Part 2

Action Films

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Examples

James Bond's Imitators:

Bond's knock-offs and imitators included the following serious (and spoofing) characters and films:

  • a secret agent named Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath—alias O.S.S. 117, was created by French thriller novelist Jean de Bruce; the character was a wealthy Louisiana gentleman who spied for the American OSS, and was found in a number of films (pre- and post-Bond) popular with European audiences: OSS 117 Is Not Dead (1956, Fr) (aka OSS 117 N'Est Pas Mort), O.S.S. 117: Double Agent (1967) and No Roses For OSS 117 (1968, Fr) (aka Pas De Roses Pour OSS 117) - both with John Gavin as the agent
  • another similar agent in France was named Francis Coplan, in Coplan Secret Agent FX 18 (1964, Fr)
  • Norman Taurog's spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), a predecessor of the Austin Powers films, starred Vincent Price in a campy role as the title character who invented exploding bikini-clad women and threatened the world, and Frankie Avalon as secret agent Craig Gamble; the sequel was Mario Bava's Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) (aka The Amazing Dr. G, and The Spy Who Came In From the Fairly Cold), again with Vincent Price as a megalomaniac with more exploding fembots (with the detonation device in their belly buttons)
  • Modesty Blaise - 1966Joseph Losey's light-hearted, James Bond spy comedy-spoof Modesty Blaise (1966), was based upon a British newspaper comic strip series, with Italian star Monica Vitti (in her first English-language film) in the title role opposite Dirk Bogarde as the villain
  • Robert Vaughn was master spy Napoleon Solo (code-named The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a government enforcement agency meaning the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) who frequently battled the evil T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Repression of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), in To Trap A Spy (1966), the original pilot for the popular TV series in the 60s released as a theatrical film; Vaughn was partnered with David McCallum as blonde-haired Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin
  • the 'Harry Palmer' spy mystery trilogy featured a reluctant, bespectacled, unglamorous British secret serviceman (Michael Caine) (from the best-selling novel by Len Deighton) in The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1967) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967); also two other obscure follow-up action/spy thriller films with Michael Caine reprising his role were: Bullet to Beijing (1995) and Midnight in St. Petersburg (1997)
  • Matt Helm MoviesJames Coburn starred as Derek Flint, a playboy hero in the spy films: Our Man Flint (1966), and In Like Flint (1967); Flint was an agent of Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage); Ray Danton also played Flint in a 1976 TV pilot
  • an American version of 'Harry Palmer' with a Harold Pinter screenplay from the first of Adam Hall's many Quiller novels - was Quller, an agent (George Segal) called upon by Alec Guinness to infiltrate the neo-Nazis (led by Max von Sydow) in post-war Berlin, in The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
  • Columbia contract star Dean Martin portrayed Matt Helm (based on the spy in Donald Hamilton's novels) in four tongue-in-cheek films between 1966 and 1968: The Silencers (1966), Murderer's Row (1966), The Ambushers (1967), and The Wrecking Crew (1968); none of the films' titles had anything to do with their plots; Helm was a cheesecake model photographer-turned-American agent for ICE (Organization for Intelligence and Counter-Espionage)
  • Richard Johnson was featured in the resurrected role of British agent Bulldog Drummond (a suave, gentleman-spy hero in many films mostly made between the silents through to the late 40s) in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1969)
  • Neil Connery (Sean Connery's/James Bond's brother) appeared in an action-spy film titled Operation Kid Brother (1967) (aka O.K. Connery), also featuring perennial Bond characters Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell (although not identified as M or Miss Moneypenny)
  • Frankie Avalon (and B-movie hunk George Nader) starred as US espionage agents teamed with British intelligence to combat Goldfinger's Shirley Eaton as the beautiful but deadly Su-Muru (a character based on a series of Sax Rohmer novels) intent on world domination with a vast band of man-hating women, in The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967) (aka The 1000 Eyes of Su-Muru)
  • Fathom - 1967David Niven headlined Casino Royale (1967) - a direct spoof of the James Bond character
  • sexy Raquel Welch sizzled as Fathom Harvill, a champion sky diver recruited by a Western spy organization for a top secret mission in Fathom (1967), co-starring Tony Franciosa as millionaire Peter Merriwether, who was believed to possess an H-bomb detonator known as the Fire Dragon
  • When Eight Bells Toll (1971) was adapted from Alistair MacLean's bestselling book, and set in the Scottish Highlands, with Anthony Hopkins in a Bond-like role as Philip Calvert in a search for missing/stolen government gold bullion
  • The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972, Fr.) was a wacky French spy comedy with Pierre Richard, followed by a sequel two years later: The Return of the Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1974)
  • Le Magnifique (1973, Fr.) (aka How to Destroy the Reputation of the Greatest Secret Agent in the World), was a spy-comedy parody of the James Bond films, starring Jean Paul Belmondo
  • John Landis' 'Road' spy comedy Spies Like Us (1985) featured Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd as two aspiring but misfit CIA agents
  • the spy-comedy spoof, Leonard, Part 6 (1987), a big flop, starred Bill Cosby as ex-agent Leonard Parker engaged in a mission to stop the evil Medusa (Gloria Foster)
  • If Looks Could Kill (1991) - the feature film debut of Richard Grieco, a teen-oriented spoof of the James Bond films
  • The Double O Kid (1992) was another juvenile-oriented spoof/parody about a youthful rookie spy (Corey Haim)
  • Spy Hard (1996), a low-brow spy comedy, with Leslie Nielsen as Dick Steele (Agent WD-40), with aid from Russian agent Veronique Ukrinsky (Nicolette Sheridan), against armless mad-man villain Andy Griffith - who has plans to conquer the world
  • writer/director Luc Besson's action thriller La Femme Nikita (1990) (aka Nikita), was a significant spy film about a young female political assassin (played by Besson's wife Anne Parillaud); remade in Hong Kong as Black Cat (1991) and in the US by director John Badham as Point of No Return (1993) with Bridget Fonda
  • Mike Myers appeared as the International Man of Mystery in the satirizing spy spoofs Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), all by director Jay Roach
  • Johnny English (2003), a comedy of errors spy film with Rowan Atkinson (known for roles as Mr. Bean) as the bumbling superspy title character, another funny parody of the James Bond films
  • Robert Rodriguez' stunt-filled Spy Kids (2001), was about young agents Alexa Vega (as Carmen) and Daryl Sabara (as Juni), children of a pair of secret agents, who must save their parents; sequels included Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002), and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
  • Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz was teenaged CIA super-agent Banks in Agent Cody Banks (2003), and the sequel Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London (2004)

