The First Anti-American Spy Film?

That was how director Ken Russell described his production of Billion Dollar Brain (1967). Whether that claim is true or not, Russell maintained it was the main reason the third entry in the Harry Palmer spy series failed at the box office. To be totally honest, none of the competing rivals in the film – Russia, the U.K., Latvia and the U.S. – are preferable over the other and come across as cynical, opportunistic entities that are only focused on their own agendas and self interests. Seen today, Billion Dollar Brain is easily most entertaining film in the five-movie franchise and deserves a reappraisal.   Continue reading

Czech Mates

Sylva Koscina and Dirk Bogarde star in Agent 8 3/4 (aka Hot Enough for June, 1964), directed by Ralph Thomas.

Not all of the spy thrillers that followed in the wake of the James Bond craze, which began in 1962 with Dr. No, were pale imitations or grade B action-adventure fare. There were exceptions in this burgeoning genre and one of the best was Agent 8 ¾ (1964, aka Hot Enough for June). Instead of relying on high tech gadgetry, special effects and slam bang action sequences, this British import took a droll, tongue-in-cheek approach to the spy genre and had fun parodying the politics of the Cold War era in its tale of an aspiring novelist being used by British Intelligence as a pawn in their spy games with Communist foes in Prague.  Continue reading

Ten Feet High and Rising

Floods of Fear posterMost moviegoers know Howard Keel as the brawny, baritone singing star of such MGM musicals as Show Boat (1951), Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) but occasionally the actor would appear in straight dramatic vehicles such as Desperate Search (1952) or Ride, Vaquero! (1953), which proved he was more than competent as a rugged leading man. Floods of Fear (1959), one of his least known films, falls into this latter category and is a surprisingly taut and suspenseful thriller that was originally serialized in The Saturday Evening Post under the pulp fiction title of A Girl, a Man and a River.    Continue reading