As the motion picture, ``Salt’’ starring Angelina Jolie opens in theaters on Friday, I thought I would do some digging and rummaging through the archives to find other films involving female spies and their dangerous espionage activities.
As you might imagine, there seems to be a bottomless supply of women spies in motion pictures. And of course, when you talk of women spies, treachery and deceit can’t be far behind.
The first movie I could find about a female spy is titled appropriately enough,`` The Female Spy’’ (1906), an 8-minute story with Louis Paglieri as the only cast member listed in which a woman spy is tied by her hair to a horse and dragged behind it.
Female spies in supporting roles, of course, are quite common, including France Nuyen in ``Dimension 5’’; (1966); Dorothy Provine in ``Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’’ (1966); Joanna Petit in ``Casino Royale’’ (1967) and Sharon Tate in the ``Wrecking Crew’’ (1969).
Of course, the femme fatale, would- be- assassins come thick and fast while looking through any number of motion picture reference books, including: Luciana Pauluzzi in ``Thunderball (1965); Daliah Lavi in the ``Silencers ‘’ (1966) ; Elke Sommer in ``Deadlier Than the Male’’ (1966), Erika Blanc in ``The Spy Kills Silently’’ (1966), Rosella Falk in ``Modesty Blaise’’ (1966) ; Karin Dor in ``You Only Live Twice’’ (1967); Carol Lynley in ``Danger Route’’ (1968), Nancy Kwan in the ``Wrecking Crew’’ (1969), and Gloria Hendry in ``Live and Let Die’’ (1973).
Recurrent throughout the catalog of the James Bond films are the duplicitous female spies, including Daniela Bianchi in ``From Russia with Love’’ (1963), Honor Blackman and Shirley Eaton in ``Goldfinger’’ (1964), Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi in in ``Thunderball ‘’ (1965), Mie Hama in ``You Only Live Twice’’ (1967); Dianna Rigg in ``On Her Majesty's Secret Service’’ (1969);, Jill St John and Lana Wood in ``Diamonds are Forever’’ (1971); and Jane Seymour and Gloria Hendry in ``Live and Let Die’’ (1973).
American actresses hardly have a monopoly when it comes to engaging in espionage on film. Several lesser known European actresses starred as spies, including: Erika Blanc in ``Operation Atlantis’’ (1965); Dominque Boschero in ``Fury in Marrakesh (1966), Helene Chanel in ``Ring Around the World’’ (1966); Margaret Lee in ``Secret Agent Super Dragon’’ ((1965); Helga Line in ``Mission Bloody Mary’’ (1965); Beba Loncar in ``Some Girls Do’’ (`1969); Rosalba Neri in ``Upperseven, The Man to Kill’’ (1965); Janine Reynaud in ``The Spy Who Came From the Sea’’ (1966); Sylvia Solar in ``Danger! Death Ray (1967); Yoko Tani in Goldsnake; ``Killers' Company (1966); Marilu Tolo in ``Espionage in Lisbon’’ (1965) and Ira Von Furstenberg in ``Matchless’’ (1966).
And there have been plenty of clunkers when it comes to females starring as spies.
Model Andrea Dromm played agent Jill Parsons who is sent to the island of Jamacia to stop a madman from blowing up a U.S. carrier in ``Come Spy with Me’’ (1967), a film described in the Encyclopedia of American Spy Films as a ``weak comedy with bland songs.’’
Fathom (1967) starred Raquel Welch as the beautiful skydiver tricked into retrieving the ``Fire Dragon, which she thinks threatens U.S. security, but is actually a stolen piece of art.
Caprice (1967) featured Doris Day, who plays Patricia Fowler, the daughter of spy who was killed in pursuit of drug smugglers. Fowler is determined to find out who killed her father.
And considered by many as one of the worst motion pictures ever made, Lola Lane plays a Russian agent in ```Miss V From Moscow’’ (1942) in which she is dispatched to Nazi occupied Paris, posing as a German spy and told to work in concert with the French underground in order to learn the whereabouts of enemy submarines that have been threatening Allied supply ships. Lane successfully dupes the German high command long enough to gather vital information; and with the help of an American agent, escapes back to Russia
Going through motion picture archives, shows that female spies set during the American Civil War was a popular theme with a rich history.
The first popular spy film series of 1909-1910 consisted of the ``Girl Spy'' movies, starring Jean Gauntiett as a Civil War heroine fighting on behalf of the Confederacy. In ``The Girl Spy before Vicksburg’’ (1911), the heroine of this short silent film disguises herself as a member of a munitions convoy and destroys the wagon, while in ``Madam Who’’ (1918), a silent drama, Bessie Barricade, a young Confederate, engages in a dangerous act of espionage by traveling to Washington as a Confederate Spy and is invited to a reception attended by a number of important Northern generals and political leaders, including Abraham Lincoln (Clarence Barr) who addresses the crowd.
And In ``Operator 13’’, Marion Davies plays a secret agent working for the North to spy on Gary Cooper, a Confederate Spy. Cooper soon catches on to Davies real identity and plans to have her court-martialed; but Cooper’s own life is saved by Davies when Union troops suddenly appear. The two decide to part ways so they can serve their respective causes; but are reunited, at long last, after Robert E. Lee’s surrender when they both vow to put the ravages of the war behind them.
