Director Basil Dearden’s try at plush, Edwardian whimsy doesn’t quite come off. It’s one of those films where cast & crew seem to be having more fun than you are. Loosely taken from the Jack London/Robert Fish novel about a Gentlemen’s Club of Assassins who secretly control international finance & governments thru deft murders, a likelier influence was THE WRONG BOX/’66, another sumptuous, civilized period comedy with a macabre plot.* And, thanks to its handsome, overstuffed production design (very William Morris), gorgeous cinematography (very Geoffrey Unsworth) and cast (very Diana Rigg), it’s often a pleasure to look at. But Dearden can’t balance the suspense elements with his tongue-in-cheek rogues out for lively adventure. The morbid plot has Rigg blindly hiring Bureau chief Oliver Reed to be the society’s next victim. He’ll have to take out everyone else on the board of directors to survive. As mocking hero, Reed hasn’t exactly got the light touch needed, though seeing him in one painfully transparent disguise after another may be the best joke in here. It’s not a bad pic, but imagine Hugh Grant in front of the camera and Blake Edwards behind to see how this might have taken flight.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Though not as good as you may recall, THE WRONG BOX certainly matches up nicely.