THE BLACK WINDMILL. Universal, 1974. Michael Caine, Donald Pleasence, Delphine Seyrig, Clive Revill, John Vernon. Based on the novel Seven Days to a Killing by Clive Egleton. Director: Don Siegel.

   Several years after Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood as a cop in Dirty Harry (1971), he directed Michael Caine as a spy in The Black Windmill. One became a classic, iconic; the other is barely remembered, if at all. There are numerous reasons for this, not least of which is that The Black Windmill simply isn’t that memorable a work. Unlike Caine’s other spy thrillers – The Ipcress File (1965) (reviewed here)  comes to mind – this one just doesn’t have nearly the same level of excitement or style. It’s not a total loss, as Roger Ebert more or less concludes, but it just doesn’t stay in your memory for very long once the proceedings are over.

   Caine, in a restrained performance, portrays a British spy whose son is kidnapped. It doesn’t take him long, however, to decide that he is going to do whatever it takes to get him back. But he doesn’t take the Liam Neeson guns blazing approach, so much as a methodical, cold, and calculating one. The decision to have Caine’s character act this way was either designed to remain faithful original source material or was a deliberate stylistic choice on the part of Siegel and the producers. Whatever the rationale, Ebert was right. It really doesn’t work, at least not in the way it was likely intended.

   There’s something limp, plodding about the whole affair. The film isn’t nearly conspiratorial or paranoid as it should have been. At the same time, however, the essential storyline is compelling just enough to keep watching. Once you are invested in the characters, it flows along well enough to a rather sudden, violent, and somewhat incomplete conclusion.

   Adding some much-needed energy to the film is the always enjoyable Donald Pleasance as an eccentric spymaster whose cold indifference to the kidnapping somehow seems utterly believable. The film also benefits from on location filming, including at the eponymous black windmill in West Sussex. Not horrible, but by no means great, The Black Windmill would likely be appreciated more by Siegel completists than by anyone else.