Movies Till Dawn: Not Quite 007 Double Feature

12 a.m. “Secret Agent” – “The Affair at Castelevara” – Suspense/Drama

51W33KTMMpL (1965, Timeless Media Group) British spy John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) is dispatched to the titular Latin American country, where he must contend with an array of agents – UK, American and one dogged local (the very funny Aubrey Morris) – while attempting to rescue a former revolutionary (Harold Goldblatt) now in the hands of the ruling military strongman. This second season episode from the ‘60s espionage series – known in the UK as “Danger Man” – is emblematic of the show’s lasting appeal as a smart, mature alternative to James Bond and the rest of the spy craze crew. There’s little by way of wall-to-wall action or bedroom antics: McGoohan’s Drake is given to wry quips but otherwise no-nonsense all the way, a tone reflected in the show’s reliance on dialogue and performance as delivered by a host of supporting pros, including vets like Andre Morell (“The Bridge on the River Kwai”). That’s not to say that “Secret Agent” is dull – the threat to the revolutionary leader is real and serious – but it works best as a sort of urbane spy procedural, blending the subtler mechanics of espionage with more traditional action-adventure elements. McGoohan would eventually leave the series to create and star in the cult favorite “The Prisoner,” which has generated considerable debate over whether Drake and McGoohan’s No. 6 are the same person. Timeless’ 17-disc (!) set includes all 86 episodes of “Secret Agent” (30- and 60-minute), as well as commentary on three episodes by Brian Clemens (“The Avengers”) and Peter Graham Scott and an interview with McGoohan’s daughter, Catherine. Oh, and you should know that while the original British title sequence is used for each episode, the American version, featuring Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” (written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri) is included as an extra.

1 am – “That Man from Rio/Up to His Ears” – Action/Comedy

81RwZR-NUJL._SL1500_(1964/1965, Cohen Film Collection) Frothy and action-packed spy spoofs from French director Philippe de Broca and star Jean-Paul Belmondo, who plays two variations on the reluctant hero while also executing some impressive action set pieces. In the Oscar-nominated “Rio,” Belmondo is a soldier on leave in Brazil who becomes involved in an international heist when his girlfriend (Françoise Dorleac, sister of Catherine Deneuve) is kidnapped along with a priceless South American figurine. Belmondo’s Adrien is a refreshing alternative to Bond and the other indestructible men of action on world screens in the mid-1960s; both relentless and resourceful, he hews closer to Jackie Chan’s Golden Harvest persona in his reliance on brains (and balance) over brawn and unflagging amiability, which keeps him in pursuit of Dorleac, even when he’s dangling two stories over the streets of Rio or plunging into a remote cave. De Broca manages to balance a breakneck pace with gentle pokes at the absurdity of spy/action pictures, allowing Belmondo and Dorleac to break for a speedy round of samba or remain extraordinarily photogenic, even in the heat of pursuit. “Rio” was a major international hit upon release, and remains a favorite of ‘60s action/comedy fans, including Steven Spielberg, who has acknowledged the influence of de Broca upon the creation of Indiana Jones.

The Blu-ray also includes a sort-of sequel called “Up to His Ears,” which borrows a few plot points from “Around the World in Eighty Days” for its oddball plot about a suicidal millionaire (Belmondo) who agrees to take out a sizable insurance policy on himself in order to keep his fiancée (Valerie Legrange) afloat before submitting to a painless death at the hands of his friend (Valery Inkjinoff). No sooner has he signed off on the scheme than he meets dancer Ursula Andress, which immediately puts him in the mind to live. Unfortunately, Belmondo is unable to halt the murder plan, forcing him, Andress and his faithful valet (Jean Rochefort) to crisscross Asia while avoiding a host of assassins and gangsters. “Ears” trades the genuinely dizzy excitement of “Rio” for a broader, cartoonish tone – Belmondo and Rochefort save themselves from a plunge off a bridge by a string of pinned-together shirts – which isn’t as enjoyable as the breakneck thrills of its predecessor. But there’s a lot of attractive scenery and amusing performances, which should serve as a pleasant, sorbet-style palate cleanser after “Rio.” The Cohen Film’s Blu-ray benefits from a 2K restoration (“Rio” looks marginally better than “Ears”), as well as a slew of interviews about both films with de Broca, Rochefort, composer Georges Delerue and Jean-Paul Rappeneau, one of the five people credited with writing “Rio,” as well as the original and re-issue trailers.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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