Spy Vibe's classic article from 2009, Set For Adventure, looks at conventions and styles in Mystery/Adventure genre entertainment, followed by Best Spy Set Lists by Spy Vibe, Lee Pfeiffer (Cinema Retro), Stephen Bissette (Swamp Thing/Tyrant), Jeremy Duns (Free Agent), and many others! Scroll down for a hefty helping of spy production values!

Set For Adventure is one of Spy Vibe's most popular posts of all time! Find related books, DVDs, and music in the Spy Vibe Amazon Store.

Creating your Secret Agent Pad or Evil Lair? Need a cavernous room with that ultra-modern Spy Vibe? Chances are that your wish-list has sprung from the mind of influential designer, Ken Adam (Dr. No, Goldfinger, Dr. Strangelove). Adam was left to design the first Bond sets for Dr. No (1962) while the crew was in Jamaica filming on location. Blending the expressionist aesthetic of his Berlin childhood, the modernism of his architectural studies, and Cold War technology, Adam created indelible sets worthy of the Space Age and launched the 007 image into public imagination. His rooms were vast and dynamic, with tilted, triangular ceilings and circular skylights. The synthesis of his cultural pallet, Dr. Caligari, Post-War lifestyle trends, paperback thrillers, and mid-century modern would inspire a look- a Spy Vibe style of architecture and design. 

1930s-1940s HEROES
The idea of Pads and Secret Lairs really took flight with serialized adventures of the 1930s and 1940s. One of the most popular genres was the Mystery Detective story- sensational yarns about wealthy sleuths who battled incognito from Inner Sanctums against the fiendish plots of an array of masked villains with ever-colorful names. The largely male audience reveled in the exotic locations, and kids were hooked by the cliffhanger death traps that escalated with each chapter. Writers cooked up fantastic spaces with fun elements like trap doors, secret chambers, escape hatches, and deadly gadgets. Adventure was to be found everywhere, from Tarzan’s jungle to Flash Gordon’s rocket ship, from Zorro’s night raids to the world of wartime spies and saboteurs. The Spy Vibe films of the 1960s drew on this colorful tradition, which set the stories apart from other crime/detective movies. 

Cliffhanger Serials faded by the mid-1950s with the advent of television. Crime and horror comics soared briefly until censorship emasculated the industry with the creation of the Comics Code Authority in 1954. Fans with a taste for edgier entertainment could find excitement among men’s adventure magazines, paperback thrillers, and private eye heroes. It was in this cultural context that a forty-six year old journalist finally sat down to write the “spy story to end all spy stories.” Some say he wrote to stave off the anxiety of marriage. Three years later, American Popular Library released his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in paperback in the United States in 1955. Anthony Boucher of The New York Times dismissed it as "pretty much to the private-eye school" of fiction. Despite this review, the novel would eventually launch a film franchise that would prove to be a beacon of hope for guys living in the claustrophobia of 1950s suburbanization who chafed for a more masculine ideal, and who craved a freedom of lifestyle.

One particular boy who grew up in this climate dreamed of becoming a cartoonist, but found that his greater talents lay in his ability to envision a personal view and approach to living that, as it turned out, many men could relate to. That cartoonist was Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Magazine became a major influence in the 1950s and 1960s on men to entertain a way of life based on pleasure, curiosity, and a male aesthetic. Features about architecture and interior design gained popularity quickly. The articles sported illustrations of ideal homes and modern pads that electrified the imaginations of men weary of caving to the nine-to-five paradigm of the grey flannel suit-set. 

History professor Elizabeth Fraterrigo has written a study of the magazine’s influence: “In the 1950s and 1960s, Playboy promoted a decidedly masculine vision for the realms of home, work, and leisure in its textual and literal construction of their spatial corollaries- the bachelor pad, the white-collar office, and the realm of urban nightlife- which served as counterpoints to the cultural emphasis on the suburban-situated nuclear-family home. Through its magazine, television programs, and key-clubs, Playboy identified spaces where men could craft and nurture a masculine identity based on style, leisure, and consumption” (Elizabeth Fraterrigo/UNLV).

I imagine that the designers themselves had the simple, sweeping curves of the mid-century modern aesthetic in mind when they drafted their work during that period. But I agree with Fraterrigo that those archetypical bachelor pads with Hi-Fi Jazz, Scandinavian style, and cocktail lounges were, well… for bachelors. Or at the very least, for sophisticated young couples who embodied the urban, perhaps swinging, lifestyle. By nature, the ultra-cool interiors symbolized freedom and individuality over the suburban family B.B.Q ideal that was prevalent in mainstream culture. A reaction was the lounge culture of kitschy LA ranch houses, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and at a higher level, the era of Alexander Calder and Eero Saarinen. Production Designers keen to establish characters who embodied this individuality found inspiration among this wider, artistic world. Mid-century modern flagstone mixed with plastics, inflatable furniture, neo-classical antiques, and with the ever-advancing technology. Ken Adam’s film designs, which he called “slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly ahead of contemporary,” became as culturally influential as Saarinen’s TWA terminal (1961).

 The fantastical movie sets of the 1960s were also a sign of an emerging youth culture- playful, lusty, rebellious, modern, and pushing a breakdown between consumer design and Fine Art. This generation found its leader in John F. Kennedy, who launched us into the Space Age in May 1961. Three months earlier, JFK helped to build the popularity of James Bond by adding Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love to his top-ten list of books for Life magazine. Producers were already working to bring Bond to the big screen, and Ken Adam was busy creating the sets that would establish Bond's character in the larger-than-life world of rockets and of evil villains worthy of Kennedy's era. The British public was introduced to Adam's visual style for 007 in an October 1962 premiere, followed by a US premiere in May 1963. It was the launch of a new look and feel for entertainment that embodied the times as much as Hefner's Playboy and the arrival of The Beatles (UK/Jan 1963, US/Feb 1964). 

Ken Adam went on to design many Bond films and now-famous sets, including one of the ultimate pads- Goldfinger’s transforming rumpus room. Other notable sets include Spectre HQ (Thunderball), the War Room (Dr. Strangelove), Blofeld’s volcano missile base (You Only Live Twice), and his Oscar-nominated Atlantis (The Spy Who Loved Me). Adam was also the visionary behind many iconic spy props, including the Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger) with its lethal accessories. 

