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.