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4.1 out of 5 stars
A Dandy in Aspic [DVD] [1968] [2007]
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 May 2011
I confess. I needed to check Aspic in the dic., and I still don't really get the title. Anyway - what a pleasant surprise awaited my wife and I as we sat down with our lovely bottle of Merlot. If I have ever seen this before it would have been on it's cinema release in '68, and I don't think ever since. Where has it been? There are an awful lot of good (and not so good) films that for various (copyright?) reasons have just vanished, and it's really nice to see this one appear on a really good Scope transfer with excellent colour and sound. The locations (and most of it is location) are filmed well and are very interesting. The plot is relatively straightforward, for a spy thriller, and we followed it easily, even if it doesn't always make sense, but what spy film in the 60's always did? As for the acting...well, I'm tempted to say it is completely miscast from star to support, and maybe it is, but...I still enjoyed it. Harvey is just Harvey (as other reviewers say - when was he ever "likeable") but you do need to at least have some sympathy for his character, and I didn't. Mia Farrow is totally out of place, but if you fancy her, you won't be disapointed. Tom Courteney surprises with his perf., sadly someone else has pre emted me by referring to his "Zhivago" perf! Bird and Cook are awful. Stander is good, Harry Andrews raises his powerful voice, and Barbara Murray goes to bed with Harvey. (The things an actress has to do!). I don't know how much of this helps a prospective viewer, but I would definitely go for this. Relax, enjoy, and don't analyse it too much. I promise you, you will have seen much much worse.
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on 5 December 2009
Well, it is true I had high expectations of this movie, but I could never have believed to be this impressed. Anybody interested in watching a really good British spy thriller from the sixties should be recommended "A Dandy in Aspic" (1968) by Anthony Mann, starring Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay, Mia Farrow, Harry Andrews, Lionel Stander, and many others. When I read the plot synopsis in advance, I thought it would be too complicated to be watchable. I realized convoluted plots are inherent to the genre, but this seemed to be pushing it too far. Not so, or rather it does, but it is so well directed, with such a nice flow to the events that it just doesn't show. The sequence of events is so elegant and transparent that the understanding of the viewer is never hampered. And on the way, we get lovely views of London and West-Berlin. This time it is clear that no studio shots were used (which is also mentioned in the final credits). "A Dandy in Aspic" is British is the proper sense: it does have the agreeable sides (European sightseeing, men in bowler hats and umbrellas, posh British accents with matching insufferable attitudes), but lacks the drawbacks (no cheapish décor, no overtly hostile view of the Russians - after all, we are to sympathize with a double agent). Other positive elements: Mia Farrow as an adorable sixties style icon (though relevant to the story), cleverly constructed dialogue with lots of witty puns and repartee elements (innumerous examples), good use of music (cheerfully contemporary, but ominous whenever needed), the intro with the puppet on a string getting entangled in the end (great symbolism), the denouement and the final scene attached to it. The final shot is both graphically intriguing and insightful - it wraps everything up very smoothly, without the viewer being alerted in advance. I could easily elaborate on the plot, but it would spoil it at the same time. If I have understood the title correctly, even that deserves a compliment (= a secret agent is like a chic gentleman, living in elegant circumstances that do however feel oppressive from time to time - one can feel trapped like in luxury jelly, like one would in a golden cage - the main character is anxious to get out of it all, even before he becomes a potential suspect). This movie is a great achievement and a credit to British cinematic history.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 January 2008
One of those films that is remembered simply as a footnote to its director's career, it's hard to tell if A Dandy in Aspic would have been much better had Anthony Mann not died during shooting in West Germany. On a purely visual level it's evident that he shot most of the picture, not least because star Laurence Harvey, who finished the film, doesn't hide his love of crash zooms or seem to make much effort to match Mann's style. Certainly scenes like the shooting range sequence, a hotel room conversation shown via twin mirrors or the many shots featuring Mann's favorite Scope setup of a character hiding in close-up in one third of the screen while another approaches in the extreme distance in the rest of the frame have the original director's fingerprints all over them. If anything, the film's biggest problems seem to have happened before and after shooting: Derek Marlowe's script seems a rewrite or two away from ready and it's hard to believe that Mann would have gone along with some of the more extreme post-production decisions, from the echoplex dialogue effects in moments of stress to some of the more ill-judged parts of Quincy Jones' generally quite good score.

