Masquerade (1965)

Directed by Basil Dearden
Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Charles Gray, Bill Fraser, John Le Mesurier, Roger Delgado
Music by Philip Green
Based on the novel, ‘Castle Minerva’ by Victor Canning

Sometimes when you’ve seen as many spy films as me, you believe you’ve seen the cream of the crop and all that is left is the dregs. Thankfully that is not true. Every now and then I come across a spy film that a) I know little about, and b). is a rollicking piece of entertainment. Masquerade is one such film. Most films of this type have received a great deal of fanfare and are readily available on DVD. Strangely this is not the case for Masquerade – currently it is one of the great sixties spy films that is still ‘missing in action’. So if you get the chance to watch this little gem, grab it with both hands.

The story concerns the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Ramount, which has an oil trade agreement with Britain. This agreement is due to expire and the English are keen to renew the contract.

Currently, Ramount is under the rule of Regent Ahmed Ben Faïd (Roger Delgado). Ben Faïd does not favour renewing the British contract and would rather deal with countries behind the Iron Curtain. But Ben Faïd is just the care-taker ruler of Ramount. The rightful heir, Jamil is only two weeks away (his fourteenth birthday), from ascending to the throne and taking control of the country. Jamil is pro-English, and would renew the oil contract.

So for Ahmed Ben Faïd, to retain his power, and to get his own way, the solution is simple – he must kill Jamil. The British Secret Service fear that there may be an attempt on Jamil’s life and hatch a scheme – unofficially, of course, – to protect the future leader.

Leading this scheme is Colonel Drexel (Jack Hawkins). His plan is to stage a mock kidnapping of the heir, and spirit him away to Spain until he is old enough to take control of Ramount. Aiding Drexel in his plan, is David Fraser (Cliff Robertson), a down on his luck American, that Drexel knew from the war. Much to the chagrin of the British Secret Service, Fraser is not from Eton, but Drexel vouches that he’ll do a splendid job.

Fraser is professional, but he does have a tendency to get side-tracked. In Spain, Fraser’s attention is diverted by a group of smugglers who wish to ‘borrow’ his high powered speed boat. Amongst the smugglers are such familiar Eurospy faces as the gorgeous Marisa Mell, who plays Sophie, and Michel Piccoli, who is the leader of the smuggling ring.

The film saves it’s first great twist until the halfway mark. I’ll admit that I didn’t see it coming. But once the twist has played out, it opens the floodgates for all sorts of plot shenanigans, and a great deal of viewer enjoyment. This film has a bit of everything – an engaging and unpredictable story line; quite a few nice set pieces and action sequences; midgets with guns; and a great cast of actors to bring it all to life. Track down a copy if you can.

Thanks to Skadog.

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