On arriving in Lisbon, American businessman William Beddoes (James Garner) is mistaken for a British secret agent on the trail of stolen diamonds. Before a flustered Beddoes can make sense of what is going on someone blows up his car. As rival criminal gangs dog his every move Beddoes is enmeshed in the devious machinations of a femme fatale named Aurora (Melina Mercouri).
If A Man Could Get Killed is remembered for anything it would be the score composed by easy listening god Bert Kaempfert. Chiefly because it features an instrumental version of 'Strangers in the Night.' The song was composed for star Melina Mercouri who passed, believing it better suited to a male voice. Thus it was inherited by Frank Sinatra yielding not only one of his most enduring numbers but the title of Ol' Blue Eyes' most commercially successful album. Aside from that pop cultural side-note A Man Could Get Killed is a rambling, unfocused, trifling little comedy-thriller that is less charming than it believes itself to be. The set-up, buoyed by an endearingly befuddled performance from the reliably charismatic James Garner, tricks the viewer into believing this is a spin on the classic 'wrong man' scenario so beloved by Alfred Hitchcock. Or in comedic terms something along the lines of French farce The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972) or the sorely underrated Bill Murray vehicle The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997). Yet the film barely makes anything out of its mistaken identity angle before abandoning Beddoes to tag along meekly behind the vampish Aurora and switching focus onto another couple.
While James Garner bumbles amiably, if unremarkably, from one confounding confrontation after another, co-stars Sandra Dee and Anthony Franciosa appear to be acting in their own sub-par version of Charade (1963). Dee (who was apparently coerced into making the movie and did not enjoy the experience) plays Amy Franklin, a perky young American tourist who inadvertently unmasks Franciosa's Steve Gardner: a smuggler posing as Portuguese in order to get his mitts on the diamonds first. Amy, whom the script somewhat jarringly informs us has been in love with Steve since she was eleven years old, pursues him relentlessly. Just as Audrey Hepburn did Cary Grant in Charade. Amy's sole function seems to be serving as Steve's personal cheerleader, praising his every move even though he treats her rather cavalierly through a string of narrow escapes. All the while Franciosa's shark-like grin and oily charm serve to paint Steve somewhat more menacing than was intended. He leaves the viewer wondering why exactly the film needed two leading men (a thought that may have occurred to the co-stars themselves who allegedly did not get on behind the scenes and came to blows). Also, no matter how breathlessly Aurora sighs in Beddoes' arms one can't help thinking both couples seem mismatched. As with Topkapi (1964) Melina Mercouri's character is not as captivating as the film seemingly believes her to be. Very much the poor man's Sophia Loren (who the same year as this film essayed a similar role to superior effect in Arabesque (1966), directed by Stanley Donen (see, all roads lead back to Charade!)), her playful manipulation of the good-natured Beddoes proves merely tiresome.
Ronald Neame, then fresh off the superior comedy-thriller Gambit (1966), stepped in after the cast fell out with British comedy caper specialist Cliff Owen. Both men struggle wrestling an unnecessarily complicated espionage plot into an accessible farce that more often than not feels like two separate movies bolted awkwardly together. With the exception of a climactic exchange between the film's surprise villain (whose identity only adds another needless layer of confusion) and his bemused wife, the attempts at dry humour fall largely flat and the romance does not work either. It is likely the one person happy with the outcome of this sloppy misfire was Sinatra.
It was a right old mess behind the camera, and er, in front of the camera too, but I watched this when I was a kid oblivious to the production difficulties and enjoyed it well enough, if not finding it remarkable. Maybe it was the Garner charm that helped - I grew up on The Rockford Files.
7 Aug 2019
As practically the world's biggest James Garner fan (I too grew up watching The Rockford Files - albeit as re-runs) it takes a lot to put me off one of his films. Particularly from the Sixties. But god, A Man Could Get Killed was a chore. The friction behind the scenes goes a long way towards explaining why. Maybe I'll have more fun with my next Garner watch: The Pink Jungle.
1 Sep 2019
Apparently the Garner/Franciosa fight was caused by Franciosa refusing to pull his punches during fight scenes with the stuntmen (knowing them, I'm surprised he didn't get a quiet tap in return). Charming man, Tony Franciosa; when he made the TV miniseries 'Wheels' with Rock Hudson his behaviour reduced Hudson to such a state he couldn't remember lines and had to use cue-cards. When Franciosa left the set for the last time, the crew cheered him on his way.