The 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.