Whenever possible I do my best to avoid sounding like an arrogant American moviegoer. No nudity and no explosions? Count me out. I do my best to at least give movies a try regardless of the country they're from. If it sounds halfway decent, that's all I need. Movies from England are usually a safe bet starting with the lack of a language barrier or subtitles, although in some cases, those subtitles wouldn't hurt. That's where I'll start with 1966's The Deadly Affair.
A British production through and through, 'Affair' is the anti-Bond movie with its lack of action, sex and any sense of humor. Typically, I can keep up with thick/heavy British accents (a talent derived from years of watching Michael Caine movies), but subtitles or closed captioning always helps in a pinch. Directed by Sidney Lumet -- typically one of my favorite directors -- this semi-spy flick has so many actors mumbling and whispering through their parts that I was more than a little confused just 10 or 15 minutes in. Even trying to keep up, the story was difficult to follow...to a point. A "twist" late seemed incredibly obvious to me, but maybe I had time to think about, being confused and all.
After meeting with a possible Communist working for the British government, agent Charles Dobbs (James Mason) is shocked to find out the man killed himself -- even after a positive ruling from Dobbs to their superiors. An old friend and former agent, Dieter Fry (Maximilian Schell), is visting but Dobbs must put his friendship to the side as he investigates. With some help from a retired detective (Harry Andrews), he begins to piece things together with much of the mystery surrounding the death coming back to the man's wife (Simone Signoret). Through it all though something isn't adding up, and Dobbs realizes he's stepped into something much bigger than he anticipated.
First off, the casting is impeccable. Not so impeccable? Mason mumbles his way through his part, Signoret's thick French accent is tough to decipher at times, and Andrews talks in an ultra-fast fashion that combined with his own accent makes most of his lines nearly impossible to understand. Combine all three of those elements, and I was confused almost from the start. The story features a fair share of twists -- which obviously didn't help -- but even then the it is so slow-moving that often enough these twists don't register as a surprise. It's clear this English man didn't kill himself. It's only a matter of who was involved and most importantly, why.
On to a theory I have that I've dubbed 'the Law and Order guest star rule.' Watch an episode of Law and Order. If there's a guest star in the cast, put all your money on them being the bad guy/killer/rapist/thief/kidnapper. Figure that NBC didn't pay them just to hang around. Their services are going to be put to use. The theory applies to movies too involving any sort of mystery. In 'Affair,' it is the question of who is the murderer. SPOILERS STOP READING SPOILERS Not surprisingly, it's Schell. He makes an appearance early and then reappears in the last 15 minutes. It is obvious from his entrance he's the bad guy. One, he is Maximilian Schell, and two, he's still Maximilian Schell. END OF SPOILERS
Beyond the murder mystery and the government intrigue, the pacing lacks any sort of energy. Mason is having marital problems with wife Ann (Harriet Andersson) because she basically sleeps with anyone who says 'howdy' to her. Mason's Dobbs is unbelievably forgiving in a storyline that goes nowhere. One semi-twist involves who Ann is sleeping with, but you should really see it coming from miles off. There are other little oddities that include long scenes of watching Shakespearean plays while Dobbs and Andrews' Mendel try to piece things together. Out of place and with the ability to grind the story to a complete halt, I'm sure I missed something important, but by that point I just didn't care.
Not much else to say here. Disappointing of course because Lumet is typically such a reliable director, and the cast he's working with is certainly impressive. I'll recommend this one for fans of any of the actors or Lumet completists, but for not much else. I'm sure some subtitles couldn't hurt a second viewing, but that first one was painful enough.
The Deadly Affair <----TCM trailer (1966): * 1/2 /****