The Assassination Bureau is one of those madcap films that were rather characteristic of the Swinging Sixties, a star-studded comedy with a storyline that zoomed around all over the place. I've never watched it until now, but the recent death of Diana Rigg, whom I'd admired ever since her early days as Emma Peel in The Avengers, prompted me to give it a look.
The script has an unorthodox source. It is based on a story which Jack London started - basing it on an idea purchased from Sinclair Lewis - and Robert L. Fish completed decades later. I doubt that there's a great resemblance between the two, but these rather weird origins are reflected in the zaniness of the story. The eponymous Bureau is a bunch of highly effective paid killers, who only target people who, supposedly, deserve to be assassinated. Murky moral ground, to be sure, but the film just aims for light entertainment.
Diana Rigg plays Sonya Winter, a would-be journalist who has uncovered the Bureau's existence. She challenges the Bureau's killers to target their own head, Ivan Dragomiloff. Ivan is played by Oliver Reed with characteristic gusto. His second-in-command is Lord Bostwick, a role which gives Telly Savalas the chance to be as unKojak-like as possible. The supporting cast includes, like other films of this type, a galaxy of highly recognisable faces, often in very small parts. So we glimpse, among others, Beryl Reid, Warren Mitchell, Kenneth Griffith, Jeremy Lloyd, Frank Thornton, Arthur Hewlett, and Peter Bowles.
It's no masterpiece, but as piece of pandemic escapism, it does the job. The story is better than that of, say, the original Casino Royale, even if the soundtrack (despite being by the estimable Ron Grainer) isn't a patch on that for the wackiest of Bond films. It goes without saying that Diana Rigg is terrific, and among other things The Assassination Bureau is a good reminder of her ability to entertain in undemanding roles as well as to excel in more serious parts.