There are movies which live in my childhood. Viewing them years later, no matter the length of time which may have passed, I’m instantly transported back in time to that darkened theater, fond memories, and childhood wonderment.
Condorman, based on the James Bond spoof by Robert Sheckley, is one of those films. From the Pink Panther-style opening featuring the rousing score of Henry Mancini to the final unheard whispered line at a crowded Dodger game (and everything in-between), I’m hooked. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the film Woody Wilkins (Michael Crawford) is a comic book writer living in Paris while working on his latest creation: Condorman, “Vulture of the western world.” When his best friend, a pencil-pusher for the CIA (James Hampton), needs a civilian to deliver some not-so important secret papers in Istanbul Woody happily volunteers, passing himself off as a top secret spy codenamed Condorman.
On the mission he shares a drink (a Triple Istanbul Express) with beautiful KGB agent Natalia (Barbara Carrera) who later decides to defect insisting that only Condorman will be allowed to bring her in. The rest of the film involves Woody’s attempts to save Natalia from the evil Krokov (Oliver Reed) and his legion of henchmen led by the one-eyed Morovich (Jean-Pierre Kalfon).
Crawford is passable in the role which requires a fair share of physical comedy yet still give us a character to root for and an unlikely hero to believe in. Although Carrera is better known for other roles this is the one I’ll always think of first. Beautiful, smart, sweet, dangerous, (and that accent!), there’s little wonder why Woody risks his life to save Natalia; who among us wouldn’t do the same?
The live-action Disney film is meant mainly for children, and if you view it through that lens it’s an awful lot of fun. I’ll admit my favorite scenes involve Woody and Natalia’s escape from Turkey, as Krokov summarizes later in the film:
“The best kept secrets of Woodrow Wilson can be found by any small child for the price of a tiny coin. Here is a truck that turns into a racing car. Here a car that turns into a hovercraft.”
Oh, what a car! The chase sequence alone on the winding mountain roads is worth the price of admission! The film also includes a climax on the water, Condorman taking flight, an impromptu wedding crash, and an escape through the Swiss Alps. Condorman has it all.
Other favorite moments include Woody drawing Natalia as his Lazer Lady for the first time (if I could get my hands on that art it would be hanging on my wall!), and Krokov’s incredulity at learning that this super-spy is nothing more than “a writer of comic books.”
Part of my enjoyment for the film is its melding of several elements I enjoy all into one great package. It’s a darn good spoof of James Bond (complete with gadgets, exotic locales, and a beautiful femme-fatale, all done with more aplomb than Austin Powers a full 16-years later), along with it’s loving embrace of a comic book brought to life, fun action sequences, and a sweet little love story.
Sadly the DVD for the film (a complete bare-bones version – c’mon Disney!) is increasingly hard to find. Long out-of-print in the US, you can occasionally find the Region 2 version available online.
More than anything this is a film about wish fulfillment. Woody’s dreams, though they take some unusual turns, are brought to life as Condorman swoops in to save the day, and the girl. And we are lucky enough to go along for the ride.
There are many films which I appreciate more, but few fill me with the giddy joy of Condorman. Not all movies you see as a child hold-up decades later (sadly, most do not), but when you find one that does grab it with both arms and don’t let go. For me, Condorman is just such a film.