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The director, novelist/scriptwriter, and three stars of the previous year's "The Spy Killer" are back with another twisty espionage yarn. This time, intelligence chief Max (Sebastian Cabot) forces ex-agent John Smith (Robert Horton) to go behind the Iron Curtain by threatening to deport his American girlfriend/model (Jill St. John). As with the earlier film, attention must be paid, but the rewards are immense. If you like tough, cynical intelligence thrillers and have the opportunity to see this, don't let it go by.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Foreign Exchange' was the second of two made-for-television films
starring Robert Horton as 'John Smith', ex-spy turned private eye. The
first was 'The Spy Killer'.
A Russian agent has been arrested in London. Actually, he has been working for the British for years, sending false information back to the homeland. Max ( Sebastian Cabot ), head of British Intelligence, wants to send him home to a hero's welcome, where he will be our top man at the heart of the Kremlin. To make his return look convincing, Max asks Smith to allow himself to be arrested by the Russians, so that he can be exchanged in a diplomatic swap. Naturally, a suspicious Smith turns the job down. But when Max threatens to have Smith's girlfriend Mary Harper ( Jill St.John ) deported to America, he agrees to the plan.
Smith is sent behind the Iron Curtain where he is picked up and interrogated by Borensko ( Eric Pohlmann ). But the spy Smith is supposed to be swapped with has died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Smith now faces a bleak future as a prisoner in a Siberian work-camp...
As with 'The Spy Killer', this is a complex yarn with more twists and turns than a corkscrew. It is not the sort of film where you can pop out for a coffee in between shots, it requires concentration. It is worth the effort though, as like its predecessor, it takes a cynical view of the Cold War. Max is such a devious swine you wonder why Smith does not throttle him.
Also in the cast is the late Dudley Foster as 'Leo'. Foster, who committed suicide in 1973, was a talented actor capable of switching effortlessly from comedy roles ( he appeared a few times in 'Steptoe & Son' ) to more dramatic ones, and found time to menace 'John Steed' in 'The Avengers' and Patrick Troughton's 'Dr.Who'. Eric Pohlmann was 'The Fat Man' in 'Carry On Spying' and the ( uncredited ) voice of 'Blofeld' in 'From Russia With Love'.
Things To Look Out For - during the fashion show, on the catwalk is Carol Cleveland, best known for playing the pretty girl roles in 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'.
Hardly any action to speak of, but it does not matter. If you liked 'The Spy Killer', you are bound to like this too.
"Foreign Exchange" is a solid and enjoyable spy story with plenty of
twists. In spy stories, twists usually arise when the boss of the spy
sends him on a mission that, unknown to the spy, has a different
objective. The boss may lie to his own agent. At other times, it's a
game of chess in which the boss plans on his agent's and opposition
moves and then there are counter-moves already planned. In this movie,
these kinds of nifty complications occur, but there is much more due to
the independence of Robert Horton's spy character. He's no passive
pawn. He's been out of the spy game for 5 years. He has information
he's ready to use against his own boss (Sebastian Cabot) when things
get hot for him. He's willing and able to cooperate to some extent with
the Russian boss (played very nicely by Eric Pohlmann). Also, Horton is
no slouch in transmitting pressure to other spies with questionable
backgrounds, in the same way that Cabot has blackmailed him into a new
mission. When Horton's interrogated, he can lie with a straight face
and no loss in composure.
All of this adds up to a very good spy movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When the news of a Russian spy being arrested in London is announced in the local newspaper a former spy now turned private eye becomes very concerned. Sure enough, "John Smith" (Robert Horton) is soon contacted by British Intelligence and asked to participate in a clandestine operation. At first John refuses but when his American girlfriend "Mary Harper" (Jill St. John) is threatened with immediate deportation he begrudgingly accepts the assignment. Essentially, the Russian spy arrested in London has been converted into a double agent and British Intelligence wants to position him in Moscow. So they want John to get arrested in Russia so that a trade can be worked out between the Russian spy and him. The Russian spy would be sent to Moscow in exchange for John. Unfortunately, although John gets arrested in Moscow the trade doesn't work out as planned and he now faces 25 years in Siberia with no way out. Anyway, rather than detail the entire story and risk ruining the film for those who haven't seen it I will just say that this was a pretty interesting spy caper which involved a complex game of espionage. Yet, while this movie had plenty of intrigue I thought it needed a bit more action, drama or suspense to really be effective. I also would have liked to have seen more of Jill St. John than what was offered. Additionally, from what I understand this particular movie may have been a follow-up to another film by the name of "The Spy Killer" and it's possible viewers could gain a greater appreciation or more perspective if they watched that one first. In any case, due to my previous comments I rate this movie as about average.
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