Robert Vaughn played superspy Napoleon Solo on TV’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. The series was inspired by the James Bond craze, filled with outlandish gadgets and evil supervillains. Vaughn’s popularity led to a starring role in THE VENETIAN AFFAIR, a Cold War spy thriller with a much more adult theme. Here, he plays Bill Fenner, ex-CIA agent, now a hard-drinking reporter who gets caught up in international intrigue.
Fenner is sent to Venice after a U.S. diplomat supposedly sets off a bomb at an international nuclear disarmament conference. He soon learns the assignment was arranged by his former CIA boss, “Rosey” Rosenfeld (Edward Asner). Rosey wants to use Fenner to smoke out old flame Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer), a Communist agent with a mysterious link to the bombing. Fenner’s odyssey takes him through double-and-triple crosses in the world of international espionage he once left behind.
Boris Karloff is on hand in his last non-horror role as Dr. Vaugiraud, whose report holds the key to the mystery. Karloff, looking every bit the scientist, does well with the part, giving a very understated performance. German actor Karl Boehm (PEEPING TOM) plays the main villain, Wohl. The rest of the cast includes Roger C. Carmel (STAR TREK’s Harry Mudd), Felicia Farr (wife of Jack Lemmon), Luciana Paluzzi (Bond girl Fiona in THUNDERBALL), and Joe DeSantis (THE PROFESSIONALS, COLD WIND IN AUGUST). Director Jerry Thorpe handles the film with restraint, keeping things realistic. He was best known for his television work, having won an Emmy for the series KUNG FU. DP Milton Krasner had long been a top Hollywood camera ace, lensing everything from THE BANK DICK to GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, SCARLET STREET to ALL ABOUT EVE, THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (Oscar winner) to THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, HOW THE WEST WAS WON to THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, to his last, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Lalo Schifrin’s score is sufficiently moody enough for the shadowy goings-on. Schifrin of course is remembered for composing the theme for another 60’s TV spy show, MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE.
THE VENETIAN AFFAIR is closer to THE IPCRESS FILE or THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD than any James Bond or Man from U.N.C.L.E. shenanigans. It’s a taut, well paced Cold War thriller, with gorgeous location scenery. While it may not be the best or gaudiest of spy thrillers, it’s certainly worth a look (especially for Boris Karloff buffs). It’s one of those movies that’s not bad, not great, but pretty entertaining. And who could ask for anything more?