After the success of the James Bond novels, many authors launched their own series of espionage/adventure books with Bond-ish continuing macho stud agents; after the success of the James Bond films, all sorts of producers bought movie rights to these franchises and tried to launch series starring the likes of Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm or John Gardner’s Boysie Oakes (The Liquidator). Even the venerable Bulldog Drummond was called out of retirement in the mid-60s and Bonded up for a pair of British/international larks. James Mayo’s Charles Hood featured in a run of thick-ear paperbacks, and here gets a one-time-only shot as a bigscreen hero in a cheapish, but decently-mounted and well-cast British picture rather stolidly directed by Hollywood veteran David Miller (Billy the Kid), who had a slight career renaissance in the 1960s, delivering his lifetime best work (Lonely Are the Brave), but, like Vince Edwards’ wooden Hood, comes across here as an incurable square paralysed with middle-aged anxiety by mod surroundings.
The plot is standard stuff about Hammerhead (Peter Vaughan), a megalomaniac criminal millionaire (and collector of pornography) who is plainly a low-rent Bond villain (he has a yacht but no lair, and the merest snatch of a theme song) with a scheme to substitute a lookalike for a diplomat (Michael Bates, in two roles) long enough to get a copy of some mcguffin papers. Edwards might be a plank, but almost everyone else in the cast is great value: at the beginning, Hood has to meet a contact at a Chelsea ‘happening’ where goateed pop artist Vendriani (Douglas Wilmer) sloshes ketchup on a girl and puts her into a giant burger bun (among other sillinesses, most involving near nudity) before the humourless police raid the place and start a riot (I suppose we’re supposed to think of Andy Warhol, but it’s more like a sequel to the Dennis Price scenes in The Rebel). Sue Trenton (Judy Geeson, having more fun than in any other film she made), a wild arty hippie chick in a minimal outfit, latches on to Hood and he gallantly helps her evade the police – whereupon she keeps popping up on his mission, which involves an extended trip to Portugal, and the star’s stony expression almost cracks into irritation as this ditz keeps reappearing to compromise and annoy him.
Vaughan is a good villain, at once cultured and crass, and Beverly Adams (Lovey Kravezit in the Dean Martin Matt Helm films) makes something of the traditionally disposable role of Ivory, villain’s two-timing girlfriend – in the Bond films, this character is usually fed to piranha, but Ivory gets her own back by firing a speargun through the helicopter-borne sedan chair which is Hammerhead’s favourite escape method. Also on board: Patrick Cargill and William Mervyn as Hood’s bowler-hatted contacts, Dave Prowse as Hammerhead’s hulking bodyguard (the Oddjob role), Diana Dors running an arty strip-club in Lisbon (with Hammer Films starlets Maggie Wright, Veronica Carlson and Penny Brahms among her acts), Jack Woolgar as a snivelling ex-jockey/informer/comedy-pathos sidekick who gets killed to give the hero a personal motive for doing his duty and getting that bastard Hammerhead, Kenneth Cope as a running joke motorcyclist in a stuck-on Portuguese moustache, Kathleen Byron wasted as the diplomat’s wife, Tracy Reed (Dr Strangelove’s Miss Foreign Affairs), Patrick Holt, Joseph Furst and Windsor Davies. It takes a while to get to the Hitchcockian caper sequence in which the diplomat is replaced by the double during a concert, which constitutes the meat of the story and a decent suspense beat – though, oddly, supporting player Bates becomes by default the star of the movie for a long stretch during which the villain is behind the scenes and the hero is busy elsewhere taking a while to figure out what’s being done.
Charles Vine was first in the 1965 License to Kill (a title you’d think would have excited a lawsuit from Saltzman and Broccoli, even if the official Bonds didn’t get round to making Licensed to Kill for decades), aka even more blatantly The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (the film is full of gag references to Vine’s status as Number Two to You Know Who). The sequels were Where the Bullets Fly, which I’ve seen, and the obscure OK Yektushenko (aka Somebody’s Stolen Our Russian Spy), which I haven’t. Lindsay Shonteff, creator of Vine, remade the first film in 1979 as Licensed to Love and Kill (aka The Man From SEX) with Gareth Hunt as Charles Bind. Also on the contrived association was superspy James Word (as in ‘his word is his …’) from the theoretically wonderful but in actual fact agonising sf sex comic strip spy spoof Zeta One.
I was unemployed from 1980 to 1983, and more or less watched every film that played on TV at any hour of the day — that’s when I saw a ton of obscure, not very good stuff (like The Last of the Secret Agents) that doesn’t seem to be around any more.
Considering what I now do for a living, it turns out that taking notes on all those 1970s TV movies wasn’t entirely a waste of time.
Not forgetting Nicky Henson’s pitifully low-budget 1977 Bind movie Number One of the Secret Service, in which, if memory serves, he wielded a brace of Dirty Harry magnums and could shoot his opponent’s bullet out of mid-air – a feat unmatched by any Spaghetti Western hero I can think of, even Sartana. Then again, I saw it with a couple of mates in a provincial fleapit in a double bill with… The Sicilian Cross, I think, back in the days of local curry house ads and little boxes of chocolate raisins, and it could well be that my recollections are somewhat embroidered after all this time.