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  Otley On Nobody's Secret Service
Year: 1968
Director: Dick Clement
Stars: Tom Courtenay, Romy Schneider, Alan Badel, James Villiers, Leonard Rossiter, Freddie Jones, Fiona Lewis, James Bolam, James Cossins, James Maxwell, Edward Hardwicke, Ronald Lacey, Phyllida Law, Geoffrey Bayldon, Frank Middlemass, Robin Askwith
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lightfingered Gerald Arthur Otley (Tom Courtenay) has no grand plan to travel through life, he simply takes it as it comes, but that can be a problem when, for example, he is thrown out of the place he is staying by his landlady for non-payment of his rent - and this after he spent the night with her in bed! No respect, some people. Anyway, he has to find somewhere else to sleep or risk a night on the streets, so sets about asking everyone he knows, and failing to get anywhere though he does manage to get an invite to a party...

But he might have been better off spending that evening wandering the streets of London instead considering what happens next. Fair enough, he does get somewhere to stay that Saturday night by kipping on the chaise longue of an old diplomat friend (Edward Hardwicke) but when he wakes up, it's not only Monday but he's lying next to the runway at an airport with his loafers on the wrong feet. On getting his bearings, it becomes clear that he is wanted for murder - the killing of the friend who gave him a bed for the night, but the reasons why remain deliberately murky in this, one of the espionage movies writing team Dick Clement (who also directed) and Ian La Frenais concocted.

The duo would be most celebrated for their mastery of the British sitcom, but they made quite a number of films as well, not quite as successfully though Otley can be considered one of the instances their particular, earthy, character-based style paid dividends as it was very entertaining all the way through. Much of that was thanks to the canny casting of Courtenay as a not entirely admirable stooge for every spy in London, or so it seems, yet we are invested in his wellbeing simply because he is as confused as the rest of us about what is actually happening - the plotting was insistently complicated and shadowy.

That said, it did resolve itself with surprising ease, which may have been slightly disappointing but after seeing the lineup of fine British character actors parading across the screen behaving as if they know what is going on even if Otley (never mind us) does not, you can admit that time spent with this slightly parodic, Swinging Sixties adventure has not been entirely wasted. There was a sense here Clement and La Frenais, adapting the first in a series of books by Martin Waddell, were including a lot of bits and pieces just because they could rather than they're being desperately relevant to the twisting narrative as Courtenay blundered his way through it, led instead of leader.

Therefore you could get a throwaway gag about a Gatwick Handling sign at the airport (unexpectedly saucy) or another of the rock band The Herd in a queue of people being awarded by the Queen - but with none of their songs to be heard on the soundtrack - and then a more extended affair such as Otley taking his driving test only to get into a car chase with the spies pursuing him, leaving the instructor panicking and passing him to get him to stop. For lovers of British character actors there was a wealth of them here, with a hippy James Bolam (huh?) partnered bizarrely with Fiona Lewis, a gay Freddie Jones as one of those sinister figures who knows what is really going on, and Leonard Rossiter oddly cast as a humorous hitman who nearly gets our anti-hero blown up on the London Underground. There were plenty of views of the capital too for that particular sixties flavour, and Romy Schneider provided glamour, another spy giving Otley the runaround (though more accomodating than most). If this was lightweight, it was none the worse for that. Jaunty music by Stanley Myers.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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