Scorpio (1973): Michael Winner’s Spy Thriller, Starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Paul Scofield

Michael Winner directed Scorpio, a spy thriller, starring international cast, headed by Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Paul Scofield.

Cross (Burt Lancaster) is an experienced, retiring Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent and assassin who is training free-lance hit-man Jean Laurier (Alain Delon) (alias “Scorpio”) to replace him.

The CIA tells Scorpio to kill Cross for suspected treason and collaboration with the Russians, and he is threatened with jail on a false narcotics charge if he doesn’t cooperate.

In a failed break-in at Cross’s home, CIA agents shoot and kill his wife Sarah (Joanne Linville), causing Cross to go back to America. He rejects protection from his Russian ally Zharkov, whose agency wants to know secrets he knows as a senior field agent. Zharkov helps Cross to cover his tracks and reach America.

Enraged by this perfidy, Scorpio corners Cross and Susan and kills his girlfriend without remorse.  He finishes off Cross after hearing his last words, but moments later, Scorpio is also assassinated, as Cross said he would be.

There’s ambiguity as the viewers are left to speculate on who is behind Scorpio’s death.

Michael Winner was assigned to direct, but when he wanted a rewrite, Mirsch let him go. Then UA decided to remove Mirisch from the project and gave control over to Winner, though Mirisch kept a producer credit. Winner brought in his regular writer Gerard Wilson to do a rewrite.

Winner’s aim was to make a movie in the vein of Martin Ritt’s 1965’s “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” a much better picture.

He was also attracted to the theme “the problems of men who have opted out of normal society to make their own way.” He says many of his movies dealt with this.

The shoot took place in Vienna, Paris, and Washington DC, including the Watergate Hotel, where the crew stayed the night of the notorious break in on June 17, 1972.

Despite showing the CIA assassinating people and involved in nefarious plots, Winner was given permission to shoot in the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Scenes at Cross’s home were actually shot at then CIA Director Richard Helm’s home in NW Washington D.C. Scorpio became the only movie ever shot on location at their Headquarters.

Burt Lancaster as Cross
Alain Delon as Scorpio
Paul Scofield as Zharkov
John Colicos as McLeod
Gayle Hunnicutt as Susan
J.D. Cannon as Filchock
Joanne Linville as Sarah
Vladek Sheybal as Zemetkin
Mary Maude as Anne
Jack Colvin as Thief
James Sikking as Harris
William Smithers as Mitchell
Burke Byrnes as Morrison
Shmuel Rodensky as Lang