Film: The Double Man

double-manAs unexceptional spy films go, The Double Man (1967) is a fun oldie, with gorgeous location scenery and a certain B-movie charm. There are reasons you haven’t heard of it, but you could do worse for a harmless weekend matinee.

When his son dies in a skiing accident, CIA Assistant Director Dan Slater (Yul Brynner) journeys to the Austrian Alps to attend the funeral and claim the body. Once he’s handled this tragic business, he’s supposed to return to Washington straight away—but when he discovers evidence of foul play in his son’s murder, he decides to extend his stay. Clearly an enemy operation is in motion, and he’s the target, but who’s baiting the trap, and why? Perhaps his retired old friend from MI5, Frank Wheatly (Clive Revill), is involved, or it could be innocent-seeming witness Gina (Britt Ekland), who may be part of a Russian honey trap. Suspicious of everyone, Slater defies the orders of his superiors, determined to get to the bottom of the enemy operation and smash it.

With the look and feel of an old Mission: Impossible episode, The Double Man is an occasionally ponderous affair, thanks largely to the stone-faced Brynner’s rather taciturn performance as a difficult-to-like character. The mystery builds slowly, and the major plot reveal is highly telegraphed. But Slater’s unsympathetic nature does paint a classic picture of the intelligence business as a place where trust and optimism go to die, serving the film’s reasonably well handled themes. Occasionally, cheesy rear-screen projection notwithstanding, the location work is stunningly photographed. So is Ekland, who straddles the line between ingenue and femme fatale effectively, contributing to the intrigue. On points, it’s a mediocre film, with a plot that fails to surprise and a less-than-convincing Hollywood ending that misses an opportunity to say something more powerful. But fortunately it’s my kind of mediocre film, a harmless diversion with comfortable genre trappings.

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