When Eight Bells Toll (1971)
“All hell let’s loose when eight bells toll.”
New to me thanks to a Kino Lorber release on blu ray is this Alistair MacLean penned adventure featuring a young Anthony Hopkins in a James Bond(ish) mystery yarn.
Beginning with a catchy Bond styled them song from composer Walter Stott, we find Hopkins in stealth mode as a scuba diver making his way onto a large ship by way of the anchor chain. He’ll soon be engaged in a fire fight after finding his two contacts aboard ship, murdered. By all indications a failed mission and one not sitting well with his boss at Naval Head Quarters played in grand style by Robert Morley as only he can.
It seems that cargo ships are going missing and Hopkins has been sent to the coast of Scotland to solve the mystery. A mystery that leads him and his new contact, Corin Redgrave, to sail the coast line as members of Her Majesty’s government’s personal marine biologists. The wealthy Jack Hawkins takes notice and invites the pair to his yacht where leading lady Nathalie Delon appears as well as the stern, Ferdy Mayne, overlooking Jack’s shoulder. Hopkins is quite sure these folks are the villains of the story and now has to prove it.
Hawkins, being a member of the British aristocracy isn’t exactly high on Morley’s list of suspects. In response to Hopkins suggestion that Hawkins might be the major player in these hijackings, Morley is quick to point out that Hawkins is a member of the gentleman’s club he holds membership, “He’s on the wine committee.” It’s pure bliss to see Morley deliver a line like that with a look of disbelief written across his face.
With Hopkins seemingly making little process on the case and being shut out in the local community by a cold shouldered police inspector, Morley decides to join in the fun with Sir Anthony. This proves to be a good decision by MacLean who adapted his own novel for the screen and gives Morley the chance to buffoon his way across Hopkins stone cold path. “I don’t have guests. I don’t have friends. I only have enemies.” Hopkins is quick to point out.
The pair remain on edge as assassins are continually circling this odd couple and when Hawkins’ wife Miss Delon arrives looking every inch the woman in distress, Hopkins is more than willing to accommodate the lovely lady in more ways than one. There relationship will develop enough for her to point out to him, “You’re a professional bastard.”
That he may be but Hopkins plays the secret agent quite well in this engaging tale from director Etienne Perier. While it may lack the finesse and grand standing of the Bond saga’s, it could be classified as a late entry in the many film’s that looked to capitalize on Bondmania throughout the mid to late sixties.
Fans of Jack Hawkins and even Bond films might be able to quickly ascertain that Jack is of course being dubbed by the current Bond villain of 1971, Charles Gray in the film. Jack had by this time lost his magnificent voice but carried on acting in films frequently being dubbed by Gray.
With plenty of Alistair MacLean action including underwater fights, cliff climbing, gunplay and fisticuffs, 8 Bells Toll makes for a nice afternoon viewing and an opportunity to see a young Sir Anthony Hopkins going about his business while at the same time seeing him fence with veterans, Morley and Hawkins. Did I mention Ferdy Mayne was in here looking rather evil? I wonder why?
Included in the film are some great location shots of Scotland and filming at Duart Castle which for these North American eyes, looks like a place I’d love to pay a visit.