Color, 1969, 90 mins. 58 secs.
Directed by Dick Clement
Starring Tom Courtenay, Romy Schneider, Alan Badel, James Villiers, Leonard Rossiter, James Bolam, Fiona Lewis
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Sony (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Otleywave of "men's Otleyadventure" paperbacks that flourished in the '60s wouldn't have been possible without the spy novel craze headlined by Ian Fleming's James Bond, so it's no surprise that humorous takes on the same idea were quick to follow. Among these was a four-book series by Irish writer (and future children's book author) Martin Waddell about the misadventures of Gerald Arthur Otley, a London everyman with a penchant for pickpocketing and antiques who gets caught in a web of espionage thanks to a case of mistaken identity. Only the first book has ever been adapted, but it's a keeper: Otley, a 1969 Columbia Pictures release directed by Dick Clement and co-written with frequent partner Ian La Frenais, with whom he created several innovative British comedy TV series. The pair has been responsible for a very surprising range of titles from the eccentric '71 gangster film Villain to more recent outings like Across the Universe and The Bank Job, and this one shows off their knack for sharp comedy writing and characterization at its finest.

Life hasn't been too kind lately to "naughty boy" Gerry Otley (Courtenay), a Portobello Road antiques salesman who gets thrown out of his place after failing to pay his rent for three months and Otleybedding his landlady. He looks for a roof for the night by scouring through friends at a party and winds up on the (very purple) couch of a casual pal who gets shot in the kitchen while brewing a pot of coffee. The next morning Otley wakes up in an airfield at Gatwick and finds himself being sought by the police, but that's just the start as he's abducted, spiriting away by alluring spy Imogen (Schneider), and embroiled in a complex plot involving assassins, chases, lots of walking around London, and a deadly secret involving a wooden ornament in his possession.Otley

Chock full of late '60s goodness, Otley is perhaps more entertaining now as a time capsule than a quirky spy spoof. Courtenay is obviously the big draw here, still a solid name after 1965's huge Doctor Zhivago despite a couple of odd (but fascinating) critical misfires in the interim including The Day the Fish Came Out and the troubled A Dandy in Aspic. He's clearly having fun here as a quirky character whose dubious moral code makes him a bit different from the usual naive innocent thrown into these kind of caper films. The cast is filled with unexpected faces beyond the always glamorous and welcome Schneider (who actually isn't given a ton to do) including dramatic vet (and mother of Emma Thompson) Phyllida Law, Asylum's memorable Geoffrey Bayldon, a fey Freddie Jones with a ridiculous haircut, and a brief Otleyturn by a very young, blonde, and almost unrecognizable Fiona Lewis way before The Fury. Another big asset is the bouncy, harmonica-heavy score by the late Stanley Myers, including a few variations on the theme song, "Homeless Bones." As a spy thriller it really doesn't kick into gear until the second half, but the suspense scenes are fun when they hit including an interesting farmhouse climax that foreshadows a similar one in Gorky Park of all things.

Initially released on VHS by RCA/Columbia in the U.K. in the '80s, Otley took a very long time to come back into circulation. A 2011 Sony DVD-R presented a bare-bones edition of the film from a solid new HD remaster, though it's outdone handily by the U.K. 2018 Blu-ray from Indicator. The 1.85:1 presentation is on par with the label's other Columbia titles from the period with those distinctive vivid colors and deep blacks; it's really pleasant all around with some natural anomalies in the film stock choices left fully intact. It's a great showcase for picking out little details, such as the vintage posters in the tube stations (a sequence shot on mismatched brands of film stock, and boy does it show) to the insane wall patterns in various restaurants and offices. The LPCM OtleyEnglish mono audio (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also faultless. The film can also be played with two audio options, a fine new solo audio commentary with Clement (moderated by onetime BFI Flipside trailblazer Sam Dunn) or an excellent "The Guardian Interview" Q&A with Clement and co-writer Ian La Frenais, recorded in 2008 at the National Film Theatre with moderator Dick Fiddy. There's a bit of overlap between the two but a wealth of information as well about their lucky start with TV's The Likely Lads, their status as Otley"cheap" and "clever" writers that landed them with Michael Winner for The Jokers, the nature of British comedy at the time and the "swinging London" scene, the amusing confusion between Cockney and Puerto Rican, and the attributes Courtenay brought to his role.

A brief new interview with Courtenay (5m58s) touches on his wish that they'd called the film Otley Pursued (after the second book) and the fact that his feet hurt way more from all the walking in this film than on The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, while a separate piece with La Frenais (16m15s) covers the difficulty of adapting the source novel into a filmable form, the lessons learned from Winner, and the collaborative process with Clement. The great theatrical trailer features Courtenay out of character guiding you on a tour of the film, and a small 15-image gallery features stills and poster art. The usual thorough liner notes booklet includes a new essay by Laura Mayne (which really plays up the deficiencies of the source novel), a snippet from Waddell’s book, location reports from the press kit, archival interview selections with Courtenay, and a sample of reviews from the film's initial release.

Reviewed on April 1, 2018.