The Holcroft Covenant (John Frankenheimer / U.S.-United Kingdom, 1985):

The John Frankenheimer-George Axelrod reunion opens deep inside a Nazi bunker, where the MacGuffin is briskly established amid detonations. It's 1945, three kommandants toast a "new and better world," a package is sealed before brains are ritualistically blown; the inheritance amounts to billions when it is recovered four decades later and dropped on the lap of "foreign-born American citizen" Michael Caine. The hero is the son of one of the German officials, his globe-trotting mission to make inter-generational "amends" kicks off at the Geneva ferry, Michael Lonsdale's exposition is so smooth that a rapid bit of Hitchcockian sleight-of-hand doesn't even begin to faze him: "The world is full of lunatics shooting at each other." Robert Ludlum's plot has the appropriate Freudian-incestuous trappings for Frankenheimer's canted lens and Axelrod's canted satire to meet in Manchurian Candidate territory and, for the heck of it, Victoria Tennant steps out of a gang of red-light district dwellers as a dead-ringer for Janet Leigh. The camera cranes away from a sign ("You are leaving the American sector") to locate vestiges of Weimar in modern-day Berlin, it could be Carol Reed's Vienna except for the sex clubs and the neo-Nazis -- a gaudy parade ("followed by the orgy") celebrates the patron-saint of hookers, Frankenheimer seizes it to move Caine through a panoply of ribald chases showcasing what somebody terms the artisan's "good humor under pressure." The action is profuse and dynamic, and there are plenty of aperçus: Lili Palmer as the hero's mother solidifying the link to Lang's Cloak and Dagger, Mario Adorf in a sweaty Beethoven shag, and Anthony Andrews sveltely lifting his mustached blandness for the murderous Übermensch underneath. It was a nasty time for intelligent thrillers, the 1980s, and the film's bad luck was in appearing in the year of Rambo: First Blood Part II, when few noticed or cared for a reminder of the emotional toll of superhuman spies, played in Caine's eyes through a tilted camera. With Bernard Hepton, and Richard Münch.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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