Thursday, May 7, 2009

DVD Review: In A Word--Intelligence

By Wesley Britton

On April 29, 2008, Acorn Media released the first season of Canada’s Intelligence on DVD in the Region 1 format. Finally, those of us south of the border got our first chance to experience one of the finest espionage-oriented television series ever produced. On April 14, 2009, Acorn released season two, and I’m impatiently waiting its arrival in the Netflicks catalogue. At the same time, I’m wondering—why can’t American networks do something on this level of, well, intelligence?

The multi-layered program debuted as a two hour movie in November 2005 and ran as a series from October 10, 2006 to December 10, 2007 on the CBC, roughly Canada’s equivalent of the BBC. Producer and writer Chris Haddock created Intelligence, describing the show as "half gangster, half espionage," and that’s a fair summation. That is, if you can accept mobsters without Italian accents and no desire for bloodletting. The gangster half of the show revolved around Ian Tracy as Jimmy Reardon, a third-generation Vancouver crime boss overseeing his family's legacy in shipping, money laundering, and pot smuggling. The espionage half centered on Klea Scott as Mary Spalding, daughter of an Army intelligence officer and head of Vancouver's Organized Crime Unit. A black woman operating in a male-dominated realm, she wanted to move upstairs to become chief of he Asia Pacific Region of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). (Scott had earlier portrayed the co-starring role of FBI agent Emma Hollis on the third season of Chris Carter's Millennium).

Throughout the two season run, Spalding and Reardon had parallel storylines, with both their criminal and law enforcement activities complicated by rivalries with their respective competitors, most notably American agencies or gangs seeking control over Canadian interests. In the pilot, Spalding—as savvy, crafty, and strong-willed a spymaster as has ever been seen on either the small or large screen—began building her own independent network of informants by crafting an uneasy alliance with Reardon. She offered him immunity from prosecution in exchange for his becoming an informant on major criminal activity, notably gun smuggling like ships in Panama carrying arms destined for the Congo. At the same time, Spalding planted a dancer in Reardon’s club to spy on him while she established a relationship with the head of an escort service. And, after discovering one of her Chinese translators is a mole, Spalding turned him into her own double-agent.

Meanwhile, the calm and non-violent Reardon works with as much diplomacy as he can muster to avoid gang wars with two rising groups, the “Bikers” and “The Disciples.” In his view, there are drugs he doesn’t want to touch anyway, there is enough territory for everyone to have their own piece of the pie, and he is hoping to be out of the criminal business in five years. He has his own informer inside the Vancouver police department, Rene Desjardins (Michael Eklund). Reardon tries to appease his ambitious but reckless brother Michael (Bernie Coulson) who wants his own place in the sun. On top of all this, Reardon is constantly dogged by his neurotic ex-wife, Francine Reardon (Camille Sullivan) who threatens to bring his empire down. Neither Spalding nor Reardon know it, but American law enforcement is working to get Reardon on U.S. soil so they can bust him while the American DEA is using a heroin smuggler in much the same way as Spalding is working Reardon.

Throughout season one, Spalding also learns her agency—indeed all of Canadian intelligence—is riddled with moles as well as subordinates who’d like to see her go, especially the vicious veteran intelligence agent Ted Altman (Matt Frewer), her scheming second-in-command. (Frewer was once a pop cultural icon in the form of “Max headroom” during the 1980s.) Along the way, Spalding learns just how far the tentacles of the U.S. reach into Canadian intelligence. This is called "deep integration" of U.S and Canadian political and economic systems which included American intelligence agents infiltrating Canadian institutions. In particular, when Spalding began investigating the Blackmire group, a corporation out to steal Canada’s fresh-water resources, she ultimately discovered the organization was a front for the CIA. Oh, lest we forget, the Chinese and Vietnamese have their own plans as well . . .

If all this seems like much too much for any one series to carry, Intelligence was driven by well-crafted scripts by Chris Haddock who carefully blended in new characters and developments from episode to episode. Using a snowballing menu of perspectives, his storylines unfolded in well-balanced shifts from the criminal machinations to the turf wars inside Canadian law enforcement. Better, every character was fully realized, totally believable, and, especially in the case of Spalding, almost jaw-dropping in their abilities to maintain their own balancing acts. All this overlapping of criminal conspiracies and espionage in the plots drew, in part, from Haddock’s notion that drugs are the crucial modern industry. In his view, information--the buying and selling of “intel” on everything from heroin trafficking to international terrorism--is the most addictive and profitable drug of all.

