Hot Enough for June (1964): from Hitchcock to Bond

3 JULY 2023

JBC rating: ***

James Bond Connections (3):

  • Featuring Richard Vernon (Smithers in Goldfinger) as British embassy official Roddingham.
  • Featuring Eric Pohlman (voice of Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball) as Galushka.
  • Production Designer Syd Cain (From Russia with LoveOn Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceLive and Let Die).

The UK-produced 1964 comedy spy thriller Hot Enough for June stars English matinee idol Dirk Bogarde as Nicholas Whistler, a penniless writer tricked into travelling to Communist Czechoslovakia on a secret mission for British intelligence. This light and entertaining film can be seen as representative of a genre transitioning from one largely inspired by the wrong man-style thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock to one dominated by the influence of the EON screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Indeed, Lukas Heller’s adaptation of Lionel Davidson’s acclaimed 1960 novel The Night of Wencelas is at least partly in the tradition of the pre-Bond formula established by the master of suspense whereby even the Western spies are at best deceitful. However, from the opening – where Nicholas is hired to replace a murdered agent whose file is marked ‘007’ – director Ralph Thomas fills the screen with James Bond-inspired touches.

Whilst maintaining the ‘wrong man’ aspect of Davidson’s novel, the filmmakers make key changes ensuring the story follows the ‘man on a mission’ format popularised by Bond. Vitally, whereas in Davidson’s novel the British intelligence officials turn out to be foreign agents plotting against the West, here Robert Morley’s Colonel Cunliffe remains a loyal defender of Her Majesty’s realm. Although Dirk Bogarde’s Nicholas is certainly no Fleming-style blunt instrument of the state, his relatively smooth and resourceful character is far closer to Bond than the bumbling anti-hero in Davidson’s novel. From the outset, Whistler is presented as something of a Bond-style womaniser. Nicholas’ London girlfriend Lorna, a character much reduced from the novel, fills the Sylvia Trench role of the early Bond movies, a casual girlfriend quickly forgotten by the hero when he meets a more glamorous love interest overseas. Later, Nicholas hijacks a milk cart with far more Bond-like aplomb than is present in the source novel.

In terms of actual James Bond connections, future Goldfinger actor Richard Vernon has a characteristic (albeit small) role as a British embassy official. Eric Pohlmann – voice of Blofeld in the earliest 007 movies – has a small but amusing role as a Czech named Galushka. Straight after finishing From Russia with Love, Syd Cain presents similarly exotic yet grounded production design. His design of the pleasant yet slightly shabby hotel interiors perfectly evoke the state run tourist industry of the Communist world. Later settings, including a luxurious marble floored house and the British embassy, display a more obvious link with James Bond.

Thinking he is in Czechoslovakia working for a glass business, Nicolas visits a factory where he is instructed to meet a contact and repeat the password “hot enough for June”, after which the contact will provide Nicholas with the information he must take back to England. However, plans go awry and Nicholas is under secret police surveillance as soon as he leaves the airport. Sadly, the weakest link of the film is the star. Dirk Bogarde’s natural charm and star charisma are not entirely absent, but perhaps tiring of his matinee idol status the actor appears unengaged throughout much of the film. It’s a real shame though as the lack of a compelling star performance, such as that provided by Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959), is what prevents this otherwise solid film from being a comedy thriller classic.

Happily, the film is largely stolen by Sylva Koscina’s Czech chauffeur (and love interest to Nicholas) Vlasta. The sexy, charismatic, and amusing Koscina is an absolute joy throughout. In a smart move, the filmmakers depart from the novel by revealing to the audience early in the story that Vlasta is a Communist spy secretly reporting on Nicholas’ movements to her secret police father (excellently played in menacing yet humane form by noted character actor Leo McKern). This increases the suspense at the expense of the mystery, as the audience is aware of Vlasta’s conflicting motives. As with Tatiana Romanova in From Russia with Love, much suspense derives from Vlasta’s increasingly split loyalties. In a direct nod to the second James Bond film, Vlasta appears in one scene mostly naked from behind a muslin curtain.

Despite lacking a fully engaged leading man in the otherwise usually excellent Dirk Bogarde, Hot Enough for June remains an entertaining 1960s comedy spy movie with a fantastic heroine in Sylva Koscina and much local colour. For James Bond fans, the film provides a great snapshot of a genre steadily being captured by the global success of EON’s screen adaptation of James Bond.

Have you seen Hot Enough for June? Please leave a comment or an alternative review below.

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