Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Mister Jerico

My notes on Mister Jerico (1970)

This sunny UK TV movie was evidently a pilot for a series Patrick Macnee might have sailed into after the cancellation of The Avengers in 1969. It’s not hard to see why that didn’t happen: the star isn’t well-cast (or in great shape), at least one of the would-be regulars (Marty Allen) is excruciating, and ITC’s international market wasn’t quite ready for a show about a generally sympathetic wandering con man. It could be argued, that the Saint was at last notionally a thief and managed a good run – and confidence trickery was part of the arsenal of established good guys like Maverick, Rockford and the Mission: IMPOSSIBLE gang – but somehow, even if Dudley Jerico were only to rip off rich, rotten types (Herbert Lom takes the role here), he’d come across onscreen as a selfish bastard hiding behind the ragged charm of a post-Steed Macnee. Directed by Sidney Hayers from a script by UK TV pros David T. Chantler and Philip Levene, it has some strategic Mediterranean locations amid the usual shot-in-the-studio stuff but still feels cheap and cramped, especially since the competition came from glossy, big-budget capers like Dead Heat on the Merry-Go-Round and The Thomas Crown Affair.

Mister Jerico dresses in a more ‘with-it’ fashion than Steed, which means the plump Macnee has to squeeze into brightly-coloured shirts and foulards, but seems so shifty you’d think he wouldn’t have much success ripping off his marks. Here, he’s out to rook millionaire Victor Russo (Lom) who owns one of a set of fabled Gemini diamonds but substituting a fake and selling the owner back the real one as if it were the long-lost twin, and a complication comes because another trickster (Connie Stevens) is pulling the same stunt. Russo helpfully shows Jerico how his security system works in a set-up for the heist scene, and has a couple of rentagoon minions to provide physical threat. Just as Macnee is insufficiently charming, Lom is here insufficiently evil – for this story to work, we at least need to see Russo kill or mutilate a previous sympathetic thief, who would turn out to be the beloved mentor of the hero. Allen is Macnee’s whiny tagalong sidekick: following his teaming with Steve Rossi in The Last of the Secret Agents?, this was his last shot at anything like screen stardom, and no wonder. Stevens, unexpectedly, comes off best as a con woman who appears in three different guises (at least one dubbed by the versatile Nikki Van Der Zyl); it’s harder, obviously, for women to pull of Martin Landau-esque disguise roles, since contrasting wigs and specs don’t work as well as false beards and noses, but Stevens’ make-up and mannerisms at least sell the possibility that characters wouldn’t recognise the mousy blonde secretary and the dark-haired mystery woman as the same person.


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