The High Commissioner (1968)

Directed by Ralph Thomas
Rod Taylor, Christopher Plummer, Lilli Palmer, Carmilla Sparv, Leo McKern, Daliah Lavi, Derren Nesbitt, Clive Revill, Bud Tingwell, Burt Kwouk
Music by Georges Delerue
Based on the Novel By Jon Cleary

The book, The High Commissioner, by Jon Cleary, and the film The High Commissioner are two very different beasts. Cleary’s book is more of a police story than a spy story. Central to both versions, however, is a peace conference. In the film, the conference is for a generic ‘world peace’. In the book, the conference is struggling to end the war in Vietnam, and the characters reflect this. Madame Cholon, played in the movie by Daliah Lavi, is supposed to be Vietnamese. Although Miss Lavi is an exotic beauty, she is hardly Asian. Another strange bit of casting is Derren Nesbitt in the role of Pallain. In the book Pallain is of French / Mexican extraction. Nesbitt whose career is peppered with many Teutonic characters is definitely not the right actor for this role, but you have to give the film-makers credit for trying. They dyed Nesbitt’s hair black, darkened his face with makeup, and gave him a silly moustache. Despite their best efforts the transformation does not work.

The other casting choices for the film are pretty good though. Rugged Rod Taylor is almost perfect as Scobie Malone. I would have loved to have seen him play the role again. Taylor’s career in the late 60’s and early 70’s is interesting in that he played a few characters from successful literary series. It is almost as if he was searching for a nice little film franchise that he could settle into and just churn out film after film, year after year. Unfortunately for Taylor none of the films were hits. Apart from Scobie Malone, Taylor had a crack a Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator, from the series by John Gardner; and in Darker Than Amber he played Travis McGee from the books by John D. MacDonald.

Also well cast is Christopher Plummer as Sir James Quentin. As he is the ambassador, I can forgive that he doesn’t have an Australian accent.

Onto the story…Scobie Malone is a hard working Sergeant in the New South Wales Police force. One morning he receives a summons from the NSW Premier, Flannery (Leo McKern). Flannery has never liked the Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir James Quentin (Christopher Plummer), and has had men checking Quentin’s background searching for dirt. In his quest, Flannery has discovered a disturbing piece of information – Quentin is wanted on an ages old murder charge. Flannery wants Malone to fly to London and arrest the High Commissioner on suspicion of murder.

Malone catches a flight to London and finds that Quentin is quite willing to go back and faces the charges – but not right away. You see, at this moment he is engaged in some important peace talks, and if he were to leave in the middle of proceedings, the fragile peace discussions may collapse.

Malone is not happy about the delay. He is a simple guy, not someone used to black-tie balls and diplomatic soirées. Adding to Malone’s problems, is that someone is trying to kill Quentin. So Malone is seconded into a role as a security advisor and bodyguard for the High Commissioner.

During Malone’s extended stay he gets drawn into the Quentin household. Apart from Sir James, this includes Lady Sheila Quentin (Lilli Palmer) , Joseph – the butler (Clive Revill), and Sir James’ secretary, Lisa Pretorius (Carmilla Sparv). Lisa is a constant thorn in Malone’s side as he tries to carry out his duties. Incidentally, in Jon Cleary’s book series, Malone would later marry Lisa. The script of this film doesn’t really hint at a budding romance, in fact it’s hard to see Malone and Lisa’s relationship growing at all. Let’s just say, that opposites attract.

The High Commissioner is a difficult film for me to review, because I had read a couple of Cleary’s books before I was able to track down the movie…and while I enjoy the movie enormously, it grates on me that it is so dumbed down compared to the book. It’s the old cliché – ‘the book is so much better’ – but here I am reviewing the film, not the book, so ignoring the book, I’d say the film is a fun slice of sixties spy cinema with an engaging cast. I guess that’s not a bad thing.

The High Commissioner (1968)

The Persuaders: Chain Of Events (1971)

Directed by Peter Hunt
Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Suzanna Leigh, Peter Vaughan, George Baker
Music by Ken Thorne
The Persuaders Theme by John Barry

I absolutely love The Persuaders television series, and for me, Chain Of Events is one of the most enjoyable of the episodes. This one is directed by Peter Hunt, who directed the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the show has a few subtle Bond jokes. It even features the actor George Baker, who played Sir Hillary Bray in OHMSS.

