The Names Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins
Not being a big reader of books I haven't read Alistair MacLean's original novel which he himself adapted into the screenplay for "When Eight Bells Toll" but I get a feeling that those who have may enjoy the movie a little more than I did. The reason why is that "When Eight Bells Toll" is very James Bond like, in fact when it was made some felt that the Bond franchise was over with Sean Connery calling it a day and so it has a feel of someone trying to give us another action spy to fill the gap. But because it is so James Bond like it at times feels inferior, less action, less glamour and to be frank less excitement. But then maybe those who read MacLean's original novel will warm to these differences more than those like me who only see it in comparison to James Bond.
With a ship carrying Gold Bullion going missing off of the coast of Scotland expert diver Philip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins - Fracture) and his long time friend, Intelligence Officer Hunslett (Corin Redgrave) are called in to go investigate. But the minute they arrive off of the coast of Scotland they learn their arrival is not welcome especially when they start investigating multi-millionaire Sir Anthony Skouras (Jack Hawkins - Shalako) whose pleasure boat is moored nearby.
To be blunt "When Eight Bells Toll" almost alienated me right at the start because we have one of the worst flashback scenes you will ever see. We have Philip Calvert sneaking aboard a ship and discovering two dead men then suddenly we are back at HQ where a superior wants him to help stop the theft of Gold Bullion and we meet the two men he found dead, cut, we are back on the boat. It is such a poor flashback sequence that you do get the ominous feeling that if the start is that bad what can the rest of the movie be like.
As for the rest well we have this story of Gold Bullion being stolen and Calvert being asked to investigate and a put a stop to it. That immediately makes it a bit James Bond like especially as Calvert is a bit of a spy, sneaking around in the dark, dealing with those who attack him with a few well placed punches as well as being a bit cocky. And whilst the setting of "When Eight Bells Toll" is the grey and distinctly unglamorous Scottish coast the storyline plays out in typical Bond style, sneaking about a night, fights with bad guys and so on as Calvert slowly uncovers everything. There is even a sexy woman for Calvert to seduce in his own rough way.
And that is the thing which makes "When Eight Bells Toll" that little bit different to a Bond movie that rough almost rawness, the lack of glamour and big action sequences. Now on one hand this does make it a bit dull when a fight ends up looking rough and ragged but then it does make a change to the over manufactured scenes in the early Bond movies. It also makes Calvert nicely different to Bond because whilst he may sneak around in the same way and have the same sort of arrogance he is not the educated charmer but someone who has worked his way up from the bottom, promoted because he is effective. As such Anthony Hopkins is entertaining when it comes to that rawness which he gives Calvert, that sense of being a bit of a street thug who just happens to have used what he learned on the streets to further his career.
Unfortunately whilst Hopkins does keep us entertained the casting of Robert Morley as the bumbling Arthur, head of the operation is just wrong because the humour is too much. It is the sort of blustering humour which you would expect from Morley but for me it doesn't fit with the style of the movie. And sadly the rest of the cast including Nathalie Delon as the sort of sexy Charlotte and Jack Hawkins as Skouras just fail to impress because their characters end up lacking depth.
What this all boils down to for me is that "When Eight Bells Toll" feels like an opportunistic attempt to try and fill a gap when they thought James Bond was over. As such it does have some plus points, mainly Anthony Hopkins, but unfortunately it also lacks the excitement which you expect. Maybe those who have read Alistair MacLean's original novel will warm to it more because without having read it, it does feel like a James Bond imitation.