Boom Bang a Bang

With THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU heading our way, let’s dodge the “BOURNE meets INCEPTION” juggernaut by heading back in time

We have to refer to THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU as a Michael Relph-Basil Dearden film, because although Dearden directed, Relph not only produced as usual, but scripted (from an unfinished Jack London novel) and designed it. Relph’s script is a little uneven but serves up some good lines (Oliver Reed’s arch-assassin is against war, because “How can we charge our rates with everyone killing each other at a shilling a day?”), and his design is sumptuous, combining with the luscious costumes to serve up an Edwardian Europe, sixties-style, that’s nostalgic and colourful and a little bawdy.

Though Dearden heaps largesse on the movie by stuffing the cast with familiar faces, some of whom are true archetypes of British filmmaking in that era — Clive Revill, Roger Delgado, Warren Mitchell, Curt Jurgens, Philippe Noiret (!) with Kenneth Griffith as an excitable Rumanian — but his actually filming is disappointingly dependent on the zoom lens in nearly every scene. The lens flattens the wonderful sets, and fails to create the air of liveliness the film is hankering for. Another excitable Rumanian, editor Teddy Darvas, attempts to add gusto by cutting everything to the bone, adding energy by playing fast and loose with continuity, but his rhythms are sometimes wearisomely repetitive.

Still, there’s Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas, cast against type as an English press baron. One of cinema’s great smokers, Telly here has a long cigarette holder to conjure with, and promptly holds it alongside his big bald head — but vertically, rather than the more traditional horizontal approach (doesn’t the ash fall down his sleeve?). Always something fresh with Telly. The screen lost an inventive talent when he switched from cigarettes to lollypops. Best moment, as Curt Jurgens lists the members of European royalty about to assemble below his airship bomb — “Spare me this parade of mediocrity!”

Illustrations of the Bureau’s previous triumphs.

Reed and Rigg make an intriguing couple, and there’s the possibility of sparks flying due to her character’s suffragette politics and Ollie’s real-life chauvinism, but the romance, like the main plot, doesn’t quite catch fire. The story requires Rigg to slowly lose her principles as she’s dragged along on Ollie’s comic killing spree, but the necessary beats of this throughline are neglected in favour of local colour and incident.

Still, this is an occasionally bright,  always brisk entertainment in the company of charming players, and it evokes not only nostalgia for bomb-hurling anarchists of the early 20th century, but also for swinging 60s all-star romps with more gusto than reason for existing.

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24 Responses to “Boom Bang a Bang”

  1. I have to admit the justice of this review; the zoom lens is indeed abused quite a bit, although that’s something I see in a number of movies from this period. I love this movie past all reason though, for Oliver Reed at his absolute sexiest and what to me is quite good chemistry with Rigg. The scene where he saves her life in a hotel room, then comforts Rigg, who’s wrapped only in a towel, had an impact on my adolescent fantasy life that lasted for years.

  2. Hubba-Hubba, Siren!

  3. I say! (drops monocle into brandy snifter)

    Rigg was no slouch in the sex symbol stakes, and unlike the dollybirds all around her, she always maintained an air of steely intelligence and ironic detachment. And THAT’S why she’s the only Bond girl who married him (even if she picked the wrong Bond to marry).

    Plus her drag act in Theatre of Blood is the stuff of nightmares.

  4. david wingrove Says:

    Love this film – one of the great trash 60s caper flicks, only with gorgeous Victorian detail. As if Merchant-Ivory had got together to make TOPKAPI!

  5. That was superb!

    Her daughter’s pretty hot stuff too, but hasn’t had the right parts yet.

    Ollie, in contrast, left nothing behind but scorched earth, some great movies, and some really superb anecdotes.

  6. Rigg and Savalas were reunited that year for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Reed might have joined them too, since he was considered as a potential 007. The story is that Broccoli and Saltzman were leery of Reed’s hellraising, but I suspect they wished to replicate their experience of hiring an unknown and grooming him for stardom. We all know how that turned out–it makes one wish Reed had gotten the part.

  7. God, yes! OHMSS is possibly the best of all the Bonds — apart from Lazenby (although he’s very good at the end).

    Reed never accepted that his wild ways hurt his career, but that, and his refusal to leave Britain and live in America, clearly did. Even though he was always well-behaved on set.

