Victor Canning was a thriller writer whose work was, on the whole, a cut above that of many of his post-war contemporaries. I haven't read his 1950 novel Venetian Bird, but thanks to Talking Pictures TV, I've watched the film version (given the alternative but rather humdrum title of The Assassin in the US). The film was made in black and white but still manages to evoke Venice's charm.
I wondered if the storyline might be some sort of poor man's version of The Maltese Falcon, but was glad to find that wasn't the case. Edward Mercer (Richard Todd) is a private investigator who arrives in Venice on an errand. He's placed an advertisement to find information about someone, but this element of the plot turns out to be a MacGuffin. It's not what the film is mainly about.
Mercer becomes curious about a gallery owned by the wealthy Count Boria and finds himself attracted to an enigmatic and glamorous woman who works there called Adriana Medova (Eva Bartok, who is the subject of a rather interesting tribute website; suffice to say here that she had a full life!) Eventually it emerges (as that crass alternative title flagged up at the outset) that this is really a story about a plan to carry out a political assassination. There is also a mystery element, which although very guessable does add texture to the story.
The supporting cast is strong; it includes John Gregson in an uncharacteristic role, the wonderful Miles Malleson, and Sid James, of all people, playing an Italian undertaker, one of the least likely bits of casting I can recall. George Coulouris is surprisingly empathetic as the chief of police; he was a very good actor, and I was surprised to discover that he was born in Manchester and grew up there and in Urmston, not too far from my home village of Lymm. The direction by Ralph Thomas is snappy, with a good rooftop chase at the end. Overall, this film is well worth watching.
Sid James, before he became that, appeared ewgularly as Sidney James, as a surprisingly versatile supporting actor.
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