Credibility Not Required or Desired: 'Cop-Out' and 'The High Commissioner'
These two films fall on the disposable but fun end of the spectrum of sophisticated thrillers.
Ah, the High Sixties, pinnacle of a certain strain of sleek, glamorous, sophisticated thriller spawned by a stylish brew of influences: James Bond, Alfred Hitchcock, the heist caper, and a European New Wave sensibility. Credibility wasn't required, or even desired. Some of us eat these things up, which is why we'll appreciate new Blu-rays of Pierre Rouve's Cop-Out (1967) and Ralph Thomas's The High Commissioner (Nobody Runs Forever) (1968). Besides falling on the disposable end of the spectrum in sophisticated thrillers, they share a secret ingredient that we'll get to in a moment.
Cop-Out makes more sense under its British title, Stranger in the House, based on a similarly titled novel by Georges Simenon that had been filmed in France in 1942 and would be remade in 1997. This movie functions most effectively as a vehicle for James Mason as John Sawyer, a bitter, self-loathing, alcoholic barrister with no time for his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin), a sullen, close-cropped lass who works in a law office. We can hardly blame him.
She's hanging out with the wrong crowd of swinging toffs plus one poor Greek immigrant boy (Paul Bertoya) whom she's fallen for. The latter becomes the scapegoat when a weirdly abrasive American refugee (Bobby Darin) is found dead in Sawyer's attic, where Angela had stashed him for reasons that are entirely unclear and unconvincing, and her father pulls himself together long enough to defend the Greek against the incestuous old-boy system that's eager to railroad him.
This film isn't about its far-fetched story but its "mod" style, both in design and its complicated sequence of flashbacks. The opening scene features the back of a man's shirt declaring "I HATE YOU ALL" as he strolls into some groovy club where the kids are sharing a toke and the Animals play a song written for the movie, "Ain't That So". The song reappears when the gang goes on a desperate music-video lark on an unpeopled ship, and they all look like they've been laboriously directed to pretend a frantic good time. Mason's alcoholic insider-turned-outsider will be the figure who puts these wasted youths in their place, along with their "pompous ass" parents, in an easy bit of cynical truth-telling. The resolution involves a repressed sexual secret and reading aloud from Dostoyevsky.
This is the only film directed by BBC broadcaster Pierre Rouve, who also wrote it and had some experience as a producer. At no point do credibility or even conviction feel like priorities, as Rouve seems to encourage melodramatic overplaying as its own form of spectacle to fit into the bric-a-brac. Angela's room seems designed as a stage set rather than a bedroom, complete with Godardian interplay of posters, and the abandoned theatre where Darin's character first hides is a similar warehouse of propmaster's detritus. Sawyer is granted a couple of his own flashbacks, designed in stylized snow white with people in black like chess pieces.
The High Commissioner (Kino-Lorber DVD)
No more swallowable yet action-packed is The High Commissioner, known in England as Nobody Runs Forever. It's one of the many collaborations between producer Betty E. Box and director Ralph Thomas for the Rank Organisation. Based on a novel by Jon Cleary, it stars the prolific Rod Taylor playing, for once, what we really was: Australian.
He's Sgt. Scobie Malone, a rough and ready copper flown in from the Outback to pommy London in order to arrest a prominent Aussie diplomat, Sir James Quentin (Christopher Plummer), for an old murder. Scobie's dispatched on this assignment by a politician (uncredited Leo McKern) who's described as a rival to Quentin and his opposite in every way: short, gruff and vulgar to Quentin's tall, aristocratic elegance.
Part of the beautiful set design of Quentin's world is the array of gorgeous, sophisticated, international women. Lilli Palmer plays Quentin's distraught wife, forever wringing her hands. Camilla Sparv plays his Swedish secretary whose specialty is smirking. Striking Israeli actress Daliah Lavi plays we're never sure what, for she's gowned and headgeared and made up like an ambassador from another planet on Star Trek. She lures Scobie into bed for reasons of her own, and he proves pliable.
This is the sort of movie where we're assured that Quentin is in the middle of crucial peace talks between many nations that should wrap up in a few days, not that we're ever really sure what that's about, and meanwhile he goes to Wimbledon for an elaborately staged public murder attempt one day after being shot at outside his house. Time is filled with two-fisted action (one bout occurs in front of a poster for another Thomas/Box thriller from the previous year, Ralph Thomas's Deadlier Than the Male), foiled assassination setpieces, and an utterly ridiculous finalé, all scored by Georges Delerue with lush majesty as we tour lavishly appointed mansions.
The common ingredient of these two films is executive producer Selig J. Seligman, whose Selmur Productions contributed to these international affairs. According to IMDB, he served as a U.S. Army lawyer at the Nuremberg trials before moving into a successful career in TV production. For ABC, he produced Accused, re-enactments of court cases that drew on his legal interests. Selmur made the WWII shows Combat, an important early project for Robert Altman, and Garrison's Gorillas.
Seligman moved into a busy career of features, including a bit of mod madness I'd love to see on Blu-ray, the spy spoof beach party known as Out of Sight (1966). International co-productions of 1967-68 include Desmond Davis''s Smashing Time with Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave, Ralph Nelson's Charly, with Cliff Robertson in an Oscar-winning role, John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific, with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune, and the expensive all-star fiasco (not without interest) called Candy, which deserves its rep as a "typical" example of Sixties excess. In other words, Seligman was contributing to an interesting batch of titles before his untimely death at age 51 in 1969.
Kino Lorber's Blu-rays of Cop-Out and The High Commissioner look good and offer trailers as the only extras.