Friday, November 17, 2006

Spectacular spy flicks

In honor of the return of James Bond, which for some reason I'm just psyched beyond all reason about, here's a list of the spy flicks that I just love. Just to be ornery, I've made it a Bond-free zone.

The 39 Steps - If pressed to pick one favorite Hitchcock movie, I'll always say Vertigo, but this British flick comes in a very close second. After finding a spy murdered in his rented flat, Robert Donay goes on a wild chase led by the titular phrase and a small Scottish town circled on a map. It's just wicked fun.

Manchurian Candidate - Although I thought Jonathan Demme did a fine job with his thoroughly unnecessary remake, I'm of course talking here about John Frankenheimer's original. I've never understood why Frank Sinatra withheld this from distribution after the JFK assassination. I guess it just hit him too hard, but this is his finest work and a taut thriller.

La Femme Nikita - Luc Besson is a maddeningly uneven director, but when he's on he has a truly one-of-a-kind style. I like "Leon" quite a bit too, but he was never better than with this seductive flick about a violent street punk (the unforgettable Anne Parillaud) recruited to become an assassin.

Marathon Man - I'm not sure why, but I'm thoroughly fascinated by movies about Nazis, and this is one of the best. Directors of what passes for horror nowadays could learn a lot from the classic torture sequence in this tale of a graduate student (Dustin Hoffman) lured into a dangerous plot by his CIA agent brother (Roy Scheider). Just a classic 70s flick.

Boys from Brazil - Gregory Peck is a hoot to watch in this thoroughly over-the-top flick about a plot to create the Fourth Reich. Where else can you find Sir Laurence Oliver as a Nazi hunter?

The Quiet American - There have been probably too many movies about the CIA, but this one from Phillip Noyce (which I know I mention quite a bit) remains my favorite. Brendan Fraser is the spook who plays mind games with a British journalist played by Michael Caine - until they both fall in love with the same Vietnamese vixen.

The Saint - The French are just some truly odd people, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. We all know they love Jerry Lewis, but they apparently also just adore this TV show starring Roger Moore, and I do too. When I was there, it seemed to be on at least once every day, and I often tuned in to see how Roger Moore won the right to play James Bond.

A short list today because I overslept. Feel free to sound off with your favorite spy movies, because I know there are many I have missed. And bring on Bond!

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like the Quiet American, but I prefer an earlier Caine spy flick (though, not the sequels)--The Ipcress File. Also, 3 Days of the Condor, those Bourne flicks, and Decision Before Dawn. I'm not firing on all cylinders either. Its Friday night and I'm ready to go home and unwind with a couple flicks (Alphaville and Grand Ecole), a bottle of wine, and my battalion of WoW characters. Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

The 39 Steps, The Manchurian Candidate, and La Femme Nikita also rank among my favourite spy flicks. I would also throw in The President's Analyst, which is actually a parody of spy flicks (and nearly everything else in American, mid-Sixties culture). As to TV shows, I have no doubt that the three greatest spy shows were all British: Danger Man (known as Secret Agent here), The Prisoner, and, of course, The Avengers.

Kate Massey said...

I'm stoked about the new Bond movie too. But Manchurian Candidate Tops my spy list for sure.

Reel Fanatic said...

The President's Analyst is indeed a fun flick, Mercurie, and I'm definitely with you on The Avengers .. but my all-time favorite TV spy is still Roger Moore's The Saint

Divinity said...

Wasn't Olivier a Nazi in The Marathon Man also? The remake of The Manchurian Candidate stands out in my memory because of how uncomfortable I was made by the style of camera-work. The ultra-close-ups and repeated closing of doors into the camera made me strangely claustrophobic.
I'm probably alone (again) in this but I found the first Mission Impossible movie very entertaining. I don't see a lot of spy movies... Does Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn's Charade count? I liked Matthau as the bad guy...

Reel Fanatic said...

The first Mission Impossible was a pretty good one in my book, Divinity ... I thought the only real dud in the series so far was MI:II .. it should be crime to waste a woman as beautiful as Thandie Newton in such garbage

Invisible Lizard said...

