Fascism & Fascist Insignia in the Spy Spoofs of the 1960s"/>
Print this post Print this post

“The Flash in the Pan”:
Fascism & Fascist Insignia in the Spy Spoofs of the 1960s

Dean Martin as Matt Helm

3,728 words

One of my guiltier pleasures is the “Matt Helm” films of the 1960s. There were four of these, all produced by Irving Allen and starring Dean Martin as secret agent Matt Helm. The first (The Silencers) appeared in 1966. The story behind these films is an interesting one. In the 1950s Irving Allen was partnered with Albert R. (“Cubby”) Broccoli. Things came to an end, however, when Broccoli announced that he was interested in purchasing the film rights to the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Allen thought this a terrible idea, and according to legend told Fleming over lunch that he didn’t think his novels were good enough even for television (!). Broccoli and Allen went their separate ways, the former partnering with Harry Saltzman. Their first film together was 1962’s Dr. No, starring Sean Connery.

The result left Mr. Allen with a considerable amount of egg on his face. Not to be deterred – and apparently burdened by neither a sense of irony nor of shame – he purchased the rights to Donald Hamilton’s series of Matt Helm spy novels. These books were actually the antithesis of Fleming’s: Helm was a cold-blooded, no-nonsense American assassin, a character as devoid of charm as Hamilton’s realistic plots were devoid of Bondian fantasy. Irving launched a phoney, “world-wide” search for an actor with the balls enough to play Helm – but in reality Dean Martin apparently had the part all along.

With a vocal style uncomfortably close to that of Bing Crosby, Martin had carefully cultivated the image of a boozy, lovable playboy. (In reality, he was by all accounts a serious, introverted man whose on-stage glasses of “whisky” were actually iced tea.) He was an odd choice for an American James Bond. But the Matt Helm films were consciously aimed at an unsophisticated, lower-middle-class American audience. The people who thought Bond was just a wee bit too toffee-nosed and foreign. The cinematic Matt Helm was Bond if Bond had been from Long Island. Helm was a boozing, womanizing wastrel. Incorrigibly lazy, he is depicted in three of the four films as unable to get out of bed to answer a call from the head of I.C.E. (Intelligence Counter-Espionage). But somehow he is always the only man who can save the world.

Dean Martin as Matt Helm

The Helm films borrow shamelessly from Bond but exaggerate all the Bondian elements. Instead of Maurice Binder’s tasteful nude silhouettes, the credits sequence of the first Helm film features a strip show (the title “The Silencers” appears over the boobs of one of the girls, when she flings off her top). Unlike the spiritually virile Bond, who attracts women by actually seeming to be rather indifferent to them, Helm is a leering, eye-popping adolescent sex maniac. Instead of an Aston Martin complete with lethal accessories, Helm drives a 1965 Mercury Parklane station wagon complete with a bar and a bed (convenient for roadside quickies).The Helm films also frequently push the limit in sexual innuendo and double entendres. (The poster for the first film features Martin astride the barrel of a huge gun, under the words “Matt Helm Shoots the Works!”) Perhaps the most amusing of these is the name of the evil organization Helm confronts in three of the four films: B.I.G.O.

Pronounced “Big Oh,” the letters stand for Bureau of International Government and Order. Evil organizations with acronyms for names were a staple of the Bond-inspired films and television shows of the 1960s. The granddaddy of all of these was Fleming’s S.P.E.C.T.R.E.: The Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.  S.P.E.C.T.R.E. had been introduced in Fleming’s 1961 novel Thunderball, which he had actually based (without attribution) on a screenplay written with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was conceived by Messrs. Fleming, McClory, and Whittingham as a relatively small organization made up of the greatest criminal brains of the world. Headed by the sinister, asexual German-Greek Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Fleming’s villains were often foreign mongrels) the organization was apolitical, and aimed simply at making a profit – it is never depicted as motivated by any sort of political ideology. (For example, in Thunderball S.P.E.C.T.R.E. steals two nuclear bombs with the intention of extorting £100 million from the United States and Great Britain.)

