10 Films to Watch if You Like Classic Bond

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North by Northwest (1959): It’s no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock was offered the chance to direct Dr. No because he had singlehandedly propelled the spy thriller into the public eye through such classic as The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, and Notorious. It’s also no surprise that he turned down the chance because had essentially made the greatest spy thriller ever. There was no reason to attempt to make another. Cary Grant. Eva Marie Sainte. Bernard Hermann. Ernest Lehman. Mt. Rushmore. Cropdusters. Just a few of the things that make this film awesome. It’s a must for all Bond fans.

That Man from Rio (1964): So there’s no doubt that Philippe de Broca’s film was made in a world conscious of the James Bond phenomenon but it’s also a charming blend of Tintin-esque action serials and wild humor that’s anchored by the charming pair of Jean-Pierre Belmondo and Francoise Dorleac. Its mixture of lavish location shooting, fun-filled action, and consistent humor makes it a must for all Bond lovers.

Charade (1963): By now we’ve all heard that this picture from Stanley Donen was the best Hitchcock film that he never made. Sure, that’s probably true if you want to put any stock in such an assertion but beyond that, we have Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn starring opposite each other in a spy comedy romance. It sounds like an absolutely delightful proposition and it is. It’s funny as a rom-com but still exhibits enough intrigue to pass as a compelling thriller.

The Ipcress File (1965): Sir Michael Caine as British spy Harry Palmer should be enough to pull audiences into this franchise. But if not that then consider this. Although it was made by some of the minds behind Bond, this franchise was supposed to be its antithesis in its representation of the spy life. It’s the anti-Bond if you will. Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain would follow in the subsequent years.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965): However, if you want something completely different from Bond with a sense of stark realism matched with a cynical edge you probably couldn’t get closer to the mark than watching this thriller based off the work of John Le Carre. Richard Burton is as disillusioned as any spy in the history of the movies and you get the strange sense that he has the right to be. If you looking for another tonal shift in the realm of spy thrillers look to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s demanding but certainly worthwhile.

Casino Royale (1967): We’re about to enter the territory of less demanding fare and the epitome of that is this initial Casino Royale (please don’t dare confuse this installment with Daniel Craig’s. Please don’t). All you need to know is that Peter Sellers plays Evelyn Tremble (ie James Bond), Ursula Andress is Vesper Lynd (ie James Bond), Orson Welles is Le Chiffre, Woody Allen is Jimmy Bond…must I go on or do you get the idea? If you had any preconception that this was a Bond movie you were mistaken.

Our Man Flint (1967): James Coburn the tough guy from such classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape landed his own headlining gig as a spy in his own right. See him in Charade (previously mentioned) and the continuing installment In Like Flint.

Murderers Row (1966): Dean Martin as super spy Matt Helm. Need I say more? Is it any surprise that he’s a dashing ladies man who also seems to like the high life and hitting the sauce. It grabs hold of the Bond phase like any good (or mediocre copycat) although it was based on a number of novels by Donald Hamilton. A number of sequels followed including The Silencers, The Ambushers and The Wrecking Crew.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997): Mike Myers as Austin Powers the most ludicrous, wacky, grooviest, and strangely perverse spy you’ve ever known. But his arch nemesis Dr. Evil is far worse. Pit them off against each other and you’re bound to have a stupid good time amid all the outrageous bits of parody. Oh yeah, check out The Spy Who Shagged Me and Austin Powers in Goldmember too. Groovy Baby!

Get Smart (2008): This is a public service announcement. No offense to Steve Carell or Anne Hathaway whatsoever, but please just go ahead and watch the TV show with the iconic duo of Don Adams and Barbara Feldon with Edward Platt. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry were comic geniuses and they knew a good fad when they saw one. Spies might come and go but “Shoe Phones” and “Cones of Silence” will never die. Would you believe? Because you should.

