When Eight Bells Toll (1971)
Director: Etienne Perrier
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley
Synopsis: In a vein similar to Bond movies, a British agent Philip Calvert is on a mission to determine the whereabouts of a ship that disappeared near the coast of Scotland.
In 1971, with Sean Connery announcing that he no longer wished to be James Bond, movie producers sensed a vacuum in the market and some attempted to fill that void with tough, daring heroes of their own. Who else was there to fill Sean‘s boots, reasoned producers Elliott Kastner and Jerry Gershwin, than that all-action, two-fisted, womanising hunk of macho beef Anthony Hopkins?
Yeah… Anthony Hopkins.
To be fair to him, Hopkins isn’t too bad as Naval agent Philip Calvert. It’s just that, at this end of his career, his image is now so closely bonded to that of Hannibal Lecter and the selection of watered-down versions of the good doctor that followed, that it’s impossible not to view his performance here as something of an oddity. He also isn’t helped by the fact that Calvert, the creation of author Alistair MacLean (who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation) is a pale shadow of Bond, and the adventure with which he is saddled bears none of the glamour of 007’s exploits. British intelligence, in the rotund and pleasantly comical form of Uncle Arthur (Robert Morley), is perturbed that a shipment of gold bullion has disappeared off the coast of Scotland. Calvert, whose inherent mistrust of authority, it has to be said, is at odds with his chosen career path, is despatched to find out where it’s gone. He’s met with a vaguely hostile reception from local folk, and earns the wrath of his boss when he voices his suspicions that the multi-millionaire Sir Anthony Skouras (Jack Hawkins) who is a member of Uncle Arthur‘s wine club, and whose yacht is moored nearby, is somehow involved. Undeterred, Calvert risks his own life and the lives of those around him as he perseveres with his investigation.
As a James Bond imitation, When Eight Bells Toll simply doesn’t pass muster. After all, it has only one lush female for its hero to bed and most of the story takes place off the bleak coast of Scotland. But on its own terms, it’s a decent enough action thriller, even though it begins poorly with a shabbily constructed flashback sequence. The story is certainly as implausible as any dreamed up by Ian Fleming, and while Hopkins’ Calvert possesses the usual air of invincibility of all such heroes, he does at least bring a level of intelligence to the role that Connery and his successors have never achieved. The film also earns points for its strangely subdued and offbeat ending that carries with it an air of melancholy uncommon in this genre. It leaves you with the feeling that Maclean may have been able to add more depth to the character of Calvert in subsequent movies, but sadly the film under-performed at the box office, and he never got the chance.
(Reviewed 26th April 2012)