[personal profile] wingedbeast
The Assassination Bureau, for those who haven't seen it, is the 1969 comedy about the chairman of the company sharing it's name with the movie and the lady journalist who has a plan to address their existence. The journalist, Sonya Winter, gains the financial backing of a newspaper, sets up a meeting with the Bureau. She finds that her meeting is with the chairman of the Bureau, one Ivan Dragomiloff, and uses the occasion to ask for a contract on Ivan Dragomiloff. He obviously sets a high price which she meets and he, much to her surprise, accepts.

The reason that he accepts a contract is where this has the potential to get interesting. In a board meeting with his international board, he takes the other members to task. What had been founded, by Ivan's own father, as a means of ridding the world of evil, via careful judgment of anybody they're asked to kill, had changed. It seems that you can make the moral case for killing anybody and, once that's the case, financial reward is its own justification.

The contract on himself gives him a means, within the bylaws of the Bureau, of addressing that issue and returning the Bureau to what he sees as a place of upstanding morality. Because the contract was proposed, paid in appropriate price (some 20,000 lb, in pre-WWI money), and accepted, either the other board members must kill him or he must kill them.

I checked Rotten Tomatoes, if only to make sure I have the right names, and a number of the professional critics referred to it as a black comedy. I don't think that's fair. Death is there, but rarely the topic of a joke. It would be more accurate to call this a comedy of manners. Even under such conditions, gentlemanly politeness is given a premium above all else.

Where I am compelled to agree is that the movie fails to live up to the potential of the premise. Partly, this may be due to the fact that it is, every inch, a sixties British comedy. The premise establishes stakes so that the action can make sense and the unflappable civility can be funny and that's all that's truly done with it. The debate of the movie are given only the most surface of glances, being less important than the comedy and, of course, the two leads being in love by the end.

Let's take a look at the sides of this debate in detail. Ivan Dragomiloff believes that The Assassination Bureau (ltd) has an obligation to exercise judgment and refuse contracts unless the target is sufficiently evil. Sonya Winter believes that such organization, even with the conceit of targeting only those morally deserving of death, is unacceptable. The organization at large believes that the achievement of financial gain is enough. And, finally, a late-entry in the villain of the film, Lord Bostwick. Lord Bostwick sees, in the Bureau, the ability to control the direction and fate of Europe in entire.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with a movie in which you can turn your brain off to enjoy the comedy, the action, and the budding romance between characters played by Diana Rig and Oliver Reed. This is a premise that deserves more, because it has the option to delve deeply into morality.

I propose, as I've done so many times before, a series. The beginning should be much the same as what we have. I have no problem with the entire beginning, in fact. Lifting it, word-for-word, would suit me just fine, though I'm sure another writer might have some changes to make.

Where I think this needs both improvement and expansion is in the nature of the conflict. Ivan Dragomiloff is shown, in the movie we have, to be the superior assassin in all ways. He has aim, knowledge, the ability to disguise himself, physical superiority and tactical genius. This may have been a bit of power-fantasy in the movie, but we can use this in the series. Being that he has so much of advantage, the assassin to kill him would have to be the one to put him off his game.

Ivan Dragomiloff is unflappably civil, professional, and ready to make this challenge in large part because he is unflappably certain of his moral position. For Lord Bostwick to win, he must take away that certainty and, thus, make Ivan Dragomiloff doubt himself.

This is accomplished, in part, by having Ms. Sonya Winter accompany him. At first she's following him, and managing to make regular contact. Then, he accepts her presence as inevitable. All the while, she reports on his position and actions, thinking this is for the eventual printing in newspaper.

At the same time, she's making the real argument that the assassinations are murders. To the moral justification, as fallible as the legal system may be, a single man making unilateral choices is all the more fallible. Killing for profit only those you see as immoral is little different from just killing for profit.

With that, each episode can be a step on the way, with each enemy assassin laying a bit more of the evidence in favor of Ms. Winter's position. They will have their own stories, which they may share with Ms. Winter. They will show the slippery slope. Eventually, they'll show Dragomiloff's own mistakes of judgment, points where his aristocratic morality has lead him to kill the good and support the evil.

At the end, the conflict will be between Ivan Dragomiloff and Lord Bostwick. Lord Bostwick will note the same issues as Ms. Winter, but take the opposite tack. Instead of doing away with the morality of killing, he will see that the same obligations that Dragomiloff takes on, to Lord Bostwick's thinking, leads to the obligation to rule the world.

Lord Bostwick is, of course, older than Ivan Dragomiloff and, otherwise, his lesser. But, he is older and has had time to think more of these things, look past the idealism to the murkier realities. He sees the moral complexities and how doing something a little wrong here, say ruling the world from the shadows, can be used to do a greater good later, say avoiding a world-war.

The notion would have to appeal to Ivan Dragomiloff. The morality of killing can never be so simple as killing the immoral. Nor, truly, can it be so simple as never under any circumstances. Most nations do acknowledge killing as legal when done to protect oneself or someone else from death or grievous bodily harm. But, if it must be done sometimes, isn't there an argument to be made that such a method should be engaged fully, and not with half-measures?

Or, is Ms. Winter right? Would such efforts inevitably lead down to the same corruption that initially put Dragomiloff at odd with the rest of the Bureau?

Should the Bureau be disbanded with the deaths of its board members or should it be transformed into some kind of shadow-government? Which will Dragomiloff choose?

Which do you choose?



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