Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Danger Route (1967)

I started watching this film more than thirty years ago, when it showed up on BBC2 for a late afternoon/early evening showing.  For some reason, I only saw the first twenty or thirty minutes before having my viewing interrupted by something or other.  I'd always assumed that I'd catch up with the rest of it the next time it turned up on TV - but it never seemed to get any further screenings.  Not that I noticed, anyway.  Last week, however, I finally caught up with Danger Route in its entirety on line.  Was it worth the wait?  Probably not.  Which isn't to say that Danger Route isn't a reasonably absorbing ninety minutes or so of entertainment.  A solid cast, decent direction and an interesting central plot idea raises it above the level of the average late sixties low budget spy movie.

The cast is headed up by Richard Johnson, one of those actors who always seemed like he should be a bigger star than he actually was, but perpetually seemed to miss out on the really big roles, instead having to settle for supporting roles in big movies.  Consequently, Johnson enjoyed a long career playing leads in a rich variety of schlock, culminating in the magnificent Zombie Flesh Eaters.  During the sixties, he played a lot of secret agents.  Which was inevitable considering the fact that he had a Bond connection.  According to some sources he either turned down the role before Sean Connery was cast as 007, or he was passed over in favour of Connery.  Whether either of these scenarios is actually true, I have no idea.  What is true is that Johnson was friends with Doctor No director Terrance Young who, aghast at the casting of the relatively unknown Connery, told Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that he could secure the then better known Johnson's services if they wanted to drop Connery.

Obviously, they declined his offer and Johnson found himself not only eclipsed as a star by Connery, but also playing surrogate Connerys in a number of action and espionage movies.  These included the two Bulldog Drummond updates Deadlier Than the Male and Some Girls Do, which were slickly made and reasonably budget Bond knock offs.  Sandwiched between them was the somewhat lower budgeted Danger Route, which seems to take its inspiration from the 'Harry Palmer' Len Deighton adaptations as much as it does from Bond..  Johnson plays Jonas Wilde, an assassin who thinks that he's working for a top secret British intelligence unit, eliminating enemies of the crown.  In fact, as he discovers in the course of his latest mission, the unit has been infiltrated by the 'other side' and some of the targets he has eliminated have actually been friendly agents.  After the mission goes wrong, he finds himself hunted by the CIA as he tries to uncover the traitor in his own organisation and work out who he can trust.  Whilst an ingenious and reasonably original plot idea, it unfortunately becomes bogged down as the twists and turns of the script become far too convoluted.   That said, it is to be commended for pitching the viewer into the middle of the intrigue, trusting their ability to pick up the details of what's going on without any tedious and talky scenes of exposition.

Johnson is backed up by a good cast of actors who, like him, were largely never really of the first order in terms of movie roles, but nonetheless never gave bad performances.  The likes of Harry Andrews, Gordon Jackson, Barbara Bouchet, Carol Lynley, Sylvia Syms and Sam Wanamaker all give excellent support.  The film also boasts some interesting locations in southern England and the Channel Islands and a lot of action involving trains, boats and ships.  Although it starts slowly, director Seth Holt ramps up the pace as the film proceeds, using some audacious, but well executed, jump cuts to move the action to a climax.  All-in-all, Danger Route is pretty decent B-movie, an unusual diversion into espionage on the part of Amicus, who generally dealt in in horror and fantasy films.  Despite a low budget, director Holt delivers a stylish and intriguingly plotted spy movie.  I'm not sure if I'd go out of my way to watch it again, but if it happened to turn up on TV while I was channel surfing, I'd probably give it another look.  



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