Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Venetian Affair (1967)

Venetian Affair2The Venetian Affair is a 1967 spy movie starring Robert Vaughn. Given Vaughn’s high-profile role in The Man from UNCLE you could be forgiven for thinking that this was one of the movies cobbled together from episodes of the TV series, or at the very least that it’s a light-hearted campy spy spoof of the kind that was so popular in the 60s. You’d certainly be forgiven for expecting a James Bond-style spy movie. In fact you’d be wrong on all counts. The Venetian Affair is not only a very serious spy movie, it’s also a very dark one. In fact it has much more in common with the Len Deighton adaptations of that area, such as The Ipcress File, than with either The Man from UNCLE or the Bond movies.

A disarmament conference is wrecked by a bomb. The Americans blame the Russians; everyone else (as usual) blames the Americans. It’s clear that the bomb was on the person of the American delegate but it’s not clear why he would want to blow himself up along with everyone else.

Dr. Pierre Vaugiroud (Boris Karloff) runs his own private intelligence network and he believes he knows who really planted the bomb. He has information that the top CIA investigator Frank Rosenfeld (Edward Asner) wants, but he will only give it to Bill Fenner (Robert Vaughn).

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Fenner is a former CIA operative who was fired by Rosenfeld, presumably on account of his drinking. Now he works for a wire service but he seems to spend most of his time drinking. Rosenfeld isn’t thrilled by the idea but he has no choice; he has to take Fenner back, at least temporarily.

Of course there’s more behind this than just an attempt to disrupt a disarmament conference. The real prize is a scientific invention that promises to be a deadly threat to world peace.

Fenner had at one time been married to Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer), a communist agent. That may have been the reason he was fired from the CIA. In any case Sandra is involved in this case, but as to which side she is really on - well that’s one of the things Fenner has to find out.

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The movie was based on the novel of the same name by Helen MacInnes, who was at one time one of the big names in spy fiction. This is a rather dark espionage movie, and is certainly no spy spoof. It’s all played with deadly seriousness. The story has plenty of twists and turns with Fenner not knowing who he can really trust.

It’s not an action movie. This is a movie in which psychology and plotting takes centre stage but there is some action towards the end with a rather good chase and shootout sequence through the canals and bridges of Venice. Director Jerry Thorpe makes good use of the Venetian locations.

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Robert Vaughn is called on to do some serious acting in this film and he handles the role of Fenner fairly adroitly, playing him as a man who long ago stopped believing in anything except the bottle. The supporting cast is excellent with Kark Boehm, Elke Sommer and Edward Asner all contributing good performances.

There are none of the spectacular visual set-pieces you find in the Bond movies, and few gadgets, but the Venetian setting makes up for this.

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This Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD offers a superb 16x9 enhanced print in the correct Cinemascope aspect ratio. 

The 60s was the era of far-fetched spy movies with an emphasis on high camp, but the decade produced some good serious spy films as well. The Venetian Affair is not in the same league as the Harry Palmer films but it’s still a reasonably effective spy thriller. It’s not a great movie but it’s better than its reputation would suggest and it’s worth a look.

5 comments:

Kho said...

Ah, I thought this was a movie cobbled together from a couple Man From U.N.C.L.E episodes. Glad you set the record straight on that. I'm a Boris Karloff completist so I will get this. I've never seen the Man From U.N.C.L.E. as I was born in 1966 and it was not widely syndicated when I was growing up though I caught a snippet or two somewhere. I think the series is available and I'm thinking about it because a lot of great actors and actresses like Karloff were guest-stars on it. I wish Karloff had made more movies between 1945 and 1960 because he sure made a plethora of them during the last 10 years of his life. I just watched The Sorcerers and it was ok but nothing to write home about. The only Michael Reeves film I like is Witchfinder General. Some of the actors in the Sorcerors were atrocious and ol' Boris was so old and infirm. If you ever have a chance, check out the old silent movie (1926) The Bells that he made with Lionel Barrymore. He plays someone who looks a lot like Dr. Caligari. Character was obviously inspired by the Weine film. OK, I've deviated enough from the topic at hand. Vaughn, the star, of the Venetian Affair never impressed me much but I've only seen a few of his films like The Magnificent Seven (in of itself a great film but the Vaughn character, meh) and Superman 3. I've mostly seen him doing cheesy commercials for law firms and health insurance companies. His line delivery is a bit flat and monotonous. I do have a few of his other films like the Young Philadelphians that I want to see. His acting talent seems to be about on the same level as some of the rubbish he starred in the 50's such as Teenage Cavemen. Yes, I have seen that and it is terrible and all the performances were wooden not just Vaughn's. I like Corman's work in the early to mid 60's with the Poe adaptations and The Intruder with Shatner but he was lousy before and lousy after he took LSD. IMHO, of course.

Kho said...
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Kho said...

I'm afraid I was in a foul mood when I wrote the first post. I actually like Robert Vaughn somewhat. I also think Corman could have been a great filmmaker and he threw it all away so he could concentrate on producing a lot of crap. A grain of salt has to be taken though because I have collected, watched and enjoyed a lot of his crappy movies. Lately I tried to watch some of his naughty nurse movies and I couldn't make it through them. They were so dull and badly acted. Not to mention the fact that some of the fashions of American women were horrid in the early to mid 70's. Not a turn on. Hippie culture no doubt. Some of it carried over into European movies but not too much. Women over there still looked fabulous and sexy for the most part. Speaking of fantastic looking women, I just watched Fuego with Isabelle Sarli. OMG! Now there's a fine specimen of feminine pulchritude.

dfordoom said...

Kho, I loved Fuego as well. And I tend to agree about Corman. The movies he did in the 50s and 60s, the ones he directed himself, were a lot better than the movies he produced from the 70s onwards. I also agree about hippie fashions - very unappealing.

dfordoom said...

Kho said...

"I've never seen the Man From U.N.C.L.E. as I was born in 1966 and it was not widely syndicated when I was growing up though I caught a snippet or two somewhere. I think the series is available and I'm thinking about it because a lot of great actors and actresses like Karloff were guest-stars on it"

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was entertaining. The first season was played moderately straight with just a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour. The later seasons were pretty much out-and-out spy spoof stuff.