Love and betrayal; honor, and duty to one’s homeland repeatedly shows up in films involving female spies.
In ``Her Beloved Enemy (1917), Dory Gray stars as a girl who falls in love with the Secret Service man who has killed her father, a spy. Based on a stage play, ``The Girl from Downing Street’’ (1918) was a British film with Peggy Marson as an accomplished female spy who's stolen vital German plans.
Diane Allen in ``The Amazing Lovers ‘’(1921) is a French secret agent infiltrating counterfeiters who escape to the United States. To disguise her identity, a fake marriage is arranged with an alcoholic young man who she naturally ends up falling madly in love with.
Merle Oberon played a Norweigan baroness in ``First Comes Courage’’ (1943) in which she marries a Nazi officer so she can funnel information back to England. In ``Five Steps to Danger’’ (1957) , a female secret agent, Ruth Roma, gets a hold of secrets from the Reds in Europe and escapes with the help of a fisherman (Sterling Hayden, an actual veteran of the OSS).
The more prominent actresses starring as female spies on the brink of World War II, included Greta Garbo in ``Mati Hari’’ (1932, ) who plays a notorious World War I German spy, posing as a dancer in Paris and her romantic machinations with a Russian general (Lionel Barrymore) who she dumps for a young Russian lieutenant (Roman Navarro). Garbo eventually stands trial in a French court where she’s convicted of espionage and sentenced to death in front of a firing squad.
In`` Dishonored’’ (1931) Marlene Dietrich plays an Austrian agent, X-27, where she goes on to expose an Austrian officer (Warner Oland) as a double agent and traitor; she then manages to capture an elusive Russian spy (Victor McLaughlin), Colonel Kranau, Russian agent H-14, also known as ``The Fox’’, but Dietrich falls head over hills for the Russian lug and allows him to escape. Dietrich’s lapse of sound judgment results in her being put to death in front of a firing squad. Her last gestures before the shooting begins, shows her lighting a cigarette and adjusting her garter.
In a remake of the 1932 German film ``Unter Falshe Flaggen, Fay Wray stars as a Russian spy in ``Madame Spy’’, who marries an Austrian diplomat (Nils Asther) in order to spy on him. Two Austrian agents, meanwhile, are in hot pursuit of a Russian spy, known only as B-24, who lo and behold turns out to be Asther’s wife.
In Dark Journey, 1937, Vivian Leigh is a W.W. I double agent, posing as a German sympathizer, working as a fashion designer, who is responsible for feeding information back to French and English authorities. Leigh ends up falling in love with a German soldier, Conrad Veidt, but in the end, unlike Dietrich, she puts duty and honor above love and has the German soldier captured.
Ilona Massey in ``International Lady’’ (1941), plays Carla Nillson, a Nazi spy who uses tonal phrases and musical notes in songs during her radio broadcasts to feed vital information back to Nazi U-boats. Massey is chased through the streets of London and New York City as agents from the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard join forces in order to uncover a dangerous international spy ring.
Constance Bennett and Gracie Fields star in ``Paris Underground’’ (1945), a film about an American and Englishwoman and their surveillance in the French underground in which they help more than 250 Allied airmen escape from occupied France, all while being pursued by the Gestapo, eventually captured, and finally rescued by Allied troops.
Not all motion pictures involving female spy females were pure fiction.
Ann Dvorak starred in the real life experiences of Claire Phillips during World War II. After Miss Phillips husband is killed in the Bataan death march in the Philippines (1942) Mrs Phillips joins a band of guerrillas, masquerading as an Italian national and operates a Manila nightclubs, where she learns of important information which she conveys back to the leader of the guerillas movement (played by Gene Evans.) Phillips was eventually exposed and imprisoned, but is rescued by Evans and his forces before she is executed. Phillips, as it turns out, was the recipient of the Freedom Medal for her espionage activity. ``I Was an American Spy’’ was based on ``Manila Espionage’’, a novel written in collaboration with Myron B. Goldsmith.
More recent female spies was Rosalind Russell in ``Mrs. Pollifax-Spy (1971), a widow who volunteers to spy for her country in which she’s sent to Mexico City to get her hands on some highly sought after microfilm. Russell is captured by Communist agents and taken to Albania. Russell uses her charm and duplicity to free herself and her companion (Darren McGavin) from her captors.
Finally, ``In the Littler Drummer Girl’’(1984), based on a spy novel by John le Carré, Diane Keaton plays a pro-Palestinian actress living in London, where an Israeli intelligence unit plots to get her to fall in love with an Israeli. After some prodding, Keaton agrees to help the Israelis when she poses as a Palestinian agent and travels to Germany to hunt down a Palestinian terrorist, Sami Frey.
Source: ``Encyclopedia of American Spy Films'' by Larry Langman & David Ebner; ``Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage’’ By Wesley Britton; ``The Great Spy Films’’ By Leonard Rubenstein