The High Commissioner (1968) Blu-ray Review: The Accidental Spy from Down Under

Kino Lorber brings us a fun tale of an abrasive detective wrapped up in international intrigue starring Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer.
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The notion of a Eurospy movie was hardly anything new in 1968. If anything, it was becoming rather mundane to European filmgoers who had been bombarded by a jaw-dropping assortment of bastardized 007 clones by the time our film in question first hit screens. And yet, the makers of The High Commissioner (aka Nobody Runs Forever) nevertheless managed to give their project a unique twist: an abrasive, unsophisticated copper straight from the Outback as the protagonist. Made before fellow Aussie George Lazenby engaged in his shortlived stint as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the late great Rod Taylor stepped out of the sheep dip to swing into high gear for this enjoyable espionage thriller.

After a somewhat slow start (Taylor's production company co-financed the film, and the actor took a few liberties establishing his character), beer-guzzlin' Australian Detective Sergeant Scobie Malone (Taylor) ‒ whom we first see on horseback in the dusty Outback, coldcocking a thief at a dusty remote ranch ‒ is sent to the hip and sophisticated land of London, which has a great deal of dirt of its own flying around. His mission: arrest Sir James Quentin on a decades-old murder charge. It would be an easy task were it not for the fact Sir James also happens to be Australia's High Commissioner! Alas, Malone's timing has placed him directly in the middle of an important peace talk which could affect the entire free world.

Were that not bad enough, the eponymous enigma ‒ as played to perfection by the always cool-as-a-cucumber Christopher Plummer ‒ is currently shrouded in a tense mystery full of intrigue, assassins, and suspicious characters from all over, including busty Israeli sexpot Daliah Lavi (who, had appeared in the 007 parody Casino Royale the previous year). Sir James agrees to return to Oz with Malone, provided his new unwanted shadow find out who is out to get him. And so begins a surprisingly refreshing (4/5 of a) film with a frequently tuxedo-clad Taylor busting heads, flirting with the ladies, and engaging in hilarious passive-aggressive arguments with stuffy servant Clive Revill (Wizards and Warriors).

Maintaining a decent balance of comedy, intrigue, and drama throughout, this Rank Organisation production from director Ralph Thomas (no stranger to Eurospy films; in fact, you can spot a poster for his previous film, Deadlier Than the Male in one scene) also features Lilli Palmer as Plummer's worrisome wife, Camilla Sparv as The High Commissioner's suspicious secretary, Lee Montague, Calvin Lockhart (as a quasi-Felix Leiter-like character named Jamacia!), Derren Nesbitt (under a great bit of eyeliner), Pink Panther regular Burt Kwouk (as a villain, naturally), and the final screen appearance by Franchot Tone. Leo McKern (Ladyhawke) also makes a cameo as Taylor's superior in the film's opening.

If this is the first time you've ever heard of The High Commissioner, don't feel bad. While this adaptation of Jon Cleary's novel may not necessarily have been intended as a contender to the Eurospy rat race, it nevertheless wound up being one. (Especially in America, where it was one of the first non-Cinerama releases from the newly-formed Cinerama Releasing Corporation, who created a fairly routine Eurospy ad campaign for it.) Fortunately, this delightful late '60s fish-out-of-water thriller can be seen in all its glory thanks to a beautiful and crisp 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer from Kino Lorber, which preserves the film's 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The accompanying DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack delivers admirably for this low-budget gem; no subtitles are available, despite there being an "empty track" for one.

Special features for The High Commissioner are limited to just three trailers, all of which play back-to-back. I'm not sure why, but the original American(ized) preview for our feature presentation ‒ which has been culled from a well-worn Spanish-subtitled source‒ is sandwiched between two other recent Kino releases, Cop-Out and The Grissom Gang. But don't let the lack of extras dissuade you from picking up this very fun flick.

Recommended. Especially if you love you a little Eurospy action.

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