Blofeld’s bathosub with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. insignia (from “Diamonds Are Forever,” 1971)

In the Bond films, which eventually came to completely eclipse the novels in the popular imagination, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. became a vast organization equipped with its own secret island (From Russia with Love), steel-lined Paris headquarters (Thunderball), and steel-framed rocket base concealed inside an inactive volcano (You Only Live Twice). Blofeld really loved steel. In For Your Eyes Only (1981), Bond disposes of a Blofeld-like character who begs for his life, promising to build Bond “a delicatessen in stainless steel” (I am not kidding – watch it and see for yourself). And in the films S.P.E.C.T.R.E. has its own insignia: a stylized amalgam of a ghost and an octopus.

B.I.G.O. uniform patch from “The Silencers”

When S.P.E.C.T.R.E. became B.I.G.O. in the Matt Helm films, however, a curious thing happened. B.I.G.O. was not merely a vast criminal organization – it was a vast right-wing conspiracy. The aim of the Bureau of International Government and Order was world domination: the creation of one world, fascist-style government. And, of course, it had to have its own insignia, just like S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and this is where things get really interesting: B.I.G.O.’s emblem was a lightning bolt through a circle (an “O”), uncannily similar to the official symbol of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (even the color scheme is the same).

The “Flash and Circle” of the British Union of Fascists

Derisively referred to by critics of the B.U.F. as “the flash in the pan” (I have to admit that this is witty), the “Flash and Circle” was adopted by the organization in the summer of 1935, replacing the fasces. It was supposed to represent “the flash of action within a circle of unity” and was designed by Eric Hamilton Percy, Commander of the Fascist Defence Force.[1] A similar insignia was adopted by the Canadian Union of Fascists (a lightning bolt over a maple leaf), and in 1948 Mosley revived the flash and circle as the emblem of his new party, the Union Movement.

The B.I.G.O. “flash and circle” was introduced in The Silencers, but features even more prominently near the beginning of the second Helm film Murderers’ Row (also 1966). In this film, the head of the organization is played to hammy perfection by Karl Malden, who is seen wearing a flash and circle ring (like the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. octopus rings prominently featured in Thunderball), and seated in a kind of throne festooned with flashes and circles.

As a fascist super power, B.I.G.O. was by no means unique among the 60s spy spoofs. Indeed, one of the interesting features of that cinematic phenomenon – the vast scope of which (from about 1965 to 1969) is largely forgotten today – is that the villains in the American films and television shows were almost always in the B.I.G.O. mold: quasi fascist secret organizations out to “take over the world.” On the other hand, the British and Continental spy films of the period usually feature villains moved by pure profit, not ideology – or by some strangely personal motivation. (For example, the 1966 Dino de Laurentiis-produced Se Tutte le Donne del Mondo – released in the U.S. as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die – features a villain who plans to kill off the human race and repopulate the planet by inseminating a bevy of beautiful women kept in a state of suspended animation.)

The reason for this difference between the American and European spy extravaganzas is not hard to discern. Americans had been sold on entering the Second World War with the promise that the fascists were out to “take over the world.” This ridiculous fabrication is still believed almost universally by Americans. Villains assimilated to this “fascist” model were therefore very easy for Americans to understand, and so Blofeld was transmuted into a plethora of little Hitlers and Mussolinis and Mosleys, armed this time with all the “secret weapons” we were frightened that the fascists might be developing in hollowed-out mountain lairs: death rays and flying saucers and doomsday devices of all kinds.

I started watching the 60s spy spoofs as a child, when local TV stations would run them in the afternoons. Bond was always a big TV event back then. He was only shown around my bedtime, and always with parental warnings (which seem absurd today). As a consequence, I was exposed to the Bond spoofs prior to ever being exposed to Bond. I thrilled to the adventures of Matt Helm, Derek Flint, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, and The Avengers. The odd thing was that I usually found the villains more attractive than the heroes. The villains, for one thing, had those terrific, steel-lined underground lairs. They had snazzy uniforms (with thrilling lightning-bolt insignia). They were ruthless and efficient. They were serious and disciplined. They seemed bent on doing something important. The heroes, on the other hand, were usually wise-cracking hedonists – the most extreme example, of course, being Matt Helm.

