The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Poster

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Not an easy film - neither was the Cold War
blanche-213 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Richard Burton is "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," in a 1965 film also starring Claire Bloom, Oscar Werner, Sam Wanamaker and Peter van Eyck. It's told in the days of Checkpoint Charlie, East and West Berlin, and spies. There are still spies; the rest have gone with the unification of East and West Berlin once more.

Burton plays a British spy named Leamas who is at the end of his career. He takes an assignment to bring down an East German spy named Mundt and have him exposed as a traitor. Actually, it's a double whammy; Mundt is actually a spy who has infiltrated the East German ring and is unfortunately under suspicion and about to be exposed. So Leamas is to expose him and then be proved a liar so that Mundt's position is secure.

To come to the attention of the East Germans, Leamas is to pretend he's an alcoholic (and how much pretending this involves is up to the audience - maybe none), out of his job, and just out of prison after beating up a grocer (which he does so he can get arrested). He is naturally recruited by East German agents - first initially approached by a gay man who claims to represent a charitable organization. Though it's not stated that the man is gay, the dialogue makes no mistake about it. Hello '60s. Bit by bit he is introduced to the East German ring.

"The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is based on a John LeCarre novel. Unlike James Bond and his imitator Austin Powers, there is only one woman, played by Claire Bloom, who is an avowed Communist with whom Leamas becomes involved. There are no fancy spy instruments, no tuxes, no glamour, no fun. What the film offers more than anything is atmosphere - and it's a rotten one, chronically without sunlight, filled with depressing streets, dank alleys, and old buildings. One feels the chill in the air and the lack of true friendliness or warmth in this colorless world. It's depressing for the characters and equally depressing for the audience. That's the point.

The acting is superb. Oskar Werner plays a Jew named Fielder, and as one of the greatest actors to ever appear in film, he doesn't disappoint. (As a bit of trivia, Werner had a connection to Hollywood's Golden Era as the husband of Tyrone Power's stepdaughter Anne.) The beautiful Bloom is wonderful as an idealist doomed to disappointment. Peter Van Eyck is appropriately brutal as Mundt. No one really makes a wrong move.

Richard Burton was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Leamas. What a strange year that was, with Lee Marvin winning for "Cat Ballou" probably playing a role he could do in his sleep, while Burton lost for this and Olivier lost for "Othello!" One might think the Academy would have been embarrassed, but no - later on, they gave an Oscar to John Wayne instead of Burton, Peter O'Toole, Dustin Hoffman or Jon Voight. This is not to negate the presence and talents of Wayne and Marvin, which were considerable. But it does say something sad about the Academy Awards that Richard Burton went to his death with 7 nominations and no Oscar. He is truly magnificent in this role as an empty man who keeps in control despite seething anger underneath and whose stares say more than any script could. In many ways Burton never lived up to his potential as an actor. His marriage to Elizabeth Taylor brought him a fame and stardom he could never have dreamed of growing up as a poor child in Wales, but it kept him from doing more theater. Had he lived, he would have done more stage work, moved into different roles in film, and taken his place alongside actors such as Sir Anthony Hopkins. As it is, he has given us some truly great performances - Shannon in Night of the Iguana, George in Virginia Woolf, and Leamas being three of his best.

"The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" makes a depressing statement. Don't watch it if you're feeling down. If you're feeling strong, you'll find it fascinating.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest spy film ever made.
rooprect11 March 2010
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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Cold isn't the word for it
burgbob97523 May 2002
Warning: Spoilers
For reasons we may never know, Richard Burton did his most inspired work when cast as a suffering or doomed character in pictures such as Becket, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, and Night of the Iguana. As the burnt-out British spy, Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, his suffering practically becomes an alternate and truer language than mere speech. Burton portrays Leamas so effectively that you can't help but wonder what sort of depths within his being supply the peculiar energy needed for portrayals of this kind. His performance is so powerful that it would be wrong to say that watching him is a great pleasure; that would be like saying you enjoy the sight of a large animal slowly tearing itself to pieces before your eyes.

The film as a whole is relentlessly grim from start to finish, and is miles from James Bond territory. Not only is it shot in black and white, but there isn't a single scene blessed with sunlight. Such was director Martin Ritt's determination to create not merely a portrait of one man in his own personal hell, but to imply that under the conditions of cold war, life in western civilization is apt to be psychically deadening for all. Throughout, the condition of being almost permanently cold seems to be fundamental to Spy, so that by the time the film ends you want to consume a stiff hot drink and hug someone.

