It isn't exactly news that spy stories have made for a lot of movies over the years. But the American Movies Classics special "Hollywood Spies on Spies" sort of brings home the point.
The breezy hourlong documentary (Tuesday, 8 p.m.) gathers clips ranging from serious movies like "House on 92nd Street," "13 Rue Madeleine" and "Five Fingers" to the James Bond films to spoofs such as "Our Man Flint," "Casino Royale" and "Fathom."Providing the narration is Patrick Macnee, who's best known for playing sort of a spy himself -- the estimable Jonathan Steed on the long-running series "The Avengers." And, in a telephone interview with the Deseret News, Macnee said it was pretty easy work.
"I'm 77 years old," he said. "When you get to my age, you don't really need to work much. I'm fairly arthritic."
But he still has that marvelous voice, which adds an air of distinction to "Hollywood Spies on Spies." And he's somewhat brutally honest about the hour.
"I think they've missed the point in some ways," he said. "A spy is a spy is a spy, so to speak. . . . Spies have always been there. The old Charles Boyer films, 'Algiers,' all the wonderful things like 'Maltese Falcon.' Everybody was a spy in a back street in Tangier -- that's been going on since the beginning of time."
And Macnee isn't a fan of the most successful spy films of all time, the Bond series.
"No, I'm not," he said. "I think they're stories that aren't exactly realistic. I think the sadism is horrifying in them. I think female domination is not quite as bad as our president, but on the other hand is equally blatant. On the other hand, the books -- the James Bond books -- were fascinating."
As far as Macnee is concerned, Bond isn't really about acting.
"The spy genre came to fruition with the Bond films because it just came at the time where you could bring off these extraordinary and stunning special effects," he said.
And nothing annoys him more than reading that "The Avengers" was inspired by Bond.
"We, in fact, started 'The Avengers,' for what it's worth -- which wasn't a spy story anyway -- way before the Bond films hit the screen, but not before the books (were published)," he said. "And we did 'The Avengers' deliberately the opposite. We made a man who didn't use violence. I mean, the woman did all the work, so to speak. We invented a woman in a very sort of aggressive position.
"Whereas in the Bond films, everything is able to be mowed down by a gun. What's happening at the moment with children has become so outrageous and awful and is really revealing a sort of pattern of behavior of young people, which is a bit scary."
While there have been any number of successful James Bonds -- from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan -- only Macnee has successfully brought Steed to life. And the popularity of "The Avengers" series hasn't been hurt by the dreadful movie version, which starred Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, that was released last year.
"Fortunately, they made such a bad film," Macnee said. "They got it all wrong. . . . (Movie producer) Jerry Weintraub knows as much about 'The Avengers' as my shoe. And he took upon himself to bring out this film. And so, consequently, he messed it up, thank (goodness). As a result of which, our cassettes are selling even better than they would have done otherwise."
(Macnee, who owns 2 1/2 percent of the profits, went to court to stop the pirating of "The Avengers" -- poorly edited and bad quality videotapes were showing up in stores. Digitally remastered episodes have sold extremely well.)
And Macnee has an an explanation for the show's continued popularity some 38 years after it debuted on British television.
"It's a very simple reason. It's extremely good," he said. "We're thrilled that the show holds up as well as it seems to and is being bought as well as it is.
"I feel very justified and delighted in seeing after all these years that the show still works."
And he continues to be recognized as Steed.
"Everyday, everywhere. It seems odd because I'm old and fat now," he said with a laugh. "I've still got hair, but apart from that . . . It always surprises me."