Tuesday, April 25, 2023


by Anthony King
Baba Yaga, eat your heart out.

With the fourth chapter of the John Wick saga still in the top three at the box office, dipping back more than 50 years and digging up a relic like Basil Dearden's The Assassination Bureau proves to be a curious endeavor. It's a film I'd never heard of based on an unfinished Jack London novel starring two of the biggest British stars of the '60s and '70s: Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed. While unknown to me, the story is familiar due to several movies that borrowed or downright stole plot points and ideas.
The titular Bureau is an organization not unlike the syndicate to which Mr. Wick belongs, run by a literal round table of rich white men. When someone wants someone else assassinated, that name is brought before the round table made up of men from all over the world, and they decide whether the assassination is warranted – meaning: will the world be a better place without this person living in it? The chairman of the Bureau is Ivan Dragomiloff (Reed) and his vice chairman is Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas). Sonya Winter (Rigg) is an English journalist whose goal is to be the first woman to officially be staffed by a main newspaper. She's gotten word of the elusive Assassination Bureau and wants to write an expose about the Bureau's exploits. To achieve this she will hire out for the assassination of the chairman. Winter's editor is more than happy to support her in this endeavor because he is, in fact, Lord Bostwick. What unfolds is very similar to John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in the fact that Dragomiloff now has to fend off all the assassins coming after him. At the helm of this operation is Bostwick, whose motivation is to eliminate the current chairman so he can overtake the role in order to take over all of Europe. Winter then tags along with Dragomiloff in order to get a behind-the-scenes look of how the assassination will take place.
Convoluted plot aside, the film is a romp full of dry English wit, melodramatics, and Oliver Reed constantly under heavy makeup and ornate disguises. The influence of The Assassination Bureau spans from the James Bond films of the '70s and 8'0s to Stephen Norrington's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). And, especially, in much of Guy Ritchie's filmography can the weight of Bureau be felt. Snatch (2000), RocknRolla (2008), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and The Gentlemen (2019) all wear the influence of The Bureau on their sleeves. Diana Rigg is magnetic and luminous as ever in period costumes; Oliver Reed has his ever-present perspirant shine whose charm seeps through the screen; and Telly Savalas, slipping in and out of a the faintest of English accents, keeps his usual calm and cool demeanor while flexing a cartoonish muscle every now and then. While some of the effects leave little to be desired, The Assassination Bureau is a fun time ducking in and out of shadows and galavanting around Europe with some good-looking people.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray release looks stunning in all its Technicolor glory. The presentation is top-notch with colors that explode off your screen. Two highlights from the package include “Right Film, Wrong Time,” a sit-down presentation with writer and radio broadcaster Matthew Sweet. Starting with the early history of the novel (Jack London actually purchased the story idea in a nine-idea package for $70 from Sinclair Lewis in 1910), to the posthumous release of the novel in 1963 and its subsequent flop due to the Kennedy assassination, to the creation and release of the film. A regular contributor to many Blu-ray releases, Sweet is energetic and well-spoken delivering gobs of history and information. A brand new commentary is also included in the release from writer and filmmaker Sean Hogan and author and critic Kim Newman. No stranger to the commentary world or each other, Hogan and Newman are two of the best commentators working today. Like any good commentary, there is hardly a down moment with conversation revolving around the film, the cast, and its cultural influences. Hogan and Newman are, as always, genial and brilliant and don't hold back their laughter.

The Assassination Bureau is an all-around fun time with eye-popping colors and charm for days. Add it to your collection today.

Blu-ray release date: April 25, 2023
109 minutes/1969
1.85:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)

Bonus Features:
Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Katherine McLaughlin and a set of six reproduction lobby cards from the original release
Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork choices
Image gallery
Original trailer
“Right Film, Wrong Time”: a 30-minute appreciation by critic, broadcaster, and cultural historian Matthew Sweet
Brand new audio commentary with authors Sean Hogan and Kim Newman
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Original lossless English mono audio
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

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