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TOM COURTENAY PURSUED THROUGHOUT ENGLAND AS 'OTLEY'

Tom Courtenay in OTLEY Year: 1969 Rating: ****

At the crest of the 1960's counter-culture, OTLEY was the final starring cinematic role for Tom Courtenay before returning to and remaining with the Royal Stage until his comeback in THE DRESSER. Despite earning an Oscar nomination, those very long thirteen-years had changed the scrawny, scowling, hungry rebellious youth into a mellow middle-aged man who could still act — but visually it was like replacing James Dean with Jimmy Dean...

OTLEY was also a reunion of two young cronies from Courtenay's star-making LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER with James Bolam as one of several antique dealers along Fleet Street, England, where Courtenay's Gerald Otley hardly makes a living, starting out being kicked out of one flat and desperately seeking another...

Tom Courtenay as Gerald Otley escapes another close call in OTLEY

Then to be thrust into a mazy Wrong Man plot, blamed for a murder and on the run from a gaggle of who he calls "sophisticated villains" including a flamboyant Freddie Jones and Courtenay's KING RAT and BILLY LIAR co-star Leonard Rossiter, sharing the best scenes in the countryside...

Rossiter's mild-mannered yet deadly assassin plays a terrific cerebral cat-and-mouse game with Otley; the latter who remains both frightened and aloof of the surrounding spontaneous hijinks: almost as though director Dick Clement (co-written with business partner Ian La Frenais) were spoofing James Bond while doing justice to Laurel and Hardy... but there's only skinny Laurel here while "Hardy" is the dire and frenzied situation at hand...

Romy Schneider is gorgeous in OTLEY

As a spy genre homage is the casting of Robert Brownjohn as Jones's quietly formidable thug... In real life he developed the 007 Opening Credit sequences FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER (followed by NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, co-starring Courtenay)...

But it's two beautiful ladies that provide worthy co-stars to Courtenay's double-crossed, reluctantly death-defying wishbone: An Otley-smitten Fiona Lewis has a boyfriend (Bolam) but wishes she didn't, while natural beauty Romy Schneider (part of a group of upper-class spies including James Villiers and Alan Badel) sporadically points the way for our always-reluctant hero to take his next plunge...

Tom Courtenay in OTLEY

And yet Otley never completely follows orders or directions in this action-packed espionage comedy that — despite certain bouts of dialogue sounding like impossible-to-trace inside jokes for that time and place — takes a number of viewings to genuinely comprehend and appreciate...

It's only at the end that the loose-ends connect — albeit still very loosely, and deliberately: It'd be an insult for the jovially frantic OTLEY (both the film and the character) to wind up making complete sense the first time around.

Tom Courtenay in OTLEY
James Villiers, Ronald Lacy and Romy Schneider in OTLEY
Freddie Jones in OTLEY
Romy Schneider in OTLEY
Tom Courtenay and Leonard Rossiter in OTLEY
Tom Courtenay in OTLEY
Tom Courtenay and Leonard Rossiter in OTLEY
James Bolam in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner with Tom Courtenay
James Bolam in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner  & Otley with Tom Courtenay
James Bolam in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Tom Courtenay & Fiona Lewis
James Bolam in OTLEY
Tom Courtenay in OTLEY
Tom Courtenay in OTLEY with Robert Brownjohn and Freddie Jones
Kenneth Cranham being rousted in OTLEY

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