Saturday, March 30, 2013
Film Review: Innocent Bystanders (1972)
The plot is a tired bit of boilerplate about a Russian scientist who's defected...everyone wants him...old dog spy given last chance...double-crosses...rinse, lather, repeat. There are holes aplenty in the story, but that's not a deal breaker for this kind of film as long as it's done with style, wit and pugnacity. No such luck. It looks ugly, with cheap sets and some really inept camerawork. And special mention has to go to the decision to have Spain double for Maine, which leads to the novel sight of a car driving through the maquis landscape of New England. The action elements are minimal, and some decent fight scenes don't make up for car chases and shootouts that would look bad even on a TV cop show of the era. And the acting? Stanley Baker, the star of the film, does a workmanlike job, but the rest of the troupe are either miscast or sleepwalk through their roles.
The real tragedy of Innocent Bystanders is that it's a reminder that Stanley Baker never got the big break he deserved. After producing and co-starring in Zulu (my review here), he looked set to join the rising tide of Brit stars like Caine, Finney, and O'Toole. His subsequent films either did no business, were critical duds, or both. Part of the problem was that Baker was a capable, but not great actor, and also that he looked like Sean Connery's stunt double. In fact a lot of his films seem like projects the producers probably wished they could afford to have Connery in, but they had to settle for Stanley. By the way, don't let the cover art on the DVD box (pictured above) fool you: if the film was one-tenth as cool as this it would be worth watching.
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I think you're being extremely unfair on Baker, there. While he never broke into Hollywood, his track record in Britain from the late fifties to the late sixties was first-rate. Yesterday's Enemy, Violent Playground, Hell is a City, A Prize of Arms, Hell Drivers, The Criminal,The Accident and Robbery are all cracking films. Besides, many of the British actors of the period who did cross the Atlantic simply ended up giving lazy, coke and alcohol-fueled performances in some very bad films.
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