Why I often find myself drawn to ill-remembered action films with questionably good leading men in them is something I’ll never quite understand. Rogue Male benefits greatly from leading man Peter O’Toole, placing him deep in the heart of Berlin as he attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Failing that, and escaping torture, he attempts to make his way back to safety, wherever that may lie. It does not lie in his home country, nor does it lie in the fascist state of Germany, both would present severe punishment for his actions or lack thereof, and thus, Rogue Male finds its unique angle. A survival film, led by a quintessential, gentlemanly actor whose leading performance here is a truly welcome surprise.
O’Toole is exceptional here; his performance brings out the unwavering desire and primitive need to accomplish one varyingly difficult task. Never handled all that well elsewhere, the stoic spirit of the British gentleman during a period of warfare is procured exceptionally well within Rogue Male. Snappy dialogue and confident delivery are the best assets O’Toole has here, with Clive Donner’s direction knowing it must be plain and effective. Choreography that never musters up intense interest, lighting that offers a layer of stock, blandness, it is all intentional in highlighting the bravery of this leading man. Sir Robert Thorndyke (O’Toole) is desperate, charming and conniving. He is everything a spy shouldn’t be. Oddly clumsy, but quick of mind and fast on his feet, Rogue Male sees him escape by the skin of his teeth more than once.
Those moments of tension play nicely into the fair amount of shot/reverse-shot format, and the fields Germany soon peter out into the pinstriped suits and bowler hats of London. Danger lurks in both areas, and Thorndyke’s realisation that he is hunted on his home turf by the very government he works for is an incredible scene. The paranoia that follows his initial chase and the fear that hits him headfirst makes for compelling viewing, and perhaps one of the most varied O’Toole performances available. Even in the final stages of the performance, when the well of interest has all but dried up, O’Toole’s brave-faced hero shines through as a man determined to beat his own destiny.
Very, very strong. Indeed, Rogue Male has the expected offerings of a brilliant action piece, and with O’Toole at the helm it is nigh on impossible to not enjoy the smarter, unique moments. A forgotten gem of the action genre, a made for television movie with all the grace and effectiveness of a modern-day action film, but at least here the predator hunting the prey is more than a dull game of cat and mouse. We dart back and forth, the real enemy is at home, not abroad and overseas. Rogue Male doesn’t specify that, and that is not its intention either, to say so would make for a rather odd message. Loose lips sink ships is the feverish delusion captured here, and it is captured with the essential components intact.