The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Double Man

The movie world of secret agents, espionage and government conspiracies is a tricky one. Thanks to wave after wave of movies set in that world, as a viewer, we've seen everything. With that genre more than most, a movie has to tread that ever so thin line between hard-edged, goofy and plain old spoof. That's 1967's The Double Man, an espionage movie that tries to be hard-edged but ends up falling far short.

Working as a high-up CIA analyst, Dan Slater (Yul Brynner) receives some startling news. His son has been killed in a skiing accident in the Swiss Alps. Dropping everything, Slater heads to Switzerland to investigate, not quite believing that his son -- an accomplished skier -- would die in the way described. He finds that the police have basically shrugged it off, claiming accident, but even a quick look shows Slater that something else was going on. He tries to find one of the witnesses, Gina (Britt Ekland), who saw his son moments before his death, but Slater has no idea what's in store for him.

Airing on Turner Classic Movies recently as part of a Brynner tribute night, I recorded 'Double' mostly because I'd never heard a thing about it. Some 40-plus years later, this is an almost completely forgotten 1960s spy thriller. It's easy to see just isn't very good. The twist is that Russian agents (Anton Diffring, George Mikell <----both looking odd without their German uniforms, and Brandon Brady) have exact body doubles ready for Slater and several other high-up CIA agents. Intelligence security in the U.S. will be a joke after this infiltration. Could it happen? Not the point. In execution, it comes across as a big joke, bordering on the spoof aspect.

So we're off to a good start. The premise -- while at least remotely possible -- is flawed because there's never a sense of urgency. It's revealed in the opening scene about the Russians' plan to infiltrate American intelligence, but then it takes over an hour for the attempts at the switches to actually come about. In the meantime, Slater skis around Switzerland, pursuing Ekland's Gina for questions, drinking, flirting with Moira Lister, and dodging the inept agents following him. Nothing screams out 'SPOOF!' but it nonetheless has that feel. Lloyd Nolan as Edwards, Slater's supervisor, screams all his lines and then disappears at the halfway point. Also worthy of some pokes and prods is a bizarre jazzy, big band score to the spy thriller. What aids a chase across the Swiss Alps? Not a club band of horns and trombones in a score reminiscent of a bad 1970s TV cop show.

Any positives to take away from this one? Yes, and not surprisingly, it's star Yul Brynner. It's not a great performance -- maybe not even a really good one -- but Brynner always was watchable on-screen. It is a more subdued part than I would think with a secret agent father seemingly not too pissed about his son's death. Curious? Yes, but I wanted some rage...something else. Still, it's Yul Brynner, I like him, and he's playing a secret agent. Thumbs up. Just 25 years old and still somewhat new to movies, Ekland is....well....she's gorgeous. Her character is eye candy and really nothing else. It is a serviceable part, one necessary to keep the story going. On the positive, Ekland was perfectly cast as eye candy even if a possible relationship with Slater seems forced. The Russian agents are all right, Diffring and Mikell both familiar faces as Nazis/Germans in countless 1960s WWII movies. Clive Revill is good as Wheatley, the on-location agent who comes under Slater's wrath.

Spy/espionage thrillers are right in my wheelhouse. I'll give them all a try. This one is just too dull to be even remotely interesting. Long, extended shots of people skiing or chasing each other across Switzerland does in fact look good (it's a beautiful country), but in terms of entertainment it falls short. The finale over the last 30 minutes or so makes up for it to a point, but the ending tries too hard. A twist gets thrown our way in this Franklin J. Schaffner directed thriller -- which I think I kept up with -- that allows/forces us to make our own conclusions. On the whole, it falls short despite Brynner's efforts, Ekland's looks and an exciting finale.

The Double Man <---TCM clips (1967): **/****

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