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Set in the short years after WW2 there is mystery and political
intrigue as a private detective tries to discover the whereabouts of an
Italian and reward him for his part in the rescue of an allied airman
during the war.
This is an excellent early 50s murder mystery thriller set in Venice with some great set pieces and beautiful and at times striking on location photography...much better than the overrated Venice filmed in "Don't Look Back".
Great mood - a marrying of post war paranoia ( Venice is close to the then disputed city of Trieste - between the West and communist Yugoslavia) and political intrigue which reflected the chaotic state of Italian politics at the time.
Ralph Thomas ( brother of Gerald of Carry On fame and who edited this film) made his fame with the "Doctor" comedy films starring Dirk Bogarde and Iron Petticoat with Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn but he also made quite a few well above average middle budget suspense / drama films - Campbell's Kingdom (1957), Checkpoint (1956), Above Us the Waves (1955), Appointment with Venus (1951), The Clouded Yellow (1951), of which this is one of the best. The climactic chase is excellent.
Good performance from the ever reliable Richard Todd and a nifty small role for Sid James.Excellent music by Nino Rota ( Godfather, La Strada, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2) also.
A underrated gem.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A millionaire hires a private detective to find and reward a wartime
partisan who saved his life. Unfortunately, the man does not want to be
found. Sound familiar? It ought to be. "Family Plot" is a blatant
One of the best cinema translations of a mystery thriller ever made, the pacily-directed "Venetian Bird" started life as a gripping page-turner by Victor Canning who was, most fortunately, called upon to write the screenplay from his own book by astute producer, Betty Box, who saw to it that a fine cast of players headed by Richard Todd, Eva Bartok and Walter Rilla were assembled and flown to the suitably noirish Venice locations where the film was actually photographed.
From its attention-grabbing credits superimposed on a high angle over St Mark's Square, and underlined by Nino Rota's superlatively evocative music score, to the thrilling conclusion in that same square (astutely borrowed from Orson Welles' "The Stranger"), "Venetian Bird" is a high-flying movie. (What idiot changed Victor Canning's most appropriate title to "The Assassin"? No wonder all the movie's fans live abroad! The American title gives half the plot away before a patron even enters the theater or switches on the TV. As he twiddles his thumbs while he sits through all the now non-suspenseful exposition of the first half of the film, the American viewer must wonder why all the on-screen characters are so incredibly stupid. If you know the plot even before Richard Todd swings into actionand "swings" is the word, because he performs all his own breathtaking stuntsand the super-lovely Eva Bartok brings an otherwise spellbinding touch of mystery to her enigmatic role, you may well conclude that "Venetian Bird", despite all its atmospheric trappings, is no masterpiece of suspense.
All the same, it's still difficult to downgrade Ernest Steward's strikingly somber, moody camera-work, or the charisma of the players. Only the normally reliable John Gregson fails to convince. Fortunately, his part is small. The support cast is otherwise in the reliable hands of people like Walter Rilla's delightfully suave and sinister villain, and Margot Grahame's fine-tuned, carelessly guiltless charmer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dapper, debonair, Brit Richard Todd runs around Venice (in a nicely
tailored suit) trying to detect and derail an evil plot.
The best part of this is quite early, when we're not sure if Todd is a hero or a villain. Unfortunately they neutralize any of Todd's threat much too early and jump headlong into fairly disposable conventions (the burden of a female lead arrives). Todd's moral ambiguity ends far too soon, and once he's shown to be a run-of-the-mill straight shooter, things get less interesting.
Still it does not look like a B noir. There's more than competent lighting, surprisingly difficult camera moves (carried off smoothly) and a serious mood. Talented people are at work. It's Hitchcockian, almost Welles-ian (George Couloris is in it). How many B Noirs are filmed on location in Venice? For that matter, how many A noirs are? It's shockingly cynical for this era (likewise for Frank Capra's State of the Union '48, and All the Kings Men '49). It has a few smart, bracing lines in it: "When a man faces a blank wall, he turns round and come back. But put him on the wrong path and he'll never come back." "Sometimes changing your habits at the right time is all it takes to save your life"
As I watched, I wondered if this was the template for Ian Fleming's Bond? Did 'The International' borrow a ton from this? Both end with a rooftop pursuit. Richard Todd even resembles Clive Owen a bit. Far inferior things were made in the States that are still available (Frank Sinatra in Suddenly! ???) while this remains obscure.
As another reviewer says this is something of an underrated film. More
so since it was made in 1952. At that time exchange controls would have
limited the amount of filming that could be done overseas and so much
of it was studio filmed in England.
The story is intricate and the full meaning is not revealed until the final 20 minutes. If Venice seems harsh and cold its very much in the recovery from war mode yet the back drop is excellently atmospheric. The absence of tourists is refreshing. The films high contrast back and white rendition is also noteworthy.
Not hard to see why some say Bond meets 3rd man! Even some classy looking femmes fa tales!
This film, although not as well-crafted as THE THIRD MAN or THE MAN
BETWEEN, is definitely in their league; it's a taut, post-war mystery
in which a European city (in this case, Venice) is one of the most
important characters. The main human character, Edward Mercer (Richard
Todd), is a Hitchcockian protagonist: a man trying to prove his
innocence in ever more dire circumstances.