Was this childhood attraction to B.I.G.O. and Thrush and Galaxy (we’ll come to the latter two organizations in a moment) a sign of my incipient fascism? Probably. But much more interesting is what these American spy spoofs reveal about the modern American soul. Let’s focus just on Matt Helm for the moment, as paradigmatic of the genre. It’s discipline, order, duty, and iron will (the villains) . . . against hedonism, debauchery, and selfish abandon (the hero). (I didn’t mention this earlier but Matt Helm always has to be talked into taking a break from chasing tail so that he can save the world.) The conflict between America and fascism in World War II was presented as the conflict between freedom and slavery. In Matt Helm, however, the truth is laid bare and the conflict revealed for what it really was. The freedom of Matt Helm is mere license. He’s out to make the world safe not for democracy and individual rights, but for boozing and boinking and sleeping till noon. That’s the American Dream, and he is living it. And so when those handsome, uniformed, lock-step, lightning-bolted troops in their spotless lairs are blown to kingdom come we can all cheer. Who did they think they were, anyway?

Flint is another interesting case, almost forgotten today. He was played by James Coburn in two films: Our Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967). These are actually among the most significant 60s spy films, simply because they had some of the highest budgets (still not as high as the Bond films – but getting there). Derek Flint is a kind of absurdly exaggerated amalgamation of James Bond and Doc Savage. He is a scientist, a surgeon, an expert in several martial arts, an accomplished ballet dancer (and teacher!), a war hero, a marine biologist, and a linguist. He is able to stop his heart to feign death. Most memorable of all is his specially-designed cigarette lighter with its 82 functions (“83 if you wish to light a cigar”).

Flint is what my mother would call “higher class” than Matt Helm (whom my mother would dismiss as “ethnic”). Nevertheless there are significant parallels – and very interesting ones, given the above analysis of the Americanization of the Bond genre. Just like Helm, Flint is a hedonist. He lives in a swanky, high tech apartment (like Helm’s, only in better taste), located on Central Park West (unlike Helm, who parks his station wagon in the burbs – I kid you not). Flint is part Hugh Hefner, living with four beautiful girls (“there were five at one time, but that got to be a little much,” he explains). Just like Helm, Flint has to be convinced to set aside his personal projects to save the world. (Although Helm technically works for I.C.E., Flint is a completely free agent.) In both films, in fact, Flint ultimately agrees to go on his mission only after something happens which affects him personally. In the first film, he only really gets serious when the villains kidnap his girlfriends. Apparently saving the world from their infernal weather machine was not enough of a motivating factor for him.

Galaxy uniform patch from “Our Man Flint” (1966)

In Our Man Flint, the villains – the ones with the weather machine – work for “Galaxy” (apparently not an acronym). Of course, they have their own insignia. Not a lightning bolt this time (that would be too perfect) but a G on a circle with Saturn-like rings encircling it (the exact same insignia, it is interesting to note, was used on the TV series Land of the Giants, also produced by Twentieth-Century Fox). Again, however, they are ideologically-motivated and vaguely fascist. Galaxy is a bit different from B.I.G.O., however. They are headed by three white-coated, idealistic scientists who aim to pacify the world and create a conflict-free utopia. Ideologically, this actually puts them further to the left, but there are strongly authoritarian overtones to Galaxy (nifty uniforms, a “Führer Prinzip” of absolute loyalty to the three leaders, etc.). At the climax of the film, as Flint is poised to destroy the weather machine, one of the mad scientists pleads with him to desist: “Ours would be a perfect world!” he cries. “Not my kind of world,” Flint responds, as he proceeds to demolish their handiwork. Again, everything here is on personal terms. Our hero goes on his mission because his life is adversely affected; he foils the villains’ scheme because their vision is not his. No conception of duty is at work in Flint, and no high-minded ideals. He is just looking out for number one. (It is noteworthy that on its release, Our Man Flint received a positive review in Ayn Rand’s journal The Objectivist.)

