Danger Route (1967): nearly-Bond Richard Johnson as a blunt instrument of the state

4 JUNE 2023

JBC rating: ***

James Bond Connections (2):

  • Featuring actor David Bauer (Morton Slumber in Diamonds Are Forever) as US official Bennett.
  • Theme song composed by Lionel Bart (composer of the song From Russia with Love).

The British B-movie Danger Route is by far the grittiest of three late 1960s spy films starring Shakespearean actor Richard Johnson, the darkly handsome English leading man who famously turned down the chance to star as the first James Bond in Dr No (1962). Johnson’s brutal turn as a jaded, cold-blooded government assassin adds an edge of danger largely absent from his portrayals of Bulldog Drummond in the campy and fantastical Deadlier than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1969). Indeed, Danger Route suggests his portrayal of 007 could have been both exciting and faithful to Ian Fleming’s conception of his hero as a “blunt instrument of the state” and the film is well worth watching for any James Bond fan.

Following a nautical themed animated title sequence (which includes a fun theme tune written by the legendary Lionel Bart, composer of the title track for From Russia with Love), the film introduces Johnson as the superficially 007-like Jonas Wilde, a government agent working for British Intelligence. Wilde is also a businessman and professional yachtsman utilising his base in the Channel Islands to fly in and out of the UK undetected. Wilde shares certain playboy traits with James Bond including driving a sports car, owning a trendy London flat and (with an initial echo of Sylvia Trench in Dr No and From Russia with Love) a long-term but somewhat casual girlfriend in Jocelyn, here nicely played by the English actress Carol Lynley.


However, in several respects Danger Route is an “anti-Bond” film focusing on the darker aspects of espionage and continuing the tradition then maintained by writers John Le Carre and Len Deighton. The film opens with a disillusioned Wilde having to be convinced by Canning, his crusty, upper-class Whitehall chief (played by Harry Andrews), to stay on for one last mission and Johnson’s brooding performance arguably goes beyond the bored and slightly weary Bond in the later Fleming novels. Wilde is tasked by Canning with assassinating a defecting Communist bloc scientist before he can share secrets with the Americans. Worldly Britain playing the wise Athens to America’s rich but unsophisticated Rome is a common plot line in the Bond novels and movies. Though the plot soon thickens, the fact such brazen interference with American intelligence gathering is accepted by the British officials goes much further than anything in Bond, apparently reflecting then real-life discord in the ‘special relationship’, which in 1967 was strained by Britain’s refusal to commit troops to the American-led Vietnam war.

Working from writer Meade Roberts’ adaptation of Andrew Yorke’s novel (titled The Eliminator), director Seth Holt maintains a Deighton-style focus on spy procedure, following Wilde’s meticulous preparations for his mission (a la Deighton’s The IPCRESS File (1962), Wilde communicates with his colleagues via dummy newspaper advertisements). There is also an un-sentimentalised dramatization of his frequently ruthless actions. Adopting the persona of a cheeky Cockney travelling salesman, Wilde exploits Diana Dors’ fun-loving but lonely housekeeper (above, left) to gain access to the country home where the defecting scientist is being held. To minimise detection, Wilde largely forgoes a gun during his missions and instead executes his victims with a lethally powerful karate chop to the spine. In one brutal scene he uses this method to kill a dog.

Following Deighton and Le Carre, Danger Route presents a damning portrayal of British Intelligence. The film’s strongest scene follows Wilde as he is captured and then interrogated by the American agents (one of whom is played by future Diamonds Are Forever actor David Bauer, above left). In a plot move influenced by the real-life exposure of several SIS moles, Wilde learns from his captors that Soviet penetration of his country’s security services is such a double agent has been using Wilde to carry out Kremlin-sponsored assassinations. Unable to trust the ineffectual British, the Americans allow Wilde to escape in the hope he will lead them to the traitor. Director Seth Holt builds the tension to a satisfying climax when the traitor is revealed. Interestingly, whilst the famous Cambridge spy ring and others were upper class Communist fellow travellers, here the main double agent turns out to be a working-class outsider who just wants ‘a piece of the action’ from whichever side will provide it.

Danger Route is far from a perfect film. The screenplay tries to pack too many characters into the 90-minute running time and a casualty is the failure to develop some of the intriguing female parts. The striking French actress Barbara Bouchet (above) gets too few scenes as Mari, a doomed American agent tailing Wilde. Likewise, the veteran English actress Sylvia Syms is rather short-changed as Barbara, Canning’s much younger wife, accompanying Wilde for an all too brief cross Channel chase sequence. However, while the filmmakers could have simplified the convoluted plot, the central theme – that of a cynical, world-weary spy doomed in his attempt to escape the dark world of espionage – remains involving.


Danger Route is a solid and effective spy thriller with a refreshingly dark and tough feel. It’s a real shame there wasn’t a sequel. The thriller historian Mike Riley confirms writer Andrew Yorke would author a total of nine novels featuring Wilde, but only one had been published at the time Danger Route was released. As with so many other promising 1960s spy movies based upon a yet to be developed sequence of novels, this clearly did not provide enough popular support for a cinematic series. However, this solo outing is well worth watching for any 007 fan, not least for the opportunity to see an actor who very nearly was James Bond play a professional spy.

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