The plot is this: Leamas returns to Britain after a fatally botched operation in Berlin, shaken and despondent, but wanting to go back out into the field (probably in part to redeem himself in his own eyes). Control, the head of the spy organization, asks him to participate in a scheme to destroy Mundt, their East German enemy. Leamas's assignment is to pretend to have been thrown out of his job and appear to go completely to seed, leaving himself open to recruitment by East German agents in London, who quickly make their appearance on cue. The rest of the movie follows Leamas as he's lured by stages to East Germany, and ultimately brought to the realization that he's been nothing but a pawn used by both sides to accomplish Byzantine ends that he couldn't see coming.

What particularly intrigues me about all this is whether Leamas merely impersonates someone who goes to seed or actually does so after a lifetime of spying. Was he an alcoholic by the time he got this assignment, or was he only pretending to be? Did the strain of months of intentional impersonation as a drunken, defrocked agent unexpectedly take hold of him and hasten a downward slide? The film is never clear on this.

Aside from Burton, Spy offers a slew of notable British and German actors in supporting roles. Cyril Cusack as Leamas's chief is onscreen for only two brief periods, yet it's hard to take your eyes off this wily Irishman, so soft-spoken and detached as he calmly explains how he's going to spin his web to catch Mundt. In his quiet way, Cusack comes close to stealing the scenes he shares with Burton-an impossibility for any ordinary supporting actor. Claire Bloom plays an unmarried woman, an openly and sincerely devoted communist who befriends Leamas when he goes to work in the small library where she's employed. Michael Hordern, a British treasure, is a recruiter for the East German spy ring and makes Leamas's acquaintance when the latter finishes a brief prison term for savagely beating a grocer (in order to attract the East Germans' attention to himself). Hordern's character is a sensitive old queen, and Leamas is sarcastically contemptuous of him, making a series of cutting remarks that would not be politically correct nowadays. Oscar Werner, one of the most appealing film actors of the 20th century (Interlude, The Shoes of the Fisherman, Jules and Jim, Fahrenheit 451, Ship of Fools), gives another of his many impressive performances as a dedicated East German Communist who slowly forms a liking for Leamas; and Peter Van Eyck (whom you've seen playing Nazis in dozens of films) as his brutal superior, Mundt, is unpleasantly convincing as someone quite ready to destroy anyone standing in his way.

Spy, based on John LeCarré's first great espionage novel, is one of the most tightly constructed motion pictures I've ever seen. It doesn't have a wasted frame of film, never yields an inch nor gives the audience a break, and doesn't falter in its view of a career in espionage as damaging and inhuman. Everyone involved is exploited, corrupted, treacherous, or at least disillusioned, and the ones who aren't are usually murdered. Lies are the lingua franca of the people who populate this movie. There are no personal triumphs, not even of spirit remaining triumphant over loss, and the ending remains one of the classic downers in the history of sound films. This was a movie whose makers risked bad-mouth publicity and the loss of audiences. Executives at Paramount, the company that produced it, must have suffered night sweats before the reviews came out.

Made more than 30 years ago, the movie has lost none of its power to emotionally affect audiences. Martin Ritt, whose own career had been temporarily ruined by the Communist witch hunt during the McCarthy era, had a feeling of sympathy for doomed, burnt-out losers caught in a system or situation not (usually) of their own making, struggling to no avail, then ultimately being swallowed up or simply discarded (cf. The Great White Hope, Hud, The Front, and No Down Payment). After several years, Ritt managed to re-establish himself in Hollywood; many others who were driven out of their jobs were unable to ever come back.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is a classic of its kind. In terms of its economy of presentation, it could be profitably studied by many of today's filmmakers as a lesson in masterly, well-honed, adult filmmaking.
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Gets better and better over the years
pekinman9 June 2005
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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One of the best films ever made
michael-dixon211 June 2006
I have unreserved enthusiasm for this film having watched it on many occasions and yet to find a fault. Indeed it only gets better. It is so atmospheric, with Director Martin Ritt, his designers and photographers, all superb. You really feel you are either in a typical 1960's corner shop in London, a prison in East Germany or a communist safe-house in Scandanavia.

It has always been my view that once it is established the leading actor in any film is on top form, which certainly applies to Burton and the script is accepted as good, then it is the support actors who determine whether a film is going to reach excellence. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold has an absolutely first-class range of actors at the very top of their profession. The casting is magnificent and each of them has a meaningful part to play in this film, enabling them to bring their own special qualities to every role.

