Movies My Dad Likes For Christmas: When Eight Bells Toll [1971]



When Eight Bells Toll Theatrical Poster

Well into the evening now and it’s thriller time but it has to be something that is within my now diminished capacity to understand. A movie then with not too many characters or red herrings and with a dialogue that can be easily heard. The film version of Alistair Maclean’s When Eight Bells Toll should do nicely. A boyish Anthony Hopkins is Philip Calvert, a working class version of James Bond. He is sent to a stark island off the western coast of the Scottish Highlands to investigate the disappearance of bullion ships in the Irish Sea.

The last ship to disappear the Nantesville was carrying eight million pounds worth of gold. Calvert’s boss Sir Arthur had put agents aboard as the underwriters led by one Lord Charnley needed to stop the rot. Calvert boards the ship and discovers the agents dead with a gang of cutthroats in control from which he makes a narrow escape as the vessel continues her journey. He and his friend Hunslett have the motor yacht Firecrest moored in the bay telling the locals they’re marine biologists but the bad guys know who they really are. Hunslett is in the intelligence branch and possesses no manual skills other than making mugs of cocoa. A lot of the locals have missing relatives or tragic stories on the loss of family members.

Their key suspect becomes Sir Anthony Skouris a shipping tycoon whose yacht, the Shangri-La, is moored nearby where on a social visit they also meet Charlotte his second wife. Sir Anthony is played by Jack Hawkins who had to mime all his lines in sync with a voiceover as his voice box had long since been surgically removed, but you couldn’t tell. In a helicopter Calvert searches the area looking for places that could hide a bullion ship and stops off at a cliff top castle where Lord Kirkside and his daughter Sue also have a tragic story of loss. As the chopper brings Calvert back it’s shot down with rifle fire. The pilot is killed and Calvert nearly drowns. Back on the Firecrest he is joined by the portly Sir Arthur, but Hunslett is missing. It’s not long before they’re repelling boarders and pulling Charlotte out of the black water who swam from the Shangri-La to escape from her cruel and crooked husband and his band of thieves, but she’s an untrustworthy siren.

Calvert now has a plan to uncover the crooks and recover the gold. As the Firecrest moves off Hunslett’s body appears, tied to the anchor chain. When a group of the heavies attack the motor yacht Calvert rams them then shoots each in cold blood as revenge for the murder of his friend. He finds the Nantesville at the bottom of a loch where he expected it to be, and then it’s off to the castle where he finds it guarded by armed men. He convinces Sue Kirkside to lead him down to the dungeons where all the missing people are being held captive. One of the captives is Skouras’s first and only wife making the prime suspect a victim and not a villain. In a dock below the castle the gold taken from the Nantesville is being transferred and we see the brains behind the operation is none other than Lord Charnley.

Calvert has arranged for reinforcements to ram the dock gates at eight bells; midnight to non-sailors; but the crooks have been tipped off by Charlotte who is married to Charnley’s main accomplice. Nevertheless, with his foresight to bring grenades to the party, Calvert turns the tide and all the bad guys are killed including Charnley who is speared like a kebab by something out of Moby Dick. Just to show his soft side Calvert hands Charlotte a gold bar and sends her on her way. A gripping tale worth seeing if only for Robert Morley’s portrayal of the upper class Sir Arthur.


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