Repeated and parodied for forty years, Ken Adam's mixture of expressionism, modern-minimal and high-tech gadgetry remains an irresistible cocktail and defines Spy Vibe design. With the growing baby-boomer generation buying movie tickets, designers that followed Adam added extra doses of grooviness, producing memorable sets for films like Danger Diabolik, Our Man Flint, and Barbarella. The sets elicit visions of Cold War culture- Playboy, the sexual revolution, the Space Race, and the merging of Fine Art and consumer culture. Where the bachelor pads of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies of the 1950s were left behind for marriage and domesticity at the end of the films, the Pads and Lairs of the 1960s spies endured as focus on the individual became more accepted. The hero of the 1960s could not be so easily tamed. Dr. No was killed, but another baddie would always emerge from under a new rock. "The End, but James Bond Will Return." Spy Vibe will continue this discussion with a look at the most memorable sets and design trends of the 1960s.
Sketches Copyright by Ken Adam (Ken Adam Designs the Movies)

SPY VIBE ESSENTIALSKen Adam Designs the Movies by Ken Adam
Ken Adam: Art of Production Design by Ken Adam
Pad by Matt Maranian
Pad Parties by Matt Maranian
Our Man Flint/In Like Flint soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith
Mondo Exotica by Francesco Adinolfi
Bachelor Style by Sally Griffiths
Tiki Modern by Sven Kirsten
Mid-Century Modern by Cara Greenberg
Shag: The Art of Josh Angle by Colin Berry


agent LEE is the Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine and author/co-author of numerous books about the cinema, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classic Movies 1915-1969, The Great Fox War Movies, The Essential James Bond, The Films of Clint Eastwood, The Films of Harrison Ford, The John Wayne Scrapbook, The Ultimate Clint Eastwood Trivia Book, and The Incredible World of OO7. He co-produced the acclaimed documentaries The Making of Goldfinger, The Making of Thunderball and the Inside Dr. Stranglelove for DVD release, as well as the audio commentary track with director Sidney Lumet for The Verdict. Lee is the creator/host of the acclaimed "Let's Bond in Britain" tours of James Bond film locations. Check below and on the PRIZES page of for a Cinema Retro Give-away this month!

1. The volcano set from You Only Live Twice- the all around granddaddy of spectacular spy sets and one that was described of being worthy of display at a world's fair. Amazingly, Ken Adam did not receive an Oscar nomination in 1967 for this production design - but the living room set for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner did!

2. The Fort Knox set from Goldfinger- Another Ken Adam masterpiece. When denied access to the real Fort Knox, Adam let his imagine go wild and gave producer Cubby Broccoli the "cathedral of gold" he wanted. Adam later reflected that it was probably best that he never saw the inside of Fort Knox, as it was probably boring and uninspiring. Adam was also ignored by The Academy for this classic film set.

3. The Liparus tanker set from The Spy Who Loved Me- Ken Adam again (ho-hum), this time with his protégé and successor on the Bond series, Peter Lamont, finally nabbing an Oscar nomination for this huge set which was constructed within the enormous 007 Stage at Pinewood - which was built specifically for this one film. The stage went on to host any number of other major film productions over the decades, even though it has had to be rebuilt twice due to fire damage.

4. The casino complex in Casino Royale (1967)- This is the Whistler's Father of Bond films- generally disdained and ignored because its satiric content alienated serious 007 fans. However, lost in the criticism was the fact that production designer Michael Stringer came up with a terrific series of sets comprising the actual casino where the madcap finale takes place, as well as the underlying complex of psychedelic-themed rooms. No matter what you think of the film itself, this is a wonderful artistic achievement that helped inspire the look of the Austin Powers films.

5. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. HQ- I include this because its simplistic and unashamedly ridiculous premise has withstood the test of time and has become an iconic aspect of the 1960s spy mania. U.N.C.L.E. HQ is located in a giant skyscraper in New York, but the only entrance we ever see is through a dressing room in Del Floria's tailor shop. An agent walks into the dressing room, closes the curtain and adjusts a clothing hanger/hook that opens the wall and allows entrance into the skyscraper. One question never addressed in the series is how hundreds of employees all enter and leave this small tailor shop at the same time every day without arousing attention!

There are plenty of others worthy of inclusion - including just about any major set piece found in the Bond films, especially Peter Lamont's ice palace in Die Another Day. Unfortunately, this rather poor entry in the 007 series did not capitalize on the set. It was photographed via angles that gave very little indication of how spectacular it really looked when constructed at Pinewood Studios. Other worthy mentions include the wonderfully cheesy sets from the Our Man Flint and Matt Helm films and the grim, frightening set pieces used by Ken Adam in The Ipcress File. -Lee Pfeiffer

JEREMY DUNS: OUR MAN IN SWEDENagent JEREMY was born in 1973 and lives in Sweden with his wife, kids, and massive collection of vintage spy thrillers. His first novel, Free Agent, set in Nigeria in 1969, will be published by Simon & Schuster in the UK on May 5 and by Viking Penguin in the US on June 25. It's the first in a trilogy featuring British double agent Paul Dark and has been praised by David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Eric Van Lustbader, Christopher Reich and Jeff Abbott. Jeremy's picks from #1-5:

1. DR NO (1962). Ursula Andress' bikini-clad introduction is the most iconic moment in the film - perhaps in the whole of the Bond series, perhaps in the whole of spy cinema - but Ken Adam's sets, from the low-ceilinged ante-rooms of No's lair to the oriental elegance of Miss Taro's bachelorette pad to the strangely-angled cell Bond must escape from, gave the film a sleek claustrophobic sheen.
2. THE IPCRESS FILE (1965). Ken Adam again, and more peculiar angles. But despite Palmer's own bachelor pad tendencies, the effect here is less glamorous than in the Bond films - and the disused warehouse would never be the same again.

3. BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967). This was probably the weakest of the Harry Palmer films (the originals, I mean – not the later ones!), but it had great Syd Cain sets, from the banks of computers of the title to the swinging furniture in Finland.

4. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969). Syd Cain again, and almost as snowy as Billion Dollar Brain. The sets are less extravagant, and perhaps less obviously ‘Bond’ than even Billion Dollar Brain, but they are nevertheless rich, atmospheric and perfectly suited to the story, from Blofeld’s groovy mountain clinic-cum-fortress Piz Gloria to the magnificent casino that James Bond (George Lazenby) walks through early in the film. It helps that the film itself is terrific.

5. A DANDY IN ASPIC (1966). Another of the lesser known British Sixties spy flicks, starring Laurence Harvey as double agent Alexander Eberlin – both this and Derek Marlowe’s novel, from which it was adapted, were major influences for me. The film has its problems but I find the look and atmosphere of it compelling, from a firing range to a military airfield. There’s a haunting scene as Eberlin walks around the tiny London flat of his burned-out, drug-addicted handler Pavel (Per Oscarsson): as he squeezes past lampshades and picks up a photograph of Pavel’s wife back in Russia, the bleak life of a spy hits home.


Agent ARMSTRONG is the creator of Mister 8, a spy blog and web comic site. If you have not discovered Mister 8, it is a fantastic place to explore scans of rare spy comics, music, and great coverage of classic spy literature, film, and television. Armstrong's Set List:

Like Jason, I'm a big fan of mid-century modern design and architecture, and, like him, I think that love will color my list. My wife and I have just purchased our first house, and wherever possible, I'm trying to let the designs of the Eameses, Saarinen, Knoll and others influence our decor (while at the same time avoiding Ikea). It's not easy, however, because those sorts of things are expensive, the ones that are affordable aren't comfortable, and the style didn't seem to be in vogue around here, judging from the number of colonial and mountain rustic furniture for sale on Craigslist.