  8. Diana Rigg played a sexy Regan in King Lear.

  9. A propos de rien, I heard the wonderful Agnès Varda talking about her films the other evening. She said that her own personal favourites from her own work were Vagabond and Jacquot de Nantes. I haven’t seen the latter yet, but I would certainly agree about Vagabond. It’s probably her most fully achieved film. She made some great shorts too.

  10. Oh, the shorts are really impressive. I have a few unsubtitled, but they still transfix.

    That production of Lear has some very good things: Olivier was arguably too frail, but Leo McKern makes a fine Gloucester.

  11. David, don’t know if you have this. It’s one of her best shorts, the whole film with subs:

  12. david wingrove Says:

    Peter – have you ever seen the Agnes Varda film LIONS LOVE? It’s got the Andy Warhol superstar Viva and the two composer of HAIR going mad in a Beverly Hills mansion. The total essence of everything the 60s should have been about but probably weren’t!

  13. David, no, I haven’t seen LIONS LOVE. I’ll check it out. She made a nice Markeresque one in the early days called Du côté de la côte:

  14. I adore Lions Love ! I occasionally see Viva around town here in L.A. She and Gore Vidal are Best Buds.

  15. Also featuring Carlos Clarens, author of a seminal book on horror movies.

    The Varda/Chytilova confluence is an interesting phenomenon, seems to be a lot of cross-influence there.

  16. david wingrove Says:

    Viva and Gore Vidal? What a truly fabulous combo!

    I’d give anything to be a fly on the wall.

  17. I certainly agree that Lazenby certainly rises to the occasion with the ending of OHMSS, although I like that the callowness of his Bond for the majority of the film makes a good contrast to that sudden ending.

    The other Lazenby film I’ve seen was the Italian giallo film made a couple of years after his Bond called “Who Saw Her Die?”. It came out a year or so before Don’t Look Now and while not quite in the later film’s league is still a fascinating and strange film in its own right, and they have a number of similarities that make them interesting to watch together:

    Although I’d recommend the director Aldo Lado’s Short Night of the Glass Dolls as the best of his films that I’ve seen, and unforgettably creepy:

  18. I like Aldo Lado because Lado is an anagram of Aldo.

    He was AD on The Conformist and no doubt took a few stylistic notes. Who Saw Her Die? anticipates Don’t Look Now in several surprising ways.

    Agree re Short Night — impressing WTF plotting, Mrs Ringo is very attractive, and a nice eerie atmosphere. Lado’s The Night Train Murders is truly vile — not without a certain depressing power, but not something I’m keen to revisit.

  19. Yes, just thinking of that Demis Roussos title ballad makes me shudder!

    For my money it is better (at least more cynical, which should count for something!) than Last House on the Left. I like that the class war isn’t just the urban semitic underclass against the WASPish upper-middle class girls as in the Craven film but instead explodes off into many different directions – Night Train Murders uses the middle class girls as victims, yes, but also showing the two low class thugs as easily manipulated by the upper class woman, who herself commits the worst act in the film (involving a broken bottle) while the girl’s degradations are watched over by another seemingly respectable commuter.

    While both the boys get their comeuppance both the commuter and the woman escape punishment, and in the woman’s case largely escapes due to being a woman and of a different class that diverts the middle class anger away from her.

    It doesn’t have the grungy power of Last House – it’s far slicker, though that slickness makes it more challenging as well – but in all other respects Night Train Murders takes its source material and surpasses it

  20. Having just watched Death In Venice again recently, I wonder just what it is about Venice that caused filmmakers to be attracted to using the city for premonitions of death or doom laden wanderings. Is it that the city is always constantly on the verge of sinking that gives an interesting metaphor of being overwhelmed by natural forces?

    Anyway, to try and improve Venice’s image I’ll link to Summertime/Summer Madness! Hepburn doesn’t have a dead child, is far less doomed and crucially (though this is just my opinion) is much prettier than Bogarde, Sutherland or Lazenby:

  21. Oh I dunno… Dirk has his fans, although his appearance in DIV is not quite his most elegant.

    Lean on touristic scenes: “You’ve got to give them the expected vistas, but you must find a fresh way of delivering them.”

  22. david wingrove Says:

    Another great ‘doomed Venice’ movie is THE WINGS OF THE DOVE. For the blandest view of Venice on record, see last year’s THE TOURIST.

  23. The Tourist must count as a true achievement in blandness — that city, and that star power, producing such a dim result.

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