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  Callan A Man With A Mission
Year: 1974
Director: Don Sharp
Stars: Edward Woodward, Eric Porter, Carl Mohner, Catherine Schell, Peter Egan, Russell Hunter, Kenneth Griffith, Michael Da Costa, Veronica Lang, David Prowse, Don Henderson, Nadim Sawalha, David Graham
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: David Callan (Edward Woodward) is an ex-convict who is stuck in a dull office job with an overbearing boss. But he also has connections to the Secret Service, something he would like to forget but which he can't leave behind, especially as they've contacted him again. He goes to see the section leader Hunter (Eric Porter) during his lunch break, and there he is given the option to rejoin the service with one more job. Practising his firearms technique in their firing range, Callan realises he's a bit rusty, but agrees to go along with the plan. And the man he's supposed to kill? He is Rudolph Schneider (Carl Mohner), who just happens to work in the office down the corridor from Callan...

Like Harry Palmer in the cinema, television's Callan represented the unglamorous side of spying, but here he was even lowlier than Michael Caine's character. The series was a highlight of nineteen-sixties British TV, and so in the seventies it seemed natural that he should make the leap to the big screen, but more as The Sweeney and Doomwatch did than On the Buses had managed. So this film was written by James Mitchell, based on his novel A Magnum for Schneider, offering up a similarly dingy tale of espionage on the ground level but only retaining two of the actors from the series, Woodward and Russell Hunter (playing Callan's malodorous, occasional sidekick).

Realism in the case of this film means staying as depressing and low key as possible - for much of the time. Callan accepts Hunter's offer, despite Hunter's right hand man Meres (Peter Egan) itching to try the killing himself as he doesn't trust Callan's loyalty or ability. And with good reason because our hero has deep misgivings about his lifestyle and suffers incurable guilt which lead him to plenty of soul-searching and disturbing nightmares - we don't even know if he will pull off the murder. Most of the suspense stems from the will he or won't he? aspect of the plot, but there are points along the way that see him getting into mortal danger, and causing it too.

First Callan gets acquainted with Schneider, exploiting their shared love of war games, until Schneider suggests that he come over to his house one weekend for a battle re-enactment with his model soldiers. Callan agrees, due to Hunter insisiting that Schneider be executed in his home, but first the would-be assassin visits Schneider's country mansion to investigate his safe, where he (and we) uncover the reason he is supposed to die. He keeps a scrapbook of cuttings of his greatest hits: basically he supplies arms to terrorists. You get the impression Callan doesn't mind Schneider as a person, but now he is more conflicted about whether society would be better off without him.

The tone is such an effective mixture of the mundane and the sinister that any deviation from this, such as an action sequence, seems out of place. In particular, we've watched Callan spend his nights punching a bowl of wet sand, and when we find out why it's in a scene where he's being beaten up by David Prowse. Suddenly, the screen is saturated with a solarised effect, and Callan applies two punches of death to Darth Vader - very strange. Another action sequence is more fitting as Callan terrorises Schneider and his girlfriend (Catherine Schell) in a car chase, but the film is still more at home with the prosaic details: a gun hidden in a bag of sprouts, Callan throwing up after a killing. Woodward is excellent in the role, as he should have been by this time, and it's he who holds the story together as the self-doubting Callan, disgusted with his work and his place in the world, yet unable to do anything about it. Inappropriately jaunty music by Wilfred Josephs. No swinging lightbulb, either.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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