I really enjoyed The Quiet American and I'm a big Luc Besson fan, so naturally Nikita tops my list. Would you include Sneakers in the "spy" category? That's one of my favorites.

Reel Fanatic said...

I would, Lizard, but only in the broadest sense ... That one was in the running with me this morning, but I had to cut the list short due to time

Dr J said...

Not sure how I feel about the Noyce Quiet American, because for its admirable qualities, there's also a lot wrong with it (Brendan Fraser comes to mind). It did, however, feature Michael Caine's best performance in YEARS.

Manchurian Candidate is a brilliant choice. I'd also suggest:

-- The Lady Vanishes, especially for indomitable Dame May Whitty, the unlikeliest spy ever;

-- The Quiller Memorandum, a slight piece, but it deserves not to be forgotten;

-- The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, with Richard Burton's best performance, I think;

-- Cloak & Dagger, a bit of a cheesy kids' movie, but good nonetheless.

I'd suggest, though, that the best spy piece wasn't done for the movies, but for TV: Alec Guinness' twin series for the BBC, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People.

Jas P. said...

I'm glad somebody else said "3 Days of the Condor," which is surely one of the more interesting premises for a spy film. Redford was never better.

Despite some dull spots, I also liked the way "The Falcon & The Snowman" captured the half-assed haplessness of the '80s that brings to mind what's-her-face's phrase "the banality of evil."

Thanks for cruising by Spulge Nine, Fanatic...

Reel Fanatic said...

Ah, The Falcon and the Snowman .. Despite its flaws, I have fond memories of that one .. I'm not sure it would hold up if viewed today, though!

Divinity said...

My boyfriend also votes for the Alec Guiness BBC mini-series adaptation of LeCarre's book. I haven't seen it myself...

rsr.pt said...

When I read your post and saw "The Saint" I got a bit scared. I'm glad you didn't mean the movie, though... ;-) I'm also looking forward to the new Bond movie! The trailer looks really cool. Darker. PS: Great blog you have here! Keep up with it.

Skunkfeathers said...

Can't say I'm as up on some of the better spy movies, save for the Bond genre; in terms of TV spies, I recall the Patrick McGoohan character, The Saint, Man from U.N.C.L.E, ISPY, Mission Impossible, and of course, The Avengers.

Those were the days ;)

Since I'm lousy at keeping up on movies, I'm bookmarking this blog to try and sorta keep up. To give you an idea: I did a review of Team America: World Police. Two years after the fact. Worse yet, I did a review of Mars Attacks! TEN YEARS after it's debut...I'm a reel slacker LOL...

Divinity said...

Get Smart! :)

Reel Fanatic said...

Nothing wrong with that, Skunkfeathers ... it's probably much more healthy than being as obsessed with flicks as I am

David said...

I thought Hitchcock's North by Northwest was his finest work...Cary Grant's drunk driving scene is priceless, though that scene in Manchurian Canidate where Sinatra and the faux-Asian butler do some king-fu fighting was certainly memorable.

John said...

I like both of the Bourne films immensely - far better than Bond and the real reason for the franchise's 'reboot'. Looking forward to Ultimatum, even if the Ludlum books are even more unreadable than any Fleming.

The Michael Caine Harry Palmer trilogy is also excellent - Billion Dollar Brain has a fantastic opening credits sequence.

Anonymous said...

"North by Northwest" comes to mind as a great spy movie. Wow, I had forgotten how much I liked "The Quiet American". Everything about it was pretty awesome.

Reel Fanatic said...

The Bourne films are indeed pretty great, John .. I can't wait to see what Greengrass does with No. 3

Kelly said...

I'm so glad someone said The Lady Vanishes! It edges out The 39 Steps and North by Northwest for me because, like the previous commenter said, the spy is just such an unlikely person! And Michael Redgrave is always fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

As to TV shows, I always find ISPY to be one of the most enjoyable, damn funny.

marina said...

Thanks for the great list. I needed some more stuff to add to my que and there's a bunch on the list that I've never seen!