The list of talent is endless and includes Claire Bloom playing the naive young communist, Nan, who befriends Leamas, Michael Hordern, Robert Hardy, Sam Wanamaker, Peter Van Eyck who was very good as Hans Dieter Munt, the very sinister head of the East German Secret Police, the brilliant Cyril Cussack and Bernard Lee. My own particular favourite in the film, however, is the excellent Oskar Werner who portrays Fiedler, Deputy to Munt, who despite this and his fanatical belief in communism, is suspected and despised by his own organisation because he is Jewish.

But of course it is Burton who is the central part to the film and he plays the downbeat spy, Alec Leamas, to perfection, in what must be one of the best performances of his film career. Burton is Leamas and Leamas is Burton. He is brilliant and I cannot imagine the author of the book, John Le Carre, being anything than very impressed with Burton's interpretation of his character.

The film is well worthy of being watched either by those who have not seen it before, or by others who have to appreciate it once again. It is of course from a by-gone era when communism was an ideology followed by millions and opposed by many millions more besides. It was perceived by many as a fight to the death, hence the tension which Martin Ritt and his team magnificently captures.

It may well be a film depicting another era but I have no doubt there will be many operators just like Alec Leamas in our modern-day secret service, just as cynical about making a living in the seedy world in which they inhabit. The story comfortably defies the passing of time, while the quality of acting will be appreciated indefinitely such is the very high standard.

Michael Dixon, Sunderland, England.
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If only more spy movies were like this.....
anurag-sharma1 June 2005
It's truly refreshing to see a spy movie which does not involve fast cars, bikini clad women, super heroes etc. This movie shows how spies are used and discarded. The main character cannot perform stunning stunts while doing one hand push ups. He is just your average Joe who drinks too much and knows that there is no escape from his profession which he seems to hate. The idealism of young people seems to depress him even more which he rips apart towards the end (the highlight of the movie). The bleak look of the movie (it's in B&W) gives it even more of an authentic look and sets the mood for the viewer.

There are no explosions, no car chases, no sweeping a woman off her feet......just plain, simple story telling.
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Best spy movie of the 1960s
x_hydra21 December 2004
So many poor Cold War spy movies were made in the 1960s, ranging from shtick to schlock. This one is a standout -- great acting, great atmosphere, great plot. It's darker, grittier, and more realistic than any other films of this genre from the mid-60s, and wears even better with age (no "mind control machines" or other ridiculous retro gadgets).

Le Carré is often credited for making the spy novel transcend genre fiction and enter into the realm of literature. It is apt that a similar statement can be said about a movie based on Le Carré; it moves beyond "spy movie" into brilliant cinema. Heavily recommended.
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Grim, just as it should be
glennser7 September 2004
I read the book about three years ago and was prepared to be disappointed with the feature as it's a grim book and I thought they'd soften it a little, the movie is excellent though, they made a couple of changes but all for the best, anyone who thinks spying was/is a glamorous occupation should check the film out, LeCarre actually worked as a spy too which adds weight to his dark and realistic (in my opinion)view of this filthy job. My favourite feature of the film is the contempt with which each of the communist spies treats his inferiors as the chain of command is followed, it's a beautiful touch which I don't remember from the book, and by the time Leamass starts laughing at it I was right there with him. I loved this film and can't recommend it enough, Burton is brilliant, some of his cold stares as things start going bad are magnificent, and of course he plays a great drunk... it's a nice script too.
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Is that right?
pmw10041 March 2010
The last reviewer wrote: Burton is cast as Alex Leamas, a nerve-dead, aged secret operative operating out of West Berlin. After a routine assignment goes awry, Leamas is sent home and out of the service. He struggles to try to live a normal, average life as a librarian's assistant, but he can't make it work for him (something that is not helped by his chronic alcoholism). This fact is made forcefully clear when he winds up beating a local grocer and is sentenced to jail time. Slowly but surely, he allows himself to be pulled back into the Cold War he operated in, not suspecting or maybe not even caring that his superiors are setting him up for a fall.

I think this is wrong. I believe the Burton character, Leamas, working with his UK spy agency, pretends to be kicked out of the spy service and acts as if he is going to seed so he can be "turned" by the enemy and complete his secret mission.

Regardless, it's a great film with a great performance by Burton as the world-weary spy who has seen it all, and Claire Bloom as the idealistic UK communist party member who has no idea how ugly it is out there.
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The great Richard Burton performance no one saw...
keihan16 July 2000
It seems to me as though no one remembers this film. In fact, I think that it would be fair to say that I wouldn't have become intrigued enough by it to finally rent if I hadn't seen just the briefest of clips of it on an ABC news broadcast. When I think about it, I realize why should anyone remember it? This was made during the Golden Age of Bond, which this film acts as a dark mirror to. More's the pity, actually, as this was one of Richard Burton's finest performances.

