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Agent 8 3/4(1964)
In this satirical comedy-thriller at the height of the 007 popularity and set amidst the world of international espionage, unemployed Nicolas Whistler accepts a job and a tidy salary with what he believes to be a glass manufacturing company in London. He soon discovers that his business behind the Iron Curtain is in fact illegal. Everyone apparently believes him to be a spy but it takes much time and adventure for him to realize it. The realization numbs him with horror, and with his contacts gone, he is on his own. He must escape arrest and flee to England but the secret police are close behind him!
For more about Agent 8 3/4 and the Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray release, see Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sylva Koscina, Robert Morley
Director: Ralph Thomas
» See full cast & crew
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray Review
Whistler. Nicholas Whistler.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 14, 2011
1964 was the year of one of the biggest landslide elections in Presidential history (Johnson v. Goldwater), the opening of the well remembered New York City World's Fair which posited a brighter, more wonderful "tomorrow" for the 21st century, and the year that the Beatles spearheaded the British Invasion of American Top 40 pop music. But it was another British Invasion of sorts in 1964 which was equally popular and in a way may have been more prolific than even the Beatles, at least for that year in particular: namely James Bond, Agent 007, that particular year in the blockbuster hit Goldfinger. Now of course Bond had debuted on the big screen two years previously with Dr. No, and while both Dr. No and its sequel From Russia With Love had proven to be immensely popular, they somehow didn't quite capture the cultural zeitgeist in the way that Goldfinger did, and 1964 might rightly be seen as the absolute apex of the Connery Bond years. By the fall of 1964 U.S. television had sat up and taken notice, and a number of shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. took to the airwaves, while a number of other shows like Burke's Law soon saw their formats slightly revamped into offerings like Amos Burke, Secret Agent as the Bond craze continued to sweep not just the United States, but the world as a whole. Though it actually beat Goldfinger to the big screen by a few months (at least in its UK version), Hot Enough for June (later slightly edited and released stateside as Agent 8 ¾, an obvious attempt to cash in on the Bond craze) can't be divorced from the Bond phenomenon, but it also just as easily can't escape being compared, not very favorably, to the Bond enterprises. Hot Enough for June kind of wants to be a satire, but it's neither funny nor clever enough to really warrant that appellation, and it likewise wants to be a spy thriller, with equally tepid results. The problem is that the Connery Bond films always were more than slightly irreverent, usually with somewhat cheeky senses of humor themselves, and so any film trying to mine that same territory has an awfully high bar already set which it must surpass. Hot Enough for June manages to be suitably romantic, and it's certainly scenic, but anyone hoping for anything even approaching Bond levels of humor and intrigue is going to be woefully disappointed.
Dirk Bogarde (who would go on to star in yet another fitfully amusing spy spoof, Modesty Blaise, two years later) portrays out of work writer Nicholas Whistler, who is stunned in the film's opening moments to find out the Unemployment Office actually has a semi-suitable job opening for which he is required to interview in order to keep his unemployment benefits coming. He commiserates with his friends at his apartment (and that's future Girl from U.N.C.L.E. sidekick Noel Harrison with the blond hair) before showing up the next day at a glass factory run by a portly man named Cunliffe (Robert Morley). It of course turns out that the glass factory is a cover for MI6 (the British equivalent to the CIA), and Cunliffe has selected Whistler to be a courier because he speaks Czechoslovokian. Cunliffe gives Whistler a rather convoluted song and dance about a supposed trade mission behind the Iron Curtain to a Czech glass factory, and that trade secrets will be given to him in his guide book once he makes contact with an unknown glass factory employee (obviously an operative, unbeknownst to Whistler) who will respond to the passphrase "Hot enough for June."
Hot Enough for June could have been a bright and breezy spy spoof, with Whistler stumbling through a series of misadventures a la a British Maxwell Smart, but the film never really seems to know what it wants to be. There aren't enough jokes here to really warrant the film being called a comedy, and what jokes there are are often on the outré side (a running gag seems to point to a gay relationship between Cunliffe and his aide, though of course this being mid-1960's British fare, you kind of have to read between the lines). Instead, the film plays it mostly straight, and actually goes to the romantic side of things once Whistler is in Prague (actually Padua, filling in rather well for a city that wouldn't allow Western filming back in the Cold War era). Whistler becomes entangled with his driver, a comely young lady named Vlasta Simoneva (Sylva Koscina), who is of course herself a secret police operative and turns out to be the daughter of the officious head of the secret police (Leo McKern).
