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Published by: CinemaRetro | Lee Pfeiffer
The daffy 1969 British spy comedy "Otley" features Tom Courtenay in an amusing performance as a young slacker in mod London who gets caught up in a Kafkaesque espionage adventure. He's a homeless drifter and grifter who makes the rounds looking for a place to spend the night after the landlady evicts him for not paying the rent. (But she does so only after they have a night in bed.) Otley attends a party where he meets Imogen (Romy Schneider), a beautiful but mysterious young woman. He also runs into an old friend, Lambert (Edward Hardwicke), who owes Otley a favor. He reluctantly allows him to spend the night on his couch. However, while Otley is blissfully sleeping, Lambert is assassinated in his kitchen. Otley then inexplicably wakes up in a field adjacent to Gatwick Airport, his mind numb and devoid of any idea about what happened or how he got there. This is the beginning of his bizarre odyssey that sees him kidnapped by various spies on both sides but he's never sure who is really working for who. All of them are convinced that he is a spy himself and that he has information about the murder of Lambert. The witty screenplay by director Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, based on a novel by Martin Waddell, takes the old Hitchcock concept of presenting a protagonist who is an everyday man swept up in deadly events that he can't convince anyone that he knows nothing about. You can also add a healthy dose of Patrick McGoohan's "The Prisoner" in that he is never sure which side is holding him captive at any given time and he is constantly being pressed to provide information. The character of Imogene keeps appearing and disappearing with no indication as to whether she is friend or foe.
The film becomes so mind-boggling and confusing that at a certain point it's best to just go with the joke and sit back and enjoy this madcap romp, deftly enacted by Courtenay as a bewildered man who simply wants someone to explain who is who and what is going on. Ultimately, he ends up getting drafted into an MI5 mission- but are his bosses really with MI5? There are some wonderful location shots of London and its surroundings including a rather eerie scene in Notthing Hill Gate tube station that is inexplicably vacant and adorned with posters of movies from the era ("Romeo and Juliet", "Thoroughly Modern Millie", "The Charge of the Light Brigade"). The cast is peppered with marvelous character actors including Leonard Rossiter as a benign and comforting cold-blooded killer, Alan Badel, James Villiers, Fiona Lewis, Freddie Jones, Ronald Lacey and Geoffrey Blaydon. There's also a wacky score by Stanley Myers and impressive cinematography by Austin Dempster. In all, "Otley" is one of the better spy spoofs of the 1960s.
Mill Creek Entertainment has included "Otley" with five other Cold War films in a collection that features "Man on a String", "The Deadly Affair", "Hammerhead", "The Executioner" and "A Dandy in Aspic". The DVD transfer is excellent but unfortunately there are no bonus features.