Despite a couple of bright moments, The Nude Bomb (1980), a feature film adaptation of the 1965-70 sitcom Get Smart, is pretty dreary, though it's fascinating in the same way YouTube dashcam videos of Russian car accidents can sometimes be. It's clear there was a creative tug-of-war going on between those who simply wanted to expand upon the original series, and others trying to shape it into something else, though what that something else was is never very clear.
The original show, of course, spoofed the emerging spy movie genre, really just getting started when the show debuted in mid-September 1965. Conversely, the impetus for The Nude Bomb wasn't so much the ongoing success of the 007 franchise, despite its opening scene spoofing the pre-credits sequence in Moonraker (1979). Rather, undoubtedly what must have triggered The Nude Bomb was the enormous recent success of the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers "Pink Panther" films. The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) grossed $42 million against a $5 million budget, and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) did similar business, the latter earning nearly $50 million against a $12 budget. Moreover, it appears even the original series was at least in part inspired by the success of and Peter Sellers characterization in the first two Pink Panther movies, both released in 1964.
Secret Agent 86, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was more or less an American Inspector Clouseau, so why not?
The thin plot has Agent 86 called upon once again to save the world from the nefarious KAOS and their terrorist plot, masterminded by Nino Salvatori Sebastiani (Vittorio Gassman) and Norman Saint Sauvage (also Gassman), threatening to unleash the "Nude Bomb," a weapon that vaporizes all forms of fabric.
The new Chief (Dana Elcar) teams Smart with Agent 22 (Andrea Howard), Q-like scientist Carruthers (Norman Lloyd), voluptuous Agent 36 (Pamela Hensley), computer geeks Drs. Pam and Jerry Krovney (Sarah Rush and Gary Imhoff), and Smart's longtime colleague Agent 13 (Joey Forman). From the start, it's clear that a double-agent among them is fouling up Smart's efforts, which eventually lead him to Switzerland where he encounters Agent 34 (Sylvia Kristel, second-billed, despite her small role) as he searches for Sauvage's (or is it Sebastiani's?) ex-wife, Edith Von Secondberg (Rhonda Fleming).
Greatly missed from the original cast, of course, are Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), and the original Chief, Edward Platt, who committed suicide in 1974. Platt was integral to Get Smart's success, the normally dramatic actor quite funny in his own right playing straight man to perennial bumbler Smart. Platt's Chief was in the tradition of Edgar Kennedy and his "slow burn," the Chief trying to maintain order and dignity while Max makes a mess of things. Dana Elcar brings none of that to the role, unfazed and never very irritated by Smart's embarrassments. Among the new cast members, only Norman Lloyd really gets into the spirit of things.
Feldon, meanwhile, had projected a wholesome sexiness, sweetly supportive of Smart even though she was clearly far more the talented spy than he ever could be. Ageism probably played some role in the by-this-time 47-year-old actress not being asked to return. Though 99 and Max married and had twins in the later seasons of Get Smart, in The Nude Bomb the character is never referenced at all, and it's implied Smart is single. Regardless, the three different actresses replacing her doesn't work at all. Hensley's character never interacts with Max privately, Andrea Howard's character, as written, is like a hole in the screen, and almost perversely former Emmanuelle Sylvia Kristel spends her screentime completely covered in skiing clothes and not allowed to be sexy. Though a talented comedian, Don Adams's persona never projected much in the way of warmth, and Feldon filled that need on the TV show; its absence here hurts the movie.
Indeed, of the original cast, besides Adams the only returning cast member is Robert Karvelas as Agent Larabee, the Chief's none-too-bright assistant. Undoubtedly, he's back because Karvelas also happened to be Don Adams's cousin. Indeed, Adams, unhappy with the script, probably also insisted upon bringing in comedian-writer Bill Dana, Adams's former writing partner, who virtually created Adams's familiar persona, a characterization that first began to take shape on The Bill Dana Show. Joey Forman, another comedian of Adams's generation, had played "Harry Hoo," a Charlie Chan-like character, on Get Smart, replacing the more familiar David Ketchum from the series. Alan Spencer, later the creator of the series Sledge Hammer!, was also hired by Adams as an additional gag man, albeit uncredited and, ultimately, unpaid.
The unfocused script is a hodgepodge of visual slapstick, overworked catch phrases from the TV series, a self-serving chase through Universal Studios' theme park (featuring cameos by the Psycho house, the shark from Jaws, and the long-gone Battlestar Galactica attraction), slightly racier dialogue, and tired, ‘60s-style spy spoof material. Though pushing 60, Don Adams looks virtually unchanged, if amusingly coifed in an obvious hairpiece (and shoe polish-like inking of his hairline) and lifts. But he's otherwise fit and trim, and his comic delivery, limited though it might have been, is as good as ever.
Directed by Englishman Clive Donner, The Nude Bomb reportedly had a healthy budget of $15 million, and at times looks fairly polished while other aspects barely rise to the level of a TV-movie. Some of the sets and special effects are positively awful, especially all the footage supposedly set in Switzerland. According to Spencer, a Get Smart movie was originally conceived in the mid-‘60s but aborted, then revived initially as a TV-film, possibly to run on the same NBC Mystery Movie wheel as Columbo and other shows. And, he points out, that despite bad reviews The Nude Bomb was commercially a success, if barely so.
Video & Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, The Nude Bomb looks good on Blu-ray, the transfer licensed to Kino from Universal. Despite some grainy visual effects shots, the release reflects and even improves upon original 1980 35mm prints. The DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) is also fine, supported by optional English subtitles on this region "A" disc.
For such a mediocre film, Kino has loaded The Nude Bomb down with scads of supplements. They include two audio commentary tracks, one by Alan Spencer, who as mentioned above unofficially worked on the film as a writer at Adams's behest, and who also hosts a "Trailers from Hell" segment. This is a uniquely excellent commentary for several reasons. It's an intimate insider's viewpoint of everything that went right and wrong with the picture, coupled with exhaustive information about prior attempts to expand upon/revive Get Smart as a movie and, later, a series of TV films. Spencer points out all kinds of things easily missed, including actor Eugene Roche playing the Chief in long shots before he was replaced.* Moreover, as a comedy writer, Spencer details the evolution of script, what was changed, often by whom, and why, from a comedy sense, certain aspects of the film, from the broad picture to individual gags, work or don't work. It's a one-of-a-kind examination, in many ways far more interesting than the movie that resulted.
A second commentary track with film critic Peter Tonguette expands things a bit further, and also included are deleted/extended/alternate scenes prepared for the network airing, as The Return of Maxwell Smart; textless opening and closing credits; an extensive gallery of posters and lobby cards both international and domestic; radio and TV spots and a trailer.
For fans only of the original series, and even they likely will find The Nude Bomb an inapt showcase for Don Adams and the original program's charms. But, for them, it's worth seeing once, so you might want to Rent It before investing in a purchase.
* One actor neither Spencer nor the IMDb seemed to notice is William Sylvester, playing uncredited a U.N. diplomat with no lines, at least in the theatrical version. Sylvester must have been friends with somebody at Universal, for nearly all his last work was for Universal Television, including episodes of Buck Rogers and Quincy. Quite the comedown for an actor who once starred in Stanley Kubrick's 2001.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.