Retired agent Lester Horton (David Janssen) is now the author of a bestselling exposé about the C.I.A. Something that does not sit well with his former colleagues at the agency. While in Athens, Greece chasing a lead for his next book, Horton is waylaid by operatives working for the ruthless Maxwell (Arthur Kennedy). He wants Horton to reveal the whereabouts of a valuable piece of Intel. The resourceful Horton gives them the slip. He then reaches out to another old colleague: John Florio (Maurizio Merli). Now married to Horton's old flame, Anna (Corinne Cléry), the similarly disillusioned Florio’s efforts to expose the agency’s dirty tricks are being hampered by Maxwell's hired thugs. Working together the two agents and Anna try to fight their way out of a murky moral maze with the full force of the C.I.A. pitted against them.
Italian action star Maurizio Merli here plays third banana behind future Bond girl Corinne Cléry (who interestingly stepped in to replace Dukes of Hazzard star Catherine Bach!) and imported American lead David Janssen, star of the original TV incarnation of The Fugitive. Sadly looking about twenty years older than his actual age. Inspired by the experiences of real life C.I.A. agent-turned-whistleblower Philip Agee (who briefly served as technical advisor then sued the producers over his fees), Sono stato un agente C.I.A. clearly wants to come across as a "Serious Political Thriller" in the style of the many paranoid exposés then emerging from Hollywood in the Seventies. After all Agee's memoir dished the dirt on the agency's disturbing legacy of upholding authoritarian regimes, subverting democratically elected governments and sabotaging movements for social justice around the world. Doubtless at this late stage in his career David Janssen must have jumped at the chance to tackle such meaty material.
Alas, the film lacks any serious political edge. The plot, co-authored by director Romolo Guerriri with writers John Crowther, Nico Ducci, Mino Roli and Vittorio Schiraldi, is really no different from any spaghetti western or standard Euro-crime outing about a gunslinger or gangster trying to escape his past. Its moral outrage takes a backseat to sleazy sensationalist antics spotlighting moments of graphic violence, leering nudity (including a scene where an embarrassed-looking Janssen fidgets through a pornographic cartoon) and tacky melodrama. Including a subplot with Horton imprisoned and tortured at an insane asylum surrounded by ranting crazy people that threatens to go full One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). The plot splinters all over the place, taking too long to establish just who Horton is and what he is up to before entangling itself with a sub-Casablanca love triangle (if you doubt grey-haired, frail-looking David Janssen could steal Corinne Cléry away from virile, moustachioed Maurizio Merli; the film disagrees), stock Euro-crime car chases and the semi-comedic antics of a catchphrase spouting Greek police inspector played by French actor Philippe Leroy. Though the budget was evidently more generous than in most Italian action thrillers from the Seventies, with attractive Greek locals well shot by Guerriri and D.P. Erico Menczer, Covert Action still has the same scrappy, thrown-together quality of a more typical Maurizio Merli outing. Much more subdued than in his poliziotteschi vehicles, Merli proves he could cut it in an atypical, more challenging role as a surprise plot twist lends a new dimension to his character. Of course he still lands one scene where he gets to kick the crap out of some people. Similarly Janssen flexes some of his old Fugitive muscles, staying one step ahead of frizzy-haired Euro thugs, but the constant of agents harassing Lester grow wearying and repetitive. Music by the always-reliable Stelvio Cipriani (a very Seventies mix of pan pipes, folk guitar and disco synth) helps enliven an otherwise lethargic effort that ambles along to a downbeat denouement undercut by its leading man's obvious boredom.