User Reviews (20)

Add a Review

  • This is an odd film. 'Low-key' is certainly an apt description, and though I don't agree, I can see why some have dismissed it as flat, tedious, etc.

    It has stayed in my mind after each viewing - I've seen it twice now on television - more than many other more critically praised films. There's something about the deliberate underplaying, the bland, familiar suburbia of the leading character's house, the politeness, the dog.... The film shows us a non-dramatic world in which dramatic events are being played out in secret, under cover of banal normality. It recalls the hurried departures of Kim Philby and friends from their own domestic lives. It's unsettling: what else might be happening in our own quiet streets?

    Personally, I think it's rather wonderful. Clearly it's an ancestor of the brilliant TV adaptations of Le Carre; indeed, it feels more like Le Carre than Greene, which may be why Greene reportedly didn't like it. But it needs to be viewed for what it is: an essay in tension, told in a deliberately chosen style. If you only like action films, it's not for you.
  • After I had read this late Graham Greene novel years ago, I was immediately fascinated by its le CarrĂ©-like plot with very much Greene-like characters. I immediately thought that this should have been made into a movie.

    Shortly afterwards, I learnt that Preminger had already made it into a film back in 1979, so I was of course very eager to see this movie. Yet - this film has fallen into oblivion, it is not commercially available and it is hardly ever on TV.

    Very strange if you consider that it features a cast bristling with splendid British character actors (Nicol Williamson, Derek Jacobi, Robert Morley, Richard Attenborough, to name but a few) and has a screenplay by Tom Stoppard (which IMHO was a straightforward, enjoyable transfer of Greene's novel to the screen).

    So, only yesterday did I have the opportunity to watch it on TV. Certainly, it is no cinematographic highlight: it is very low-key, very unfussily directed by Otto Preminger in a more than plain style, and has basically no "action" (but then - what would you expect of a Greene novel?). It might as well have been made for TV, but this impression may also be due to the serious budget problems while filming.

    However, it has some splendid performances by actors whom I could watch all day long. The mere cast turns this film into a success and makes it worthwhile watching.
  • I must confess that this was the first Otto Preminger movie I've seen, so I cannot comment it as an Otto Preminger movie, but rather just a movie among others.

    I'm very much a fan of both cold war spy movies and 70/80s Great Britain, so the elements were in place for me to enjoy this. I had never heard of this (I'm yet to go through Preminger's movies) and I quite randomly picked it from the online service as it seemed pretty interesting.

    And it was interesting. Very subtle and talkative, I have to say I really really liked it. The story itself wasn't too exciting, but interesting nonetheless. It's about the secret service and an apparent leak of information - possibility of double agents and so on. Very gripping, yet quite slow paced - no action. I just watched le Carre film "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and they are quite alike in style, altho I have to say I enjoyed this more. Even if it's not necessarily as well made, this wasn't quite as heavy-handed.

    The acting is great for the most part. Nicol Williamson was a name I hadn't heard of before, but his presence really made this movie. Very understated and brilliant character, just like anyones neighbor or work colleague. There's a weak link too unfortunately and that's Iman, she's horribly wooden and unnatural in her acting most of the time.

    I'm dropping one point because of sloppy cinematography too - lighting in particular and a few shots that look really staged. I'm not sure why some scenes were so horribly set up, the lights almost looked as if they just flipped a few spotlights over and pointed them at actors faces.

    Despite these few flaws, it's a really enjoyable spy movie for anyone into cold war spy stories in style of le Carre etc. Grab a whisky and time machine yourself back into cold war era. This doesn't seem to be too well distributed tho so it may be a bit hard to find.
  • Tom Stoppard's adaptation, and Preminger's direction, seem to have produced a stylish and grown-up filmed interpretation of Greene's sardonic yet moving condemnation of the cruelty of the Cold-War, during which both the Left and the Right have forgotten 'The Human Factor.'

    Both the West and the Soviets are portrayed as they execute a risibly elephantine yet humanly appalling dance of death over the crushed lives of ordinary, decent people.

