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The Assassination Bureau (1969) – DVD Review

The Assassination Bureau DVD box art


Written by: Michael Relph, based on the novel by Jack London and Robert Fish
Directed by: Basil Dearden
Starring: Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Curd Jürgens, Philippe Noiret

Released by: Paramount
Region: 1
Rating: PG
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Don’t bother.

The earnest neophyte reporter Miss Winter (Rigg) is on the trail of the news story of the new 20th century. She discovers a shadowy organization called The Assassination Bureau Limited. She persuades her boss at the newspaper, Lord Bostwick (Savalas), to help her with a daring plan. She contacts the Bureau and meets the charismatic young Ivan Dragomiloff (Reed), the head assassin. She learns that the Bureau will only kill on moral grounds and for a lot of money. Miss Winters supplies both when she states that the assassination target is Ivan Dragomiloff himself. At first a little surprised, Dragomiloff sees an opportunity. He challenges his board of assassins from across Europe to carry out Miss Winter’s contract. He, of course, can kill them in ‘self-defense’. He doesn’t see a major problem surviving since he thinks most of the board has become lazy and decadent with their wealth and power. But as he, with Miss Winter tagging along, trek across the continent; they don’t realize that this game is part of a larger scheme to reshape the future of Europe.

[ad#longpost]This is Historical Epic Lite. You have the sumptuous costumes and intricate sets of a historical epic, the scenic backdrop of a world poised at war of an historical epic, but not of the gravitas of a historical epic. In fact, this movie is somewhat silly. From the slapstick of a Paris bordello being raided to the witty repartee between the two leads, you know this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. And while there are funny moments, it never goes all the way with the humor, which might have saved it. It’s as if the movie wants to keep some dignity to itself. By not committing fully to either historical drama or historical farce, you get a movie that is middle of the road and somewhat bland.

This is a shame because Oliver Reed gives a marvelous performance. Anyone who knows the actor strictly from Oliver! (and who the hell are you people, anyway?), will be amazed at this urbane, cultured, and well mannered assassin. He exudes almost Bond-level charm even while dispatching his opponents. Rigg does keep up with him, but I felt she was giving us Emma Peel in a petticoat and not an original take on this character. And what casting director thought Telly Savalas was a good choice to play an English lord? The rest of the cast muddles through with their caricatures of European nationalities, but since they’re essentially walking talking targets, why bother with them.

There are no extras to be had on this disc to help bolster the release’s salability. Although scribe Relph and Dame Diana Rigg are still with us, it’s understandable that they couldn’t be brought in for a commentary or the like. Although the very fact that it’s based on an unfinished novel by Jack London should be enough to squeeze something–even a small featurette on that, as intriguing as it sounds, could be worth a little space on the disc. But considering the film, again, it’s understandable that this is a film-only release.

So without any extras to this disc, and the silliness factor inherent in the film, I advise you not to bother with The Assassination Bureau.

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