Thursday, September 25, 2014

In short: Danger Route (1967)

Jonas Wilde (Richard Johnson) is working as a killer for one of the British secret services; as it goes with jobs like this, he’s gotten sick and tired of it, particularly since he’s acquired Jocelyn (Carol Lynley) as the kind of girlfriend that makes a man think of retiring. Also, not killing people for money anymore.

However, shortly after his latest job and before he can do anything about his retirement plans, Wilde is called in for an emergency assassination on British soil. The Americans have gotten hold of an Eastern defector, but Wilde’s superiors are convinced the man is in fact a double agent who will do incalculable damage if he’s not “gotten rid of”. The job doesn’t sit quite right with Wilde, particularly when curious things start to happen around the new job. His contact Ravenspur (Maurice Denham) suddenly grows a niece (Barbara Bouchet) who just happens to be in the game too, and Wilde can’t shake the idea the defector isn’t the only one who is to be gotten rid of.

He’s quite right, too, and that’s not even the worst thing Wilde will learn in the next few days. Well, at least he’s tough and unpleasant enough to have a chance for survival.

Most of us know Amicus as purveyors of horror anthology pictures, but of course the company did work in other genres too, like the mid-level realist spy movie Danger Route. The film is neither as kooky as your typical Eurospy movie or James Bond film nor as complex and dark as Le Carré style espionage films but moves on that middle ground where the spy work is relatively down to Earth yet not quite enough so to be believable as naturalistic.

On a philosophical level, the film prefers a somewhat tired bitterness and a very general feeling of disgust, a disgust that is in large part shared by its hero, who is disgusted by the things he does for a living (and once for Queen and Country), disgusted by how good he is at them, clearly disgusted too at the way he uses people like Diana Dors’s (fittingly sadly played) lonely alcoholic housekeeper, and certainly disgusted by the duplicity of everyone around him. Johnson expresses this disgust with deeply tired look and the facial expression of a man who really can’t smile at himself in the mirror anymore. The way Johnson plays him, it’s quite clear that Wilde expects the betrayals he is going to suffer during the course of the movie as the logical consequence of all the betrayals he has committed – and continues to commit - himself. In what feels like a twist of bitter irony, the only times Wilde really seems to be without doubts is when he commits the violent acts he has begun to abhor.

Seth Holt (a director with a bit of spy experience via the TV show Danger Man) films this bitter little piece without any grand gestures, concentrating on the performances of his lead and a bunch of fine supporting actors, giving everything the appropriate leanness as well as providing moments of effectively unpleasant violence that turn Danger Route into something of a lost gem of the espionage genre.

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