I'm hoping to cut loose in Mister 8 though, if my art skills are up to snuff (in other words, don't take this as a promise!), and the following are amongst the top bits of film architecture and design from which I'll be drawing ideas. Inevitably, there will be some crossover with lists that may appear here. I've told Jason that I suspect one particular set will appear on everyone's list, unless they're the type of person who avoids the obvious choice because it's too obvious. I'm not that person, because I love ninjas and rocket ships and volcanoes, and mixing the three is like creating my vision of Heaven on the screen. According to my list, 1967 seems to have been the greatest year of ALL TIME. Or at least the best looking.

5. The President's Analyst (1967) - The Phone Company HQ [Production design: Pato Guzman; Art decoration: Hal Pereira, Al Roelofs; Set decoration: Robert R. Benton, Arthur Krams] SPOILER ALERT! The President's Analyst is a surprisingly biting, still relevant satire with visual design grounded in the psychedelic 60s. The set I've chosen from the film comes from the sort-of payoff scene, where the titular analyst, Dr. Sidney Schaefer (Coburn), learns that the shadowy organization responsible for his kidnapping is the The Phone Company. He's brought, phone booth and all, into the heart of TPC headquarters, an Adamsesque rotating room with blinking light panels, floating neon abstract symbols, and a man at a control panel who turns out to be, as Geoffrey Cambridge points out, a "recording." The set succeeds because it amplifies the satirical commentary that has transformed our utility company into a SPECTRE-esque evil cabal bent on taking over the world (Their plan? Inserting tiny phone receivers into the brain. One wonders if, after Schaefer stops this plot, the Phone Company robots got together and realized they needed an intermediary step: cell phones). This idea of the fear of foreign matters destroying the country, while bigger domestic problems were hiding was understandable in the context of the late 60s, with Vietnam and civil rights and protests in the streets, and with our current financial crisis, as I said, it remains relevant today.

One of the more interesting things about the set is that when Schaefer is rescued by the CIA and KGB agent working together (not through any sort of patriotism or sense of duty -- he's treating both of them and without him, they feel they'd go crazy), the two shut the power off. And so we get to see the set without the special lighting, the blinking neon, and see it in its plain grey, hard metal state. When I went to Disney World last summer, we got to be inside of Space Mountain while they had the lights on to check the track. It was a similar experience watching President's Analyst, sort of seeing behind the magic. It makes you appreciate the work of the filmmakers even more.

4. The Prisoner (1967) - Portmeirion / The Green Dome [Art direction: Jack Shampan; Art department: Ken Bridgeman, John Lageu; Portmeirion designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis] There's something about the town of Portmeirion that makes it the perfect setting for the Village, the way it almost seems like a normal place, but the angles and curves, the bright colors, the arches, the miles of steps, the stone boat, and the way the buildings seem to rise from in between the foliage knock that view of normalcy askew. For the Prisoner to work, the Village must appear to be, on the surface, an ideal place to retire. Were it hell, then Number Six's refusal to play along would seem less heroic. But to be offered life in a beautiful Mediterranean villa, with food and tea, and music, and life-sized chess, without having to work to pay for it (why did some Villagers have jobs, for instance, the waitresses or the operator of the general store?)...and then to turn it down because of scruples? At this point in my life, I might abandon my scruples if it meant never having to shovel snow again.

The interior sets of the Prisoner were equally interesting -- among my favorites are Number Six's cottage home, and the gymnasium where the trampoline-swordfight-over-the-swimming-pool game was played. By far, however, the best interior set is the inside of the Green Dome, both the minimalist office of Number Two, with its Aarnio-influenced egg chair and clinical lighting; and the control room, where unnamed watchers rotated on a giant industrial see-saw, constantly peering at monitoring equipment while the electronic eye, reminiscent of the CBS logo (which broadcast the Prisoner in the U.S.), revolves slowly around the room. 

3. Danger Diabolik 
(1968, though I'm sure filming began in 1967) - The Diabolik Cave [Art Direction: Flavio Mogherini] Danger Diabolik set out to make the ultimate headquarters, and it would've succeeded too, if Ken Adams hadn't already achieved perfection with You Only Live Twice (see #2). Still, the Diabolik Cave is a wonder to behold. Batman would watch this film, as the Jaguar XKE pulls into the vastness of the underground lair, and feel as though the Batcave were a one-room flat. The Diabolik Cave, if Diabolik were ever captured, would become a national monument and visitors would flock to the gift shops to send their friends and family back home postcards of the experience.
I fully expect that host Jason will name this as his top choice (as of this writing, he's only up to #4 on his own list) and so I won't go into my appreciation too much here. But let me highlight my two favorite things: (1) the ultra-modern semi-transparent circles that hang in the shower to obscure the naughty bits and (2) the rotating bed. Sure, you might say, you've seen rotating beds before in these kinds of films. But have you ever seen a rotating bed so vast that you could park a Cessna on it and still probably have room for an orgy? Danger Diabolik takes your concept of a rotating bed and turns it into a cheap feather pillow. Take that!

2. You Only Live Twice (1967) - Blofeld's Volcano Lair [Production design: Ken Adams; Art direction: Harry Pottle; Set Decoration: David Ffolkes] Only number two? I know, I know, I said this was my idea of Heaven, but the top spot on this list goes to a film whose sets, more than any other, define the ideal of the 60s-modern film set. Still: this film literally set the standard, so that the words "volcano lair" are understood universally, like the choking symbol or the double wink and the elbow nudge. And as I said before, there's plenty to love about this volcano lair, from the fake lava retractable roof, to the monorail system, to the potential for ninjas to swing down on ropes with machine guns. What works best here for me is the mix of the organic and the industrial, the bare rock face almost indistinguishably fading into the concrete and metal. Also: sometimes there's a rocket ship.
1. Casino Royale (1967) - Pretty much the whole damned thing, but at least the last two-thirds. [Production design: Michael Stringer; Art Direction: Ivor Beddoes, Lionel Couch, John Howell; Visual Effects (matte painting): Les Bowie]  If you're not a fan of Casino Royale, (David of Permission to Kill), I suggest that you stop reading, put the film in your DVD player, and fast forward to 48:30. Watch this slow motion pan as the beautiful Ursula Andress leads Peter Sellers through her foyer, past the tank of fish who seem to be floating like balloons. Skip ahead to 51:55, and watch Ursula spin and jump on the circular pink bed in front of 180 degrees of floor-to-ceiling mirrors while feathers fill the air around her.

Now jump to 1:05:24, to the school where Mata Hari developed her talents, with sharp angles and planes that evoke the best of German Expressionism. The school houses the monochromatic decoder room seen at 1:11:05, with that wonderful sharp sans serif A anchoring the set. There's plenty to be seen in between, but I also especially like the "fingerprint" room at 1:51:05; Dr. Noah's lair at 1:51:30, with its goldbrick chairs that evoke Goldfinger and the plastic-wrapped art pieces that line the area in front of the desk; his flesh-colored inner sanctum at 1:53:51, lined with shapes and objects with which Freudians could have a field day; and of course the closing sequence where the regal titular casino is home to an extended fistfight between cowboys, indians, paratroopers, gangsters and French policemen.

