Masquerade (1965)

MASQUERADE began as “Castle Minerva”, a novel written by Victor Canning. A decade later it came to the screen in 1965 as one of the numerous light adventures with international settings that popped up to ride the spy wave. Though not in the Bond league, these often droll thrillers offered some of the ingredients, occasionally with an American lead actor supported by assorted English authority types, villains from unspecified countries that generally fit the exotic/restive category, and one of the decades ample crop of Euro beauties as the seductive but suspect romantic interest. Locales were a decided plus. This one, scripted by William Goldman and Michael Relph, falters some in the last third, when the tongue-in-cheek gets checkmated by overstuffing the plot, but for the most part it’s an entertaining diversion.

When a Middle Eastern ruler (of ‘Ramaut’) is assassinated and his young heir is kidnapped, Britain’s national interests (make that ‘oil reserves’) require special intelligence action. Jaded espionage pro ‘Col. Drexel’ (Jack Hawkins) and his cash-strapped American WW2 buddy ‘David Frazer’ (Cliff Robertson) get the assignment, but Frazer soon realizes he’s in over his head, what with interference from what seems to be a gang of smugglers. Double & triple crosses are on the table, an old Moorish castle must be escaped from (cue up a ledge-walk on a sheer dropoff), there’s an unusual fight with a vulture (the avian kind) and naturally a raving beauty (Marisa Mell) who can’t be trusted. Then she can. Then she can’t.

Fun back & forth between battling British accents seeking to out-belittle one another (Hawkins the voice to beat, matching snide snipes with Charles Gray), a pleasant enough turn from Robertson in Cary Grant territory, and temperature-raising provided by Miss Mell.

Filmed in Spain, chiefly in Alicante, Almeria, and Cabo de Gata. The 9th-century fortress Castillo de Santa Barbara serves as the ‘Castle Minerva’ where much of the action takes place. Past the dippy title tune lounged by Danny Williams (“Britain’s Johnny Mathis”), the Andalusian scenery and Etonian sarcasm are outfitted with a neat music score from Philip Green.

Directed by Basil Dearden (The League Of Gentlemen, Khartoum), running the industry standard 102 minutes. On tap to offer attitudes and accents: Michel Piccoli, Bill Fraser, Jerold Wells, John Le Mesurier, Felix Aylmer, Tutte Lemkow, Keith Pyott, Christopher Witty, Roger Delgado, and one particularly nasty bird.

* Sizzling Austrian beauty Marisa Mell, 25 when she made this, tagged her best-known roles in cult items Danger: Diabolik, Casanova 70, and One On Top Of The Other. Her flamboyant personal life, wilder than any fictional role, came at a cost. She passed away at 53 in 1992.

At 41, Cliff Robertson’s career was not going much of anywhere in ’65, as little forward momentum came this film, Love Has Many Faces or Up From The Beach. He did press for novelist William Goldman to get the screenwriting job (his first) and “Americanize” his dialogue (the part was originally intended for Rex Harrison).  Robertson had Goldman adapt the short story “Flowers for Algernon” for the actor, which three years later won Robertson a Best Actor Oscar as Charly. Show biz being a biz and not a charity, by then Robertson nixed Goldman’s adaptation and hired Stirling Silliphant for the Charly screenplay.

Jack Hawkins, 54 at the time of production, would go on appearing in supporting roles until his death in 1973, but from 1966 on he had to be dubbed, his marvelous voice lost to throat cancer. Masquerade was one of the last movies he made with that fabulous vocal instrument intact and put to good use.

 

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