Michael Winner‘s Scorpio (’73) is a midrange, mostly unexceptional spy thriller about CIA management trying to assassinate an apparent double agent named Cross (Burt Lancaster) who, they believe, has probably been sharing information with the Russians. The would-be assassin is Jean Laurier aka “Scorpio” (Alain Delon), a Cross protege from way back.
Sydney Pollack‘s Three Days of the Condor was a much better film of this sort (i.e., amoral CIA higher-ups scheming to murder one of their own), but at least Scorpio came early in this cynical cycle. Shot in the early summer of ’72, just before the Watergate break-in. Released on 4.19.73, just as the Watergate coverup was beginning to unravel.
And yet Scorpio, for all its underwhelming aspects, has a great payback scene in which Lancaster and a couple of wily freelancers manage to quietly plug the hardnosed CIA chief (John Colicos) who’s been out to eliminate Lancaster and whose CIA henchmen have murdered Lancaster’s wife.
I like this scene so much that I’ve watched Scorpio a couple of times over the last couple of decades, despite my less-than-enthusiastic view of it. I’m even considering buying the Twilight Time Bluray, mainly because it’s ten bills with shipping. I don’t know if this is a category or not, but what other films (if any) are people soft on because one and only one scene works especially well?
Scorpio boasts a couple of scenes between Lancaster and Paul Scofield, as a kind of Russian counterpart, that aren’t too bad. It also has an amusing bit in which Lancaster slips past U.S. customs by disguising himself as a bearded African-American minister.
Post-release Lancaster said Scorpio was “nothing incisive, just a lot of action” and was “one of those things you do as part of your living, but you try to avoid doing them as much as you can.”