Assassination In Rome is a solid enough thriller, but it is far from outstanding. What it does have going for it, is that European travelogue feel that so many sixties films possessed. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, the story in this little adventure takes place in Italy; mostly in Rome, but there is a brief excursion to Venice.
Above you would have heard me describe this film as a little adventure, and that is exactly what everybody believes has happened to Shelley North’s husband, William. They believe he has run off with a beautiful young Italian girl. Apparently that happens a lot to American men on holiday in Rome! The film opens with Shelley North (Cyd Charisse – who you may remember from The Silencers, and a few musicals) phoning the American Embassy to report her missing husband. She is fobbed off.
Meanwhile a dead body is found beside the Trevi fountain. In the man’s pockets, is a packet of heroin. The body isn’t Shelley’s missing husband, but there may be a connection between the dead man and William North.
Adding to the story is a couple of bumbling crooks, who break into the dead man’s apartment. One of the thieves steals a pair of shoes. The shoes have a false heel, and inside is a mysterious package. The thieves don’t care what it is. If it was hidden, it must be valuable, and they hatch a plan to sell the package back to its owner. Little do they know that the owner is dead, and before the movie is over, several other people will die, all because of this mysterious package.
Also working in Rome, as a newspaper reporter is American, Dick Sherman (Hugh O’Brian). Sherman is your standard, square-jawed American hero type, a role that suits O’Brian to the ground. Sherman once had a relationship with Shelley, and when he hears her name in the reports from the Embassy, he volunteers to help his old flame track down her delinquent husband. And as a reporter, who knows, there just may be a story in it?
Along for the ride, as Shelley and Dick piece together the details surrounding William’s disappearance, are the chief detective on the case, and Erica a fellow reporter, who has a crush on Dick.
The first sixty minutes of this production are in a methodical detective style as our gang of heroes follow the clues. The film could almost be described as Chandleresque. But after the hour, the film picks up pace and the story jags sharply towards over-ripe psychodrama, in the Hitchcock tradition. The music gets louder; the red herrings become more prominent; and the story becomes, well to be honest, rather silly!
There is a hint of a spy story, the MacGuffin being a top-secret microfilm containing military secrets. The villains are a virtually unseen secret organization who deals in secrets, torture, and death! Despite these familiar trappings, I wouldn’t really call this a spy film and recommend it to aficionados of espionage cinema.
The music by Armando Trovajoli is worth mentioning. The score is very good, but subdued in the first half. As the music soars in the second half it adds to the mystery of the film. In fact, it is a little bit deceptive – deliberately so. Possible spoiler: If the music is loud and pounding, you’re probably witnessing a red herring. If the music is subtle, then the story is progressing normally and its heroes are heading in the right direction.
Assassination In Rome is not a lost classic. It is a decent ‘B’ picture with interesting location shooting. And for most of its running time, it is a fairly good thriller. It’s only at the denouement that the film falls from favour.
I do not like endorsing any particular company or product, but Dark Sky films have this movie paired with Espionage In Tangiers as a double feature DVD. The DVD is presented as a ‘Drive-In’ double feature, with old adverts for fast food (that doesn’t look appealing at all), and previews for coming attractions. It’s a good, fun package.