This overlooked British black comedy from the late ‘60s features Olver Reed at his Reediest and Diana Rigg at her Riggiest. How can you go wrong?
Set in pre-World War I Europe, the titular organization is a secret group headed by Ivan Dragomiloff (Reed). They specialize in assassinating various people at the behest of their clients, but only if it’s determined the potential target deserves to die. This unusual code of ethics is questioned by Sonya Winter (Rigg), an ambitious journalist hoping to expose the group. She goes as far as hiring their services…to assassinate Ivan himself.
Shockingly, he accepts the job, seeing it as an opportunity to weed-out members of the bureau who’ve since neglected the code. Put succinctly, either they will kill him or he will kill all of them. Meanwhile, Sonya’s boss, newspaper owner Lord Bostwick (Terry Savalas), is actually co-chairman of the bureau with a more ambitious agenda. By killing Ivan, he can take control and put-in-motion a plan to kill most of Europe’s political leaders. But despite elaborate efforts by various assassins, killing Ivan is a lot easier said than done. And even though she’s initially abhorred by Ivan’s line of work, Sonya finds herself assisting him, which of course leads to more than a professional relationship.
|Hot off the presses.
Aesthetically, the film is definitely a product of its time, somewhat exacerbated by an extensive use of rear projection to depict various European locations, as well as the silly special effects during the climactic zeppelin attack. Still, that final act is audacious enough that we can forgive some of the technical shortcomings.
Alas, the movie sort-of came and went without much notice at the time. It’s suggested in some of the supplemental material that the film was a victim of bad timing, that no one was interested in a comedy like this since both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had recently been assassinated. Speaking of which, the film’s backstory is fascinating, dating all the way back to 1910 when Jack London gave up trying to complete the original novel. This disc from Arrow Video doesn’t provide an abundance of bonus features, but what’s here nicely sums-up The Assassination Bureau’s somewhat tumultuous history. The movie itself is a minor gem worth rediscovering.
“RIGHT FILM, WRONG TIME: MATTHEW SWEET ON THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU” - A pretty extensive exploration of the novel and film’s history.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Sean Hogan and the always interesting Kim Newman.
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET (unavailable for review)
REVERSIBLE COVER (unavailable for review)