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)

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Directed by Brian G. Hutton
Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure, Ingrid Pitt, Derren Nesbitt, Patrick Wymark, Michael Hordern, Anton Differing, Robert Beatty, Donald Houston, Peter Barkworth, William Squire, Neil McCarthy, Brook Williams
Music by Ron Goodwin
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean

It is often a fine line between some war films and some spy films, but generally the nature of the mission helps to separate the films into their correct categories. There is no mistaking that Saving Private Ryan is a war film. Whereas Where Eagles Dare, I believe is a spy film. At no time are the characters referred to as ‘soldiers’ – they are always referred to as ‘agents’. Also they are dressed in enemy uniform which makes them spies. So Where Eagles Dare is one of the great spy films. It is also one of the great ‘Boys Own Adventures’.

Sure, if you analyse the story carefully, you’ll realise that it is biggest load of nonsense ever contrived. But it was never meant to be art. It was meant to provide thrill-a-minute action, and a plot full of twists and turns. And on that level, Where Eagles Dare succeeds admirably.

The film opens with a German warplane flying over the Austrian Alps. Although it looks German, it is English and it is transporting seven men on a dangerous mission. As the plane moves towards it’s destination, the film flashes back to the mission briefing. They are told that an American General, Carnaby (Robert Beatty), who was travelling by plane to meet his opposite number in Russia, has been shot down. He has been captured and taken to a Nazi fortress called the Schloss Adler in Bavaria. Carnaby holds the key to the Allieds next major offensive and time is of the essence. They must rescue him, before the German’s get any information out of him. The mission is to parachute in, infiltrate the Nazi fortress, rescue the General and get out. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Some of the men on the mission are Major Smith (Richard Burton). He is the leader of the group. Next on board is Lieutenant Schaffer (Clint Eastwood). Schaffer is a walking arsenal. Then there’s Capt. James Christiansen (Donald Houston), Edward Berkeley (Peter Barkworth), Capt. Philip Thomas (William Squire), Sgt. Harrod (Brook Williams), and Sgt. Jock MacPherson (Neil McCarthy), who are all M.I.5 operatives.

After the briefing the film cuts back to the mission at hand, and the men parachute out of the plane and into the snow. There’s no point outlining too much of the plot as it would take as long as Alistair MacLean’s novel, on which the film is based. But there are double crosses, triple crosses, and convoluted twists and turns throughout, that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat..

You cannot talk about Where Eagles Dare without mentioning the cable car sequence. Two German spies are trying to make their escape down the mountain in a cable car when Smith attempts to stop them by leaping onto the roof of the car as it starts down. On the roof top, he attempts to plant a bomb, but the two spies inside the car, crawl out the windows and onto the roof. It’s a staggeringly suspenseful and well staged action scene, and one that was almost replicated in the James Bond film Moonraker, made eleven years later.

Hardly any of the characters in Where Eagles Dare are who or what they seem and certainly cannot be trusted – with the exception of good old Lt. Schaffer. Eastwood as Schaffer is pretty wooden, but it doesn’t really detract from the film. Eastwood’s acting is really limited to blowing things up or shooting people. It doesn’t require much emoting.

The real star of the movie is Richard Burton as Major Smith, the mission leader. Smith is the only character who really knows what the hell is going on. Even though it’s an action film, Burton still gives a commanding performance. His voice is so authorative, and in places threatening, it’s easy to believe the contrivances the script forces upon his character.

The film also feature’s a couple of beauties. After all this film was made in the sixties, and even a war film still has to adhere to the swinging sixties ethos. Mary Ure stars as Mary Elison, another spy who is working with Smith. And Ingrid Pitt has a small role as the buxom bar wench, Heidi.

Also worth mentioning is Derren Nesbitt as Major Von Harpen. He is the Gestapo Officer at Schloss Adler, and although Nesbitt’s role is fairly small, his presence and threatening persona dominate the middle of the film.

