When Eight Bells Toll Artwork by Mister G

When Eight Bells Toll

Director: Etienne Perier / Script: Alistair Maclean (from his own book) / DP: Arthur Ibbetson / Editor: John Shirley / Music: Angela Morley (as Walter Stott)

Cast: Anthony Hopkins / Robert Morley / Nathalie Delon / Jack Hawkins / Corin Redgrave

Year: 1971


Nooo! Not the full eight bells. Have mercy!


Alistair Maclean wrote a string of successful thrillers during the Sixties, culminating in Where Eagles Dare; his own adapted screenplay of same was filmed in 1968. Its success encouraged Dare’s producers to revisit the well with this 1971 picture, again based on a Maclean script.

There was another reason of course: 007. Following George Lazenby’s dismissal after OHMSS, there was a sudden vacuum in the spy genre, so it was hoped that Maclean might become ‘the new Fleming’ and establish an equally lucrative franchise.

As so often happens, the actual film turned out to be something less than the sum of its parts… Put it this way, when EoN squeezed its budget for Bond during the recession of the early Eighties, we ended-up with For Your Eyes Only; a decent apology for Moonraker if ever there was.

By contrast, in Eight Bells we got a dour Anthony Hopkins in his first title role, as a pasty-faced agent tasked to ‘look into’ some rum goings-on, in which shipping carrying gold bullion, has mysteriously disappeared off the West coast of Scotland. [Yawn].

What follows is a by-the-numbers affair, set largely on a dreary, wet Isle of Mull. The ridiculous premise plays itself out to a numb shoot-out in an unbelievable cave-cum-harbour, leaving our Tony to send off the bloodless moll in a rowing boat, with just a gold bar for company. Charming. But, then, Bond was done, right? Secret agents now preferred to set the love interest free, rather than sleep with them, right? Thank God, for Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die, which rocked-up just two years later, smelling of Hai Karate and leaving a trail of broken tarts hearts in its wake.

Other points of interest? Robert Morley as a Patrician ‘M’ figure, who’s only purpose seems to be a foil to Hopkins’ bleakness. A forgettable turn from Corin Redgrave and, oh, almost forgot: Jack Hawkins plays one of the, err, pirates… Badly. In some of the most visually offensive clothes I have ever seen, as if colluding with the Wardrobe Dept., to rub salt into the production’s open wound.

Director Etienne Perrier was (probably) responsible for casting Nathalie Delon as the floozie and shoots the whole thing, with perfunctory grace. Some of the aerial work looked effective though, but he was saddled with such weak material – and casting – compared to ‘Eagles’, that it was bound to disappoint. Needless to say, this remains the first and last outing for Agent Calvert. So far… Though I doubt Sir Anthony could be tempted back for a reboot; his tan’s too deep at this point.

Boats would be wonderful… If only one didn’t have to go to sea in them…

When Eight Bells Toll  Triple Word / Score: Leaky / Charmless / Dreich / Four

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