BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE HIGH COMMISSIONER

By • Nov 2nd, 2004 •

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(MGM Home Entertainment) 1968
Running Time 1 hr. 41 mins

A Rodlor co-production, Rod Taylor’s company stamp signified more than just a tax advantage. The film, though it turned out disappointingly uneven, was designed to give the actor another in a series of roles he felt were appropriate for his screen persona – strong, violent and brutish men who come around to third act sensitivity (and often catharsis) in the wake of someone else’s self-sacrifice. It also contains the actor’s trademark fisticuffs, though he loses here more often than he wins, which just doesn’t feel right on Taylor, a former pugilist whose Cagney-esque body language made him audience-friendly.

This film may serve its ultimate purpose in classrooms, as a lesson in what not to do.
The myriad flaws may not be entirely director Ralph Thomas’ fault. Some of those deadly cuts, and those illogical, abbreviated dialogue scenes, might be the result of studio tampering. But there’s also so much bad blocking, so much aesthetically unpleasant spatial design, and so much grisly, unconvincing overacting, that the director is surely in line for a goodly amount of the blame. Thomas, who directed a few of the ‘Carry On’ films, and seemed to hit his stride with CAMPBELL’S KINGDOM (’57) and A TALE OF TWO CITIES (’58) with Dirk Bogarde, was past his creative prime by ’68. (He passed away in 2001 at the age of 86.)

Did I say I disliked the film? No. I really should, though. I did back in ’68 when I saw it in the theater. But today some lingering charm has risen to the surface. George Delerue’s score, albeit small and redundant, is lovely – a pity the music track seems garbled by poor storage. And Rod Taylor makes his way through the frames with much of his physical poetry intact. I imagine he enjoyed playing Aussie for a change, and probably improvised a little. Christopher Plummer’s heart seems hardly in it. Lilli Palmer is old and sexy but not at all convincing. Carmilla Sparv (a brief stint as wife of Robert Evans’), Calvin Lockhart (even Taylor is forced to comment on how good-looking he is), and the Daliah Lavi, are pretty much treated as set direction. Leo McKern, sporting a weird dyed blond hairpiece, is loud and awful. Only Clive Revill, as a disdainful butler, gives something back.

It’s an espionage plot, also a fish-out-of-the-outback story, with Taylor unconvincingly recruited from police work in Australia to bring back the country’s High Commissioner (Plummer) for murdering his first wife long ago, despite the remarkable efforts the man is making in London to promote world peace. Taylor faces the conundrum, as well as the three female leads, and a gaggle of mysterious assailants out to dispose of his prisoner before he can spirit him back to the homeland. The script is unsuccessful in making all this come alive and even flow smoothly (in the third act Taylor is absent for a vitally important period of time.)

In the fight scenes he gets to try out a gag or two (the injured hand, for example) that he would perfect three years later in one of the greatest such scenes in film history, in the obscure Travis McGee adaptation, DARKER THAN AMBER. Though it’s nice to have THE HIGH COMMISSIONER on DVD, AMBER remains the one we’re waiting for.


Cast:
Christopher Plummer
Lilli Palmer
Carmila Sparv
Clive Revill
Daliah Lavi
Calvin Lockhart
Leo McKern.

Credits:
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Screenplay by Wlifred Greatorex
Produced by Betty E. Box
Music by Georges Delerue.

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