If you're watching Casino Royale for some sort of plot or characterization, you're going about things all wrong. This is pure visual spectacle, a satirical time capsule of an era now long gone... Or maybe I just like watching Ursula Andress do things in slow motion. Can you blame me?

[The stylized sets of Casino Royale almost made it into the Spy Vibe top-10. I think I balked because of the storytelling... but Armstrong has a great point. Some segments are visually stunning! -Jason]

ROGER LANGLEY: OUR MAN IN ENGLAND Spy Vibe continues to celebrate great spy production design with a Guest Set List from author and Six of One/Prisoner Appreciation Society's "number one," Roger Langley! Roger Langley is author of the biography “Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner?” which is available from Amazon, major booksellers, and direct from the publisher. Roger also has currently a book of fiction “The Prisoner Trilogy” available here. Radio interviews with Roger can be heard at and he, along with his wife Karen - who he met in Portmeirion, the Prisoner filming location - assists with the appreciation society based around the series, called Six of One, which you can join online. Six of One’s annual convention takes place in Portmeirion over the weekend of 27-29 March 2009 (next is 16-18 April, 2010). More information at Roger’s convention site.


1. The Quiller Memorandum (1966) - only full CinemaScope viewing properly presents this stylish film, benefiting from John Barry’s underlying score. This is especially so with the scene set inside the enormous stadium built by Hitler for the 1936 Olympics. Quiller is a sharp-looking sixties’ movie, using Berlin to good effect. The city is bustling and clean cut by day, with sinister events at night, literally revealing its dark Neo-Nazi element. George Segal is perfect in the lead. His style in the movie is mirrored on TV by Richard Bradford as McGill, in the series “Man in a Suitcase”. Add in Alec Guinness, Max von Sydow, Senta Berger and George Sanders, to make up a cast as good as the beautifully filmed surroundings and locations.

2. The Ipcress File (1965) - this groundbreaking movie has plenty of London locations: St. James's Park, Marble Arch, Whitehall, Westminster, Royal Albert Hall, Scotland Yard, Trafalgar Square, to name just some of them. A few have appearances in common with TV’s “The Prisoner”, including the underground car park (along with Guy Doleman as the spy boss in the film, who was also No. 2 ‘in the Village’). A strong cast is assembled with Michael Caine excellent in the lead, Nigel Green, Sue Lloyd and Gordon Jackson.

3. From Russia With Love (1963) - the train sequences on the Orient Express, take us from Istanbul to Venice. Robert Shaw is aboard as the menacing Red Grant. The moving setting provides tight and restricted surroundings, offering a backdrop - along with exterior views through carriage windows - for some excellent, action-packed scenes. As with Quiller, mentioned above, the ‘Cold War’ atmosphere is conveyed well. Shaw is perfect as the trained, icy assassin, enjoying curt exchanges with James Bond (Sean Connery).

4. The Deadly Affair (1966) - the cast of James Mason, Simone Signoret, Maximillian Schell, Harry Andrews, Kenneth Haigh and others bring class to this yet one more ‘Cold War’ drama. The film received several BAFTA nominations and the cast is top notch. London places again make up the ‘set’ and there are Chelsea and Clapham locations, as well as central St. James’s Park. The spy genre seems to allow any slowness of plot to build up suspense and everyday locations provide realism, as well as allowing us to identify with the characters, as we also recognize familiar streets and buildings.

5. The Tamarind Seed (1974) - this underrated movie - again with a John Barry score - holds attention until the very end, in order to find out whether Omar Sharif is a double agent. Shooting took place in Barbados and also Paris, but the London locations provide the perfect background for anonymous characters and the promise of action in far more exotic locations. In one scene, the camera is pointed at a tiger in a cage in the park and as the animal walks round it neatly reveals Julie Andrews and Anthony Quayle. The following airport scenes are exciting and throughout the film the contrast of the big cities with the tropical island provide excellent visual contrasts. Sylvia Syms, Oskar Homolka (his last film) and Bryan Marshall make up a strong cast and Les Crawford, a KGB agent, was always Roger Moore’s double in the days of TV’s “The Saint”.

A heartfelt Thank You to Roger for sharing his list. Roger is currently in Portmeirion, where The Prisoner was filmed. Check out his websites for more information about how to join him on a tour in the future.


agent DAVID lives in Melbourne, Australia, which has often been surmised is the birthplace of the evil organization THRUSH. Melbourne has a population of 3.74 million people of which David is now considered the city’s 3,729,845th most dangerous man (and potential recruit for said evil organization). He spends his time working as a low rent Graphic Designer and writing reviews for Teleport City and his Spy Blog Permission To Kill.

1. For me, as the ultimate spy film set, I cannot go past the hollowed out volcano in You Only Live Twice. I know that Ken Adam laid the groundwork for this marvel with his work on previous Bond films, but this one has it all – Rocket Launch Pads, Heliports, Crater Guns, and most importantly ‘Swank’ living quarters out the back. An area where Blofeld can kick back with a few close friends, and sink a few balloons of brandy. And if the evening doesn’t go well, he can always feed his guests to the piranha fish in the pond.

2. This next choice may be a little controversial (not really). I am going to select Syd Cain’s underwater villains lair from the film The Road To Hong Kong. The film was released a good four months before Dr. No and Cain’s underwater lair for The Third Echelon, and gizmo’s that go with it, are quite visionary. Of course, Cain would later go on to contribute to the Bond series. The controversial bit is – did Cain see the Bond designs prior to his work on The Road To Hong Kong – after all he did work under Ken Adam on Dr. No?

3. Eurospy films generally had pretty poor villains lairs, or bachelor pads for their leading men. Producer Dino De Laurentis threw a little bit more money at his films than many other Italian producers, and that’s why I have chosen Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die. The villain’s lair is pretty spectacular – predominantly red and silver -almost comic book style. The production designer was Mario Garbuglia – who would later work on Barbarella. Many people consider this film as the inspiration for Moonraker.

4. The spy films from Shaw Brothers Hong Kong Studio generally had excellent lairs to house their villains in, and I could have picked any one of quite a few. Both ‘Angel’ films had great lairs – the first having fantastic circular corridors which mimicked the Bond gunbarrel logo. But I am going to pick an undersea lair once again – and the film is The Golden Buddha. I don’t know who the production designer was, but the lair was colourful and dynamic with traps set into the floor, bullet proof glass shields, and housed a bizarre ‘sound laser gadget’ (?) which came across as an evil aberration of the laser that Goldfinger threatened Bond with.

5. And finally, for across the board swanky coolness, how could I go past Modesty Blaise? Yeah, the film is garbage, but it looks absolutely fantastic. The mod, op art sets are out of this world, man! I am not sure who was responsible for what, but the Production Designer was Richard Macdonald, and the Art Director was Jack Shampan.


agent WESLEY (that's Dr. Agent) is a professor and widely published author of many books about the history and cultural context of espionage fiction in literature, film, and television, including The Encyclopedia of TV Spies, Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film, and Spy Television. Wesley also served as a media consultant to the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. More information, interviews, and resources can be found on Spywise and The Spy Report. Click images for larger view.