Burton is cast as Alex Leamas, a nerve-dead, aged secret operative operating out of West Berlin. After a routine assignment goes awry, Leamas is sent home and out of the service. He struggles to try to live a normal, average life as a librarian's assistant, but he can't make it work for him (something that is not helped by his chronic alcoholism). This fact is made forcefully clear when he winds up beating a local grocer and is sentenced to jail time. Slowly but surely, he allows himself to be pulled back into the Cold War he operated in, not suspecting or maybe not even caring that his superiors are setting him up for a fall.

One will never mistake Alex Leamas' grey, rainy world for the sunlight universe of James Bond. It offers what is probably the ugliest depiction of the Great Game on film: drunkards, ex-Nazis, Jews, and die-hard Communists swimming like sharks through a fish pond, all of them devouring any who get in their way. None have any more than lip-service loyalty to their fellow operatives, their countries, or maybe even their own ideologies. At it's center stands Burton, playing Leamas as a walking dead man, festering with hate, resentment, and cynicism at the system that eventually sends him into the gutter. His devastating parked car monologue alone is worth the price of renting this one from the local video store.

It's bitter cynic tone may have been the film's undoing; rarely have I seen a film so downbeat in it's depiction of humanity. Still, it is not one that deserves to be forgotten.
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Spying without the glamour, but with compensatory deviousness of which the Devil would be proud...
pfgpowell-111 March 2010
Black and white, made in the Sixties, a spy film without gadgets - has bummer written all over it, right? Well, no. Forget all that James Bond cack and the good guys in the West vs. the evil guys in the East schlock, once you have seen The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, you feel you know the seedy world of spying inside-out. Well actually, for all I know Spy is just as much fantasy as all that ridiculous James Bond glamour. But that isn't the point. Spy is, after all, only a film, but it is a film which carries a hell of a punch. No, I really do not know whether this portrays the real world of spying, but I have strong suspicion that it does. There are no good guys and bad guys in Spy (and possibly in the real spy world), just intelligent, devious and utterly ruthless men and women who simply want to make sure that the other side doesn't get to win. That, it would seem, is the one principle dear to both sides: make sure you don't lose. In the process of not losing, people are highly expendable. Yes, I'm sure that some agents occasionally use guns and bombs to kill people, but I'm even more sure that the most effective weapon either side has is intellect. Spy is a joy. It takes a little while for the essential story to begin, but that is necessary. If you are reading this before deciding to see it, see it and stick with it. You ain't seen deviousness until you have seen the ruthless deviousness portrayed in Spy. As for the film itself - I have rather been rattling on about spying in general rather than the film - there is not a weak performance in it, and Burton is outstanding. Make time to see it if you can.
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Richard Burton was nominated, but he was not an Oskar Werner.9/10.
highclark20 January 2005
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. 9/10.

For those of you who haven't seen this movie and are looking for a review, well….. This is a movie I had to watch twice. The first time I saw it, many years ago; I didn't like it at all. It was on broadcast television and it was live, no tape, no tivo, just straight through. I couldn't make out what the big deal was about this film. I had some difficulty understanding the dialog and I also had some trouble in putting names with faces. I was more than a little bit frustrated with not having enjoyed it when so many others had.

Cut to ten years and one tivo later.

I love this movie.

This is a movie that will stay with you long after the credits have finished. If after one viewing you feel that you didn't like the movie, don't abandon it quite yet. I realize it's not the kind of movie you'll want to watch back to back, especially if you didn't like it the first time, but take some time away from it and then watch it again. I believe after a couple of viewings you'll really start pick up on a lot of nuance around the characters. And you'll start to understand the dialog better; at least this is how it has played out for me.

For those who have seen this movie, and are looking for a review to see what others may have picked up on…..check out the IMDb review from Richard Tunnah or burgbob975. I liked their reviews for this movie the best.

I don't feel I can add too much more to this review that others haven't already written, other than just pointing out the performances from Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Cyril Cusack and Oskar Werner as being absolutely magnificent. I especially liked Oskar Werner.

My Favorite scene from the film happens towards the end when Leamas and Nan Perry are driving to meet up in a rendezvous with a person who is to help them escape the occupied territory. While in the car Leamas spills out to Perry all of his pent up venom for his profession and self-loathing. He describes his profession as people who are just a lot of "drunkards, queers and hen-pecked husbands" who protect the "moronic masses". It's the one scene where you feel a genuine release from the tension that has built up through the movie.