Flint is consciously and deliberately presented in the films as an American hero – and an American answer to Bond (in the first film, he beats up a Connery lookalike dubbed “Triple-O-Eight”). Flint infiltrates Galaxy’s secret island but is captured when an eagle swoops down and attacks him. One of the guards explains that the eagle is trained to spot and attack Americans. Flint smiles ruefully and says “The anti-American eagle. Diabolical!” Here we Americans are supposed to recognize that although the villains of this film are not the Soviets, it’s still about Us vs. Them. Us vs. them foreign interllectuals with their books and their high-minded ideals. (The villains in the Helm films are always foreign and often – interestingly – aristocratic. What a delight it is to see the noble and the dignified toppled by the hometown boy!)

At least Bond still works for Queen and Country. For all his high living, it is clear that he still has a strong sense of duty. The American versions of Bond jettison all that is noble about the character and turn him into a grinning lothario, a self-involved hedonist, a perpetual adolescent, a vulgar operator always on the make. And please keep squarely in mind that this was done so that American audiences would have a character they could more easily identify with and root for. The American soul is rotten to the core.

Perhaps the most interesting of all the quasi-fascist spy villains is the one that figures in virtually all 105 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Thrush. U.N.C.L.E. creator Sam Rolfe invented Thrush actually as a fall-back villain. Recognizing that it would be difficult to invent new villains every week, with new motivations, Rolfe thought Thrush would be a convenient, regular foil for the do-gooding U.N.C.L.E. organization (that’s the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Thrush was initially supposed to be mysterious. We were not even supposed to know what the name “Thrush” meant: it could be the name of the organization, or the code-name of the organization’s leader (in one 1964 episode, “The Double Affair,” Thrush is actually referred to as “him”).

As the series progressed, however, the writers came up with more definite ideas about Thrush. First, the name became fixed as the name of the organization (though why it was called that was never explained in the series). Rolfe decided that Thrush was a “supra-nation” spread all over the earth. (In the pilot episode, one of the villains says “Thrush is my country.”) Its center was “The City of Thrush,” though this was always referred to in the series as “Thrush Central”: a mobile headquarters always shifting from place to place. Thrush’s agents had cover roles within their communities. Borrowing a term from the ancient Persians, Rolfe referred to the individual, local outposts of Thrush as “satraps,” each of which would be disguised in some ordinary way: as a shop, an office block, a school, a mortuary, a garage, a winery, etc. This concept, of course, was equivalent to that of the “communist cell.” And Thrush, in fact, is a unique amalgam of elements of the Left and Right – but, as always with these spy baddies – the accent is on the Right.

Thrush’s stated purpose is taking over the world and imposing a fascist-style state. “Thrush believes in the two-party system: the masters and the slaves,” our hero Napoleon Solo intones in an early episode. “Very nicely put,” concurs his Thrush captor. Like B.I.G.O. and Galaxy and all the other fascistic spy villains, Thrush is depicted as highly disciplined and regimented (the “Thrush Uniform Code of Procedure” is mentioned in two episodes written by Peter Allan Fields, the man principally responsible for much of the detail about Thrush introduced in the series; many of Rolfe’s original ideas were never used). Thrush agents, again, wear snazzy uniforms (complete with black berets). They carry specially-designed guns equipped with bizarre-looking night scopes. And Thrush is always coming up with some doomsday device: an earthquake machine, a “volcanic activator,” a deadly hiccup-inducing gas, a death ray, another death ray, and still another death ray.

David McDaniel, author of several of the U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels (published by Ace Books), eventually decided that Thrush was an acronym standing for Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. Though this is often mentioned in retrospectives on U.N.C.LE., in fact it was never used in the series and is not considered “canonical.” Still, McDaniel did a nice job here in highlighting the “fascistic” nature of Thrush (at least insofar as fascism is popularly conceived).

The heroes of U.N.C.L.E. – Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin – are a cut above Helm and Flint. Rolfe conceived U.N.C.L.E. as an FBI-like organization, utilizing only educated men of high moral character. And though Solo is a bit of a womanizer, both he and Kuryakin are depicted chiefly as stalwart, straight arrow types. Still, the motives and raison d’être of U.N.C.L.E. are more than a bit vague. In the narration that opens the first several episodes of the series we are told that U.N.C.L.E. is involved in “maintaining political and legal order anywhere in the world.” But what does this mean?

