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The Looking Glass War (1969)

M  -  Action | Thriller | Drama  -  September 1969 (UK)
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Ratings: 6.0/10 from 594 users  
Reviews: 15 user | 7 critic

From the John le Carre novel about a British spy who sends a Polish defector to East Germany to verify missile sites.


(as Frank R. Pierson)


(novel), (written for the screen by)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Christopher Jones ...
Pia Degermark ...
The Girl
Paul Rogers ...
Undersecretary of State
Robert Urquhart ...
Avery's Wife
Vivian Pickles ...
Mrs. King
Maxine Audley ...
Mrs. LeClerc
Cyril Shaps ...
East German Detective
Michael Robbins ...
Truck Driver
Frederick Jaeger ...
The Pilot


During the Cold War, the British Intelligence receives a blurred photograph from East Germany taken from Hamburg and Director LeClerc believes that they are missiles. Their agent Taylor King, who receives a film that might clarify the detail from a pilot in Finland, is found dead on the road and the police believe that he was accidentally killed in a hit-and-run. LeClerc meets the Polish defector Fred Leiser, who jumped overboard from a ship expecting to have asylum and stay with his British girlfriend that is pregnant, and decides to recruit him to cross the border and spy the Eat German facility to check the missiles. In return, he would have salary, insurance and political asylum. Leiser is trained by the agent and family man John Avery and soon he finds that his girlfriend has had an abortion. When Leiser crosses the border, he stumbles with the local Anna and they stay together in the beginning of a dangerous journey where he is just a pawn in a war game. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


"Why do we listen to them? Why do we fight their wars for them?"


Action | Thriller | Drama


M | See all certifications »





Release Date:

September 1969 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

A Guerra no Espelho  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Ian Cullen was also favored to play Johnson, the part going to Robert Urquhart. See more »


After Lieser slaps his girlfriend, he walks out of the room leaving the door open and the girl just stays still on the bed. When Avery goes to check if the girl is alright, the door is closed (so he knocks to get in) and the girl was in the same position she was before. See more »


John Avery: [wondering why Lieser would want to be part of the mission] Why would he do it?
LeClerc: Biology. Men change their politics but sex, sex is something you can depend upon.
See more »


Referenced in The Ring (2002) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Not good enough
11 March 2014 | by (São Paulo, Brazil) – See all my reviews

The Cold War era was highly resourceful with fictional (sometimes real) material, books and movies on espionage, ranging from cheap or fun entertainment to complicated and intricate plots full of suspense. John Le Carré is a master of the latter, at least when it comes to writing novels, and usually they turn into great movies, let us not forget the recent "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", not only a resurrection of the genre but it also was a complete modernization in style, treatment and editing without losing the looks and the good old charm of the 1960's and 1970's productions (and I can't wait for Alfredson/Oldman re-team in "Smiley's People", though they're jumping my favorite from Karla Trilogy "The Honorable Schoolboy" because it's just too long and too complex to be filmed, and not even BBC produced it as a miniseries during the Alec Guinness era as Smiley). So, "The Looking Glass War" broke my heart because it's unlike anything made Le Carré; first time director Frank Pierson didn't make a good adaptation over with an oversimplification of what could be a good story if elements were preserved and I couldn't care for the characters, too simple and badly written.

And they couldn't get a more clichéd story: the British intelligence discovers that the Soviet Union is relocating some missiles, and in order to ruin their plans the command decide to send a spy from one German to another to mess with everything. The chosen one is the mysterious Leiser (Christopher Jones, dubbed here by another actor, who sounds exactly like James Dean), not a traditional secret agent, he's simply a dangerous German type they got out of prison. In trade for his cooperation, he's gonna be able help his pregnant girlfriend, now protect the MI6, Circus or whatever.

Lieser's protégé, trainer and mentor in this mission is John Avery (Anthony Hopkins, the best thing in this movie), a man who is fully committed with his job and tasks, eventually sacrificing his quiet family life. After some strangeness between both men, they finally agree with each other and now Avery might be the only person capable of protecting Lieser if anything goes wrong. And off the young man goes to Germany in risky situations.

What bothered me wasn't the lack of surprises due to its awfully clichéd proposition and engineering of situations; the problem lies in the characters, completely one dimensional, unlikeable and lacking in real reasoning for their motivations or they're reduced to one basic premise - to defeat the Soviet villains; Lieser, the anti-hero is just a hard-faced killing machine who doesn't generate any kind of sympathy from the audience. It's really difficult to understand why he's going to this suicide mission - the reason I wrote above isn't one of them as evidenced when he slaps his girlfriend during a simple conversation. Worst of all, he has zero charisma, his thick accent complicates things even more, only saves that the man is a real hunky.

Though I haven't read the novel, I know that veteran spy George Smiley (Le Carré's most famous creation) is in it, very briefly. I don't know how important he is in the story but we could use his brilliancy and wisdom in this movie, he's always interesting despite the melancholia and his whispered speech manner. But then again, nothing could have saved this movie: the pace is wrong; the foggy and mysterious sceneries from classics like "The Man Who Came In From the Cold" are changed to colorful prairies and beaches, exuberant but very misplaced; and here's a story about almost nothing. In the end, it's all about betrayal and getting rid off an unpleasant person to a dead mission. So what? There's no resonance in that, there's no profoundity in that. It's useless. It feels like Mr. Pierson wanted to give us an ordinary and poor view to the meticulous and intriguing world of Le Carré. Result: weak movie with enjoyable parts. 5/10

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