Release Date: 1980
Length: 106 minutes
Director: Ronald Neame
Starring: Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston
You wouldn’t think that Walter Matthau would make a convincing secret agent at the age of 60. And, maybe, in a dramatic rather than comedic film he wouldn’t. It just passes muster here where he’s a senior man who is supervising and a bit past his prime.
The plot is set in motion by Matthau’s reassignment to a desk job by a new and very unpleasant boss played by Ned Beatty. An idle comment after he decides to just walk out and disappear by way of quitting in protest leads him to begin writing a memoir exposing the secrets of the CIA.
This would actually be A Bad Thing, yeah, yeah, sure, sure. It’s a movie with standard-issue liberal politics and a very not-serious comedy, however, and if you’re not a grouch you can laugh at the antics of the cast as Beatty enlists Matthau’s friend and protegé played by Sam Waterston to chase him down.
This is the sort of movie that sees Matthau at his best, playful, not entirely serious, and constantly treading on the tails of those in authority. The travel budget on this must have been something, they use quite a number of locations. Glenda Jackson plays partner to Matthau both romantically and in his covert activities. It’s fine, I guess. At least they got an actress for this role who was 44, and not some ridiculous May-December nonsense with a 22 year old.
The ending is weak and certainly contrived (with the added bonus of what would be considered a racist joke today), but you ought to be watching for the laughs, not for the impermeability of the plot. This, like several other films I have written and will write about has sparkling moments and scenes even if the whole is a bit lackluster. A clear product of a particular time, there’s enough that endures to make it last as a worthwhile film.