A Dandy In Aspic - A Dandy In Aspic( Blu Ray) [Powerhouse Films - 2019]The wonderfully titled A Dandy In Aspic is a decidedly schizophrenic example of late 1960’s spy thriller- which constantly bounces between James Bound camp-ness and stark/ bleak John le Carré like grim-ness. From Powerhouse films here’s a recent Blu Ray reissue of the film- offering up an effective new scan of the picture, and a nice selection of informative extras.
Released in 1968 A Dandy In Aspic was the final film by American director/writer Anthony Mann- whose impressive filmmaking career dated back to the early 1940’s- he directed in total 42 films- that moved from classy noirs, Comedy musicals, War Time Romances, grand historical epics, Westerns & Thrillers. And though-out A Dandy In Aspic one gets a wonderful feeling of cinematic craftsmanship- both in the effectively moody shots, the often jarring, but skilful shifts in tone, and general intriguing flow of the film.
The film centres in on Sauvé- yet haunted British/ Russian double agent Alexander Eberlin (Laurence Harvey)- at the films start he’s in the decidedly bleak shot London, longing to return to Russian. Fairly soon he’s given the job of tracking down a rogue spy in Berlin- which finds him set into a fairly complex & twisting ‘n’ turning plot- seeing him hooking up with vapid female photograph Caroline-Mia Farrow. Head spy Gatiss- Tom Courtenay, in a great early role, as a sinister & untrustworthy superior. With supporting roles from Peter Cook- as Eberlin slightly comic & womanising College, Richard O'Sullivan as Farrow mincing assistant, and a host of other character actors- that nicely manage to just about balance the films flits between campiness, subtle humour, griminess, and building paranoia.
At times A Dandy In Aspic does drag a little- with its hour & forty-seven-minute runtime- but the lulls don’t last too long- as either a playful aside, or sudden stark twist pulls you back in. As a child/ teen I used to really enjoy the Bond films- but when I’ve come back to them in recent years, I’ve found the campy/ sexist leaning of the series a real turn-off, enjoying much more the action-meets- trust no-one, sprinkled with rye humour charm of films like the Mission Impossible series. And while A Dandy In Aspic is no way as action-packed, or slick as the MI franchise- I do feel the switch between tone reminded me of the 1st Mission Impossible film.
The newly remastered print of the film is well balanced, defined & nicely crisp- enhancing the often bleak detail of the cityscapes, facial close-ups, and gritty edges of the picture. On the extra front, we get a good selection of stuff- first up a commentary track from Samm Deighan author and associate -editor of Diabolique Magazine - This begins with her talking about the films distinctive credits which see a string doll darted & pulled around, moving on to touch briefly on the films score by respected score composer & music producer Quincy Jones. Before going onto a lengthy discussion about the themes of masculism, landscape & how it affects characters in this film & Mann’s other work. She later goes onto talk about lead man’s Laurence Harvey presence in the film, and his wider acting. Before discussing key scenes, other actors, etc- all making for a very informative & interesting track.
Next, we get an one hour & seven-minute audio interview with the film's cinematographer Kevin Gough-Yates- this is from 1988, finding him discussing his wider career. We get a good selection of new featurettes- taking in A Time to Die- a ten minute short, seeing members of the crew discussing their roles n the film. Pulling Strings- twenty-two-minute interview with the titles designer Michael Graham Smith and puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew. Inside Mann – twelve minute appreciation on the film by critic and broadcaster Richard Combs. London to Berlin- looking at the locations used in the film. Lastly Berlin: The Swinging City- a five-minute promotional film from 1968 from Columbia Pictures. Isolated music & score track, trailer & behind the scenes gallery.
Like many of the films Powerhouse has put out- A Dandy in Aspic is difficult to pigeon hole, tie down or quantify- and that’s what makes it, and much of the label's output so worthwhile. If you're looking for a more interesting take on the Spy movie genre, I can certainly recommend A Dandy in Aspic.