The Assassination Bureau [50 Films Older Than Me #43]

A while ago (indeed, almost a whole year ago), it was my birthday! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of the fifty years before I was born, and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #43.

Spoilers ahead.  

The Assassination Bureau

Directed by Basil Dearden

Release Year:  1969 (1 years before I was born).

What it is about:  Ivan Dragomiloff is the chairman of the Assassination Bureau, a secret society across Europe in the early parts of the 20th century, which murders people for money. His organization is discovered by Sonia Winter, a women’s rights activist, who hires the Bureau to murder Dragomiloff himself. Dragomiloff takes this in his stride, and uses the contract as a means to thin out his organization, who have thrown away the original ideals of the organization (to murder those who morally deserve it) and instead are just out to make money. Sonia Winter joins him on a trip across Europe where he confronts many of his former colleagues, eventually falling in love with him as they uncover a plot by the Bureau to assassinate all the heads of state of Europe in order to profit from the resulting war.

Starring Oliver Reed as Ivan Dragomiloff, Diana Rigg as Sonia Winter, and Telly Savalas as Lord Bostwick (as the Bureau’s vice-chairman and mastermind o the plot to assassinate the European leaders). Other key Bureau members are played by Curt Jurgens, Philippe Noiret, Clive Revill, Warren Mitchell, Kenneth Griffith and Vernon Dobtcheff. Annabella Incontrera plays Eleanora Spado, the treacherous wife of the Italian Bureau member.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I’d never heard of this movie before I researched this list, and was drawn to it mostly because of the presence of Diana Rigg (whose complete run of Avengers episodes I recently finished watching).

Reality: The Assassination Bureau is a fast-paced, adventurous romp with a truly absurd premise. A woman hires a secretive and elitest group of assassins to murder their own leader. The inherently dark story turns into a light-hearted romp as Dragomiloff and Sonia start to cavort around early 20th century Europe, visiting many famous sights, either narrowly avoiding being murdered or proactively going after the members of the Bureau and killing them first. Eventually it’s starts purporting that Dragomiloff is actually some sort of hero–his Bureau only kills guilty people, whom the world is better off without, and it’s because his colleagues have abandoned these principles that he has agreed to Miss Winter’s contract in the first place.

But in this the movie happily ignores many of Dragomiloff’s more questionable actions. Frequently his targets are killed with bombs and explosives, and though it’s never explicitly shown, it’s pretty obvious that there would be lots of innocent people around getting caught in the destruction as well.

Often this occurs in self-defense, but at least once he deliberately goes out of his way to blow up the bank that one of his enemies is in, right in the middle of the work day. Not very honorable there, sir!

But obviously the movie doesn’t intend for us to take any of this seriously. It’s all more akin to fantasy than drama, with the climax even taking place aboard a Zeppelin which explodes, but which Dragomiloff survives by riding big inflatable balloon to the ground. It’s like a James Bond film on a particularly silly day (which is maybe a little ironic since Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas also played the leading lady and the villain in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was released the same year–and Oliver Reed was one of those considered for James Bond in that film!)

There is a frivolous air to things, but it doesn’t keep the movie from being fairly elaborately plotted. At first I was afraid it would just be one episode after another of Dragomiloff facing off and invariably winning against a European tour of assassins in one-on-one confrontations, but things get a more complex when the story reaches Italy.

There the beautiful but unfaithful wife of the local Bureau member coincidentally decides to poison her husband so she can run away with her young lover. When Dragomiloff arrives, she attempts to take advantage of the situation by handing him over to Lord Bostwick, and then to blackmail the Bureau with exposure to the authorities. Of course she comes to no good end, but this turns the story into an amusing caper as Dragomiloff must avoid capture and also discern his enemies’ schemes and motives. This of course leads to the Zeppelin climax, and helps to keep things interesting by giving the last act of the movie something to be about other than just murder.

Oliver Reed isn’t an actor I know much about but he’s good here as Dragomiloff–equally charming and refined as he is brutish and dangerous, and against all odds likeable in spite of his character’s choice of profession.

Diana Rigg does a capable job as well even if Sonia Winter was never going to be as iconic or cool as Emma Peel. And Telly Savalas makes for a menacing presence even if his character doesn’t have a lot of nuance to play with.

In addition to the capable supporting cast (I recognized Curt Jurgens in particular, who was the main villain in Thunderball) there are a fair few notable British actors in the smaller parts, most of whom I recognized from Doctor Who. This includes Beryl Reid (Earthshock), Olaf Pooley (Inferno), and Roger Delgado (the original Master, starting in Terror of the Autons).

George Coulouris also has a little part–he was in Doctor Who but is better known from Citizen Kane. And incidently, Clive Revill, who plays the Italian Bureau member, was also the originally Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, before he was replaced by Ian McDiarmid.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? It is a silly movie with a dated, cringeworthy style at time, but it’s full of energy, has some good set pieces and is surprisingly fun.

See here for the Master List.

One thought on “The Assassination Bureau [50 Films Older Than Me #43]

  1. From what I remember of my first impression of Oliver Reed in this movie, he would have made a very good James Bond. Thanks, Ben, for your review.

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