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  Deadly Affair, The Keep The Game Alive
Year: 1966
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: James Mason, Simone Signoret, Maximilian Schell, Harriet Andersson, Harry Andrews, Kenneth Haigh, Roy Kinnear, Max Adrian, Lynn Redgrave, Robert Flemyng, Leslie Sands, Corin Redgrave, David Warner, Timothy West, Michael Bryant, Stanley Lebor
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Earlier today, British secret service agent Charles Dobbs (James Mason) had met with a foreign office employee, Fennan (Robert Flemyng), with a view to clearing up a matter about his past. It seemed that there had been an anonymous letter received by the office that said he had been a member of the Communist Party while at Oxford University, and such allegations have to be investigated, so Dobbs invited him for a walk by the river where he could put his defence. Satisfied that Fennan provided no threat, Dobbs reported back, but tonight he has just received a telephone call to tell him that Fennan has committed suicide...

If the character of Charles Dobbs seems familiar, it is because in the pages of John le Carré's original novel, Call for the Dead, he was actually George Smiley. Yes, that character is better known in his television incarnation as brought to us by Alec Guinness, but James Mason got there first, and in a rather more emotional state what with Dobb's marriage breaking down and him trying his best to get along with his wife Ann (Harriet Andersson) in spite of their crumbling relationship. It's this marital strife that was intended to bring depth to a spy some way removed from James Bond, but so much so that you may be reminded of other British films.

Specifically the kitchen sink dramas of the same decade, as the domestic troubles prove more distracting than enriching, and with Freddie Young implementing a process to make the film look as unglamorous as possible, the atmosphere of unleavened gloom can be pretty hard to take over the best part of two hours. Le Carré purists had mixed feelings about this adaptation, which is probably why it has been largely forgotten about, but it does have its good qualities, and much of that comes from the acting and director Sidney Lumet's confident way with his cast. It might be strange to think of this New York director handling such British material, but he accomplishes it very well.

The most common complaint for those who have not read the book this was based on is that the film is unduly complicated, but scriptwriter Paul Dehn does attempt to ameliorate any confusion by having Dobbs explain the plot every so often, so we can tell why that chap has been bumped off, and precisely what that relationship has to do with the overall conspiracy. As it turns out, that conspiracy comes across as almost minor, as if passing state secrets was small beer in comparison to betraying friends or spouses, but that's the influence of the domestic once again. As it is, you keep watching because Mason is so compelling, frustrated, sorrowful and wanting to lash out but unsure where.

He does eventually allow his emotions to get the better of him, but only for the ending and the impression is that he regrets almost everything this case has brought upon his head. His investigation brings him to Fennan's wife Elsa (Simone Signoret), a Nazi concentration camp survivor whose jaded view of life might have involved her further into espionage than she can cope with. Dobbs also teams up with a sleepy inspector called Mendel, providing Harry Andrews with one of his best roles as his dogged determination to stick to the facts as he can find them proves very profitable. The array of thesps assembled here assist in keeping the human element alive in what could have simply been dry and depressing, and while they don't quite stave off those reactions the intrigue and sheer dejection of life in the spy game it depicts have rarely been so convincing. Music by Quincy Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Sidney Lumet  (1925 - 2011)

Esteemed American director who after a background in theatre moved into television from where he went on to be the five times Oscar nominated filmmaker behind some of the most intelligent films ever to come out of America. His 1957 debut for the big screen, 12 Angry Men, is still a landmark, and he proceeded to electrify and engross cinema audiences with The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, Cold War drama Fail-Safe, The Hill, The Group, The Deadly Affair, The Offence, definitive cop corruption drama Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (another great Al Pacino role), Network, Equus, Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running On Empty and his final film, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Often working in the UK, he also brought his adopted home town of New York to films, an indelible part of its movies for the best part of fifty years.

 
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