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24 Hours to Kill / Assignment to Kill

Spies, lies and ... Mickey Rooney?!?

Rod Lott July 5th, 2011

Why not “Kill” a few hours with a couple of forgotten, mid-’60s spy flicks from Warner Archive?


In 1965's "24 Hours to Kill," the title carries a winking dual meaning. Mickey Rooney is Jonesy, part of an airline crew en route to Athens, but forced to make an emergency landing in Beirut, of all locales. As soon as he's on the ground and headed to the hotel, he notices he's being followed. He's nervous; everyone else on the crew is keen to party.

Jonesy follows them, although he's clearly the odd man out, and eventually explains that "a friend" once ran afoul of a Beirut syndicate of gold smugglers from India to Hong Kong, and therefore, believes himself to be in danger by association. He's correct, yet his co-workers seem more interested in taking in the sights and smoking the hookah.

More effective as a colorful travelogue of the jet-set era than an international conspiracy suspenser, "24 Hours" pads itself with a lame romantic subplot between Western actor Rex Barker and German actress Helga Sommerfeld, and dates itself with such swingin' dialogue as "Jonesy, we're gonna take you to the gayest place in town!"

It's fun to watch just for places you'll never visit — a hotel where the pool looks into an underground space, ruins of the oldest town in world — but you'll almost instantly forget about it. You'll also hit your visual RDA of the fez. Despite how Warner Archive's packaging reads, the film is not in black and white.

In 1968's "Assignment to Kill," brassy, kaleidoscopic opening credits suggest that murder can be a blast! And it is, in a William Conrad-produced spy number that makes the decade look sexier and more fun than it probably was.

Patrick O'Neal plays Cutting, a detective hired for a seemingly boring task: investigating the death of Walter Green (Peter van Eyck, "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"), who may not be dead. Instead, he gets himself into a rip-roaring ring of insurance fraud where the stakes prove fatal for so many of its players.

Take a cue from leading lady Joan Hackett — who plays her sexy, romantic-interest part with a humorous, half-blasé attitude of partial detachment — for the right frame of mind. For example, she stands sleepily to watch a fistfight going on right in front of her face; she's so seen-it-all, the effect is comical.

Besides, it's tough to take too seriously a spy who wears ascots. —Rod Lott

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