leads to the collapse of his marriage. Later, in a piece of poetic justice, he must confront the same feelings that had tortured his wife, and the film touches on interesting issues regarding the difficulty of maintaining trust and honesty in the duplicitous world of espionage."

Without question, beyond the length of the drama, the main problem was the ending--all three of them. When first released, various versions were shown in different cities. Hitchcock wanted the realism of the defectors getting away, just as the actual Kim Philby, Burgess, and Blount had, but Universal Studios wanted a final
freeze-frame showing a last minute suicide. Whatever the desires of the director vs. those of the studio, critical opinion of the choices now available on the DVD are that none of them work. Overall, Topaz has become a film for Hitchcock completists, though recommended for viewing after viewers have seen the true classics of the master. It has been described as a useful depiction of the evils of Communism, a chance to see new faces in a Hitchcock film as his favorite cast members had aged, but a film without heart, a driving pace, or unified tone.

The Unfinished Project

As a sad footnote to Hitch's spy saga, in the last decade of his life, Hitchcock kept watching Bond films and kept looking for a new spy thriller to take away the stain of Torn Curtain and Topaz. What would have been his 54th film, The Short Night, also involved a wife with divided loyalties and a traitor. Loosely based on a true story, the inspiration was the tale of George Blake, who had betrayed the British Foreign Office as a double-agent. Caught and convicted, Blake had engineered a daring escape from Wormwood Scrubs Prison in 1966 and fled to the Soviet Union. In the novel, the Blake stand-in goes to Finland where his wife and children are, and an American agent, out to avenge Blake's murder of his brother, has an affair with the wife.

Fascinated by the story, Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel as well as a non-fiction account, The Springing of George Blake by Sean Burke, hoping this would add authenticity to the script. In 1977, Hitchcock began pre-production, but quickly recognized it would never be completed.

Charade and Analysis of a Decline

As explored above, both Torn Curtain and Topaz were products of Hitchcock's desire to come up with a fresh approach to his spy projects, his stated claim being to do a realistic espionage thriller. But one simple truth is that Hitchcock was never at his best when going for gritty realism without adding the trademark Hitchcock elements that made his stories distinctive. A case in point is one film that demonstrated that Hitchcock spy movies could be successful in the Bond boom, only not by the director who had created the style.

Three years before Torn Curtain, Frequent Hitchcock player Cary Grant (Notorious, North by Northwest) and Audrey Hepburn starred in one of the most influential films of the 1960s, Charade (1963). Charade was "both a send-up and celebration of the genre and the great Hitchcock-Grant collaborations of the past." (Paris 185) Often described as a Hitchcock film without Hitchcock, director Stanley Donin admitted, "I always wanted to make a movie like one of my favorites, North by Northwest." (185) Donin had admired the story of the mistaken identity of the leading man thought to be someone who didn't exist and had been on the lookout for a similar script.

According to Barry Paris, "the structure and tone were full of smart dialogue, red herrings, single and double bluffs, and Parisian style." (185) Charade was a surprise hit at the box-office, "breaking all records at Radio City in New York. It was the year's fifth most profitable film, grossing $6.15 million dollars and inspiring a flock of comic thriller imitations with similar titles--Mirage, Caprice, Masquerade, Kaleidoscope, Blindfold." (188) *13* Hitchcock, without Hitch, could equal or surpass the former master.

Of course, Charade had gone where Hitch had gone before, so the director should be credited with wanting to chart a new course. He'd done it before, again and again, from moving from silent films to talkies, from black-and-white to color. Simply stated, time had caught up with him. Perhaps the combined weight of age, having trodden down the same roads so many times, and trying for a more stripped-down approach were elements of a director past his prime and now superceded by those who had learned so much from him.

Nonetheless, from Reggie Dunn to nasty Nazis to the KGB, no one had better explored what Patrick McGilligan called Hitchcock's great theme of "of ideological extremism as a spreading stain that distorts idealism and destroys innocence." No other director comes close to shaping the spy genre as a whole. No one else has given us a wider palate of espionage thrillers with staying power long after the events that shaped them. Alfred Hitchcock remains the Master of Suspense, the Master of Spy Films. Consider the failures artifacts of film history, artifacts that show, by comparison, just how brilliant he was when his powers were at their heights.