While it was on the air, Intelligence developed a strong fan base, received critical favor, was sold to 143 foreign markets, and earned 11 Gemini nominations. However, at the end of the second year, citing poor ratings, the CBC did not schedule the show for a third season. Haddock publicly claimed the network was responding to pressures from higher-ups who didn’t like dramas of this kind on the network. He backed his point by noting, after initial interest from the company, the CBC was noticeably unsupportive of the series with minimal promotions throughout the two year run. This makes me wonder if Canadians have other infiltrations to worry about—perhaps the very sort of thinking that has doomed many a U.S. classic has moved across the border. Along with our CIA, perhaps they’re getting our breed of network executives. Too bad. It’s not often we get something like Intelligence, but at least we Yanks can now at least appreciate shows we knew nothing about during the original broadcast.

If I haven’t made it clear—don’t miss Intelligence! It is something special for anyone who ever appreciated The Sandbaggers, Danger Man, or, well, few shows are like it. With any luck, more in its mold will be coming—and would be most welcome from any country of origin.

I hereby thank David Spencer from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers for calling my attention to Intelligence as part of my research for The Encyclopedia of TV Spies.

More reviews by Dr. Wesley Britton are posted at—

Sunday, May 3, 2009

OSS 117, 007, and Alfred Hitchcock: A French Secret Agent and the Bond Bonanza

By Ron Payne

FOR MANY YEARS I WAS AWARE OF FRENCH THRILLER WRITER JEAN BRUCE, WHO WROTE THE ADVENTURES OF SECRET AGENT HUBERT BONISSEUR DE LA BATH, better known in France as "0SS 117." Bruce, who created his suave and sophisticated agent, four years before Ian Fleming created BRITISH AGENT 007, earned millions writing about the character---and in the 1960s---at the height of the Worldwide Bond-Craze, Gaumont Studios, the oldest and certainly one of the greatest film studios in the world, started making motion pictures about Monsieur de la Bath 0SS 117.

SINCE 2006, when Parisian actor Jean Dujardin became the French equivalent of a new Sean Connery, with the hit Gaumont Studio production of OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, there has been a renewed interest in the French counter-intelligence agent. THE NEW de la Bath adventure, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, also starring the charismatic Dujardin, soon to be released in Europe, promises to be a blockbuster for the great French studio, which only sixteen months ago lost a distribution-contract with Sony Pictures.

Hubert (pronounced U-Bear) Bonisseur de la Bath was created in 1949 to immediate literary success in France. Jean (pronounced like Sean) Bruce wrote like an angel doing Figure-Eights, effortlessly on ice, when he wrote about de la Bath, who has everything going for him that Bond does. He is handsome, cool-in-danger and good with the ladies. Ian Fleming read Jean Bruce, when he travelled in France and Bruce's books were easy to find in London bookstalls.

BUT the enormous popularity of the character has yet to catch on in America, though he has his admirers in this country as well. de la Bath has been portrayed on screen by Sean Flynn, the late son of movie idol-swashbuckler Errol Flynn. (Sean was lost in Vietnam, when captured by the North Vietnamese while riding his motorcycle. He was a photographer and war correspondent, like his father years earlier in the Spanish Civil War [1937] and the younger Flynn was held hostage for a year and executed.)

Frederick Stafford, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s production of Leon Uuris’s Topaz, also starred as de la Bath and gave the character a genuine James Bond-like persona. (It was because of his OSS 117 role that Hitchcock hired Stafford for the Topaz role.) Producer Harry Saltzman remarked at the time of the Topaz release, "If Frederick Stafford had not been French, but English, he might have followed directly in Sean Connery’s footsteps as Bond."