Unlike Alec Leamas, you won't be on the fence for this one. You'll either hate it or you'll love it. After two viewings, I've come back to loving it. 9/10.

Clark Richards
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Not for james bond audience
noor-518389 December 2019
I am 75 now, saw this film when i was 25 and already a hardcore fan of burton. Took me some time to catch on the plot...but after that didn't miss any of mr. Lacarre's books.
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James Bond Couldn't Survive Real Espionage
classicalsteve25 March 2007
If the character of James Bond were actually thrust into the fray of the true world of espionage, he would be dead inside of 5 minutes. As soon as he ordered his martini "shaken, not stirred" his existence would be eliminated completely from the record. The world of British intelligence headed by "Control" does not involve masculine leads skiing over snow-laden cliffs to evade faceless KGB agents by day and seducing beautiful princesses in lavish hotel-casinos by night. Spies are care-worn spent people whose lives are empty and hollow. They make friends with their enemies and ultimately betray them. And simultaneously, they are pawns of the political hierarchy who hire them to betray the friends they make. In short, they have no real friends on either side. And they are expendable.

This is the world of Alec Leamas which brims with loneliness, betrayal, lies, and deception. Leamas does not don a tuxedo and flirt with young women at bars. He does not sneak around millionaire mansions sporting an automatic weapon equipped with a silencer to take out incompetent henchmen. He does not commiserate with billionaire magnates at long dining tables. Leamas walks alone in alleyways, befriends strangers on park benches, and sits in cement prison cells. This is the life of the real spy--lonely, emotionless, and loveless--in short "cold".

Leamas, a hardened veteran in service to Control, requests yet another spy mission instead of being given a desk job. His task: to act as a disgruntled former operative who seeks to defect to communist East Germany in order to frame a rival operative on the other side. Leamas, played by Richard Burton in an absolutely stunning performance, is a man of few words. His expressions convey much of the loneliness yet steadfast resolve that is a must to be a convincing spy. In the course of his deceptions, Leamas is not too quick to give the communists the information they think they need. His withholding further whets their appetite for Leamas' counter-intelligence. Leamas is a seasoned spy and manipulator who knows how to persuade his enemies.

"The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" may be the best theatrical film about espionage ever produced. As with typical Le Carré, the beginning setup is enigmatic with much that is unexplained. Not until the stunning ending do scenes from the beginning make sense. This is a tour de force production on every level. After seeing this movie, you may not only ponder the real price we pay to gather intelligence from the "other side" but you may also question who are "the good guys". And you'll probably never see a James Bond flick in the same way.
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Great Book.....Great Film.....
mattywoh20 June 2019
Le Carre said this was one of those rare films where the book author has zero complaints about the subsequent movie---and I also came up with that insight--- Black and white is the proper way to film this movie, with the various shades of grey--and the shadows and lights--just an overall dismal setting, and everywhere--because the main character's life has been slowly coming apart, you can see it--- But I won't go further, because it's a spy movie, made from a spy novel, watch it and read the book---or read the book and watch it--either way you'll likely come away thinking---for days--about them.
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"....What do you think spies are? They are a bunch of seedy squalid b*****ds like me..."
Brucey_D6 December 2018
Worn out, used up, embittered agent Leamas (Richard Burton) defects to the East in a complex. ultimately cynical tale of cold war espionage.

If you see this film on TV or DVD today, the chances are that you are looking at a restored version. Not over-restored; there are just a few white marks, just enough to remind you that you are looking at a film that is now 53 years old, from a different world, an analogue age not a digital one.

In book form this is a finely crafted work and the film is no less well made; really crisply shot in stark B&W, every scene is artfully framed and lit, in a way that you don't see in many films.

The dialogue is excellent and there are a few glimpses of humour (such as "...she believe in free love; at the time that was all I could afford...." ) that if anything serve to contrast with the overall bleak nature of the film. In a similar way Nan's naïve idealism contrasts with the sea of cynicism she accidentally finds herself swimming in.

This film is the antithesis of many modern 'whizz-bang-gosh' films; it is one the requires patience and careful attention. Indeed you will see new things in it on a repeat viewing even if you were paying attention previously. So, brilliant though it undoubtedly is, it isn't going to appeal to every movie-goer, by any means.

Some folk criticise the film's ending; to me it shows that despite everything, a spark of humanity and a shred of desperate hope can survive within, even when they have no right to.

