Six Degrees of Scorpio Connections
The age of institutional paranoia and conspiratorial malevolence was coming into full cinematic flower in the early 1970s, and one espionage thriller arrived on the cusp of it all. Opening in theaters 44 years ago today, Scorpio (1973) starred Hollywood icon Burt Lancaster as a seasoned and world-weary CIA operative who, due to his unerring expertise and knowledge of all the agency skeletons, comes to be viewed as a serious threat to the new generation of bureaucratic overseers who resentfully brand him as a potential traitor and won’t allow him to retire in peace. In the tradition of keeping your friends close and your “enemies” closer, Lancaster, proving himself as agile an action star as ever, was surrounded by a cadre of professional allies who assured that this brooding tale of globetrotting violence and cynical treachery hit its mark. Supporting him in this hair-trigger suspense tale filmed in London, Vienna, Washington, DC, and adjacent Virginia locations are five fellow alumni of Lawman (1971): director Michael Winner, co-screenwriter Gerald Wilson, actors J.D. Cannon (as a cold-blooded CIA functionary) and Robert Emhardt (as a sinister “man in hotel”), and director of photography Robert Paynter. The film was cast by the great Lynn Stalmaster, veteran of such Lancaster projects as A Child Is Waiting (1963), The Hallelujah Trail (1965), The Scalphunters (1968), Castle Keep (1969), Valdez Is Coming (1971) and the aforementioned Lawman. Lancaster’s two co-stars were also previous and profoundly memorable acquaintances. Alain Delon as the code-named title character, an ambitious junior colleague who whom he taught the tricks of the trade and who is now tasked with his elimination, carries over a mentor/apprentice theme that closely echoes Winner’s similar arrangement between Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent in the director’s earlier The Mechanic (1972) but also recalls the paternal relationship between Lancaster’s aging Venetian prince and Delon’s marriageable aristocratic nephew in Luchino Visconti’s epic masterwork The Leopard (1963). For the role of a one-time Russian adversary with whom Lancaster’s fugitive Cross shares a now-trusting relationship in a cutthroat Cold War world, there’s the invaluable Paul Scofield, who nine years before played an obsessed World War II German officer who matched wits and wills with Lancaster’s French resistance leader in director John Frankenheimer’s acclaimed The Train (1964). The company Lancaster kept in this tense and twisty caper, also featuring John Colicos, Gayle Hunnicutt, J.D. Cannon, Joanne Linville and James B. Sikking, melded into a rogues gallery of ill-fated friends and unregenerate foes whose professionalism could be deeply trusted – even as many of their duplicitous characters couldn’t be. Featuring a moody score by Jerry Fielding on an Isolated Music Track and an interrogatory Audio Commentary led by Twilight Time agents-at-large Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Scorpio on TT hi-def Blu-ray ably taps into your inner paranoiac as well as your own time-tested connections to the legendary Lancaster.