THE FILE OF THE GOLDEN GOOSE. United Artists, UK/US, 1969. Yul Brynner Yul Brynner, Charles Gray, Edward Woodward, John Barrie, Adrienne Corri, Graham Crowden. Director: Sam Wanamaker.

   I was skeptical at the beginning. Very skeptical. For the first ten minutes or so, The File of the Golden Goose has that cringeworthy voice-over narration found most often in second rate crime and science fiction pictures from the 1950s. Here, it is not merely grating, but downright unnecessary. Any viewer paying even the slightest bit of attention would be able to follow the proceedings without a narrator’s most unwelcome assistance.

   But a few things happen pretty quickly that make this thriller far more enjoyable than it has any right to be. First of all, the casting. While Yul Brenner may have been a bit of a fading star by 1969, his presence here as Peter Novak, a tough as nails treasury agent is most welcome, even if his character’s go-it-alone persona is more than a bit over the top. It’s the supporting, cast, however that makes this work.

   Edward Woodward, years before he got top billing in The Wicker Man (1973), portrays Arthur Thompson, a Scotland Yard inspector assigned to work alongside Novak to crack a deadly counterfeiting ring. And who might just be among the leaders of the forgery network? Well, Walter Gotell for starters. You might remember him as General Gogol in some Roger Moore-era James Bond films. Then, there’s Charles Gray who portrays Harrison, a flamboyantly gay gangster with a predilection for gamblers, bath houses, and drug-induced parties in swinging London.

   There is, to be sure, nothing remotely cinematic about The File of The Golden Goose. Sam Wanamaker, who may be more known in England today for restoring the Globe Theater than for his acting and directing, lends this movie a middling made-for-TV quality. There isn’t much in here that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a typical The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode, some of which were turned into theatrical releases. That’s the aesthetic style at work here. Yet, there is something undeniably charming about the clunky, haphazard direction. It’s never amateurish and it’s always imbued with a certain misguided passion.

   What the film lacks in cinematic merit, it more than compensates in storytelling. It does what a thriller is supposed to do. It keeps you guessing. If you allow yourself to immerse yourself in the proceedings, you might find yourself genuinely impressed by Wanamaker was able to do with his actors. None of the characters, however minor, the viewer encounter along the way are remotely the same. Each has some unique characteristic that makes them stand out from all the rest, be it the sleazy Liverpudlian hotel manager or the counterfeiting gang’s hitman.

   Now, don’t get me wrong. This movie is not remotely comparable in quality to the best thrillers of the 1970s. Not at all. In fact, I found myself to be quite surprised that I ended up enjoying The File of The Golden Goose as much as I did. Perhaps it’s the isolation recently engendered by the Coronavirus, but I found this movie to work in one particular way that genre movies are intended to do. As escapism pure and simple. It may not be overly memorable as a cohesive film, but there are most definitely scenes in the movie that I will remember fondly.