Halliwell’s Filmgoers Companion, once the go-to book for cinema, used to list Otley in their mini-essays on the best car chases in cinema, alongside Bullit or The French Connection. But Dick Clement’s 1968 spy thriller was hard to find; finally catching it some 40 years later, the action scenes are somewhat staid; I’m glad I didn’t see it in my petrol-head phase. But it is an interesting if not entirely successful spin on a well-worn genre; it takes the downbeat shenanigans of The Ipcress File to a new level of kitchen-sink dour, with a whimsical hero that feels like a forerunner of Woody in Condorman, if that reference helps.
Otley (Tom Courtney) is a malcontent in swinging London, a man just-off-centre to where the action is. He’s introduced begging strangers for somewhere to sleep, but he’s not homeless; he’s an antiques wheeler-dealer that feels like a prototype for Clement and Ian La Frenais’s successful tv show Lovejoy. Sleeping on the friend’s couch, Otley is unconscious while a murder takes place, and he is mistaken for a secret agent; his relationship with Imogen (Romy Schneider) spurs him to play this new role to the hilt, landing him in more and more dangerous situations.
The two car sequences are well-handled, but some way from classic status; the modishness of Otley, from a novel by Martin Waddell, are the main talking point here. James Bolam turns up as an unlikely marijuana-dealing pal with ‘enough pot to stone an army’, there’s vocal cameos from iconic superstar DJ’s Pete Murray and Jimmy Young, and a theme song Homeless Bones by Don Partridge.
With support including Freddie Jones, Alan Badel and a scene-stealing Leonard Rossiter, straight off Kubrick’s 2001, there’s plenty to amuse here, even if the story ends up as a series of unexciting office chats. The dialogue has plenty of wit, as would be expected from the Clement/La Frenais writing team, and Courtney certainly makes a fist of his feckless hero. While not a classic, this is a passable curio of the time, and the convoluted storyline ably reflects one’s character’s observation; ‘the whole world’s bent.’