In this context, the 1971 film WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL is a bit of an oddball curio. Based on a book by Scottish adventure writer Alistair MacLean, it's a bit of a spy/action/suspense/adventure along the lines of Jason Bourne, with a hint of James Bond here and there. I had watched a bit of the beginning on Youtube, with Hopkins sneaking around an enemy ship in a wetsuit, and I digitally nabbed it right away. Based on what these elements conjured up, I was pretty excited.
Sadly, though not too bad as a colourful minor effort, it falls flat in most ways.
Hopkins plays Navy man/treasury agent Phillip Calvert, an apparently capable and qualified chap, called to an office somewhere in "the government". He's a bit of a lower class bloke, especially in the toffee-nosed opinion of Whitehall nob Sir Arthur Arnford-Jones (played with google-eyed pizazz by the [more than usually] rotund Robert Morley). It seems that there have been robberies of gold shipments recently (apparently the government ships gold bars without commando guards in this universe), and Calvert MUST get to the bottom of it. Bring on the fights, castles, some lovely rustic scenery (the story is set in Scotland), lovelier ladies, snobbery, lots of yummy gold bars, and, wait for it, a helicopter!
Sound good? Well, it's not bad. Not all that particularly good, but not too bad either.
I was going to include this in a post titled THREE FAN-TASTIC 70'S FILMS THAT YOU'VE NOT HEARD OF, but it wasn't fantastic enough. The pacing is strange, the plot wanders about like old people in a shopping mall, and after a bit I wasn't sure I remembered what was happening and why. It is worth it's own review spot, though, if only as such an obscure Hopkins attempt at the spy genre. He's the vastly most appealing part of the story, even with his characteristic emotionalism and soft-spoken intensity slowed down to a stroll. I'm not sure, but aside from Hannibal the Cannibal, I don't think that I've ever seen Hopkins kill someone in a movie before. Well, in WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL he kills quite a few. He spends half the film running around offing baddies with machine guns, pistols, grenades, hand to hand combat, and if I remember correctly, a drowning! All done with the customary restrained Anthony Hopkins gusto. I do think that it should be seen, if only for the sake of a fuller experience of the Hopkins canon.
One thing is pretty clear; James Bond and Jason Bourne's spots in spy film history were never under any sort of serious threat.