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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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...
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on 9 July 2011
James Bond fan? Seen all the 007 movies? And you have `em all on DVD? Not quite. The chances are that most of you will have missed this unofficial entry into the Bond series. In fact, in its covert desire to sneak beneath the radar - it changed Bond's name to Philip Calvert and is now played by a young and virile Anthony Hopkins. His passing resemblance to Daniel Craig aside, When Eight Bells Toll is the Bond movie that, both stylistically and chronologically (aside from its diminished budget), should have followed On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Shot in the Pinewood Studios home of Bond and utilising some well known Bond personnel, including legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong, Alistair Maclean's book becomes celluloid Bond by proxy. Eschewing the pre-credit foreplay of the traditional 007 teaser, W8BT arrives mid-plot with Calvert stealing aboard a suspect boat and discovering two dead colleagues. A brief flashback to Calvert's briefing scene rings at least one of the eight bells, signalling its Bondian ambition. Almost note for note, Bond fans will recognise Calvert's chopper arriving in the lush gardens of Heatherden Hall as being virtually identical to the chopper arriving on Spectre Island in From Russia With Love. It lands and out steps Calvert in naval uniform - yet again - pure 007! An administrator teases Calvert about being the first underwater spy. Calvert smirks as if to say Well Yes! If Thunderball hadn't beaten us to it.
Hopkins plays his role as he would James Bond - Rogueish, a little insubordinate with a cut-glass English accent. Pretty close to Fleming's literary 007. In an effort to divert from such libellous suggestion, Calvert's boss Uncle Arthur (reminiscent of `Mother' in The Avengers) does refer to our hero as coming from a northern grammar school. You would never guess. Eton more like! Robert Morley plays his role like all his others - avuncular, pompous, camp and bitchy. Like M, Uncle Arthur suffers the same irritation at his best man's devil-may-care attitude. Unlike the manly and stoic Bernard Lee however, Uncle Arthur's codename for Calvert isn't Wolf or Seeker or something like that. No. It's Buttercup! How very daring!
The other notable difference occurs with the geography. Unlike the exotic and far-flung locales of Eon's enterprise W8BT is set and shot in the less-than-temperate waters of the West Highlands.
A clifftop fistfight between Calvert and two thugs is notable for some spookily Bondian serendipity. Calvert is clearly a James Bond clone (W8BT originally being mooted to be the first in a series of Bond-beating Calvert movies following the hiatus going on in the aftermath of Lazenby's departure from the official Bond series). Martin Grace and Bob Simmons play the uncredited thugs in the sequence. Martin Grace was Roger Moore's 007 stunt double and Bob Simmons was Sean Connery's(Simmons famously had the honour of being the first actor to `play' Bond in Dr. No's gunbarrel sequence). Hence, we have 3 proxy Bonds in a scrap: Two official doubles beating the crap out of a young upstart pretender. Now that doesn't happen every day!
Calvert's first encounter with the real nominated villain of the piece aboard his ostentatious luxury yacht is pure, triple-malt Fleming. Jack Hawkins plays the Greek shipping magnate Skouras and is introduced in an overtly vulgar dinner jacket wearing weird silent movie make-up and spouting pointed dialogue like "There's always peril in these waters!" Uncle Arthur expresses outrage when Calvert suggests that Skouras might be implicated in the slightly fuzzy, gold bullion shenanigans: A recurring motif in several Bond films where the philanthropist billionaire is accused much to his superior's disbelief. To add to its double - oh deja Vu, his glamorous but dour trophy wife, Charlotte looks like Ursula Andress and amusingly bemoans not being in the South of France (a sentiment no doubt echoed by the entire production!).
The climax in a secret boathouse beneath a castle is like a no-budget precursor to the oil tanker climax in The Spy Who Loved me. Similarly Calvert's underwater recce is a strong precursor to the underwater scene in For Your Eyes Only. With a cracking helicopter sequence, some shootouts and some good punch-ups, it's a shame this was to be Calvert's only mission.
Still, he did return a year later in Diamonds are Forever.
Ah! Sorry! That really was Bond!
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on 9 September 2017
nice music soundtrack low budget film ok story bit mundane, fights were poorly staged
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VINE VOICEon 23 February 2006
This was one of the later film versions of an Alister Maclean novel, and is a tidy little thriller with little time wasted.
