Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

April 22, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #5, HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES / Comando de asesinos (Spain, 1966) starring Peter Van Eyck and Antonio Vilar, directed by Julio Coll

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HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES / Comando de asesinos (Spain, 1966)

starring Peter Van Eyck and Antonio Vilar

directed by Julio Coll

Spanish language, shot on location in Lisbon, Portugal

high season

The light-hearted, action-filled 1966 Spanish spy-espionage film COMANDO DE ASESINOS / HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES was quite a pleasant suprise. Director JULIO COLL is responsible for the 1964 PYRO with Barry Sullivan and Martha Hyer (mentioned in my recent comments on MISTRESS OF THE WORLD here, a few weeks ago) and the 1968 THE NARCO MEN (released in the US in 1970, when I became aware of it) with Tom Tryon, so with him at the helm and Peter Van Eyck as one of the stars, I sought the film out, and I’m glad I did.

Essentially, it’s the story of a scientist with a new formula for an advanced form of steel, who is being pursued by many different criminal organizations and foreign spies (that’s why the German title suggest SIX GUNS after the professor). The two leads, Peter Van Eyck as an American (!!!) intelligence agent, and Antonio Vilar as “Dick Haskins” (the film is based on a novel about that character), a kind of British-spy parody who has his own TV show in the UK and is somewhat bumbling, but gets the job done and manages to outflank his enemies through his off-the-wall strategies! Haskins is kind of loopy but sauve, and Vilar (who I’ve seen in other films in diverse roles—for instance, he’s the co-star of HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND, SARTANA WILL PAY with Gianni Garko) does that kind of comedy well. Van Eyck is also perfect for this role, with his urbane charm and a gift for comedy that wasn’t taken advantage of that often.

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The film is shot on location in Lisbon, and makes a point of showing us many of the tourist spots, so it’s a priceless view of 1965 Lisbon, many people’s favorite European city.

high season 1

Director Coll is certainly an Orson Welles fan—-the opening scene (which I’ll let you experience for yourself) is as stylized and bizarrely shot as something out of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI or the “shadow on the docks moving toward us while walking away” shot from MR. ARKADIN. And speaking of ARKADIN, Van Eyck was one of the stars of that film, and there is a scene with Van Eyck in a German sports car on a desolate lot/track that clearly references one of the final scenes in Arkadin….using the same actor, Peter Van Eyck, who was in the original. One assumes that both director and star got a laught out of that, and it certainly brought a smile to my face.

high season 4

I’ve never seen an English version of this film on offer in collector’s circles the last 30 years, and the posters/lobby cards I can find online tend to be either German or Spanish. My copy is in Spanish, with minimal but accurate subtitles, which are important because there is a lot of verbal jousting between the two leads, and it’s deliciously played. I need to see more comic performances from Van Eyck, someone who always seems to bring the right tone to a part.

snorkel

Check him out in the Hammer film THE SNORKEL for a change of pace that’s not comedic in any way!

high season 3

HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES is not a typical Euro-spy film, and though a comedy, it’s not as broadly played as something like IN LIKE FLINT. The meat of the film is the two leads alternately helping other while trying to one-up each other….or trying to interest the same woman.

In lockdown mode here, I must say that I was completely entertained by HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES / Comando de asesinos, watching it twice in the last week and then checking out a number of scenes again this afternoon. If you can find it….and love Lisbon or Peter Van Eyck or the variations on the Euro-spy genre, then it’s well worth your time.

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