THE HIGH COMMISSIONER arrived in 1968, adapted from the novel by Jon Cleary, the first of 20 ‘Scobie Malone’ mysteries he wrote between 1966 and 2004. Producer Betty E. Box and director Ralph Thomas put together an ace cast for an okay mystery thriller, a middling effort taken down a peg by a mediocre script and some stinting on production details; wan special effects hurt the wrapup. Made for $1,055,000, the US gross was a weak $1,300,000 (141st for the year), with the picture tagging a loss of $1,185,000 when prints and advertising were taken into account. Cast makes it worth a watch.
Plain-speaking ‘Scobie Malone’ (Rod Taylor), a sergeant in the police force of New South Wales, Australia, answers a summons to Sydney where he’s prodded into special duty: head to London to arrest ‘Sir James Quentin’ (Christopher Plummer), Australia’s senior diplomat to the U.K. He’s being pinned for the murder of his ex-wife many years back. Though he’s mixing with upscale society, Quentin appears to be as straight a bloke as the rugged copper and he not only convinces Malone to give him a few days to seal a vital international peace deal but asks him to investigate who’s leaking information to parties unknown. Those people up their involvement with attempts on Quentin’s life and peril for the policeman.
The screenplay by Wilfred Greatorex (with Taylor assisting sans credit) is both cluttered and fragmented, leaving the interest factor up to the actors, who mostly deliver.
Australian Taylor gets one of his few parts where he employs his home country’s accent rather than an American or British one: it’s fun to hear Rod in his Outback intonations. Of course, Taylor’s natural brawn comes into play when needed. Plummer’s role is definitely secondary, but his aplomb gives it strength. Working with or against Malone’s prying are Quentin’s loyal wife ‘Sheila’ (Lilli Palmer, elegant), secretary ‘Lisa Pretorius’ (Camilla Sparv, more accessible than usual) and femme fatale ‘Maria Cholon’ (Daliah Lavi, defining ‘seductive’). Clive Revill gets in some smiles as a fussbudget butler.
Georges Delerue did the score. With Calvin Lockhart (weak as a sarcastic American named ‘Jamaica’), Leo McKern (in angry bluster mode), Derren Nesbitt (creepy time), Franchot Tone (his last role), Ken Wayne, Burt Kwouk (sinister duty) and Edric Connor (final role). 93 minutes. Also known as Nobody Runs Forever.