1. For many more details, see "Slaughter and Extermination: What the Treaty of Surrender Did for North-East Ulster" at the Ireland's OWN: History website.

2. For a detailed discussion of Peter Lorre in Hitchcock films, see "From Madman to Icon: A spy-ography of Peter Lorre" posted at this website.

3. Another example of fusing fact with fiction, Boris Karloff was a butler spy in British Intelligence (1940), an above-average spy thriller available on DVD. After he'd appeared in various spy films during the silent era, Monogram Studios Tried Karloff for five films as Mr. Wong beginning with Mr. Wong, Detective (1939). In this imitation of Charlie Chan and Peter Lorre's popular Mr. Moto, Wong battled international spies after an invisible gas formula. Karloff's last role as a spy villain was in the low-key The Venetian Affair in 1967.

4. According to, Bennet co-wrote the screenplay for the 1954 Casino Royale. Bennett also co-wrote the movie version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, several episodes of the TV series and The Wild, Wild West episode, "The Night of the

5. For an overview of Maibaum's work, see "The Man With The Golden Words: A Spy-ography of Richard Maibaum" posted at this website.

6. At this time, Hitchcock began work on his TV series, and one of the first episodes starred his daughter, Pat. She featured in the 1955 "The Vanishing Lady," an Alexander Woolcott story that had partially inspired the spy film, The Lady Vanishes. In the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" version, Pat Hitchcock played the daughter of a woman who disappeared at the 1899 Paris World Exhibition.

7. After considering casting Sean Connery as Mitch in The Birds, Hitch took him on as the male love interest in Marni. Desperate to shed some of the 007 persona, Connery jumped at the chance. Later, Connery was a possibility for appearing in Hitchcock's unfinished last film, The Short Night. Marni turned out to be a disappointment, the main draw thought to be Connery due to the overwhelming success of Goldfinger, also released in 1964.

8. British double-agent Kim Philby created the infamous "Cambridge Spy Ring." For a time, this circle, the cream of the crop of 40 Cambridge Communists, almost took complete control of the British Secret Service before the group was forced to defect. Philby's "Magnificent Five," in Moscow's opinion, included Guy Burgess, Donald Mclean, Sir Anthony Blount, and John Cairncross. New revelations about the group continued up to 1981 when the London Daily Mail outed Roosevelt speechwriter, Michael Strait, as the American end of the ring.

9. Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft first appeared in Code of the Secret Service (1939) in which Bancroft went to Mexico to retrieve engraving plates from counterfeiters. The character returned in Secret Service of the Air (1939) and Smashing the Money Ring (A.K.A. Queer Money), also in 1939. It was Murder in the Air (1940) where Bancroft looked for a missile defense shield, the film many thought inspired the President's uncompleted S.D.I. scheme.

10. For more on Cloak and Dagger, see "The Rogue Director: A Spy-ography of Fritz Lang" posted at this website.

11. A series of low-budget European thrillers starred a number of actors as secret agent 0SS 117, whose code-number appeared before most of the titles in this batch of often unrelated films. In 1965, 0SS 117: Mission for a Killer had Frederick Stafford tracking a dangerous drug to Amazon jungles to discover neo - Nazi agents planning to use it for world conquest. In 1966, Stafford was the agent again in Heart Trump for OSS 117 in Tokyo or alternatively as From Tokyo With Love. This Thunderball rip-off had Stafford after a group that is blackmailing the world with the threat of atomic bombs loaded onto portable missiles.

Later, Stafford was a British intelligence officer in Eagles Over London (1970). Co-starring Van Johnson, the story had German spies posing as rescued English soldiers after Dunkirk. They planned to sabotage radar installations and scramble radio broadcasts to prepare for the coming Battle of Britain. In Fear Runs Deep (1976), Stafford starred in the Italian film as a retired secret agent/ engineer whose son is kidnapped by a criminal gang who want secret plans for a new underwater device.

