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Spy film

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Spy film

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The spy film genre deals with the subject of fictional espionage, either in a realistic way or as a basis for fantasy. Many novels in the spy fiction genre have been adapted as films, although in many cases (such as James Bond) the overall tone is changed.

Alfred Hitchcock did much to popularise the spy film in the 1930s with his influential thrillers The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1937) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). These often involved innocent civilians being caught up in international conspiracies. Some, however, dealt with professional spies as in Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936), based on W. Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories.

In the 1940s and early 1950s there were several films made about the exploits of Allied agents in occupied Europe, which could probably be considered as a sub-genre. 13 Rue Madeleine and O.S.S. were fictional stories about American agents in German-occupied France, and there were a number of films based on the stories of real-life British S.O.E. agents, including Odette and Carve Her Name With Pride. A more recent fictional example is Charlotte Gray, based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks.

The peak of popularity of the spy film is often considered to be the 1960s when Cold War fears meshed with a desire by audiences to see exciting and suspenseful films. The espionage film developed in two directions at this time. On the one hand, the realistic spy novels of Len Deighton and John Le Carre were adapted into relatively serious Cold War thrillers which dealt with some of the realities of the espionage world. Some of these films included The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Deadly Affair (1966), and the Harry Palmer series, based on the novels of Len Deighton.

At the same time, the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming were adapted into an increasingly fantastical series of tongue-in-cheek adventure films by producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, with Sean Connery as the star. The phenomenal success of the Bond series lead to a deluge of imitators, especially from America. Among the best known examples were the two 'Derek Flint' films starring James Coburn, and the Matt Helm series with Dean Martin. Television also got into the act with series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E and I Spy in the U.S., and Danger Man and The Avengers in Britain. Spies have remained popular on TV to the present day with series such as Callan, Alias and Spooks.

Spy films also enjoyed something of a revival in the late 1990s, although these were often action films with espionage elements, or comedies like Austin Powers.

'Realistic' fictional spy films include:

The James Bond film series (from 1962 onwards)
The 39 Steps (1935)
Secret Agent (1936)
Tropic Of Ice (1987)
Cloak and Dagger (1946)
Diplomatic Courier (1952)
The Ipcress File (1965), and its sequels Funeral in Berlin (1967) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965)
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
The Deadly Affair (1966)
The Black Windmill (1974)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
The Fourth Protocol (1987)
Ronin (1998)
Spy Game (2001)
The "Jason Bourne" series - The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum (2001-2006)
The Recruit (2003)
Munich (2005)

'Fantasy' spy films:

Our Man Flint and In Like Flint with James Coburn (1966-1967)
The Matt Helm series starring Dean Martin (1966-1969)
The updated Bulldog Drummond films of the 1960s, Deadlier Than the Male and Some Girls Do, with Richard Johnson (1967-1968)
Modesty Blaise (1966)
Fathom (1967) with Raquel Welch
If Looks Could Kill (1991) with Richard Grieco
The Double 0 Kid (1992) with Corey Haim
True Lies (1994) with Arnold Schwarzenegger
xXx (2002) with Vin Diesel
Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible film series ((1996-2006)
Agent Cody Banks (2003)

These films helped to create parodies, such as:

Casino Royale (1967)
Spies Like Us (1985)
Spy Hard (1996)
Austin Powers series (1997-2002)
Johnny English (2003)

Spy films or television series that include elements of science fiction are sometimes called SpyFi.


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