What a wonderful little film. Epic in scope , yet so tongue through the cheek that you cannot help but smile as the hi-jinks and blunders pile up higher and higher until the movie climaxes aboard an honest to goodness Zeppelin. The Assassination Bureau is campy, fun and positively irresistible. Some may argue that it is too tame, too sanitary, too, well, silly. “Go away,” is all I can say to that. Without doubt, this film is all of that, however there is a fine streak of sarcasm, and maybe even cynicism, that permeates almost every scene. A wonderful helping of intelligence (despite all the buffoonery) is also present. Not to mention the beautiful, beautiful, Diana Rigg is clothed in nothing but a towel at one point. After watching the surprisingly enjoyable The Bourne Supremacy yesterday, I was hungry for another European spy romp. Alas, I have seen every (decent) Bond film two dozen times. Bolstering my decision with memories of the glorious Ms. Rigg and the evil-when-he-wants-be Savalas (and having an eternal soft spot for the indomitable Telly Savalas. Legend has it that while I was in the incubator, Telly’s wife was having an operation at the same hospital. He told my parents I was a good-looking baby), I knew I simply had to watch The Assassination Bureau.
Special props are due to Oliver Reed for holding the whole film together. First of all, Reed is one of our heroes here at Ruthless, not so much for reportedly drinking 104 pints of beer in a 24 hour period before his second wedding, but for dropping dead of a heart attack in Malta while filming Gladiator (Reed played Proximo). Legend maintains that just prior to his demise, Reed drank three bottles of rum and beat five much younger Royal Navy Sailors at arm wrestling. Hemmingway fucking dreams from the grave that he could have gone out like that. Second of all, without his strong presence, the movie might have been pure B material. Here in The Assassination Bureau, Reed plays Ivan Dragomiloff, head of the secretive Bureau. One day, the stunning Miss Winter (Rigg) pays him a visit and gives him a proposal that he cannot refuse. She will pay him 20,000 pounds sterling to… assassinate himself! Not suicide per say, but Miss Winter feels that all killing is wrong, and to prove her point she wants a Ruthless murderer like Dragomiloff to off himself. Then she will write a story about it all, exposing the Bureau. (In truth, this part is a little murky, but let’s just call it a cute plot cookie that I happily swallowed.) Much to Miss Winter’s surprise and chagrin, Dragomiloff happily accepts her offer, seeing it as a way to test the mettle of his aging assassins. Dragomiloff seems to think they have gotten a bit fat and a bit loose, morally speaking. Miss Winter’s charge is pure.
Standing in the shadows and orchestrating the entire affair is the dastardly Lord Bostwick (Savalas). He runs the big newspaper in pre-World War I England and agrees (on the surface) with Miss Winter that something must be done about the increasing frequency of assassinations taking place in Europe. Lord Bostwick even sets up the assignation between Miss Winters and Dragomiloff. What Telly doesn’t tell is that he is the vice chairman of the Assassination Bureau. Bostwick feels that with young, idealistic Dragomiloff dead, the Bureau can get down to some real business, i.e. ruling Europe. After a bit of initial shock at the proposition of killing not only their leader, but the son of the Bureau’s beloved founder, all the assassins agree to play ball. Bostwick even sweetens the pot by adding in an additional 10,000 British pounds, which I guess in 1914 was a lot of pounds. And that starts a mad dash around Europe (London, Paris, Zurich, Vienna, Venice, Bavaria) with killers constantly plotting to kill Dragomiloff, and Dragomiloff consistently outsmarting and in fact killing them. The catch is that unknown to Dragomiloff, Bostwick has assigned Miss Winter to report on the story. This is how the assassins are constantly aware of his location. No matter of course, because Dragomiloff is just too damn good to get himself killed. I also have to point out how insanely refreshing it was to see a comedy without a single gay joke.
Curiously, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was shown to actually be a an attempt on Dragomioff’s life by the very Colonel Klink-ish General von Pinck. Pinck had stuffed a bomb inside of a sausage that would detonate when touched by any metal. He tries to feed it to Dragomiloff, but of course, the Archduke winds up with it and blows himself up. Silly sure, but a fun riff on world events, especially when coupled with Bostwick’s actions. Bostwick decides that the Archduke’s death is too boring to print as is, so he invents (you guessed it) ulterior motives and tells the world that Germany is threatening Russia and vice-versa. A forerunner to our own ages Rupert Murdoch, to be sure. Again, The Assassination Bureau is a comedy, and as such I approached it with a light heart (one made all the lighter by the presence of the divine Diana Rigg). Also again, the film, despite futzing around with history, is quite sharp. In one point, after a Viennese hotelier wrongly assumes that Miss Winter and Dragomiloff are husband and wife, the latter comments, “We must appear married. No wonder you want my blood.” And on it goes, until the two save Europe. For about five days. Anyhow, campy to be sure, and littered with more fancy outfits and European pretension than even Moulin Rouge, The Assassination Bureau is a fine way to spent a lazy afternoon.