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Hot Enough for June
A UK region 2 DVD review by Adam Wilson
 
"I'd be a lot happier if he'd been to a decent school"
John Le Mesurier doesn't reckon much to Dirk Bogarde

 

Dirk Bogarde probably would have made a decent James Bond. Around the time of Dr No in 1962 he was the right age, suitably British with an upper-class edge, he had the requisite matinee-idol good looks and just about suited Ian Fleming's description of 007. A backhanded validation of this idea occurred in 2004, when an internet hoax on April Fool's day describing a fictional, 'un-produced' 1956 version of Moonraker pitted Orson Welles as Hugo Drax against a James Bond played by Dirk Bogarde – the success of the hoax perhaps owed something to the believability of the casting. The first scene in Hot Enough For June has John LeMesurier as an intelligence recruiter checking a bag of spy equipment into a locker at headquarters. A clerk files through the gear – including an old-school favourite, a shoe with a false heel – whilst LeMesurier takes a phone call, advising the person on the end of the line that they'd 'better start thinking of a replacement'. The clerk files the stuff into a locker and removes the nametag – '007' –  from the door, replacing it with 'deceased'.

The implication is obvious, but its also misleading – in these first few seconds we're promised a spoof of Bond and Danger Man but actually end up with something more conventional. Bogarde plays Nicholas Whistler, a hack writer who is shuttled off to a job interview and promptly hired by Cunliffe (Robert Morley) as a translator for a business trip to Prague. Dispatched behind the iron curtain, he's given the task of obtaining some information from the state glass manufacturers – little realizing he's unwittingly performing espionage on behalf of the British government, and that his glamorous driver Valta (Sylva Koscina) is a Soviet counter-agent.

It starts out quite well, and for the first half an hour the premise is constructed with precision and depth. Bogarde is pretty good as Whistler for the early scenes – not surprising, given that his character at the beginning of the film is quite interesting – coming across as disinterested lounger. He hangs out with cynical beatnik friends, comically tries to avoid the Labour Exchange's attempts to get him off the dole ('I'm a writer, it says so on me passport!'), picks up dolly birds and generally slacks off. His early scenes with Robert Morley's spy recruiter are brilliant, played as an inter-generational class war, with Morley at his best as a fatherly, patronizing Etonian type (he plays a similar role in the far superior When Eight Bells Toll). Cunliffe's attempts to employ Whistler and convince him he's right for the cover job are hilarious – Whistler arrives late, doesn't know what job he's being seen for and is obviously proud of dodging national service but walks out of the office with a hefty salary and a late Monday-morning start; carrying a look like some bohemian interloper at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. International espionage is portrayed as a kind of old-boys club, with respective chiefs Robert Morley and his Russian counterpart Simonova (Leo McKern) trying to catch each other's agents like a friendly game of draughts. Morley and LeMesurier even wear the same tie. Morley's reaction to news that the Russians have captured a British agent in Romania: 'bloody show-offs, they've pulled in another of our chaps...we'd better arrest one of theirs otherwise they'll think we're losing face.' A rare, all-too-short scene at the end of the film has McKern and Morley thesping off against each other over an afternoon whiskey and soda, their characters trying to out-manoeuvre each other in the most genteel way possible.

That kind of material is where the best gags come from, sly jokes at the expense of the imperialism of Ian Fleming and the changing society of the 60s in general. Once the action leaves Britain and relocates to Prague the film deflates, falling back on lame pot-shot gags at communism and the inevitable, half-arsed romantic sub-plot with Valta. For her part Koscina is pretty good, and despite the dubbing puts in an exceptional physical performance as the naïve yet headstrong Soviet agent. Their scene together at a fairground, in which Valta tries to warn Whistler of the impending danger over a carnival shooting gallery is quite touching; Koscina doing most of the work with her measured facial expressions. Unfortunately for Bogarde, the Whistler character ends up as a rather tepid rehash of the bungling, Englishman-abroad type seen in countless other comedy-thrillers, alternated with scenes of cigarette-lighting smoothness when performing scenes with Koscina. Bogarde does his best, but it doesn't quite work. Similarly when the film kicks into life in the final third Whistler undergoes another incongruous change of character. Once Whistler has been confronted by the secret police and is forced to flee through the streets of Prague, he instantly becomes adept at survival; adopting disguises, bluffing his way past guards and losing pursuers in the backstreets. Its inconsistent, but this last act does liven the narrative up considerably. A particularly good sequence has Bogarde on the run dressed in the classic spy tux, but looking completely out of place amongst the commuters of Prague. Eventually though, as with most of Hot Enough For June, even this section runs out of steam. The pace slackens, resulting in a series of routines in which Whistler attempts to obtain various changes of disguise in order to get back to the British embassy, resulting in him donning various comedy outfits including rustic carnival peasant and cheery milkman. Perhaps most heinously for a spy film alternatively titled Agent 008 and ¾, Hot Enough For June contains no actual sleuthing. The only moment of real espionage comes when Bogarde gets given a slip of paper from an undercover agent in a factory toilet. As a spoof, there are surprisingly few jokes at the expense of the genre – if any.

It's all a bit of a let-down really; it certainly doesn't dazzle as a spoof and is a bit flimsy as a thriller on its own merits. Despite a promising start and some great supporting character actors, there is really not much worth shouting about with Hot Enough For June. Bogarde would have  made a good a Bond, but this film doesn't provide much evidence in his favour.

sound and vision

Whatever the merits of the film itself, the transfer offers no reason for complaint. A sharp, colourful and sparkling clean anamorphic widescreen picture is a pleasure to watch, with the colours and contrast really popping in the more brightly lit scenes. There's a slight flickering in some sequences, but nothing distracting. The framing is 1.78:1, however, which while standard for HD video is not a conventional film aspect ratio, suggesting either a small crop – horizontally if the original was 1.85:1, vertically if 1.66:1 – or a slight opening of a 1.85:1 matte.

The mono soundtrack is clear and free of distortion – the range is inevitably a little narrow by today's standards, but not at all bad.

extra features

Several production galleries. The Behind the Scenes (2:13) sets are the best – beautiful black and white photography with a great candid feel – my particular favourite is the one of Sylva Koscina inspecting Dirk Bogarde's hand (for some reason).

The Image Gallery (3:06) is a collection of stills from the film, but actually look like the original shots supplied for programme notes, newspapers and magazines. Interesting to see what they went for to sell the film (no prizes for guessing there are lots of Koscina)

The Portrait Gallery (3:03) features close-ups of all the principle actors, some taken from the film, others posed.

The trailer (02:06) features lots of side-wipes and sells the film more as a straight thriller than a comic piece. Listen out for the truly deranged voice-over; the narrator creepily intones the title of the film several times and also giggles maniacally at a few points.

summary

For a spy spoof of the era, Carry on Spying came out in the same year and is a much superior film. This disc does what service it can to a forgettable, if relatively short piece, that scrimps on the good stuff whilst providing little else of note.

Hot Enough for June

UK 1964
93 mins
director
Ralph Thomas
starring
Dirk Bogarde
Sylva Koscina
Robert Morley
Leo McKern
Roger Delgado
Derek Fowlds

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Photo galleries
Trailer
distributor
Network
release date
20 June 2009
review posted
23 June 2009

See all of Adam Wilson's reviews