In a 1965 essay partly dealing with U.N.C.L.E., Ayn Rand rightly asked:

If ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ is dedicated to international law enforcement, does this mean that it protects indiscriminately any sort of government? . . . If so, then would ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ have protected the Nazi government against the Jewish refugees? Would it protect Castro’s government against the Cuban refugees? Would it protect the Soviet government against the refugees from one-third of the globe? The presence of Illya Kuryakin [a Russian agent] among the knights of ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ would seem to indicate the affirmative, which is pretty sickening.[2]

The truth seems to be that U.N.C.L.E. is out to maintain the status quo in our post-historical world of Last Men. U.N.C.L.E.’s only ideological commitment is opposition to Thrush, who are the quasi-fascistic Nietzschean Overmen bent on re-starting history. In other words, the good guys.

Thrush insignia from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Thrush’s symbol was an angry, stylized bird inside a kind of shield. However, when U.N.C.L.E. was revived in the shockingly lame 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, the producers (who were not involved with the original series) forgot about this insignia. And when their designer was asked to come up with a symbol for Thrush, guess what he produced. That’s right: a lightning bolt!

The American producers of the Bond-inspired spy spoofs made their villains fascists for the simple reason that Americans have been so well trained to see fascists as the bad guys. There was no need to provide any elaborate explanation for why these villains were bad – we all know these sorts of guys are bad, don’t we? And yet they possess an enduring fascination and allure, with their sleek black uniforms, their arresting insignia, their discipline, their ruthlessness, their unity, and, yes, their great underground steel lairs.

Another part of the appeal is that they have rejected all of the equality and democracy bullshit – the bullshit all Americans pay lip service to (terrified of each other, as Tocqueville pointed out), but only the most craven actually believe in. The dirty little secret is that B.I.G.O. and Galaxy and Thrush are a kind of fantasy wish fulfillment for us. Fear not: at the end of the film, our oversexed playboy hero (with whom we guiltily identify) will vanquish the morally superior bad guys and we can all give three cheers for the American way. But we all know whose way is really superior – and that that lightning bolt in fact strikes at the worst within us, the worst which, in our modern world, reigns ascendant.

Give me the lightning bolt and pass me the black coveralls, I want to join Thrush!

Notes

1. See John Millican, Mosley’s Men in Black: Uniforms, Flags and Insignia of the British Union of Fascists 19321940 and Union Movement (London: Brockingday Publications, 2004), 16.

2. Ayn Rand, “Bootleg Romanticism,” The Objectivist Newsletter, January 1965, p. 3. The version of “Bootleg Romanticism” published in The Romantic Manifesto is a shortened one, with all the material on U.N.C.L.E. excised.

If you enjoyed this piece, and wish to encourage more like it, give a tip through Paypal. You can earmark your tip directly to the author or translator, or you can put it in a general fund. (Be sure to specify which in the "Add special instructions to seller" box at Paypal.)

15 Comments

  1. Posted May 11, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Fabulous essay! The need for a slob-hero for Americans to identify with, and what it reveals about the American Soul, is a useful complement to T. Lynch’s idea of Traditionalist ideas only being allowed an outlet through villains and madmen.

    If there is any flaw in the review as such, it’s that it makes the Matt Helm films sound much more interesting that they are! I too could only watch them on TV when surreptitiously staying up late; I think I only saw The Wrecking Crew and bits of The Silencers. More recently, inspired by Nick Tosches’ book Dino

    [Footnote: which documents some of the 'real Dino' you allude to: "Dino is a fascinating portrait of a man who had it all--money, fame, women--and didn't give a damn about any of it and suggests that, even as he wallowed in the excesses of Hollywood and the Rat Pack, Martin stayed critically aloof from that world, albeit often in a booze-and-pill-addled haze. He got into showbiz precisely because it required so little effort of him: "I can't stand an actor or actress who tells me acting is hard work," he once said. "It's easy work. Anyone who says it is hard never had to stand on his feet all day dealing blackjack." Nobody could impress Martin. While Frank Sinatra would do anything just to hang out with reputed Mafioso, the Mob would have to make special trips to ask Martin in person to play a show at one of their casinos. "]

    and recalling the films from many years ago, I bought a four disc set and prepared for some kitschy fun. I made it about halfway through The Silencers and gave up, selling the set later. The films are boring and leave one, at least me, with the feel of being coated in lard.

