Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In short: Assassination (1967)

Spy Jonathan Chandler (Henry Silva) is saved from the electric chair - to which he was condemned for a crime he may or may not have actually committed - by his spy masters, so he can take on the role of his non-existent brother Philip and attempt to infiltrate some sort of dangerous group that will much later turn out to plan the assassination of a US senator to disrupt peace talks between the USA and the USSR. Plagued by an identity crisis, an unresolved obsession with his wife (Evelyn Stewart), and a thirst for vengeance towards someone or something, Chandler stumbles from New York to Hamburg, confused, attacked and threatened by his own side, as well as the side he's supposed to infiltrate.

This debut feature of director Emilio Miraglia (whom you should know from two fine, and sometimes equally ambiguous giallos - The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave) is a Eurospy movie only if you call every movie about spies made in Europe one, but it's tonally too different from other films of the genre to fit the label for my taste. Rather, it's a film working at inducing a feeling of alienation in its viewers equal to the confusion and alienation of its protagonist. It does this via a spy movie assassination plot that isn't really explained, character whose motives are not just being slightly ambiguous but opaque to utterly confusing, and a conscious avoidance of explaining anything that's going on for most of its running time. It's a bit as if Kafka instead of Ian Fleming had written the James Bond books, and Italian filmmakers were now desperately trying to rip off the adventures of James K. instead.

Watching Assassination is a peculiar experience which is as close as suffering from actual hallucinations instead of just watching a movie as some of the weirdest noirs were, the film always threatening to break down on itself completely. The movie is just held together by Miraglia's very stylish direction, a particularly intense Henry Silva going through the film as if it were a series of hallucinations he'd just love to punch in the face, and Evelyn Stewart making patented Evelyn Stewart tragic suffering faces. Though "held together" really is a rather relative description for a film as purposefully confusing and frayed as this one is.

In any case, Assassination is a pretty fantastic movie if you're willing to share in its perspective on life as a tragic, perhaps frightening and quite unanswerable question for an hour and a half of your time.

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