Top Ten Australian James Bond Homages

December 31, 2019
Our major league Bond aficionado, thought it was time to cast his eye over the times the Australian film and TV industry entered James Bond territory. Warning – some of these links are extremely tenuous.

1) Blunderball, or from Dr. Nofinger with Hate (1966)

A short film – a straight up Bond spoof – from Albie Thoms for the Ubu Film Group, an experimental filmmaking collective based in Sydney that operated from 1965 to around 1970 and offered early support for Peter Weir, Phillip Noyce and Bruce Beresford, among others. Thoms was one of those filmmakers that baby boomer film historians are always insisting were influential and I’m sure he was, but not a lot of his output gets watched today, this film included. The cast includes a young Richard Neville, and artist Martin Sharp shows off one of his early paintings.

You can get some idea of Ubu’s output from the clip below.

2) Hunter (1967-69)

A legendary-ish TV series from Crawfords about the eponymous secret agent (played by Tony Ward) who worked for an ASIO-style organisation, COSMIC (Commonwealth Office of Security & Military Intelligence Co-ordination). While Ward was meant to be the star, he was soon overshadowed in audience popularity by another character, the Russian agent Kragg played by Gerard Kennedy. This caused Ward to sook off (oh, sorry, I mean he was “unhappy with the quality of the scripts”), and he was replaced by another agent, played by Rod Mullinar, before the series was eventually axed.

This show was probably influenced by Patrick McGoohan’s Danger Man TV series (1960-68) as much as James Bond, but the impact of Bond was there. It’s the sort of series that I would have loved had I seen it when growing up, and its ambition is endearing, though it looks fairly creaky now. It rated well for a long time and many of the cast and crew went straight into Division 4 (1969-75).

The excellent Classic Australian TV website has an in-depth entry on the series and you can watch a full episode below (it feels very “Melbourne”).

3) That Lady from Peking (1968)

One of three movies made in Australia in the late ‘60s by producer Reg Goldsworthy – low-ish budget efforts with an American director (Eddie Davis) and imported stars that were aimed at the international market. This is an espionage tale about an American writer (Carl Betz, Donna Reed’s husband on The Donna Reed Show), chasing after the diary of a murdered Russian diplomat, and dealing with spies from China, Russia and the US, as well as his singing brother (pop star Bobby Rydell). This was probably influenced by American TV of the ‘50s as much the Bonds, but it has Bond elements, run through the filter of late ‘60s Australian filmmaking, interspersed with Vegas-lounge-style songs by Rydell and comic relief from Sid Melton as Rydell’s wisecracking manager.

The movie was made in 1968 but not released until 1975, which gives you some idea of its quality, but it is a fascinating period piece. The main reason to see this is the cast which also includes Nancy Kwan (second-billed but in a relatively small role), Sandy Gore (lolling around topless in a bubble bath – yep, Mother Ambrose from Brides of Christ as a saucy minx), Jack Thompson as a henchman, and Ruth Cracknell as a psychic.

You can see the whole film below.

4) Spy Force (1971-72)

This TV series is about the adventures of Australian special ops behind enemy lines in World War Two – with jungles for New Guinea, Thailand and so on uneasily recreated in places like Narrabeen, and various Colombo Plan students hanging around in Sydney roped in to play Japanese. It’s very silly and a lot of fun, with a surprisingly large number of down-beat episodes. Spy Force was clearly influenced by big screen adaptations of Alistair MacLean novels and British TV shows such as“Callan but the aura of Bond can be felt, particularly in the swaggering, buccaneering, womanising character of agent Erskine played by Jack Thompson (his partner in derring-do was Peter Sumner). For more information on the show see here.

Umbrella Entertainment have most episodes here.

5) Shannons Mob (1973)

Fauna Productions specialised in TV series with a dash of Oz exotica to appeal to the foreign market, such as Skippy and Boney. This was one of their less successful efforts, a look at a government intelligence agency called FIASCO (Federal Intelligence And Security Control Organisation) headed by the never-seen Dave Shannon; Robin Ramsay and Frank Gallacher starred. No one has much good to say about the series. It was filmed in 1973 but not screened until 1975.

