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The Assassination Bureau

Fans of clever British spy TV fare from the '60s like "The Avengers" and "The Saint" will probably get a kick out of The Assassination Bureau (1969), a stylish caper based — according to the opening credits — on an idea from a book co-written by Jack London. This slender thread of a notion inspired the comic plot about an international organization of killers-for-hire operating in pre-World War I Europe. Diana Rigg plays an Emma Peel-ish, would-be journalist who intends to break ground for women in the newspaper biz by writing a story about the Bureau — to that end, she hires the group to assassinate their own chairman (Oliver Reed), launching a cat-and-mouse game between him and the various hitmen in his employ while Rigg tags along. The directorial style, courtesy of Basil Dearden (Masquerade, Khartoum), is cheesy and fun in the '60s Brit fashion of "The Avengers" and "The Prisoner," with dazzling costumes and art direction (the Art Deco set for a multi-level Paris brothel is especially delicious). There's not much story, really, but Reed makes for an intimidating and sexy assassin, while Rigg gets the chance to wear everything from Victorian traveling clothes to frilly corsets and bloomers to, well, nothing but a towel. Telly Savalas co-stars as the newspaper publisher who hires Rigg to cover the story, failing to tell her that he's the Bureau's co-chairman with his own stake in the outcome. And the finale, which features Reed dueling with Curt Jurgens inside a bomb-carrying zeppelin, is a lot of corny fun. Paramount's bare-bones DVD release of The Assassination Bureau features a beautifully clean, richly saturated anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). The monaural Dolby Digital audio (English, with optional English subtitles) is less impressive, muddy and poorly mixed with some dialogue almost entirely unintelligible even with the volume cranked all the way. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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