During the sixties there were literally hundreds of spy spoofs made following the popularity of the early James Bond films. One of the silliest of these was Norman Abbott’s Last of the Secret Agents? (1966), which was the first and last film that attempted to make cinema stars out of the comedy team Allen & Rossi (Marty Allen & Steve Rossi). Allen & Rossi were a comedic duo that became popular on the Ed Sullivan Show during The Beatles’ heyday and they were patterned after Martin & Lewis (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), but their style of comedy was becoming rather dated as the sixties wore on. Last of the Secret Agents? was butchered by critics on its initial release and Allen & Rossi never appeared in a film together again. They ended their partnership in 1969 and Last of the Secret Agents? was basically forgotten.
The years have not been kind to the film and as far as I know Last of the Secret Agents? has never been released on video, much less DVD. A quick look at the film’s IMDb page shows that most viewers have given the film a 3 star rating out of a possible 10 and the comments are less then flattering, but I happen to think the movie is worth a look if you enjoy slapstick style humor and silly sight gags, as well as sixties spy spoofs. The movie doesn’t contain much comedic gold, but it’s also not the unwatchable mess that so many critics seem to think it is. If you enjoy Mel Brooks’ style of humor or the Austin Powers films you’ll probably find yourself laughing a few times while watching Last of the Secret Agents? and if you like funny spy flicks with good soundtracks and stylish wardrobes, then you might actually enjoy this silly film as much as I do.
The plot involves Marty Allen and Steve Rossi as two American ex-pats looking for work in Europe. They soon discover that they’ve been unwillingly used as couriers for art thieves who are part of an evil organization known as THEM. They get recruited by the GGI (Good Guys Inc.) and help concoct a plan to put an end to the criminal activities of THEM. Naturally lots of chase scenes and fights take place in the process. Like any good spy film there are plenty of beautiful women that help and hinder the two stars. Last of the Secret Agents? also contains a musical number performed by Steve Rossi and it ends with an appearance of Allen & Rossi on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Allen & Rossi try hard to make the film work but they’re no Martin & Lewis and they end up being one of the film’s main problems. They don’t seem to have much chemistry here and the jokes they deliver often fall flat. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the comedy team or the writers but it’s a shame that the script didn’t give them an opportunity to show off whatever made audiences enjoy their stand up act so much. Since Allen & Rossi are the stars of the movie I think it’s easy for viewers to get caught up in their rather lackluster delivery and overlook all the funny performances from their costars, which is a shame.
The talented character actor Theodore Marcuse is really terrific here and especially funny as the evil mastermind Zoltan Schubach who heads THEM. His character is obviously inspired by the notorious James Bond villain known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld and I’m sure Mike Myers was inspired by Theodore Marcuse’s performance as Zoltan Schubach in Last of the Secret Agents? when he created the character of Dr. Evil for the Austin Powers movies. The great British actor John Williams lends a nice sense of gravitas to the proceedings and the very funny Harvey Korman even shows up in a brief but memorable bit as an actor playing a frazzled German Colonel.
Top: Nancy Sinatra and Carmen Dell’Orefice
Bottom: Phyllis Davis and Thordis Brandt
The film also features plenty of lovely female co-stars. Nancy Sinatra gets top billing here, but unfortunately she doesn’t get enough screen time. She plays Steve Rossi’s neglected love interest and she ends up spending most of her time in the film trying to get him to notice her. Rossi is a good-looking guy but I couldn’t believe that he would turn down Nancy’s marriage proposals even if she would have gotten in the way of his swinging lifestyle. Fashion icon Carmen Dell’Orefice is really wonderful as the wicked Baby May Zoftig and she vamps it up on the set as much as possible. Unfortunately she only has a few lines in the film and I wish the director had given her more to do. Other sixties starlets and femme fatales in Last of the Secret Agents? include Russ Meyer’s lovely wife Edy Williams and the beautiful actress Thordis Brandt.
Besides the lackluster performances of the films stars Allen & Rossi, Last of the Secret Agents? is not without some other obvious problems. The stale looking set designs often make the movie look more like a television production instead of a feature length film. The movie would have really benefited from being shot on location in Europe. Last but not least, someone also should have hired a dialogue coach for the cast. There are a lot of actors in the film trying to sound like they weren’t born in America and most of them fail terribly. Since Last of the Secret Agents? is a comedy I found it easy to overlook the bad accents but they can still be a little jarring at times.
With all its problems, Last of the Secret Agents? still has something to offer potential viewers including one of the funniest opening sequences that I’ve ever seen. There’s also a terrific long-running sight gag that takes place on a train that is very cleverly shot and just plain fun to watch. The pop art style of the film gives it a comic book feel at times and the soundtrack by Pete King and Neal Hefti is truly terrific.
The film also boasts a wonderful theme song composed by Lee Hazlewood and sung by Nancy Sinatra. I personally think it’s one of Sinatra & Hazelwood’s best songs and it was released the same year that they released their huge hit single “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.” Unfortunately the title song for Last of the Secret Agents? wasn’t a big hit and I’m sure the movies lackluster reception was a factor. In retrospect, the theme song is just as good as any of Sinatra & Hazelwood’s early recordings so I can’t understand why the song didn’t become more popular after its release.
Before making Last of the Secret Agents? director Norman Abbott had previously made a name for himself working on popular television shows like Leave It to Beaver, McHale’s Navy and The Munsters. For better or worse, he brings that same comedy sense to Last of the Secret Agents? and as I mentioned above, the film often suffers from the somewhat stale television-like quality of the production.
Last of the Secret Agents? would become a minor launching point for some of the cast and crew to go on to bigger and better spy-related productions. Norman Abbott would return to television and direct episodes of the entertaining spy spoof Get Smart and Nancy Sinatra would go on to record the popular theme song for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice in 1967. Theodore Marcuse had acted in other spy spoofs before making Last of the Secret Agents? but afterward he appeared in the Doris Day spy comedy The Glass Bottom Boat and television shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West, before his unfortunate and untimely death in a car accident in 1967.
It’s a shame that Last of the Secret Agents? isn’t available on DVD and is rarely shown on television anymore. With the popularity of the Austin Powers films, as well as current interest in the James Bond series, I hope that Paramount will consider releasing the movie in the future. It deserves to be seen by a wider audience that might enjoy its silly charm now that over 40 years have passed since the films initial release.
If you’d like to see more images from the movie please see my Last of the Secret Agents? Flickr Gallery.
Original trailer for Last of the Secret Agents?