S*P*Y*S – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Irvin Kershner

Elliott Gould … Griff
Donald Sutherland … Bruland
Zouzou … Sybil
Joss Ackland … Martinson
Xavier Gélin … Paul
Vladek Sheybal … Borisenko
Michael Petrovitch … Sevitsky
Shane Rimmer … Hessler
Kenneth Griffith … Lippet

The Movie:

When it was released in 1974, S*P*Y*S was touted by distributor 20th Century Fox as the anticipated follow-up to the previous teaming up of Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in Robert Altman’s Best Picture Nominee, M*A*S*H. This was unfortunate for Irvin Kershner’s small, independently produced film because really S*P*Y*S has no connection to Altman’s masterpiece other than its two leads. The unfair comparison ended up hurting the movie’s reputation more than it helped, which is too bad, because on its own S*P*Y*S is a clever, charming and breezy comedic espionage movie, carried by its two stars the entire way.

Like a really goofy, laid back version of The Bourne Identity, S*P*Y*S has Gould and Sutherland’s team of Griff and Bruland on the run from the C.I.A. and the K.G.B. due to a botched mission that leads to the two of them being targeted for execution by both sides. Their only chance is to secure a piece of information held by a double agent, and then sell that information and their lives to the highest bidder. Really though, the plot isn’t that important to this movie’s success. The film’s most important element is actually just its two leads, who manage to get into one goofy situation after another shrugging it off each time as if it doesn’t bother them to have guns in their faces. Throughout the picture the duo fall in with Anarchists, Communists, and even the French to try and secure the documents, neither ever looking like they’re in real danger.

It’s this ho-hum attitude that mark Gould’s best work, such as his Trapper John in M*A*S*H or especially in his turn as Phillip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, and while S*P*Y*S isn’t quite on the level of his collaborations with Robert Altman, it still has its uproarious moments. His chemistry with Sutherland is simply top notch throughout, especially during a car chase in which they basically commandeer a vehicle away from a group of terrorists that have kidnapped them. The wordplay between the two is just so lively that it becomes about as equally fun to watch as others get frustrated trying to breakup their constant conversations and arguments.

This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its problems. Irvin Kershner can be an amazing director at times, as evidenced by The Empire Strikes Back, but here he’s basically just a good one. While the lackadaisical pace for S*P*Y*S reflects the ambiance the movie is trying to bring forth, the movie is perhaps a little too indulgent at times on this front. Also, while the movie does have its hilarious moments, there are really not enough of them to keep the film’s momentum up. There’s something to be said that the movie is consistently entertaining, but a few more belly laughs would have really helped the entire experience.

While not a masterpiece by any means, S*P*Y*S is nonetheless a pretty funny comedy from the early 70’s. Gould and Sutherland are the main reasons to watch and the movie remains pleasant though slow kind of in spots. While many found this film to be a disappointment upon its release after the actors’ preceding collaboration on M*A*S*H, time has apparently been kind to S*P*Y*S, and perhaps it can have a new life on DVD.

The DVD:

The Video
The movie looks good, but unspectacular on this DVD print. The film is not totally devoid of scratches and debris at times, and the colors seem a bit washed out at times. Still the print is very acceptable and never really becomes an issue. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds pretty good. Perhaps the audio is even too good at times, as it seems to present flaws with weird dubbing in the original audio that may have not been present on the original print.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurette, Documentary, Trailer, Still Gallery.

Inside S*P*Y*S – This Featurette goes about 21 minutes, but is absolutely packed with info on the production of this film. There was apparently no end to the mishaps on this movie, making it a wonder that it was even completed. Whether it was financing falling through, Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland wanting to switch parts on the first day of shooting, a cast member dying in the middle of a scene, or any number of other problems, its covered here. This Featurette is actually one of the most entertaining items on this entire disc.

The Road of a Hundred Days: U.S. government documentary by Irvin Kirshner – This is a vintage documentary about a small town in Greece that was filmed by Irvin Kirshner just after he had graduated from USC. It’s an interesting extra on this disc, showing off some of Kershner’s earlier days as a film maker.


Still Gallery

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for S*P*Y*S
(OUT OF 10)