Paramount Studios presents
The Assassination Bureau (1969)
"We have sliding scales, according to the importance of the victim. Quality is always worth paying for. We have very high overheads, you know."- Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed)
Stars: Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas
Other Stars: Curt Jurgens, Philippe Noiret, Warren Mitchell, Beryl Reid, Clive Revill
Director: Basil Dearden
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild violence, thematic material)
Run Time: 01h:49m:46
Release Date: 2004-07-13
Genre: black comedy
DVD ReviewWhen Jack London died, still a young man, in 1916, he left a number of unfinished manuscripts behind. The most substantial of these was a work called The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. Before his death, London had completed about 100 pages and had a short outline for the rest. In 1963, Robert F. Fish took these materials, added 50 pages and produced a realization of this last work of one of America's great socialist authors. Though that book didn't cause much of a sensation in the literary world (and is generally forgotten except in connection with this seldom-seen movie), Paramount did see fit to turn it into a major motion picture within a few years, though the adaptation takes significant liberties, turning London's social satire into outright black comedy.
In the early 1910s, would-be reporter Sonya Winter (Diana Rigg) proposes to newspaperman Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) that she get to the bottom of what seems to be an assassination ring and expose it through unusual means. Bostwick consents and funds her, and Winter arranges for a meeting with the head of The Assassination Bureau, Ltd., Ivan Dragomiloff (Olvier Reed). His theory is that making money through murder is acceptable if the victims are deserving, and after she obtains a commitment for murder of an egotistical killer, she reveals the target: Dragomiloff himself. But he takes this as an opportunity to challenge his bureau, and enters into a kill-or-be-killed game with the balance of the bureau. Winter tags along with him, inadvertently informing the bureau of Ivan's whereabouts, as he crosses the continent, rubbing out his own men before they can kill him.
Rigg seems to be having a tremendous amount of fun with her character, who combines a tough feminist determination with a prim Victorianism. This leads to an interesting sexual tension between her and Reed (who at this point in his career had not yet porked up). She also looks fabulous in Edwardian gear, making it a shame she didn't do more period pieces. Reed is almost always entertaining to watch with his intensity, and this picture is no exception, and Telly Savalas is even more evil here than he is in his turn as Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which coincidentally also co-starred Rigg.
Sometimes the comedy is fairly broad, such as an extended chase sequence through a Parisian brothel, but most of the humor is derived from the very black comic murder plots running throughout the film; the variations makes it feel a bit like Theater of Blood (also starring Rigg), with novel homicides forming much of the entertainment value. The production values are extremely high, with lavish sets and costumes throughout. Unfortunately, the special effects work was pretty shabby even back in the day, and Rigg at one point is wearing the most amazingly hideous wig I've ever seen.
This quirky film plays in interesting ways with morality, ranging from the conventional views of Winter at the beginning to her conflicts with Ivan to his eventual corruption of her thinking. But even Ivan is not quite as amoral as his bureau, who are itching to make money from murder for hire without regard to the villainy of the target. There's not a great deal of Jack London here, beyond the basic concept of the bureau, the plan to have Ivan be the target of his bureau, and the character names. But frankly, even though I'm a fan of London this picture is very much more entertaining and works quite well on its own dark terms.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks very good, with vivid color and excellent detail even though the picture is somewhat soft. The brocaded upholstery and velvet curtains in a train car have a lifelike reality to them. There's no artificial edge enhancement added that I saw, which is commendable. Shadow detail is a bit plugged up; black suits are a shapeless mass, but otherwise it's an attractive transfer. The infrequent optical effects shots have a fair bit of dirt printed into them, but without a major restoration for this minor title it looks perfectly satisfactory.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track is reasonably clean. There's very minor hiss but it never becomes obtrusive and most of the time isn't even noticeable even at reference levels. The music has a somewhat tinny sound, and the ghastly Europop song Life is a Precious Thing sounds adequate when it's repeated over and over but it's nauseating with its thick saccharine.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: There are no extras whatsoever. English subtitles are provided, as are English closed captions. Chaptering is somewhat on the thin side for a film of this duration.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA surprisingly fun black comedy, with a nice transfer but zero extras.
Mark Zimmer 2004-07-12