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Basil Dearden
Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas
Writing Credits:
Michael Relph

A woman causes a group of assassins to face their greatest challenge.

Rated M.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 110 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/25/2023

• Audio Commentary with Authors Sean Hogan and Kim Newman
• “Right Film, Wrong Time” Featurette
• Trailer
• Image Gallery


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The Assassination Bureau [Blu-Ray] (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 22, 2023)

Back in 1910, noted author Jack London got a story idea from fellow famous writer Sinclair Lewis and attempted to develop it. However, London got about 20,000 words into The Assassination Bureau before he bailed because he could not figure out a good conclusion.

More than 50 years later, Robert L. Fish took the unfinished manuscript and wrapped it up for publication in 1963. Six years after that, The Assassination Bureau made it to movie screens.

Set in London circa 1908, journalist Sonia Winter (Diana Rigg) uncovers the existence of a group called “The Assassination Bureau, Limited”. This organization has existed for decades and its members will kill high-profile targets – but only if they can find a strong moral justification for these actions.

Outraged by this notion, Winter attempts to subvert its pursuits with a unique challenge: bankrolled by publisher Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas), she takes out a contract on Bureau chairman Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed). True to his mission, Dragomiloff reacts to this with excitement, as he enjoys his unusual position as the prey instead of as the hunter.

I suspect most of us think of associate Jack London with rugged “man vs. nature” tales like Call of the Wild. A wild mix of action and comedy such as Bureau didn’t seem like it’d come as part of his MO.

Whatever the case, Bureau seems like an intriguing prospect. With a dark view of humanity and an impish tone, the film feels ripe to deliver a giddy and violent romp.

Alas, Bureau fails to live up to its potential. Although it offers moderate entertainment, it plays matters too safe to really connect.

At its core, Bureau feels like it should give us a crazed romp along the lines of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. With characters who trust no one and fear violence at every turn, the movie’s comedy needs to let it rip and not hold back.

However, Bureau seems unwilling go for the gusto. It dabbles with the appropriate levels of lunacy but never manages to achieve anything clever or witty enough to soar.

The loose narrative doesn’t help. Granted, a cat and mouse tale like Bureau doesn’t necessarily lead toward a concise, A to Z story.

Nonetheless, what plot we find hops all over the place and never comes across as terribly smooth. Bureau often seems more like a collection of connected comedy/action pieces than a real plot.

Bureau also just doesn’t seem as cynical as it should, and the trite involvement of a romantic subplot doesn’t help. We don’t need Sonia and Ivan to fall for each other, but I guess those involved thought audiences expected leads played by Rigg and Reed to get together and felt compelled to follow suit.

This becomes nothing but an unnecessary distraction, and it doesn’t help that Reed and Rigg don’t really connect. Reed feels miscast as a “man of 1000 faces” as well, for the role seems more appropriate to a broader talent like Peter Sellers.

Not that Reed lacked skill, of course. However, he simply doesn’t pull off the chameleonic nature of the part, and he can feel stiff here.

None of this makes Bureau an unpleasant viewing experience, as its clever premise and professional execution mean that it remains watchable. It just doesn’t live up to expectations related to its concept and potential.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

The Assassination Bureau appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image held up well.

Sharpness was usually strong. Occasional interiors felt a little tentative, but the majority of the film brought pretty positive accuracy and delineation.

I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and no edge enhancement occurred. Print flaws caused no problems outside of intentionally flawed “archival” footage.

Colors looked good. The movie didn’t offer a broad palette, as it preferred low-key, earthy tones much of the time, but the hues were positive within those parameters. Occasional reds and purples stood out as most prominent.

Black levels also worked well, as they demonstrated depth and richness, and shadow detail looked fine. Overall, this was a good transfer that did the film justice.

As for the movie’s LPCM monaural soundtrack, it felt more than adequate for a work from 1969. Speech seemed fairly natural and firm, with no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess.

Effects lacked much range, but they lacked problems with distortion and seemed acceptably concise. Music was reasonably dynamic, as the music was fairly rich and vibrant most of the time. Nothing about the audio excelled, but it worked more than adequately for a flick of this one’s age.

When we shift to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from authors Sean Hogan and Kim Newman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the source novel and its adaptation, cast and crew, genre domains and general production thoughts.

Newman dominates, so though Hogan chimes in at times, he mostly just agrees with Newman and laughs. This would be fine if the conversation itself felt more focused.

This comes across as a stream-of-consciousness affair, as Newman seems determined to allude to as many semi-related movies as possible. Some useful material occasionally emerges, but too much of the track feels loose and without great purpose.

Right Film, Wrong Time brings a 27-minute, 30-second chat with critic/broadcaster/cultural historian Dr. Matthew Sweet. He covers the novel and its adaptation as well as the film’s tone, influences, and its release.

Sweet offers a generally solid chat, especially in the ways the movie/book were affected by the era of their release. Expect a pretty engaging discussion.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we end with an Image Gallery. Its 61 frames mix promotional materials, behind the scenes shots and standard movie images. We get a decent compilation.

Given a cynical and gleefully dark premise, The Assassination Bureau seems like a good candidate to deliver a witty black comedy. And at times it does, but the movie feels too tame and too unwilling to really explore the depths of its concepts for it to genuinely succeed. The Blu-ray comes with positive picture and audio as well as a few bonus features. Bureau offers a moderately entertaining flick that just doesn’t live up to expectations.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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