The Assassination Bureau (1969 United Kingdom)

‘The Assassination Bureau Ltd.’ was an incomplete novel by Jack London. The 1969 film version was produced by Michael Relph and directed by Basil Dearden. Crusading journalist Sonya Winter (Diana Rigg) uncovers the existence of a secret society of hired assassins operating at the turn of the 19th century. Their founder is cocksure Russian nobleman Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed). He is hired by Sonya to murder…himself. Feeling the Bureau to have become complacent, he accepts the challenge. Sounds like quite an ominous plot!

The tables have been turned on the devilish Mr D. Before he can end the meeting by banging his gavel, the first of many attempts on his life is made. An army of assassins pursues Ivan and Sonya across Europe, but they manage to stay one step ahead of them. Newspaper owner Lord Borstwick (Telly Savalas) – also Sonya’s employer – wishes to use the Bureau as a political weapon: he plans on bombing a Bavarian castle in which the crowned heads of state are soon to gather…The acting is of course typical 60s/whimsical/over the top/stage play style. But, in comedies, that is quite beneficial as it makes the punchlines hit much harder.

                          (“Your jugs are bigger than mine”, said the actress to the actress)

This is a fun tongue-in-cheek romp, almost like an extended episode of ‘The Avengers’ in period costume. The presence of Diana Rigg supports this view. ‘Wynter’ resembles Mrs.Peel in as much as she is also stubbornly independent, but her ‘feminism’ is largely played for laughs. Oliver Reed was tipped at one point to replace Sean Connery as James Bond, but his hell-raising/skirt lifting image put producers off. (Bond actors are supposed to be tee-totaling celibates apparently) He would have been terrific! He is wonderfully cool and resourceful, boasting a Sherlock Holmes-like talent for disguise. In one of the best scenes he disposes of a waiter on a train by blowing hot brandy into the man’s face. (Well, the dude was asking for it) In Paris, he turns a cellar into a bomb that goes off as soon as his would-be killers open the door. Temperatures are probably rising in some female viewers anatomy by this point.

One of the many pleasures this affords is spotting well-loved British characters in small roles. An uncredited Peter Bowles is in the brothel sequence, while Warren Mitchell and Clive Revill are among the other Bureau members. Frank Thornton is one of the Bureau’s victims who plummets down a lift shaft. Rigg and Savalas reunited later in the year for the Bond picture ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. Michael Relph is credited with the script but Wolf Mankowitz (a writer for ‘Dr.No’) provided additional dialogue. This is most evident in the scene where Sonya first meets Ivan. His attempt to justify the Bureau’s existence is borderline persuasive. Despite a few longueurs (notably the Venice sequence), ‘The Assassination Bureau’ is ideal rainy afternoon viewing for those who like their entertainment dated. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Sounds like an entertaining flick indeed, brilliant review!

    Liked by 1 person

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