On paper the slightly schizoid directorial approach should be quite appropriate for this low-key spy thriller variation on The Big Clock where Harvey's undercover Russian spy is ordered by MI5 to track down and kill... himself, and perhaps to a non-fan of Mann's work it wouldn't be quite so distracting. Yet even away from the visuals and some occasionally inconsistent performances, the film has plenty of flaws that can be traced to both the screenplay and casting. Like the title sequence of a puppet getting tied up in knots in its own strings it's full of good ideas that never quite work and certainly for the first third never makes as much of its premise as it could. More Le Carre than Bond, there are certainly some strong scenes, especially with Per Oscarsson's drug-addicted Russian contact or Harvey's attempt to defect back to the East only for the East Germans to shoot at him to drive him back because he's useless to them back home, while there's some entertaining banter in the exchanges between Tom Courtney and Lionel Stander. But while the plot ultimately works itself out more or less satisfactorily, the film never flows or grips as well as it should.

Delivering his dialogue with his customary cold aloof disdain, Harvey is at once perfect casting for the role of the sexless cold fish with no sense of self but at the same time he's a hollow center for the film: his character may long for a real identity and to belong somewhere, but you don't care for or about him. Similarly, Mia Farrow's mildly kooky romantic interest feels more irritation than illumination: rather than showing the life he has missed, she often feels grafted onto the picture because the front office think it needs a love story. The rest of the casting veers from the wilfully perverse - Tom Courtney as a cold-blooded assassin with a chip on his shoulder, blacklist victim Lionel Stander as a Commie spymaster - to the plain bizarre, with the supporting ranks populated by satirists - Peter Cook ("Welcome to the Funkturm. On a clear day you can see them jumping over the Wall"), John Bird - and UK sitcom players - Richard O'Sullivan, Mike Pratt and Norman Bird - though none cause quite as much damage as the astonishingly bad but thankfully brief performance from Calvin Lockhart.

Cinematographer Christopher Challis does actually manage to make Courtney look menacing in several scenes, though his Scope lensing is poorly served in Sony's dark 2.35:1 widescreen Region 2 PAL DVD transfer. No extras either, but the disc should come with a word of warning - don't read the synopsis on the back unless you want to know every twist in the picture before you see it!

So, a curate's egg: not quite the disaster most reviewers often paint it, but less than a success and perhaps more worth a look for Mann's admirers than the casual viewer.
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on 21 October 2015
I have never read the novel on which this film is based, and I don't think I'll bother! The plot is, frankly, ridiculous, and the acting is as wooden as it gets. I like complicated spy thrillers, but this just silly.The cast is wasted.
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on 8 January 2011
So much of the '60s spy genre is campy, and I love that, but this is an exception. If for no other reason to recommend this film, the art direction and cinematography is outstanding with well-considered shot after shot getting the most out of the impressive locations. The colour of the film jumped out at me too, not the expected '60s Eastman colours, but more of a Douglas Sirk '50s kind of style. But, there's more. Not wanting to give too much away, the lead character is a dislikable creation who only grows on you a little as the film progresses, but is fascinating to watch throughout; he reminded me of Jason King with all traces of campery banished. Mia Farrow is a complete delight every moment she appears on screen, and there's an impressive cast of actors you will recognise from, well, everything, popping up, most of them I didn't know by name but knew by sight. Peter Cook's performance is effectievly the comic relief, however he plays it the right side of funny to blend in with the general seriousness of the proceedings and gives his role depth when called for. Richard O'Sullivan (Man About the House) even appears in a small role as the (implied gay) best friend to Mia Farrow's character. Most enjoyable for anyone who appreciates '60s Spy cinema, and after watching this I even more so wish there was a way I could visit late '60s London and Berlin!
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on 12 February 2010
I wasn't expecting much from this film. I acquired it hard on the heels of reading a biography of Peter Cook which made mention of it. My others reasons for purchase 1] Big Lawrence Harvey afficionado 2] Never seen it before despite a great interest in 60s/70s cinema.
I was pleasantly surprised. I did think it could have been a better whole but parts of it - including the conceit and introspection of the key protagonist, a double agent played by Harvey - seemed near contemporary in theme. You sense Harvey's character - Eberlin/Krasnevin - is doomed from the start, a characterisation not helped by his half-hearted dalliance through the course of the film with an exasperating Mia Farrow, thrown a bum role if ever there was one, as a pretty but shallow token of Swinging London. Still Harvey manages to preserve the integrity of his character. To me, his acting is spare, naturalistic and very modern. Deeply underrated in his day, I reckon Harvey outperforms Tom Courteney, widely regarded as the better actor, in this vehicle because it suits him so well. Of East European extraction himself, the duality of the film's central character mirrors Harvey's own duality to spasmodic powerful effect.
This is by no means a 'great' movie. But it is as close as you may get to revealing flashes of Harvey's true potential in a role far removed from variations on a theme of 'matinee idol'. If you enjoy Cold War espionage thrillers, spotting 60s character actors or just a film that 'looks good', worth dipping your toe in 'Aspic'.
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on 12 March 2007
A rarely seen film from the Sixties, when every other film was about spies, A Dandy In Aspic gets a surprising though not undeserved DVD release, looking very good but totally devoid of extras.

