Scorpio Film Details
Overview: During the Cold War, the CIA orders free-lance operative Scorpio to assassinate his former CIA mentor Cross and a deadly cat-and-mouse game ensues.
Review: It’s something of a miracle that director Michael Winner was granted access to the Central Intelligence Agency for his filming of ‘Scorpio.’ This 1972 spy thriller, made just after the height of Cold War tensions, sheds a nasty light on espionage and had crew members that weren’t favorites of Washington. The film’s script was co-written by David Rintels, who experienced problems entering the U.S. from Canada on grounds of suspected Communist leanings, and its score was composed by Jerry Fielding, who was blacklisted from Hollywood during the McCarthy era. In a matter of further coincidence that helped Scorpio’s box office, its cast and crew were staying at the Watergate Hotel when Richard Nixon’s recruits broke into Democratic Party Headquarters; supposedly, lead actors Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon were in the building when these gentlemen performed their deeds. Controversies aside, ‘Scorpio’ was made after the peak of spy films but rates as an intriguing entry to the genre. It features a solid cast in Lancaster, Delon, and thespian Paul Scofield, while making fair use of Washington, Paris, and Vienna. ‘Scorpio’ is certainly not in the upper echelon of spy pictures, but it’s a decent effort that moves against the grain of standard espionage. Its script by David Rintels (in his film debut) and Gerald Wilson erases our concept of good and evil, depicting the Cold War’s underlying operations as a vast endgame where human life is of practically no value and loyalty is regarded as fatal weakness. Lancaster plays Gerald Cross, an experienced CIA agent with various contacts in Europe and the Middle East. His superiors, including CIA head McLeod (John Colicos) believe that Cross is serving as a double agent between the U.S. and Soviet Bloc, padding his finances along the way. Sensing a threat to national security, the CIA forcibly hires Jean Laurier (Delon, codenamed ‘Scorpio’), a French assassin who has provided services to the U.S. government. Laurier is logically best for the job, since it was Cross who trained him and to whom he revealed his ways of thinking. Cross realizes that he is under surveillance and flees to Europe, leaving behind his wife Sarah (Joanne Linville). He hides in Vienna with assistance from Serge Zharkov (Scofield), a KGB agent who befriended Cross while in Iraq. ‘Scorpio’ is a vast labyrinth of political infighting and backstabbing. Well-portrayed by Burt Lancaster, Cross is constantly on the move and hopes to reunite with his wife, but he’s aware that time is inevitably running out. Laurier, aptly played by Delon, finds himself torn between friendship and his own survival; he knows that Cross must be killed, but stalls out of his respect for teacher and partner. Laurier is looking to flee the espionage world himself and even deals with betrayal from his fiancée Susan (Gayle Hunnicutt), who works as a courier. Not coincidentally, the CIA higher-ups are depicted as psychotics who won’t hesitate to kill off women, children, and physically handicapped for the sake of ‘national security.’ ‘Scorpio’ is in the tradition of spy films where nobody wins and all sides are involved in an endless chain of murder. Lancaster is a strong presence and eye-opening in numerous action scenes, especially a construction site chase between Cross and Laurier. Unfortunately, Delon’s low-key performance suffers because of this; although Delon is steady, he is drastically offset by Lancaster and a thick accent sometimes leaves him hard to understand. Paul Scofield is likable and charismatic, playing a ‘rehabilitated’ agent who served years in a labor camp but has not lost faith in the USSR’s decrepit ideologies. The supporting cast, including John Colicos, brings a large amount of energy to their roles. Michael Winner recorded ‘Scorpio’ about two years before ‘Death Wish,’ which made his name as a director. ‘Scorpio’ has fairly plain direction and uses fewer of the camera movements and bizarre angles that would saturate Winner’s later oeuvre. This is certainly one of his better films, although it is lacking in the technical department. Scorpio’s dialogue track is sometimes out of kilter with the on-screen actors and there are continuity mistakes like an auto driven by Lancaster that becomes intact after smashing into a carload of federal agents! I sometimes ask if Winner made these goofs as a joke, but it does hamper the film’s authenticity. Winner cannot be faulted for sticking with cinematographer Robert Paynter (‘Hannibal Brooks,’ ‘Superman II’) and composer Jerry Fielding. Paynter’s images are always clean and efficient, while Fielding offers a versatile score that comes together in the finale. MGM latched onto Scorpio’s Watergate connection when releasing its DVD in 2000. The case includes a four-page booklet with trivia on Scorpio’s production. Lancaster, incidentally, didn’t consider his role beyond a usual project. The disc presents ‘Scorpio’ in widescreen with optional French dubbing and subtitles in both French and English. ‘Scorpio’ has fair visual quality; colors are discernible, but there is continuous grain and speckling. Narrow black bars are used, leaving ‘Scorpio’ just shy of an open matte presentation. The audio is Dolby-enhanced mono, with non-English accents sometimes (and unavoidably) muddying the dialogue. Scorpio’s theatrical trailer is the only DVD extra. ‘Scorpio’ is dated, but dated in a good way. The film was made years before production companies replaced acting and scriptwriting with huge effects and ‘icons’ who merely take up room on screen. ‘Scorpio’ is cleverly written and relies on the durability of Lancaster, Delon, and Scofield to keep things in gear. There is always a better spy film to watch – ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ is one such example – but ‘Scorpio’ still belongs in the category of highly watchable thrillers and has a large nostalgia value in its cast. *** out of 4 Roving Reviewer – www.geocities.com/paul_johnr
Country: United States
Language: English, French, German
Duration: 114 min
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Also known as: Dangerfield,Akrep,Σκορπιός,Sporðdrekinn,Scorpio,Скорпион,Skorpionen,Scorpio, der Killer,Skorpion,The Scorpio File,Escorpião,Sukorupio,スコルピオ,Skorpió,Skorpioni