The murder of a Soviet defector forces his old handler, British spymaster George Smiley, out of retirement. His investigation leads to an old nemesis, the Soviet spymaster known only as Karla. This will be their final dance.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Le Carre had wanted Trevor Howard or Peter Finch to star, but he was delighted with Richard Burton's portrayal of Alec Leamas. 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 »
Well, they returned you to me. I'm so grateful. So grateful! I cut tonight's party meeting.
Oh, well, well! Thank you for putting me above history.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest spy film ever made.
You can check my voting history to see how rarely I give out perfect 10s. But this film truly deserves the honor.
I hesitate to call it a spy movie because it's nothing like any spy movie I've ever seen. There are no hi tech gadgets, shoe phones and sexy Russian agents. There are no fantastic plots to recover microfilm hidden in the crown jewels. The hero doesn't even carry a gun. Instead the battle is fought with pure intelligence, political manipulation and trickery. This is what true espionage is about, the way WWII history books tell us. In the same way Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" broke the rules of the scifi stereotype, this film did the same with the spy genre.
I won't say anything about the plot except that it requires your full attention. Things are not spelled out for us, and it requires a bit of work to piece it together, but that makes the payoff all the more stunning. This movie reads as if it were a book (which may be good or bad depending on how you like your movies). But I assure you it's not boring. I found myself whispering after every scene "This is so freaking cool! How much cooler can it get?" The answer: much.
The acting is flawless. Richard Burton is perfect as the cynical, faithless enigma who hides his mission so well even we can't guess what he's up to. Claire Bloom is equally convincing as the clueless but intelligent bystander. Oskar Werner, in the greatest role I've seen him play, is both chilling and magnetic as the interrogator. Even the minor roles were expertly played.
The script is so clever I highly recommend watching the film with subtitles so that you don't miss any of the great lines and wit. It may also help you keep up with the plot which, as I said, can be tricky.
Sol Kaplan's musical score is sparse but very effective in maintaining the heavy mood. The piano pieces really make you feel the weight of the dreary, cold war era. And the lack of music during tense scenes is equally powerful.
And that brings me to my favourite part of the film: the amazing camera work, cinematography and lighting. This is one of those films that makes you realize that black&white isn't just a choice of film; it's an entire art form unto itself. Darkness and light, sharpness and haze, shadows and contrast are used to the fullest. But it's not obnoxiously done like a 2nd year film student might do. No, everything flows naturally so a layperson can enjoy the scenery just as much as a cinema geek.
And there you have it; nothing but praise from me. The only problem is that it has ruined all the other spy films and political thrillers for me.
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