We have access to 70 million channels between cable and streaming yet there are times I find myself, unfortunately too often, watching crappy movies. If you’ve found yourself in a similar state, I hope you’ll find some movies that don’t suck in this planed series – Movies That Don’t Suck.
I enjoy a good spy film as much as I enjoy a wise-cracking noir-soaked crime drama. Of course both genres are chock-full of classics but the picks here are a bit off the beaten list (some more, some less) and focus on films from the 1960s and ’70s. The idea being to ideally introduce you to some great movies you may not have seen. They are all available through Amazon Prime.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965)
Direct by Martin Ritt and starring Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner (of Farenhiet 451 fame), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is based on the 1963 John le Carré novel of the same name. Burton plays British agent Alec Leamas whose mission is to go underground pretending to be a depressed alcoholic defector in search of new friends in Cold War East Germany.
Burton/Leamas: What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?
Funeral in Berlin (1966)
Michael Caine as British secret agent Harry Palmer, Funeral is the second of three Caine playing Palmer films, is sent to Berlin to flip Colonel Stok, an important Soviet intelligence officer. The plan: drive him across the heavily guarded Wall in a coffin. Directed by Guy Hamilton (who also directed four Bond films including Goldfinger), think of Palmer as Bond for grownups.
Colonel Stok : Do you play chess?
Harry Palmer : Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating.
Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Robert Wagner, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, Shelly Winters, and Janet Leigh star in William Goldman’s adaptation of Ross Macdonald’s 1949 novel The Moving Target. Newman is LA private detective Lew Harper, a hard-to-like (but easy to love) wise-cracking loner, who is referred to the missing person’s case of hard-to-like multi-millionaire Ralph Sampson. Bacall plays Samson’s tough-as-nails wife who is anything but unhappy about hubby’s disappearance. Newman’s investigation leads him to the seedy side of LA (was there a non-seedy side?), filled with drug addicts (Harris, among others), an alcoholic ex-starlet (Winters), a cult leader (Strother Martin), and other less likable characters.
Lew Harper: The bottom is loaded with nice people, Albert. Only cream and bastards rise.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Robert Altman directs Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe in one of the quirkiest adaptations of Raymond Chandler’s famous private eye which Altman set in 1970’s LA (it’s seedy). Gould is hired by Eileen Wade to find her missing husband Roger Wade portrayed by Stirling Hayden, an alcoholic self-loathing writer with writer’s block. Gould is so anti-Bogart anti-Mitchum it hurts (so good) while Hayden is so much larger than life he steals the show.
Det. Green : My, my, you are a pretty asshole.
Philip Marlowe : Yeah, my mother always tells me that.
The Mackintosh Man (1973)
Directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman, Dominique Sanda, and James Mason. Need I say more? Newman is Joseph Rearden, a British Intelligence agent, who pretends to be an Australian diamond thief who gets caught (he was set up), sent to prison (this was a set up too), escapes with the help of a well-connected inmate (this was planned), and lands in the Irish countryside as a prisoner where his cover as an Australian diamond thief is questioned with fists (this wasn’t planned). The Mackintosh Man has more twists and turns than 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Joseph Rearden: Yeah, a poke. You know what I mean. How about it, Stretch?
Gerda: [smiling] I’m afraid I stopped being a woman several years ago.