    This remarkably accomplished and understated politico/moral thriller is a far more effective translation of an immeasurably greater book than is the more recent film of John Le Carre's original novel of 'The Tailor of Panama.' The latter film in particular entirely fudges the politics of Noriega's Panama, and the United States' role therein. Preminger's film, by contrast, is amazingly honest and balanced, for its period, about the protagonists of the fraught global struggle of its time. In this it is faithful to Greene's intentions.

    No doubt the earlier film was critically sunk by its evident contempt for the received political 'wisdom' of its age. And by its willingness to entertain the possibility that the 'democratic' West could quite easily countenance Nazi-style medical research, both for the removal of inconvenient individuals like the wretched Davis, and for sale to strategic allies like apartheid-era South Africa in the form of a poison gas 'cordon sanitaire' between them and black Africa. Certainly, even the best American reviews (which always heavily preponderate on this Website), while they 'condemn with faint praise,' studiedly avoid any mention of the political and moral core of the film. This is to circumvent, and to radically subvert, the integrity of a serious work.

    However, anyone who has actually grown up since then should enjoy and appreciate this rather brilliant - if neglected - film version of a Grahame Greene classic: Script, performances, design and filming are uniformly excellent. It is far, far more than a spy-thriller. Greene's original is faithfully followed into areas that Le Carre merely touches upon.

    Special praise and thanks, therefore, to BBC4's original and brave choice to programme it on their new British channel, recently! Naturally, it is not commercially available in Britain. American capitalism, however - to its partial credit! - is capable of allowing this film to exist at least as a product, relying on dialectical hostility to effectively police the public's exposure to such an evidently heretical viewpoint! Sufficient numbers of people will always helpfully parrot the 'official line' that is peddled by our cultural 'commissars' in order to prevent such views spreading in the wildfire manner which a truly free exchange of ideas would permit. Their critical contempt for the viewing public is obviously justified, I regret to say.
  • 'Sr Moreno' dismisses the Preminger film adaptation of 'The human factor' very intemperately: The clincher of his argument - which consists largely in being rude to Iman (she was perfectly adequate in her role, and certainly believably a beauty whom a career diplomat might have risked his career for) - is Graham Greene's own declared dislike of Preminger's version.

    While obviously his own direct collaboration with Carol Reed made 'The Third Man' into the definitive Greene adaptation for the screen, and a classic sans pareil, there is still no need to be unduly respectful of his impatience with this version of his 'The human factor.'

    After all, Greene had a well-known falling-out with Mankiewicz during the filming of the 1959 version of 'The quiet American,' but no-one else thinks that was a bad movie!

    Few filmed adaptations are entirely successful - probably without the original author's close collaboration they will inevitably be more-or-less diminished versions of the literary form. And while Grahame Greene was perfectly entitled, with the status of 'onelie true begetter' to be hyper-critical of any lesser recensions, that is not a sensible reason for the rest of us not to enjoy and appreciate what is a perfectly intelligent and involving film in its own right.

    There are few enough thrillers around on the TV today which do not involve various forms of adolescent excitability and excess that I should have thought the BBC were perfectly justified in giving it an airing recently on their 'thoughtful' channel.

    This is no 'The third man' to be sure - but then, what is? This remains a film with, clearly, much in it to admire.

    Surely, if every film has to achieve the status of 'masterpiece' before it can be accepted at all - as 'Moreno' appears to believe - then would there not be a certain danger of an unbridgeable culture-gap developing between the extremes of 'art-house film' and 'teen-flick'? Fortunately, audiences - and film-makers - are still quite willing to 'give it a go,' even if the results are 'merely' intelligent, rather than the absolutely brilliant - and still quite rare - product of genius!

    Really, I feel most strongly that 'Moreno''s strictures represent exactly the kind of intellectual snobbery which can only tend to alienate cinema audiences even further from any more sober and challenging films.

    There really are enough points of worthwhile discussion raised by this film of 'The human factor' for it to be impossible to dismiss in a single paragraph of supercilious contempt: 'Terrible' does not amount to a review, but only to intemperate spleen, I'm afraid.
  • Not being familiar with the source material upon which this is based, I worried that i would have a hard time following the various plot entanglements upon learning it was based on a rather knotty British spy novel but the screenplay makes everything that is happening (and why) more or less clear enough for someone just catching it randomly (like i did) to get.

