Take a solid, healthy chicken's egg out of the hen house or the fridge Now throw out all the substance, and just keep the eggshell. Dril several holes in it, the size of a pin, one the size of a small coin. Finally, paint the result in Barbie pink and baby blue That's more or less what happened to Adam Hall's spy novel for this movie. If you have seen this movie, and it leaves you very dissatisfied or with a bunch of bright orange question marks, don't worry ! You HAVE been watching it carefully. Don't start thinking you missed something: it's the screenplay who did !
Believe it or not, but in the original story there's a pinch of "Satan Bug" (1965),as it involves a Jewish scientist who wants to wipe out the Nazi community in Argentina with a dangerous germ. There's also a sniff of "Downfall" /"Der Untergang" (2004) in it: the Inga from the book has been as a child in the Führerbunker playing with the Goebbels' offspring, until "Uncle Adolf" committed suicide. There's also a part in Hall's book, that could have been a chapter from "Enigma" (2001), as Quiller has to decipher a complicated message from a friend. This part is done in a very detailed way in the book. Hall's book is also full of psycho-analysis à la Freud. In his novel, Inga is working initially for Oktober, which she always considered as being almost as tough as the only man she ever looked up at, Uncle Adolf. So, when she notices that a captured Quiller is not giving in to Oktober's interrogation techniques, her desperate need for a strong figure starts to shift from the Nazi to Quiller. The Quiller of the book is a survivor of the concentration camps by the way. Now he's working for a unit called the Z-police and Z-commission. This "Zentralstelle" was established after the signing of the London Agreement, and tracked down about 7000 Nazi war criminals. (See Wikipedia for more information about the Zentralstelle or Z-Commission)
Quiller is called to Berlin, as the previous British agent, Kenneth Lindsay Jones has been found floating in a lake, killed by a sniper's bullet. As he hasn't been in Berlin since long, the Z-commission have prepared a memorandum with all the information available about a (neo-)Nazi group called "Phönix". Hence the title of the book. What the Z-people don't know is who the leader is, nor where they are hiding. In the end, it turns out that this leader of "Phönix", SS general Zossen has since the war become a respected member of the new German government under a false name. It's a quite complicated spy novel, but one with a storyline that makes sense. I can't say the same for the movie, I have to say. First at all, the title is never explained. Secondly, we don't hear about the Z-Commission, the London agreement. The Quiller in the movie is as British as Rockefeller, while Pol has become British. And no mention is made of him having been in a KZ during the war. I'm also irritated with what has become of the character of Inga, the disappearance of the germ side-plot, and I could go on for a while
That's why I think this egg not only has substance, but what is left is full of holes, leaving the critical watcher quite dissatisfied at the end.
Harold Pinter may be a BIG name with a large cohorte of aficionado's, but frankly, what he has done with this novel is nothing less than a shame. Can you imagine what would have become of let's say "The day of the jackal" script, if he would have used the same frivolous surgical techniques he used on the Quiller-memorandum ? Would the OAS top have met the Jackal in a Mexican desert ? Or would Pinter maybe have dropped the whole OAS angle ? Thrown out the special gun ? Would the cold blooded killer invented by Forsythe have become a somewhat bumbling American with a Okie accent ? I'm neither very pleased with the choice of George Segal as Quiller. He was fun in "St Valentine's day massacre" (1967), he really gave me the creeps as the smiling but menacing Peter Gusenberg. But as Quiller, no
Somehow, he's not the right man in the right place, and certainly not someone I would sympathize with, as one should do with the hero of a movie. Max von Sydow though was very well cast as the gentleman-Nazi. Senta Berger is an extremely beautiful and elegant woman, but in this movie she's no longer a survivor of the Hitlerbunker as in the book, but a nice gentle school teacher, with a mysterious undertone.
The cameo's of George Sanders and Alec Guinness are of course top notch, but these wonderful actors only have a few Lines to say. The house in which Oktober questions Quiller is superb, and so is the Mercedes "Adenauer" used in this movie. But all this Barbie pink and baby blue extra's can't save this movie. A missed opportunity, Mister Pinter.
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