[7 October 2011]
The Venetian Affair isn’t one of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. movies, although it sounds like one and stars Robert Vaughn. It’s an example of late Sixties spy-noir that combines the glamour and color of James Bond with the grim Cold War convolutions of darker novelists like John Le Carré (or Helen MacInnes in this case) who paint the spy game as a deadly trap that kills the innocent and guilty alike.
Vaughn is a classically tarnished noir protagonist: a defrocked CIA agent turned alcoholic pseudo-journalist. The point of the plot is to kill as many people as possible in its labyrinthine double-crosses, as navigated by Vaughn with a sour disposition and a loyalty to his own bruised heart. The point of the style is to frame the mayhem in the full glamour defined by Sixties spies, who showed how murder can be beautiful. Somewhere in the back of all this is a mildly science-fictional device common to this era: a mind-control drug that “robotizes” people. It’s more of a McGuffin than a major theme.
There’s mucho violence amid the relentlessly picturesque Venice locations. Adding to the picturesque-ness is Elke Sommer, arriving late in the story as Vaughn’s ex-wife, a Communist spy who’s behind his disgrace. Felicia Farr and Luciana Paluzzi are also around to look stunning. Boris Karloff and Karl Boehm glower ambiguously in the background while Edward Asner and Roger C. Carmel are unglamorous paperweights. Lalo Schifrin’s music uses the exotic sounds of a cimbalom, and Julius La Rosa sings a title song over the end credits to cement the Bond vibe for a story that’s more bitter than Bond.