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Film / The Assassination Bureau

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A classic British Black Comedy film from 1969, directed by Basil Dearden and adapted from the novel The Assassination Bureau, Ltd (which was started by Jack London in 1910, left unfinished, and completed by Robert L. Fish in 1963).

Oliver Reed plays Ivan Dragomiloff, the head of a Murder, Inc. gang in Edwardian London. While he is quite proud of his accomplishments, he feels that his subordinates have lost track of the high moral standard on which his father founded the association: No killing unless it can be determined that Murder Is the Best Solution. To that end, he accepts an offer from journalist Sonia Winter (Diana Rigg): If they can't kill him, he will kill them.

Of course, he also has reason to believe that his 2IC (Telly Savalas) has reasons of his own for wanting him dead.

This movie has examples of

  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Downplayed example; by hiding in the coffin (which was supposed to hold his own body anyway), Ivan is able to listen in and hear Bostwick's plans, but this is just during a brief wake before the coffin is to be disposed of. 
  • Burlesque: The entire scene at the bordello plays into this trope, both the humorous Slap Stick and the bawdy innuendo and titillation aspects. The Chase Scene (complete with bursting in on various couples, in various states of dishabille) is vintage, and the fact that several articles of women's lingerie get dumped out a window on the heads of the local gendarmes leads to the sort of police indecency raid which was Truth in Television for places with such entertainment at the time.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: After being refused admittance to the castle where all the heads of Europe are meeting for a peace conference, Sonia takes advantage of the helpful hint provided by one of the guards that they will not refuse a crossing for the Sisters of Mercy to return dressed as a nun. But when she comes bursting inside with her warning about the bomb and shoves her way past the guards, cursing up a storm (for the time, anyway), she finds Ivan has already gotten there ahead of her, saved the day, and has been knighted for his efforts.
    Ivan: Ah, Miss Winter. Not on the spot this time, it seems.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • General von Pinck's skill at swordplay, displayed when Lord Bostwick comes to warn him of Ivan's successes and plan how to take him out more directly, ends up being put to use during the climax when the general and Ivan have it out on the gantry of the zeppelin.
    • Also, the time bomb which Ivan shows Sonia during their first meeting, which can be turned on and off with a simple button and ticks like an ordinary clock, shows up later on the canopy of the bed in the hotel where they stay in Venice.
  • Contract on the Hitman: What gets the whole plot moving. Incredibly, Ivan is the leader of the Bureau and he could be perfectly capable of refusing the order — he just decides it's a good idea to bring out other corrupt members of the Bureau out into the open.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Right before Ivan and Sonia arrive at the Swiss bank run by one of the Bureau members, an old man worried about thieves comes down from the mountains to deposit his life savings. Thanks to Ivan being a Master of Disguise leading to In-Universe Paranoia Fuel about any random stranger, the Bureau member tries to yank off what he thinks is a fake beard and have the box with the man's savings thrown in the street for fear of it containing a bomb. The resultant chaos while the man berates him provides the distraction so that when Sonia approaches with a bag (unbeknownst to her, containing the real bomb), the Bureau member accepts it without even thinking.
    • In Vienna, while Sonia is at an outdoor cafe waiting for Ivan, a suspicious man seated behind her watches with a malicious glare from behind his newspaper. Right as Ivan approaches her table, the other man rises from his chair and pulls out a gun, causing Sonia to leap on Ivan and pull him out of the line of fire. But it turns out the man was an unrelated assassin who had been shooting at a dignitary on a nearby balcony which just so happened to be behind Ivan. The latter dryly observes that he doesn't have a monopoly on assassination.
    • As noted below under Historical In-Joke, the bomb intended for Ivan (hidden in a blatwurst) ends up killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand instead. However, this plays into Bostwick's plans, since the resulting tensions in Europe which threaten to explode into war lead to a peace conference, one where he can kill all the nations' leaders at once and install his own puppets in power.
  • Cramming the Coffin: Variation. After Ivan replaces the body in the coffin with himself, Sonia slips down to the funeral gondola by another route and climbs into the boat—only to end up in a deep well right underneath where the coffin is placed. This allows her to unscrew the bottom and let him fall out on top of her, where he can remain hidden until the coffin is disposed of and they can escape.
  • Dramatic Irony: Right as Ivan is planning to go and meet the one member of the Bureau who, as an old friend of his father's, is the only one who will help him rather than try to kill him, his young wife is in the process of poisoning him and discarding the body with the help of her hunky young gondolier lover. For bonus points, Ivan had also warned Sonia that Eleanora was a deadly and dangerous woman.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: How Lord Bostwick is introduced, thanks to Sonia showing the newspaper staff all the evidence she's gathered in a darkened room via slide projector. Subverted in that he's only revealed to be the newspaper owner and, after learning of Sonia's plans, acts as her benevolent benefactor in bringing the Assassination Bureau down...but then Double Subverted when he's in turn revealed to also be the vice chairman of the Bureau, running the scheme from both sides to eliminate Ivan. And this second reveal, by contrast, takes place in an open and bright (albeit secret) board room.
