Tuesday, 20 August 2019

When Eight Bells Toll - 1971 film review

Alistair MacLean wrote the film script of When Eight Bells Toll, and the novel of the same name, after enjoying a big hit with Where Eagles Dare. Producer Elliott Kastner thought that the James Bond franchise would fade away once Sean Connery departed, and he envisaged MacLean's new hero as a successor to 007. He persuaded Anthony Hopkins to take on his first lead film role as Philip Calvert, a tough guy in the Bond mould.

I read the book and saw the film as a teenager, at the height of my enthusiasm for MacLean's writing. At that stage, I'd read pretty much everything he'd produced, and I preferred him to Ian Fleming. I enjoyed both book and film, although I could remember nothing about them when I got the chance the other day to watch the movie again. I wondered if it would be a disappointment, because I lost interest in MacLean about the same time as he - it seems to me - lost interest in writing, in the Seventies. As a reader, I began to feel he no longer cared much about his work, and that's fatal for a writer. Having read Jack Webster's interesting biography of MacLean not long ago, it seems I wasn't far off the mark. Drink was MacLean's downfall. That, and too much money.

Anyway, what of the film? Well, the cast is top-notch. Corin Redgrave plays Hopkins' friend, and Robert Morley plays their boss, supplying comic relief. The suspicious characters in the cast include Ferdy Mayne, Oliver MacGreevy and the excellent Jack Hawkins, although the latter is rather miscast as a foreign tycoon. A Bond-style film of that era required sexy women aplenty, and Nathalie Delon plays Charlotte, while the under-rated Wendy Allnutt is Sue Kirkside. Wally Stott's soundtrack music is a sub-John Barry contribution.

The film wasn't a box office success, and Philip Calvert didn't return for new adventures. But I found it still enjoyable, undemanding entertainment. The story? Calvert is sent on a mission to halt piracy off the west coast of Scotland. Much of the filming was done on and around Mull, and the scenery is very watchable. So, of course, is Anthony Hopkins.

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