MRS POLLIFAX – SPY. United Artists, 1971. Rosalind Russell (Mrs. Pollifax), Darren McGavin, Nehemiah Persoff, Harold Gould, Albert Paulsen, John Beck, Dana Elcar, James Wellman. Screenplay by Rosalind Russell (as C.A. McKnight), based on the novel The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman. Director: Leslie Martinson.

   I have a small confession to make. I’ve never read any of Dorothy Gilman’s books about the genteel elderly lady spy, Mrs Emily Pollifax, of which there are 14 of them, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax being the first. The combination of a cozy mystery with a serious spy story was just never anything I wanted to follow up on, even though I’ve had many an opportunity to do so.

   The good news is that in spite of some television-level production values early on, Mrs. Pollifax – Spy turned out to be an enjoyably amusing way to spend two hours. To back up some, though, Emily Pollifax is a widow living in Montclair, New Jersey, who has always wanted to be a spy, and now that her children are grown and living far across the country, she decides to offer her services to, where else, the CIA.

   And believe it or not, they have just the right assignment for her. She’s to go to Mexico as an ordinary tourist – no great difficulty there! – and bring back a book in which vital information is concealed. There’s a rough patch in the story line right along here, as it was hard to follow exactly what goes wrong,, but of course in a movie or book such as this, something indeed is guaranteed to go wrong.

   So wrong indeed that Mrs Pollifax ends up in a ancient citadel of a prison in Albania, handcuffed to a fellow spy, but a real one, named Farrell (a delightfully exasperated Darren McGavin). Well, pluck being Mrs. Pollifax’s middle name, the first thing she decides to do is to work out a plan to escape.

   I am not telling you anything you will not be surprised to know, but the ever resourceful lady does just that. At two hours in length, the movie is longer than it really should have been, but watching the fantastically talented Rosalind Russell in action will get you through the parts that sag just fine. (And as a closing note in that regard, this was evidently a pet project of hers, and at the age of 64, she carries on in her inimitable and consistently irrepressible fashion, in this her final theatrical film.)