Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The High Commissioner ( 1968 )

Espionage films were all the rage in the mid-1960s, a fever that had been ignited by Ian Fleming's James Bond spy series. George Segal investigated neo-Nazis in The Quiller Memorandum ( 1966 ), Michael Caine had starred in the Harry Carter films ( Funeral in Berlin, The Ipcress File ), Rock Hudson was caught up with terrorists in Blindfold ( 1965 ), Paul Newman had to unmask an imposter in The Prize ( 1963 ), Gregory Peck got mixed up in an assassination plot in Arabesque ( 1966 ), and Rod Taylor found himself caught in a web of international intrigue in The High Commissioner. 

This mildly entertaining 1968 thriller was also released as Nobody Runs Forever, a Bond-ish pastiche title. Taylor stars as Scobie Malone, an Australian police sergeant who is sent to London to arrest a wanted criminal who escaped years earlier and is now using an assumed name. With his new name, this murderer climbed the political ladder to become Sir James Quentin, high commissioner for peace for Australia. 

Scobie's simple task of fetching Quentin back for a trial gets complicated immediately upon his arrival in London. Sir Quentin happens to be in the middle of peace negotiations with several countries and requests a few days delay so he can attend the conferences. Sir James is a charismatic man whom many people speak highly of. Within one day Scobie begins to question whether he is even capable of murder. Scobie saves Sir James' life in an assassination attempt and Sir James, taking him into his confidence then, tells Scobie that someone close to him is leaking information to his enemies, and "would you be willing to look into the situation"? It's a request that Scobie cannot deny. 
The High Commissioner boasts a wonderful cast with Lilli Palmer as Sir James Quentin's wife; Camilla Sparv ( The Trouble with Angels ) as his private secretary; Franchot Tone ( in his last film role ) as an American ambassador; and Dalilah Lavi ( Ten Little Indians ), Calvin Lockhart, Clive Revill, and Derren Nesbitt as some of our suspects. 

Unfortunately, like many of the 1960s spy thrillers, the pacing of The High Commissioner is uneven. It begins quite brisk, screeches to a halt midway through, and then begins to climb in suspense once again near the finale. Ultimately, what redeems the film is Plummer's spot-on performance, its colorful cinematography, and Georges Delerue's fantastic opening theme.

1 comment:

  1. Even when the overall film fails, there always seems to be something to keep us hanging around. Funny how often it will be the performance of a charismatic actor.

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