Monday, 8 August 2011

Two early James Bond spoofs

The release of Dr No in 1962 and From Russia With Love the following year immediately brought imitations and spoofs from films producers eager to cash-in on the success of the Bond films, or inevitably responding to the (re-)gain in momentum in popular culture that the spy genre was enjoying. In Britain, two early British responses to the Bond films, both released in 1964, were Hot Enough for June, starring Dirk Bogarde, and Carry On Spying, the ninth film in the popular Carry On series produced by Peter Rogers. Let’s take a look at some of the traits or memes from the Bond films that found their way into the films.
 
Poster for Hot Enough for June, clearly inspired by Bond (Image: The CinemaScope Cat)

Hot Enough for June was a Rank film directed by Ralph Thomas, who was best known for directing the series of Doctor comedies, four of which also starred Dirk Bogarde. In the film, Bogarde plays Nicholas Whistler, an unemployed writer, who, as a Czech speaker, is persuaded to take a job in an industrial company as its representative in Prague. Unbeknown to Whistler, the company is actually a cover for British Intelligence. Whistler is told to meet a contact in Prague to receive legitimate information, but unwittingly is acquiring industrial secrets. He realises the truth when he is identified as a spy. A pursuit follows, as Whistler attempts to evade capture and reach the British embassy (but not before falling in love with the daughter of the chief of the Czech security service).

Most of the references to James Bond are made early on in the film. As the opening credits end, an intelligence officer, played by John le Mesurier, returns items to the store clerk (the armourer of Q Section?) that belonged to the agent 007, now deceased. Among the items are multiple passports, a shoe with a hidden compartment in the heel, a case of poison capsules, a handgun, and a garrotte wire attached to a watch. With the exception of the wire, which is used in From Russia With Love, these items are not specific to Bond (a trick heel featured in Goldfinger, which was released after Hot Enough for June was made), but generally allude to the spy craft of a dynamic, Bond-like, agent. This sequence also serves to identify Whistler as 007’s replacement.

The scene featuring the chief of British intelligence, played by Robert Morley, and his secretery (Amanda Grinling) is also reminiscent of Bond’s scenes with M and Moneypenny. The poster too recalls From Russia With Love. It depicts in the foreground a gun-holding Whistler and a heroine in a relaxed pose beside him, and in the background the domed buildings of an exotic location (certainly not Prague).

Despite the Bondian iconography, and the fact that the film is generally viewed as a Bond parody (the BBC presented it in such terms in its recent schedule listings), Hot Enough for June is not so much of a Bond spoof than a spy film that contains nods to the Bond films to acknowledge their existence (a measure of how significant the Bond series had become after just two entries). The film is otherwise not dependent on the Bond films, and would not have suffered if the references were removed. This is because the film was based on a book (Night of Wenceslas, by Lionel Davidson) that pre-dated Dr No – it was published in 1960 – and therefore contained no references to the Bond films.

In contrast, Carry On Spying was written with the Bond films very much in the scriptwriters’ mind. Peter Rogers commissioned Talbot Rothwell, who brought Sid Colin to share writing duties, to give the Bond series the Carry On treatment. The film follows the exploits of a team of bumbling recruits, led by Kenneth Williams’ Simkins, as they search for a top-secret formula that has been stolen from a government laboratory. The trail takes them to Vienna, and then to Algiers. The agents are captured, though not before they recover and destroy the formula. In the course of escaping, Simkins presses the self-destruct button inside the villain’s lair, which, as they soon discover, is below their own headquarters.

Carry On Spying doesn’t limit itself to parodying Bond; films such as The Third Man and Casablanca are also referenced, but the Bond films remain the principal target. The organisation behind the theft of the formula is STENCH, headed by Dr Crow, obviously alluding to SPECTRE and Dr No. The recruit played by Charles Hawtrey is called Charlie Bind and has the code name, 000, or Oh Oh Ohhh (it would have been 001½ , but the Bond producers apparently wouldn’t allow it). There are references to gadgets, including Bond’s attaché case in From Russia With Love, and Dr Crow’s lair and its destruction recalls the base and demise of Dr No. Again, the poster is contains Bondian iconography, and overall is a good imitation of the poster for From Russia With Love.

Curiously, the uniformed female personnel of STENCH reminds us of Goldfinger and Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, but Goldfinger (September 1964) was released after Carry On Spying (June 1964) and can’t have been influential. Modesty Blaise may have been the influence here, although no doubt it was quite natural for film makers to think that a troop of women on the staff of a villain must be attired in tightly-fitting uniforms. Also of note is Dr Crow’s over-elaborate plan, involving a conveyor belt and crushing machine, to kill the bumbling agents. It has shades of Bond, but it isn’t taken from the two Bond films, as they don’t feature such a sequence. These aspects (along with the trick heel of Hot Enough for June) show that the Bond films also had a lineage, taking ideas and memes from other sources or more generally present in cultural space.

References:

Bright, M and Ross, R, 2000 Mr Carry On: The life and works of Peter Rogers, BBC
Webber, R, 2008 Fifty years of Carry On, Century

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if any of the themes in contemporary thrillers and spy novels such as Lionel Davidson's 'Night of Wenceslas' or the spoof films ever found their way into subsequent Bond films or Fleming novels.

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