When Jason asked me to pick my favorite spy sets from times past, I had to sit back and ponder. It wouldn’t be much fun to repeat the obvious—that Ken Adams James Bond work was the most creative and innovative in the genre. Any “Best of” list would also have to include scenes from the master of set-pieces—the very special settings in virtually every Alfred Hitchcock spy classic. If I were to include the best of the best, I’d be repeating what so many lists have already pointed out before. So, in honor of my new Encyclopedia of TV Spies, I thought I’d stick to television. The first four were easy—the fifth was the tough one.

1. The North Wales town of Portmeirion. First used in 3 episodes of Danger Man, and then for all the exteriors for The Prisoner, no setting became more associated with any spy series. Surrounded by sea and mountains, the geography around the resort helped show Number Six was indeed trapped in the “Village.” All the unusual architectural styles of the buildings allowed for different locations to be shot in both of the classic Patrick Mcgoohan series. No other setting can be visited year after year, even hosting conventions drawing fans to the actual place where a series had been filmed.

2. The New York U.N.C.L.E. HQ. Like the Starship Enterprise, the MFU HQ was virtually a character itself throughout the series. True, not one set by itself but rather a combination of many on the MGM lot, still the flavor of MFU was established in those opening shots of the brownstone exteriors, the walk through Del Floria’s tailor shop, the secret entrance in the changing booth . . . and then we were in what one character described as a “chrome metal madhouse.” Swooshing automatic doors, Mr. Waverly’s revolving table, computers lining the hallways . . . the atmosphere gave depth and style to what U.N.C.L.E. was all about. We saw it behind-the-scenes in “The Mad Mad Tea Party Affair,” “The Birds and Bees Affair” --the baddies from THRUSH were always trying nefarious ways to get inside. Somewhere out there, there are two issues of Files magazine devoted to the technical specs of this building. Deservedly so.

3. The Wanderer.” When The Wild Wild West went into production, CBS became alarmed at the expenses incurred by producer Michael Garrison. In particular, he spent $35000 for the second “Wanderer” set designed for the color seasons. This special train consisted of a coach car with the trademark trick pool table, kitchen, laboratory, and gunroom decorated in green and gold. Guns were hidden in every nook and cranny, and a telegraph machine was hidden to receive messages from the President. A wonderful place to entertain the ladies—I’d love one myself!

4. “The Aurora.” I can hear it now—huh? What’s an “Aurora”? If you don’t know, that means you missed one of the best and most neglected spy series ever conceived. Here’s a bit from my article on it from my Encyclopedia:

The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (Sci Fi Channel) June 18—Dec. 16, 2000 Created by producer Gavin Scott in 1999, Secret Adventures was the first all-digitally produced television series ever made. Scott’s premise was that science fiction writer Jules Verne's classic tales were not created out of whole cloth from the writer's imagination, but were instead inspired by his own wild adventures as a youth, later fictionalized as stories. Set in the 1860s, the young Bohemian writer Jules Verne (Chris Demetral) was drawn into the war against the League of Darkness, an aristocratic organization wishing to retain power for the rich and nobly born by stirring up wars because peace promotes democracy. Verne’s compatriots included the cynical gambler Phileas Fogg (Michael Praed), the son of Sir Boniface Fogg, the deceased creator of the British Secret Service.  His cousin was Rebecca Fogg (Francesca Hunt), the very Emma Peel-like leather-clad first woman secret agent for the service. Rebecca idolized her late uncle, while Phileas remained angry his father sent his brother, Eurasmus, to his death on a secret mission. Phileas’ multi-talented manservant, Passeparcout (Michel Courtemanche), brought Verne’s scientific ideas to life in his lab on the fantastic airship, “Aurora.” Fogg won this dirigible in a Montreal card game rigged by the British government to have him involved in saving the Empire from various threats. This group’s adventures included destroying a giant mole machine designed to assassinate Queen Victoria, defeating a madman’s attempt to take over the world with rocket-powered vampires, going back in time to reunite the Three Musketeers, helping the Union army during the Civil War, assisting a young Thomas Edison who’s invented a new tank, fighting Jesse James and his gang who’ve taken over the “Aurora,” and stopping the evil Count Gregory from stealing the Holy Grail in another dimension. My item on the show is much longer than this extract, including a description of the incredible studio built to accommodate all the then cutting-edge effects in this nugget. This show was one of my favorites and it’s a crime it’s not on DVD.

5. Now the tough one. I think of the apartments of John Steed and Emma Peel—we saw them so often that we learned much about the taste and style of these two agents as they kept dropping in on each other in nearly every episode. I think of Maxwell Smart’s long hallway of opening and falling doors and the phone booth in the rear. The “cone of silence” wasn’t so much a set as a prop. How about the lab where Steve Austin was rebuilt—we saw it again and again all those years? CTU headquarters? All iconic images. So I’ll end with one I’ve never seen.

Apparently, a British series, Spycatcher (BBC) Sept. 3, 1959—April 16, 1961) was based on the wartime exploits of actual counter-espionage chief Lt.-Col. Oreste Pinto (played by Bernard Archard). The set? Each episode was set in only one room with one table and two chairs in which Pinto interrogated possible Nazi agents. The half-hour dramas were all about the scripts, acting, and Pinto’s mental skills, including unnerving one agent by using Hitler’s face as a dartboard. Doesn’t sound like much, set-wise, but I’m intrigued by the idea of such simplicity. Week after week, one room, two people, and nothing more. It doesn’t take massive volcanoes to give us an effective stage for spy stories.


agent MATTHEW may be best known in this circle as Tanner, founder of the excellent Spy Blog Double O Section. He is also the co-writer of the comic book Night & Fog from Studio 407. Matthew's picks:

5. Life-size chessboard from Deadlier Than the Male

4. Diabolik's lair from Danger: Diabolik
3. Gabriel's pad from Modesty Blaise

2. House interiors from Avengers episode "The Joker"
1. ...and #1 has to be... the Volcano Base from You Only Live Twice

And 10 Honorable Mentions:
Modesty's pad from Modesty Blaise
Chess tournament room from From Russia With Love
Villain's game room from Avengers episode "Game"
Casino from On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Villain's lighthouse base from Prisoner episode "The Girl Who Was Death" Psychedelic corridor from Casino Royale
Checkpoint Charlie from The Spy Who Came In From the Cold
Brain Room from Billion Dollar Brain
Goldfinger's laser table room
Thunderball agent briefing room

OUR MAN IN VERMONT: STEVE BISSETTE agent STEVE is a widely published artist and writer. Steve's many projects and collaborations include such names as Swamp Thing, Tyrant, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Fangoria, Video Watchdog, and the fantastic Center For Cartoon Studies. One of his DVD contributions is the must-see documentary on the Danger Diabolik disc! As a fellow film programmer, Steve has a knack for finding unusual and rare treasures, often with an eye toward social commentary and the macabre:
First of all, understand that Jason already listed my favorites, really. And yes, DIABOLIK would have been my #1 choice, hands down. Barring that: 

 -- I could list all my personal fave episodes and setpieces, but what's the point? Of all the '60s TV spy shows, this was the most fun week after week, boasting some of the neatest sets (despite tight studio time and budget constraints) thanks to its merger of 1890s western motifs with futuristic, at times horrific (the man-sized puppet gallery!) sets and production design.

