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  Dandy in Aspic, A Drowning In Berlin
Year: 1968
Director: Anthony Mann, Laurence Harvey
Stars: Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay, Mia Farrow, Harry Andrews, Peter Cook, Lionel Stander, Per Oscarsson, Barbara Murray, John Bird, Norman Bird, Geoffrey Bayldon, Calvin Lockhart, James Cossins, Michael Trubshawe, Geoffrey Lumsden, Richard O'Sullivan
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eberlin (Laurence Harvey) is attending a funeral today of an agent who worked with him, for he has a post in the British Secret Service which he is keen to escape from. Like tonight, as one of the other agents endeavours to speak to him after the funeral, but Eberlin keeps slipping away, first from the restaurant where he was dining, and into the car of a young woman whose mother knows him (and does not have a high opinion of him). She is Caroline (Mia Farrow), and as she drives him around London he settles on being taken to her flat - but there are some things he cannot get away from...

A Dandy in Aspic suffered, it was safe to say, a troubled production as its director Anthony Mann died of a heart attack part of the way into the shoot while they were making the Berlin scenes. Quite how much of the film he finished is in dispute, but what we do know was that star Harvey completed the movie, having had some experience of directing, but not all that much, which is probably why the end result had the feeling of a work that had gotten away from everybody long before the final cut. It did not help that writer Derek Marlowe, adapting his own novel, had rendered it so darned complex.

Here is what is plain, however: Eberlin is a double agent, and that's the reason he wishes to retire, but not to London for he is a double agent for the Soviets and yearns for Moscow. That's going to be tricky when his superiors deny him the chance to return home because he is so valuable to them where he is, and making things even trickier is the British agent, Gatiss (Tom Courtenay) who has been assigned to track down the traitor. Eberlin finds it increasingly difficult to throw the Brits off his trail, which really should have been the source of much tension, but for many audiences they found themselves giving up long before the finish line.

Quite often the charge levelled against A Dandy in Aspic, whose title is as obscure as its plot, was tedium, but others saw its labyrinthine plotting as a challenge and stuck with it. They may have regretted that seeing as how the actual climax of the story essentially makes you wonder why you bothered if they were going to end it in that particular way, which answers questions yet not in a satisfying manner and looked to be a fashionably downbeat method of tying things up. It possibly did the project no favours that Harvey was his usual aloof self, although apparently he was like that in real life as well, a famously difficult man which appeared to inform his acting style.

Yet the film comes across in that coldblooded fashion too, suggesting this was more a Harvey work than a Mann one, not that Mann was in any way a cuddly director, but you could respond to his characters, not something which was able to be said about the chilly bunch gracing the screen during this. Only Farrow attempted to humanise the mood, but her gaunt look was more conducive to the austere tone than any livening up of what was a pretty grey affair, her colourful outfits notwithstanding. Yet there was an excellent cast, or at least a notable one, acting this out, with Harry Andrews as a high up operator for the Brits, Lionel Stander putting on a Russian accent for his spy, and Peter Cook as a British official who has one thing on his mind, and it's not keeping the flag flying. So there are reasons to catch what in truth was a failure, just not many for those outside of the most ardent sixties spy fans. Music by Quincy Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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