In my Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage, the history of the OSS 117 films is included in an overview of the '60s Euro-exploitation genre.

12. Karin Dor's credits also included a number of the Dr. Mabuse films of the early 1960s, which also gave screen time to the future "Goldfinger," Gert Frobe. In the violent A Target for A Killing (1966), Stewart Granger was agent James Vine helping an heiress (Dor) threatened by an assassination attempt orchestrated by Curt Jergens, another B-movie stalwart to rise to Bond stardom in The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977. In the low-budget 1974 Prisoner in the Middle (A.K.A. Warhead), David Jansen and Karin Dor looked for a stolen atomic bomb that threatens Arab/Israeli relations.

13. For more on Charade, see my Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage.


Britton, Wesley. Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film. Westport, CT: Praeger. 2005.
Britton, Wesley. Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage. Westport, CT: Praeger Pub. 2006.
McCormick, Donald. Who's Who in Spy Fiction. New York: Taplinger. 1977.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Reagan Books. 2003.
Paris, Barry. Audrey Hepburn. New York: Putnam. 1996.
Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Ballentine Books. 1983.
Wise, David. Mole Hunt: The Secret Search for Traitors that Shattered the CIA. New
York: Random House. 1992.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Neglected Nuggets and Obscure Classics: Collecting Rare Spy Films


By Wesley Britton

If you're a spy buff like me, you've spent hours pouring over catalogues and peering through bins of videos and DVDs looking for interesting secret agent titles beyond the Bond blockbusters and Hollywood releases for sale or rent. More often than not, you've been disappointed with the slim pickings.

In other files here--"The Indispensables" and "Very Honorable Mentions"--I offer short reviews of mainstream films espionage enthusiasts shouldn't miss. Here, you'll find viewing suggestions for hard-to-find films either not released on authorized DVDs or aren't the most well-known of titles. At the end of this list is contact information on good sources to find many of these rarities.


Bang! Bang! You're Dead. (A.K.A. Our Man in Marrakesh.) 1966.

First, consider the elements of any spy film by the master--Alfred Hitchcock. Typically, we have an intelligent innocent, whether played by Robert Donet, James Stewart, or Cary Grant, pulled into the covert world by way of mistaken identity, witnessing a crime, or by helping out someone in distress who turns up dead. Typically, at the heart of it all is a single "Mcguffan"--a code, secret, or device spies are after. Then toss in a suspenseful plot, elaborate set pieces, dark-edged humor, and, oh yes, romance.

Few spy films after Hitch would fail to draw from this well. For example, Bang! Bang! You're Dead has an innocent American in the person of Tony Randall playing a low-level engineer on holiday. He's so naïve and decent that he makes every other character in this European set romp seem sophisticated by comparison, whether the urbane British tax collector or the Moroccan townsman who drives Randall into the mountains. But he's not the only innocent to confuse either enemy agents or we the audience. He's one of seven people on a train and spies know one of them is a courier with secret information but don't know which. The Mcguffan is A briefcase full of documents in a plot to buy votes at the U.N.

What makes this different from a Hitchcock thriller? Mostly the complications. One body of a dead agent pops up so frequently in one hotel room or another that it's hard to know how it's being transported after leaving the hotel the first time hidden in a laundry bin. At one point, our hero complains he's being framed for murder by murderers who want to murder him. Is the delicious Senta Berger good CIA agent or bad, and even if good, what does she say Randall can believe? How about Margaret Leigh? And all the supporting characters that provide sub-plots and red herrings played by the likes of Klaus Kinski, Herbert Lom, and Terry - Thomas?

For some critics, Randall plays a credible part. While no Stewart nor Grant, he seemed perfectly cast. Perhaps so. For me, it's everything else in the film that keeps interest going from the dark-humored script to the charms of Senta Berger to the shifting settings to the various surprises at film's end. If you like Randall in this role, all the better for your entertainment dollar. If not, there's still plenty to make this neglected nugget worthwhile in any spy buff's collection.


Carry On Spying. 1964.

