Scorpio (1972)

Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Paul Scofield, John Colicos, Gayle Hunnicut, Vladek Sheybal, Joanne Linville
Music: Jerry Fielding

Scorpio, while being far from brilliant is an interesting examination of a spy who has outlived his usefulness. Burt Lancaster is Cross, a C.I.A. operative who used to be their number one assassin. But now he is old and ‘thinks’ too much. More so, a life time’s accumulation of knowledge means he knows too much! And as we all know, dear reader, there is no retirement plan for secret agents.

The film opens in Paris where a Middle Eastern colonel (from the fictional country of Ritria), Selon Zim, disembarks from a plane amidst tight security. This is to no avail, because as soon as he hits the tarmac he is killed by Jean Laurier, AKA: ‘Scorpio’ (Alain Delon). Lurking in the shadows is Cross, who is Scorpio’s mentor. Cross has trained him in the art of espionage and, most importantly, killing!

In some confusing political mumbo jumbo Zim was pro-American, but killed because his allies would blame his enemies and become more powerful and useful to the United States. All this introduction does is show us that spying is a very dirty business and the men who operate within it’s realm are just pawns in the game. Good and bad do not exist.

Both Cross and Scorpio head back to Washington. Cross’ wife, Sarah (Joanne Linville) lives in Washington, so it’s a happy homecoming for him. Scorpio chooses to take an extravagant suite at a hotel. The room he chooses already houses a cat which Scorpio takes a shine to. Before Scorpio has had a chance to unpack, C.I.A. Controller, McLeod (John Colicos) contacts Scorpio. At this point it is revealed that in Paris, once the mission was complete, Scorpio was meant to kill Cross. Why? Because Cross wants to retire. He wants out of the game. Being an assassin is a game for young men and Cross realises his time is running out. Scorpio doesn’t want to kill Cross. He wants to be left alone and refuses to go into headquarters.


Meanwhile Cross realises something unusual is going on. He notices his home is being watched. The next day he drives to headquarters but is being tailed as he does so. He disables his pursuers, by leading them into an alley and then deliberately crashes his car into theirs. Then Cross allows one of the men to follow him on foot to the bus station. Hiding in the men’s room, Cross gets the jump on his pursuer after he blindly follows Cross into the gents. Cross then asks some hard questions, but doesn’t like the answers he gets. Apparently the agency wants him dead.

Cross goes on the run. He buys multiple plane tickets to blur his trail, and then takes multiple planes and trains passing through Pittsburgh, Toronto and finally landing in Vienna. In Vienna, Cross seeks out another old-timer, Serge Zharkov (Paul Scofield). Zharkov is a Russian agent, who tries to convince Cross to defect. But Cross simply tells him, ‘I want out, not to change sides!’

Back in the states a drug raid on Scorpio’s hotel room lands him in hot water. Naturally enough, Scorpio had nothing to do with the drugs being there, but that doesn’t matter to McLeod, who promptly blackmails Scorpio into performing the sanction on Cross. And now the cat and mouse game begins.

Scorpio was directed by Michael Winner, who at this time was at the peak of his powers (and not the hack B-grade director that he would later become). He had just come off the success of his incredibly dated but subversive thriller Death Wish, with Charles Bronson, and needed another thriller to cement his reputation. So it had to be violent and provocative, and for the time, Scorpio was. But today’s audiences may find it hard to stifle a yawn.

What may come as somewhat of a surprise is the lack of empathy created by either Burt Lancaster who appears to be sleepwalking, and Alain Delon who plays an icy character in a cold aloof manner. Then again, maybe that is the point. These are not nice men. Both men are professional assassins, and I’d guess it takes a certain amount of emotional detachment to be a contract killer.

Look, it isn’t a bad film but time has overtaken it and the themes it encompasses. I must sound like a parrot, comparing old films to the Matt Damon version of The Bourne Identity. But clearly shows what happens when an agent is no longer wanted, and in a far more impressive and entertaining style than The Bourne IdentityScorpio. This may sound like I am saying, ‘ignore the old’ and only concentrate ‘on the new!’ Far from it. Many of the old films still have a powerful story to tell. But Scorpio is more of a seventies time capsule, and while it’s story of an aging secret agent, is played out quite truthfully, more so than Innocent Bystanders (1973) or even Never Say Never Again (1984), it never fully connects with the audience.

If you are a spy completist who loves to look at the evolution of the spy film over the decades, Scorpio is a must have addition to your collection. But if you are a viewer who likes to watch spy films for pure escapism, I’d suggest this film isn’t for you.