    Film's first half is really quite good. It takes you into the cold and somewhat distant world of this quite average bureaucrat's office and then home life (wherein you learn that he's being suspected of leaking top secret info--"very unimportant top secret info" as one of the characters making these allegations says--but top secret none the less.) Film really captures and sustains a very solid tone of slow growing mistrust by everyone in the film. Nicol Williamson's character realizes he's under suspicion right away but the various other characters' slow burning distrust of one another grows rather nicely as the film goes on. (In true British spy film tradition tho none of them ever seem to voice their distrust of one another to each other, choosing instead calmly and carefully constructed parables of being trapped in boxes within boxes.) As Nicol Williamson somewhat slowly tries to put together a plan to quiet his superior's suspicions about him and keep his wife and adopted son safe, everything around him naturally falls apart and the film's narrative somewhat suffers from having to keep clear the reasons why Williamson is doing what he's doing as well as what his superior's are up to (and why they too are doing what they're doing) It doesn't help that the film without much warning about halfway through flashes back to Williamson's time in Africa when he first met and began an affair with the woman who would come to be his wife---that part is of course supposed to explain Williamson's motivation and give you some idea of what's at stake--but because of its rather abrupt happening, you never really feel much except for confusion, especially once the film just as arbitrarily jumps back to present day.

    Film's last half hour or so gets somewhat jumbled and almost completely loses the nice quiet momentum it had been steadily building up---jumbled as in i'm not entirely sure what exactly happened but I get the main idea regardless. I won't spoil the events that happen but I will say that the big event that happens at film's end certainly doesn't feel like a big event, nor does it feel like a very satisfactory ending. Perhaps the novel was able to end this way because it was able to leave you with the proper sense that the main character's feelings on what is happening to him was resolved more or less, but the film literally leaves you hanging for much, much more closure on behalf of the fate of one Maurice Castle.

