Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tom Adams Goes to "Where the Bullets Fly"

At the height of the 1960s James Bond craze, several major studios tried to launch their own spy movie franchises with the Matt Helm series, the two Bulldog Drummond films, and Our Man Flint and its sequel. One of the most interesting misfires was the second outing of British secret agent Charles Vine.

As played by Tom Adams, the smooth, cold Vine is perhaps the most obvious of all the Bond imitations (the Connery 007, that is). Vine made his film debut in 1965's Licensed to Kill, which was released in the U.S. as The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World. Many fans consider it an above-average Bond knock-off. I saw it on The ABC Sunday Night Movie circa 1969, although I remember little about it. However, I was able to recently view its 1967 sequel Where the Bullets Fly.

A faded lobby card showing secret agent
Charles Vine flanked by two baddies.
The straightforward premise has a villain named Angel (Michael Ripper) trying to steal a lightweight alloy called Spurium that provides atomic power for a prototype aircraft. To thwart Angel, Vine's boss Rockwell (John Arnatt) assigns his best agent--plus half the R.A.F. ("Only half?" quips Vine.)

With its modest budget, there is no globetrotting in Where the Bullets Fly. All the action takes place in England--but there is plenty of action. Indeed, it features more shoot-outs than in two or three Bond films combined (and yes, I'm including the big action scenes like at the climax of You Only Live Twice).

Like any decent Bond film imitation, there are gadgets galore: a long-range hypnosis device; shooting umbrellas; exploding cigarettes; a floor wired for electric shocks; and a rapier hidden in a belt (which is sadly never used). There are other obvious nods to the secret agent genre, from Rockwell's cat (which is black in contrast to Blofeld's white cat) to a henchman sporting a John Steed bowler. There's also a decent title song, sung Shirley Bassey-style by British pop star Susan Maughan.

Tom Adams as Charles Vine.
Charles Vine is clearly a copy of Sean Connery's James Bond. He dresses sharply, handles the fisticuffs well, attracts the ladies, and dryly delivers the wisecracks. Tom Adams does an admirable job in the role. It's a shame he wasn't cast as a more original spy in a more upscale series. Adams spent most of his career as a supporting actor in films like The Great Escape (1963). Where the Bullets Fly proves that he had star potential if given the right kinds of roles.

Another lobby card, this one with
Addams and Adams.
The supporting cast includes Dawn Addams as Felicity Moonlight, an attractive R.A.F. pilot, and the aforementioned Michael Ripper. To her credit, Addams brings more intelligence to her performance than most of the Bond actresses. Ripper hams its up as the villain, but it's nice to see Hammer Film's long-time character actor get a major role. It's also worthwhile to note that the film was directed by John Gilling, who also worked for Hammer (The Plague of the Zombies).

Where the Bullets Fly did not perform as well at the boxoffice as its predecessor. Still, a third film was produced in Spain in 1969 with Adams reprising his role in O.K. Yevtushenko (aka Somebody's Stolen Our Russian). Production difficulties kept it on the shelf for several years and, by then, the spy movie craze had run its course. Interestingly, writer-director Lindsay Shonteff, who was largely responsible for the first Charles Vine film, was not involved in either sequel. He did, however, later make three spy movies featuring a very similar hero named Charles Bind.


  1. Interesting, informative post. I remember the first Vine film (I saw a lot of those 60s spy films) esp. the title song that was later used to effect in the film version of Tinker Tailor. I liked Tom Adams, except when he was trying to harm Mrs. Peel in The Avengers

  2. I think Sammy Davis, Jr. (of all people) sang the title theme to THE SECOND BEST SECRET AGENT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I'd really like to see that flick again. Loved your comment about Tom Adams and Mrs. Peel. Well said!

  3. Thanks. You probably know but Sammy Davis Jr. also sang the theme from Hawaii 5-0, there used to be a clip on YouTube, far out.

  4. Tom Adams is perfect in this role.