For years, I've been wondering why this entry in the popular British "Carry On . . ." series is so hard to find. Other films can be picked up at your local Best Buy or Mediaplay individually and in boxed sets on both video and DVD. Was there something wrong with this outing that discouraged the owners of the rights from releasing this one?

If so, I can't see the problem. I can't resist the alliteration--this is a silly, slapstick, cross-dressing send-up of the British Secret Service and its arch-nemesis, S.T.E.N.C.H. (Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans.) In the story, four bumbling agents--and bumbling to the extreme--including Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawltry, and the squeaky-voiced Barbara Windsor as Agent Honeybutt go after Dr. Crow, the half-man, half-woman head of S.T.E.N.C.H. He, er, she, they? Is/are after a secret formula of some sort but the agents spend more time in this plot bantering with each other than they do investigating or battling any minions of evil. The characters are over-the-top nutcases unaware of their exuberant foolishness as they exchange oddball passcodes, wear conspicuous disguises, and survive every trap set for them without a single use of skill or courage. Well, Windsor is the observant one with the photographic memory, but the boys don't let her do much. They're afraid white women are in mor jeopardy than any other group. But it's a white woman who saves them in the end--an agent from S.N.O.G. (Society to Nock Out Germs.)

Throughout this romp, supported by a soundtrack that's part take-off of "The Third Man Theme," part rip-off of Warner Brothers cartoon melodies, there's a cheerfulness and sense of play that should make most viewers--dare I use the expression? --LOL. Forget Johnny English or even Austin Powers--here is British comedy that the Marx Brothers would enjoy.


Corrupt Ones, The. (A.K.A. The Peking Medallion) 1966.

In the Matt Helm film series, Dean Martin played a reluctant spy posing as a fashion photographer, reluctant, that is, because he has more interesting things to do than go on missions despite his U.S. intelligence paycheck. Let's flip that set-up. Take a adventurous photographer played by a rough-and-tough type like Robert Stack (Elliott Ness on TV's The Untouchables) and pull him into a multi-layered story from which Stack's character could have bailed out at any time. In the script, partly written by Avengers producer/writer Brian Clemens, Stack is given a package to hold for a few hours by another adventurer which turns out to be a medallion that holds the secret to a fabulous treasure in Red China. Stack's contact--clearly no friend--turns up tortured to death by a blow-torch. In come the ladies--Tina (Nancy Kwan), agent of a Chinese Tong organization, and Elke Somer as Lillian Mancini, the wife of the man who stole the medallion and entrusted it with Stack. She is no grieving widow--she just wants what's coming to her as hubbie was no loving contributor to her well being. Add to the plot a gangster who wants the treasure and you have a three-way tug-of-war between the gangster, the Chinese, and Stack--oops, forgot the helpful cop who has his own ideas. And is Sommer a partner or is she playing footsie chess?

In his description of the film, collector Louis Paul wonders why this film remains left out of most discussions of spy movies. My guess was the clearly B-movie visuals and tacky score (excepting the title song by Dusty Springfield.) For my money, the script and characterizations were not A list, but B means better than average in school. Often gritty and largely humorless, I think connoisseurs will find this entertaining and worthy of an evening's viewing.


Deadly Recruits. 1986.

While rooting through a discount bin at my local Mediaplay, my eyes lit up when I discovered a four-movie set on two DVDs called Spies, The CIA, the Kgb (Diamond Entertainment, 2004). I hadn't heard of any of the films--and three of them I won't even mention here. But the fourth . . .

The only thing wrong with this effort is the title which sounds more brutal and sophomoric than what we get. In the thoughtful story, government agent David Audley (Terence Stamp) begins an investigation of a mysterious motorcycle accident. Paired with another agent, the two expand the search for unexplained disappearances of Oxford University students in what turns out to be a KGB plot to create its agents by turning England's best and brightest into Reds. By this means, they need not try to bring in outside agents or create traitors. Corruption from within by coercion or skillful brainwashing is all they need in a secret college community.

Here, with many nods to Kim Philby's "Cambridge Spy Ring," we get a highly-sophisticated, long-term Cold War plot that is plausible, insidious, and more chilling than whiz-bang special effects, secret formulas, or kidnapped scientists. With excellent acting, pace, and believable spycraft, it's hard to believe this British effort isn't better known. Well worth looking for.