    That said there are some wonderful details featured throughout. From Robert Morley's delicious performance as the devious doctor whom the section employs for "physicals" of its employees, to the wedding reception at the easily cowed secion chief Richard Attenborough's house (wherein his shrew of an ex wife completely chastises him for breaking her precious ceramic owls) to the painting of boxes decorating the hotel walls where the villains meet in the first half to discuss what is to be done with their suspects to just about every scene featuring Derek Jacobi as the heavy drinking/no sweat colleague of Castle, there is much to be savored and enjoyed here...just don't expect any action or actual resolutions to the film's various plot points.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The failings of the film have been noted elsewhere - flat photography, poor lighting, some wooden acting (mainly Iman, but its her first role I believe and her poor acting skills did not bother me) and a general lack of raw emotion or activity. However if you are in the mood for a slow-paced spy talkie (with appalling 70's decor and some amazingly bad wallpaper), this is one for you. As usual, Robert Morley runs away with the film in its most colourful role - no matter how much you admire Nicol Willianson as the lead actor, the whole point of his character is that he appears restrained, bloodless and essentially dull. As with any GG novel, the morality is ambiguous with audience sympathies not lying where one would usually expect. And best of all, there is no happy ending. Much like with On the Waterfront for Elia Kazan, this film is probably an attempt to explain how sometimes people (with particular reference here presumably to Kim Philby, who was GG's friend and pro-Soviet double agent) undertake activities that others find difficult to understand.
  • Masterly British understatement, sang froid in the chilly corridors of secret service during the cold war. Superlative acting, as expected from a brilliant cast, does not fail to deliver the complexities and twists of a Graham Greene novel, equally well scripted by Tom Stoppard. The plot is not clever for cleverness sake but full of insight, dealing with many sensitive issues, personal and political. Yet the cast portray all this quite naturally, as people caught up in their professional and emotional dilemmas. Sound boring? Well it is entitled The Human Factor. Perhaps the ever shrinking attention span of the modern "culture" factory can account for this excellent movie's inexplicable disappearance. It's as pertinent and poignant now as ever. Must confess I saw it for the first time only a week ago on the telly.
  • robert-temple-112 August 2013
    This film should have been amazing. It is directed by Otto Preminger, from a novel by Graham Greene, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, and has a cast of famous actors. But it is bleak, vague, meandering and disappointing. And what is worse than that, it is boring. It does however feature a very strong central performance by Nicol Williamson, and is the closest I have seen on screen to what Nicol was really like in person. Of course, Nicol's greatest screen triumph was when he played the lead in the amazing film INADMISSABLE EVIDENCE (1968, play and screenplay by John Osborne, directed by Anthony Page). It is a tragedy that that film is not available on video or DVD, as it shows what a human powerhouse Nicol Williamson was at his very best. One reason why this film has less kick than it should is because Williamson's South African wife is played by a first-time actress, known by the single name of Iman. (She later became famous because she married David Bowie, though David Bowie is not someone I personally have the slightest interest in, I must say.) She is totally unconvincing as a South African because she is so obviously a Somali, which must be 3000 miles away and racially unrelated. Because of her inexperience, she was unable to cope with the part successfully, though she improved in later scenes. This created a kind of vacuum, so that Nicol had to flail around a bit and generate the tension on both sides, as Iman was so inert in many of her scenes. Preminger was 74 by this time and clearly lacking in energy. He did not shoot enough cutaways, allowed shockingly poor lighting to be tolerated, was content with too many badly-framed long shots, and seems just to have let things drift. The story lacks focus and much of the suspense appears to be simulated. It is far from being a high voltage story, much less film. Derek Jacobi does a good job in an early role. Ann Todd and John Gielgud appear briefly, but only as cameos. Richard Attenborough does well, but Robert Morley, although incredibly sinister as he is meant to be, is also way over the top, suggesting that Preminger may have nodded off in his director's chair during the shooting of those scenes. At the very least, Preminger should have reduced Morley's 'eyebrow wobble factor'. The ending is intentionally bleak, in true Greenian fashion, and comes as a shocking irony so extreme that it might almost be said to have been the point of the whole exercise, or perhaps Greene's wry comment on the spy game in general. Or is it life that gets Greene down? Or sin? Or God? Or the Church? Or whatever it is that he is always banging on about, like a perverse child who wants to stamp on his rosary and shout profanities in which divine names are compromised by rude contexts? In any case, we have better things to do than watch films which fall short of our expectations, don't we?
  • gridoon22 November 2000
    Nicol Williamson remains restrained throughout the film, yet his face is so expressive that it does mirror the emotions and thoughts of his character. His admirable performance elevates this otherwise flat, talky thriller, which definitely tries to be a non-taditional spy drama, in the spirit of "The Ipcress File", but doesn't even have the elementary excitement we expect from the genre. (**)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Otto Preminger's final film is actually really good (a surprise given his track record during his last decade of film-making). A British agent sacrifices everything and commits treason as a way of thanking the communists who helped get his wife and stepson out of South Africa. Preminger's direction has never been so lean (stark might be a better word), shooting virtually every scene from the floor up giving a real pessimistic feel to the film. The sparse use of music is another big plus. Nicol Williamson is the spy and he's efficient...his non-personality and lack of charisma are perfect for his everyman role. Iman is his wife and while clearly not an actress, her uneasiness lends itself nicely to her fish-out-of-water role. Preminger fills the supporting cast with a slew of classy Brits...Richard Attenborough as a security chief, Ann Todd as Williamson's bitchy mother, Robert Morley as a not so bright "doctor," and John Gielgud in a very brief role. Derek Jacobi is quite good as one of Williamson's peers, who finds himself taking the heat for a lot of Williamson's misdeeds. Tom Stoppard's script has a couple of choice scenes and some very funny dialog.
  • I recently saw this as part of the Graham Greene season on the BBC. I had been quite looking forward to it, given the quality of its cast, director and writer. Unfortunately its production values seemed to be on a par with contemporary television, apparently due to serious budget problems. Performances all round are not particularly good, even Attenbrough seems poor. Iman, in what I understand to be her first role, is embarrassingly bad. She struggles with most of her lines and has difficulty dealing with the most simple props such as telephones. Apparently Otto Preminger also bought the option on another Greene novel although it was never made. Greene, in an interview shown as part of the same season, commented that having seen "The Human Factor" he was glad he never adapted another of his books. I think, for the reputations of all concerned with this film it is best forgotten.
  • Graham Greene is one of the great writers of all time. The novel on which this film is based (same title)is one of his greatest books. How inexplicably sad, then, especially given the talent attached to this project, that the resulting film should be such a complete failure.

