Monday, 30 March 2015

The Assassination Bureau (1969)

Another celluloid slice of swinging 60s Victoriana (well this one's Edwardian really) The Assassination Bureau is on the whole more enjoyable, satisfying and intelligent than The Best House In London and is a blackly comic tale about the business of murder based on an unfinished novel by Jack London.


The titular bureau is an international cartel that has its headquarters in England during the early 1900s and the reign of Edward VII. It murders for profit, but only victims that have been judged to be morally bankrupt and deserving of death. Its chairman and the son of the bureau's Russian late founding father is the English public school educated Ivan Dragomiloff played by Oliver Reed, who looks like he's having a ball mixing up the action and light comedy that the role requires. Determined to expose his murderous antics is Sonya Winter (the divine Diana Rigg), a stanch and liberated aspiring journalist who commissions the bureau to assassinate Dragomiloff to bring about their downfall. Amused, Dragomiloff accepts, largely because he fears his team of assassins have become morally bankrupt and solely interested in financial gain. These less than savoury motives are particularly embodied by his Vice Chairman and newspaper owner, Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) and the German General Von Pinck (Curt Jurgens) both of whom seem determined to bring about the First World War for their own ends. 

From there, Rigg and Reed race from London to Paris, Vienna and Venice, gradually falling in love with one another whilst he dodges numerous assassination attempts from his own team to dispatch them one by one and save his own skin and the moral stance of his bureau. 

The film, directed by Basil Dearden and with a screenplay by producer Michael Relph and Wolf Mankowitz pitches the action colourfully and lavishly somewhere between the Ealing classic Kind Hearts and Coronets and the James Bond films (which Mankowitz had some experience on, having helped write, albeit anonymously, the first Bond film Doctor No and having also penned the Bond spoof Casino Royale) Indeed the whole thing plays out rather like a Victorian Bond film with Rigg, Savalas and Jurgens all going on to take roles in the series and with Oliver Reed perhaps being the best James Bond we never had. Again, like The Best House In London I suspect this film influenced Alan Moore when he wrote The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, along with Kim Newman for the Anno Dracula series (pretty sure he mentions Dragomiloff in one of the novels) and Mark Gatiss for his Lucifer Box novels.

The Assassination Bureau is a film with great style, but much of this is to do with its 60s flair, Edwardian settings and production design and with its performances, specifically those of the leads Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed who are great company and have fun chemistry with one another. Unfortunately it's a little over long at 110 minutes and a lengthy interlude in Venice does little to hold the attention and feels like a lot of padding. Lastly the film unforgiveably gives Rigg nothing to do in the finale - a fight to the death aboard a bomb laden zeppelin heading for a European peace summit - and for fans of The Avengers that is simply not on.

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