The Disappearance


‘…not quite a neglected classic, The Disappearance is a worthwhile diversion for hardened thriller addicts…’

Filmed in 1977, revised and released in 1983, The Disappearance has such a chequered history that it’s amazing that exists at all. But here it is, streaming in a decent print in 2021, and offering up the kind of cold-fish espionage that’s decidedly unfashionable, but still pulls in old-school spy-fans. Writer Derek Marlowe had previously written A Dandy in Aspic, and returns to the genre with this adaptation of Echoes of Celandine. That was a novel by David Bowie’s pal Paul Mayersberg, who also wrote The Man Who Fell To Earth and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, as well as several Nic Roeg movies. So what’s going on in The Disappearance?

With The Shining’s John Alcott on cinematography, director Stuart Cooper was following up his excellent war film Overlord (1975) and cast Donald Sutherland as Mallory, a hit-man who is recovering from the disappearance of his wife. Celandine (Francine Racette). Did he kill her? Or was it the sinister Organisation he works for? Mallory leaves Montreal for some wet-work in London, hoping to find out a little more about who is responsible for his situation, but the mission he’s on proves to be anything but child’s play.

The Disappearance suffers from a very choppy first forty minutes that betray considerable re-editing; as producer, David Hemmings seems to have had just as awful a time as he did on Just A Gigolo, where a large chunk of the film was destroyed by a fire. But things pick up, largely due to a peerless support cast; David Warner, Peter Bowles, John Hurt, Virginia McKenna and Christopher Plummer. Even is the mystery is slow as a week in the jail, the episodic nature of the film eventually turns over some action when Hurt’s Atkinson falls foul of a roadside ambush.

Not quite a neglected classic, The Disappearance is a worthwhile diversion for hardened thriller addicts; it doesn’t quite gel, but it’s clearly cut from a similar cloth to the more celebrated films listed above. The final confrontation feels like it could have been a climax for a better movie, and even if the presentation is messy, the Pinter-esque feel for cold-blooded spy-craft makes this a passable watch.


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  1. Can’t quite remember this. Am sure I must have seen because of Sutherland and the involvement of Cooper. Hemmings’ ventures into production were often far more interesting than his acting. He picked quite a few duds, but Power Play I recall being an interesting project. And I was especially fond of Running Scared that he directed.

    • You tube is your friend when it comes to obscure movies. Hemmings and Bowles were good friends, which kind of explains his involvement. Will investigate these titles, shame that some films are so hard to find…

  2. Keeping this as a separate conversation.
    I was talking with someone (Bormgans) about the 84 version of Dune on his review of hte new Dune movie. We got onto Bluray and high definition and all that jazz. The upshot was that he was wondering how you got old films onto hd bluray stuff. I asked Alex and he said, very short answer, that films are actually shot in ultra-mega-totally-highasakite-definition already (my words, not his). So that blurays are actually scaling down. Alex said I should ask you for more details.
    So here I am. If films were always shot in mega-definition, why were they released onto whatever medium with so much lower definitions and how much effort is it to get old movies onto bluray?

    • Film is an absurdly detailed format; even 1920’s films are shot on high-quality material that is very watchable today. So a DVD and even a blu-ray are less detailed than the original print which was made for screening on a huge screen. What you’ve seen on tv, on Dvd or even blu-ray are less detailed than the master copy. But it isn’t cheap to remaster a film from the origianl release, and so it doesn’t happen that often unless a film has strong commercial prospects as a re-release. But old prints were on reels, prints got marked and other damage takes place, so the blu-ray versions we see today are arguably the best version of the film we’re likely to see out side a cinema. A great film will look amazing when re-issued.

  3. I’ve liked Sutherland in most movies that I’ve seen him in. Is Keiffer (or however it is spelled) his son or just a relative? Because I only know of him from the tv series 24 and not from any movies.

    • His son for sure, I went to see him play a concert where he had some great reflections on his dad’s parenting style…

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