    Looking at it I can hardly believe that the often great Otto Preminger actually directed it. Perhaps it is a case of the medium (unfortunately television) being truly the message. For one thing there are almost no close ups; every scene is shot as if we are watching a play --- in a long master shot. Then there is the lighting, which is not film lighting at all, but illumination. It is as if the lighting cameraman were someone hired from a lighting warehouse --- he seems to want to light every scene so brightly that it would be possible to read the fine print of a Hollywood contract in every corner of the set. When I read the book in my mind it was taking place in a dark world a la the film world of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. How much better having the lighting cameraman from that film on this job...

    Tom Stopard take the "credit" for the insipid screenplay. Stopard has done great things in the past, but this job he must have phoned in. While capturing the plot of the book in a rather disturbing telescopic way, he loses the mood, the characters and worst of all the humor. Greene is an enormously funny writer to read. Stopard lost all of it. He did make a pathetic attempt to transfer one of Greene's jokes concerning some kids' chocolate treats called Maltesers, but even then while Greene makes it droll, the filmed version of the joke falls on its face in its broad, on-the-nose literalness.

    A great cast of actors were unable to do anything with this mess. And there is not one moment of believable sexual energy going on between Nicol Williamson and the black girl he basically sacrifices his career for. Even Robert Morely fails to get into the sinister Dr. Percival character, who in the book becomes a kind of symbol for the moral compromises the sincere Cold Warrior was willing to make. Morley's Percival is just a murderous dolt.

    All that being said, if you loved the book this is (so far) the only film version of the story and you probably would enjoy seeing it. Just be ready for the disappointment.
  • MrOllie3 April 2012
    I am not sure what attracted actors of the calibre of Nicol Williamson, Derek Jacobi and Richard Attenborough to star in this film apart from I suppose, that it was directed by Otto Preminger. It is a very low key film with no action and no suspense. The story is about a double agent working inside the British Secret Service and attempts by Richard Attenborough and others to find out who it is. Nicol Williamson's character Maurice who works for British Intelligence, is very polite and well mannered throughout proceedings and shows little, if any emotion to events. Richard Attenborough as Col. Daintry appears easily bullied by everyone, even his ex-wife who throws a wobbly at him after he breaks one of her ceramic owls. Poor old Derek Jacobi is bumped off in error by Robert Morley who plays Dr.Percival because he and the boss of the Secret Service think that he is the double agent. A huge collection of British character actors keep popping up throughout the film including John Gielgud who makes a brief appearance at the start of the movie but is not seen again. I thought the opening music was strange with two Spanish guitars twanging away conjuring up visions of haciendas and bullfights. Overall, I thought this a very odd movie but am glad to have watched it.
  • holdie10 February 2007
    Greene's novel is reduced to a commonplace, wooden, largely flatly acted anecdote. Morley's sinister performance is an exception, but even Morley is unable to impart a little life and leaven to a film that is, yes, intended to take away some of the meretricious glamour of most films in this genre, but the fact that life in the spying business must be a bit of a bore, and the people in it largely pathological, does not excuse making a boring film about it. Iman's performance is wooden and uncomprehending almost to the point of comedy. The pathos intrinsic to the material as conceived by Greene is utterly absent from this film; as you reflect on it after the film grinds to a thoroughly awkward halt, you see how much might have been done with it, and how little actually was. Critics are reluctant to trash a movie whose director, writer, actors, etc. have done brilliant work in the past, but this is a film saved from being thoroughly bad by a few striking moments. Read the book instead.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Synopsis: Nicol Williamson stars as a middle-aged employee of the British secret service. His house is in some fancy suburb of London seemingly near the countryside, and he bicycles(!) to work. He lives with his much younger wife, who is black. The whole plot turns on the suspicion of a double agent somewhere in the firm, and finding out who it is. It is at first suspected to be Williamson's friend, a rather sweet, guileless man played by Derek Jacobi. The plot thickens from there.

