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Blu-Ray Review: Arrow Video’s The Assassination Bureau (Collector’s Edition) 

The Assassination Bureau

Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg play sexy cat and mouse around early 1900s Europe in The Assassination Bureau.  Arrow Video has given this lively action adventure a US Blu-ray Release

The Film 

Some movies hit you in the right spot.  A combination of actors, story, style, fetishes, and the like to meld together into a package that one cannot resist.  This is all to say that this reviewer was utterly and completely charmed by everything that The Assassination Bureau has to offer.  

When Sonia Winter (Diana Rigg) tries to make her big shot – figurative – at a career in journalism it’s to go after the Assassination Bureau (limited).  A secret cabal of Assassins that – for the right price – will kill whomever you wish. Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) the Editor and Chief of the London Times agrees with Ms. Winter and sends her on her way.  As clever as Ms. Winter is, she meets her equal in every way in the mercurial Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed) the Chairman of the Assassination Bureau.  When her cleverness puts both herself and Dragomiloff in harm’s way – they both inadvertently fall in love and may have started WWI!

Any film that deals in the commodities of Romance and Comedy together must contend with the chemistry of its leads.  No chemistry and … well, you can just go onto Netflix and choose any one of the rom-com’s with beautiful vacant leads to see where that leads you.  When the chemistry is there those Romantic and Comedic elements soar.  

The Assassination Bureau has that chemistry almost overwhelmingly so in its leads Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed.  Though the film is miles and miles of clever and witty in a way that feels more 1960s UK Mod than actual Industrial Age England pre-WWI.  It allows for frolicking playfulness to be brought out in both leads.  Reed known for the bruiser masculinity of morally complex or corrupt characters shows and proves Dragomiloff as the charming rascal one wants him to be.  Rigg arguably one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen goes toe to toe with Reed when it comes to matching wits.  Something that both seem to feed off.  There is more than just playful witticisms traded here.  There is an undercurrent of sexuality that’s undeniable when watching the stars play off one another even during the most rudimentary of plot-driven scenes (which there are very few of thankfully).  

That undeniable chemistry on display allows director Basil Dearden a tightly constructed film that yes, plays by the numbers at points, but is always more inventive than you think.  Even greater of an accomplishment The Assassination Bureau delights and revels in giving you exactly what you want from it, a good time.  

In an era of IP and building stories to some grand payoff, The Assassination Bureau excels at telling a globe-trotting story in one film.  Doing so with style, sexiness, and humor in a way that makes it look simple.  

The Transfer

Arrow Video has been given a beautiful transfer via Paramount Pictures of this shot in Technicolor late 1960s marvel.  The color reproduction here is amazing and beautiful in the way that legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth’s work was.  Like many of his films, The Assassination Bureau is no exception there is a beautiful patina of haze that’s imbued on every single frame of the image.  This makes any transfer both a tricky and stubborn balance ensuring the Clarity/Sharpness is kept in line with Unsworth’s beautiful often almost Soft-Focus lensing style.  The result is something that’s beautifully accurate to Unsworth work.  Bravo to Arrow and Paramount for delivering the goods here.  

The Extras

They include the following; 

  • Audio commentary with authors Sean Hogan and Kim Newman
  • Right Film, Wrong Time, appreciation by critic, broadcaster, and cultural historian Matthew Sweet
  • Original trailer
  • Image Gallery

The all-new audio commentary with authors Kim Newman and Sean Hogan.  The duo opens with a discussion of the title of the film and the opening sets the tone of the entire piece – including how this was an homage to the film Wrong Box.  Some of the other details include a mention of films that were made in set in the Edwardian era like Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Band, Around the World in 80 DaysJourney to the Center of the EarthChitty Chitty Bang BangMonte Carlo or BustMary PoppinsOh What a Lovely War, how Dearden and Relph changed the Novel to set it in Euro on the eve of WW1, the modern films that took from the plot of this film including – League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The King’s Man, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and others, a discussion of director Basil Dearden both here and beyond in his actual career – including Masquerade, a discussion of Producer/Production Designer Michael Relph career and work here in both regards, a larger discussion of Jack London’s work, his personal life, the adaptations – including Mario Bava doing a film of White Fang, and how the novel was started and completed by another author (Robert Fish), the closeness to novel The Man Who Was Thursday, a discussion of Diana Riggs’ career both Stage and on Screen, the career of Oliver Reed both here and in other films, the numerous cameos and smaller parts occupied by famous actors, a discussion about Newman’s own Novel that hues closely to this style of storytelling and setting in The Assassination Bureau, a larger discussion of WW1 stories, and much more.  Newman and Hogan do a great job of giving us a highly entertaining but informative commentary track.  

Right Film, Wrong Time: Matthew Sweet on The Assassination Bureau (27:30) – an all-new appreciation by critic, broadcaster, and cultural historian Matthew Sweet.  Sweet begins his interview with the history of the source material and its author Jack London.  Some of the other details include how London bought this specific plot in 1910 from all people Sinclair Lewis (before he became famous) for this and 9 other “plots”, how London stopped around 20,000 words in, the differences between the film and the eventual story that was completed, the similarities of world history and how it almost parallels the eventual first World War, how in the 1960s it was sold and eventually completed by Robert L Fish, the optioning and changes that Dearden and Relph make to the story, the London story set in America – changing to Euro, the casting clashing at UA (Dearden and Relph wanted initially David Niven and UA wanted Burt Lancaster), the changeover to Paramount and the recontextualization in Europe, and much more.  Sweet’s dissection of the production and development of both the novel and the film is as interesting and fun as the film itself.  

Original trailer (3:02) 

Image gallery –the gallery consists of 61 lobby cards, production stills, and poster art.  The gallery can be navigated through using your remote’s next and back buttons.  

The Final Thought 

The Assassination Bureau is a clever action-adventure film sure to endear itself to any fan.  Arrow Video has armed it with a plethora of great special features.  Highest possible recommendations!!! 

Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray edition of The Assassination Bureau is out April 25th

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