While the film is breezy enough to never drag, as a thriller it squanders any suspense it might have generated, though it certainly sets things up swimmingly enough (literally, as Bogarde and Koscina end up at a community pool), once Whistler realizes he's on a spy mission and is soon the target of the entire Czech secret police force. He's a man alone in a strange land, and he desperately and repeatedly attempts to gain access to the British Embassy. But Hot Enough for June doesn't make Whistler's predicament scary enough to generate many thrills nor funny enough to elicit many laughs. What's left then?
Well, the news is surprisingly good. The scenery here is absolutely gorgeous, and not just Padua. Sylva Koscina was a gorgeous and obviously intelligent Italian star (she actually studied physics) who never seemed to really take off stateside like some of her compatriots, notably Sophia Loren. But here, doing her best Garbo as Ninotchka impersonation, she's incredibly lovely and brings a nice romantic flair to the film. Bogarde is simply too fey to return those sparks, but he manages the bumbling aspect of the Whistler character rather well. Morley is a hoot as always, and McKern, always good playing sour bureaucrats, has some good lines as he disparages his incompetent assistant.
Hot Enough for June is that sort of handsomely made middle of the road entertainment that manages to kill an hour and half or so without ever being horrible by any stretch, but never being as good as it might have with a little more effort. This is a film that tries to combine thrills and a lighter than air comedy soufflé like the previous year's Charade did. The problem is Hot Enough for June simply doesn't try very hard. As that really funny spy Max Smart used to say with great regularity: "Missed it by that much!"
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Hot Enough for June arrives on Blu-ray with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. (It should be noted that this is the second VC-1 encode I've encountered just today, so rumors of this codec's demise are, to paraphrase Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated). VCI is a small independent label which is just starting to get its feet wet in the Blu-ray marketplace. Their releases thus far have had some authoring and DNR issues, and I'm happy to report that Hot Enough for June is easily their sharpest looking Blu-ray release so far, and it exhibits no authoring issues, at least when played on both my PS3 and LG standalone player. It does appear there has been some minor DNR applied here, but it is in no way as vigorous as on Romeo and Juliet, VCI's last release, and overall this 1964 film looks amazingly sharp and crisp, with nicely robust colors and decent if not overwhelming fine detail. The increased resolution of the Blu-ray makes some of the matte paintings more noticeable, and there are some source element issues on what I would assume was the second reel, when suddenly sharpness and color are substantially diminished for a few minutes (that same anomaly crops up very briefly much later in the film). There are also one or two warping issues, but otherwise this is a blemish free presentation and one which should delight any fans of this film. (It should be noted that this is released under a new "Rank Collection" rubric from VCI, and this is perhaps merely a licensed Blu-ray which was produced and authored by the remnants of Rank).
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately there are no lossless audio offerings on this Blu-ray. Instead we're given the original mono track delivered in a Dolby Digital mix as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 repurposing. The good news is the 5.1 repurposing isn't so egregious as to grate, though that of course means there's not much surround action, especially with regard to the rear channels. The mono track does surprisingly well for this film, as the bulk of Hot Enough for June is small dialogue scenes, more often than not with only two people. Fidelity is fine, if not mind blowing, and the film really doesn't afford any opportunity for boisterous LFE, so the lack of a low end isn't really as bothersome as it might otherwise be. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, and the balance between it, effects and score is just fine.
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's hard to come down too drastically on Hot Enough for June, because the film isn't exactly bad, it's just kind of—blah. It's gorgeously scenic, it has a wonderful performance from the underrated Koscina, as well as some fun supporting turns by Morley and McKern, but it's not funny enough and it wastes any thriller elements it might have quite easily exploited. The film has a certain cachet with some fans, and for those I heartily recommend this Blu-ray, which looks surprisingly spry and sounds at least acceptable. For others, you might want to rent it first to see if it's something that suits your fancy.
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• VCI to Release Two Dirk Bogarde Films on Blu-ray - June 28, 2011
Independent distributors VCI have revealed that they will release on Blu-ray two classic films starring Dirk Bogarde: Ralph Thomas' Campbell's Kingdom (1957) and Agent 8 3/4 a.k.a Hot Enough for June (1964). Technical specs and region coding status for these releases ...
Agent 8 3/4 Blu-ray Screenshots
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