Licensed to Kill/The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World (1965)

Licensed_To_Kill_(1965)‘This marks the end of Man’s days as an Earthbound worm. We are free to soar like larks into the sky!’

British agent Charles Vine is tasked with the protection of a visiting scientist who was invented a process to reverse gravity. The boffin’s brother has already been killed, and it seems the Russians will stop at nothing to get hold of the process. But are Vine’s superiors also planning a double cross…?

Unusual ‘Bond a Budget’ effort that actually comes from the UK rather than continental Europe. Our ‘007’ substitute is Tom Adams, an actor making his debut according to the credits but who had already appeared on TV and in  movie theatres, including a small appearance in ‘The Great Escape’ (1963). Here, his performance neatly encapsulates the wider problems of the film. Subsequent work reveals the actor had a natural charm and charisma in front of the camera, but here he delivers a cold, robotic hero, whose only registered emotion is a smirk of pleasure at killing.

So, is this supposed to be a harder, more realistic ‘Bond’ in the tradition of Connery, or even Craig? Well, perhaps. But, if so, then why are there knowing winks to the audience and several references to ‘that other fellow’ who is the top agent? It’s possible of course that this was supposed to be a jet-black satire on the whole genre; certainly that would fit with Adams’ performance. But, then again, when was a plot ridiculously overstuffed with the art of the double cross a staple of that type of film? That’s more of a nod to a realistic cold war thriller, which it resembles a great deal at times. In short, the problem here is tone. The movie never seems sure what it’s trying to be and ends up as a generally unsatisfying experience.

Licensed To Kill (1965)

‘Really? That’s your best line?’

Another possibility that should be considered is that the film was compromised in post-production by studio executives, who felt that a softer tone would sell more tickets.  Certainly, the American release title of ‘The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World’ is a nod towards its more comedic aspects, such as they are, and the inclusion of a ‘Bond Theme’ sung by Sammy Davis Jnr(!) would seem to support that notion.

Other clichés of the Eurospy genre are present and correct. Despite being a target of assassins on all sides, top scientist Karel Sepanek insists on seeing the sights of London. This conveniently allows for the usual ‘tourist board’ stock footage, particularly of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, although Adams and Stepanek do appear in the shots, so it was specially filmed for the production. Elsewhere, Francis De Wolff’s impressive eyebrows make an appearance as the man from the ministry and Peter Bull, who played the Russian Ambassador in ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964), is also on hand to lend his character talent. 

A half-baked film in many ways that fails to really find its identity. Nevertheless, sequels followed, with Adams returning in ‘Where The Bullets Fly’ (1966) and ‘O.K. Yevtushenko’ (1968).

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