Not everyone's cup of tea ( two sugars, extra black ) but top marks from me.
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A Fiercely Intelligent and Engrossing Film
gws-213 April 2001
"The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" is perhaps the best of the Cold War spy movies. Good writing coupled with brilliant performances make it that rare film based on a novel that is the equal of its predecessor. The uncompromising complexity of its story requires some effort on the part of the viewer but staying engaged in this great picture is well worth the effort.
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Chills running up and down my spine.
richard-tunnah5 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILER Brilliant movie, spoilt me from ever being able to enjoy the 'James Bond' films (flashy nonsense). I have seen it a number of times, and each time I see some subtle aspect I had missed before.

But the thing that really sends shivers up and down my spine is Lemas's interview with Control. When I first saw this scene my first reaction was 'Control has lost the plot', talking small talk about good and evil whilst Lemas life is crashing and burning. But when the plot unfolded I realised that what he said was very profound. The only way this can work is if we sacrifice the innocent (Nan Perry). Her death was not an unfortunate accident, it was pivotal in the whole plot.

No wonder Lemas preferred having something to die for rather than having nothing to live for.

Having seen this movie I have now read the whole Smiley series, and if this review intrigues you, I suggest you do the same.
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The other side of James Bond
frankde-jong11 July 2019
Directly in the first scene. located at Checkpoint Charlie Berlin, the film catches the mood of the Cold War.

This is however not the Cold War of the good (ideology) of the West against the bad of the East, like in James Bond movies. It is the Cold War of two systems using the same dirty tricks.

The film is very convincing in showing what these dirty tricks do to the persons who has to perform them, i.e. the spies.

Richard Burton is the middle aged spy Alec Leamas. During the years he has acquired a vast amount of cynism. He no longer believes he is fighting for the good cause, he is just doing his job. Sometimes he even has respect for the craftmanship of his colleagues on the other side of the wall. In this respect see also "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (2011, Tomas Alfredson) and "Heat" (1995, Michael Mann). Besides, in the last example the mutual respect is between a detective and a criminal and not between two spies.

Alec Leamas just wishes he could again be a bit more naive, and at that point in time he meets Nan (Claie Bloom), a young naive woman who still believes in the promises of communism. She makes Leamas laugh, but she makes Leamas also care. It is striking that the only person who is really sincere in the whole movie, is a communist. I think that if the film had been made after 1968 this would have been less credible.

It would have been an obvious choice to shoot the film in a sort of expressionist / film noir like style. The Berlin wall lends itself perfectly to work with scary shadows. Instead Martin Ritt works with the raw images of the English kitchen sink movement. A perfect choice, as is shown in the (already mentioned) first scene. Checkpoint Charlie in a drizzling rain was never more desolate.

By the way, I nearlu forgot one thing. This film about espionage, contra espionage and contra contra espionage is thrilling from the first up to the last minute!
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Quite gripping till it gets too downbeat, but very harshly photographed...
Nazi_Fighter_David6 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
There was a time in the Sixties when the glorious era of the private eye thrillers was succeeded by some very fine spy suspense stories… It was a logical progression: the spy of the screen was very much the same man as the private detective had been…

He was a loner; he was a bit of a rebel against established powers but worked for them because he believed in a basic right and justice more deeply than his smart remarks might have indicated… He regarded the world with a cynical eye, embittered by experience, and this was just as well because he was not too surprised when he was double-crossed by everybody…

Probably the best of the field was Martin Ritt's "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," from John Le Carré's novel with a verisimilitude of rare integrity… The inexpressibly sadness of the characters covered the film with a tragic melancholy which gave an echoing depth to its tensions – and possibly disappointed less perceptive audiences who did not like seeing their idol Richard Burton as a seedy, weary, worn-out and burnt-out agent
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the Cold War's bleak aesthetic
sartrejp23 March 2004
Back during the Cold War, people actually bought into the bleak misery that was brinkmanship & actors actually took chances, & their agents let them.

Richard Burton is Alec Laemmas, John Le Carre's reluctant spy, whose disillusionment is turned against him to save one last informant: hard to believe that Mr. Burton was then still in the throes of his public romance with Liz Taylor. Grim's the word here: from the opening Checkpoint Charlie Berlin scene to the Dutch shores to the East German countryside--the Cold War's done nobody any favors. Moreover, this harsh treatment of spies & their back-stabbing, double-dealing ways was made just after Ian Fleming's suave James Bond had become a pop movie icon (Bond's "M," Bernard Lee, as a grocer here ["T'get a proper credit, y'need a banker's reference."], gets the crap pummeled outta him by Burton).

