A Movie A Day: THE HOLCROFT COVENANT (1985) Assumption, as they say in my profession, is the mother of fuck-up.
Published at: Nov. 20, 2008, 1:53 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We follow Victoria Tennant over from yesterday’s BEST SELLER to today’s Robert Ludlum adaptation THE HOLCROFT COVENANT starring Michael Caine and directed by one Mr. John Frankenheimer.
I liked this movie a whole helluva lot more than I thought I would. Reading talkback and checking the IMDB rating put me in the mindset that it was a dull, mildly interesting movie, a paycheck grabbing phone-in from Caine. Maybe it was my low expectations that helped me enjoy this movie a whole lot, but no matter why I didn’t find this movie to be dismissable at all.
I will say that the movie doesn’t make much goddamn sense. I think that’s the point, never to know who is good or bad or neither, but about halfway through I decided to stop trying to figure out which hitman belonged to which character and which belonged to some other and which of those men were the good guys or the bad guys and just concentrated on Michael Caine.
Caine is great in this movie. He’s never less than great, even in JAWS: THE REVENGE. I have fond memories of Hoagie, even if that is one of the most god-awful studio films I’ve ever seen.
But Caine is great here… his character, that of Noel Holcroft, is kind of excellent. He’s an architect whose father was a Nazi, but he never knew him. His mother took him and ran when he was an infant.
When Caine is thrown into this convoluted espionage thriller involving a letter his father had written to him (and a fund he’s to chair inheriting some $4.2 billion dollars) he can’t really handle it. He’s not built for this role. He’s no Jack Ryan, he’s just a city guy. He can’t use a gun, killing isn’t even an option and suddenly he’s surrounded by almost cartoonishly over-the-top mystery characters contradicting each other.
The Holcroft Covenant of the title is what each of three heirs has to sign to get the Nazi booty, with the caveat that they accept this treasure as a committee with a goal to redistribute and try to make-up for the wrong-doing of the Third Reich. But is the covenant a lie? Is it the truth? Some groups wants Caine to sign it, others think it’s a horrible idea, always with a threat of the rising of a Fourth Reich.
Sure, Caine’s casting doesn’t really make much sense (a German born, American citizen), but goddamn it Caine is so likable at his fish-out-of-water schtick that I loved him in this movie. Word has it that James Caan was originally cast in this movie (casting that makes much more sense), but that he walked off the movie just before shooting.
Next to Caine, the other main reason to watch this flick is Bernard Hepton as a character named Leighton, who claims to be an MI5 agent. This dude is awesome. He’s an older gentleman, world-wise and a huge, huge smartass. The subhead comes from him. Every time he’s on the screen I was laughing.
By the time the ending rolls around, everything was clear and anything that was still overly convoluted just didn’t seem to matter much to me.
Frankheimer’s direction I found to be great in terms of framing and the type of coverage he got… he makes real good and sparing use of close-ups, for instance… but the cinematography by Gerry Fisher is just okay, which is a little surprising because I love his work on HIGHLANDER and EXORCIST III. It just seems overly bright and flat… no depth of field… I wish it was a little more cinematic is all.
Final Thoughts: Despite it being a tad untidy, I very much enjoyed this film, mostly for two incredibly likable central performances. But I did have an exceptionally good day today, so maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to hate on this movie, but I doubt it. I think if it had dragged or sucked I would have hated it more because it was putting a downer on my day. So, what the hell? I liked it.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Thursday, November 20th: BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962)
Friday, November 21st: WHITE HEAT (1949)
Saturday, November 22nd: MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957)
Sunday, November 23rd: EACH DAWN I DIE (1938)
Monday, November 24th: THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941)
Tuesday, November 25th: THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)
Wednesday, November 26th: BULLETS OR BALLOTS (1936)
Tomorrow we follow Frankenheimer back some 20 plus years to BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ starring Burt Lancaster! Should be a good one!