[Originally published in Movietone News 21, February 1973]
The Italian Job got past me but, from what I can tell from descriptions thereof, it set in motion a trend in Peter Collinson’s work that is continued in Innocent Bystanders. The potentially portentous title notwithstanding, this latest Collinson takes us far from the significance-laden likes of The Penthouse, Up the Junction, and A Long Day’s Dying into the region of closeup slambang for (commercially if not morally) pure purposes of entertainment. The government arms that manipulate poor, physically unsexed Stanley Baker and his fellow/rival espionage agents are unrelentingly portrayed as cold, inhumane entities staffed by inhuman types like Donald Pleasence (who manages to be amusing about it) and Dana Andrews, but this has simply become a convention of the genre these days and no longer counts as the subversive gesture it once was in the black and white morality plays of Fritz Lang and the crimefighting semidocumentaries of Anthony Mann.
After a baffling credit and post-credit sequence depicting an escape from a Soviet prison camp, the film settles down to the nasty business of putting old, rather too battle- and care-worn pro Baker into the field with/against a couple of Young Turks (figuratively speaking) to find a runaway Russian agronomist (Sheybal) who is wanted by MI.5, the KGB, the USA’s Section III, and all sorts of people. Collinson treats the instantaneous psychosexual cure of Baker with a straight face and later observes in bemused deadpan as Baker sends his chief competitor/colleague to certain death (the fellow complies with a bitter grin). There’s nothing very wholesome about Innocent Bystanders but, in its unapologetically corrupt way, it offers a modicum of satisfaction and is rarely boring. Warren Mitchell, who managed the Indian restaurant in Help!, takes top honors as a Turk (speaking literally now) whose wartime collaboration with the Nazis provided him with a combination cockney and Australian accent.
Direction: Peter Collinson. Screenplay: James Mitchell. Cinematography: Brian Probyn. Music: John Keating.
The Players: Stanley Baker, Geraldine Chaplin, Donald Pleasence, Dana Andrews, Sue Lloyd, Derren Nesbitt, Warren Mitchell, Vladek Sheybal, Cec Linder, Ferdy Mayne.
Copyright © 1973 Richard T. Jameson