Global Issues: Austria & Czech Republic/Case Reports/I Spy Returns

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Global Issues in TV Movie: I Spy Returns (1994)

I Spy Returns originally aired as a television reunion movie in 1994. It takes place 25 years after the original I Spy weekly TV series featuring Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott and Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson. In the original series, Scott and Robinson were the secret agents, but in this one, Scott’s daughter Nicole and Robinson’s son Ben are the agents. The young agents are sent to Vienna to protect a defecting Russian scientist and his wife, but their fathers follow them there to make sure they don’t get hurt.

Even though this is a post-cold war movie, the main globalization theme is the cold war spy business. It is about the battle to control access to sensitive information and technology which supposedly threatens national security. So it involves the CIA, the KGB, China, and some Russians.

The Russian couple come to Vienna from Hungary in a Russian-made hydrofoil that is owned by a Slovakian shipping company. Even today, a Slovak company runs a hydrofoil shuttle service up and down the Danube between Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, Hungary.

Other locations that the movie uses to suggest the multinational or international, if not global involvement of Vienna include places like: the Vienna International Airport (VIE), and the UNO City / Vienna International Center which is shown in the background as the young agents drive into town.

The original I Spy series which ran from 1965 to 1968 was a tongue-in-cheek adventure comedy. It was the first ever TV drama series with an African-American in a leading role. It was the first television series to be filmed mainly at international locations such as Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco. It was the first to use the buddy genre in which both men were equal, not one superior to the other. This reunion movie tries to capture the same playful banter between the Cosby and Culp characters.

The movie depicts Vienna as an historic place, a romantic and cosmopolitan place attracting tourists from around the world. There are several extended travelogue-like sequences: one through central Vienna, several chase scenes, that go through the Hofburg / the Imperial Hapsburg Palace which was capital of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, and Franziskanerkirche (the Franciscan Church dating from the 1600s).

The U.S. producers of I Spy Returns secured the cooperation of the City of Vienna, and financial support from the Vienna Film Financing Fund. They worked with two German- Austrian production companies, FILM-LINE GmbH and Neue Studio Film GmbH so most of the technical and production crew were local to Vienna.

What is the global significance or impact of this movie today?

The movie shows international tensions, conflicts and distrust continuing even after the end of the Cold War. We can ask whether these post-cold war conflicts truly continue, or are depictions that perpetuate an obsolete stereotype or fear of the Russians or the Chinese?

There is reference to Saddam Hussein in this movie, long before the U.S. made its case to invade Iraq in 2003.

With screening and security checks at all airports today, it is anachronistic to see someone pull out a pistol inside a gate area at the Vienna airport or any airport for that matter.

As a light comedy from the mid-90s, the depiction of global issues in this movie is probably not historically or factually based, but rather a literary device based on the stereotypes of Vienna’s image and unexamined beliefs about the post-cold-war international spy business.


New York Times Movie Reviews: