A Movie A Day #139: Operation C.I.A. (1965, directed by Christian Nyby)

Saigon, South Vietnam.  A CIA agent stands on a street corner when a young man parks his scooter in front of him.  The young man runs away and the scooter explodes, killing the agent.  Another agent, Mark Andrews (Burt Reynolds), is sent to Saigon to find out why the first agent was killed.  From the minute he arrives, Mark finds himself in the middle of a web of betrayal, intrigue, double agents, and a communist plot to assassinate the American ambassador.  Only Mark can prevent the assassination but first, he is going to have to survive a series of death traps.  He will also have to wrestle a boa constrictor.  If you have ever wanted to see Burt Reynolds wrestle a boa constrictor, this is the movie for you.

This low-budget James Bond rip off would be forgotten if not for three reasons.

First, this was one of the few American films to be made about the Vietnam War during the time of America’s involvement in that conflict.  Operation C.I.A. was released in September, a month after the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  Soon, the Vietnam War would become so unpopular that very few mainstream movies would even acknowledge it.  Originally, Operation C.I.A. was going to be filmed on location but, because of the rising hostilities, filming was instead done in Thailand, with Bangkok filling in for Saigon.  That Bangkok and Saigon had absolutely nothing in common was not considered to be a problem.

Secondly, this was one of the few films to be directed by Howard Hawks’s longtime editor, Christian Nyby.  Nyby is credited as directing The Thing, though many assume that Hawks actually directed that film.  Post-Thing, Nyby had an undistinguished directorial career, working mostly in television.  The black-and-white Operation C.I.A. has little in common with The Thing but it could pass for an episode of I Spy.

Finally, Operation C.I.A. was Burt Reynolds’s first starring role.  Burt is miscast as an American James Bond and he spends the majority of the movie looking stiff and uncomfortable.  The first time that Sean Connery left the role of James Bond, Burt Reynolds was one of the actors considered to replace him.  Judging from Operation C.I.A., everyone should be happy that George Lazenby got the role instead.

Especially Burt.

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