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Operation C.I.A.

Obscure but charming, plus Burt Reynolds!

Rod Lott February 1st, 2011

Remember when Burt Reynolds used to kick ass? No? Well, he did, and you should rent "Deliverance" for solid proof, not to mention just a damn fine film. 

Warner Archive's burn-on-demand release "Operation C.I.A." also offers solid proof, even if the flick itself is a little — make that a lot — on the light side. Released in 1965, the black-and-white adventure is so obscure, I'd never heard of it. 

Burt plays C.I.A. secret agent Mark Andrews, sent to Saigon under the guise of an ag professor to look into the murder of one of the agency's own and prevent another assassination. Once in 'Nam (and the film actually was shot there), he discovers he can't get by on his good looks, starting at a massage parlor (or is that "massage parlor"?), where one of the ladies conks him out and steals his wallet.

Things go south from there, including — among other things — coming face-to-face with a deadly snake (one whose movements are looped, no less) and his new archenemy, an Asian man with a high-pitched giggle. (While certainly not among the high points of cinematic depictions of the race, at least it's not on the level of Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's.")

"In two days, I've been double-crossed by three dames!" laments Burt in his hotel room, to a lovely French thing in a towel. Don't miss Burt's big shaving scene!

Even with a street scene in which Burt leaps his way out of the burst of a live grenade, the picture is low-rent, with plenty of padding and low-wattage action, à la Roger Corman. But that's part of its charm, and Burt exudes serious, Clint Eastwood cool, with none of the self-aware smirking that marred his "Smokey and the Bandit" heyday. And he does so without a mustache, which is always a plus in my book. —Rod Lott

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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