6) The Man from Hong Kong (1975)

Brian Trenchard-Smith deliberately created this Aussie-Hong Kong kung fu classic to kind-of-send-up-but-also-celebrate James Bond’s image – so Jimmy Wang Yu not only smacks around everyone he comes across (including a young Samo Hung), he has sex with two white women (including a young Rebecca Gilling) and beats up the baddy played by one-time James Bond George Lazenby. Gloriously fun and deservedly much beloved – it’s a shame there’s never been a sequel or remake.

The classic opening credit sequence below.

Brian Trenchard-Smith talks about the movie below.

7) Deathcheaters (1976)

Brian Trenchard-Smith followed The Man from Hong Kong with another action movie, this one a more direct Bond spoof, with Grant Page and John Hargreaves starring as stuntmen who are recruited to do work for a top secret government organisation. This lacks a Bond-like budget and the story needed more work, but it is good-natured with likeable leads and impressive stunts.

Here are the opening credits.

You can stream the whole movie here.

8) Demolition (1979)

One of several little-remembered genre TV movies pumped out by producer Robert Bruning for Grundys in the late ‘70s. This one stars John Waters as an Australian agent working for British intelligence investigating a mystery in Australia concerning a device to enable truckers to stay awake for longer; Belinda Giblin appears as the Girl. That sounds like a very James Bond set up, but the treatment is surprisingly downbeat and film noir-y – Waters’ character gets beaten up a lot. However, the climax does involve Waters running through a wildlife safari park and stumbling into a lion enclosure, so that’s pretty Bond-y. The script is far too confusing for this to be effective.

Interestingly, two of Bruning’s TV movies starred one-time Bond George Lazenby, The Newman Shame and Is There Anyone There?

Here’s the whole movie.

9) Les Patterson Saves the World (1987)

If you ever wonder why the Australian film industry doesn’t use the talents of Barry Humphries more, the answer normally given is this movie. Humphries had two hits in the early ‘70s with his Barry McKenzie movies but he had less luck with this effort, which focuses on his Les Patterson creation. The plot is very James Bond spoof-esque with Patterson getting involved in international intrigue and Dame Edna Everage being revealed to be a spy. I saw this at the movies and admit to laughing at some of it – it’s the most self-consciously James Bond of the movies on this list apart from Blunderball. But it was a big flop and is not well remembered.

The cast includes Pamela Stephenson, who seemed to have every possible attribute to be a comedy film star (talent, beauty, comic timing)… but whose every Australian film flopped (this, Those Dear Departed, Doctors and Nurses, Private Collection…).

Here’s a clip from the film which will give you some idea of its high 10BA-era production values and low humour.

10) The Saint in Australia (1989)

Leslie Charteris’ literary creation, The Saint, predated James Bond – indeed it influenced Ian Fleming’s creation (both were well-dressed globe-trotting crime fighters) – but then the Bond movies were so successful they inevitably influenced later reincarnations of the Saint.

There had often been Australian connections with the Saint – John Farrow directed the excellent B picture The Saint Strikes Back (1939), Andrew Clarke starred in The Saint in Manhattan (1987) for American TV (a pilot that was not picked up for series), and Phil Noyce directed the big-budget Val Kilmer vehicle The Saint (1997).

The Saint in Australia (1990) was one in a series of little-remembered Saint TV movies starring Simon Dutton. This was shot in Australia and directed by Don Crombie. It’s also known as Fear in a Fun Park.

Honourable mention – Danger 5 (2012-15)

A gloriously silly, over-the-top SBS comedy show which was a spoof of Italian war and spy films of the 1960s which, in turn, were heavily influenced by Bond.

I should also briefly note the Australian TV films made about terrorists running loose in Australia – Harvest of Hate (1978), Run Chrissie Run (1984) and Act of Betrayal (1988) – and local conspiracy theory thrillers, of which for some reason there were an awful lot in the 1980s: Demonstrator (1971), Deadline (1980), The Chain Reaction (1980), The Killing of Angel Street (1981), Heatwave (1982), With Prejudice (1982), Traps (1985), Ground Zero (1987), Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987), The Everlasting Secret Family (1988), Against the Innocent (1988) and Secret City (2016). These all have some James Bond elements but not as many, I would argue, as the films in my top ten.

Australia’s never really made anything like the Matt Helm series, or Flint movies, or any of the other super obvious James Bond rip offs. But he has influenced our film and TV in his own way.

 


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