Anyway, "Spy" is movie stripped of glamor: everyone gets usurped by people with power. Burton's Laemmas is sent to salvage the good guys' chief informant, a senior GDR official; Claire Bloom's Commie idealist Nancy is called to East Germany under the ruse of cultural exchange, to aid in the hoax. Oscar Werner is mesmerizing ("Were you present for ziss...Sanksgiving?") as the no. 2 man in the Abteilung, on the trail of no. 1, Peter van Eyck, until Laemmas shows up to thwart his plans.

If old cold warriors were only half as conniving as they appear here, whither did they go after the fall of the Soviet Union? Something to which nobody with nanogram of sense has paid much attention.
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The other side of James Bond.
dbdumonteil30 March 2002
Warning: Spoilers
In 1956,Henri-Georges Clouzot had already demeaned the spy job:his movie "les espions",the "diabolique" follow-up ,was a flop:the right-wing critics could not accept that these noble modern knights should be dragged through the mud;the left-wing ones did not like the fact the movie showed that the commies had their spies too.

Less abstract than Clouzot's work,but far from being simpler,Martin Ritt's adaptation of a John Le Carré novel displays a rather sickening world,where there are no good ones and villains,but a bunch of lunatics always fighting among themselves.Every human being,be it Mundt,Nancy,Werner's character or Leamas himself is only a pawn in someone's game(We never know who).We are a thousand miles away from 007,M,and miss Moneypenny. The last conversation in the car between Burton and Bloom is particularly depressing,leaving the audience bewildered and incensed. In the book ,only Liz (Nan in the movie) dies;the movie displays ,so to speak,a bit more humaneness.

The plot is often hard to catch up with,but the stellar cast,including Richard Burton,Claire Bloom,Oskar Werner and Peter van Eyck easily makes up for it.You'll see James Bond differently after watching Martin Ritt's work.
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Dirty Spy Game
claudio_carvalho15 March 2016
In the 60's, during the Cold War, the operative Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) loses his last agent in East Berlin when he is shot while crossing the border. Leamas travels to London to meet his Chief Control (Cyril Cusack). They have a meeting and Control asks him to lure the East Germans to make them believe that their agent Hans-Dieter Mundt (Peter Van Eyck) is a double agent and use the Jewish agent Fiedler (Oskar Werner), who is under the command of Mundt and hates him, to expose Mundt to get rid off him. Leamas poses of alcoholic defector without any pension that finds a job in a library. Soon he becomes lover of the naive Nan Perry (Claire Bloom), who works with him in the library and belongs to the Communist Party. Leamas is arrested for fighting in a store and when he is discharged from jail, an East German agent recruits him and they travel to Netherlands. Then they travel to East German where Leamas meets Fiedler that uses his information to accuse Mundt. They go to a tribunal and out of the blue, Mundt's attorney summons a mysterious witness. Who might be this witness?

"The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is a film with an amoral spy story of manipulation, seduction and betrayal. The plot point is absolutely unexpected and the explanation of the behavior of a spy of Leamas to Nan is cruel. The performances are outstanding and the conclusion is depressive. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "O Espião que Veio do Frio" ("The Spy Who Came in from the Cold")
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Riveting Drama, Great Performance
johnstonjames28 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Richard Burton is a great actor. He does contemporary and classical roles with equal intelligence and refinement. occasionally he stinks, in movies like 'Cleopatra' or 'The VIP's', but hardly ever. hell, I even liked 'The Heretic' and 'The Medusa Touch', and everybody hates those. but usually he is good or he is outstanding like in movies such as 'Beckett' or 'The Taming of the Shrew'.

I had always heard a lot about 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold', it's certainly famous enough, but i never got around to watching it. after seeing it the other night i can see what everyone has been raving about. great acting, intense dialogue that makes you hang on every word, and excellent polished film direction by veteran film maker Martin Ritt.

I can see why Richard Burton was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, although he should have won over Lee Marvin in 'Cat Ballou', Lee Marvin was good, but 'Cat Ballou' was a family film and has a child-like appeal and compared with Burton's performance as a jaded spy, Lee Marvin's drunken gunslinger seems sort of cutesy-poo.

In a day and age when most contemporary films seem to go for a broader and broader appeal and it gets harder to find anything that seems like it isn't aimed at a family crowd or is a audience pleaser,'Spy' is just the right antidote.
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The Last Great Film Noir?
JamesHitchcock20 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Spy films were highly popular in the 1960s, especially after James Bond first appeared in "Dr No". 1965 saw two films, "The Ipcress File" and "The Spy who Came in from the Cold", which presented a very different picture of life in the British intelligence services to that shown in the Bond franchise. "The Ipcress File" is very much a film of its time. Although it deliberately deglamourises the world of espionage, it quite clearly shows the influence of the "swinging London" of the sixties, especially in the psychedelic brainwashing sequence.