Fanfare for a Death Scene. 1964.

Now, this one is a seriously neglected nugget of the genre. Originally intended for TV broadcast on the "Kraft Suspense Theatre" as a potential pilot, Fanfare was deemed too adult for television and was instead released theatrically in Europe. In this case, adult means violent but also intelligent--we should be grateful this concept wasn't dumbed down for network prime time.

Many typical ingredients of the secret agent universe are handled skillfully in this crowded story. Paul Striker (Richard Egan) is a confident ex-G-2, O.S.S., and CIA agent who's left the cloak and dagger world to build a multi-million dollar industrial complex. He's high enough in the ranks to turn down phone calls from every department in the U.S. government until the president calls him into service. It seems a psychotic trumpet-playing nuclear scientist (Burgess Meredith) has disappeared with entirely too many defense secrets in his head. He needs to be found before any one of a number of enemies can track him down. Striker is ahead of everyone else--he knows the ultimate enemy is the "Golden Horde," a Mongolian organization with roots deep in history. The leader (Telly Savalas), whom every intelligence agency in the world doesn't believe exists, puts Fu Manchu to shame. Like the U.S. government, he has access to cutting-edge technology including mini-cams and bugs in Striker's house, devices that can block transmitters, and similar machines helpful in torture. His cohorts include the Imperial Princess of Mongolia (Tina Louise) who first poses as the scientist's murdered wife before revealing her true redheaded colors as carrying the royal bloodline of Genghis Khan himself.

Music played an important role in the film including a jazz score by trumpeter Al Hirt and a closing scene at a concert used to draw out the music loving Meredith. Another praised aspect was the black-and-white cinematography which captures the flavor of New York in the '60s. The film has but one noticeable flaw, being a very rushed conclusion at the concert where a decoy is set up to confuse the enemy (which doesn't work) before the final shootout. We never learn the scientist's motives for disappearing which probably doesn't matter. Perhaps he murdered his wife and not the Horde? The twist, all along, was that neither the good nor bad guys had him. The story was the duel between the cool Egan and the cultured Savalas who are well matched opponents with equal measures of style.

Perhaps this short description sounds like that of yet another far-fetched '60s adventure. No, no, this project has very plausible, and well-acted characters in realistic if tongue-in-cheek situations. No spy buff should consider their collection complete without it.


Invisible Horror, The. (A.K.A. Invisible Dr. Mabuse, The. 1962.

I've been interested in this series ever since I ran across references to director Fritz Lang's original 1922 film, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler. (See discussion in my "Spy-ography" of Lang posted here.) I suspected the sequels--including Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse, Return of Dr. Mabuse, Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse, Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and this outing--would all be sci-fi/horror B flicks with little to recommend them.

Well, I was partly right. IN this tale, Dr. Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss) is after "Operation X," a device so secret it was said to be more important than super-bombs or rocket ships. Turns out, it's a device that can make him invisible. FBI agent Joe Como (Lex Barker) is also after the secret project invented by a mad professor who hid in a lab. After an accident disfigured him, he created the machine so he can be with the unwitting love of his life, an actress (Karin Dor, later to star in You Only Live Twice). For most of the film, Barker tries to convince West German policeman Gert Frobe (yes, Goldfinger) that Mabuse actually exists while Dor wants someone to believe her, that an invisible man is haunting her theatre dressing-room and giving her invisible kisses. Worse--the mad professor is watching her bathe--it's when he moves a bath towel that Barker finally nabs him. All the professor wants is to be with the girl who captures his eye on and off-stage--Mabuse wants to rule the world.

All of this is simple matinee fun and much analysis is beside the point. The story and gimmicks are what this film are about and not characterizations nor acting. The biggest surprise was the lengths the writers went to make the invisibility device plausible with detailed scientific explanations of how it works. Spy trappings include secret meetings in planetariums where messages are sent via ear-pieces while a lecturer explains the mysteries of the galaxy. Barker, Frobe, and Price are all rather dry when delivering their lines, although Mabuse is most often heard over a speaker. Only Dor pumps out much emotion with strategically placed screams to break up any long expositions.

