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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy Thriller > Cold War > Classic CIA/KGB Movies (BFS)

Classic CIA/KGB Movies (BFS)


              Picture:     Sound:     Extras:     Film:

The Deadly Recruits (1986)       C-            C              D           C

Laser Mission (1989)                C-            C+            D           D

The Man Outside (1968)            C-            C             D           B



With no more KGB left, an organization transformed into something else since the Soviet Union fell, you would expect BFS’ Classic CIA/KGB Movies to be a total camp joke, but it instead offers three films that show the three kinds of possible Spy genre thrillers.


The Deadly Recruits is the TV movie among the group, with Terrence Stamp as a British secret agent investigating the disappearance of Oxford students, especially noticed after a motorcycle accident.  Unfortunately, a story that could have been interesting is far too talky for its own good and we have seen this kind of thing done much better on TV’s The Avengers.  Stamp is not bad considering what he has to work with, while fans of the James Bond (Thunderball) and Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back) franchises will recognize Michael Culver.


Laser Mission is a lame vehicle that wasted the talents of Brandon Lee as a badly written Spy and Ernest Borgnine showing up for a paycheck and pretending to be an evil scientist.  Bad action films of the 1980s, like the Rambo films, had an influence that wrongly seeped into the Spy genre.  The Bond films even saw their most violent installment the same year with the controversial Licence To Kill.  The only problem with that film is that it was badly edited down for a lower PG-13, while this film would not work with any cut.  Lee’s untimely death only makes this more and more painful to watch.  Lee did better, including in the telefilm Kung Fu – The Movie (1986), which should have been picked up as a series.  Too bad Hollywood picked up on Lee too late.  Like father, like son.


The Man Outside is the big surprise and a lost gem of the genre, involving some of the strongest talent the genre ever saw.  Van Heflin is great in one of his later roles as fallen CIA agent Bill MacLean, who is suddenly called back when a dirty operation involving the Russians because there is more at stake than he is being told.  He gets a sense of this and decides to jump out of the cold and back into the dirt with a potential defector and a beautiful young woman.  Those who loved the Michael Caine/Harry Palmer film The Ipcress File, but were less satisfied with follow-ups Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain, will say that this is more like it.  Peter Vaughn is an evil head Eastern Bloc baddie, two time Bond veterans Charles Gray (doing this just after You Only Live Twice (1967) and due to later appear in Diamonds Are Forever) and Bill Nagy are featured in great roles, while the late Paul Maxwell (most familiar to new audiences from James Cameron’s 1986 surprise Aliens), Ronnie Barker (TV’s The Avengers) and Willoughby Gray are among an exceptionally strong cast.


Director Samuel Gallu had just finished Theatre of Death with Christopher Lee and Julian Glover, so he was in great form.  He co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of the Gene Stackleborg novel with two men who helped build the Spy genre in the 1960s.  Julian Bond created the original 1960 British TV series Police Surgeon, which quickly evolved into The Avengers.  Roger Marshall wrote some of the great later shows in the mid-to-late 1960s, so that is some serious writing talent behind this film.


The image on all the films here rank below average.  Sadly, though The Man Outside was shot in Techniscope by the brilliant cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, B.S.C. just coming off of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (doing incidental work, though he was the main cameraman on Kubrick’s previous Dr. Strangelove in 1965).  The original print were produced in beautiful dye-transfer three-strip Technicolor (common practice for Techniscope and Technirama productions), but this print is a pan & scan Eastmancolor print going bad.  The opening credits are in unsqueezed scope that you could un-stretch to its 2.35 X 1 ration on a 16 X 9 screen, but the definition is also poor.  Group W Westinghouse was a co-producer of this British film that was issued by Allied Artists in the United States.  Westinghouse has since been consumed by the CBS/Viacom/Paramount merger, Allied Artists films often get issued by Warner Bros. or Disney/Miramax.  Give or take a British owner of the film, could one of these companies please find the negative, restore and reissue this film?  And why are the end credits French before the film suddenly cuts off on this print?  Peter Mullins’ Art Direction deserves to be seen in full scope as well.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 is various, but the newer the sound, the poorer the film and story.  Some awful stereo with a surround –like mix (from dreadful Ultra Stereo gone very wrong) is on Laser Mission.  Deadly Recruits was clear, more modern mono, while The Man Outside is also mono from the film’s optical mono a few generations down.  Richard Arnell did not do too many feature film scores, but this one is very good.


So here is the rare case where you have to buy all three films to get the good one, but this DVD is so cheap, it is worth it.  All Spy fans should have this copy of The Man Outside until a better one comes along.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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