In Which the Entire British Secret Service is Gay

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Or perhaps just very very British.

A useful idiot is someone working for the secret service who doesn’t know it. In HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE, Dirk Bogarde, nearing the end of his Rank starlet period, plays a Bohemian young fellow recruited by a dodgy glass company for a business trip to Prague — he’s actually working for Robert Morley and John le Mesurier of the secret service.

Follow the routine of the late Robert Anton Wilson: every morning when you wake up, ask yourself, “Am I a useful idiot?”

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Movie begins by tracking down one of those Corridors of Power we’re always hearing about. One of the very, very few stylish shots in the career of Ralph Thomas, director. He’d already propelled Dirk through a number of DOCTOR films (his brother helmed the CARRY ON series). At the end of the corridor, John Le Mes checks in the belongings of a deceased agent — revealed to be 007. It’s one of a number of cheeky gags dotted along the way, including a news headline where the film’s director protests “I AM NOT A SPY!” Mostly, the film is a light thriller just this side of parody — its vision of espionage is clearly closer to the truth than that of Bond.

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But Dirk gets his own Bond girl in Prague, Sylva Koscina (never in an actual Bond film, she did wave a speargun about opposite Richard Johnson as Bulldog Drummond for the same director). She gets some surprisingly sexy stuff to do.

Morley cautions Le Mes not to recruit anyone too susceptible to feminine charms. Then he warns him not to go too far in the opposite direction. Then he blows him a kiss.

Over a drink, Koscina asks Dirk if it’s true you have to go to Eton to get into the British government. He admits it helps. She asks if communists ever get to go to Eton. He explains that they don’t often go, but sometimes by the time people graduate from Eton, they are communists. She asks if they get into the government. “Mainly the Foreign Office.”

Screenplay is by Lukas Heller, best known for THE DIRTY DOZEN, which is also actually quite a witty film.

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Thomas isn’t much of a director, really — early on, he tries some very slight Dutch tilts, for a casual conversation at Dirk’s Bohemian flat. I figured he was limbering up for a bit of THIRD MAN business one we get to Prague (which is played by Padua, not too convincingly). But he omits to ever go lopsided again. I guess he didn’t like the look of the shots when he saw them in dailies, but a re-shoot was out of the question. If he’d had the nerve to sustain this approach, it would have worked beautifully.

But there’s some good comedy playing, the actual action is reasonably tense and plausible, and it’s amusing to see Bogarde meeting his contact in the men’s room. “Homosexuality is the best damn cover an agent ever had,” types William Lee in Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH.

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12 Responses to “In Which the Entire British Secret Service is Gay”

  1. Sylva Koscina appeared in Abel Gance’s CYRANO ET D’ARTAGNAN referenced in an earlier post because of Charles Wood. Everything is connected!

    However her most memorable appearance was as the Empress Theodora in Robert Siodmak’s KAMPF UM ROM mainly because of this:

  2. Honor Blackman also memorable there, if “memorable” is now a euphemism for “nude”.

  3. One of those occasions when seeing the film before reading the (much more serious) book from which it’s adapted is highly advisable.

  4. I beg to differ Dremble. Sylva Koscina’s most memorable appearances were in Franju’s “Judex” and Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits”

  5. As for gay communist spies —

  6. henryholland666 Says:

    Ah, that piece of human excrement Guy Burgess. Thanks, you twat, for helping unleash a wave of reprisals against homosexuals in the UK after you and Maclean fled to the Soviet Union. I guess the only consolation of his defection is that he ended up stuck in the Soviet Union, which he didn’t like at all, as a hopeless alcoholic. Worker’s paradise, my arse.

    Maclean assimilated in Soviet Union, while Philby unfortunately botched a suicide attempt in the 1960’s. Blunt got off pretty much scot-free*, even after he was exposed in 1979 he carried on much as before. Lovely paintings, Your Majesty!

    *Not a slur against people of Scottish descent

  7. henryholland666 Says:

    I love the movie version of “Another Country”, not least because Cary Elwes is drop-dead gorgeous in it, but I take it for what is: a beautifully filmed movie with a lot of hot Brits in it but still a piece of heavily romanticized fiction.

  8. I would hold the Cambridge spies responsible for their own action, but any homophobes who used the revelations of treason as an excuse for gay-bashing or anti-gay legislation are likewise responsible for their own prejudices. Guy Burgess shouldn’t carry the can for Section 28.

    Preminger’s The Human Factor revisits the case with the homosexuality removed, but gives us Robert Morley again as an astonishingly unlikely government assassin.

  9. henryholland666 Says:

    “Guy Burgess shouldn’t carry the can for Section 28”

    Obviously, but I wasn’t implying he should nor am I excusing the British government’s periodic waves of arrests of homosexuals either. For example, it’s well documented that some gay men of means fled to the Continent after the second Oscar Wilde trial to escape what they knew would be a harsher social climate.

    There’s the scene in “Maurice” (book and film) where Maurice is at Dr. Lasker Jones’ getting hypnotherapy to cure his homosexuality and it’s so futile that the doctor advises him to leave England for France or Italy as “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature”.

    Burgess’ defection caused the government to step up their targeting of homosexuals, especially among the security/spy apparatus. For example: Alan Turing was friends with Robin Gandy, who had been (still was?) a Communist and friends with Maclean and Burgess.

    After his arrest and trial in 1952, Turing started going to Norway and the Continent for friendship and sexual encounters. Because of Turing’s connection to Gandy, police thought that one of the guys he’d met, a Norwegian named Kjell, was a possible Soviet agent. When Kjell sent Turing a postcard saying he wanted to visit him in Newcastle, that increased scrutiny of Turing’s private life.

    The government’s hash response to Burgess defecting and high profile cases such as that against Lord Montagu lead to the creation of the Wolfenden committee in 1954 and the eventual decriminalization of homosexual acts in 1967. Bringing up Section 28 is a non-sequitur.

  10. I know it was much later, I just used it as a slightly random example of oppressive government tactics, which should be blamed on said government, not on the actions of anyone else — upon which we agree.

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