May 16th, 2006

The Assassination Bureau

Every so often I run across a piece of classic cinema worth mentioning. I can't say that 1969's "The Assassination Bureau" is a classic, but it sure is fun. A recent discussion brought up the film, and I realized I'd neve seen it. As a huge fan of Diana Rigg, I realized this omission had to be rectified, and fortunately Georgie was able to obtain a video through the library system.

It must immediately be noted that this movie is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the Jack London novel it was inspired by. It has been given the fully Hollywood treatment and been transformed into a Technicolor romantic comedy cum caper film which is just plain candy. Set in the early 20th Century, Rigg plays a young modern woman intent on working into the journalistic profession by breaking the story of the Assassination Bureau, which is headed by (a very young) Oliver Reed. Even though this is post her "Avengers" run, Rigg does a very good job of acting young and innocent, which is quite different from the worldly Mrs. Peel. Interestingly enough, this film came out in the same year as her turn as Tracy DiVincenzo in the much more sophisticated James Bond film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." In fact, "Assassination Bureau" is very much a period piece in more than one way, having a lot more in common with films like "The Great Race" or "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (both 1965) or "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962) including the gorgeous period sets and costumes, cast of usual suspect character actors in the supporting roles, and the occasional sappy soundtrack song. Reed puts in a workmanlike job as an action hero, showing, among other things, a fine fencing form he would refine in "The Three Musketeers" and many other swashbucklers. Telly Savalas is cheerfully villainous as Lord Bostwick, and all are ably supported by their international cast of henchmen.

Thourough fluff. No sex, bad language, nudity, or even blood (most of the deaths take place tastefully off stage). However, the plot is at best morally questionable (murder for hire), so perhaps best for children old enough to understand what "satire" is.


On the 14th, after several friends’ urging, we tracked down “Hoodwinked” at the local budget theatre. I hadn’t been interested in it initially, as it wasn’t well advertised, wasn’t reviewed locally that I noticed, and newspaper ads gave the impression it was a second-rate “Shrek” rip-off. Actually, this is not the case. It draws, of course, from the same fund of tales, specifically “Little Red Riding Hood,” but in quite a different way than the Shrek films borrow. Specifically, much of the first part of the movie is a “Roshomon”-like exploration of a modernized Red Riding Hood, with the tale being told first from the viewpoint of Red, then the wolf, then the wood cutter, and finally Grandma. Once THAT is sorted out, the plot takes an abrupt left turn I won’t expose here, but suffice to say it’s a hoot.

The animation isn’t up to “Shrek” or other state-of-the art movies, but it’s good enough. The character designs are reasonably appealing if a bit clichéd (notably Granny) where they aren’t satires on other genres. The good thing about saving a bit of money on computers is that you can afford good voice talent, and the cast features Anne Hathaway as Red, Glenn Close (!) as Granny, Patrick Warburton as the Wolf, Jim Belushi as the Woodsman, and David Ogden Stiers as Nicky Flippers, frog detective.

Very definitely enjoyable, clever, and funny. Cartoon style violence and thrills. Young children won’t get all the jokes.