KUROTOKAGE/BLACK LIZARD (1968) -- Is this a '60s spy movie? It is to me -- and a heist/caper/detective/transsexual love story capped with a finale out of MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM/HOUSE OF WAX/MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN! Director Kinji Fukasaku's delirious screen adaptation (mutation) of Rampo Edogawa's novel and Yukio Mishima's stage version of same is a visual feast, as much for its bizarre settings as for its setpieces. It was terrific on the big screen (I was lucky enough to catch its 1990s Cinevista US release), but home theater doesn't dilute its whacked power. Above all, the 'wax museum' in which the blurred-gender jewel thief Black Lizard (played by famed Kabuki theater transvestite star Akihiro Miwa) preserves her/his past conquests sticks in my mind -- perhaps because Mishima himself is among the 'frozen' lovers? 

CRACK IN THE WORLD -- Vet production designer/set dresser/director (though he did not direct this film) Eugene Lourie's design for the subterranean complex scientist Dana Andrews heads in this imaginative 1963 doomsday sleeper has always been among my personal favorites. No espionage, per se, but -- ah, what the hell. I'm counting it anyway. 

THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN -- Jerry Warren. Jerry Warren. Jerry Warren. Jerry Warren. The Batwoman's lab/lair may be the single most impoverished 'spy headquarters' in film history, and that's quite an accomplishment when you think for a nanosecond about the utter paucity of means brought to some of the '60s spy knock-offs. Thus, it is burned into my brainpan with indelible clarity. I thought of it instantly when Jason suggest this list. I fought it, really, I did. But damn it, here it is. Jerry Warren. Jerry Warren. Jerry Warren... 

THE PRISONER -- Per Patrick McGoohan's own account, it was 'The Village' itself that spawned the entire series when Portmeirion (Gwynedd, in Wales) was used as a location for a single episode of DANGER MAN/SECRET AGENT. It took a couple of years to gestate, but the Village remains the heart of the best spy media creation of the decade. There's no more iconic, evocative or haunting locale in the whole of '60s pop culture. It has come to embody the allegorical 'everyplace' in which we find ourselves so comfortably, complacently self-imprisoned, hasn't it?


The Silencers (1966) bachelor pad. Art Director/Joseph Wright (Guys and Dolls), Set Decorator/George Nelson (Godfather Part 2). In the first Matt Helm film, Dean Martin is introduced on a large revolving bed, which rolls him out of the room… and then tips him into a massive bubble bath (complete with awaiting companion)! Helm yawns and stretches his way through this luxurious experience. This is just a normal morning for him. Although many of the interiors lack such memorable elements, this initial use of gadgetry for relaxation (and womanizing) is an interesting way to establish his character as a cocktail-loving Photographer/Spy, and echoes the man-of-leisure culture promoted by Playboy. It’s humorous today to think that a romantic tryst could be ignited by the sheer grooviness of one’s apartment, but that’s an essential element to this genre of fantasy adventure- and part of the fun! Revolving beds show up again and again in films such as Casino Royale, Danger Diabolik, A Flea in Her Ear, and spoofed in Austin Powers. Like waterbeds in the 70s-80s, revolving beds stayed frozen in time as a major symbol of the 1960’s bachelor pad- until now! The Lazy Susan bed has become a new trend among min-century modern enthusiasts. A number of Italian designers are selling well in Los Angeles. Read the LA Times article here. Helm's car is a mini-version of his apartment, sans bath, but complete with hide-a-way bed and gadget-like cocktail bar. As Bond would say, "for our man to stop for a quick one en route."

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-1968). Art Director/Bob Bell (Thunderbirds, UFO), Production Designer/Keith Wilson (Joe 90, UFO). Though not strictly a "spy" program, Captain Scarlet made use of fantastic Sci-Spy aesthetics and technology. Woven into the story was a double agent, Captian Black, who (like Scarlet in the first episode) is a double agent working against the Earthlings. As with most of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s productions, Captain Scarlet just pops off the screen with Spy Vibe colors and gadgetry. Dealing with puppets and futuristic themes, the team invented fantastic technology to move our heroes around by all manner of secret shoots, conveyor belts, trap doors, and elevators- conventions that will be familiar to fans of the Wallace and Gromit films. Spectrum HQ is a floating sky-base with vast windows, pop art colors, computer and microphone consoles, and a hip lounge where the super model jet pilots hang out! They always seem to be browsing through interesting magazines and chilling to the catchy organ music of Barry Gray. But when the alarm sounds, these groovy agents rise up through the ceiling into their planes for immediate take-off.

All of Gerry Anderson’s shows share this great sense of inventiveness, adventure, and style, and the numerous exterior and interior sets for Scarlet were a highlight of Anderson's career. With the exception of UFO and Space 1999, he mostly produced shows with miniatures and puppets, so extra points go to the teams of artists that put so much attention to every detail on screen to make the stories come alive. Captain Scarlet saw the introduction of a more high-tech puppet style with more proportionate designs compared to earlier shows like Thunderbirds. Here are some interiors. Our agent at Design Within Reach has identified the chair design as (most likely) based on Danish designers Preben and Jorgen Kastholm & Fabricius.

Dr. No (1962) Antechamber. Production Design by Ken Adam. Adam established the larger-than-life scale of the 007 adventures in his first Bond film. Like McGoohan’s "Prisoner" discovering that he has gone through the looking glass when he first meets Number Two, Professor Dent travels to a remote complex to confer with his master, Dr. No. The predictable world of blue sky and ocean is left behind for the irrational and ominous atmosphere of cinema's debut Bond villain. The antechamber, like Adam’s other designs, has an "ahead-of-contemporary" look, with a hint of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari in the spider web shadows cast by the domed, slanted skylight. It's an unforgettable scene; Dent walks in, dwarfed by the space- empty but for a tiny chair. Dr. No’s chilling command breaks the silence, “Sit down.” Movie-goers, like Dent, knew immediately that Bond was a new brand of larger-than-life adventure.

The Avengers (1962-1969). "The House That Jack Built" (1966). Art Director/Harry Pottle (You Only Live Twice, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). It was a time for fashion and design when Mod and Futurism met the Edwardian. The sets in The Avengers echoed these trends and added to the British charm of the show. The designers often used very little to imply the interior sets, creating a space between a foreground object and a simple set in the background. The Pop Art canvases and cartoony objet d’art that are sold now illustrate the enduring influence of The Avengers and of that period. Memorable highlights were the central hooded stove and seating area in Mrs. Peel's apartment and the view-glass in her door, which was visible as a giant eye-lashed eyeball.