Bonus – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) et al: It might not feel exactly like Bond and Indiana Jones is a big enough star in his own right but there’s no doubt that the special mixture of thrills, humor, and iconic status also falls on the mantle of Dr. Jones. Of course, it doesn’t hurt either that his father is played by none other than Sean Connery the guy who was in Marnie, The Hunt for Red October, and, yes, a few other movies.

This is only a few options so please don’t think you have a license to kill me for leaving something off. But hope you enjoyed this assortment of 10 classic flicks for every Bond lover.

Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dr._StrangeloveHow to speak of Dr. Strangelove? To clarify I mean the film and not the character. First and foremost, it’s one of those films that has so much significance, because of the era it came out of and for the way it represents that time and space. It’s the defining film about the Cold War, much in the same way All the President’s Men is identified with Watergate and the sentiments at the time.

This film is wickedly funny, and yet I never found myself laughing out loud. There was more often a smirk slowly forming on my face. This film is a landmark and an important piece of cinema and yet I could never say I have a passionate love for it. What sets it apart is the way that Kubrick is able to tackle the paranoia at the time.

His plot is utterly ridiculous and absurd and yet in anything, there is always a sliver of truth that seems all too real. A film throwing around talk of nuclear war and doomsday devices is rather bleak and so I suppose Dr. Strangelove is a type of morbid humor. Certainly a black, satirical comedy.

Kubrick’s story is split into three sections: There the B-52 bomber where the crew including Slim Pickens and a young James Earl Jones patrol the skies until they get the unmistakable order to proceed with “Plan R” which begins an attack on Russia. Slim Pickens is an inspired piece of casting with his iconic southern drawl because he plays everything straight, but you cannot help find it funny. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the cockpit and then there’s, of course, his mounting the bucking bomb, but that comes later…

The order was given on the command of a General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) after he ordered his aide British officer Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) to put their base on high alert. All this came about because of Ripper’s fears about fluoridation and bodily fluids. He’s sure the Commies have infiltrated and so he prepares to decimate them. He bypasses the president, all communication is cut off, and he locks himself and Mandrake up in his office. As far as he’s concerned the deed is done. He can just go on chomping on his cigar while comforting Mandrake. Because there’s no way that he would ever disclose the three-letter code so his aide can warn the Pentagon.

The final setting of the film takes place in the legendary war room which feels rather like a velodrome with a table in the center. There the highest officials of the nation gather round to try and figure out what to do about this national crisis. General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) advises the president on what to do about the situation while chewing away at a wad of gum. President Merkin Muffley (Sellers once more), is far from pleased and he even sends a call over “the hotline,” to the Russian Premier. He shares his deep regrets about the situation with Dimitri and it gives Seller a stage on which to work his deadpan humor. Muffley also tries to maintain order after Turgidson and the Russian Ambassador get in a scuffle (Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!).

Meanwhile, a battle ensues at Ripper’s base as the apt billboard inscribed “Peace is our Program” sits in the background. This is an utterly ludicrous firefight and it ends with an appearance by Keenan Wynn ready to take Mandrake and Ripper captive. However, the general has already kicked the bucket and Mandrake attempts to use a payphone to reach the Pentagon.

But the best advice the president gets comes from Nazi-defector Dr. Strangelove (Sellers number three), who is restricted to a wheelchair and still has trouble stifling his “Heil Hitler” and “Mein Fuhrer.” His final solution is to gather a few hundred people in mine shafts underground, away from the radiation, where they can procreate. The female to male ratio optimally would be 10:1 and that starts Turgidson salivating. We don’t quite know how it ends, but Kubrick ends with the iconic juxtaposition of nuclear bombs exploding as “We’ll Meet Again” wafts through the air. It’s the last brilliant piece of humor.

Dr. Strangelove is a great film in part because of its performances beginning with Seller. We’re used to his lovable buffoon Inspector Clouseau and yet he’s quite different here. Each character is starkly different in fact, but each one is played straight with their assorted quirks laid out for us.  Slim Pickens, a man also known for his comedic sidekick roles is playing it straight which is also funny in itself.

