Slow-moving Cold War era thriller in the mode of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "The Quiller Memorandum" lacks thrills and fails to match the quality of that Richard Burton classic. After a pair of their agents are murdered in West Berlin, the British Secret Service for some unknown reason send in an American to investigate and find the location of a neo-Nazi group's headquarters. Unfortunately, the film is weighed down, not only by a ponderous script, but also by a miscast lead; instead of a heavy weight actor in the mold of a William Holden, George Segal was cast as Quiller. Despite an Oscar nomination for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," Segal's strength lies in light comedy, and both his demeanor and physical build made him an unlikely pick for an action role, even if the film is short on action. Although the situations are often deadly serious, Segal seems to take them lightly; perhaps in the decade that spawned James Bond, he was confused and thought he was in a spy spoof.
Harold Pinter's screenplay, adapted from a novel by Trevor Dudley Smith, is "oh so serious" and perhaps too cerebral to be entertaining, at least without a charismatic star to carry the film. Among the few elements of humor are the scenes between George Sanders and Michael Helpmann, who dryly discuss the recent murders and their luncheon choices with an equal lack of interest. However, Sanders, Helpmann, and Alec Guinness as Pol, Quiller's contact in Berlin, appear too briefly to save the film. However, Max Von Sydow makes a strong impression as Oktober, leader of the neo-Nazi group; his performance is strong, authoritative, and genuinely menacing. Senta Berger appears in an ambiguous role as a teacher, who worked at a school where a neo-Nazi had also been employed. Quiller's lead in finding the neo-Nazi headquarters, Berger is the film's intended love interest, but her cool blank expressions fail to ignite any sparks between her and Segal, and the romance only exists as empty words in the script.
Michael Anderson's direction is pedestrian, and the few car chases are perfunctory at best. In the 1960's, spy films both serious and light were the vogue and many fine examples come to mind, like the aforementioned "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "From Russia with Love," and "The Ipcress File," among others. Unfortunately, "The Quiller Memorandum" does not merit mention alongside them.
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