Alec Leamas, a British spy is sent to East Germany supposedly to defect, but in fact to sow disinformation. As more plot turns appear, Leamas becomes more convinced that his own people see him as just a cog. His struggle back from dehumanization becomes the final focus of the story. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
John le Carré said in an interview with The Guardian 13th April 2013: "I wrote 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' at the age of 30 under intense, unshared, personal stress, and in extreme privacy. As an intelligence officer in the guise of a junior diplomat at the British Embassy in Bonn, I was a secret to my colleagues, and much of the time to myself. I had written a couple of earlier novels, necessarily under a pseudonym, and my employing service had approved them before publication. After lengthy soul-searching, they had also approved 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold'. To this day, I don't know what I would have done if they hadn't." See more »
In his defense speech of Mundt, the East German defense attorney (played by George Voskovec) states "Smiley was indeed Leamas's friend. He was also a planner in the section called Satellites Four, which operates behind the Iron Curtain." The term "Iron Curtain" would not have been used by officials of East Germany or other Soviet bloc countries to refer to the east-west divide. Originally created by Winston Churchill, the phrase "behind the Iron Curtain" became a disparaging characterization of the east bloc countries and their socialist systems. It was seen as serving to keep people in and information out, and people mostly throughout the West used the metaphor in that context. See more »
[Approaching Leamas who is sitting on a bench]
Do you like birds? The ones with the white collars are wild. The others are domesticated. With people it's the other way around.
Bird-watching's one of my hobbies. I often come here.
Do you also often come to Wormwood Scrubs Prison at eight o'clock in the morning to watch birds?
Yes, jailbirds. They're my other hobby.
Only the young ones, surely!
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Having just read LeCarré's first novel, 'Call for the Dead', I am now appreciating his third novel 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold' even more. This film adaptation directed by Martin Ritt is a fine preamble to the masterful BBC series 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' and 'Smiley's People'. One of the joys of LeCarré's novels is that many characters return again and again. Mundt, the "villain" in 'Spy...' first appears in 'Call..' and as usual LeCarré wraps up a few loose ends from the previous story.
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.
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