Instead of coming in from the Cold War, British agent Alec Leamas chooses to face another mission.Instead of coming in from the Cold War, British agent Alec Leamas chooses to face another mission.Instead of coming in from the Cold War, British agent Alec Leamas chooses to face another mission.
This black and white film recreates the sullen atmosphere of cold war espionage in a way that color seems to diminish for some unexplainable reason. Those were black and white kinda times in my memory. Depressing, frightening and dour.
George Smiley makes a small appearance, albeit very important as a character in the plot line, and is nicely played by Rupert Davies, capturing the diffident and wry Smiley as effectively as Guinness did later on and Denholm Elliot even further on in the TV film 'A Murder of Quality'. Cyril Cusack's Control could easily be the younger version of Alexander Knox's masterful rendition in the Smiley TV shows. The continuity suggested in all of these films is very satisfying. It's a shame so many of the other versions of LeCarré's novels are so mediocre... ie 'The Little Drummer Girl' with a totally miscast Diane Keaton, and 'The Russia House', too Hollywood by half.
Richard Burton turns in just about the greatest performance of his life here. He is the embodiment of the disillusioned, bitter and down-trodden ego-maniac that seems to be the basic cocktail for a spy's personality, according to LeCarré.
I've seen this film many times but just recently spotted LeCarré himself (at least it certainly looks like him) as an extra in a short scene. As Leamas is making his roundabout way to Smiley's house at 9 Bywater Street, he is exiting the first of 2 taxis. As he does so a tall, lean man in black is walking towards him. Ritt seems to be focusing the camera on this "extra" actor who actually makes furtive glances at Leamas. It is later revealed that Leamas has been followed by the Communists. Could LeCarré be playing that non-speaking, uncredited part of the Eastern "watcher" trailing Leamas to Smiley's house? Wouldn't surprise me in the least. It's a part LeCarré would have enjoyed playing, I think.
And, like Hitchcock, LeCarré has appeared in film adaptations of his books before.
Claire Bloom is excellent as the naive English communist who hasn't got a clue as to what she's supporting. The end of this film is always shocking to me. The ruthlessness of the spy-masters, the lies, the back-stabbing.... There is nothing over-blown in this film. It's all very subtle and intriguing and with the passage of time just gets more and more fascinating.
Highly recommended to fans of this genre, especially LeCarré fanatics. If you haven't read his books you are missing out on perhaps the finest living writer of the English language. Some "experts" think his writing style is out of date because the plots are so involved and the prose so full of humor and political incorrectness; I read something to that effect in the most recent edition of the 'Halliwell' guide. Perhaps the editor of that book has A.D.D. or something, or perhaps he's just seen to many glitzy, empty flicks designed to entertain the gawping masses, I don't know. To me, LeCarré will never go out of style and it is to be hoped the film adaptations of his books will continue to be made. A few remakes wouldn't be out of order either.
- Jun 9, 2005