The music by Ron Goodwin is exceptional. It is deliberately melodramatic, and follows the plot twists well. It also makes great use of staccato – almost machine gun style – military drums.

Where Eagles Dare is one of the best films of it’s kind, and despite it’s age, it holds up incredibly well today. Highly recommended.

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

The Saint And The Brave Goose (1979)


Director: Cyril Frankel
Starring: Ian Ogilvy, Gayle Hunnicutt, Stratford Johns, Derren Nesbitt, Joe Lynch
Music: John Scott
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

Here’s another Saint movie. Like some of the others it is not really a spy film, but it does have some globe trotting and international crime, concerning a stolen shipment of gold bullion. The Saint And The Brave Goose is a two-part episode from the 1978 television series “The Return of the Saint,” edited together and released as a feature film. The two episodes original episodes were Collision Course: The Brave Goose and Collision Course: The Sixth Man.

The first thing that’ll notice about this movie is that they have created a new title sequence. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but they have discarded The Return Of The Saint theme music and in it’s place have used a dreadful piece of quasi-prog rock.

The film opens with the Embassy Express Race, which is a 200 mile power boat ocean race. The two favourites for the race are Oscar West (Edward Brayshaw), an arrogant fellow who is only interested in winning, and Simon Templar AKA: The Saint (Ian Ogilvy). As the race progresses West and Templar fight it out for the lead, then there is an explosion on West’s boat. Through the billowing black smoke, Templar can see West and the co-driver fighting over a gun on deck. Then there is another explosion and the whole boat is destroyed.

There is an inquest into the tragedy. Most of the inquiries centre around West’s co-driver Maurice Bonaparte. As far as the police are concerned, nobody by that name exists or can be traced. Simon, on the other hand, thinks something fishy is going on. He suspects West of being involved in a fifteen million pound gold bullion robbery, eight years previously. Templar has also ascertained a bit more information about the mysterious Maurice Bonaparte. Apparently he had spent the last seven years in a Moroccan prison. He had only been released a week ago.

Meanwhile, Oscar West’s widow, Annabel (Gayle Hunnicutt) discovers that she is broke. Oscar left her no money. Her only asset is Oscar’s yacht, The Brave Goose, which is tied up in Marseilles. Soon she is on her way to France and into a whole mess of trouble. In fact the story is very reminiscent of the classic Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn movie, Charade. Both productions feature men with shady pasts, who have mysteriously died and left their wives nothing. And both feature the shady associates of the dead husbands trying to track down and acquire large sums of money, which they believe has been secreted away by the widow. Finally both feature dashing leading men who partner up with the widows to help solve the mystery. In this, the suave dashing hero is Ian Ogilvy. Ogilvy is very good as The Saint. He’s not Roger Moore, but in some ways that is a plus. Ogilvy is a bit tougher than Moore. In the late seventies, television and the movies had changed and the simpler, more fantastical plots, such as The Fiction Makers were no longer in vogue. But having said all that, despite the toughening up of Templar, they haven’t taken away the glamour and sophistication.

Another cast member worth mentioning is Derren Nesbitt. Over the years Nesbitt has played practically every nationality on the planet – most famously as the German SS-Sturmbannführer, Von Hapen in Where Eagles Dare and as the duplicitous French/Mexican reporter, Pallain in The High Commissioner. Here he plays Inspector Lebec, a French police officer. As the character is played by ‘Dirty Derren’ you can expect that all is not as it seems.

This addition to The Saint canon is pretty good, if somewhat derivative of other spy films. I have already mentioned Charade, but there is a bullfight scene, that plays like a hyped up version of the one featured in Fathom and there’s some underwater scenes that remind me of When Eight Bells Toll. But if you can overlook these similarities and just let the story, and the entertainment wash over you, then The Saint And The Brave Goose is a fine Saint film.

