If James Bond’s given exploitation filmmakers anything over the years, it’s evidently been a licence to steal…
Ask most people to name an unofficial James Bond film and they’ll probably mention Never Say Never Again, or maybe the infamous 1967 spoof of Casino Royale starring Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress. But those movies are far from unique in taking Ian Fleming’s super-spy and transplanting him into a decidedly non-canonical situation.
Indeed, low-budget movie-makers around the world have been churning out all manner of weird and wacky Bondsploitation knock-offs since the 1960s with varying degrees of success and notoriety.
From cult efforts starring Filipino dwarves to Hong Kong martial arts movies pitting Bruce Lee against agent 007, there’s almost no end to the variety of lesser-known Bond knock-offs on offer.
So if you’re dithering about whether or not to go out and catch Skyfall at your local multiplex this weekend, and you’ve a suitably perverse taste in entertainment, you might want to give the crowds a miss and check out one of these bizarre pseudo-Bond films instead…
Operation Double 007
In 1967 an Italian producer hit on the idea of employing the then-current Bond Sean Connery’s brother Neil and having him front a Eurospy movie in the hopes of making a quick buck. In the film, England’s foremost secret agent is not available for duty, so MI6 sends for his younger sibling to bring down the evil crime syndicate Thanatos.
Also known as Operation Kid Brother, OK Connery and Secret Agent 00, the film features Neil Connery’s voice dubbed over by an American actor and music by the highly-regarded Ennio Morricone.
For Your Height Only
Can you imagine seeing England’s greatest superspy played on the big screen by a three-foot-tall Filipino martial artist? No? Well then, you’d best check out this quirky little flick from 1981 which starred diminutive actor Weng Weng as a miniature Bond.
Weng Weng, who holds the Guinness World Record for being the shortest actor ever to star in a leading role, appears here as Agent 00, a pint-sized superspy who uses jetpacks, Oddjob-style hats and his mastery of kung-fu to overthrow a drug cartel led by a warlord called Mr Giant.
It might look cheaply-made (and it is), but how could you possibly hold that against a film with the tagline: “Bigger than Goldfinger's Finger - Bigger than Thunderball's…”?
From Hong Kong with Love
This French-made effort from 1975 sees 007 on the receiving end of the Bond series’ famous gun-barrel intro and killed outright in its opening seconds. This comes as a bit of a blow, since Queen Elizabeth has been kidnapped by Hitler(!) and needs rescuing. Enter four bungling French spies who take to the streets of Hong Kong, wrecking every vehicle in their path in an effort to track down Her Royal Highness.
Notable for featuring genuine Bond actors Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Clifton James (Sheriff Pepper), the film attempts to wriggle out of any copyright problems by having a Richard Nixon lookalike explain to camera that any similarities to characters real, unreal, living or dead that viewers might spot is “purely coincidental.” Shameless!
The Dragon Lives Again
It’s rare indeed to see James Bond depicted on screen as a villain but, sure enough, in this 1977 Hong Kong-made martial arts movie, 007’s one of the bad guys. The thoroughly bizarre plot concerns a recently-deceased Bruce Lee awakening in Hell and attempting to avert a political coup, which has been mounted against the King of the Underworld by the likes of Clint Eastwood (played by an Asian actor), Dracula, Emmanuelle (she of the saucy softcore films) and James Bond.
Bond is played here by journeyman actor Alexander Grand, who appeared in a slew of kung fu films made in Hong Kong back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And as portrayals of 007 go, his makes George Lazenby's look positively stellar, as Grand never once utters a witticism and is bested in his fight with Bruce all too easily.
The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E
Speaking of George Lazenby, the poor chap really shot himself in the foot by quitting the Bond series after just one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, Bond producer Albert Broccoli was so incensed by Lazenby's desertion that the actor found himself exiled from the Hollywood mainstream and reduced to starring in soft-porn TV movies and no-budget Filipino action films to make the rent.
However, having occupied one of cinema’s biggest ever roles, albeit briefly, meant that Lazenby was able to find work playing Bond unofficially in a number of different situations. For instance, he starred in an episode of the 1989 Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series entitled Diamond’s Aren’t Forever, in which he played a superspy character called just “James” to avoid legal problems.
A similar strategy was employed in the film The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E., which features Lazenby in a white tuxedo at the wheel of an Aston Martin as a spy called "J.B.". Subtle, eh?
And we’ve only scratched the surface here, really. I mean, there’s also the black-and-white Indian film James Bond 777, Our Man From Bond Street, which starred Neil Connery and an Oddjob lookalike, Conceal When You Speak, a 1981 French effort about a man who dreams that he’s James Bond… The list goes on and on.
So once you’ve exhausted the archives of Sky Movies Bond and feel like being both shaken and stirred, give a Bond knock-off a try. After all, despite what certain movie titles would have you believe, you only live once.