Thursday, August 25, 2011

AGENT 8 3/4 (Blu -ray)

When James Bond came along in 1962's DOCTOR NO, he changed the way audiences enjoyed spy movies and the way that filmmakers made them. The success of the franchise also inspired a slew of imitators and spoofs, and one of the earliest - and best - has just come to Blu-ray disc courtesy of VCI Entertainment: 1964's AGENT 8 3/4 (a/k/a HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE), starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylva Koscina.

Nicholas Whistler (Bogarde, MODESTY BLAISE) is an unemployed, Czech-fluent writer living in England, when he is - completely unbeknownst to him - recruited by British Intelligence for a mission to Prague. He thinks he's on a goodwill visit from a London glass manufacturer, but the Czechoslovakian Secret Police - and everyone else - knows he's a spy. A female Czech operative, the comely Comrade Simonova (Koscina, DEADLIER THAN THE MALE) is assigned to be his driver and keep an eye on him, but before long, she falls for the handsome, hapless writer. By the time that Whistler finally realizes that he is, indeed a spy, he's trapped in Prague, hunted and pursued by the Secret Police, and only the lovely, conflicted Comrade Simonova can possibly help him.

Deftly directed by Ralph Thomas, AGENT 8 3/4 is a breezy, Cold War-era satire that evokes not only 007, but Hitchcock's espionage thrillers, as well. It's suspenseful and even thrilling at times, but also witty and occasionally farcical - which is why a lot of modern viewers might not be able to get a handle on it. The script is clever and sharp, and the cast, which also includes Leo McKern and Robert Morley, is exceptional across the board. Bogarde is amusing and convincing as the somewhat clueless unintentional agent who must rise to the occasion when his support system falls apart, and Koscina is just stunningly gorgeous. The cinematography is beautiful, even when portraying the drab, behind-the-Iron Curtain world of Communist Czechoslovakia. Overall, it's a slick, early-Sixties spy-fi spoof and highly entertaining, if you're in the right mindset.

VCI's new Blu-ray disc appears to be the same high-def transfer used by the UK company, Network, presented in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p HD. Picture quality is astoundingly good - with the exception of one or two brief shots, detail and colors appear to be perfect. VCI offers two audio options: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and an enhanced 5.1 remix. The only extras are a theatrical trailer (under the original British title of HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE) and a still photo gallery. The title is also available in standard-def DVD.

AGENT 8 3/4 (I have to say, I like the British title much better) is a great slice of sly Cold War pop culture, and a must-see for fans of 60s spy flicks. Highly recommended.

BUYAgent 8 3/4 aka: Hot Enough For June [Blu-ray] 

BUYAgent 8 3/4 [DVD]