Otley is one of those weird late-60s spy farces. Loads of them were made because of the popularity of James Bond, which was ripe for spoofing. This one isn’t as good as Our Man Flint (or Casino Royale), even though it stars Tom Courtenay. Courtenay was a big deal at the time because of his iconic roles in Billy Liar and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and Otley marks one of his last forays into film acting before a turn to theatrical work. He reappeared in The Dresser in the 1980s, for which he won an Oscar, and has had a return to the screen in recent years.
It’s a breezy, silly comedy caper, with Courtenay in the role of a drifter who gets evicted and is then mistaken for a spy. In reality he’s just a tatter who looks for potentially valuable antiques in the rubbish. He ends up being detained, and kidnapped, while tangling with several spy agencies. Romy Schneider appears as his love interest who always lights up the screen.
It doesn’t have the style of its competitors, and there’s no overt gadgety fun—which is of course the main thing spy spoofs in the 60s picked up on, like the amazing lighter with 82 uses (including being a belt buckle) in In Like Flint. There are some good gags, of course. Fairly randomly, while he’s having his lunch at the London Playboy Club, there’s a joke about William S. Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch.
It’s the first theatrical film to be directed and written by Dick Clement, who would go on to create Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Clement is still active in TV and film today, and recently helped to put together the Michael Caine documentary about the ‘60s, My Generation, that just played UK cinemas. Otley is not amazing, but it’s a perfectly decent 90-minute film that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
There are some extras on this Powerhouse release, including a short interview with Courtenay, a 2008 Guardian lecture with Clement and co-author Ian La Frenais, and a new commentary track with Clement and film historian Sam Dunn. A new interview with Le Frenais, a trailer, image gallery, and a 40-page booklet with new and old writing on the film fill out the package.