Anthony Hopkins plays a secret service agent tasked with solving the pirating of millions of pounds of gold bullion in the North Sea. This search takes him to remote locations in the Hebrides, unravelling the secrets of a small town where people and yachts have been disappearing. Being an Alister Maclean novel, nothing and nobody is what they at first appear – the usual ingredients are present and correct – the femme fatale, the damsel in distress, the double crossing, the dour and unstoppable agent… even Maclean’s dry sense of humour, which often gets lost in the translation to the big screen, comes through – probably as a result of Maclean writing the screenplay from his novel.
The pace of the film is perfect, with a running time of 90 minutes not leaving you feel the film has outstayed its welcome. The actions scenes are fine, if a little outdated.. the scenes skulking around the castle even reminded me of possibly my favourite Maclean movie – Where Eagles Dare (the actor who played the castle Kommandant, General Rosemeyer, is also in this movie, making another link). Music is pretty good for a 70’s score, with a brash theme that crops up anytime our hero is running or flying around – which is a significant part of the time.. it’s the sort of music which would not have been out of place in an episode of ‘The Professionals’. Another piece of inter-movie trivia – the stunts for the movie were done by Vic Armstrong and Bob Simmons, both Bond movie veterans. Watching this movie, one can almost imagine Hopkins playing Bond.
Hopkins plays the cynical Maclean hero well, with the right does of dry humour – and is ably backed up by a great character actor cast – Robert Morley basically plays a more comic version of ‘M’ from the earlier Bond movies, Jack Hawkins has little screen time as Sir Anthony Skouros, and is even voiced over (by Charles Gray, who also appeared in two Bond movies – ‘Diamonds are forever’ and ‘You only live twice’) as he had a voice box owing to his throat cancer. Nathalie Delon plays the femme fatale role adequately – as far as I can tell, this was one of the few times she appeared in an English speaking role.
All in all, a refreshingly taut little thriller which hits the right notes, and has not dated too badly. A cut above other thrillers of its time, recommended for any fans of Maclean or 70’s thrillers in general, but not one of his best movie adaptations.
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VINE VOICEon 15 December 2004
Ask your standard movie fan which Alistair MacLean adaptation they prefer and the vote would most likely be split between THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and WHERE EAGLES DARE, but, whilst I absolutely love the latter of those two, my personal favorite has been for many years WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL - a spy thriller penned by MacLean in the late 1960s and filmed with Anthony Hopkins in the lead role in 1971.
I saw the movie many years ago on British television and always longed to see it once more. My prayers were answered when it was finally announced for DVD release in Region 2. Armed with a new region-free DVD player, I ordered it and anxiously checked my Maryland mailbox every day until its arrival.
Watching it once again after all these years my passion for this action adventure is unfailing, I consider this to be the best spy thriller that [Bond producers] EON Productions NEVER made.
With a simply superb cast that sees Hopkins joined by Robert Morley (as a rather snobbish boss) and Jack Hawkins (as a suspicious millionaire) this movie is simply brimming over with "Bondian" elements that include beautiful girls (bad and good), thrilling action, underwater battles, building suspense and a roaring soundtrack. It's the most entertaining couple of hours of spy thriller action that I have had the opportunity to enjoy in almost two decades.
Hopkins plays secret agent Calvert who travels to the coast of Scotland disguised as a marine biologist to investigate the disappearance of bullion ships in the Irish Sea. There he encounters a colorful array of characters, both friend and foe before a climactic battle in an underground boathouse.
This DVD sports a fine transfer with only the theatrical trailer as a special feature. Still it is very entertaining and well worth putting your hard earned cash for. A simply cannot recommend it strongly enough.
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When Eight Bells Toll was one of the Rank Organisation’s occasional attempts to start a new spy franchise after losing the Harry Palmer films when they pulled out of co-funding producer Harry Saltzman’s epic Battle of Britain, but like their earlier attempts with Quiller and a swinging Sixties Bulldog Drummond it didn’t do quite well enough at the box-office to justify a series despite the then-box-office guarantee of the Alistair MacLean brand and the producers of Where Eagles Dare. It’s certainly not as big or outlandish as the Bond films, with Anthony Hopkins as the ‘world’s first underwater spy’ (“If it’s wet, I’m your man”) with the requisite questionable attitude towards authority sent to the Scottish coast to find out what’s been happening to several ships lost at sea and, more importantly, their cargo of gold bullion.

Naturally the locals are suspicious and unhelpful, and his boss Robert Morley isn’t too impressed when the most likely culprit he can unearth turns out to be Jack Hawkins’ shipping tycoon – after all, he’s on the wine committee at Morley’s club! - on holiday in the area with his new and not terribly faithful wife Nathalie Delon. Just as naturally, being an Alistair MacLean story, not everyone is who they appear to be (well, to the characters anyway: it’s painfully obvious who the real mastermind is) and it’s all going to end in betrayal and a big shootout. Well, not that big – it’s a modestly but comfortably budgeted film that can spring to Scottish location shooting, one crashed helicopter, a couple of ships, a bit of underwater filming and a modest landing stage built on a soundstage for the modestly destructive finale – but it is rather enjoyable in its undemanding old-fashioned comfort viewing way.

Hopkins is fine in his first leading role back in the days when he was still best known for underplaying, Hawkins was sadly in the stage of his career where the loss of his voice meant he was sometimes awkwardly dubbed by Charles Gray, and Morley is much more fun than he should be in the film, especially when he gets in on the action himself in the last act (“Boats would be wonderful if one didn’t have to go out to sea in them”), there’s a capable supporting cast including a typically politely sinister Ferdy Mayne, a likeable Corin Redgrave, Maurice Roëves and Peter Arne (though Derek Bond does definitely let the side down), a good score from Angela Morley in the days when she was still Wally Stott while Arthur Ibbetson’s Scope photography makes good use of the occasional spectacular location to make the film look a lot bigger than it is. It’s the kind of well-made yarn that nobody really makes anymore and which goes about its business with a pleasing efficiency and professionalism that’s quite likeable even if there’s nothing really exceptional about it.

Kino’s Region A-locked 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is taken from a new restoration that isn’t going to take anyone’s breath away but it’s certainly a nice transfer and a very distinct improvement on the widescreen UK DVD, like that release including the trailer and adding a handful of other Hopkins/MacLean trailers – Juggernaut, The Satan Bug and Breakheart Pass as well as one for the famously inept The File on the Golden Goose.
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This 1971 movie, directed by Etienne Périer is based on a novel by Alistair Maclean, who also wrote the screenplay. It is an exciting, action-packed story about a cargo ship full of gold bullion that disappears off the coast of Scotland near the town of Torbay: and it is not the first. Naval Commander Philip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins) together with intelligence expert Hunslett (Corin Redgrave) concoct a plan to try to locate exactly where the vessels go missing. They place two agents under the direction of a senior official known only as `Uncle Arthur' (Robert Morley) undercover on one of the bullion ships so that they can radio back information. However, when Calvert drops in to investigate their radio silence, he discovers that they are both dead. Suspicion falls on a vessel in the area under the ownership of a Greek shipping magnate called Skouras (Jack Hawkins) who claims to have a lovely young second wife Charlotte (Nathalie Delon). But Skouras and Charlotte are clearly under the control of Lavorski (Ferdy Maine). A number of people have disappeared locally over the preceding months and this adds to the mystery that Calvert must investigate. The drama of the film is enhanced considerably by the incidental music composed by English bandleader Wally Stott.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 January 2014
This cracking "boys own" adventure story delivers a decent enough tale with plenty of action thrown in. Ships are going missing in the Irish sea and tough as nails Philip Calvert is sent to find out why. Hopkins (as Calvert) is on fine form as the resourceful and determined Naval officer; as a leading character he's like Bond but with less swarthy charm and a bit more grit. I first saw this years ago and can see why it was touted to take over as a franchise when Connery was going to move over. From Scottish castles to luxury yachts, Calvert uncovers the mystery whilst dealing with shipping tycoons, fighting hired thugs and getting close to femme fatales. Robert Morely plays Calvert's superior at the Admiralty and I find his slightly comedic character doesn't sit well with the darker tone of the movie, but Morely's fun to watch so he doesn't spoil things entirely. This was adapted from an Alistair Mclean novel of the same name althought the ending was changed to give a more action packed finale when Calvert and co storm the concealled docks to take out the bad guys. I watched this again recently and I thought it had aged rather well.
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on 6 April 2017
super dvd
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on 28 November 2008
This is a cracking little thriller.Anthony Hopkins makes for a somewhat muted and distant hero. However he utterly convinces in the action department. One fight scene set in a cemetary although clumsily staged looks authentic. For me the real highlight is Robert Morley's turn as Hopkins Whitehall spy chief. What a wonderful actor he was and this semi comedic role is a fitting memory of him.
Other attributes of this film, the scottish locations. The helicopter sequence when Hopkins is searching the coastline almost has a documentary feel to it. Also Sir Anthony looks like he could handle himself if push came to shove. Well worth a look and at an attracive price.
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