Kino Lorber has released the 1968 espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" on Blu-ray. The film, which was titled "Nobody Runs Forever" in it's UK release, is significant in that it paired two charismatic leading men- Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer- in a low-key but well-scripted tale that sustains interest throughout. The film is based on John Cleary's novel and presents some offbeat and refreshing elements for a spy movie made at the height of the James Bond-inspired phenomenon. Most refreshingly, the two protagonists are Australians, a rare instance in which heroes from "Down Under" are showcased in a non-Australian movie of the era. Taylor plays Scobie Malone, a tough-as-nails police officer in the Northern Territory who is content to fulfill his job of keeping order in the Outback and arresting small-time trouble makers. He is reluctantly assigned to travel to London for an unusual mission: to bring back the Australian High Commissioner, Sir James Quentin (Plummer) and have him stand trial on charges that he murdered his first wife many years before. When Scobie arrives in London, he realizes that the timing of his mission could not be more sensitive: Quentin is hosting an important diplomatic conference with African leaders in the hope of finalizing a major treaty that could affect the balance of power in the African continent. The world is watching as Quentin tries to iron out details to make the treaty a reality. When Scobie informs him of his assignment, Quentin seems curiously nonplussed about the nature of the charges against him- but he is quite concerned by the fact that his sudden absence from the conference would almost certainly cause the talks to collapse. He imposes on Scobie to give him a few additional days to sort out the final details on the treaty. Scobie takes an instant liking to Quentin and his adoring wife Sheila (Lilli Palmer), and agrees with the request. Scobie's cover story to Sheila is that he is simply acting as a bodyguard to Quentin, but she seems to suspect his real motive is more nefarious. When an attempt is made on Quentin's life, Scobie is instrumental in thwarting it. The two men ultimately bond as friends and Scobie begins to suspect that Quentin could not have possibly murdered his first wife. Why then is the Australian government convinced he had? More pressing is solving the problem of who is behind the assassination attempt on Quentin and who in his inner circle is a mole. It appears a shadowy organization feels threatened by the chances of the treaty succeeding- and wants to thwart it by killing Quentin.
"The High Commissioner" is a film that plays best if not examined in detail because there are plenty of loosely-developed plot points. It's never quite explained why Scobie was taken all the way from the Outback for this particular assignment. Surely the government could have found one equally capable law enforcement officer who was a bit more accessible. It also becomes clear that the plot to thwart the conference is just the "MacGuffin" in that it's never thoroughly explained who the bad guys are or why they feel threatened by Quentin's peace conference. Nor do we learn precisely what is being negotiated at the conference. What we do have are some intriguing characters including two of the most glamorous actresses of the period: Daliah Lavi, in full dangerous femme fatale mode as a seductive enemy agent and Camilla Sparv as Quentin's loyal secretary who holds a not-so-secret crush on him. While on assignment, Scobie allows himself to be seduced by Lavi (who wouldn't?) but remains chaste with Sparvi's character, so as to not impede his professional standing with the Quentins. The film moves along at a brisk pace under the direction of Ralph Thomas, who had recently helmed two other spy flicks- "Deadlier Than the Male" and "Agent 8 3/4" (aka "Hot Enough for June". ) Thomas showcases Taylor's rugged good looks by giving him Bondian opportunities to wear tuxedos and engage in plenty of mayhem. The film's climax takes place at Wimbledon, where the villains intend to assassinate Quentin by using a gun placed inside a television camera. The murder charges against Quentin come to a head in an emotional discussion Scobie has with Sheila, though her explanation for his innocence seems rather weak. The film builds to a fiery and explosive final scene that is undermined only shoddy special effects.
The best aspect of "The High Commissioner" is that it provides a good role for Rod Taylor, one of the most charismatic leading men of the 1960s. Taylor was usually cast as American or British characters because he had mastered both accents, but here he is allowed to talk like a native Australian, which, in fact, he was. Equally at home in posh cocktail parties or flailing away at the bad guys, Taylor was the epitome of the charming tough guy. Plummer also gets an interesting role though the character is never fully developed and plays second-fiddle to Taylor's. Nevertheless, he embellishes the much-besieged Quentin with quiet dignity even when narrowly dodging bombs and bullets. Lilli Palmer is especially poignant as Quentin's ever-faithful but long-suffering wife who is harboring a terrible secret that figures in the explosive climax. There is also an impressive supporting cast that includes Clive Revill as a butler whose allegiance may be in question, Calvin Lockhart as a handsome international man of mystery and an unrecognizable, black-haired Derren Nesbitt as a villain. The lush locations begin in Australia before moving to London, where director Thomas capitalizes on them. Interiors were shot at Pinewood Studios.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual fine standards and includes the original trailer. Recommended.
Vintage trade photo of Paul Newman receiving the World Film Favorite award from the Hollywood Foreign Press, which is today known as the association that gives out the Golden Globe awards. Newman accepted the honor in March, 1964. In other movie news that week, it was reported that Becket was doing standing room only business in its engagement at the Loews State Theatre in New York and Patricia Neal and Paula Prentiss were signed as female leads for Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way. (If you enjoy vintage movie news such as this, don't miss our That Was the Week That Was column in every issue of Cinema Retro).