INNOCENT BYSTANDERS. Stanley Baker, Geraldine Chaplin, Donald Pleasence, Dana Andrews, Sue Lloyd. Screenwriter: James Mitchell, based on his own book, published as by James Munro. Director: Peter Collinson.

   Somewhere, deep in the heart of Innocent Bystanders, there’s a pretty darn good story about international espionage ready to be told. But I’d be kidding you if I told you that the Stanley Baker vehicle, such as it is, resembles anything that could even be remotely considered cohesive, gripping spy movie.

   Clumsily directed and sloppily edited, the film lumbers from dramatic scene to fight scene, all the while giving the viewer very little reason to care about how it’s all going to turn out. That is, until the last thirty minutes or so, when one begins to get the impression that the movie is going to turn into a trenchant look at Great Power politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. But, alas, it’s not to be.

   Baker portrays aging British master spy/assassin John Craig, a secret agent whose glory days may well be past. His conniving boss, Loomis (Donald Pleasence) gives him one last chance to prove his mettle. He tasks Craig with finding Kaplan, a Russian Jewish agronomist who escaped a Soviet prison. Apparently, Kaplan has developed a scientific technique that will allow the desert to bloom. So it’s not surprising that the CIA is also interesting in finding him.

   Most of the movie’s running time is devoted to following Craig and his newfound female companion, Miriam Loman (Geraldine Chaplin) who may or may not be an American or Israeli spy, as they travel from New York to Turkey in search of the enigmatic Kaplan. It doesn’t take long for Loman to fall in love with Craig, something I’ll never fully understand. He has neither the charm nor the wit of James Bond and is something of a bore. Still, the plot needed something to keep the viewer somewhat entertained, at least until they are able to locate Kaplan.

   As it turns out, Kaplan has an even bigger problem that the American and British intelligence agencies on his trail. He’s somehow ticked off a secretive group of Russian Jewish dissidents who are now working for the KGB. Or something. It all devolves into nonsense, making this movie a truly oddball feature. It’s one of those movies adapted from a book that probably could have worked, had the script been more coherent and did more to explain the motivations of its myriad characters. But it didn’t.