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Mediocre espionage caper, which only comes to life when most people will have switched off.
A light and completely inoffensive spy spoof, To Catch A Spy is not the kind of film that demands high calibre acting talent. Yet for reasons best known to themselves, established stars like Kirk Douglas, Trevor Howard, Marlene Jobert and Tom Courtenay lend their skills to this 1971 potboiler, making it seem a bigger and better picture than it really is. The first three quarters of the movie are virtually a total loss, with dispirited plotting and pacing, but it perks up into something resembling life during the final quarter as the action shifts to a secluded, deserted Scottish hotel. By this time, most viewers will have given up the ghost - but for the handful still watching these climactic scenes are actually quite amusing.
Married couple Fabienne (Marlene Jobert) and John (Patrick Mower) are honeymooning in Bucharest when the latter is arrested by the secret police. The anxious Fabienne is forced to return to Britain without him. Meanwhile, it is revealed to the viewers that John is actually a spy working for the Russians, and that his arrest was just an elaborate deception created so that they could contact him. Fabienne is duped into believing that John is now a hostage, his only hope of release being that the British secret service might release one of their Russian prisoners in exchange for him. Still unaware of the double-cross, Fabienne works tirelessly with her uncle Sir Trevor (Trevor Howard) - a foreign office diplomat - to get the British government to trade a Russian spy for her husband. Just when it seems that a deal has been struck, the spy they choose to bargain with is accidentally killed. Fabienne instead sets her sights on Romanian spy Andrej (Kirk Douglas), but as she tries desperately to trap him in order to use him in the exchange, she discovers herself to be falling in love with him. All is resolved in a last-minute revelation at an exchange-rendezvous-point near the Iron Curtain.
To Catch A Spy was penned by the expert comedy script duo Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement (the latter also directed), but they seem to be having an off-day. The film looks terribly dated, with a storyline that resurrects all the clichés of the spy movies and caper movies that were popular at the time. Of the main actors, Tom Courtenay registers best, providing some mirth as an inept agent. The others don't disgrace themselves, but they're stuck with nothing roles and can't really get across characterisations worth caring about. The film is occasionally pleasing to the eye, with some interesting locations, but on the whole it is a rather uninspired and unremarkable time killer. Everyone involved has certainly done much better.
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