The Venetian Affair (1967) is low-key but enjoyable spy cinema, a “technicolor noir” that feels like a cinematic spin-off of the popular spy TV shows of its era. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s Robert Vaughn stars as washed-up CIA agent Bill Fenner, now a reporter for a wire service. He’s sent, with a mixture of reluctance and suspicion, to Venice, to cover the suicide bombing of an important conference. Fenner may have left the spy game behind, but it hasn’t left him, and he quickly finds himself on the radar of a former colleague, shifty CIA station chief Frank Rosenfeld (Ed Asner). He soon inserts himself recklessly into the investigation, which gets more complicated when his ex-wife Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer) resurfaces, and turns out to be connected with the intrigue.
Colorful, moody, and mostly engaging, The Venetian Affair finds a nice sweet spot between the flashy camp of Bond and the somber cynicism of more serious spy lit. It deploys its locations to great effect, and Lalo Schifrin — in his prime — provides the soundtrack. I much preferred its patient, intelligent build-up to its ultimate revelations. The resolution of the mystery lurches into campy territory, and the final scenes struck me as anticlimatic. But I enjoyed the journey, and overall this one struck me as both worthy of inclusion and well placed on the list.