Route of all evil

Following Danger Man back to the native land of Bond, we discover Richard Johnson, who would play Bulldog Drummond in a couple of passable spy romps, working in a much more sombre and hard-edged thriller, DANGER ROUTE. Forgettable, generic title, and nearly a forgettable film, but it has moments.

It has a proper filmmaker in the director’s chair, too, though one in decline. Seth Holt would die during the shooting of his next production, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB — an amusingly persistent case of hiccups turned out to presage a massive coronary. He’s on intermittently good form here — the inconsistent MUMMY movie is more persistently engaging, but he brings his talent fully to bear on the movie’s bitter climax.

The film is pitched somewhere between the brutality of Bond and the morose Le Carre worldview. Not so seedy, but grey and downbeat. Our anti-hero is a government assassin, and the first scene depicts two spymasters planning his final mission in a cinema (on the screen is the director’s previous film, STATION SIX SAHARA, an amusing in-joke though not as pointedly meta as the moment in CAPRICE where Doris Day hides from enemy agents in a cinema showing… CAPRICE), and the make it clear that if agent “Jonas Wilde” survives the job, a female agent has been put in position to destroy him afterwards.

There’s a distinct lack of glamorous locations — the Channel Islands are the height of escapism in this film, and the production values, courtesy of Amicus, are on the thin side, with unconvincing dioramas ob view through every window. Harry THE THIRD MAN Waxman is cinematographer, and the shots are sometimes expressive in a subtle way, but it’s no thrill-ride. A single Deutsch tilt, on a cross-channel ferry. The plot moves forward with some bold elisions, which helps a bit.

“A mountain of evil,” was Bette Davis’ summation of Holt on THE NANNY (probably his best film), which seems to have baffled his friends on the crew. There’s an intriguing comment also from his widow, who said that when Holt worked as producer on THE LADYKILLERS, rather than calming one another down, which is what both needed, they would tend to hype each other into a frenzy. Possibly that was good for the film?

A better script would help this one: good actors make a limited impression with thick eared, hackneyed dialogue. It’s not overtly clumsy but nobody comes to life. Johnson seems at home being glum and angry, but hits that same note too hard and often; Carol Lynley is seductive and sweet; Barbara Bouchet effective when mysterious, but when the mask comes off, what’s underneath is unconvincing; Sylvia Sims, Diana Dors, are as professional as ever, same for Harry Andrews, Maurice Denham and Gordon Jackson.

MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT

The final betrayal comes with a slick reversal — Johnson, a creature of habit, has fixed himself a Bacardi. He’s told by his girlfriend, Carol Lynley, that the ice cubes were poisoned — he’ll start to notice the creeping paralysis now.

He replies that the ice cubes are in the goldfish tank — he’s anticipated the betrayal.

His assassin looks to the tank, where the fish are floating lifeless — a school of substitute Johnsons. And Holt shows the next action — Johnson slaying his lover with one mighty chop — only in the shadow on the glass.

DANGER ROUTE stars Dr. John Markway; Ann Lake; Moneypenny; the Queen Mother; Frau Poppendick; Lord Lucan; Filipenko; MacDonald ‘Intelligence’; Professor Henry Harrington; Mime; and Kreacher.

7 Responses to “Route of all evil”

  1. architekturadapter Says:

    “Twice as … dangerous ! ”
    “He doesn’t carry a weapon – he is one ! ”
    … as the trailer’s promissing.

    Even if “every hot spot in the cold war” (the trailer again) isn’t that hot as you revealed, this one sounds still interesting !
    Seth Holt was first choice for “Danger : Diabolik” – luckly we got Mario Bava instead.
    My favorit Holt is his French Riviera thriller “Taste of Fear”.

  2. “The Nanny” is quite marvelous and William Dix is the most formdable antagonist Bette Davus ever had to face across the course of her long career.

  3. I loved Taste of Fear until I saw Les Diaboliques and realised where they stole it all from. But it’s stolen with some skill.

    All the kids in The Nanny are superb, it would have been nice to see Holt do something else with youngsters.

    His Diabolik would no doubt have been interesting, if very different and less beautiful than the one we got. Likewise his film of Agatha Christie’s The Alphabet Murders, intended to star Zero Mostel as Poirot, which wound up being a typically eccentric Frank Tashlin joint with Tony Randall…

  4. architekturadapter Says:

    “Steal from the best …”
    I must admit I haven’t seen “The Nanny” yet ! Can’t wait …

  5. woolworthdiamond Says:

    Zero Mostel as Poirot, I would have killed for that. Admittedly, it would probably be awful, as I imagine Mostel trying for some sort of accent and refusing to put it down, however, anything with him will be at least entertaining.

  6. You can’t do Poirot without the accent, I think, though Randall’s ended up crippling him for the part. It would be amusing to see it played by an actual Belgian for once.

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