Finally, George C. Scott is one of the stars that we would label a dramatic actor and yet this is probably the most over the top and odd performance of his career. It’s wonderfully vibrant in all respects from the gesticulation of his body to his facial expressions.

Everything’s an odd mix where hysteria with global consequence is matter-of-fact. There’s no fighting in war rooms. There are Cold Wars and Hotlines. Nazi Doctors advise the president and Russian ambassadors are tackled to the ground. It’s pointing to the inconsistencies in this world that we live in. It’s a satire about the absurdity of nuclear deterrence in an age where that was in vogue.

4.5/5 Stars

The Pink Panther (1963)

Pink_panther63I came into the Pink Panther with a bit of prior knowledge about the franchise and Henry Mancini’s legendary theme music. In all honesty, the first film I ever saw in the series was A Shot in the Dark (1964). Peter Sellers‘ Inspector Clouseau is the undisputed star of that film which came out only a year later.

That’s why this initial installment from Blake Edwards was rather surprising, to begin with. This is a David Niven vehicle with him playing a modern Don Juan of sorts who also is a world renown thief known as “The Phantom.” He and his female accomplice have their eye on the equally well-known diamond christened the Pink Panther. It now is in the possession of a beautiful young princess (Claudia Cardinale), but the people of the country believes the diamond belongs to them. Into this seemingly serious story of theft and international relations waltzes in the ever-bumbling but good-natured Inspector Clouseau.

Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) has his eyes on Princess Dala, surveying her every movement. What he doesn’t know is that his young nephew (Robert Wagner) is up to some tricks of his own, and he flees the United States in search of his uncle. Clouseau leaves France with his lovely wife Simone (Capucine) and follows the princess to a ski resort to see if he can sniff out the culprit. They turn out to be a lot closer than he realized.

It’s during a chaotic masquerade ball when the diamond is in jeopardy, with several costumed apes having their eyes on it. The bumbling Clouseau clumsily tries to set a trap, and yet he unwittingly stumbles upon the culprits leading to a chaotic car chase. In fact, The Pink Panther has a rather odd ending with the culprits getting away and Inspector Clouseau getting the blame. Don’t be too worried, however, because Sellers brought the character back numerous other times.

Despite being initially relegated to a supporting role, there is no doubt that Sellers steals his scenes with his ad-libbing and numerous brilliant pieces of slapstick. He might be stepping on his Stradivarius in the dark or getting his hand jammed in a beer stein.  It’s all the funnier when everyone else is playing the scenes relatively straight. There were some other humorous sequences of deception as the culprits try and pull the wool over the Inspector’s eyes. It’s not all that difficult because he’s an utter buffoon. But lovable. Did I mention that?

3.5/5 Stars

The Party (1968)

7af4c-party_movieWhen you begin to watch the Party it becomes obvious that it is less of a comedy film and more of a comedy concept. Peter Sellers in all his glory is a bumbling Indian actor who is mistakenly invited to an elegant party. He is in many ways very similar to Mr. Hulot. Both are likable mess ups who are constantly getting themselves into trouble.

I am of the opinion that Seller’s comic genius alone could carry a film. However, the Party has a great multitude of weirdos and snobs that create a great comedic collaboration. Possibly the best example would be the constantly inebriated waiter. Furthermore, by the end the Party is no longer distinguishable and it culminates in a surreal world of bubbles and groovy music. This was the only collaboration of Sellers and Blake Edwards that was not Pink Panther and it honestly is not half bad! We even get a performance from a young Claudet Longet.

This is one of those films that might be lacking in plot at times but it is more fun simply to sit back and watch the fireworks begin.

3.5/5 Stars

The Best Films of Peter Sellers

1. Dr. Strangelove
2. Being There
3. A Shot in the Dark
4. The Pink Panther
5. I’m All Right Jack
6. Lolita
7. The Ladykillers
8. The Party
9. Murder by Death
10. The World of Henry Orient
11. The Mouse That Roared
12. The Return of the Pink Panther

“If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.”

