Thursday, 24 January 2013

A Dandy In Aspic (1968)

Film of the day: 
A Dandy In Aspic (1968)

It seems a little strange that this fascinating little spy movie with a dynamite cast should have slipped under the radar for so long. Lawrence Harvey stars as Eberlin, an MI5 agent sent to Berlin to uncover and eliminate a Russian infiltrator among his British network, the difficulty being that actually he's the double agent they're after.

Harvey's cold professional runs into waif-like poppet Mia Farrow (pulling off a very creditable posh-trendy British accent) who then tags along, complicating his assignment in a rather off-hand romantic fashion. All shot on location in London and Berlin, with a subtle, cimbalon-heavy soundtrack by Quincy Jones, no less. It should be a solid-gold cult classic, right up there with 'The Ipcress File' or even 'Get Carter'.

I'd guess that Lawrence Harvey's pained, pompadoured performance is a little too chilly to gain much sympathy from the audience, along with his dreary motivation to retire from spying and go home to quiet retirement in the East, which is probably why it remains more of a curiosity than a cult classic. (He ended up directing the film when Anthony Mann died part way through filming, so maybe his mind was really as distracted as it seems on screen.) The real pleasure of the film for me is in the supporting cast. Tom Courtenay as a zealous intelligence operative fast-tracked for big things; the whiskered giant Harry Andrews as their boss; a collection of seemingly bumbling British agents in trilbys and brown raincoats played by the likes of Geoffrey Bayldon, Norman Bird and John Bird. There are also honourable mentions for Lionel Stander (Max from 'Hart to Hart'), a young Richard O'Sullivan, Mike Pratt ('Randall & Hopkirk Deceased') with a shockingly bad mittel-European accent, and the venerable Michael Trubshawe who played Lord Dowdy in 'Bedazzled' (1967) ...      

... And while we're on the subject of 'Bedazzled', I have to salute Peter Cook as Prentiss. Notoriously wooden with other people's lines, he was definitely not a natural actor and yet he is cast to perfection in this as the ultimate public schoolboy turned spy. Flippant, randy and nursing a hangover, but also a ruthless and unquestioning tool of the establishment. I'm sure he enjoyed the satire he injected with his relaxed portrayal of British intelligence as a gentleman's club, in contrast to the tense worriers among his MI5 and KGB fellows. Top notch.


It's well worth an hour of your time on a rainy Sunday afternoon. 
You can see the whole film on YouTube here: 'A Dandy In Aspic'

Thanks to Chris Berthoud for the nudge.                     

1 comment:

  1. Have just spent an enjoyable evening watching this on your recommendation. Perfect summation of the film. Cook marvelous.