Two minor observations about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

We caught up with the new movie version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s well worth your time. But, in our own fashion, we wanted to make a couple of tangent observations about the adaptation of the John Le Carre novel. Minor spoilers follow.

1. Anti-Bond George Smiley meets 007 knock off Charles Vine (sort of). In the 1960s, the success of James Bond films helped create a demand for an “anti Bond,” somebody who wasn’t a romantic hero and who dealt in a morally ambiguous world, just like real spies. The novels of John Le Carre (real name David Cornwell) provided the perfect fodder. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold starring Richard Burton came out in 1965, with George Smiley a secondary character, Bernard Lee (the M of Eon Productions’s 007 series) in the cast and Paul Dehn, co-screenwriter of Goldfinger, part of the crew.

The ’60s Bond films also generated 007 takeoffs, including The Second Best Secret Agent in The Whole Wide World, starring Tom Adams as Charles Vine, a Sean Connery-esque, British agent.

Well, in the new Tinker, Tailor, these two trends from the past are merged. The 2011 film has repeated flashbacks to an MI6 Christmas party. At one point, the theme song to Second Best Secret Agent is played. (Le Carre has a cameo, as well.) This is part of an effort by the filmmakers to tie into cultural references of the past, given that Tinker, Tailor is done as a 1970s period piece. Which leads us to:

2. The temptation to overdo past cultural references. This is a minor quibble. But when movies are done as period pieces — especially of a story that has been made before (Tinker, Tailor was made as a television miniseries more than 30 years ago) — there is a temptation to load up on past cultural references. In this case, hairstyles and music. In the new film, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) sports a haircut more appropriate for ’70s high school students rather than an experienced MI6 operative. And the film sometimes overdoes it with providing ’70s songs.

It’s always interesting to compare remakes done as period pieces with earlier versions made during the same era. Another example: Farewell My Lovely (1975) was done as a 1940s period piece and sometimes over does the culture references compared with Murder My Sweet (1944), both based off the same Raymond Chandler novel.

We want to stress all of these observations are minor. The new Tinker, Tailor is worth the time of any spy fan and Gary Oldman is a wonderful successor to Alec Guiness (star of two television miniseries) as Smiley. Oldman did an NPR interview last year where he said he’d love to play Smiley again if the opportunity presents itself. We’ll second that thought.

1966: Time reviews the other spies

By early 1966, there were several movies hoping to get a piece of the spy action started by Bondomania. So Time magazine did a review summarizing what was in theaters at the time, including the film debut of Matt Helm and movie versions of episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.
First, the magazine gave its view of the genre as a whole:

Movie moguls have long sought the perfect pop-art hero, the infallible magnetic moneymaker with equal pull for kids under twelve and adolescents up to and beyond retirement age. Tarzan, a perennial favorite, still takes to the trees occasionally to fight for right, but with obsolete weapons. The Wild West gunfighter endures, though an hombre who traditionally hates kissin’ and gets his kicks by digging spurs into horseflesh seems equally ill-adapted to the times. The exquisitely contemporary hero is girl-happy, gadget-minded James Bond, whose legend has already tempted a host of imitators to bland larceny. Now five new spy spoofs reverently ape Bond, with more a-making to catch the rich financial fallout from Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The magzine then got down to cases. First off, it examined Matt Helm.
The biggest, noisiest and naughtiest contender in the new spystakes is The Silencers, with Crooner Dean Martin playing Matt Helm, a secret agent for ICE (Intelligence Counter Espionage)….The striptease fun, with Cyd Charisse as team captain, begins during the opening credits, then gets right down to business in Martin’s circular bed, which turns, travels, tilts, finally plunges him naked into a swimming pool with a naiad identified as Lovey Kravezit….Innuendo roars through Silencers, with nothing omitted save scrawling feelthy pictures on the screen. Now and then, Martin sleepily warbles a song parody, his way of adding sauce to all the gleeful violence, drunken driving and self-conscious smut.

As Jack Benny used to say, “Wellllllll….” Next up, a look at U.N.C.L.E.’s screen debut (kind of) in the double feature which added footage to two television episodes (plus alternative versions of some scenes intended for the screen rather than TV audiences).

Intelligence men’s intrigues wash cleaner in To Trap a Spy and The Spy with My Face. Originally designed for home use, these television retreads are expanded versions of two episodes from MGM’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series (the seams still show).

Time didn’t seem all that impressed with the others.

The man least likely to threaten Bond’s supremacy is That Man in Istanbul, with Horst Bucholz battling a one-armed villain atop a minaret and performing other improbable feats to rescue a kidnaped scientist. …Another elusive scientist is the excuse given for The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World, the most flagrantly imitative spoof of the lot. Its second-best agent is played with studied respect by one Tom Adams, who vaguely resembles Sean Connery.

The magzine also said this era of spy movies couldn’t last.
A craze occurs when an acquired taste unaccountably becomes an addiction. Without ever believing in it, audiences find the spoofery easy to swallow. But mock espionage may be hard put to survive a throng of second-string undercover men who seem badly in need of vocational guidance.

To read the entire article, JUST CLICK HERE.