    If any of your readers must, I think they need only check out the opening credits of The Silencers to get the full effect of the films’ paunchy 60s American sleaze. As MST3K’s Crow T. Robot exclaimed in a different context: “Frolicking has never seemed so depressing.”

    • Jef Costello
      Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      You made a mistake selling that Matt Helm set! “The Silencer”s has some bright moments (and some cool sets) but it drags quite a bit. It’s also the most derivative of Bond. The other films have a much brisker pace (although they don’t look quite as polished as “The Silencers”). My favorite is the second film, “Murderers’ Row”, which has a terrific score by Lalo Schifrin and some nice second unit photography of Monte Carlo. Karl Malden makes a memorably campy villain (he noted in his memoirs that he decided to use a different accent in each of his scenes — making him foreigners of multiple types!). One of the villain’s henchmen is also dispatched in a manner clearly ripped off by the much later Bond film “The Spy Sho Loved Me” (1977). The third film, “The Ambushers,” is the worst, but belongs in the “so bad it’s good” category. It is, in fact, remarkably bad in places — almost unbelievably so. Almost on the level of Ed Wood. This film made it into that “Fifty Worst Films of All Time” book published in the early 80s. The fourth and final film, The Wrecking Crew, is a major step up and boasts quite a few wonderful assets. It’s really impossible to dislike this film, despite its flaws. The Hugo Montenegro score is delightfully cheesy, as are the unintentionally funny karate fights (choreographed by none other than Bruce Lee). It also has a very attractive cast, the delight of any cult film aficianado: Elke Sommer, Tina Louise, Nancy Kwan, and (in her final film) Sharon Tate. Tate is actually quite funny and charming, and she and Martin have a real chemistry. Apparently, they became good friends on the set, and Martin was devastated when he learned of her death. There had been some talk of bringing her back in the next film, The Ravagers, and Tate’s death was (I have heard) one of the reasons Martin decided to quit playing Matt Helm. There was also talk of teaming Martin with Sinatra in “Matt Helm Meets Tony Rome.” This could have been terrifically, delightfully bad — given that, in my humble view, Sinatra’s final Tony Rome film, “Lady in Cement,” is one of the worst films of the late 1960s (Raquel Welch is so bad in this film it’s hysterical). In all, I think the Helm films are delightfully cheesy and entertaining. They don’t take themselves seriously at all, and are thus, like Martin himself, curiously lovable.

  2. Posted May 11, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Unbelievably, the Helm/Flint movies spawned a subgenre of their own. In these, the wish-fulfillment fantasy took over completely, and producers [fat, middle-aged, cigar-chomping Judaics, like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder] imagined themselves in action with all the hot chicks. Of course, they weren’t crazy enough to cast themselves, but they seemed perfectly willing to cast their paunchy, middle-aged golf buddies as swinging, lady-killing [often literally], hard-drinking, karate-chopping “heroes”.

    I recall many such films on TV as a child, and some have been reborn on MST3K.

    For example, Agent of HARM [and no, they don't even bother to explain the acronym] starring Peter Mark Richman, who was in a few UNCLE’s as well, and incredibly is STILL working today! — he looks about 50 in this 1967 film. He’s also clearly wearing a girdle under his YELLOW CARDIGAN [old bones need protection from the heat] and rides a boss 20 hp Suzuki motorcycle. He’s more loyal to the company than Helm, but on the other hand his boss, Wendell Corey, is the one clearly drunk, and not on iced tea. His suave love scenes with women almost a quarter his age look more like child molesting caught on a nanny cam.