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Scorpio (1972)

Scorpio (1972)


Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Paul Scofield, John Colicos, Gayle Hunnicut, Vladek Sheybal, Joanne Linville
Music: Jerry Fielding

Scorpio, while being far from brilliant is an interesting examination of a spy who has outlived his usefulness. Burt Lancaster is Cross, a C.I.A. operative who used to be their number one assassin. But now he is old and ‘thinks’ too much. More so, a life time’s accumulation of knowledge means he knows too much! And as we all know, dear reader, there is no retirement plan for secret agents.

The film opens in Paris where a Middle Eastern colonel (from the fictional country of Ritria), Selon Zim, disembarks from a plane amidst tight security. This is to no avail, because as soon as he hits the tarmac he is killed by Jean Laurier, AKA: ‘Scorpio’ (Alain Delon). Lurking in the shadows is Cross, who is Scorpio’s mentor. Cross has trained him in the art of espionage and, most importantly, killing!

In some confusing political mumbo jumbo Zim was pro-American, but killed because his allies would blame his enemies and become more powerful and useful to the United States. All this introduction does is show us that spying is a very dirty business and the men who operate within it’s realm are just pawns in the game. Good and bad do not exist.

Both Cross and Scorpio head back to Washington. Cross’ wife, Sarah (Joanne Linville) lives in Washington, so it’s a happy homecoming for him. Scorpio chooses to take an extravagant suite at a hotel. The room he chooses already houses a cat which Scorpio takes a shine to. Before Scorpio has had a chance to unpack, C.I.A. Controller, McLeod (John Colicos) contacts Scorpio. At this point it is revealed that in Paris, once the mission was complete, Scorpio was meant to kill Cross. Why? Because Cross wants to retire. He wants out of the game. Being an assassin is a game for young men and Cross realises his time is running out. Scorpio doesn’t want to kill Cross. He wants to be left alone and refuses to go into headquarters.


Meanwhile Cross realises something unusual is going on. He notices his home is being watched. The next day he drives to headquarters but is being tailed as he does so. He disables his pursuers, by leading them into an alley and then deliberately crashes his car into theirs. Then Cross allows one of the men to follow him on foot to the bus station. Hiding in the men’s room, Cross gets the jump on his pursuer after he blindly follows Cross into the gents. Cross then asks some hard questions, but doesn’t like the answers he gets. Apparently the agency wants him dead.

Cross goes on the run. He buys multiple plane tickets to blur his trail, and then takes multiple planes and trains passing through Pittsburgh, Toronto and finally landing in Vienna. In Vienna, Cross seeks out another old-timer, Serge Zharkov (Paul Scofield). Zharkov is a Russian agent, who tries to convince Cross to defect. But Cross simply tells him, ‘I want out, not to change sides!’

Back in the states a drug raid on Scorpio’s hotel room lands him in hot water. Naturally enough, Scorpio had nothing to do with the drugs being there, but that doesn’t matter to McLeod, who promptly blackmails Scorpio into performing the sanction on Cross. And now the cat and mouse game begins.

Scorpio was directed by Michael Winner, who at this time was at the peak of his powers (and not the hack B-grade director that he would later become). He had just come off the success of his incredibly dated but subversive thriller Death Wish, with Charles Bronson, and needed another thriller to cement his reputation. So it had to be violent and provocative, and for the time, Scorpio was. But today’s audiences may find it hard to stifle a yawn.

What may come as somewhat of a surprise is the lack of empathy created by either Burt Lancaster who appears to be sleepwalking, and Alain Delon who plays an icy character in a cold aloof manner. Then again, maybe that is the point. These are not nice men. Both men are professional assassins, and I’d guess it takes a certain amount of emotional detachment to be a contract killer.

Look, it isn’t a bad film but time has overtaken it and the themes it encompasses. I must sound like a parrot, comparing old films to the Matt Damon version of The Bourne Identity. But The Bourne Identity clearly shows what happens when an agent is no longer wanted, and in a far more impressive and entertaining style than Scorpio. This may sound like I am saying, ‘ignore the old’ and only concentrate ‘on the new!’ Far from it. Many of the old films still have a powerful story to tell. But Scorpio is more of a seventies time capsule, and while it’s story of an aging secret agent, is played out quite truthfully, more so than Innocent Bystanders (1973) or even Never Say Never Again (1984), it never fully connects with the audience.

