Assignment K (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Feb 12, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Assignment K (Blu-ray Review)


Val Guest

Release Date(s)

1968 (November 29, 2023)


Columbia Pictures (Imprint/Via Vision)
  • Film/Program Grade: C+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: F

Assignment K (Blu-ray)

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James Bond ruled the box office in the 1960s and it wasn’t long before producers jumped onto the Bondwagon with clones, such as Our Man Flint, The Silencers, and The Ipcress File. The lesser known Assignment K is a spy flick with many elements of the Bond films but less gadgetry and fewer elaborately staged action sequences.

Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) stars as Philip Scott, an executive of a London-based toy company whose job is a cover for operating his own independent spy organization to help England’s MI6. For his latest mission, to retrieve microfilm from sources behind the Iron Curtain that detail Soviet missile technology, he travels frequently to West Germany and Austria, ostensibly on business.

While in Munich, he becomes attracted to Swedish woman Antonia “Toni” Peters (Camilla Sparv, Murderers’ Row) and uses their budding relationship to further conceal his activities. Unknown to Scott, however, a spy organization headed by a Mr. Smith (Leo McKern, Ryan’s Daughter) has become suspicious of him and keeps him under constant surveillance in the hope that he can be compromised and forced to give up his contacts.

Like Bond, Scott enjoys his vices—smoking, drinking, and seducing beautiful women. He’s authoritative, self-assured, occasionally arrogant, and handsome. His job provides a plausible reason for him to travel to international trade shows in Europe, where he can simultaneously pursue his side hustle of secret agent. Because his clandestine work, if revealed, could be his undoing, he’s wary of strangers.

Director Val Guest (The Quatermass Xperiment) has the misfortune of a stiff leading man in Boyd. He looks suave and debonair but his acting is hardly convincing. His role seems to require nothing more than wearing elegant suits, never mussing his hair, and underplaying. While the various Bonds had charm, sex appeal, and intelligence, Boyd is wooden and mechanical. Neither reviewers nor the public ever regarded him as anything more than a second-rate Bond imitator and, with the glut of spy movies released during the 1960s, Assignment K had an unenthusiastic reception.

Camilla Sparv, the “Bond girl” of the picture, is a beauty. With a seductive quality and a winsome smile, she has palpable screen presence. But there’s so little chemistry between her character and Boyd’s that their romance rings false and hurts the story.

McKern’s Mr. Smith is a low-key villain who likes to paint rather than maniacally plan to rule the world or blow up countries. His power is in manipulation and coercion—not the strong-arm kind, but a more subtle form that can be more persuasive. McKern plays Smith with an intense gaze, wry smile, and lilting vocal cadence. His bearing and appearance suggest a college professor rather than a dangerous foe, so he’s able to remain undetected by keeping a low profile.

The script by Guest, Bill Strutton and Maurice Foster offers many tropes of the spy flick—glamour, danger, characters who may be other than they appear, and exotic locations. The story is grounded in the believable, with basic cloak and dagger intrigue, but it’s hard to accept a second-tier hero after we’ve seen the ultimate screen spy in James Bond. The film benefits from beautiful scenery in European locations, particularly picture-postcard wintry scenes on ski slopes in the Austrian Alps. An early sequence shows how the microfilm—the film’s MacGuffin—is passed from one agent to the next in a matchbox, a doll, paper currency, and even a cigarette butt. This is highly cinematic since it’s completely visual and we see how careful the agents are to conceal the microfilm until it eventually reaches Scott.

Assignment K was shot by director of photography Ken Hodges on color 35 mm film in the Techniscope process, processed by Technicolor labs, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The overall picture quality has a dated look, though it’s free of surface imperfections such as embedded dirt specks and scratches. Complexions seem a bit washed out, with Boyd looking oddly pale for a rugged Bond-style hero. Details are nicely delineated. There’s a lovely scene of night skiing with the skiers holding flares, and the snow-covered mountains provide a picturesque backdrop. Locations in Austria, West Germany and London give the film an international flavor. Interior scenes are shot with little imagination, and the picture’s paucity of action makes for an often sluggish pace. Director Guest does a nice job tracking the microfilm wordlessly from agent to agent by various means.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 LPCM Mono. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct with ambient sounds well balanced. There’s more than the typical amount of dialogue for a spy picture in order to provide exposition. Gun shots have a tinny sound, like the kind you’d hear in a Coney Island shooting gallery. Basil Kirchin’s music attempts to amp up the excitement but lacks the grandeur of the Bond film scores.

There are no bonus materials on this Region-Free Blu-ray release from Imprint Films.

Assignment K is a film in the James Bond spirit but with a lackluster star. Stephen Boyd hasn’t the charisma and charm of Sean Connery or Roger Moore. The lack of action and suspense and a slow pace also are major flaws. Director Val Guest, saddled with a less-than-adequate leading man and a lumbering script, never manages to raise the film above the level of a glorified made-for-TV movie.

- Dennis Seuling