    Otherwise, much like Helms and company. Here the bad guys are supposedly Russians, but they apparently employ a proto-multi-culti gang of beach blanket frat boys ["I say, put the gun down, old sport"], a guy who looks like Prince, and their leader, played by Martin Kosleck, whose “icy demeanor and piercing stare on screen epitomized the type of Nazi menace with a blind obedience to Hitler that everyone loved to hate. Kosleck portrayed Goebbels, Hitler’s propagands minister, 5 times, as well as various German army officers, SS troopers and concentration camp officers. He was also effect playing spies, agents, and psychopaths. ” [IBDB]
    He was also in both Man/UNCLE and Girl/UNCLE, as well as Get Smart!

    Thus, rich White guys, fey Negroes, and Nazi psychopaths: the ultimate American boogey-men.

    Also worthy of note, and on DVD from MST3K: Secret Agent Super Dragon. This was actually an Italian rip-off, supposedly set in USA [title: New York chiama Superdrago] and hewing very close to the Matt Helm model; rich, super-talented spy, persuaded to take the case when friend is killed, chicks, drinks, cigarettes everywhere, complicated death machines, world takeover, shadowy organization that holds meeting wearing carnival masks, etc. Thing is: the actor totally lacks Dino’s charm, so he comes off an insufferably pompous and smug prick, which I guess is just what Helm & Co. would be in real life. Still, an interesting period piece.

  3. Jim
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    “Rolfe decided that Thrush was a “supra-nation” spread all over the earth. (In the pilot episode, one of the villains says “Thrush is my country.”) ”

    For a second there you made it sound like Thrush served as an allegory for Judaics.

  4. Posted May 11, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your analysis and the memories.

  5. Petronius
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Very interesting pop culture investigation… curiously, it was not the historical fascists, that desired to create a “one world government” but rather the superpowers that fought them.

  6. Petronius
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    >”New York chiama Superdrago”

    In New York it was called allegedly called “Super-DAGO”…

  7. Razvan
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    It was happening at bigger/better houses. Even Alain Delon had to fight some right wing cops in “Let Sleeping Cops Lie” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095710/). Except the better actors and script everything was the same. Since then, 1986 or so, I never tolerated another Delon movie.

    Fictional right wing organization or not every movie industry had it’s own right wing villains. Imagine the hundred of movies where the Romanian legionaries were the really, really bad guys. So bad that even Corrado Catani the beloved Italian commissar after fighting few seasons with Mafia he finally had to confront the absolute evil: a Romanian Legionary.

    Or right wing armed gangs fighting in the mountains. As a matter of fact we found out that the last anti communist armed group was liquidated in 1976 after no less than 30 years. They had to be pretty nervous back than (fifties-sixties).

    Good thing is that they are allowed to be presented as heroes once more.
    “Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1727532/
    Here Ion Gavrila Ogoranu as a hero. Pretty good historical movie but extremely low budget. Imagine the howling when it was presented at Berlin.

  8. Posted May 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Another thought: Flint’s ‘heart-stopping’ trick re-occurs [twice!] in SuperDragon, as well as in Pumaman, an unbelievably cheap and bad Italian rip-off of another blockbuster, Superman [!], but related to these flicks as well because the villain is not only bent on world conquest, but played by Donald Pleasence [which they mispell] who was not only Blofeld [once] but also played a post-apocalyptic bad guy bent on world conquest and using a black/white fascist emblem [an omega this time] in Warrior of the Lost World, an unbelievably cheap and bad Italian rip-off of yet another blockbuster, Mad Max. His organization is called something like The New Order, and didn’t the band have a similar logo?

    I’m pretty sure Sherlock Holmes used the trick too, and it may go even further back, but surely these films got it from Flint, and I’m thinking the popularity of it lies in being easily the simplest, cheapest, no-prop superpower imaginable, just lie there [Pumaman doesn't even film it in real time, just uses a freeze frame!], as well as appealing to the American Slob hero: even Homer Simpson could handle it.

  9. Jef Costello
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ward — Thanks so much for your good comments! I am sorry that I overlooked KAOS.
    P.S. If you still have that U.N.C.L.E. toy gun set, it’s worth something (if in the original package).
    P.P.S. I’m looking forward to reading “Hold Back This Day.”