In short, a perfect late-night movie that's probably more interesting if one sees all the films in the series. So I have more nuggets to track down . . .


Hunter of the Unknown. 1965.

I don't know about this one. In his description of the film, Louis Paul wrote:

"On a Caribbean island, a secret agent (George Ardisson) discovers that a
crazy leader (Fernando Sancho) has kidnapped scientists developing rockets loaded with a life - disintegrating gas. A Russian agent (Frank Wolff) is also dispatched to
the island. Highly recommended!"

Highly recommended, eh? Well, I watched what seemed to me to be a by-the-numbers badly dubbed knock-off and kept wondering what Louis saw in it. "I guess it's all the bronzed-bodies," I said to my wife, remembering Paul was co-writer of Film Fatales. "Can't be bronze bodies," replied my literal-minded wife. "It's in black-and-white." Hmm. So I wrote Louis and asked why he thought so much of Hunter. His reply:

" . . . some of its enjoyment lies in the cut-rate pop-art spectacle of an oddly endearing hero who looks somewhat like Sean Connery (but not as much as say German Cobos of Desperate Mission who looks quite a bit like Connery), and somewhat like a cute chipmunk, who manages to find a really straight face, and save the world. Also, the women are all hard femm fatales in this movie, and you really don't find that
all too often. Another plus is the presence of Frank Wolff as a stalwart villain, anti-hero, than a hero ...and Hunter moves well to boot."

Okie dokie. Maybe I'll give this one a second chance. Some day. But if that description sounds down your alley, well, go for it.


Operation: Kid Brother. 1967.

No one has ever suggested this film is more than a novelty item of special interest to Bond fans. It's the casting that makes this Italian knock-off something for your collection. After all, the lead is Dr. Connery, Neal Connery, played by Connery, Neal Connery, kid brother of Sean. He's a bit Derek Flint, master of many fields. He's a master plastic surgeon who's mastered a special hypnosis technique, several languages, the martial arts, not to mention lip reading. He's a bit Dr. McCoy from Star Trek. When he's approached by Commander Cunningham of the British Secret Service (played by Bernard Lee, the "M" of the Bond films), he protests saying, "I'm a surgeon, not a secret agent." Cunningham wants kid brother to step into his older brother's shoes after agent 00-something is killed in a plane crash. Cunningham's assistant Miss Maxwell (Lois Maxwell, the Miss Moneypenny of big brother's movies) isn't sure the younger model is as handsome as the elder sibling, but can't be sure because of his beard. Other casting choices were clearly attempts to link this extravaganza to the Bond phenomena. Adolpho Celli is the bad guy--as he had been in Thunderball--and the femme fatale is Daniela Bianchi, who'd starred in From Russia With Love. Other small nods came in dialogue as when one girl doesn't believe Connery's warnings about trouble afoot. "You've been reading too many novels by Fleming."

In my view, the scriptwriters hadn't read much Fleming but had poured over any number of other low-budget scripts. You'd think from the description above that they were playing for laughs, but it's all straight-forward--if tongue in cheek. Celli wants to take over a criminal cartel by having Connery make a duplicate of the actual leader of the organization while setting up a magnetic field which will disrupt all uses of metals across the globe while blowing up his own army of girl soldiers on a yacht while prying secrets from hypnotized women while blind factory workers handle radioactive materials while . . . well not a stone is unturned.

It's easy to see why Neal collected only one paycheck for this sort of thing. It's hard to tell he's related to Sir Sean, and maybe it's my American ear, but it's hard to tell he hails from the British Isles. Sean's son, Jason, did better when playing the creator of 007 in Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming and as Harry Palmer's apparent son (Palmer being Michael Caine) in Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St. Petersburg. All that being said, the film is passable entertainment, especially for audiences who like to write their own jokes.


Secret Ways, The. 1961.

