Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bombs. Bordellos. Burials.

Is it morbid to wonder what I'll be working on when I die?

I had already read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities when I moved back to Detroit in my junior year of high school as had several other transplants, and so our teacher let us choose to cover any other Dickens novel we cared to.  Now, I'm not a fan of ol' Charlie, and was just coming off the relentlessly pedantic sarcasm disguised as social commentary in Oliver Twist at the time, so that made the decision a tough one. I briefly considered Barnaby Rudge as I was a Monty Python addict at the time ("And perhaps to save time, I should add that we don't have Carnaby Fudge by Darles Chickens, or Farmbrous Sludge by Miles Pickens, or even Stickwick Stapers by Farles Wickens with four M's and a silent Q!") until I discovered what a tome it was.  Then I spotted The Mystery of Edwin Drood...the title was intriguing...and I really started getting into it...and then it just ended and I discovered that he'd never completed it.  The book cover hadn't mentioned it, my teacher hadn't mentioned it, and this was before Google was immediately available at lightning speeds on everything ("Toaster, what is the airspeed velocity of a laden swallow?") and so the best Dickens I'd read came prematurely to a close.

Since then, I've perused other unfinished works such as Chester Himes' Plan B, Kafka's The Castle, and a volume that contained every draft of Twain's The Mysterious Stranger.  But the other day, someone mentioned Jack London's unfinished work The Assassination Bureau Ltd., and naturally, with a title like that, I had to look into into it, wherein I discovered that it was not only a book but a film as well.

Another amazing poster by Robert McGinnis
Now normally I wouldn't dive into a film based on a book like this without having tracked down the book (much like I did with last week's review of Dr. Lao), but it was hard enough finding a copy of the movie.  Also, the book, were I to find it, was completed by another author, and that doesn't entirely count anyhow...besides, it was a Friday night, I was tired of painting, and had little else to do for the evening.

The lovely Diana Rigg not being the iconic Emma Peel
The plot is a rather simple one: Sonia Winter (Diana Rigg), a women's rights advocate and reporter,  with her paper's support, hires the chairman of a clandestine organization of self-righteous murderers, Ivan Dragomilof (Oliver Reed) to assassinate himself.  Intrigued and amused, Dragomilof accepts the challenge which pits his skills against the entire board of his organization. Winter follows Dragomilof on his cross-continental kill-or-be-killed adventure where they discover that perhaps Winters' employers reasons for chasing down Dragomilof may not be as noble as they first appeared, and that the Bureau may be the orchestrators of World War I.

A debonair Oliver Reed
Now, the novel (and I hope to verify this one day) is supposed to be a serious affair, on par with the examination of philosophical ideals, both good and evil, in Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday, and I've seen a few comparisons with Rand's habit of having characters living and dying by unrealistically lofty ideals.  The movie, on the other hand, is a fun, goofy romp in sumptuous locations with a cavalcade of international stars. Dianna Rigg is great fun as the prim and proper lady turned adventuress. Oliver Reed is at his dashing best in the years before he became relegated to the intimidating heavy.  Telly Savalas is perhaps miscast as a British Lord, but spot-on perfect at being Telly Savalas.  I was also excited to see a youthful appearance by the prolific Phillipe Noiret, perhaps best known as the projectionist Alfredo from Cinema Paradiso, as the French assassin, M. Lucoville.

Telly at his most Telly-esque with the statuesque Annabella Incontrera
The special effects for the film have not aged well, and while it does lean a hair on the cornball side, it has that one quality that most big budget affairs of this sort lack today: FUN.  Everyone in it appears to be having a great time, and I never found myself scoffing or yawning as the scenes played out.  And while the book might be more lofty, and I do love idealistic loftiness in explorations of morality, that tends to come off as terribly pretentious or hilariously comic book on the big screen.  And at least this movie got away with it's basic premise of a moralistic assassination squad intact, unlike say the film adaptation of Mark Millar's Wanted (2008).  In all, I couldn't help but enjoy myself watching this only to lament how often new movies try to be too serious and realistic when they should be fun, and how often older movies were fun when they might have tried to be at least a hair more solemn.

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