Made in South Africa and released there in 1974, the no-nonsense thriller Funeral for an Assassin, which stars U.S. actor Vic Morrow, hit American screens in 1977. (The picture was an American/South African coproduction.) Largely ignoring the racial issues that defined apartheid-era South Africa, the movie delivers a serviceable plot about a criminal who escapes jail and kills a judge as a means of triggering a state funeral, where he intends to detonate an explosive and thereby kill as many high-ranking members of the South African government as possible. Tracking the criminal’s moves and rushing to prevent bloodshed is that beloved standby of crime films, the Lone Wolf police detective. Yes, excepting its country of origin, Funeral for an Assassin is as contrived and generic and predictable as the average episode of Kojak. The picture is not without its brainless appeal, some of which stems from Morrow’s grumpy performance as the criminal, but nothing in this passable-at-best flick will genuinely surprise or thrill viewers familiar with genre-movie tropes. That said, those seeking 92 minutes of undemanding intrigue will find what they want here.
Morrow plays Michael Cardiff, an assassin who flees jail with the single-minded goal of obtaining revenge against the South African government. Peter Van Dissel plays Captain Evered Roos, an iconoclastic cop perceived by his superiors as being prone to conspiracy theories and reckless behavior. Accordingly, when Evered discovers clues suggesting that Michael is up to no good—even though Michael persuasively faked his own death—authorities are disinclined to believe Evered. Meanwhile, Michael moves through society with an absurd disguise, slathering his face, neck, and hands with blackface makeup. To the filmmakers’ minor credit, this masquerade eventually backfires on Michael, though every scene in which Michael passes for black strains credulity. Had the filmmakers made the next logical leap of giving Michael’s evil scheme racial overtones, or imbued Evered with an interesting attitude toward apartheid, Funeral for an Assassin could have become a thriller with a purpose. As is, it’s disposable pulp with the tiniest dash of local flavor thanks to extensive location photography. FYI, this picture should not be confused with Target of an Assassin, a 1977 South African film starring Anthony Quinn that was not released in the U.S. until the 1980s.
Funeral for an Assassin: FUNKY