The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
IMDB rating:
Martin Ritt
George Voskovec as East German Defense Attorney
Beatrix Lehmann as Tribunal President
Rupert Davies as George Smiley
Sam Wanamaker as Peters
Oskar Werner as Fiedler
Esmond Knight as Old Judge
Niall MacGinnis as German Checkpoint Guard
Cyril Cusack as Control
Robert Hardy as Dick Carlton
Claire Bloom as Nan Perry
Richard Burton as Alec Leamas
Peter van Eyck as Hans-Dieter Mundt (as Peter Van Eyck)
Bernard Lee as Patmore
Storyline: 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.
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Captures the Cold War Climate Extremely Well
"Alec Leamas" (Richard Burton) is a spy for the British who is given an assignment that involves implicating a high-ranking East German agent named "Hans Dieter-Mundt" (Peter van Eyck) for treason. Knowing that Mundt's subordinate, "Fiedler" (Oskar Werner) despises his boss the British cleverly concoct a plan which sends Alec under false pretenses straight to Fiedler with enough false evidence to have Mundt executed. But there are several variables which make the mission extremely perilous. Now, rather than give any more details and risk ruining it for those who haven't seen it I will just say that this movie captures the Cold War climate extremely well. Not only was Richard Burton nominated for an Academy Award for his performance but Oskar Werner also won a Golden Globe award for his performance as well. Further, the cinematographer (Oswald Morris) also won a BAFTA award for his work. Yet, in spite of all of these awards there were still some parts which were a bit too slow and dull which I felt lessened the film's overall effect. Accordingly, I rate this movie as slightly above average.
Exemplary spy adaptation
This spy film is an adaptation of the novel by John Le Carre and blows the recent TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY adaptation clean out of the water. It's a dark and dingy movie about Cold War relations and the lengths that either side will go to in order to protect their own operatives and destroy those opposing them.

The stark black and white photography is exemplary and gives the viewer the message that this will be a grimly realistic movie about the ruthless nature of Cold War spies. Richard Burton is perfectly cast as the jaded and burnt out agent who tries to live a normal life but is sent to Europe for one last job. The plot twists and turns so much that it's impossible to predict what's going to happen, and although it's very complex it also remains easy to follow from beginning to end.

There are some great twists here, and a masterful ending which really says everything that needs to be said about the situation. The all-star supporting cast is also very good, particularly a twitchy Oskar Werner and a fragile Claire Bloom. Best of all is a haunted Burton, playing perhaps the role of a lifetime.
Bleak thriller
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold has been heralded as the best Cold War spy movie. I often find those movies confusing, so forgive me if my plot teaser seems a little muddled. Then again, the movie is supposed to be a little confusing, so I don't feel that bad.

Richard Burton is a British agent during the Cold War who's sent to East Germany. He's supposed to pretend he's been disgraced and is defecting, but that's just a ruse in order to infiltrate the bad guys and gain information. I was confused just by that, and that was only the beginning! The rest of the film has twists and turns, complications, characters you're not sure if you can trust, facts that might turn out to be lies, and above all, a depressingly bleak black-and-white ambiance.

This is definitely a man's movie, or for girls who don't confuse easily and actually like spy movies. This isn't like a James Bond movie; there's no cheesy humor and no bikini clad babes. This is an understated drama, and when Burton isn't talking, he's silently seething like a bomb liable to explode at any moment. It's pretty intense.
The Last Great Film Noir?
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
Carpe Per Diem.
The first time I saw this, years ago, it struck me as gloomy and dull -- the settings, the photography, the story, the performances. Now it strikes me as gloomy and subtly interesting.

It's moral nihilism at its finest. Everything is underhanded. People are manipulated. Everybody traduces everybody else. They double cross them, triple cross them, frame them for ideological impurity and get them killed. The innocent die with the good and the bad. As Cyril Cusack says to Burton, "We can't afford to be less ruthless than they are, even though we are better." I don't think I'll describe much of the plot. Burton is a British spy who passes himself off as a defector in East Germany in order to save the position of a British mole in East German intelligence. His girl friend, Claire Bloom, a sweet and idealistic member of Britain's Communist Party who wants to end war, is swept up in the complicated story.

On first viewing Burton seems one-dimensional -- morose and embittered. But this time I saw more nuance in his delivery. His glances and over-the-shoulder stares are telling. The voice, of course, is unforgettable. He meets his match in the performance of Oskar Werner and the lilt in his carefully articulated English. Werner is likable, even when his character is stern and demanding. Those big eyes and cherubic mouth. Of Claire Bloom it's enough to say that she's an enthralling actress in her own right and a vulnerable-looking dish with an endearing smile that never really gets to exercise itself in this production. Watch her in "The Man Between" and "Richard III." So it's a great deal better than I'd first thought. When it's over, though, I still feel a little like a Trappist who has finally decided to reconcile himself to the demands of the monastery.
Bring a Sweater
"The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" works really hard to be a grim, merciless expose of the harshness and amorality of espionage. The movie works so hard at this that it ends up being a rather remote exercise in nihilism. Characters who could have been allowed human depth lack it. Everyone on screen is meant to be a mere puppet in the hands of Cold War puppet masters. Rather, though, everyone on screen is a puppet in the hands of novelist John Le Carre and Martin Ritt, the director.

An example: even a very minor character, Miss Crail, a librarian, played by Anne Blake, is made to read her very few, neutral lines as if she were a Austin-Powers style villain bent on destroying the world, when, in fact, she's just a librarian hoping for an orderly card catalogue. Nan (Claire Bloom), the communist, is made out to be an empty shell who's been impregnated with silly, ditzy, empty ideals. Every time two men interact in front of a third, one dominates and insults the other, as when two spy recruiters meet with a likely candidate at a strip club.

