A DANDY IN ASPIC
When Leonardo was gone ...
Dir: Anthony Mann, Laurence Harvey - Cast: Laurence Harvey (Eberlin), Tom Courtenay (Gatiss), Mia Farrow (Caroline), Harry Andrews (Frazer), Peter Cook (Prentiss), Lionel Stander (Sobakovitch), Per Oscarsson (Pavel), Barbara Murray (Miss Vogler)
This was Anthony Mann's final directional job; he died of a heart attack during production and the movie was finished by the film's star, Laurence Harvey. It was based on a novel with the same title by Derek Marlowe, who also scripted, but later fell out with Harvey (*1).
It's a Cold War thriller, offering a grim and bleak image of intelligence work, closer to John Le Carré than to James Bond. The premise is somewhat daring, as the movie's protagonist is a Russian counter-intelligence agent who has ensconced himself within British intelligence under the name of Eberlin. He has lost interest in the job and therefore wants to go back to his home country, but The Russians won't allow him to quit and he is sent by his British employer to Berlin in order to eliminate a double agent who has murdered several British spies. Of course the man he's supposed to kill, is his own alter ego ...
The movie was not born under a lucky star. Derek Marlowe had been very unhappy with Laurence Harvey in the first place and he felt Harvey had done an awful job taking over from Mann:
" (...) The director, Anthony Mann, died during the filming (a superb man and great director) and [his work] was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin. He directed his own mis-talent, changed [the movie] and the script – which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up her portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.” (*2)
Critics never showed much sympathy for what they considered as a Harvey movie rather than a Mann movie and over the years they have been panning it relentlessly. In the meantime paparazzi had more attention for Mia Farrow (who has a small role as Harvey's love interest) and her behavior on and off the set. Her marriage with Frank Sinatra was soon to be on the rocks and rumors were spread that she was having an affair with Harvey.
The movie itself is not perfect, and we can only guess how much better it would've been had Mann finished it, but it still deserves some attention. Harvey may not have been a good director but I thought his low-key performance of the man pursuing his own shadow was quite convincing. Tom Courtenay is also very good as his British colleague, an almost psychotic character (as dedicated to the job as Harvey is indifferent) who is sent to Berlin to keep an eye on things. There are too many uninspired scenes and the twist ending seems to defy any logic (even that of a spy thriller), but the image of a disillusioned, desperate man trying to escape from a line of work he no longer believes in, is intriguing. The sparse action moments are brief but quite intense and the final moment on the airport hits bull's eye.
As said the dour, gloomy atmosphere is closer to Le Carré than to 007, but the movie features a Moneypenny type of secretary (played by Barbara Murray) who is madly in love with Eberlin. I suppose she was one of the things Mona Lisa came up with when Leonardo was gone ...
* (1) I haven't read the novel by Derek Marlowe; maybe the title is explained in the book, the movie doesn't provide any clue as to what it's supposed to mean.