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Ex-spy David Janssen is threatened by ruthless CIA man Arthur Kennedy
"Covert Action" is not a good title. The original title "I was a CIA agent" is better. This movie is not an action film. It's also not a standard thriller even though it's a pretty tense movie in places. Rather, it's more a realistic spy story. Such stories are typically slower-moving than action movies. They dwell more on relationships. People do not just shoot up others, if it serves no purpose. They have other ways of getting what they want without attracting police by messy killings. Not to say this movie lacks action and violence. It has plenty of both. It's just that the dominant thrust is that of a slower burning spy story.
As such, it's a very good film. We have David Janssen in a role perfectly suited to him. He's an ex-CIA agent trying to write a revealing book in Athens about the Company. But Arthur Kennedy, a CIA man who was his boss is there too, and he fears that Janssen is going to reveal too much. There is a tape floating around with some revelations and Kennnedy is worried that Janssen has it or knows where it is. Janssen had a love for Corinne Clery, now married to Maurizio Merli, whom Janssen knows and is not unfriendly toward.
Arthur Kennedy was one of the Hollywood greats who went overseas after the classic Hollywood era ended. He's terrific in his part, projecting affable threats, always suspicious and ruthlessness. Because Merli has fallen down on his CIA job, becoming a heroin addict, Kennedy wants him dead. To fend him off, Merli says he has the tape.
There are several killers handled by Kennedy, including Ivan Rassimov and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart who plays Merli's replacement. These actors are seasoned veterans of the Italian cinema.
There is one harrowing sequence in which Janssen is kidnapped and placed in a psychiatric institution that administers shock treatments.
The story has some decent surprises. The music theme is lovely (Stelvio Cipriani). The photography is a virtual travelogue that includes ruins on several islands, one being Rhodes.
I am rating this one perhaps a tad higher than usual, mainly because it's so great to see David Janssen as star and to see such excellent support as that of Kennedy, Merli and Clery. Philippe Leroy is also good as a police inspector in a well-written part with some humor to it.
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