A MAN COULD GET KILLED or he could just fall asleep waiting for this 1966 escapist fluff to amount to something. When Melina Mercouri is on screen, her delightful purr and devilish manner pokes life into the limp material, and there are Portugal locations for framework. Otherwise it’s a dud, forced and trite, one of the slew of mid-60s light adventures that abounded after the spy craze took hold. The footnote this one earns is that Bert Kaempfert’s music score introduced the tune “Strangers In The Night”; the melody is not sung in the film, but it became a huge hit for Frank Sinatra. The wheezing plot involves stolen diamonds, mistaken identity (Garner’s character), an alluring mystery woman (Mercouri), a smug smuggler (Tony Franciosa) and a young woman (Sandra Dee) who likes him for some reason. Dee is wasted (she didn’t want to make the picture) and Franciosa is his usual oily self.
Direction was shared by Ronald Neame and Cliff Owen, with Owen replaced by Neame after the cast complained. Scripted by veterans Richard L. Breen and T.E.B. Clarke, off “Diamonds For Danger” a novel written 13 years earlier by David E. Walker.
Garner starred in four movies in ’66: Grand Prix was a big hit, #8 for the year, but the action-packed Duel at Diablo lagged at 69th and the confused Mister Buddwing was an embarrassment at 94th. Grossing $2,400,000, this trifle squeaked into 88th place. *
With Robert Coote, Roland Culver, Gregoire Aslan, Cecil Parker, Martin Benson, Niall MacGinnis, Virgilio Teixeria, George Pastell. 97 minutes.
* Garner, from his autobio: “Disappointing, though I did have fun playing backgammon on the set with Melina and her husband, Jules Dassin. Didn’t enjoy working with Tony Franciosa, who kept abusing the stunt men. He purposely wasn’t pulling his punches in fight scenes, and he kept doing it despite my warnings to stop…so I had to pop him one.”
From “Straight From The Horse’s Mouth”, director Neame’s autobio: “The action was a fight between their two characters. Suddenly Tony yelled “You shit! You’re really hitting me!” In that instant they both lost control and it became a nasty brawl with them going after each other with such ferocity that the crew had to pull them apart.”