February 19, 2023
$14.95 DVD, $24.95 Blu-ray;
Stars Henry Silva, Barbara Stewart, Fred Bier, Peter Dane, Bill Vanders.
Henry Silva had a few bit parts under his belt, notably a feature role as hitman “Harry Silver” on a 1956 episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” before director and raconteur Budd Boetticher “discovered” the actor by casting him as villainous “Chink” in the otherwise flawless Randolph Scott western, The Tall T. Cesar Romero notwithstanding, Silva was the coolest member of Ocean’s 11. The actor was a veritable United Nations of ethnicities, embodying everything from a Venezuelan and numerous Native Americans, to Asians of all backgrounds and a multitude of sociopathic mafiosos which became his stock in trade. He’s probably best remembered as Chunjin, the karate-chopping communist agent/houseboy in The Manchurian Candidate. That part led to Johnny Cool, Silva’s first crack at opening a picture. Box office was so good that Silva was made an offer he couldn’t refuse in 1965: a shot at playing lead roles — good guys, bad guys, and a mixture of both — in a series of genre films to be shot overseas. He packed the third Mrs. Silva and their kids and moved abroad to star in what proved to be a successful string of genre films.
The Blu-ray commentary track by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson suggests the closest 1967’s Assassination came to holding a U.S. premiere was a pan-and-scan television presentation. (I was 10 the year this was released and my parents wouldn’t allow me to see a film with this title until Charles Bronson’s nadiral turn.) Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 4K restoration is so crisp, it will steal your breath away. Silva stars as John Chandler, a death row inmate who has the electric chair yanked from under him thanks to a last second mafia-engendered blackout, only to be transformed into his nonexistent, but credibly imagined, brother Phillip. The C.I.A. doused the electricity just moments before John was about to fry in order to stick him with a scheme that only he was capable of pulling off. The same pair of government operatives who sat at John’s bedside, nursing him through the transition, then demanded that he fulfill his part of the bargain by providing the information needed to bring down the mob. The breakneck zooms and Z-Brick jail cells that open this Italian import indicate a small budget, while director Emilio Miraglia, working under the Americanized pseudonym “Hal Brady,” does a bang up job plying the cracks with style.
John stiffed his wife Barbara (Evelyn Stewart) by leaving all his worldly possessions to a brother whom no one knew existed. The filmmakers dropped the ball by failing to explore the highly plumbable notion of how a woman might respond to a man who pretends to be both husband and brother-in-law. As an actress, Stewart has the appeal of a closed book and a look that is best described as vacant conundrum. John’s groomers paint him to be his brother’s opposite. One smokes, the other doesn’t. One drinks, the other is dry. Superficialities and plastic surgery aside, couldn’t Barbara detect something askew in this man pretending to be heir to her husband’s estate? From the moment the plastic surgeon peels back the gauze to reveal Philip, Silva acts as though the drugs from the operation never wore off. It doesn’t help that John “drank around the clock.” Forced to play his own heir, acting the part of his sober “brother” leaves him in the throes of delirium tremens. Philip’s flop sweat-inducing DTs are modishly juxtaposed against the hallucinogenic happenings of the groovy flower power counter culture.
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As much as one admires composer Robby Poiteven’s wildly varying score — the piano pounding theme that opens the show gives off a weird, thundering Born Free vibe — a few of the volcanic music cues are blaring enough to qualify as jump scares. In the film’s finest moment, Poiteven’s anxious jazz beat underscores a pair of overcoated goons tailing Philip on a free-form glide through New York’s marquee-lined Times Square and into Rockefeller center before eventually climaxing with the Macy’s Christmas Day parade. And what better way to cap this exhilarating tour than Phillip shaking his tails by pulling up a curb and blending in with children lining the parade route.
Things get a little sloppy when the action shifts to Hamburg for the second half of the picture. We never do see how Phillip escapes two armed thugs, just a cut to him running across a bridge. And two-timing Barbara’s dalliance with an art dealer cum espionage agent played by Fred Bier strains credibility. But the flaws are all forgotten when the parting shot you didn’t see coming lands with a force so great, you’ll never forget it.
Bonus features include the aforementioned lovingly-detailed frat house commentary and the film’s trailer.