A Dandy in Aspic was Anthony Mann’s last film. At this point his career had pretty much dwindled, after doing lots of film noirs and Westerns. In the ‘60s he started doing lots of epics, like El Cid and Fall of the Roman Empire. This, however, was a ‘60s spy/Cold War thriller. It stars Laurence Harvey who, after Mann died of a heart attack well into the production, ended up being an uncredited co-director on the film. Harvey, who was more than a little nutty, had made a lot of enemies over the years. However, he was a big enough name that he could still get films made. He wanted to move into directing, with The Ceremony in 1963 as his first go. A Dandy in Aspic gave him a chance to follow his aspirations to direct, and he followed up with quite a few other projects before his early death due to stomach cancer in 1973.
Mann had made several really unique Westerns and was certainly one of the best directors in that genre during the ‘50s, along with Budd Boetticher. He had worked extensively with Jimmy Stewart. Given his background in film noir, moving into the spy genre was a sensible step. The plot is a fairly typical one, but with a twist: Harvey is a double agent for the British. Alexander Eberlin is his code name with the British secret service, but to the Russians he is known as Krasnevin. The Brits hire him to take out a Russian spy… himself! His partner Gatiss, played by Tom Courtenay, is a twisted and very sadistic British agent who is completely untrusting where Eberlin is concerned—and of course he is probably right not to trust him.
There’s also a love-interest angle with a British photographer, played by Mia Farrow right before her big breakthrough role in Rosemary’s Baby and even has the iconic pixie haircut here. This sub-plot doesn’t quite work, but it’s OK. Julie Christie was the director’s first choice but she was much too big of a star for this secondary part by this point.
It’s very obvious that the London scenes are Mann’s work. He uses interesting angles, shooting through stairwells at times and creating a lot of visual interest. Some of the Berlin scenes look like his work too, with Harvey’s contributions easy to spot. There’s an interesting section that sees Harvey trying to get through to East side of the Berlin Wall.
Peter Cook shows up in one of his few straight dramatic roles as an MI5 agent. Cook was at his peak as a TV star in the UK so it’s surprising to see him in this small part, which has some funny moments. Harvey is really good in the part: he tended to be an emotionless actor, as in The Manchurian Candidate, which works perfectly for the role of a cool double agent.
The Blu-Ray from Indicator includes a bunch of newly filmed interviews with surviving crew members, an appreciation by the critic Richard Coombes, an archival making-of promotional film, a clips compilation showing where the movie’s British and German locations were, a commentary by Sam Deighan, an audio interview with Christopher Challis that serves as an alternative commentary track, plus a booklet with new and old writing on the film.