  • The Eeyore: Baron Muntzof is a gloomy man who seems to follow Bostwick more out of apathy than conviction and keeps reminding him how well Ivan's campaign against the bureau is going.
  • Faking the Dead: A particularly lucky example.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Spado proudly tells Ivan that in addition to being the most beautiful woman in Venice, his wife is also the city's best cook.
  • Historical In-Joke: A bomb intended for Dragomiloff accidentally kills Franz Ferdinand (in reality, he was killed during a parade)
  • Hitman with a Heart: Dragomiloff has one very important rule as the leader of the Assassination Bureau: that those that are killed by the Bureau must be people that deserve it. The antagonists of the film are people who wish to take over the Bureau to use it for their own purposes (mostly changing politics as they see fit).
  • Indy Ploy: While Ivan is a very clever and calculating fellow, he's also not averse to coming up with quick and ingenious schemes on the spot. His leaping from the exploding and burning zeppelin by hanging onto one of the loosed hydrogen gas-bags is probably the greatest example.
  • Latex Perfection: One of the many methods that the Bureau has perfected to assassinate people are full-face masks. Unfortunately for the Master of Disguise that tries this on Ivan, Dragomiloff exposes a great weakness to the technology: the masks catch fire very easily.
  • Playing Both Sides: Both in general and in terms of the plot, Lord Bostwick fulfills this trope. Overall he is playing the government of England and the public as a seemingly benevolent and liberal-minded newspaper owner while secretly being the vice councilman of the Assassination Bureau. He is also the man who fronts Sonia the money (and offers her a job as his first female reporter) to enable her to hire the Bureau to kill Ivan, which allows him to win either by virtue of the story for his newspaper or by taking over the Bureau. And along the way he's able to take advantage of Franz Ferdinand's death to try and kill all the heads of Europe—i.e., preventing (or causing) war, while also gaining political power behind the scenes.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Dragomiloff sees the chalice being poisoned, and notes that the table has the ability to rotate. He then notes which chalice has the poison, rotates the table, and drinks to fake his own death. Fortunately for him, the would-be murderer senses that the tables are being turned, and refuses to drink from the actual poisoned chalice.
  • Spanner in the Works: Sonia acts as this for both sides, but in the end it's Ivan who is most able to turn her to his advantage.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The zeppelin goes up in a fireball (with fairly spectacular effects for the time) thanks to a gunshot setting off the hydrogen inside. Originally averted when the general warned Bostwick of this very danger, but after Ivan has torn the zeppelin open to vent the hydrogen, and the airship is crashing out of control, Bostwick does it anyway, either as revenge for ruining his bomb drop or as a form of Taking You with Me.
  • Suicide by Assassin: Sonia Winter manages to order a Contract on the Hitman and Ivan, even if as the leader of the Bureau is capable of refusing it, decides to take it in order to do some "house cleaning" of potentially corrupt assassins.
  • Widow's Weeds: Due to Faking the Dead, Miss Winter and a female antagonist have a montage showing them dressing in competitively glamourous mourning - both are rather too fashionable by the end of it for the intended sentiment to apply, but it's a very ironic movie overall.
  • Worthy Opponent: Popescu earns Ivan's bemused respect by trying to kill him before the challenge to kill him officially starts. Ivan's respect for Popescu increases when Popescu is the only member of the bureau to actively pursue him while the others sit around and wait for Ivan to come to them.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The way the whole plot plays out is this from both sides. If one of the Bureau members succeeds in killing Ivan, they'll have proven themselves worthy of taking over and also eliminated the only one standing in the path to power. If he kills them instead, he'll have both eliminated the old guard, weak links in the organization and weeded out all those who are no longer killing according to his moral code. If they all kill each other, or so many die the organization is left in disarray, then Sonia's plan to put a stop to all the assassinations will have achieved its goal. And if Bostwick, who is funding her, survives then depending on the outcome he either gets to take over as the new councilman or he gets a scoop on a huge story that he can splash on the front page of his newspaper.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • After she has eliminated both her husband and (they think) Ivan, Eleanora is killed by General von Pinck (at Bostwick's orders). It isn't clear if this was their original intent—it only occurs after she tries to blackmail them for more money than the promised reward—but considering she knows of the Bureau and everyone else who gains such knowledge is implied to be eliminated if they cannot be inducted into it, her days may have been numbered anyway.
    • More clearly, Bostwick quotes the trope almost word for word when he has one of his associates take Sonia down to the canal to be disposed of after it seems her commission on Ivan has been carried out.