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  Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Another Brick In The Wall
Year: 1965
Director: Martin Ritt
Stars: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Sam Wanamaker, George Voskevec, Rupert Davies, Cyril Cusack, Peter van Eyck, Michael Hordern, Robert Hardy, Bernard Lee, Beatrix Lehmann, Esmond Knight, Tom Stern, Niall MacGinnis, Warren Mitchell
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) is what you would probably term a spy, for the British Secret Service, currently working in Berlin not long after the dividing wall has been built. Tonight he is at Checkpoint Charlie, the way out of the East and into the West, and has been waiting all night for a defector who has not shown up. Cups of coffee laced with whisky keep him warm, but eventually he hears word that the man in question is showing his forged papers to the guards on the Eastern side, and Leamas walks over to prepare to meet him. Yet as he does so, shouts are heard and shots ring out: the defector tries to escape on his bicycle, but it's too late, he is gunned down.

The first adaptation of a John Le Carre novel was this Hollywood-funded production, based on the book that really began to get him noticed as word got out of his background in real-life espionage, indeed he was still working for the secret service when he wrote it, though his success as an author eventually enabled him to give up that life and turn professional. Always presented as an antidote to the far more over the top excitements of the James Bond franchise, Ian Fleming's creation was never remotely realistic in comparison to Le Carre's efforts, which underlined that your average spy was not some glamorous hunk with a line in smooth talk, efficient violence and cultured tastes.

Nope, Le Carre's spooks were far more like the real thing, desperate little men who lived furtive lives, eccentrics who were driven either by a strong sense of sacrifice for their country or the strange enticements of knowing more about what was happening behind the scenes of international politics, the specialist knowledge a major aspect of their lives of bugs, going undercover, tuning in to numbers stations and the like. Though the Cold War is long over, something the spy community on either side of the Iron Curtain never predicted, spies still have jobs in the twenty-first century, which probably explains the world public's enduring fascination with these shady, obsessive men and women.

By all accounts, star Burton and director Martin Ritt did not get on, ostensibly because the American resented the Welshman's new wife, Elizabeth Taylor, grandly swanning around the sets and getting in the way of the shoot, though the fact that Ritt beat Burton to securing the rights to the source material could not have helped. Nevertheless, the star compensated by ensuring his old theatrical buddies were given parts in the film, though he cannot have been behind the decision to cast Claire Bloom as the librarian Leamas uses as a cover story to ingratiate himself with the Soviets: the two thespians had had an intense affair some time before, when they were treading the boards, which apparently made Taylor more paranoid than ever about her husband's infamously wandering eye for the ladies.

The studio even went as far as hiring Le Carre to oversee the scenes, though according to him he was actually there to make certain Burton was upright enough to speak his lines, the actor well into the alcoholism that would gradually end his life. Therefore you had a film about murky politics, alcoholism, sexual exploitation and double crossings that was created out of a process which featured all those things in reality, which may be why the results were so acclaimed for their authenticity, mostly by people who had learned all they knew about the spy game from reading Le Carre. That ring of truth about his stories garnered him so much respect that it perhaps obscured the relentless gloom preventing them from becoming effective escapism as the Bond influence was, and this was no exception, leading up to a massive downer of a conclusion where nobody is satisfied, aside from those who like to leave a movie feeling depressed. Impeccably acted - the often-mannered Burton proved his worth as a screen star, and his exchanges with East German opposite number Oskar Werner crackled with tension and anger - but kind of difficult to enjoy, richly photographed as it was. Music by Sol Kaplan.

[Eureka release this on Blu-ray with the following special features:

Limited Edition Exclusive O-Card slipcase with new artwork by artist Gregory Sacre (Gokaiju) | 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restored high-definition digital transfer | Uncompressed LPCM Stereo audio | Optional English SDH | Brand new audio commentary with film scholar Adrian Martin | Brand new video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns | PLUS: A 48 PAGE collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Richard Combs; and a number of archival pieces and imagery.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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