The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The High Commissioner

A fish out of water, one of the most reliable story ideas to use when making a movie.  It's easy to take it in any direction whether it be drama, comedy or both.  It seems movies lean more toward the comedy part, but dramatic ventures can be just as good, including 1968's The High Commissioner.  A mostly forgotten smaller budget film with a good cast, 'Commissioner' has an Australian cop from the bush out of his element in London bringing in a murder suspect who happens to be a highly ranking government official.

I stumbled across this one on Netflix a few weeks ago and was curious why I'd never heard a thing about it.  The stars are pretty good considering it is a late 1960s movie -- Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer among others -- and the story sounded like it had a fair share of political intrigue and excitement. So what's the reasoning for its almost complete lack of popularity or even recognition?  The stars are good, the intrigue is interesting, but that's it.  'Commissioner' is a straightforward thriller/action movie with a twist and turn here and there, but it doesn't possess anything major that sets it apart from the pack.

An Australian bush cop most comfortable and familiar with the Australian Outback, Scobie Malone (Taylor) receives a mission to travel to London and bring back a murder suspect from a case almost 15 years old.  There's finally enough evidence to prosecute him, Sir James Quentin (Plummer), the High Commissioner of Australia currently living and working in London.  Malone meets Quentin who agrees to go back to Australia with him, seemingly having waited all these years to be caught.  But Quentin has one request; he's leading a commission with global trade ramifications that could unite 1st and 3rd world countries.  All he needs is a few days to put it all together.  Malone somewhat suspiciously agrees, not knowing that he's getting into a sticky situation with the powers that be not pleased with Quentin's intentions.

First off, I wasn't expecting the story to focus more on the global summit than Malone's mission to bring Quentin back.  It was a pleasant surprise as the two plots balance each other out.  A good cop no matter where he's working, Malone then devotes himself to protecting Quentin and helping him in any way he can.  There's a leak in the meetings though so the Aussie cop has to narrow down the suspects, including Quentin's secretary Lisa (Camilla Sparv), his wife (Lilli Palmer), a gorgeous woman with suspicious motives (Daliah Lavi), and an American (Calvin Lockhart) who offers to help Malone in his investigation. The solution is not so surprising, but the momentum builds to the more surprising finale after that reveal.

Rod Taylor is one of my favorites, and he doesn't disappoint here as Aussie cop Scobie Malone.  Cool name aside, the character is that fish out of water trying to figure everything out.  He travels to London and is immediately out of place in this high-class setting.  But on the other hand, he's a good cop above all else and no matter the situation he commits himself.  Taylor also handles a lot of his really physical stunts, delivers some comedic one-liners and is pretty smooth in the process.  Plummer drifts in and out of the story, but ever the professional he makes the most of it.  The wisest choice made here is leaving his guilt up in the air until the end.  Did he really kill his first wife so many years ago? If he didn't kill her, why'd he run?  It all comes together nicely in the end, all the story lines converging and wrapping up with a nice tidy bow.

For a movie that's limited by a smaller budget, director Ralph Thomas balances out the limitations with some very cool location shooting.  For every matte painting or indoor set standing in for a dark London street, there's an equally impressive on-location scene.  One highlight has Taylor's Malone chasing down a possible hitman through the London streets and ending up at...Wimbledon, currently hosting the summer tennis major. It's a cool, fast-paced sequence as Malone realizes someone's making another attempt on Quentin's life.  So for all the pretty obvious indoor set shooting, there's the good to balance it all out.

So for all the positive aspects of the movie, what's missing?  I'm not quite sure.  The story lacks a certain energy at times, relying too much on the talents of the actors to carry on through the slow patches.  The biggest issue is that the story doesn't always know where it's going.  It just drifts too much as all these characters go in and out of the story.  Thankfully, the cast is up to the task so any slow parts are still entertaining enough to watch.

The High Commissioner (1968): ***/****

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