Friday, September 4, 2009

The Assassination Bureau (1969)

Today's entry in The Oliver Reed Film Festival is 1969's The Assassination Bureau, an old-fashioned romp about murder most foul starring two of Britain's finest: Ollie and Mrs. Peel!

Reed, still sporting the epic mutton chops from his role as Bill Sykes in Oliver!, is Ivan Dragamilov, the head of the super-secret organization of the title; Diana Rigg, never more beautiful, and fresh off of her run as Emma Peel on TV's "The Avengers," is Miss Winter, aspiring journalist and proto-feminist. Reed and Rigg's undeniable chemistry and sexual tension give the film an added kick.

The droll screenplay is by Michael Relph (additional dialogue by Peter Sellers's favorite script doctor, Wolf Mankowitz) with old pro Basil Dearden (League of Gentlemen, The Mind Benders) providing solid, if somewhat zoom-happy, direction. The plot concerns Rigg's hiring of the bureau to kill Reed, its chairman, and the episodic farce is then played out in various European locales. It's slapstick comedy, but a very dark form of slapstick comedy, with many of the principles dying violently.

The international cast includes veteran character actors Curt Jergens, Clive Revill, and Phillipe Noiret, all mugging shamelessly as members of the bureau. Telly Savalas plays Lord Bostwick, the vice chariman, with a Brooklynese British accent. Savalas and Dame Diana would appear together again later that year in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as 007, who was cast in the role over Oliver Reed, because of Ollie's reputation as a boozer and womanizer. Which is ironic, considering Bond's fondness for booze and women.

God knows Reed would have made a great Bond, a damn sight better than Lazenby or Roger Moore. I'm a fan of the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, whom one might say has a bit of Ollie in him.

The print quality and transfer on the DVD release are not the sharpest by any stretch, but most of the original color is still intact, and it is presented in widescreen.

The Assassination Bureau is a chance to see two of my favorite actors in their prime, showing intense charisma in a sly and dry bit bit of filmed entertainment.

30 year later, Reed and Rigg would both appear in Michael Winner's 1998 comedy dud Parting Shots, but not in the same scene, and the less said about that one, the better.


The DVD from Paramount Home Video is now out of print, so shop around for a decent price.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

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