Walter Matthau is a CIA agent who has just been pulled from the field and put in an office job. It’s a purely political and personal decision by Ned Beatty, his incompetent boss, who hates him. Walter decides he’s not going to stand for it, and starts writing his memoirs, mailing them in a chapter at a time, telling all the dirt he knows, where the bodies are buried. And the CIA tries to catch him and stop him. It is played purely for fun, and is a delight. Walter stays one jump ahead of his pursuers, aided by Glenda Jackson, who I wish they’d given more to do than be his telephone contact. It would have been nice if she was really his sidekick, along for the ride. But that’s my only complaint. It’s delicious to see the asshole boss get taken down time after time. Oddly, it reminds me a lot of another neglected film starring Walter Matthau, Charley Varrick, where the people he’s one jump ahead of is the Mafia. It’s even better than this one.
There’s one little inside joke. One character is called Westlake. The author of the book and co-writer of the screenplay, Brian Garfield, was pals with the great Donald E. Westlake. They even wrote a book together, Gangway!