The first in our occasional series looking at the post-Bond spy movies that emerged in the 1960s is a lovely ‘accidental spy’ romp with Dirk Bogarde and Sylva Koscina.
The post-Bond era of the mid-1960s saw a slew of spy movies emerging around the world, often taking a more tongue in cheek approach to their material than their inspiration (ironically, these films would seem to be an increasing influence on the later Bond movies), with exotic European locations, sexy girls, unflappable heroes and ultra modernist sets. Director and producer team Ralph Thomas and Betty E. Box – best known for the Doctor series – produced a handful of these lightweight spy romps, most notably the two Bulldog Drummond films Deadlier Than the Male and Some Girls Do at the end of the decade, but they dipped their toes into the water in 1964 with Hot Enough for June, which is a rather more original twist on the genre, and a film that can never quite decide what it wants to be. That it remains thoroughly entertaining throughout seems to be as much by luck as design.
The film reunites the team with Doctor star Dirk Bogarde, who – having just made The Servant – was well on his way to being above this sort of fluff, but at this point still needed the money. If ever there was a case of a star slumming, this is it, and it’s easy to see that he was rather uncommitted to the role, having only agreed to appear in the film at the request of his bank manager – it’s not so much a bad performance as a disinterested one, and frankly, he’s a little miscast anyway as Nicholas Whistler, the feckless ladies man and unemployed writer who is sent by the labour exchange for a job interview at a glass manufacturer. Except that this particular company is actually a branch of British Intelligence, run by Colonel Cunliffe (Robert Morley) and Roger Allsop (John Le Mesurier), both of whom of course steal every scene that they appear in. Having recently lost an agent, they need someone who speaks Czech to visit Prague and collect a message from one of their operatives. If that person doesn’t actually know that he’s a spy, then all the better.
And so Whistler is shipped off on what he thinks is a well paid (£40 a week!) job that involves a degree of cloak and dagger in order to exchange industrial secrets with an Iron Curtain country – he’s told to use the code phrase “It’s hot enough for June” to meet his contact. And while you start to wonder just how naïve he must be not to realise the truth, Whistler nevertheless goes through the motions of visiting the glass factory (despite knowing nothing about glass) and trying his code phrase out on everyone he meets. He also seduces his driver and tour guide, Vlasta – and given that she’s played by Sylva Koscina, who could blame him? However, she’s also a member of the secret police, and the daughter of that organisation’s head, Simenova (Leo McKern), and if Whistler is still blissfully aware that he is a spy, then the Czech’s are more clued in. Once the message has been passed, the secret police move in to arrest him, and the hapless, accidental spy is forced to go on the run across Prague, adopting various disguises as he tries to make it to the British Embassy and enlists the help of Vlasta, who of course is now in love with him.
The whole idea of the accidental spy is a fairly original one and certainly ensures that the film stands out somewhat from the glut of films emerging at the time (though the ‘innocent caught up in espionage’ idea would itself be increasingly played out in films like Our Man in Marrakesh during the decade). But the movie does seem to be a little uncertain as to what it actually wants to be. It’s essentially structured (and was certainly advertised as) a comedy, yet large chunks of the film are played very straight. It dallies with being a romance, flirts with action and even at times has the more down at heel spy movie vibe of an Ipcress File.
This sense of indecision could easily derail the film, but surprisingly, it all hangs together rather well, in large part thanks t an engaging cast. Despite Bogarde’s general and obvious indifference, he’s too good an actor to ever really deliver a bad performance, and so he keeps you interested in his (not especially likeable) character’s fate, even if he isn’t. Koscina is everything you want from a seductively gorgeous spy (you can see why Whistler is so taken with her as she shimmies around in nothing more than a towel) and the supporting cast of British stalwarts are, of course, fantastic, and also include Roger Delgardo, better known as Doctor Who’s The Master.
Hot Enough for June feels very much of its time – the whole film is immersed in Cold War paranoia and that whole ‘we know that they know that we know’ spy culture of the era. But like so many of those films, it remains thoroughly entertaining even though the world it represents now seems a distant memory. While the later Thomas/Box efforts are more deliriously camp, this relatively small scale, downplayed spy comedy is still well worth checking out.
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