There have been spy flicks pretty much since there have been flicks (short for flicker, as in the flickering images on a movie screen), but things really started popping in the early 1960s with the advent of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. There has been a steady flow of spy movies and television series since the arrival of Dr. No. They range in quality from outstanding white-knuckle rides, to pretty good damn good--I'm going to have to add that to my DVD collection, to a fluffy Saturday afternoon movie or show when there's nothing better to watch. Some of these titles, off the top of my shiny bald head, include The Prisoner, Three Days of the Condor, I Spy, Casino Royale (the new one), Mission: IMPOSSIBLE, The Wild, Wild West, and especially, Patrick McGoohan as Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent Man).
There was also a slew of spy spoof television shows and movies, like Get Smart, the Matt Helm movies, the massively underrated Zoolander, Casino Royale (the 1967 version) and the Austin Powers and the Derek Flint movies.
When I was a young’n I thought Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies, which included the likes of The Silencers, Wrecking Crew and Murderer’s Row, were the hands down winner in the spoof category. Dino had hot and cold running dames, enough booze to float a boat, and if the mood struck him he’d even croon a little ditty for the situation at hand.
Coincidently, within the past twenty-four hours I’ve had occasion to see a good chunk of both The Silencers and In Like Flint (along with an hour or so of Dr. No,, which is so painfully dated I can’t bear to watch it anymore).
In retrospect, I think the aspect of the Matt Helm movies that was so appealing to me as a kid, is exactly what turns me off to them today—which is Dean Martin’s habit of ignoring the fourth wall and mugging directly into the camera. By comparison, James Colburn, in In Like Flint and Our Man Flint, played it totally straight. No matter how silly the activity, he always kept a straight face and soldiered through.
So, in case anyone out there keeping tabs on such things, when it comes to spy spoof movies, I now officially prefer Derek Flint’s activities to Matt Helm’s. (Plus, it didn’t hurt that the Flint movies had bitchin’ cool posters by Bob Peak. I think the hipsters refer to that as the ‘icing on the cake’.)
And there you go.