This classic got on my radar screen when I read an interview with Euan Lloyd, one of the film's producers, in the premiere issue of Cinema Retro magazine. There, Lloyd claimed his company had trouble casting the female lead until, one day in Vienna, he was riding with actor Richard Widmarck and spotted a lovely vision walking down the street. He leaped out of their car and asked the girl if she was an actress. She was. So Senta Berger was discovered. I passed this story on to a spy list serve and got a message back from Eric Newsome. He quoted Louis Paul's much-mentioned Film Fatales where it's reported it was Widmarck who discovered Berger when he saw her riding a bicycle.

Whatever the facts behind this casting choice, it's true Senta Berger is a major contribution to this strangely overlooked spy nugget. Secret Ways was based on an Alistair Maclean novel, set in Vienna and Budapest in 1956. Richard Widmarck played Mike Reynolds, a cocky, cynical soldier-of-fortune hired against his better judgement to help a Hungarian freedom fighter escape from behind the Iron Curtain. Reynolds knows the mission is dangerous but he needs the $60,000 to pay off his debts. Posing as a reporter, his first task is to find the fighter's daughter (Berger) who is living in Austria after escaping a short time previously to lead him to her father. Willful and independent, she insists on accompanying him as his secretary to Budapest. Turns out, Dad doesn't want to leave his homeland despite the ticking clock of his immanent arrest by the secret police. And Berger doesn't want to leave without him.

This synopsis, of course, sounds like the storyline of many a Cold War drama. But much sets Secret Ways above the pack. The location shooting (Vienna for Budapest) is first-rate as is the acting by all hands. The dueling cultural contrasts are approached with fresh touches, as with the use of language. When Widmarck and Berger enter Hungary, the secret police try to trip her up by having a linguist evaluate her dialect to see where she truly comes from. Because she was trained in Munich as a schoolteacher, her accent belies her Hungarian heritage. When the Communist watch-dogs become overbearing, Widmarck confuses them and drives them away by using American idioms, slang, and catch-phrases they can't understand. And, despite the fact he's an agent-for-hire, he becomes convincing when he tries to persuade the stubborn, ideological father to escape precisely because he is a pragmatist with no personal motives of his own. Nothing is overdone here in what could have turned into another anti-Red propaganda piece. For example, no musical score and little talk accompanies the long, tense escape sequence. Only the action and sound effects are needed to keep audience interest in a climax that is no foregone conclusion.

It's a mystery why Secret Ways hasn't been released on mainstream video or on DVD with a good commentary track. Until then, go for a bootleg. This one is worth it.


Some Girls Do. 1969.

First, I admit being a fan of the Bulldog Drummond films of the 1930s when John Barrymore, John Howard, and John Lodge each took turns playing Major Hugh Drummond, the adventurer who can't stay out of trouble. In those days, he missed his wedding so many times, his fiancee hid his trousers and cut his phone line so he'd stay home and make his nuptials. In one outing, a policeman even tried to keep him in jail so Phyllis wouldn't miss her big day. But even iron bars couldn't keep our hero penned in. It took several films before the union surprised everyone after all sorts of crooks, spies, and cops drug Drummond into all manner of light intrigue involving secret gadgets, clever gizmos, and unusual smuggling operations. In each adventure, Drummond bantered in engaging repartee with his sardonic butler, an entourage of willing cohorts, and Scotland Yard investigators.

Little of any of this came through in the two updatings of the character in the '60s. First, there was Deadlier Than the Male (1966), which introduced Richard Johnson as the above-it-all insurance investigator and sometime spy. The sequel, Some Girls Do, returned Johnson, this time facing 13 women with artificial brains whose electronic strings were being pulled by his old nemesis, Carl Peterson (James Villears). (When I say old, I mean old. Novelist Sapper--pen name for Lt. Col. Herman Cyril McNeile--created both Drummond and Peterson in 1920.) This time, Peterson is out to earn 8 million pounds by using a new "infra-sound" device to knock out experimental British planes.

