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When Eight Bells Toll  rating

Review: written 2006

Satisfyingly taut thriller

This was one of the later film versions of an Alister Maclean novel, and is a tidy little thriller with little time wasted.

Anthony Hopkins plays a secret service agent tasked with solving the pirating of millions of pounds of gold bullion in the North Sea. This search takes him to remote locations in the Hebrides, unravelling the secrets of a small town where people and yachts have been disappearing. Being an Alister Maclean novel, nothing and nobody is what they at first appear – the usual ingredients are present and correct – the femme fatale, the damsel in distress, the double crossing, the dour and unstoppable agent… even Maclean’s dry sense of humour, which often gets lost in the translation to the big screen, comes through – probably as a result of Maclean writing the screenplay from his novel. The pace of the film is perfect, with a running time of 90 minutes not leaving you feel the film has outstayed its welcome. The actions scenes are fine, if a little outdated. the scenes skulking around the castle even reminded me of possibly my favourite Maclean movie – Where Eagles Dare (the actor who played the castle Kommandant, General Rosemeyer, is also in this movie, making another link). Music is pretty good for a 70’s score, with a brash theme that crops up anytime our hero is running or flying around – which is a significant part of the time.. it’s the sort of music which would not have been out of place in an episode of ‘The Professionals’. Another piece of inter-movie trivia – the stunts for the movie were done by Vic Armstrong and Bob Simmons, both Bond movie veterans. Watching this movie, one can almost imagine Hopkins playing Bond.

Hopkins plays the cynical Maclean hero well, with the right does of dry humour – and is ably backed up by a great character actor cast – Robert Morley basically plays a more comic version of ‘M’ from the earlier Bond movies, Jack Hawkins has little screen time as Sir Anthony Skouros, and is even voiced over (by Charles Gray, who also appeared in two Bond movies – ‘Diamonds are forever’ and ‘You only live twice’) as he had a voice box owing to his throat cancer. Nathalie Delon plays the femme fatale role adequately – as far as I can tell, this was one of the few times she appeared in an English speaking role.

All in all, a refreshingly taut little thriller which hits the right notes, and has not dated too badly. A cut above other thrillers of its time, recommended for any fans of Maclean or 70’s thrillers in general, but not one of his best movie adaptations.

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