For some reason, I had vague and generally fond memories of watching Scorpio (1973) decades ago, so I decided to revisit it to document my reactions. Evidently I’ve watched way too many great spy movies in the interim, because this one looks clunky, crass, and dated in comparison.
In the wake of an assassination in Paris, veteran CIA agent Cross (Burt Lancaster) returns to the United States with the freelance hit man who executed the kill, Jean Laurier (Alain Delon) — aka Scorpio. Together they’ve been coordinating a series of “unofficial” CIA-sanctioned political hits, with Scorpio pulling the trigger to distance the act from the agency. Now that they’re back in the States, though, Cross notices something amiss: his house is under surveillance, and he starts to worry that agency has turned on him. Indeed, there is a price on Cross’s head — in fact, Scorpio had been assigned to kill him after the Paris job, by Cross’s boss McLeod (John Colicos), who believes Cross is a double agent, in addition to knowing too much about the CIA’s dirty laundry. Scorpio refused to kill Cross at first, but after negotiating with McLeod, he makes a deal to follow through, leading to an international manhunt when Cross flees to Europe looking to disappear.
Scorpio has a decent set-up, and Lancaster is fine as the master spy who has abandoned his duty as a matter of selfish personal preference. I also liked Jerry Fielding’s score, which gives the film a comforting Mission: Impossible vibe which is enhanced by a cast full of Mission guest stars like Colicos, J.D. Cannon, James Sikking, and William Smithers. But there’s not much else to recommend this grubby cat-and-mouse thriller, which buries a fairly simple plot in stilted expositional dialogue designed to make it look more complicated. Frenetic action scenes, which feature Lancaster and Delon doing some of their own stunts, don’t really hold up to modern standards, and it all ends with a disappointing, unspectacular thud. I usually get a kick out of this kind of throwback watch, but this one left me cold.