I really dig John Frankenheimer. True, he has made some serious stinkers (1996’s inexcusably terrible The Island of Dr. Moreau and the Affleck fucker-fest Reindeer Games) but he has also made some of my very favorite movies, namely Seconds and Ronin. And, regardless of what many people say, The French Connection II is a great film. Here in The Holcroft Covenant, Frankenheimer is in top form. Even better, so is the rest of the cast. Like a few movies I have watched recently (The Bourne Supremacy, The Assassination Bureau) Covenant takes place all over Europe and at its core is intrigue. I guess I am bored to death and in need of a good vacation. No matter… I will always have Ruthless…
Michael Caine leads the cast as Noel Holcroft, a “foreign born American citizen” who has made quite a life for himself as the head of an architecture firm in Manhattan. The only thing is, his father was a Nazi. More to the point, his father and two other men made a “covenant,” that a large sum of Third Reich money would be swaddled away into a Swiss bank and forty years later, each of their eldest sons would then be given cash so that they may perform, well, lets just call it “deeds.” Then the three Nazis drank to the “future,” and killed themselves. Quite a great opening, really. The Nazi-money swells and swells and swells in the ensuing years to the tune of $4.5 billion dollars. Noel Holcroft is to be put in charge of the money, and he is to be the Covenants spokesman. This news, given to Noel by the always fun to watch Michael Lonsdale (he’s playing a Swiss banker named Manfredi), is quite a shock to the “foreign born American Citizen.” I keep quoting that, because to great effect, Caine says the line at least a half dozen times throughout the film.
Noel’s mother is very against Noel signing the Covenant and thereby putting all that money in play. See, Mrs. Holcroft knew her ex-husband very well, she knew what an evil genius he was. She tries unsuccessfully to explain to Noel that the Covenant can only lead to bad things. There is NO WAY that her dead Nazi husband established all that money to do any kind of good in the world. Noel, like ALL of us would be, is totally blinded by the thought that $4.5 billion will soon be his to control. I mean, if I say $4.5 billion out loud to myself, all I can think is hookers, cocaine, Presidential Suite at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, fresh hookers, etc. So, now matter how more or how wisely mamma pleads with him, he won’t budge. He is signing the Covenant.
Almost immediately after Noel finds out that he is going to get to play with all that money, people start trying to kill him. While we never find out exactly who is trying to kill Noel and why, the lack of info doesn’t actually matter. Basically, the movie conveys the idea that there are lots of people who don’t want the children of notorious Nazis to get their hands on billions of dollars. Enter my favorite character from a film honestly littered with great characters, inspector Leighton, played masterfully by Bernard Hepton. A bit of a dandy who, while obviously playing all sides against the other, Leighton steals the film on the strength of his line delivery alone. Classics like, “Oh, dear, oh, dear. Assumption, Mr. Holcroft, is, as they say in my profession, the mother of fuck-up,” and “We must get moving. This place is crawling with all sorts of monsters, most of whom work for me.” If we start giving out retro-active Ruthies, Hepton is in line for the Kingsley.
Also fantastic is Anthony Andrews as Johann von Tiebolt, one of the three eldest Nazi sons. Turns out Johann has some very disturbing designs on the money. More importantly, Andrews delivers one of the best “I’m the bad guy and I’m going to tell you everything before I kill you” monologues in film history. And he actually kills the person he is telling his dastardly plan to. I like using the word “dastardly.” Also very good in their roles were Victoria Tennent as Johann’s sister and Noel’s lover (actually, she’s Johann’s lover, too. Kinky!) and the awesome Richard MÃ¼nch (he played Col. Gen. Jodl in Patton) as the sufficiently creepy Field Commander Oberst. To me perhaps most interesting of all, were the pre-Ronin car-chase shots. True, there were no actual car-chases in The Holcroft Covenant (well, sort of one), but Herr Frankenheimer was so damn obsessed with the amazing techniques he invented in Grand Prix and later perfected in Ronin, that he had to slip them in whenever Noel was in the car. Stuff like his bumper POV and the really low angles. He even has Noel in a Mercedes 450 SEL, the same car that Robert De Niro launches a rocket out of in Ronin.
The only really negative thing I have to say about Covenant is that it is a tad too predictable. At least three times I called out the what was going to happen five seconds before it happened. Once, I even called the line that was about to be spoken. Er, actually twice. I got a witness, too. Here’s my theory in two parts; first of all, the movie is based on a novel. I’m just “assuming” here, but I am going to bet that the novel was a standard procedural, and by this point in my life, I have witnessed every “device” in existence two hundred dozen times. Which leads me to my next point. I’m thinking that The Holcroft Covenant was such an original and influential film, that all of the scenes I figured out before they occurred is because of the film’s cinematic reach. Seeing it for the first time twenty years after it was made is a no-no, because I was unaware of the movie’s massive prestige and that thriller conventions it introduced have been copied a thousand fold and are now commonplace and the norm. Yeah, lets stick with that one. Anyhow, you should see The Holcroft Covenant if you haven’t already. You’ll dig it.