Two nights back, in a bout of nostalgia, I spent two hours watching, yet again, The Assassination Bureau, Limited, a fun movie from 1969.
The movie, one of the many proto-steampunk flicks that were produced between the ’60s and the ’70s, was directed by Basil Dearden, and is based on a Jack London novel that was left unfinished at the author’s death.
Whereas London’s book was intended as a straight thriller with philosophical underpinnings, the Dearden movie plays as a comedy, and a wonderful comedy it is.
In a nutshell – at the turn of the last century, the Assassination Bureau is a company specializing in, well, assassination. An Ethical company, the Bureau will only kill, for a price, people that deserve to die: politicians, bankers, company owners.
Things get interesting when Sonia Winter, a journalist suffragette, pays 20.000 pounds to have young Ivan Dragomiloff assassinated – and indeed, Dragomiloff deserves to die: he is the head of the Bureau, and as such, a capitalist responsible for dozens of deaths.
But Dragomiloff sees the prize on his head as an opportunity – the Bureau has become complacent and top-heavy,and therefore he will use this opportunity to clean up the structure: his employees will have to hunting him down, and kill him, or be killed.
But there’s more going on, and both Dragomiloff and Winter will have to get out alive to unravel the mystery.
The premise is fun – apparently London bought the concept from Sinclair Lewis. And while certainly perfect for a thriller, it works wonderfully for a black comedy.
The movie cast is absolutely perfect – Diana Rigg is beautiful and her chemistry with Oliver Reed, that plays a dashing Dragomiloff, is excellent.
The cast is rounded up by Telly Savalas (always an underrated actor), Curd Jurgens (that plays one of the wildest comedic roles in his life), Philippe Noiret and Clive Revill (playing, of all things, an Italian).
The dialogue includes some absolute gems.
Now, I know, the movie’s been criticized as lightweight, and it is filled with sorry ethnic clichés about European nations.
But this being a comedy, the parade of hedonistic French, jealous and vindictive Italians, precise and unimaginative Germans and what else works -and that’s what’s important: The Assassination Bureau, Limited, as a comedy movie, works.
The late ’60s and early ’70s were an age when the western public apparently felt a strong nostalgia for those “innocent” years “before the Wars”. The Edwardian era and the Twenties were often filmed, often with the tones of comedy. Was it the future suddenly feeling no longer that hot? Or was it really the pull of the future, causing the viewers to look back to what was now the dead past with a modicum of sympathy?
All in all, it was great spending some time with the first movie I was allowed to stay up late and watch on the telly.
Yes, when I was about seven, my parents allowed me to watch a movie about assassins, flaming airships and women in corsets, a movie in which a Parisian bordello explodes during a police raid.
I think my passion for history, and the Victorian/Edwardian period began there.
What seven years old could resist an exploding whorehouse?