Editor’s note: It’s a big year for spies, with the Bourne parallel-equel/spinoff The Bourne Legacy opening this weekend, and the latest Bond effort, Skyfall, coming out this fall. Here are some of the Grantland staff’s picks for the coolest, weirdest, and homeless-est secret agents in TV and film history.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Mike Philbrick: Forget about Sean Connery and everyone else who took the role of James Bond seriously — only Roger Moore knew how to truly embrace the ridiculousness of being 007. This one clip has everything you need to know about Moore’s superior reign for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You have the soundtrack at first listen, it definitely sounds like the opening credits to a late-’70s porn. Next you have the first hallmark of any great Bond movie, in which 007 shows he’s really great at European sports. In this case it’s a trifecta of ski jumping, bobsledding, and some downhill skiing for good measure. Finally, there’s one more Bond trademark, where 007 shows he’s faster than the bad guys even though they are on [insert high-speed vehicle here]. In this case, it’s Bond keeping a safe distance on skis even though he is being chased by dudes on motorcycles (with handlebar-mounted machine guns), one of whom is a full-blown East German biathlete. Your move, Bourne.
Top Secret! (1984)
Mark Lisanti: If your time machine had any chrono-fuel left after your mandatory mission to kill Hitler, you could do a lot less historically consequential things than traveling back to the mid-’80s, kidnapping a young Val Kilmer, and putting him in the next Bourne movie.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Chris Ryan: Here’s the opening scene and title sequence (nesting dolls!) from the original BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy. Based on John Le Carré’s dense and heartbreaking book, the film is about George Smiley (a flawed man played flawlessly by Alec Guinness), an exiled English spy, who comes back into “The Circus” (the codename for the Secret Service) to root out a mole who has been working for the Russians, tearing up The Circus from within. One of these men in this opening sequence is actually a KGB agent. Guinness, obviously, isn’t in the above scene. If you have seen the BBC version, the nice-try Gary Oldman version from last year, or have read the book, and want a bit of Obi Wan Super-Spy in your life, I recommend this spoiler-rific scene.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
[Ed. note: YouTube won’t let us embed this clip, so watch it here, or enjoy the spoiler-free clip of the super-catchy “La Mer” below.]
Bryan Curtis: If you haven’t seen the most recent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, stop reading right now. Go Netflix/iTunes/OnDemand the movie and come back. OK. Tinker had one of the snazziest and most satisfying endings of any spy movie I can remember, bringing all its loose plot threads together in a killer sequence. The song is Julio Iglesias’s “La Mer.” The target is the Circus mole. The applause is for Smiley.
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965)
Andy Greenwald: In 1965, with the Cold War raging and a potential hot one lurking around every geopolitical corner, John le Carré both popularized spies and ruined them forever. The brilliant film adaptation of his The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was released only three years after Sean Connery captivated the world by transforming the idea of “undercover” into “under the covers” as James Bond in the swinging, heroic Dr. No, but it feels centuries older. As the jaded, rumpled Alec Leamas, Richard Burton is strikingly modern: furious and fed-up with an immoral secret system of which most filmgoers were only beginning to be aware. Spies, he practically spits, “are just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards.” The great game, he argues, was rigged from the start.
Mrs. Emma Peel, The Avengers (1965)
Charlie Pierce: Breathes there a man with a soul so dead / who never to himself hath said / “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.” Rrrowr.
Homeless James Bond
Bill Barnwell: “Homeless James Bond” from the quickly forgotten VH1 series Acceptable.TV is a one-note joke, but it’s a pretty good note. “Consumed by my mad dream!” Something ironic about that line being the climax of a sketch on a show created by Dan Harmon.
David Hasselhoff, “Secret Agent Man”
Sean Fennessey: Pretty important music video for a pretty important cover of the TV theme song made famous by Johnny Rivers in 1964. This version has the added benefit of technology, which affords us all of these cool graphics.
Britney Spears, “Toxic”
Emily Yoshida: Best Britney song, best Britney video. There’s nothing overtly “secret agent” about the song itself except those surf-guitar stings, and I love how Brit Brit and director Joseph Kahn took that theme and ran with it. Like, of course a tunnel of security lasers would be an excuse for a dance breakdown. Britney would go on to make many other videos involving disguises, wigs, and murdering dudes, but none will ever compare to this tour de force.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Dan Silver: Who cares if it’s truth or fiction? In Clooney’s freshman directorial effort, Sam Rockwell kills it as part-time sleazy TV producer and part-time Cold War spy Chuck Barris.
DJ Shadow (feat. Turf Talk and Keak Da Sneak), “3 Freaks”
Amos Barshad: Remember that time evil pimp Mr. Freaks held the U.S. government hostage for $1 billion by kidnapping three freaks a day until he got his money but then the CIA sent in Turf Talk and Keak da Sneak and then they found him in a warehouse and beat him up? Clearly, “Get me Turf Talk and Keak da Sneak” should be every CIA agent’s response to every emergency situation ever.
R. Kelly, Trapped in the Closet
Tess Lynch: The first chapter of Trapped in the Closet features Sylvester as a meta-double agent/accidental spy. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m not just looking for excuses to post a Trapped in the Closet segment because there are 30 more on their way and I wanted to infect your ears with the dripping noise. Here, Sylvester spies on himself, splattered with noir slat-shadows, because he’s been thrust into the closet by the lady he’s just boned in a fit of infidelity, to hide from her husband. And thus begins his entrapment in the very thick industrial netting of deceit that drip, drip, drips its way to a million fantastical endings. Is spying spying if it’s accidental? Yes, because what’s more furtive than sweating in front of rows of stinky Converse in the walk-in of your one-night stand? There’s so much detective work at play in TITC: the cherry pie/cherry allergy, the errant condom, Tina’s mysterious eye twitch. Mr. and Mrs. Smith was flat club soda compared to this epic. I could drink a case of R.