"The Spy who Came in from the Cold", by contrast, is, visually, a very old-fashioned film, made in black and white and looking back to the forties and fifties. Indeed, it can be regarded as one of the last great examples of the film noir style- possibly the very last. No doubt some purists would insist that noir is an exclusively American genre and that no examples were made after the end of the fifties. (Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" from 1958 is sometimes quoted as being the last of the genre). I would disagree. The French name would suggest that film noir was first recognised as a separate genre in Europe rather than America and there were several dramas in the style made in both France and Britain. ("Les Diaboliques" is perhaps the best-known French and "The Third Man" the best-known British example). Certainly, I cannot think of any American films noirs from as late as 1965, but "The Spy….." has many of the characteristics of noir- an urban setting, a morally ambiguous hero, a complex plot and expressionist black and white photography. (Monochrome remained fashionable in the British cinema in the mid sixties, several years after it had ceased to be so in America, probably because colour TV had not yet been introduced in Britain).

The hero is Alec Leamas, a British intelligence agent who ostensibly defects to East Germany after losing his job and becoming a broken-down alcoholic. I say "ostensibly" because Leamas is really on a mission to feed the East Germans with false information implicating Hans-Dieter Mundt, the head of their intelligence service, as a Western agent. The British are well aware of the mutual distrust between Mundt and his deputy Fiedler. Fiedler, who is Jewish, loathes Mundt, a former Nazi, and sees Leamas's defection as a chance to destroy his rival. As the plot progresses, however, things become less clear-cut. Do the British really intend to use Leamas to destroy Mundt, or do they have another, hidden, agenda? The overall tone of the film is a bleak, pessimistic one (another noir characteristic), quite different from the optimistic good-triumphing-over-evil ethos which prevails in the Bond films, and even in "The Ipcress File". Neither side in the Cold War is portrayed in a good light. The British secret service are Machiavellian schemers who regard their agents as expendable. The East Germans are brutal and ruthless, prepared to employ ex-Nazis in senior positions. They talk of a "people's democracy" but have built a wall around their country to turn it into one huge prison. Mundt and Fiedler spout all the standard Communist rhetoric, but the only struggle they are interested in is not the ideological one against capitalism but the internecine feud between themselves. (Interestingly, the director Martin Ritt was blacklisted in the 1950s for his past Communist affiliations. Some of his other films, such as "The Molly Maguires", are clearly left-wing in their sympathies, but there is less sign of that here).

This tone of pessimism is emphasised by the stark photography of a bleak, night-time Berlin or a gloomy, rain-shrouded London. It is also emphasised by Richard Burton's remarkable performance as Leamas. The British plot requires Leamas to pose as a broken-down, dispirited traitor, willing to sell his country out to the highest bidder, but Burton's demeanour suggests that the iron really has entered into Leamas's soul, that his air of cynicism, weariness and disillusion is something more than just a pose. There are also some good performances in supporting roles such as Oskar Werner as Fiedler and Michael Hordern as Ashe, the openly gay recruiter for the East Germans. The British cinema of the sixties was growing increasingly liberal about on-screen portrayals of homosexuality.

The one exception to the prevailing tone of cynical disillusionment may be Leamas's girlfriend Nancy Perry. Nancy, a committed Communist, is the one True Believer in the film. Claire Bloom plays her as a naïve enthusiast for her cause, someone prepared to defend Communism with a good deal more passion than an official representative of the system like Mundt. Yet even her apparently heartfelt beliefs have something of the past about them. There were, of course, many idealistic young people with left-wing opinions in the sixties , but few of them were attracted to the official pro-Moscow Communist Party; its emphasis on order, discipline, conformity and obedience and its wilful blindness to the shortcomings of the regimes it championed made it seem like a relic of the thirties and forties. Moreover, although the film is never explicit on this point, it is quite possible that, unknown to Leamas, Nancy might be a British agent herself with instructions to infiltrate the Communist Party and to feed misleading information to the East Germans. The part she plays in Mundt's trial would certainly be consistent with such an interpretation.

The Bond films- even those from forty years ago- remain highly popular, whereas the end of the Cold War has meant that there has been a lessening of interest in realistic spy films like this one. Yet "The Spy who Came in from the Cold" deserves to be remembered as more than just a sixties period piece- indeed, as more than just a spy drama. The quality of the script and the acting means that, like Hitchcock's "Notorious", it also deserves to be remembered as a psychological human drama. 8/10
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