If you are a spy completist who loves to look at the evolution of the spy film over the decades, Scorpio is a must have addition to your collection. But if you are a viewer who likes to watch spy films for pure escapism, I’d suggest this film isn’t for you.

Scorpio (1972)

Who’s Got The Black Box (1967)

AKA: The Road To Corinthe
Director: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Jean Seberg, Maurice Ronet, Christian Marquand
Music: Pierre Jansen

Some films have a good personality. Like a close friend, they make you smile and you enjoy spending time with them. Who’s Got The Black Box is one of those films. It may have a thin story, and could be considered light on for action and laugh out loud jokes, but none-the-less it is one of those films that is easy to immerse yourself in, and enjoy. For those who have seen the Pathfinder Entertainment DVD cover, and have noticed the intense red packaging, which features a monochrome hero with one arm wrapped around Jean Seberg and the other holding a machine gun, don’t panic. The film is nowhere near that intense or violent. It is essentially a gentle paced spy comedy from French film-maker Claude Chabrol. Chabrol had previously ventured into spy territory with Le Tigre Aime La Chair Fraiche (The Tiger Likes Fresh Meat) and Le Tigre Se Parfume A La Dynamite (Our Agent Tiger), both featuring Roger Hanin as agent Louis Rapiere.

Black Box opens with the self proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Magician,’ Socrates (Steve Eckart) attempting to cross the border into Greece. As his vehicle is inspected at customs, the officials find a small black box filled with electronic components.

The discovery is reported back through the chain of command. When the heads of OTAN hear about the device, they fly into a panic and demand to know what it does. (I am sure you have worked out, that OTAN is NATO backwards!)

The magician is forced to talk. That is, he is taken to a small room and pummelled to within an inch of his life by a burly man wearing sunglasses. Finally the magician breaks his silence. He confesses that he has already brought fifteen of the little black boxes into Greece. And that other couriers have brought in more.

And what does the black box do? Each black box interferes with radar and launch of OTAN missiles. Before the authorities can find out anything else, the magician swallows a cyanide capsule.

Sharps (Michel Bouquet), the local head of the CIA in the Mediterranean is an inept fool. He doesn’t believe that there are any more black boxes. But he does assign two agents to look into it. The first agent is Dex (Maurice Ronet) who is experienced and professional. The other agent is Robert Ford (Christian Marquand), who is a dreamer.

Sharps has another reason to send away Ford. Ford has a beautiful wife, Shanny (Jean Seberg), and while he is away on assignment, Sharps, hoping to instigate an affair, moves in on her.

Ford, whose ideas are never taken seriously, stumbles onto a lead and finds out who is behind the black boxes. Rather than return to headquarters, he returns home and celebrates his success with Shanny. As she leaves the room to get a bottle of Champagne, Robert is assassinated. She returns to the bedroom and finds him dead. In turn, she is hit from behind and rendered unconscious. The killer then puts the murder weapon, a gun, in her hand. He also gets her other hand and drags her fingernails down her murdered husbands chest, to indicate that there was a struggle.

The evidence is stacked heavily against Shanny and she is imprisoned. Naturally, the lecherous Sharps arranges for her to be released. Now free, she sets off to find out who killed Robert, and the truth about the black boxes. Along the way she teams up with Robert’s partner, Dex, who is unsure if he should trust Shanny. All the clichés are in place, for slick little spy thriller.

Jean Seberg is likeable in the role of Shanny, but doesn’t quite ooze the sex-appeal required for the role. In places, it is hard to believe that men, both good and bad, are throwing themselves at her. Then again, that may just be the nature of the ‘dirty old men’ in the film. They’d throw themselves at anything in a skirt.

The weaknesses of the film are a couple of uneven comedy sequences, which ruin the flow of the film, and the music in some places. The music generally is fairly unobtrusive, and considering the setting, it does feature some Greek styling. But it does get annoying when the music gets loud and fast. It is supposed to sound Greek and exotic, but instead sounds like music for a slapstick routine. Obviously it does not reflect the action taking place on the screen, and would probably be more suited to a Benny Hill skit.

The film, as I mentioned at the outset is very likeable, without being brilliant. The star of the film is the cinematography, which is very good and utilises the Mediterranean backdrop to great effect. It is a warm film; a friendly film. It is not going to change your life, and it is not going to end up on your list of favourite films of all time, but if you take the time to watch it, you are in for a pleasant ninety minutes.

This review is based on Pathfinder Home Entertainment USA DVD

Who’s Got The Black Box (1967)