In the episode, The House That Jack Built, the sets played a major role in the plot; A maniacal scientist out for revenge lures Mrs. Peel to an automated house with revolving rooms and corridors- a mixture of computer banks, Mod and Expressionist patterns, and playing card imagery- all designed to drive her insane and into a suicide cabinet. Even on the small budget, the production team constructed fantastic spaces that moved and created the illusion of an architectural labyrinth of doom. The walls could be lit differently from either side to create a variety of effects. The evil mastermind in the story has long-since died. His body is preserved within a glass case, leaving the house to run like a computerized Venus Flytrap. Art Director, Harry Pottle, left The Avengers to join Eon Productions (and Ken Adam) to work on the Bond film, You Only Live Twice.

The Prisoner (1967-1968). Art Director/Jack Shampan (Modesty Blaise, The Ladykillers), Set Dresser and future Art Director Ken Bridgeman (Billy Liar, Straw Dogs), Set Dresser/John Lageu (Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds). You know you have slipped into the quasi-Sci-Fi world of The Prisoner when Patrick McGoohan first walks inside from the resort town into the ominous, eerie lair of Number Two. This Ken Adam-worthy room sports a central globe chair in black surrounded by an assortment of sleek furniture that rises electronically from the floor. A massive screen lights the room with fluctuating patterns and sounds (like a giant lava lamp), and doubles as a Big Brother eye into secret files and into citizen's private lives. Brushed metal doors seal the room. The music cues help to define the chilling tone when McGoohan’s Number Six first enters this chamber in the episode, The Arrival, and remains one of the most unforgettable moments in Spy Vibe culture. Number Two's famous chair is based on the Ball Chair (see below), designed in 1963 by Finnish furniture designer Eero Aarnio and seen as a height of industrial design at the time.

The Control center in The Prisoner is another iconic set, sporting a giant screen, large electronic probes that look like eyeballs, and a rotating seesaw where observers peer into view screens that resemble mounted machine guns. From this room, the jailers of the Village keep a close watch on their citizens, and when needed, subdue or kill them with a large, floating white ball called Rover. These imaginative sets establish a Kafkaesque, 1984-like environment for the modern (and Mod) age.

The 10th Victim (1965). Production Designer/Piero Poletto (Eclipse, The Passenger), Set Decorator/Dario Micheli (The Last Emperor). Great care was taken to give The 10th Victim an ultra-futurist look. The main characters, victim and hunter in an institutionalized game of murder, have a stylized, fashion-world presence that reminds me of Besson's approach to The Fifth Element (1997). The style of the film owes much to Danish designer, Verner Panton, who introduced the world's first inflatable, transparent plastic furniture in 1960, and included Pop and Op-Art elements in his work.

A geometric, minimalist scheme defines most of the rooms in the film, often using an Op-Art-like contrast of black and white stripes or forms. Furniture that is not inflatable tends to be simple cubes- sometimes lit from within. The warmth and color present in many scenes are provided by Ursula Andress, who balances the high-graphic style of the architecture and of Mastroianni's monochromatic suits (more on the film's fashion in an upcoming article).

The 10th Victim also plays with Pop Art visuals. In Mastroianni's apartment, a gigantic eye in black glasses is framed on the wall. A display-style bookcase is filled with golden-age comic books. Cabinets in his country home, with walls of exposed concrete, sport high-fashion stills of underwear and models. The set also includes surreal elements with paper mache sculpture of figures (and creatures) inside and out, as well as a herd of sheep grazing in the yard! The visual world of The 10th Victim is very much a main character and highlight of watching the film. Its Spy Vibe aesthetic helps to establish and express the movie's themes of a high fashion, high-gloss society that views violence as entertainment (predating reality television by 30 years). Director Elio Petri managed to create both a satirical romp that captures a number of design and societal concepts that were colliding in 1965, and an ultra-cool action/adventure/comedy with unforgettable style. (Special thanks to Tony Sison at Design Within Reach)

*Years after I published this, I was able to contribute to the Blu-ray edition of The 10th Victim. See Amazon & Blue Underground for more details. More 10th Victim on Spy Vibe from the search window and Labels menu.

Thunderball (1965) SPECTRE HQ. Production Designer/Ken Adam (Goldfinger, Dr. Strangelove), Art Director/Peter Murton (Goldfinger, Dr. Strangelove, The Ipcress File). Determined to expand on the traditional board room-style, Adam challenged himself to create the office lair of a calculating and deadly organization worthy of James Bond. Spoofed by Mike Meyers in Austin Powers, the room sports two rows of sleek chairs with microphone consoles and lamps. The "table" area resembles a fashion show runway, making the henchmen seem exposed and vulnerable. A large map covers the far wall. Overlooking the operation, and half-hidden by a frosted panel, sits Blofeld stroking his white cat. A few reports and unanswered questions later, the flick of a switch- and one fried baddie in a cloud of smoke and sizzle! And because evil geniuses tend to maintain decorum in social interactions, the chair quickly sinks into the floor to dispose of the untidy corpse. The meeting resumes. The vastness of the room echoes the far-reaching power of SPECTRE. They are ruthless, efficient, and faceless. We are in awe and know that Bond has his work cut out for him as Operation Thunderball commences. Baddie #2, Largo, enters the room through a sliding shelf and hidden metal door.

In celebration of the chain-of-doors concept, Spy Vibe will give away a Season One box set of GET SMART (1965)! Post a Thunderball or Get Smart memory in the comments section of the Spy Vibe blogsite under this posting, and a winner will be drawn at random on March 21, 2009. Don't need Get Smart? Post your memories anyway and let me know you're not in the drawing. [contest expired].

Our Man Flint (1966) In Like Flint (1967). Art Director/Jack Martin Smith (Planet of the Apes, Valley of the Dolls), Set Decorator/Raphael Bretton (Poseidon Adventure), Set Decorator/Walter Scott (Fantastic Voyage, Hello Dolly), Art Director/Dale Hennesy (Logan’s Run, Sleeper, Dirty Harry, Fantastic Voyage). Out of the elevator and into a thinking man’s penthouse apartment. The sets for the two Flint films offer much to discuss the attitudes of the times. Actress Jean Hale and historian Mary Corey called Coburn’s character the first metrosexual- a man who excels as an intellectual, artist, lover, foodie, sportsman, inventor, adventurer, scientist, and who, most importantly, can satisfy his companions emotionally. With his harem of female friends, he is a Spy Vibe version of Hugh Hefner. Flint embodies Hef’s credo that a Playboy be a “man who must see life not as a vale of tears, but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to pleasure, a man who- without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante- can live life to the hilt.” Though Hale and Corey see the pro-feminism elements in the Flint films, they point out that the movies had not quite caught up with the feminism movement. But Flint tries- breaking the hypnotic spell that holds his partners in sexual slavery by uttering the magic mantra, "You are not a pleasure unit!" The entrance to the pleasure quarters is a wonderful nod to the Mondrian Day Dress by Yves Saint Laurent, which saw its debut one year earlier in 1965.

