The Double Man (1967)

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Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Yul Brynner plays a CIA agent Slater, whose son is pushed off a mountain to his death while skiing. Slater’s trip to the Austrian Alps and his investigation into what he considers anything but an accident, puts him in contact with his former colleague and now boarding school teacher, a reluctant and possibly shady Frank Wheatley (Clive Revill). Slater also questions a witness, Gina (Britt Ekland) who saw some men talking to the boy the day he died. The agent’s search lands him in the clutches of Soviet spies who have created a Slater twin they’ll send back into the CIA to serve as their mole. The boy’s accident was a trap and they believe bereavement will be a cover for any personality or memory deviations back home. This doppelganger was spotted by Ekland as a mysterious ski-masked man recognized and warmly received by the boy, but two Yuls aren’t seen in the same scene until late in the film. At that point we discover that the switch was made under our noses and we’ve already been watching the double for several scenes, including one where he beats Gina and gets his face scratched up by her.

The Double won’t rank among top spy movies but it’s a fair entry, made by Schaffner before he hit big with Planet of the Apes (1968). For my taste the first half was too much talking, doubt and questioning, and too much time was spent on the slopes or riding the cable cars with proportionally little action. But the Alpine setting was put to good use during the climactic climb, chase and confrontation following a wild party given by Gina’s boss Mrs. Carrington (Moira Lister). Since this movie plays like a heavier Bond film, it’s worth noting that it came out the year before 007 went skiing in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1968), and that Ekland later became a Bond girl, in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

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For me, Yul’s magnetism and intensity go a long way to help make up for other shortfalls and he is the best feature here. Though his character is ruthless, tightly coiled and accused by Wheatley of never loving a thing in his life, Yul enacts deep sadness and guilt over the loss of the son he hadn’t seen in years and only vaguely knew. The boy’s bloody parka, stabbed through with ski poles, is cruelly stuffed into Slater’s bag as bait. Yul conveys enough fury and grief in that one moment when he finds the jacket, to fuel him for the rest of the story. He soon hardens into a more dogged version of his character’s usual sour and brusque manner and makes it hard for anyone to sympathize with or understand him. The irony is that the real Slater’s cold heart ends up proving his identity, in contrast to his villainous twin’s pretense of caring for loved ones.

Lloyd Nolan barks his way through a role as caring CIA chief who worries Slater is heading for an ambush unaware, and when they lose contact Nolan sends a fellow agent (David Bauer) to the Alps to protect Slater. Anton Diffring is, as usual perfect as a chilling villain, and as usual a German this time working for the USSR, and George Mikell makes a scary henchman. 

The Double Man was based on the novel Legacy of a Spy by Henry S. Maxfield.

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7 thoughts on “The Double Man (1967)”

  1. This sounds like a neat story…too bad it didn’t follow through on the coolness of its premise. I like that a ‘switch’ was made before you knew it, and it comes as a surprise later…I’ve watched a few other films where I’d wished that plot turn had taken place, fooling the audience and making us realize, “Wait, that WASN’T our hero?” Do you own this one, or did you watch it streaming or on cable?

    1. I dvr’d this off TCM recently so you might catch it there sometime.. in a way I wish more was done with the double before the last 3rd of the movie, this way all the action is kind of stuffed into the latter part. The scenes where Yul has to try and prove he’s the “real” one are cool. 2 Yuls are better than one! Thanks

  2. I too just recently snagged this off TCM. Who would have thunk it??? Yul is one of those bigger than life personalities I would have loved to hang around with for a couple hours. One of the kings of cool that gets overlooked far too often.

    1. Yes I agree 100%, big Cool Yul fan too, and so I’m really forgiving of any flaws because I just love watching him, and what actor doesn’t love a dual role? Check it out soon!

  3. Even though I’m not a 1960s spy thriller fan at all, I did see this when it was on TCM a while back because of Yul Bryner. I totally agree that it is his magnetism and charm that really make this film watchable.

    Tam

    1. You’re a fan too, for me, you could film him watching paint dry and I’d be there for that movie 🙂 he got the right unlikable, intense feel for this role too. Thanks

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