As an espionage caper, this one falls somewhere in between the fantasy world of Ian Fleming and the gritty reality of John Le Carre. The central character is a Russian double agent and occasional assassin who has had enough and wants to go home - just as British Intelligence seem to be on the brink of uncovering him. Of course, the Russians don't really want him back - he's too valuable where he is. At least, so they keep saying. But it's hard to see why. He seems rather amateurish and everyone appears to suspect him. Still, the thing about Sixties spy movies is that they didn't necessarily have to make sense, and this one seldom does. But it has a nice style and some interesting performances from an eclectic cast.

In the lead role, Laurence Harvey draws on his Baltic background to conviningly show both sides of his two-faced character - English dandy and Russian agent. A very under-rated actor, he holds the film together with his cool underplaying and world-weary expressions. Tom Courtenay plays a ruthless British agent in much the same way as he played Strelnikov in Dr Zhivago a few years earlier. Swedish actor Per Oscarson drops by for a nicely realised cameo and dependable character actors such as Harry Andrews and John Bird put in their usual solid performances. The one member of the cast who seems to be genuinely enjoying himself is Lionel Stander who easily steals every scene he's in as a Russian spy chief with a twisted sense of humour. To provide the obligatory love interest, Mia Farrow plays an English photographer who doesn't know how to hold a camera let alone use one. She is as much set decoration as leading lady although she redeems herself with a couple of quite amusing throwaway lines (she couldn't be a model, she says, because she's "too voluptuous").

The film is set and filmed in London and Berlin and it's certainly interesting to see Berlin as it was during the cold war. But the only hint we get of Swinging London is in the Twiggy-esque outfits worn by Miss Farrow and in the rather bizarre appearance and performance of Peter Cook as yet another British agent. The music by Quincy Jones also does little to set the scene but the camerawork is typically Sixties style, if a tad uneven.

The story seldom makes sense. For example, the Russians keep saying how valuable Laurence Harvey is to them. But, after 18 years, he doesn't seem to have advanced very far in British Intelligence. And why would the Russians risk him by having him carry out assassinations instead of bringing in a professional hitman? Nothing is really answered and the film finishes with a typical Sixties ending. All in all, it's rather stylish but don't think about it too much. It's intertesting to see A Dandy In Aspic again after all these years. We can only hope that more such seldom-seen films will soon be released on DVD to satisfy the cravings of dedicated film fans.
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on 25 March 2011
In this cold war thriller, a Russian double agent (Laurence Harvey) working for British intelligence is tired of the spy game and desires to return to the Soviet Union but his request is denied by the KGB. Things become complicated when the Brits hand him his next assignment ... kill the Soviet agent Krasnevin. The problem? Harvey is Krasnevin. This was the final film of Anthony Mann who died before the film was completed. Harvey took over the directorial reins and finished the film. It's hard to tell how much is Mann and how much is Harvey as the film isn't typical of Mann's filmography. As a spy thriller, it's very good despite the lifeless performance by Harvey. When he snaps at Tom Courtenay, "You haven't an ounce of emotion in you!", I couldn't help but chuckle. Courtenay makes up for Harvey's ennui and while any opportunity to see Mia Farrow (who looks wonderful in her Pierre Cardin costumes) on screen is a treat, she's wasted here in the "girl" role with nothing to do but climb into bed with Harvey. The bleak view of a bankrupt espionage world presages Huston's THE KREMLIN LETTER. The effective score is by Quincy Jones. With Peter Cook, Per Oscarsson, Harry Andrews, Lionel Stander and in a particularly bad performance, Calvin Lockhart.

The Sony DVD via Great Britain is a nicely rendered anamorphic wide screen (2.35 transfer).
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on 2 October 2017
An interesting take on a cold-war double agent story. A spy is sent to kill himself! Very 1960s and Bond-esque in places, but without the gadgets. Quite enjoyable bearing in mind the above.
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on 26 December 2017
This is very much underrated -- it's a fascinating period piece with superb vintage London locations and a quirky outing to East Berlin.
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