Flint’s penthouse pad is a conglomeration of Playboy's apartment illustrations and has design schemes to fit different moods- all immediately changeable at the flick of a switch. Erotic paintings and sculptures revolve into the wall to be replaced with modern décor and canvases by Modern masters. The rooms are eclectic: futuristic gadgetry, military traditional, neo-classical- all shades of the male fantasy. An aperture monitors the front door to a clear security panel that rises electronically from a clear coffee table (shades of Lucas’ private screening room). The library area is like an editor's office, filled with books (that Flint wrote), and the patio sports a dolphin tank where Flint conducts his research for a Dolphin dictionary. He is the modern man!

The bad guys have it even better! Their vast evil lairs embody male fantasy and freedom that predates the Playboy Mansion (sorry, Hef!), which didn't start its Shangri-La renovations until 1971. The movie has ultra-stylized sets, including beauty salons, hot tub spas, a disco with go-go dancers, ancient Roman bacchanalia, a drive-in theater for backseat necking, cryogenic chambers, and an array of Space Aged labs, control rooms, and corridors. This pair of cult-classic spy adventures was produced with wit, care, and quintessential Spy Vibe cool.

You Only Live Twice (1967) Production Design by Ken Adam. Said to be the largest set ever constructed at the time in the UK, Blofeld’s lair built inside a Japanese volcano is so sensational and fantastic a concept that it has gone on to epitomize what every evil megalomaniac should aspire to. For the pilot flying overhead it looks like an innocent lake within the basin of an extinct volcano. But the water is an illusion! At the pull of a lever, the surface retracts into the mountain to reveal a secret rocket base, heliport, a network of monorails, and an ultra-modern office lair with a piranha pool (!) on one side and a lordly lounge setting on the other. Adams created a kind of Dr. No antechamber on a massive scale for this film, establishing that SPECTRE is a force to be reckoned with. These baddies have resources, and they are living like ants right under our noses. The secret volcano base is perhaps the most ostentatious example of Cold War paranoia in the Bond films, and a reference point for many future villains (including Mike Meyer's cartoony parody in Austin Powers). Though not my fave 007, the sets, gadgetry, and Japanese location all add up to a great Spy Vibe! Click images for larger view.

Additional points go to Adam's many additional designs for the film, including Osato's office (with ceiling machine guns and x-ray/TV monitors), a 2001-like plastic surgery lab, a Toyota GT200 with 2-way video communications, and Tanaka's office with trap-door chute and globe monitors. In "The Art of Bond" Adam writes, "I have to confess that one of my favourite sets ever was Tanaka's office. At the time, I was getting more minimalist, and I got the idea of a stainless-steel chute, with Bond sliding through it and landing on a very comfortable chair. I also decided not to have normal television screens but to have spherical monitors in copper instead." The Bond series began to take less from Fleming and more from this kind of larger-than-life, imaginative thinking. One can't deny that the scope and cool-factor of Adam's vision makes for a fun film experience- especially when attention to character and story is maintained.

A couple of cool, round TVs were released In Britain and Japan from 1969 into the early 1970s, including the "Orbitel" from Panasonic below. Master Design Agent Tony Sison from Design Within Reach spied the Oxford Chair in Tanaka's Office by Danish architect and designer, Arne Jacobsen, and the desk and cabinet by Danish designer Bodil Kjaer.

Each set piece illustrates Adam's signature contrast of sloping ceilings, triangles, circles, sleek modern furniture, and fun spy gadgetry. SPECTRE's aim to sabotage the space programs of the US and USSR allowed the team to highlight the white and silver, futuristic look that became iconic in design and fashion with the coverage of NASA and the Space Race. For all its spectacle, the film holds the designs fairly well within its story-telling. You Only Live Twice premiered in June 1967 and remains the template of Spy Vibe production design and spy-genre conventions.


Danger Diabolik (Mario Bava 1968) Underground Lair. Art Director/Flavio Mogherini (Satyricon, Mamma Roma, The Thief of Bagdad), Costume Designer/Production Designer (La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits, 8 1/2). Imagine clicking your garage door opener on a mountain road, engaging a giant clam-shell door, and driving into a series of electronic hatches and elevators down (deep deep down) to a cavernous lair that sports a fleet of E-type Jaguars, Sci-Fi gadgets, a Habitrail-like network of tubes and chambers, glass "see-through" showers, and a giant revolving bed with futuristic technology and television monitors. I’ll give you a moment to recover. You’re right- it’s simply the coolest pad any spy, criminal mastermind, or lounge cat could crave (they had me at Jaguars). Add Marisa Mell, John Phillip Law, and a score by Ennio Morricone to the mix and you can see why this Mario Bava cult classic jumps right to the #1 spot on the list. There are wonderful adventure conventions in the film, including a trap door... in an airplane!

The film is based on the popular Italian comic Diabolik, created in 1962 by two sisters from Milan. Diabolik is an anti-hero, a kind of Fantomas-meets-Golgo 13-meets 007 in a Sci-Spy crime adventure, and he is a great example of the European tradition of weaving adventure stories around master criminals-as-heroes. Comic and film maestro Steve Bissette suggests that this reflects a post-war skepticism of authority and a spirit of late-60s counter-culture. Where 007 works for queen and country, Diabolik relishes in high-stakes heists and acts of destruction against the state. His other passion is to enjoy a life of pleasure with his partner Eva. Celebration of the individual perhaps taken to the extreme, yet Diabolik remains empathetic and ultra-cool. One infamous scene shows Diabolik and Eva making love in piles of money on his giant revolving bed. As the detective mentions just before this image hits the screen, Diabolik has a use for the money that only a mind like his can conceive of:

The counter culture influenced not just the notion of the hero, but notions of aesthetics, lifestyle, and values. Somehow, I don't see the Rat Pack generation choosing a Lair like this. Designer Verner Panton is once again an influence. His "total environment" installation exhibits, such as Visiona (1968) and Visiona II (1970), were room constructions of fluid, organic forms. Here is Panton's design followed by Diabolik's vault room.

The sets have a fantastical feel of the late 1960s and the dynamics of a comic page. Originally given three million dollars to make the film, Bava stuck with his familiar bag of budget-conscious tricks to create one the greatest comic book adaptations in movie history for a mere... $400,000. Actor John Phillip Law recalls seeing most of the sets piled up in a corner of the studio. Steve Bissette adds, "Bava did it with collage of photos glued to glass! He was a magician! Bava really understood the magic of "the frame" as the essential cinematic illusion, and within that frame worked wonders." Like all of Bava's work, Danger Diabolik crackles with atmosphere, imagination, and sensuality. The director (a former cameraman himself) made great use of wide-angle lenses, forced perspective, mattes, and foreground design to create a stylized look- one which Video Watchdog founder, Tim Lucas, says shows "a fantastic view of the 1960s that only existed in the movies and in Playboy magazine perhaps." It's groovy, stylized, smart, sexy, and action-packed; I call it the Spy Vibe!

For more info about Danger Diabolik, see Steve Bissette's excellent documentary, "From Fumetti to Film" on the 2005 Paramount DVD release (which also features John Phillip Law and Roman Coppola), and this review from DVD Verdict.

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