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First-rate spy thriller...
on 12 January 2007
A realistic spy thriller with a marvellously layered script from playwright Harold Pinter, The Quiller Memorandum was produced in the mid-1960s, when 'Bondmania' was causing filmmakers to jump on the espionage bandwagon with enthusiasm. However, the world inhabited by George Segal's Quiller is dour, downbeat, and treacherous, a far cry from the gadget-laden fantasy world of Sean Connery's James Bond; the film is closer in tone to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Funeral in Berlin (the movie it most resembles), but is even more unconventional as an exercise in genre cinema. Though its atmosphere is one of suspicion and intrigue, featuring a couple of accomplished suspense sequences, this movie is more interested in exploring the mental games spies play than it is in delivering action-packed adventure (even the climax takes place off-screen). The vastly underrated Segal gives a fine performance of confident cool; a man assured of his own brains and skills to such a degree that he makes looking cocky and over-confident a point of pride. He loses his overbearing bodyguards with ease, openly threatens men tailing him, and deliberately reveals himself to his enemies in order to get close to them. The scenes in which he tells various bad lies to those he suspects in order to make himself look foolish and clumsy are marvellously subtle. He doesn't even carry a gun, reasoning that it means he is `less likely to get killed'. Rarely regarded as an A-list leading man in movies, Segal nevertheless starred in some of the most underrated movies of the 1960s and 70s, like prisoner-of-war drama King Rat, and Mike Hodges' nihilistic sci-fi piece The Terminal Man. Also very good are Alec Guinness as Quiller's sarcastic boss (not a million miles away from his portrayal of George Smiley for the BBC), Max Von Sydow as the head of the neo-Nazi cell Quiller is trying to expose, and the gorgeous Senta Berger. Michael Anderson's unobtrusive direction is perfectly in tune with Pinter's enigmatic script, and best of all is the movie's ending, when Quiller's suspicions about a certain character prove to be true, and yet the exhausted, betrayed agent still manages to be hurt by the revelation; it manages the unthinkable and makes this most cynical of spies just a little more cynical.
This DVD edition is by no means exhaustive in its selection of extras, but is probably about as extensive as it can be, given the age and relatively little-known status of the film. The trailer is a marvellously overblown attempt to sell the film as an all-out action movie, whilst the on-set interviews with the main players are interesting, even if Segal, Guinness, and Von Sydow look distinctly uncomfortable giving them.