TELEFON – 1977, Rated PG
“Beach Blanket Bronson” month reaches its penultimate installment with this late seventies tale of Soviet Espionage.
The story begins in the U.S.S.R. where two Generals oversee the search for a dangerous man-Nicolai Dalchimsky. They order their men to storm a school building and bring the target out. Unfortunately they are too late and Nicolai is in the wind. He might be heading to America and that is very bad news.
We learn their target didn’t leave empty handed. He has also managed to rob the Kremlin of a doomsday file .The deadly document details a program to be implemented in the event of a Nuclear War with America . The ‘Telefon’ directive is a list of deep cover agents living n the U.S. of A.
Each one has been hypnotized and made to believe they are native citizens. However they can be activated and sent forth to attack a military installation should they ever be given a key phrase that was implanted in their brains. Reciting these words will send them off on their kamikaze missions. This is most easily accomplished over the phone, hence the title.
Now that Russia and America are working towards peace the existence of such a program has to remain secret. The Generals looking for Nicolai don’t want the new regime to learn of this outdated mission so they opt to send an agent to America to take out Dalchimsky . The iceman is, of course, Mr. Bronson so we know we are in for some fun now as he finally joins the film at the 20 minute mark and proceeds to invade America as his first order of business.
He is met in Canada by an American agent working for the KGB (the lovely Lee Remick). She is ordered to get Bronson around town but told nothing of his operation. Bronson isn’t talking either so the relationship is a little awkward at first.
Meanwhile Nicolai is enjoying his tour of the country. We learn(via a sexy female computer nerd at the C.I.A.)that Nick is no saint. He was a hard line Stalinist who ran when 23 of his fellow old school Russian officials woke up dead after failing to support Russia’s bid for peace with the U.S.A. He plans to tour the country and have the sleeper agents wake up and attack their targets. The program , however, is 30 years old now so most of the installations are no longer viable.
Bronson sets out to capture Nicolai but is forced to make a pit stop when one of the sleepers survives his suicide mission. Now Bronson has to ice him personally so the guy can’t talk and possibly reveal what’s going on. Remick, however, looks much better in a nurse’s uniform and gets the gig.
It all leads to a nasty showdown at a quiet tourist rap in East Texas . Everyone converges on the spot at the same time pitting Bronson and Remick against Nicolai, some local deputies, a few tourists, and one very angry rattle snake in a finale that is downright Hitchcockian .
This is a very decent actioner thanks to a solid plot(courtesy of Walter Wager’s novel) and assured direction by genre veteran Don Siegel(Dirty Harry). Bronson’s stoic demeanor makes him the perfect Russian character since the 70’s typecast all Soviets as cold fish. Remick looks good here and is hot off her comeback in ‘The Omen.” Tyne Daily as a nice bit as film’s first cyber geek character . She manages to make nerds smart, dependable, and even sexy. Donald Pleasence puts in some solid work as Nicolai. This was one year before ‘Halloween” would raise his pay rate and his profile.
Catch this on DVD for about 10 bucks at Amazon and be treated to the disc’s B-Side . The second film is another Bronson epic ‘St. Ives” which sees him cast as Ross Thomas’ flamboyant private investigator (the St. Ives of the title)who was featured in six novels .
Bets Lines: ” Why would Dalchimsky be setting off your human bombs?”
“How do I know bear from a Yak?”
“For an American agent you’re not entirely repulsive.”
Tom Doty is a columnist for the Hazard Herald.