Dr. Strangelove… (1964)

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Living up to its name, this satire directed by Stanley Kubrick is quite peculiar to say the  least. The nation is on the edge of nuclear war because of a lunatic general (Sterling Hayden) who made the decision to override the authority of the president (Peter Sellers). Tempers flare in the war room as the leaders decide what to do. Will the Doomsday device be unleashed as Dr. Strangelove (Sellers again) supposes or will the bomb be stopped in time? One of the obvious highlights of this film would have to be Peter Seller’s performances as three distinct characters. George C. Scott also delivers a very respectable performance as a general advising the president. Then, there is Slim Pickens who is often remembered for the famous bomb riding scene. This film is good but in my mind it is not great. However, it does depict an era of tremendous fear brought on by the Cold War, thus making it historically important.

4.5/5 Stars

Being There (1979)

Starring Peter Sellers, the film revolves around a gardener named Chance who gains all his social skills from watching television. When his unknown elderly employer dies Chance is forced out of the only world he knows and he just begins to aimlessly walk through Washington D.C. In a freak accident, he is hit by a limo taking a parking space. In a miscommunication he finds himself going to the residence of an influential couple to get medical attention with them thinking his name is Chauncey Gardiner. He quickly gains their admiration because he has such a calm demeanor and Chauncey quickly becomes a respected confident of the sickly Ben Rand. Chauncey even finds himself meeting the president and giving him sagely advice about garden work which is interpreted as an allegory for the economy. The pithy statement finds itself in the president’s speech and there is a buzz about this mysterious figure named Chauncey Gardiner. This new found fame leads to Chauncey ending up on television for an interview and the American public is captivated by his simplistic wisdom. As Ben begins to slowly die, Eve becomes even closer to Chauncey in her grief. At Ben’s funeral, the president gives a speech and those carrying the coffin decide Chauncey should be the potential candidate for president. At the same time Chauncey is walking nearby in a forest by a lake and then in a final dreamlike moment he literally walks on water off into the distance. I think Peter Sellers should be lauded for his performance because he could be comedic and then play it straight like in this film. He is like a cross between Harvey and Forrest Gump with a love of T.V. I must say though that the bloopers at the end take away from the illusion that is created by the film as a whole.

4.5/5 Stars

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

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Starring a cast including Peter Sellers, Elke Sommers, Herbert Lom, and George Sanders, this comedy-mystery opens with several bustling individuals in a mansion, followed by a gunshot. A pretty maid who was found with the gun is assumed to be guilty, but the bumbling Inspector Clouseau thinks otherwise. He has run ins with his crazy boss, his man servant Kato, and the police, while he clumsily tires to solve the case. Everything seems to point to Maria after more murders. However, Clouseau spends time with her and it becomes evident to us that a black-gloved man is after him. In the melodramatic, chaotic final scene, Clouseau attempts to name the murderer, and the case is solved, no thanks to him. This second installment of the Pink Panther had some funny moments and the slapstick was very good.

4/5 Stars

The Lady Killers (1955)

c0838-the_ladykillers_posterStarring Alec Guinness, this is a unique and often hilarious black comedy caper film by the Ealing Studios. The adventure begins with the quirky criminal mastermind, Guinness, renting a room from an old woman. Soon his masquerading accomplices arrive. The five of them plan to commit a robbery and when the day comes things start off smoothly. However, they have the unknowing old woman pick up their prize and chaos follows her. The men get the money but before they can escape the lady accidentally finds out. The latter half of the film follows the double crossing antics of the criminals as they try to run off with the money while trying to figure out who will do the unpleasant job of knocking off the lady. Needless to say they don’t succeed. I was wary of this movie at first but it was actually very enjoyable because of the comedic and odd scenario. Keep your eyes on a young Peter Sellers as well as Herbert Lom.

4.5/5 Stars