The episode opens in Eastern Europe with a plane landing in a clearing. This is part of an M.I.5 operation. The pilot is to receive a briefcase full of important classified documents from a sleeper agent, which he is to bring back to England. But the Communists are onto M.I.5’s little scheme and switch the case for another one.

After John Barry’s title theme, which every time I hear it I get goose bumps, we are in a paddock in the English country side. Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) is camping out. Despite all his millions, he is roughing it. No tent, simply stretched out before an open fire. Then a clock alarm rings. No it’s not a dream. Danny is not dreaming. The alarm is on the other side of the field. The camera pulls back to reveal Lord Brett Sinclair’s (Roger Moore) palatial camping set up. He has a monstrous sized tent, with all mod cons. Attached to the tent is a giant awning which covers his kitchen area, with a refrigerator, a stove, a coffee percolator, the works… Danny refuses to accept Sinclair’s hospitality. If he is camping, he wants to live of his wits. He will only eat what he can catch, and to that end, he grabs a fishing pole and heads off to the river.

As Danny marches along, he bumps into Franz Schubert (Peter Vaughan). Schubert mistakes Danny for a man named Baxter. Danny corrects him, and continues on his way. Next Danny sees a blonde lady, Emily (Suzanna Leigh) running through the trees calling Baxter’s name. Confused but unperturbed, Danny continues to the river and then throws in a line. What he hasn’t initially seen, hanging in the tree overhead, is a man in a parachute. Danny helps the man down. He is almost dead, but he has enough strength to unclip the briefcase he was carrying, and clamp the handcuff around Danny’s wrist. Danny now is chained to the briefcase and cannot find the key.

Danny wanders off to get help, but in the meantime, M.I.5 have found their courier dead and the briefcase missing. They naturally assume that foreign agent has taken the case, and call all their operatives into the area, with orders to kill. Naturally there actually are foreign agents in the area, and they want the briefcase too. So poor old Danny is everyone’s target, and he’s not too happy about it.

Like most of The Persuaders episodes, apart from the chemistry between Moore and Curtis, the show is buoyed by the great range of character actors, all familiar faces, who fill the support roles. In Chain Of Events we get Peter Vaughan who made a career out of playing slimy villains in many films. Some of his more notable espionage appearances were in The Naked Runner, Philby, Burgess And Maclean, The Macintosh Man, and Hammerhead amongst many others. Suzanna Leigh’s credentials included Subterfuge and Deadlier Than The Male.

The Persuaders was a very good series and there weren’t really any dud episodes, so you could pick any of them and be assured of a good time…but this is one of my favourites.

The Persuaders: Chain Of Events (1971)

The Hour Of The Assassin (1987)

Director: Luis Llosa
Starring: Erik Estrada, Robert Vaughn, Alfred Alvarex Calderon, Orlando Sacho, Francisco Giraldo
Music: Fred Myrow

This South American derivative of The Day Of The Jackal is loud, poorly directed, and poorly edited. It’s rare, even when I am watching a bad film (and heaven knows I watch enough of those), that I don’t find something to enjoy, but by the 40 minute mark of this turkey, I just wanted the movie to end. Maybe if The Hour Of The Assassin had been tightened up, so it actually only ran for an hour, then maybe I wouldn’t be so down on this movie. But this production is bottom of the barrel.

The movie is set in the fictitious South American country of San Pedro, and they have just elected a new President, Roberto Villaverde (Francisco Giraldo). Villaverde, who has yet to be inaugurated, plans sweeping reform to the country, leading it towards democracy. Naturally, such radical changes are not welcomed by those who like the status quo.

The film opens with the President-elect, surrounded by heavy security, brushing past the press to his car. Then an escorted motorcade weaves through the streets. A cadre of villains have positioned themselves along the motorcades route, and ambush the President-elects car. At the centre of the ambush is a school bus full of kids, which the ambushers have hijacked. It’s hard to return fire at a bus load of kids.

