Crossplot (1969) ***

Roger Moore – in his first movie in seven years – almost auditioning for James Bond with his lothario instinct, light touch for dialogue, a nice side-line in double takes, and enough action to show that even in his early 40s he was still nimble enough. Not in the Charade (1963) or Arabesque (1966) league and over-reliant on the Swinging Sixties and other “Tourist Britain” clichés and a plot that takes far too long to get going, it takes all the actor’s charm to make it watchable.

After one of his staff Warren (Dudley Sutton) switches the photo of a model in his portfolio, ad-man Gary (Roger Moore) finds himself on the trail of Marla (Claudia Lange), a sometime fugitive hiding out on a houseboat. Meet-cute is prompted when she pushes him into the Thames. On leaving he is knocked out and framed on a dope charge and once he manages to get her into the photographic studio Warren attempts to throw her off the roof, the would-be killer himself eliminated by his boss Ruddock (Francis Matthews) who in a marvelous piece of quick-thinking throws his gun to Gary who instinctively catches it, further implicating himself.

After going all round the houses (including a stately home), evading pursuit via an antique car race and a wedding, Gary finally gets to the bottom of why Marla is in such danger – she overheard a conversation between her aunt Joe (Martha Hyer) and Ruddock. Only problem is – she can’t remember it. And it takes even more time for Gary to figure it out, (not realizing, how could he,  that the clue is in the title, in fact two clues in a crossword puzzle). You can imagine how it goes from then.

This poster takes the easy route by trying to sell the picture on the back of “The Saint.”

On the plus side is mostly Roger Moore. “I come from a long line of hippopotamuses,” isn’t the sort of line you can deliver without some skill. But Moore’s performance lifts what is for the most part  a shaggy dog story, and he’s game enough to do all the running and fighting required, even the heavy lifting (of his eyebrows), to keep the story moving. It’s far from as funny as it thinks and not as funny as it needs to be, but there are still some good stabs at humour, a pistol held to Gary’s head discovered to be a toy gun, Gary turning the tables in a shower on Marla, telling the bride that her groom is a bigamist, and a running joke about the Marla being perennially hungry.  

The politics barely touches on the conspiracy aspects that Hollywood would have pounced upon and made a better fist of, although the idea that Britain could be undermined by civil strife was not far off the mark for the times. It needed some smarter thinking, though, for that element to work.

A much better attempt at selling a thriller with scenes from the film,
including the toy pistol pointed at Roger Moore’s head.

The rest of the cast are game enough. Claudie Lang (The Gatling Gun, 1968) is no Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn but nobody is pretending she is and she just about gets away with the dumb model approach. Martha Hyer (The Chase, 1966) delivers a glamorous villain and the suave Francis Matthews (Rasputin: The Mad Monk, 1966) her ideal match.

There’s quite a supporting cast: Veronica Carlsen (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968), Gabrielle Drake (Suburban Wives, 1972), Dave Prowse (Star Wars, 1977),  Bernard Lee (You Only Live Twice, 1967), Alexis Tanner (The Ernie Game, 1967), Ursula Howells (BBC’s The Forsyte Saga, 1967) and Dudley Sutton (Rotten to the Core, 1965).

If Alvin Rakoff (The Comedy Man, 1964) is in charge of the material he doesn’t have enough material to work with. He does enough to keep it on course but would have benefitted from a a tighter screenplay from Leigh Vance (The Frightened City, 1961). Both had done better in the past, but it is easy to be seduced by the romantic thriller format, almost a mini-genre in itself, assuming it is easier to pull off than it looks. The likes of Alfred Hitchcock (North by Northwest, 1959) and Stanley Donen (Charade) made it look easy but they had the advantage of big stars in Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn who possessed the ability to make the lightest confection work.

Hammerhead (1968) ***

Zest and Zero might be a more appropriate title for this late “so-bad-it’s-good” addition to the 1960s spy cycle. Judy Geeson (Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, 1967) is the firecracker to Vince Edwards’ (television’s Ben Casey) fizzle. It’s colorful vs. colorless. Edwards, as art connoisseur Charles Hood (from the James Mayo book series), is meant to be a cut above the normal spy when in fact he hardly makes the cut. Hood is on the trail of the evil Hammerhead (a white-gloved Peter Vaughan). Sue Trenton’s (Geeson) lust for life takes her from participation in uninhibited art spectacle to classier cabaret, at various points leaping headfirst into the story, sorely disappointed to discover that Hood is not the international jewel thief of her imagination but a mere spy.

A far cry from the audacity of James Bond or the spoofery of Matt Helm or Derek Flint, nonetheless you can’t imagine this was ever taken seriously. But Geeson’s light touch is trampled all over by the ponderous Edwards. Quite how director David Miller went from Back Street (1961), Lonely Are the Brave (1962) and Captain Newman M.D. (1963) straight into this is anyone’s guess. He ran out of ideas pretty quick, the wardrobe budget minimal, Geeson much of the time restricted to a towel or bra and panties, an entire scene of Ivory (Beverley Adams) gyrating in a bikini, other sequences set against a backdrop of scantily-clad females.

The plot is non-existent. Hood doesn’t even know what he’s chasing – a “secret report” of some kind. Halfway between camp and incompetent, the picture scores in unintentional ways. Hammerhead makes a grand entrance – lowered in a cradle from a helicopter! The big chase involves a hearse. Trenton, who can’t sing, gets to sing. Occasionally the comedy is intentional, a taxi driven onto the shore a few scenes later is stranded by the incoming tide. Needing somewhere to screen some stolen footage, Hood invades a blue movie club. Avoiding a villain in a post office, Trenton plays a version of pass-the-parcel. The monosyllabic steal the picture – in reply to Hood’s pestering, a manservant’s inevitable reply is “it depends” and that of the dancing Ivory “louder.” But the biggest opportunity for Bond-style gags, Hood and Trenton trapped in a coffin, is wasted, although there is a nod to Thunderball in the harpoonery department.

Perhaps what best passes the time is the opportunity for star-spotting. British sexpot Diana Dors, complete with lipstick transmitter, puts in an appearance. There is a flock of British television actors in Patrick Cargill (Father, Dear Father), Michael Bates and Windsor Davies (both It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum), William Mervyn (All Gas and Gaiters), Tracy Reed (Doctor Finlay’s Casebook) and Kenneth Cope (Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased). Dave Prowse (Star Wars) makes his movie debut and former top British star Kathleen Byron (Black Narcissus, 1947) has a small role. Beverly Adams is almost a spy film mascot, with The Silencers (1966), Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966), Murderer’s Row (1966) and The Ambushers (1967) in her locker. The gaggle of gals includes future Hammer star Veronica Carlsen (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968), Maggie Wright (Sex and the Other Woman, 1972) and former Slaygirl and 2001: A Space Odyssey stewardess Penny Brahms (The Games Lovers Play, 1971).

You half expect Judy Geeson to turn out to be a femme fatale or at least a decoy or there to provide a plot twist. But, no, she is just an adventuress, at times inventive and resourceful. Just a shame that an outing with the dull Edwards would put anyone off adventure for life.

A romp of the wrong kind for sure.

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