Saturday 30 April 2022

Movie Review: The Venetian Affair (1966)

A dour spy drama, The Venetian Affair boasts attractive locations but is hampered by soulless characters and a logic-challenged script.

In Venice, American diplomat Prentiss detonates an explosive at a peace conference, killing himself and many others. Heavy drinking newswire reporter and ex-CIA agent Bill Fenner (Robert Vaughn) is dispatched to cover the incident, and encounters researcher Dr. Pierre Vaugiroud (Boris Karloff), who is about to release a damning report about the bombing. Fenner also tangles with his former boss at the CIA Frank Rosenfeld (Ed Asner), who wants to locate Fenner's ex-wife Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer). 

She is a suspected communist agent and the reason Fenner lost his agency job. More recently, Sandra was believed to be Prentiss' lover, and may have information about the bombing. Fenner does locate Sandra, and is soon confronted by the evil Robert Wahl (Karlheinz Böhm), a villainous businessman intent on disrupting world peace efforts.

An adaptation of a Helen MacInnes novel directed by Jerry Thorpe, The Venetian Affair deserves some credit for investing in one place, and targeting a downbeat mood. In an era when globe-hopping and a glib attitude went hand in hand with spy adventures, here all events are centred on Venice, and there is not a snarky comment nor a silly gadget to be found.

Unfortunately, after an explosive opening Thorpe and his writer and co-producer E. Jack Neuman are unable to meaningfully dig into the material. The weaknesses are many, starting with a plot that cannot withstand the most basic scrutiny, and an urbane leading man in Robert Vaughn failing to generate the necessary emotional heft despite a perpetual bad-shave look. The villains and their motives are kept hidden for too long, resulting in plenty of superficial cloak-and-dagger action interrupted by opportunistic bed-hopping.

An attempt is made to generate genuine passion between Sandra and Bill, but her character is too poorly defined to matter. Karlheinz Böhm finally injects spirit with his late appearance as the antagonist, but he too falls foul of poor plotting and absent motivation. The Venetian Affair is handsome to look at, but fails to navigate out of narrow canals.

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