Villaverde’s car breaks out of the blockade and a high speed pursuit and gun battle ensues. Its a clumsily edited, noisy and particularly uninspired sequence. The highlight, is when the Presidential vehicle collides with a fruit vendors stall. How many times have you seen a car chase, where a vehicle collides with a fruit vendors stall?

Eventually all the bad guys are dead except one. He had been on a motorbike, and now is lying injured on the road. The Chief of Security walks up to the bad guy and shoots him, only after telling him that he ‘blew it!’ So now we know who the bad guy is – the Chief of Security. But Villaverde is safe for now, but he will go into hiding until the inauguration.

The Security Chief meets with a bunch of other military officials who were also behind the attempt on the Villaverde’s life. This had been their third assassination attempt that had failed. They need a new strategy, and decide to call in a specialist. This man is Martin Fierro (Erik Estrada).

Arriving in San Pedro is Sam Merrick (Robert Vaughn). Merrick is an American CIA agent, and he believes another attempt will be made on Villaverde’s life. He also realises that group assassinations haven’t worked, so most likely, the next attempt will be made by a single sniper on inauguration day. Merrick then sets out to find who that man could be.

The Security Chief arranges for Fierro to get across the border without any paperwork. Merrick was expecting something like this, and questions one of the border patrol guards. Just as the guard is about to reveal who has organised for Fierro to get through, he is shot dead.

Just in the interests of a fair-minded review, I have tried to find some positives in this movie. Even then it’s a bit of a double edged sword. Robert Vaughn’s performance in this film is quite okay, and he shows he still has screen charisma, but he is too old for this shit. The other passable element is the pan flute on the soundtrack. It’s not an instrument that we are used to hearing in an action film and it has a nice feel. But it is only used for the peaceful moments.. For the action scenes, the score reverts to synth rock which is appalling.

I’d give The Hour Of The Assassin a miss.

The Hour Of The Assassin (1987)

Golgo 13: Supergun

Created by Takao Saito
English version published by Viz Media 2006

Just a quick one. I am hardly an expert on Manga films. In total, the animé feature films I have watched could be counted on one hand. And I hate to admit, my ignorance of Manga comics is even greater. But Golgo 13 is a character whose adventures I have enjoyed, and when I saw a copy of one of the Manga comics I had to pick it up. Now Golgo 13 has been carrying out ‘hits’ for over four decades, and as the cover of this book states that it was ‘created’ by Takao Saito, rather than ‘written’ by, I’d guess these adventures were put together by some new kids on the block. I say ‘these’ because there are two stories in the book, the first major story is The Gun At Am Shara and the second lesser one is called Hit And Run.

What surprised me about the book is that it doesn’t take place in a fictional universe, it happens in our world and uses real events as a backdrop. The major story, The Gun At Am Shara uses the aftermath of the Gulf War as it’s setting and Saddam Hussein as a villain. The President of the United States, although never named, looks a lot like Bill Clinton.

The Supergun is not a reference to Golgo 13’s marksmanship, or even the weapon he is carrying on the front cover. It refers to a gigantic cannon built by Saddam Hussein and hidden at a secret dam facility in Iraq. Once again I was very surprised by the story. From the films, I had an impression of the type of story I would get, but this is just a bloody good espionage story. The beginning could come from a movie like The Peacemaker or Patriot Games with high tech satellite imaging, and boffins interpreting the intel. In fact the first 50 pages of the book are filled with this – and while it is fascinating and laying down a nice platform for the story, it also means that we are 50 pages into the story before Golgo 13 makes an appearance.

Golgo’s mission? Well it’s not a hit – is to go into Iraq and destroy the cannon, but not the dam. In this story, Golgo is not a hitman, but employed by the American Government as a secret agent. It’s a bit of a character turn-around, and I don’t know if this is ‘updating’ the character for a modern audience – as we a living in a time of ‘terror’, or simply the ‘new kids’ who have written this tale, have not been particularly faithful to Saito’s original character.

I really enjoyed this book, but not as a Golgo 13 adventure. As you’d be aware by now, that I love my spy films and books, and on that level, this book really satisfies, but as a Golgo 13 story (from my limited experience) this appears to be very different.

Golgo 13: Supergun