The plot does get convoluted at times, but director Ralph Thomas always keeps your eyes interested with wonderful location shots. The cast is solid, and Sid James is given a rare dramatic role. The ending, also with Hitchcockian overtones, is thrilling and a fine bit of camera work and direction. (May I recommend that after you finish the film, go back and watch the first few minutes again. You'll see how cleverly the motifs of the film are tied together.)
Richard Todd stars in "The Assassin" with Eva Bartok and George
Coulouris, from 1952, shot in Venice.
Todd plays Edward Mercer, who comes to Venice on behalf of an insurance company, looking for a man named Uccello who has a reward coming for the rescue of an Allied airman during the war. Unfortunately for Mercer, the first person he's supposed to see is dead. Then he meets Adrianna (Bartok), who knew Uccello, and he is told that Uccello is dead. After a while, though, he begins to think that's not the case.
The director, Ralph Thomas, borrowed a good deal from Hitchcock in this film and did some effective things, particularly at the end, which is marvelous. He also used Venice and its surroundings very well to create an excellent atmosphere. If only the script had been less talky and the plot better, you might really have something here.
Bartok is mysterious, Richard Todd is very serious and quite handsome, and Venice is beautiful, even in black and white. Well worth seeing for that.
The Assassin (1952)
What distinguishes this movie is the setting--Venice, in the 1950s. There are some other famous movies set in this town in this time (the moody 1955 "Summertime"), and somehow this one feels the most authentic, not romanticized to pieces but still an appreciative take on it.
Of course, you'd rather have your movie succeed because of its plot and acting, and this one isn't bad--I'd watch it if you like this kind of low budget black and white Euro-noir. (This is a British B-movie.)
As much as murder, and the machinations of post-war Italy, are the backdrop, this is a very talky movie, to the point of being both redundant and at times confusing. It's dramatic in its progression of mysteries, and in the many night or dark interior scenes, barely lit. It's dripping in art history throughout, both as backdrop and as a growing part of the theme (one of the main mysterious characters is an artist) and this is terrific.
Because the plot is one conversation after another, all rather undramatic in its delivery, it depends on its actors rather a lot, and the leading man (Richard Todd) in particular is serious but straining the whole way. The story and screenplay are by Victor Channing, who was a best selling British author in his day, and it feels like best seller stuff, thinly conceived. There are bit actors doing their best, and there is an authenticity implied by all of the settings and period sets fairly contemporary to the filming. But the deadened script undermines a visually emphatic movie. Watch with some patience left over.
Or watch for Venice. There really is a lot in store in this aspect (though some of the interiors were apparently shot in Veneto, which is the province nearby. Toward the end is a large procession on the grand canal, pretty neat if you like that kind of thing. As the assassin, an artist at heart, says as he is ready to commit his crime, "I should have a pencil, not a gun." And you know, the last five minutes is amazing filming (and sound!), with Hitchcockian overtones, worth seeing no matter what you think of the rest of it.
This movie is obviously a competent adaptation of a book. It is pretty
good, if you like grade B noir, and we do, but the most fun is seeing
familiar faces playing against type and/or putting on Italian
accents.The villain in particular was a shocker, as I'd only seen him
in light comedies.
The most fun was looking up the bios of the actors on IMDb. It is one of those ones where a lot of the actors played roles in WWII themselves, some of them more dramatic than the parts they play here.
IMDb requires 10 (!) lines of text, so I will say the pigeons of Venice are amazing, some of the best lines are idiotic in context, and why have a chase scene in a glass factory if you aren't going to break any glass? I guess they didn't have the budget as they filmed in a real glass factory. And, IMDb, "bios" is not a misspelling of BIOS, it is a common term for biography.
Just 7 years following WWII, Italy was just regaining it's favored nation status with Europe. And to reward a countryman for Anti-Nazi actions, a detective is sent to track one man down for proved to be a hero assisting the Allies against the Nazis only to discover he is recorded in public records as dying as a hero. As the story plays out, political intrigue enters the picture as attempts are to be put into place that will ruin the up-coming elections. The police are suspicious to a degree of the detective and keep him under watch. The plot to 'assassinate' the political front runner is directed toward the detective by the true perpetrators for cover. There is much of a Hitchcock-type landscape throughout the movie with twists and turns and intrigue that ends with moment to moment wonder... Will the truth unfold? Will the true assassin be exposed? Will the police get the right person?
"The Assassin" boasts beautiful noir cinematography in the city of
Venice, and that ties in with some excellent sequences staged in places
like a 16th through 18th century museum and the rooftops overlooking
Piazza Saint Marco. There is solid supporting work from Walter Rilla.
There is an assassination sequence too.
Richard Todd, a kind of private eye with a tattered history, arrives in Venice seeking a man named Renzo Uccello (John Gregson) so that a bequest can be conferred on him for a wartime act of saving someone's life. Uccello is, however, wanted by the police, and, unknown to both Todd and Gregson's wife (Eva Bartok), he is involved in a plot to assassinate a political figure in order to induce a coup d'etat by right-wing elements. Todd places himself in the middle, while also falling for Eva Bartok.
This plot is more than enough to generate a penetrating script, but unfortunately it doesn't. The script has the elements but still seems to lack sharpness and depth. The story at times reminds one of "The Third Man" with Todd replacing Joseph Cotten, Gregson a kind of shady character (like Welles' third man), and Bartok standing in for Valli. Again, unfortunately, neither the direction of this picture nor the acting nor the characterizations generated by the script measure up to such a classic.
Still, forgetting such comparisons, the movie stands on its own as a decent noir effort.
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