  10. Petronius
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    @ Razvan: do you remember the title or any other reference to that episode where il commissario fought an Legionary?

  11. Razvan
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    @Petronius
    Sorry, guess it is my fault.
    It wasn’t Catani but Davide Licta. It is last episode of “La Piovra 6″ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0277518/plotsummary

  12. TJ McAllister
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I too can relate to these feelings, but with fiction of a couple generations later. The driven members of the Cobra terrorist organization of the GI Joe stories and the Galactic Empire from the Star Wars movies were much more appealing to me. Cobra’s ‘heroic’ adversary was preposterously multicultural, even for the 1980s.

    I’m convinced a lot of liberals and leftists in the west, especially the U.S. and U.K., are the way they are because their modern conservatives in their respective countries really suck. Deep down they know most of them don’t stand for anything.

    I have always liked OO7. The first four films hold up quite well.

  13. Fourmyle of Ceres
    Posted May 15, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    One of the best pieces yet.

    Uneducated, unschooled, unskilled American slobs (except for Flint!) fighting to save the world from people who would make it a better world.

    I worked with a guy who uses Flint’s Presidential phone ring tone, and the UNCLE security alarm, for his ring tones.

    Tying this to MadMen, wouldn’t Jon Hamm make an excellent Napoleon Solo?

    The guy who plays Thor could be the new Kuryakin.

    Think the System is falling apart, and needs some of the gifts of Tradition: MASCULINE vitality, hierarchy, and organization?

    A New Order?

    What’s In YOUR Future?

    Focus Northwest

  14. Erik Nordman
    Posted May 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    “He’s out to make the world safe not for democracy and individual rights, but for boozing and boinking and sleeping till noon.”

    That personality and lots of guns… is that you, Charlie Sheen?

  • Video of the Day:

  • Kindle Subscription
  • Our Titles

    The Eldritch Evola

    Western Civilization Bites Back

    New Right vs. Old Right

    Lost Violent Souls

    Journey Late at Night: Poems and Translations

    The Non-Hindu Indians & Indian Unity

    Baader Meinhof ceramic pistol, Charles Kraaft 2013

    The Lightning and the Sun

    Jonathan Bowden as Dirty Harry

    The Lost Philosopher, Second Expanded Edition

    Trevor Lynch's A White Nationalist Guide to the Movies

    And Time Rolls On

    The Homo & the Negro

    Artists of the Right

    North American New Right, Vol. 1

    Forever and Ever

    Some Thoughts on Hitler

    Tikkun Olam and Other Poems

    Under the Nihil

    Summoning the Gods

    Hold Back This Day

    The Columbine Pilgrim

    Confessions of a Reluctant Hater

    Taking Our Own Side

    Toward the White Republic

    Distributed Titles

    Carl Schmitt Today

    A Sky Without Eagles

    The Way of Men

    Generation Identity

    Nietzsche's Coming God

    The Conservative

    The New Austerities

    Convergence of Catastrophes

    Demon

    Proofs of a Conspiracy

    Fascism viewed from the Right

    The Wagnerian Drama

    Fascism viewed from the Right

    Notes on the Third Reich

    Morning Crafts

    New Culture, New Right

    An eagle with a shield soaring upwards

    A Life in the Political Wilderness

    The Fourth Political Theory

    The Passing of the Great Race

    The Passing of a Profit & Other Forgotten Stories

    Fighting for the Essence

    The Arctic Home in the Vedas

    The Prison Notes

    It Cannot Be Stormed

    Revolution from Above

    The Proclamation of London

    Beyond Human Rights

    The WASP Question

    Can Life Prevail?

    The Jewish Strategy

    The Metaphysics of War

    A Handbook of Traditional Living

    The French Revolution in San Domingo

    The Revolt Against Civilization

    Why We Fight

    The Problem of Democracy

    The Path of Cinnabar

    Archeofuturism

    Tyr

    Siege

    On Being a Pagan

    The Lost Philosopher

    The Dispossessed Majority

    Might is Right

    Impeachment of Man

    Gold in the Furnace

    Defiance