Children of Bond - Danger Route

1967's Danger Route was directed by Seth Holt and written by Meade Roberts and Robert Banks Stewart. It was based on Andrew York's 1966 novel The Eliminator. Although Amicus Productions was a horror studio they would occasionally try something out of their usual comfort zone. One such film was Danger Route, an espionage thriller made at the height of the sixties spy craze. This film features Richard Johnson as British spy Jonas Wilde. Jonas wants to retire but is told he can only resign if he does one last mission. This mission involves killing a Czech defector who is in the custody of the Americans. Jonas manages to complete his mission but then becomes aware that his superior has vanished and British agents are being murdered. There seems to be a traitor or some sort of double-cross at play. Jonas resolves to get the bottom of this knotty espionage mystery.
This is a strange sort of film that positions itself somewhere in the gulf between the high fantasy Bond films and more down to earth and gritty Harry Palmer series with Michael Caine. You'd say though that Danger Route is much closer to Harry Palmer than it is to the likes of Goldfinger and Thunderball. Jonas Wilde is quite a downbeat character and clearly has no particular love for his occupation or the people he works for. When we first meet Jonas in the film he seems as if he wants nothing more than to walk away from the world of spying and espionage and put it all behind him. This aspect to the character and the melancholic jazzy score feels very Harry Palmer.
Danger Route only veers into Bond territory when Jonas seduces or charms women and karate chops people during fights. Jonas can kill with a single karate chop - and frequently does! Anyone expecting a James Bond pastiche or copycat though will probably be disappointed by Danger Route. Danger Route takes itself far more seriously than the Bond films and doesn't have much money or spectacle at its disposal.
Richard Johnson featured in much more obviously James Bondish films around this time as Bulldog Drummond in 'Deadlier Than the Male' and 'Some Girls Do'. The irony of Johnson's numerous sixties spy roles lay in the fact that he was the first choice of the Bond producers and director Terence Young to play James Bond in Dr No but turned down their offer because he didn't want to sign what he saw as a constrictive long term contract to one studio. That paved the way for Sean Connery to take the part of 007. If he'd so desired though, Richard Johnson could have been the first cinema James Bond.
Johnson is a pretty good leading man in Danger Route. He's handsome and suave but rather sarcastic. Jonas Wilde feels much more like a real person than James Bond and Richard Johnson gives him a believable inner life of regret and frustration. There's quite a good section of the film where Jonas poses as a brush salesmen (!) to seduce a housekeeper played by Diana Dors so he can get close to his target in a big house. Richard Johnson has to affect a more 'common' accent for this ruse and it might have come off as risible and preposterous in lesser hands but the actor sort of makes it work.
It's great to see Diana Dors here in a part that captures her mid-phase so to speak. She's no longer Britain's 'version' of Marilyn Monroe and yet to adopt those battleaxe wife or sinister grandmother parts she would end up playing in the seventies and early eighties. Here she is somewhere in the middle trying to work out where her career is going. By the way, watch a film called Yield to the Night to see what a great actress Diana Dors could be.
Carol Lynley plays the beautiful and mysterious young woman that Jonas falls for. Lynley is here to add some glamour to the film and her scenes have a glitz and soft-focus fantasy aura in contrast to the rest of Danger Route. The scenes of Johnson and Lynley together in some swanky flat are the closest Danger Route comes to feeling like a Bond film. Sylvia Syms also has a rather mysterious part as Barbara Canning although she doesn't get that much to do in the film.
We keep going and back and forth in the story to Johnson on a boat with Gordon Jackson, who plays some sort of contact. These scenes have some rather obvious back projection which looks terribly amateurish. I gather that this was a troubled production and they had to change the main cameraman at some point. Amicus were never exactly awash with money and all of this, plus the director apparently falling ill, might account for a few scenes that seem to lack the reasonably competent nature of the rest of Danger Route. There's a strange scene where Johnson and Dors are in a house when - all of a sudden - they seem to be surrounded by fake plants and acting with just a wall behind them. Maybe this was a scene they added later?
Unusually for a spy film, our hero never actually travels abroad in the story (although we gather that Jonas has just returned from the West Indies). Much of the story seems to take place in the Channel Islands. There's no big set-piece or climax to the film. The only action you get is when Jonas deploys his faithful karate chop. There's quite a good fight in a corridor though that wouldn't have shamed a sixties Bond film. It reminded me slightly of a punch-up George Lazenby has in a corridor in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The story in Danger Route is a little confusing at times - although you'll probably be able to guess who the traitor is long before we reach the end. I suspect this film might be far too slow and uneventful for some tastes but Danger Route is not bad at all really - thanks mostly to the strong performance of Richard Johnson. It's no Harry Palmer film but Danger Route is a mildly interesting relic from the dusty vaults of Amicus Productions.
- Jake

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