The Excellent Eighties: Agency (1980)

A millionaire is suspected of buying an ad agency to use it as a way of brainwashing the public for his political ends. Hmm . . . subliminal messaging through inaudible sounds and images hidden in TV audio signals and magazine spreads . . . John Carpenter’s They Live, anyone?

The millionaire here is the mysterious Ted Quinn (Robert Mitchum) who buys out the giant Montreal ad agency Porter & Stripe where Philip Morgan (Lee Majors) serves as its top copywriter and project manager. Of course, as with any corporate takeover, half of the firm’s staff is soon blown out the door and replaced by “Quinn’s people.” And Morgan is getting the old “do you like your job” trope when he complains about being kept out of the loop on the firm’s new accounts.

Next thing you know, the firm’s geeky-and-too-nosey-for-his-own-good Sam Goldstein (very familiar Canadian actor Saul Rubinek), who discovered Quinn is using the firm’s new slew of commercial spots to influence a political election, ends up dead. Now it’s up to Lee and Valerie Perrine, as his love interest, natch, to get to the bottom of the advertising-cum-political tomfoolery.

I love Lee Majors, and Robert Mitchum is always cool in-the-role (but barely here; this is a Lee Majors joint, after all), but when cheapo Canadian tax shelters films masquerade as an American-made film by casting beloved U.S. actors in lead roles, what we usual end up with is, not a theatrical film, but a telefilm that pisses us off by baiting us with Lee Majors.

If this had been made in the early ’70s by a major U.S. studio, say MGM or 20th Century Fox — and cast Charlton Heston as the ad man discovering the subliminal political campaign — and had Paddy Chayefsky adapt Paul Gottlieb’s superior, best-selling novel for Sidney Lumet to direct — Agency could have been a twisted sci-fi version of the Academy Award-winning Network. Or we could have had Madison Avenue taken to task in a political paranoia thriller that reminded of director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter Robert Towne’s The Parallax View.

I love my Lee Majors joints, but — through no fault of his own (his Fawcett-Majors Productions didn’t back this one) — Agency is a flat-as-a-pancake conspiracy thriller providing a non-intriguing conspiracy devoid of thrills. If you’re in the market for sci-fi conspiracy thrillers of the ’80s HBO-variety, then stick with Micheal Crichton’s Looker from 1981 starring Albert Finney — at least that one had some computer 3D modeling and funky light-hypnosis guns to wow us. Of course, when it comes to subliminal conspiracies of the Canadian variety, none is finer than David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

You can watch Agency on You Tube or watch it as a free-with-ads stream courtesy of IMDb TV’s Amazon Prime channel (caveat: both are fuzzy VHS-to-DVD rips). In 2001, Anchor Bay issued a now out-of-print DVD version, which, no surprise, is the best of the DVD transfers in the market. If you’re a Lee Majors Canadian film completist, then you’ll want to seek out the 1984 TV movie The Cowboy and the Ballerina (we found a clip on You Tube).

Luckily, the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment come through in the clutch by including Agency on their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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