I was surprised to read that actor Henry Silva passed away back in September; he’s one of the great tough-guy actors who thrived in the 60’s and 70’s that we just don’t have any more. Personally I was a fan of his Euro Crime films, The Boss and The Italian Connection. Silva just had a way of exuding cool and badass that in my eyes made him a rock star on the screen. He was like a rougher Charles Bronson. He was in two movies that made a big impression on me as a kid. Granted they are both glorified B movies, but Allan Quaterman and the Lost City of Gold and Alligator (1980) were movies that were in a high rotation for me as a kid, and it’s Henry Silva’s mean-guy mug that has stuck with me for so long. My point is, I look at Henry Silva as a cinematic treasure, and when I had the chance to check out the new Kino release of Assassination, a Henry Silva film I had never seen or even heard of, well, I was excited. Sadly, this one is a bit of a mess.
Assassination is a film that fits into the sub-genre of the Euro-Spy wave that came along after the success of the James Bond films. There were a lot of knockoffs; some were even pretty good, The Cold War supplied so much material for the spy genre that we are still getting a plentiful amount of films about the topic. This film opens up with John Chandler (Henry Silva) awaiting execution for crimes we only find out later that he is responsible for. We see the whole song and dance of them prepping for his execution and his farewell to his wife, only to discover that this is all an elaborate hoax the CIA is pulling off to fake Chandler’s death, then to give him plastic surgery just so they can use him to play his long-lost brother Philip so he can help the government take down a crime boss. It’s an elaborate plot that gets so overly complicated with double crosses that the film just seems silly.
The movie is a bit amusing when it gets into the plastic surgery and how “experts” are brought in because the enemies are uncertain if John Chandler is really dead or if his brother is in fact Philip. This is before DNA, so when we see doctors looking at photos pf John and Philip and declaring how it’s impossible they can be the same person when really it just looks as though a hairpiece and makeup were used to distinguish the two, well, it’s silly. What’s more, how John’s wife Barbara (Evelyn Stewart) doesn’t suspect a thing is just absurd. Basically what makes her certain the two are different: her husband drinks and never smoked, but Philip only smokes but never drinks. Really, that’s all the proof she needed to not suspect her husband’s “brother”. Where this story takes an even bigger leap in asking its audience to suspend disbelief is when the man she develops a relationship with and marries after her “husband” is deceased turns out to be a spy and is in cahoots with the major crime boss John is trying to take down. Somehow she is oblivious to all this, and boy oh boy, just wait till the third act when the film throws another curve ball at her relationship status.
This really does play out like a bad James Bond knockoff, even to the point where when “Philip” is taken to the crime boss’s estate, we get to see all the henchmen in matching attire doing target practice. But the reason this film fails is because the storyline is so absurd and incoherent it gets difficult to follow. It seems as though they were making up the story as they filmed, and then there are points where it seems like scenes are cut short or that there are portions of the film that are missing, which could be possible because of the age of the film.
If it wasn’t for Henry Silva, I feel this film could have been a complete disaster, but he does make the film enjoyable despite how choppy the storyline may get. There is a fun sequence where Philip’s identity is found out and his loyalty is put to the test in a kill-or-be-killed situation, While the sequence is fun, it doesn’t exactly redeem the film. If you are looking to get into the old Euro Crime/Spy films, this would be one to pass; I’d highly recommend checking out The Italian Connection instead.