Beginner’s Guide to… Spy films


by Charlotte Turner

The name’s Smooth, Mr Smooth. My deadliest weapon? Charm. I work for a top secret organisation and my mission is to save the world. After a brief entanglement with a mysterious temptress I hop in my slick wheels and speed off (with suitable tyre spin) to gain vital intelligence. An evil super-genius has a dastardly plan to control the minds of the earth’s population.  But I have been unknowingly undone by said vixen, who was working for the villain all along! The situation is dire but with the help of my wit and my laser pen we can all live to see another day.

Often one of spy films’ greatest features are the gadgets – lipstick guns and minuscule cameras. It seems our love of gadgetry has only grown, so that filmmakers have the challenge of creating even more fantastic contraptions. The most famous source of gadgets is Q in the James Bond films. An invaluable resource, Q always has the foresight to providing Bond with everything he would ever need.

Of course, whilst Bond is a seminal figure in the history of the spy film, the twenty-first century has seen many new and different manifestations of ‘the spy’. With amnesia, duplicity and some of Europe’s best locations, the Bourne trilogy presents a thrilling chase. Yet, based on a twentieth century novel and with the focus on one man’s struggle, it is not the wildest leap away from Bond or spy film convention.

And where are the women in this genre? The obvious answer is: the bedroom. A cliché not entirely eradicated by the tag-line of Charlie’s Angels: ‘Get Some Action’. Then in 2005, Mr and Mrs Smith showed what happens when man-spy and woman-spy are brought together in a film, on equal terms. The result of this experiment was plenty of mindless destruction- not least to the marriage of Jennifer Aniston.

The secrecy and excitement of espionage has captivated for a long time and it is possible to step away from explosions and New York City car chases. One example is the classic British film The 39 Steps, often cited as one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements. It demonstrates the genre’s ability to captivate audiences in plots often intricate and complex.

Spies are cool and we want to be them – if only to get the cars, the gadgets and the girls. But, with the all the killing and collateral damage, it is easy to forget that behind the scenes would be a mountain of paperwork to fill out.

Must see movies:

The 39 Steps (1935)

Dr No (1962)

From Russia With Love (1963)

Mission Impossible (1996)
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Syriana (2005)
Mr and Mrs Smith (2005)
Casino Royale (2006)
The Good Shepherd (2006)

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