Blaxploitation Films:

So-called 'blaxploitation' films (because they reinforced negative stereotypes and patronized viewers with formulaic action/crime film plots and characters) with African-American stars were very popular with black film audiences in urban theatres for awhile. They were launched in the early to mid-1970s with Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), and Shaft (1971) (remade in 2000), starring Richard Roundtree, and Superfly (1972). There were black westerns, sci-fi fantasies, even black horror films (such as Blacula (1972)) that took advantage of this sub-genre's short-lived box-office appeal.

Foreign Shore Influences on the Action Film: Martial Arts

Enter the Dragon - 1973The popular, Hong Kong kung fu genre was catapulted to world-wide prominence in the 1970s with Bruce Lee's four martial-arts films, with spectacularly intense fight scenes. Unfortunately, many of them were dubbed and had poorly-contrived plots containing copy-cat James Bond elements. Lee's best films were his last two - they were released post-humously after he died at the young age of 32:

  • Fists of Fury (1971) - Lee's first film
  • The Chinese Connection (1972)
  • The Way of the Dragon (1972), billed as Enter the Dragon's 'sequel' Return of the Dragon (1974) when it was released in the US in 1974; it was Lee's writing and directorial debut film; it co-starred Chuck Norris (a former karate champion) in a rare villainous role as Colt who fought against Lee in a climactic Roman Coliseum scene; Lee played the part of Tang Lung, a country bumpkin type sent from his family in Hong Kong to Rome to help out a relative whose Chinese restaurant was targeted by a crime mob; the film was the first Hong Kong action movie ever to be shot in the West
  • the fast-paced Enter the Dragon (1973) with Lee in his first (and last) English-language (and Hollywood-produced) film; it was the first kung fu film produced by a major Hollywood studio; in the film, Lee (who choreographed the action) portrayed a martial arts expert seeking revenge on a gang that killed his sister, by entering a martial arts competition hosted by the kingpin (John Saxon)

Lee's life story was told in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), with star Jason Scott Lee as the martial arts Hong Kong action hero.

Kickboxer - 1989A variant on the martial-arts films has been found in the films of Jackie Chan (nicknamed the "Buster Keaton of Kung-Fu") and his numerous 80s and 90s Hong-Kong and US-produced action comedies. [Note: Chan had starred in Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973) as a Thug in Prison.] Success finally arrived for Chan with Rumble in the Bronx (1996), Rush Hour (1998), Shanghai Noon (2000), Rush Hour 2 (2001), The Tuxedo (2002), and Shanghai Nights (2003).

Belgian star Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in a variant of the Asian martial-arts films - the action-filled kickboxer film, as in Bloodsport (1988), Black Eagle (1988), Kickboxer (1989), Death Warrant (1990), Double Impact (1991), Nowhere to Run (1993), and Hard Target (1993).

US films influenced by the martial arts craze included The Karate Kid (1984) and The Karate Kid, Part II (1986), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991), Blade (1998) and Blade II (2002), and the video-game adaptation Mortal Kombat (1995). And Ang Lee's lyrical arthouse film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar and three others (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Score), was a spectacular and entertaining martial arts entry.

John Woo: 1980's Hong Kong Action Films and Their Enduring Influence

Violent and graphic action films (as well as gangster flicks) also owe a debt to Hong Kong's legendary John Woo, who helped to shape the genre with scenes of stylish choreography in The Killer (1989) and the visceral Hard-Boiled (1992), both with Chow Yun-Fat in the lead role. The Killer (1989) was the most popular Hong Kong film in the US since Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973). Woo's films were noted for slow-motion sequences and face-to-face standoffs, and would influence the later works of both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

John Woo's intense and intelligent action film Face/Off (1997) featured a stolen-identity plot with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in the good/evil roles. Woo's sequel film Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) to the inferior 1996 Brian De Palma version Mission: Impossible (1996) was filled with exciting, no-holds-barred action sequences.

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