The Saint And The Brave Goose (1979)

The Naked Runner (1967)

Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Frank Sinatra, Derren Nesbitt, Peter Vaughan, Nadia Gray, James Fox
Music by Harry Sukman
Based on the novel by Francis Clifford

The Naked Runner is a rather limp follow-up to The Ipcress File by director Sidney J. Furie. The film stars Frank Sinatra as Sam Laker, an American business man who lives in London. Now before you panic and think, this is late sixties, and Sinatra was probably competing with his old pal Dean Martin in the swingin’ spy stakes, let me tell you, you’d be wrong. It is a million miles away from the Matt Helm films. Does that mean it is any good? Sad to say, no! But Sinatra is quite good. His performance gets critisised in a lot of reviews, but he is solid, playing the highly stressed, confused, and distraught Laker. Maybe it’s a persona that people didn’t want to watch Frank portray?

So Frank’s okay. Why is the film bad? First I’ll give you a quick overview of the plot and then look at the negatives. British Intelligence Officer, Martin Slattery (Peter Vaughan) receives a phone call in the middle of the night from the Minister. It seems a political prisoner, Rudoph Frensal has escaped from custody at Wormwood Scrubs. Frensal was being held because he tried to flee the country with some highly secretive, technical information. British Intelligence believe he was freed by the Russian’s and now is on his way to Moscow, where they will retrieve the information. This cannot be allowed to happen. Frensal must be killed.
The hard part of the job is finding a man to do the assassination. They can’t use one of their regulars. They need a man who is unknown to the enemy and totally uncompromised. After going through file after file, Slattery is struggling to find the right man. Then while reading the local newspaper he spies an article about Sam Laker (Sinatra), who has just won an award for chair design. Slattery knows Laker from the war, where he had been seconded to Slattery’s unit from the O.S.S. But since the war, Laker has lived a life of a respectable business man.

Now Slattery has found his pawn, he needs to find a way to make him a killer. And Laker is not the type of guy who will simply pick up a gun for the sake of it. No, Laker needs to be manipulated into killing Frensal. Various psychologists are called in to analyse what makes Laker tick, and what is the best way to make him carry out the mission.

They contrive a plan to gently drag him back into the world of espionage and dirty tricks. Laker and his son Patrick had already arranged a trip to Leipzig trade fair. Slattery convinces Laker to do one small task. It is to drop off a message to a watch-maker near the fair. Laker reluctantly agrees. But during the few minutes that Laker and his son are separated, Patrick is kidnapped by Colonel Hartman (Derren Nesbitt). After Patrick’s kidnapping, Laker is told about the other, distasteful part of the mission. Laker is outraged, but they are holding his son and he feels it is out of his control.

Up until this stage the film is quite good. Sure, it is contrived. Very contrived. But it still has been fast paced and entertaining. But from now on, the film really bogs down. From my synopsis, you can tell where the film is going, but the film-makers drag this bit out for another sixty minutes. As a reviewer, I hate to admit this, but twice, I have fallen asleep during the second half of this film. That’s not why I will dispense with the synopsis though. As I said, you can tell where the story is going.

As I mentioned earlier, Sinatra’s performance is okay. Uniformly, the acting is good throughout the film. Peter Vaughan is excellent as Slattery, and is absolutely chilling in his deceitfulness. And Derren Nesbitt’s turn as Colonel Hartman has a modicum of menace about it too. It’s not surprising to see that he turned up a year later playing another similar role in Where Eagles Dare.

The real villain in this movie is the plot. It’s hard to point out the biggest flaw in this movie without spoiling the ending totally. But in a roundabout way; at the beginning, when the Minister and Slattery start planning the mission, at the meeting they discuss why they need Laker for the job. The reason being the enemy knows all their agents, methods and there is no way a regular British agent could get close enough to do the job. The ending; Laker has completed the mission, and confused is running to safety. Within seconds, British agents spring from nowhere to calm Laker down. Question: If the British agents were that close to Laker as he completes his mission, why couldn’t they have completed the mission for him?

The film is ridiculous. I’d only watch it if you were a die-hard fan of Frank Sinatra and even then, I’d have a pot of coffee percolating and a pack of ‘No-Doze’ handy.

The Naked Runner (1967)