Kerwin Matthews, most famous in the United States as Gulliver in The Three Worlds of Gulliver and "The Sinbad" series (one in which he co-starred opposite Mrs. Bing Crosby) was also successful in the role. BUT FOR THE SAKE of comparisons, it was John Gavin, who later became President Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Mexico, who stands out. Gavin, who played the romantic lead in Hitchcock’s Psycho, opposite Vera Miles, was a rising star at Universal Pictures before leaving for France and undertaking the role of Agent OSS 117. At Universal, Gavin felt lost in a relentless attempt by Universal executives to pigeon-hole him in roles better suited for Rock Hudson, who was the studio's top star at the time. If GAVIN was not being proposed for the next "Tammy" picture, he was made to fill out his contract playing "Destry," a character created by James Stewart in Destry Rides Again and who was later played by Audie Murphy. Gavin's Destry television series soon hit the dirt and Gavin picked-up the trail for France and GAUMONT STUDIOS, when his Universal Pictures agreements expired.

FRANCE WAS GOOD for John Gavin and his tenure as "0SS 117" was a successful one, if not the most successful of any other actor who played the role. (See his film, OSS 117: Double Agent at under Espionage and Spy Films).

IN 1971, after George Lazenby, on bad advice from his Business Manager Ronan O'Rahilly, resigned from the role of James Bond after just one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli were desperate to find a new Double-0-seven. John Gavin, on the strength of his '0SS 117,' was signed to a contract to be the next James Bond in Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever. Mr. Gavin was given a script and United Aartists went on alert that John Gavin, would, indeed, be starring in the diamond smuggling caper, set to be filmed in Amsterdam, South Africa, London, Las Vegas and UNIVERSAL PICTURES (his old studio) in the spring. Diamonds Are Forever was to be EON Productions’s first Bond film completed in the United States. (Exterior scenes of Miami Beach in Goldfinger were 'Second Unit' sequences, with interiors and Fort Knox filmed at Pinewood Studios outside London.)

John Gavin, an American of Mexican descent, who played a French secret agent as Hubert Connoisseur de la Bath, was now ready to become ENGLAND's MOST FAMOUS EXPORT---James Bond, 'DOUBLE-0-SEVEN,' Ian Fleming’s GENTLEMAN AGENT with THE LICENCE TO KILL.


Albert R. Broccoli liked John Gavin." Harry Saltzman liked John Gavin. Enter David Picker, Executive Vice President of United Artists. "WE WANT CONNERY....!" GET CONNERY BACK, AT ANY PRICE...! became the "War Cry" at United Artists, then a subsidiary of the giant San Francisco insurance firm, Trans-America Corporation.

SUDDENLY, producers Saltzman and Broccoli were faced with a new casting crisis. Broccoli had already turned down Burt Reynolds (because he was not English) and Reynolds claims he turned down Bond earlier (because "No one can play Bond but Sean Connery. ") Either way, John Gavin (who was definitely not English and had no woes about being compared with Connery) was already signed. His name was on the deal. The contract was "in the pocket."


There are many stories circulating that John Gavin was in a holding pen, contractually, during this period. That, actually, he was the back-up-plan, in the event Sean Connery could not be lured back into the ring to once again put on his gloves as Bond and go for the 'Championship.'

THE ANNOUNCEMENT GOES FORTH: Sean Connery "IS" JAMES BOND in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER." Dennis Selinger, Mr. Connery's agent at International Creative Management in London "inks the deal" that makes the future SIR SEAN, "the highest paid movie star in the world," up until that time. For a then staggering $1.2 million, plus a large percentage of the gross receipts (not to mention the financing of 2 motion pictures of Mr. Connery's choice by United Artists-- He does The Offence, which UA finances and Connery stars and produces in London), the legendary icon returns in the role that made him famous. Jill ST. John is signed as his co-star, and rumors of a romance between the two starts immediately during filming. Lana Wood is signed as 'Plenty O'Toole' and country-western singer-sausage king, Jimmy Dean, becomes Willard Whyte, the Howard Hughes of Diamonds Are Forever overnight.

John Gavin, though he is passed-over for the "superstar-making-role-of-a-lifetime," is paid $100,000 for his participation by the producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, as Roger Moore, receives a call at the end of filming telling him "to cut your hair and lose weight. We think you're going to be the next James Bond."

For more on Frederick Stafford and how Alfred Hitchcock used him in Topaz, check out:

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

Posted in the “Spies on Film” files at

There, you’ll learn how this film not only employed a former OSS 117, but a former Bond girl, namely Karen Dor from You Only Live Twice.