Friday, August 5, 2022

Operation Diplomat (1953)

Operation Diplomat is a 1953 British B-movie crime thriller and the title suggest that we might get a hint of international intrigue as well. That turns out to be the case.

Mark Fenton (Guy Rolfe) is a prominent surgeon. He’s a bit surprised when he’s approached by a nurse and told to get into the back of an ambulance but she tells him there’s a very seriously ill man in the ambulance. Mark Fenton takes being a doctor very seriously. He’s not going to refuse such an urgent request. When he gets into the ambulance there’s no patient but he gets a gun pointed at him and he’s driven to a remote house in the country.

That’s where his patient is but Wade (Sydney Tafler), the man with the gun, has no intention of revealing the name of the patient. He does offer Fenton a very fat fee to treat the patient and keep his mouth shut.

Then lots of perplexing things start to happen to Mark Fenton. He is drugged. He is introduced to the prospective daughter-in-law of one of his patients, a girl named Lisa (Lisa Daniely), and he’s sure he saw her at that mysterious country house. He is interrogated by a man from the Foreign Office, but maybe he’s not from the Foreign Office at all. He finds out the identity of the man on whom he operated, but the identification must be wrong. Corpses star to accumulate around him. The police don’t believe a word of his story.

This is one of those thrillers in which a very ordinary man is caught in a web of intrigue which he doesn’t understand, he can’t ask the police for help and if he wants to survive he’ll have to somehow untangle that web himself.

Mark Fenton is neither a detective nor a spy but he’s an intelligent man and he doesn’t enjoy being manipulated.

He’s also annoyed when a nurse at the hospital, Sister Rogers (Patricia Dainton), gets drawn into the situation. He’s also annoyed that some of the accumulating corpses seem to belong to innocent bystanders. He’s dealing with ruthless people who will kill without hesitation.

He doesn’t have many clues to go on. Just something about a golden valley, which he comes to suspect is a location in Hampshire.

It would help if he knew where that mysterious house is, but he has no idea.

It’s pretty obvious what the bad guys are up to but who are the bad guys? Wade is clearly a bad guy but it’s equally clear that he’s a minor player and that someone else is pulling the strings.

There’s mystery and suspense and at least one good action sequence.

This movie has a really fine cast. Guy Rolfe’s gaunt looks made him a successful character actor but here he shows that he could handle leading roles very well indeed. He brings a certain determined sincerity to his performance. Lisa Daniely and Patricia Dainton were fine actresses. There’s Anton Diffring, who revelled in rôles that allowed him to play a sinister foreigner (in British movies of this period all foreigners are considered sinister unless proven otherwise).

Sydney Tafler is a particular favourite of mine. He was equally adept in comic and serious parts and always brought that little something extra to his performances.

This movie was based on a Francis Durbridge story and it’s very much typical of the Durbridge approach to the thriller genre, with the hero having to deal with lots of nasty little plot twists. Operation Diplomat is also reminiscent of the Eric Ambler approach - take an ordinary sort of guy and plunge him into a world of crime or espionage in which he is hopelessly out of his depth. Durbridge’s most famous character is crime writer-amateur detective Paul Temple who appeared in numerous radio plays, novels (the first being Send for Paul Temple), several movies (beginning with Send for Paul Temple in 1946) and the excellent 1969-71 BBC Paul Temple TV series. Durbridge also did lots of TV serials for the BBC, including A Game of Murder (1966), A Man Called Harry Brent (1965) and The Doll (1975). Anything Francis Durbridge wrote is going to be thoroughly enjoyable twisted entertainment.

Operation Diplomat was adapted from a Durbridge-penned TV serial which was probably a new benefit - having to compress the action into 70 minutes means the pacing is pleasingly brisk. It probably also explains why the occasional plot strand is left hanging (we never really find out about the painting which initially seems like it’s going to be a vital clue).

Director John Guillermin would go on to helm blockbusters such as The Towering Inferno and King Kong but even more interesting (to me at least) is that he directed one of the best-ever Tarzan movies, Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959), and the very underrated WW1 aerial combat movie The Blue Max.

This movie is included in the Renown Pictures Crime Collection Volume 4 DVD boxed set. The transfer is extremely good. A brief introduction to the film by star Patricia Dainton is the only extra.

Operation Diplomat is fast-moving lightweight entertainment. Don’t think too much about the plot, just sit back and enjoy the fun and the fine performances. Recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment