on 15 November 2006
This movie is a faithful rendition of one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. The acting is superb, the sets are suitably austere and atmospheric and the plot is simply a work of genius. Forget all the cliches about this being the real thing compared to Bond movies etc. This is quite simply a different genre. It is a story of brutality and of hopelessness.It illustrates how the exploitation of human weakness can be used as an effective weapon of war. The Cold War is in the throes of being forgotten by all but the academics who study the era, but the manner in which it was fought is fascinating, and as evidenced in later adaptations of Le Carres work by the BBC(Smileys People and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)it required minds of rare intelligence and deviousness. The charachter, Smiley, which is expanded upon in the BBC dramas mentioned above has only a small part to play in this movie. But it is a pivotal part because it is he who displays the ultimate ruthlessness which epitomises the Cold Warriors.
The plot in this movie concerns an attempt by British Intelligence to undermine a dangerous East German Abteilung officer by planting a defector, Leamass, played superbly by Richard Burton, into East Germany. But as the plot unfolds we begin to see the real subtlety and manipulation at play that is charachteristic of Le Carre at his stunning best. If you are interested in this era and this type of film it is obviously the classic of its kind.
One thing I find interesting about the Cold War is that it was largely fought without weapons, and yet, as perfectly illustrated in this movie, even stripped of their weapons, men still found a way to fight a war!!
I owned it on VHS and waited for along time for a region 2 compatible DVD. No extras, but I don't care, it's a work of art which doesn't need embellishing.
It's fascinating to put this film into its context - a black and white, grimy film peeling the lid off the unsavoury world of spycraft in the chill of the Cold War, with no gloss or even colour to leaven the mood. And this at the same time that the world was on a high in the 60's on Connery's glossiest Bonds, as well as spy mania proliferating in tv and books, highlighting glamour, humour and colour The highest rated TV series that year was Get Smart. Here though, Le Carre's novel as put on film is more interested in damaged people and something more like the reality of spying.
Richard Burton gives an outstanding performance as Leamas, Burton playing the part of a man playing a part. Though we are invited to question where the man ends and the part he is playing begins.. The spy who has just had a failure in Berlin, but who is not ready to come in from the cold. His bosses ask him to stay in the field for one more undercover op, all in gritty but excellent black and white photography. He does what he needs to do to seem `turnable', as part of a scheme his handler has explained will help get rid of one of the top German agents... his journey of false information dissemination becomes one of self discovery as he starts to question just who is being used. His monologue near the end when he releases his true feelings about his profession makes you realize just how great an actor he could be, especially with this sort of deeply troubled and damaged character. Oskar Werner is simply mesmerising as the contact whom Leamas intends to manipulate, and Claire Bloom has a pivotal role that is utterly believable thanks to a note perfect performance that speaks much more than her words do.
It's a simply told, unfussily shot gem full of nuances, with great performances and a compelling story.. not a moment is wasted, and each frame holds exactly what it needs to. and then it has an ending that is sure to have you talking or thinking long after the credits fade. It might not be uplifting, but it is nonetheless unmissable.
Based on the novel by the acclaimed British author John Le Carre (who gave us the excellent SMILEY'S PEOPLE and the less steller CONSTANT GARDENER) this bleak look at Cold War espionage is actually compulsive viewing. I started watching the movie late one night fully expecting to stop about halfway through yet, there I was at 1 a.m. still transfixed at the unfolding drama.
Starring Richard Burton in perhaps one of his most impressive roles and co-starring Burton's one-time girlfriend the entrancing Claire Bloom, this movie is a complex, intricately woven movie that keeps one guessing. It starts in Germany and ends in Germany with stops in England and Holland inbetween. Burton plays Alec Leamas, a former head of British intelligence in Berlin who poses as a washed up agent as a means of implanting seeds of doubt about the loyalty of a communist spy in the minds of that spy's superiors. After beating up a grocer he is approached by East German intelligence and persuaded to "defect" to the East. Once there during the debriefing stage he begins to lay subtle clues in the hope that they will be picked up by the authorities, who will then p[iece together the clues and come to the conclusion that one of their star agents is a traitor. Sounds simple enough right?! Well, all is not as it seems and the real motive behind Leamas' ruse is one of those twists you don't see coming until it's too late.
Burton is ably supported by a brilliant supporting cast, from the aforementioned Bloom to Michael Horden as Ashe, a gay communist agent, Sam Wanamaker as Peters, Oskar Werner as the ambitious Fiedler and Robert Hardy as Dick Carlton to name just a few.
Released in 1965, this movie was made at a time when color was available for use, however the makers decided (wisely) to film it in black and white, a decision which really helps build atmosphere and drama.
I recommend this movie to everyone who likes complex plotting and espionage thrillers.
on 18 December 2009
Atmospheric; restrained and chilling. John Le Carre's plot is well treated here and Richard Burton gives an excellent performance. Unlike so many modern films, you can hear every crisp word delivered by a cast who know how to speak English.
This is a good story and the book too makes a very good read. Radio 4 also recently did an interesting adaptation with Brian Cox in the title role, for which he deserves commendation.
on 26 November 2006
This film is a faithful adaption of the book, makes a welcome change. The two leads Burton and Bloom share a third star, that is London itself. For a feel of the greyness of London in this period, this film is tremendously evocative. It is a bleak story indeed but the two hours passes quickly, following the twists and turns but for me also following the striking filming. There is no way this should ever be in colour, it is a masterpiece and the ending, though I expected it, was as much of a shock as ever. It is a film of London when it truly was an old boy network, more so than now but also a London which was questioning and not afraid to do so. I could ramble on, but watch it. Don't expect James Bond, expect an intelligent and thought provoking story with filming that is almost art house. I kept thinking about the London of Hangover Square and Patrick Hamilton as I watched this. Unmissable.
The opening sequence of this classic and clever 1960s Cold War spy movie is set around Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, although clearly it is not THE Checkpoint Charlie. Nevertheless it is all very well got up to like the real thing. I'll come to this aspect later in the review.
Adapted from the John le Carre novel, `The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' tells the story of the lengths the British Secret Service will go to in order to have an East German spymaster eliminated by his own side. It's very cleverly constructed and convincingly acted, especially Burton as the bait, the disaffected spook, the spy who never wanted to come in from the cold.
In his biography of Burton, Melvyn Bragg relates how director (Martin Ritt) and star did not hit it off. Ritt deliberately wanted Burton's role to be as anonymous as possible - "no oratory, no action, no charm" - and it says a lot for both that Burton played the part beautifully. Burton was with Elizabeth Taylor at the time, which made for a tense atmosphere at times, since Burton's co-star Claire Bloom was one of his old flames. (Bragg describes Taylor on set as an emotional version of the KGB to compare with the East German secret service that Burton's character was having to battle.)
Made in the 1965 (the year of my birth), the film is a product of its time, when pubs did not cook food, when people have a bottle of wine leftover from Christmas, when milk-churns are stacked in the street, and when corner shops offered credit accounts. Talking of corner shops, it was nice to see Bernard Lee as the grocer, a bit of a comedown from his role as M in the Bond movies. Compared to Bond, this film is certainly not as glamorous; instead it portrays the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty, everyday life of the spy.
The only disappointment with the film is with a few elements of the production design. I mentioned how the setting of Checkpoint Charlie that opens the movie is convincing - but it is not THAT convincing. And this is replicated in some of the other settings supposedly behind the Iron Curtain. In fact, not one second of the film was shot in Berlin; rather, many of these scenes were shot in Ireland, as is unfortunately made plain by the walls and light-fittings of the Communist courtroom being replete with hunting trophies (hardly a Communist ornament). The climax of the film at the Berlin Wall is also poor, since the buildings on the other side of the breeze blocks and barbed wire are quite plainly those one would find in small towns in Ireland, Wales, or Cornwall.
However, attention to detail in other areas of the film is superb, even down to such things as the word order a German would adopt when speaking halting English ("Here, go slowly, please"). The film is certainly enhanced by the music of Sol Kaplan, who takes his main theme and varies it according to mood and circumstance. So overall, I'm very happy to possess this DVD and watch it time and again.
My DVD comes with no extras.
on 21 November 2010
The spy who came into the cold is an absolute classic spy story. It is a different beast to the James Bond and Bourne series as the action is kept to a minimum, the spies potrayed here are not supermen they are fat, cynical and possibly alcoholic. However this potrayal only gives a more realistic view of spies and their fieldcraft. We finally see that spies depend on subtefuge and deception rather than guns. This helps increases the tension of the story as you feel the paranoia the spie feels when hes worried that his plan has been uncovered. Richard Burton is absolutly fantastic as the burnt out spy. His potrayal is flawless to the point that he doesnt even seem to be acting. His speech at the end is a high point which highlights the difference between le Carre and Fleming. Flemings spies are dedicated patriots who though have to do terrible things are still noble at the end of the day. Le Carre's spies are seedy squalied little men who plays cowboys and indians to brighten up their lives. The visuals in this movie are stark, there are no fantastic looking buildings or beautiful women instead we are giving an accurate depiction of the decay of East Berlin. I very much recommend this movie to all fans of spie stories or Le Carre.
on 22 December 2011
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a superpbly made movie. The film was made in 1965 but seems much older, partly because of it being in black and white and partly because it's style is more like The Third Man(1949) or Touch of Evil(1958). Richard Burton is on top form and had a very intense presence throughout the film. The plot is certainly one you must play close attention too as it is confusing if you don't. The script and performances are so good though that you get drawn into the film and follow it through to it's conclusion. George Smiley does feature in this film but he's not Richard Burtons character. After watching this seek out Alec Guiness as Smiley in Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy(if you haven't already seen it), another great John Le Carre adaption.
The film is in widescreen with good sound. I was happy with the picture quality but for perfectionists there are unfortunately quite alot of scratches on the film in many scenes.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is directed by Martin Ritt and adapted to screenplay by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper from the novel of the same name written by John le Carré. It stars Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Peter van Eyck, Sam Wanamaker, Rupert Davies and Cyril Cusack. Music is by Sol Kaplan and cinematography by Oswald Morris.
Disillusioned spy Alex Leamas (Burton) returns from Berlin and is required to "come in from the cold" and work in a stable everyday job environment. But this is just a small piece of a much bigger jigsaw...
From start to finish this is a deliberate downer of a movie, the complete flipside to the spy adventures served up in other high energy filmic quarters. Filmed in course monochrome to set the mood, picture is often depressing, overtly talky and complex in its characterisations and narrative bent. However, those things are not hindrances, for this is undeniably adult stuff, oozing with intelligence and intricacies for the mature film fan, a clinically spun web of pawns, manipulations and distrustful men. The Cold War backdrop is marked as deathly cold, where the grey weather is only matched by the colourless complexion of Burton's depressed spy. As the twists rack up and the tension noose is tightened, Ritt and his cast of excellent performers are only interested in keeping it real, right up to, and including, the devastating finale.
Not one to turn to when in need of a pick-me-up, or in fact a film you want to watch perennially, but certainly it's a piece of work that serves to remind us that intense well written and performed cinema is always available to view when the mood fits. 8/10
"We have to live without sympathy, don't we? We can't do that forever. One can't stay out of doors all the time. One needs to come in from the cold."
Long held as the gold standard and one of the rare critical and commercial successes among John le Carre screen adaptations, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold suffers at times from over simplification, not just of le Carre's ingenious plot but also of the revealing character details along the way (not least the chain of petty humiliations and contempt each `link' in the chain exercises on their subordinates). Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper's screenplay and Martin Ritt's direction are subtle and intelligent enough for you not to notice too much that in emphasising the plot it's sometimes reducing it to broad strokes that sometimes dilute the callousness behind its central deception and the sheer ruthlessness of the backroom players who will willingly sacrifice their own people and the odd innocent pawn to protect their more important intelligence assets. It's particularly ironic that the character of George Smiley (Rupert Davies), the architect behind the scheme, is reduced to a bit player with barely a handful of lines, his past history with the East German ex-Nazi who once nearly killed him and who Richard Burton's washed out spy is sent behind the Iron Curtain to set up for execution by his own comrades going as unmentioned as the driving political philosophy that justifies Smiley's cruel brilliance (that since the West is fighting for the survival of `the reasonable man,' being as ruthless as the unreasonable men you are fighting is morally justifiable). By contrast, Oskar Werner's Jewish East German interrogator is at least allowed to express some of his similar philosophy - that a certain number of human losses are acceptable to protect his greater political truth - even if he doesn't build his case quite as methodically as he could.
But if there could certainly be a better adaptation, it's doubtful there could be a better Alec Leamas. Burton too often squandered his talent on bad pictures with big paydays or drowned it with booze or excess in some of his better ones, but here the inherent weariness, disgust and contempt that he seemed to have for himself is pitch perfect for the character of the burnt-out spy whose failings and expendability have become his most useful feature. He's kept in check, avoiding the histrionics or overacting he was often prone to, saving his real revulsion for the last act when he realises just how brilliantly he's been taken, at once admiring the genius and repelled by the cruelty of it all. It's the perfect match of actor and role. That his affair with Claire Bloom's idealistic British communist doesn't quite convince certainly isn't the fault of her performance, despite being too old for the part, more that the film seems to choose to be ambiguous as to whether she's part of his cover or has really got under his skin: unlike the novel, he doesn't have to `fight' for her in quite the same way even if the bleak conclusion is retained (albeit not the more chilling coda where the plan's architects convince themselves of his approval for their actions).
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not the intention. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold works remarkably well as an antidote to the 007-inspired spy craze that swept cinemas and TV in the mid-60s (Bernard Lee, the original M, plays a shopkeeper here as if to emphasise the point), bringing the whole business of espionage back to some semblance of its sordid and inherently delusional reality while still remaining a gripping drama - and it is more of a drama than a thriller despite its ingenious final revelation. With its wet streets, lonely crowds and stark countryside, it's a film for cold Autumn or Winter days, Oswald Morris' excellent black and white cinematography capturing the numbness of it all with sharp clarity. It's also extremely well cast, with even the smaller parts being filled with actors like Cyril Cusack, Michael Hordern, Robert Hardy, Niall MacGinnis and Peter van Eyck, while it's particularly ironic to see blacklisted Sam Wanamaker turn up as an East German communist spy (indeed, as a blacklist victim himself it's ironic to see Ritt directing). More importantly, nearly half a century on and with history replacing its Cold War enemies with new ones, it holds up as drama. The battleground may have moved, but the sense that idealism is simply something to be turned against itself and that even your own side are just pawns to be used and abused if you can find the right rhetoric to justify it seems to remain timeless.
While Paramount's extras-free original release offered a good widescreen transfer if only want the film, Criterion's two-disc Region 1 NTSC DVD offers a decent upgrade, including a new interview with le Carre and the same edited version of the BBC documentary about him that's on the Alec Guinness Smiley DVDs, selected-scene audio commentary by Oswald Morris, a 1967 interview with Burton, a 1985 audio interview with Ritt, booklet and a somewhat overblown theatrical trailer (`Brace yourself for greatness!').