This incarnation of Drummond was shaped more by the Bond mythos than anything Sapper or John Barrymore could have imagined. The gimmick of girl robots, trained in a bogus cooking school, would have made for a good The Avengers script. Or even a story like In Like Flint where sexy girls were brainwashed by hair-dryers. In fact, Drummond seems to be a Peter O'Toole imitation waltzing casually in a production built around girls, girls, girls. Well, the film was so British it would be better described as birds, birds, birds. For example, the sultry voiced Delilah Lavi, in an attempt to recapture the glow of Elke Somer in Deadlier Than the Male, is Helga, the girl sent to seduce Drummond before attempting to murder him. The other beauties include Beba Loncar, Vanessa Howard, Sydney Rome, and Yutte Stenssgaard. You could call them the Stepford Killers.

All this being said, there is a place for Some Girls in your collection, especially if you like films with an overt '60s flavor. The music, settings, and cinematography will take modern viewers back to old "Swinging London" baby-boomer styles. The main problem is that the minimal story drags after the first 30 minutes unlike the fast-paced adventures of the 1930s. The production values are better than 99% of other knock-offs of the era, so if light entertainment stirred with delightful eye-candy is your thing, this one is certainly sweet enough.


When 8 Bells Toll. 1971.

While I don't want to overstate the case, it often seems the Brits are better able to make better use of limited budgets than anyone else. Maybe it's the well of talent they can draw from. Maybe it's their history with espionage that runs deeper than almost any other country. As John Le Carre' repeatedly demonstrated, the English class system is a means to dramatize conflict above and beyond old Cold War duels between East and West. Whatever the reasons, UK productions often rely more on scripts and acting than any need to entertain by way of excessive pyrotechnics or gimmicks.

For example, in this well above-average offering, Anthony Hopkins (much later, our Hannibal Lector) played Culvert, an independent underwater expert brought in by upper-crust British intelligence chiefs to investigate piracy of bullion shipments at sea and the mysterious disappearances of ships around England. There are no clues other than the crews are dropped off on deserted islands without any knowledge of where they've been. The chiefs are unhappy with Calvert's propensity for doing things on his own without following the niceties of social propriety. Of course, he didn't go to the best schools like his primary suspect (played by Charles Gray, the Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.) After all, Gray's character went to the best schools, he goes to the best clubs. He couldn't possibly be the one who's got an entire Scottish town under his thumb by kidnapping and holding citizens in underground cells. No, no, he's too well-bred to sink boats that happen to be in the waters within 48 hours of the hijackings.

In this mystery, Hopkins shows he has the presence to be both intelligent and quick to action, willing to take risks and change direction when the red herrings prove to be false trails. In some ways, the film looked like a pilot for a TV series featuring Hopkins. The score certainly sounded like a television movie and the ending showed him freeing the bad girl and sailing off for new adventures. Too bad they didn't make more of these. Perhaps the producers wondered if they could maintain the balance between tense intrigue and humor. In some scenes, the chiefs walk a thin line between being characters and caricatures. For example, after Calvert defeats an assassin on his boat, they are more preoccupied with blood on the carpet and the awful taste of RAF cheeserolls than the violence they abhor. In the end, they're vindicated--the old-school buddy wasn't the leader of the gang but rather another of the victims with his wife one of those held in the sunken cells. But it's clear he's saved in spite of the system, not because of the establishment the old boys want to preserve.

For me one mystery remains--the title. I don't recall any bells or any count of them. Still, this is a case where scriptwriters outdo the likes of Clive Cusler and so many other films and books involving sea adventure. Perhaps not a classic, but easily a more than worthy nugget.


If any of these titles appeal to your tastes, good purchasing sources include:


(Caution: The price for Blood Times videos or DVDs is a bit high for dubs that vary wildly in quality. Every DVD I played skipped at least in one scene or another. I appreciate rarity, but I kicked myself when I discovered I'd paid $12 for Operation: Kid Brother when I saw it had been taped off the Movie Channel. Nonetheless, unless you have a better source, Blood Times has titles not easy to find. It's your call.)

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These folks have an incredible catalogue of rare Action-adventure thrillers. Their categories include:

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Under the "Spies, espionage, and intrigue" listing, they currently have 65 titles from obscure 1960s exploitation flicks to chestnuts from the early days of cinema. Most are on VHS and sell for $16 each. However, they do occasionally have a $98 sale going on.