When 8 Bells Toll is a film that really feels like it desperately wants to be a Bond film, but doesn’t even remotely feel one – instead feeling a more conventional mystery thriller.
The film follows Phillip Calvert, played by Anthony Hopkins in his first film role, but not his first acting role. Calvert is a Royal Navy officer working for the British treasury, investigating the hijacking of several ships carrying bullion.
Calvert, along with his partner Hunslett (Corin Redgrave) from British Intelligence, try to get to the bottom of the hijackings, while also contending with goons trying to chase them off, their boss who is trying to rein them in, and a couple attractive women. If this sounds like the premise of a hardboiled detective novel, that’s what this film resembles much more than it resembles a spy thriller. All the main beats that you’d expect from a detective novel are here – genteel rich people who hide danger behind a polite genteel veneer, brutish thugs warning the protagonist to back off, femme fatales, the works.
However, the filmmakers, trying to cash in on the impending change in Bond, in the hopes that their film would succeed where the Bond series would fail, shackles the film with a wanna-be Bond-esque score that doesn’t quite mesh with the film’s plot or action. Some reviews of the film describe it as a parody – and it’s not, it’s really not. It’s as much a parody as a Dodge Viper is a parody of a Chevy Corvette, or Dark Forces is a parody of Doom. It’s nothing of a sort – it’s another work in the same genre, the difference being that When Eight Bells Toll fails to properly pull off the Bond genre.
The film is not without its merits though – it’s a very well executed thriller, and some of the action scenes are particularly well done. Anthony Hopkins plays Calvert very well, and I’m kind of surprised he didn’t get more action roles, considering how well he did here. This is a film that is certainly worth at least a rental.