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A honest, albeit partially flawed, adaptation of a GREAT novel. 3,5 stars, but still a MUST for Alistair Maclean's fans,like me
on 28 October 2015
I rather liked this 1971 adaptation of one of the best books by Alistair MacLean, even if it is DEFINITELY inferior to the novel. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
The film begins mostly like the novel. In a dark night an unknown man in diving suit climbs onboard an unknown ship and clearly looks for something - he will find dead bodies and trouble. We will later learn that his name is Philip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins) and he works for British government. He and his colleague Hunslett (Corin Redgrave) are on a mission in a remote, quite poor and rough part of Scotland. Posing as marine biologists and operating from a small but fast yacht they are after a gang of particularly nasty, extremely well organised and terminally ruthless characters, who are stealing government money - a LOT of it. The bad guys play for keeps, they play hard, they play dirty, they kill easily, they make few mistakes and especially they HIDE REALLY, REALLY WELL. I will not go here in details to avoid spoilers, but the bad guys in this film are a real piece of work and for once in action thrillers they are actually not totally stupid. I will say no more about the story.
I always liked Alistair MacLean books a lot. For my personal taste "Fear is the key" is his absolute masterpiece and I count it as one of my most favourite thriller books. "Night without end", an absolutely amazing book, is almost as good. Of course everybody knows his WWII bestsellers "Guns of Navarone" and "Where eagles dare", if only by cinema adaptations. I also always liked "Puppet on the chain", possibly the most brutal and cruel of his books.
"When eight bells toll" is also an excellent read - in fact I rate it as number 3 of MacLean's books, immediately after "Fear is the key" and "Night without end". I would actually advise to read the book BEFORE watching the film because the novel is better and also, because without reading the book you might be a little bit confused by the plot...
In the film changes were made, which were not entirely successful. The main female character, Charlotte Skouras (Natalie Delon) is quite different here, definitely younger and more sexy and playing a very different game than in the book. The ending is also quite different and frankly, the last five minutes don't make much sense. One of the main villains, the infamous sadistic "like to kill in most personal way" Quinn (Oliver Mac Greevy), albeit still very menacing on the screen, is nevertheless only a shadow of the bone-freezing terror he was in the book (in the novel Calvert was actually TERRIFIED even when looking at this man). Unlike in the book, Hunslett is a kind of light-weight. Finally, the secondary female character Sue Kirkside was made much too tame - in the book she was much more assertive and nastier (albeit cute).
On another hand Anthony Hopkins played Calvert exactly as I always imagined him. Calvert's boss, "Uncle" Arthur (Robert Morley), is a delight, exactly as in the novel. Severe beauty of Scottish seashore is a major asset. Finally, we can see here Ferdy Mayne, who for me will be forever Count von Krolock from "Fearless Vampire Killers", playing Lavorski, a seriously dangerous villain (it is hardly a spoiler - one look at Lavorski and you will immediately realise that this is ZE BAD GUY). Finally, action scenes are so delightfully late 60s, reminding of early 007 movies.
If it remained closer to the book this could have been a better film but it is still a quite watchable thing. A recommended viewing for all Alistair Maclean's afficionados, but probably mostly for them - or, should I rather say, us...