    Sounds like Le Carre, doesn't it? Actually it is very like Le Carre, but its also much less dense and easier to follow than Le Carre's work (which i mostly adore, but am rarely able to finish a novel by him and tell anyone anything about what happened). There are many commendable things about this film, but it is finally too flawed to be at all satisfying. At its best, it has a dreary Antonioniesque nausea to it. However, Graham Greene was, I think, a notch or two below Le Carre, talent-wise, in terms of spy novels and sheer dramatic power, anyway, and what drama there is is further undermined by an increasing reliance on the non-existent acting skills of the model Iman, as Williamson's wife, who unfortunately becomes a focal point of the drama more and more as the film goes on. The film's conclusion would probably be a pretty lame cutting-off point no matter who was playing the role, though. Although the cinematography is far from Preminger's most beautiful (see Bunny Lake is Missing), his camera movement still has that superbly American sense of drama, intelligence and inquisitiveness that was his trademark. Another late-Preminger trademark, from what i gather, was putting older actors in weird sexual situations, and here we get to see Robert Morley at a strip club. It's quite funny to see his patented Robert Morley leer in this context. Morley plays one of Williamson's bosses, a rather evil man, finally, who ruthlessly exterminates at least one person who he thinks is the mole *** SPOILER ALERT SORT OF *** but who later turns out not to be.
  • Maurice Castle (Nicol Williamson) is a bland mid-level bureaucrat in British intelligence. The only notable fact about him is his African wife Sarah (Iman). His superiors suspect a leak in the firm and decide to quietly eliminate the mole to avoid any publicity. Castle's office mate Arthur Davis (Derek Jacobi) becomes the main target of investigation.

    Otto Preminger directs this realistic espionage thriller from a Graham Greene novel with many veteran British actors. With such great pedigree, I expected a great classic but this is definitely second tier level. It does get better in the second half. The first half is a slow slough. Maurice's blandness works against the film during that first half. In fact, he's a side character in his own movie. The production value is limited. This looks more like a TV movie. Preminger is really struggling even considering the budget. The filming is not imaginative and very static. It's almost a throwback to the early black and white movies. The only salvation is the Graham Greene writing which has a sense of realism which is very intriguing. This is a little disappointing.
  • I was really surprised to see that Tom Stoppard had done the screenplay for this film, as the narrative structure seemed very clumsy and inarticulate.

    The plot itself was interesting enough, even if the storyline was pretty obvious from fairly early on.

    Robert Morley - despite being an utterly improbable character - is worth the price of admission alone. And Jacobi's 'innocent' brings a certain pathos to events.

    The ending, whilst superficially weak, was all that you might expect from a Graham Greene book - i.e. morally amiguous and unresolved.

    Whilst somehat clumsy, I think that this film is worth seeing and holds the attention well enough.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Based on a novel by Graham Greene, THE HUMAN FACTOR was made as a response to the James Bond films, depicting the business of spying as much more down to Earth and far less glamorous as seen in the Hollywood franchise. With the Cold War as a backdrop, this film reveals the humdrum lives of those in the British spy business, with Nicol Williamson, Richard Attenborough, Derek Jacobi, and Robert Morley making up the numbers as the men fighting to keep their country safe. Mischief arises when it turns out that one of their number is a traitor, and the rest of the film follows up the subsequent investigations. Although it goes on a bit too long and isn't the most exciting film out there, I found much to like about THE HUMAN FACTOR. Otto Preminger's direction is realistic and assured and the ensemble actors are exemplary, as you'd expect, with Williamson in particular shining as the conflicted protagonist.
  • I watched this because it was on a BBC TV channel and so would not contain any adverts; it was also conveniently short. I expected nothing and all the way through I got nothing. I might even have dozed a little, but fortunately had it on record. I thought the lead actor was too tall and his wife was too thin, and neither of them, or anyone else in the film tried to act: very much as though they were on the stage. I vaguely recognized some of the actors and I read somewhere it was directed by Preminger, who had made some of the truly outstanding films of my youth. It ended and I went to bed, just a little puzzled. And then I couldn't sleep. I gradually came to realize I had been fooled. The cunning bastard had sneaked an amazing missile under my indolence and wrecked my life for a while. If you don't want to be grabbed and tormented, then don't watch this film.