The plot is not at all complex: an aging spy master, Alec Leamas, is lured into a final mission in East Germany. There he learns that things are not as he had been lead to believe. The twist is not all that interesting or shocking. The ending is, though; it's one of the grimmest endings I've ever seen.

In fact, the film works so hard to be unnecessarily abstruse, and to convey an impression that there is no real humanity on planet earth – that we are all just unpleasant insects scurrying around a heartless hive – that the viewer wonders why she should care about any of these spy v. spy shenanigans going on on screen.

Given the technical excellence of the film, I couldn't help but reflect on how much better it would have been had the filmmakers even attempted to convey some element of humanity. I'm not asking that the characters be more likable; I'm just wishing that they had been more three dimensional, more human. I would have cared about them, then, and the film would have had more of an impact.

Claire Bloom, years before this film, had lost her virginity to Richard Burton, a rising star, married, then, to Sybil Burton. Burton was a dog to women and broke Bloom's, and many others' hearts. By the time she starred with him in this movie, she had come to regard him as a "practiced seducer" Her character's name had to be changed from "Liz" to "Nan," because, of course, Burton was, by this point, married to Liz Taylor. Some of Bloom's and Burton's lines carry a double entendre. His character says of hers, "She gave me free love. At that point, that was all I could afford." The best scenes in the movie are between Burton and Oskar Werner, who was never boring on screen, and who should have made more movies. Burton is, as ever, volcanic and intense, while Werner steals their scenes. How he does it, I cannot say, because with Werner you don't see the gears.
Nothing to come back to from the cold
I believe the test of a good spy film is how much of the spy-work is assigned to the viewer, how much he's trusted to spy away into the structure of a complex narrative being manufactured, meaning to see and see clearly, without distraction.

In the BBC Tinker, Tailor mini-series, we were treated as an entry-level novice, an apprentice, always summoned at the end of each episode to have strategy clearly laid out for us. We were not trusted to do any work, merely pay attention as the top guy juggled the beats and suspects in true style, sipping away at the marvellous sleuthing.

The recent film adaptation took this two steps forward, truly exciting stuff; there was no intermediate mind between the muddled world and the eye making sense for us, only unfinished bits of reflections seeping through the enormous infrastructure and shifting again. We had to be the spy to make it work and run people as our own agents, cue lazy viewers left confused and aggravated.

This is again a different spin on a viewer's level of engagement. Our man is an actor, not a sleuth. The controlling mechanisms are two.

One is that we do not know ahead of time the extent of his performance so how close or far is the base layer of reality. Here's a man who has stayed out in the cold too long and wants to finally come in and warm himself, but maybe so long it has frozen his soul. Control directs him on his performance, and we reasonably assume he was chosen exactly because the person is so close to the actual part. This is slippery tension. He's embittered and drinks and is called to play the part but so close the lines blur. He looks like he may crack at any point. On the visual level, this is accomplished by frequently dissolving his face, usually against skies or structures.

Casting a surly Richard Burton in the part was a stroke of mad genius, and would have been more appreciated by viewers at the time.

The other is that we presume a sure footing in the story, a benevolent cause, a ruthless opposition, a control over proceedings. We presume that only our guy is acting and for that benevolent cause. A swift tribunal destroys all this. Turns out that we, the viewer, were being run as an agent the whole time and knew at any given time only so much as would serve the cause. Turns out that we were helping out the ex-Nazi save his skin, why, because he's on our side. This was a bold move on the part of the filmmakers, in a time of daft James Bond fantasies and the Cold War in full swing.

The finale is bitterly poignant in that sense. There is nothing to come back to from the cold, it's cold on both sides, and no room for a real self, because the performance is controlled to extend to even where we thought was real life, and he's caught by lights in the brink of fabricated worlds, an actor's closeup, but of course no longer acting. Dissolution.

Our insight is that we have spied into all this. We were manipulated to experience the betrayal, the same manipulation, cleverly so.
nice cold war movie
Having read the first 4 of John Le Carre's 'George Smiley' books, I might say "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is my personal favorite.

I never thought I would one day like a black and white movie (especially a movie made after a novel...). Somehow, nowadays, script writers turn the plot around 180 degrees and most of the times it seems like the book and the movie have nothing in common (or the movie lacks scenes that are vital for the action).

But not this movie. Considering the year during which it had been filmed, I might say that it's quite good. Not impressive. But watchable without finding yourself doing something else in the meantime out of boredom.
A Cold War Classic
This is one of those films that you've really got to be in the mood for. I mean, if your budgie's just died I'd move along for a few days and watch something else otherwise this might just tip you over the edge.

Incredibly, John Le Carre complained that Martin Ritt's adaptation of his best-selling spy thriller wasn't gritty enough, which is something of a surprise as a mood of melancholic seediness pervades the entire thing. Richard Burton, giving possibly a career-best performance here, plays Alec Leamas, a weary secret agent who is given the job of pretending to be a defector in order to sell false information to the East Germans which will hopefully lead to the execution of their spy-master for treason. Of course, this being a Le Carre spy thriller things don't go as planned and nothing is as it seems.

This stark black-and-white film was the complete antithesis of the jokey, brightly-coloured gadget-filled spy flicks that were filling the screens back in the mid-sixties following the success of the first Bond movies. Burton is jaded and cynical, a semi-alcoholic with not a single suggestive one-liner inside of him who knows all too well the machinations of the espionage business and is sickened by it all. The communist spies are a succession of seedy men each pre-conditioned to carry out their duties unthinkingly but each imbued with a deep-seated instinct for self-preservation which practically makes treachery a certainty. It's amusing how each of them wallow in the minor humiliation of the man beneath them - Mundt is dismissive of Fiedler who is dismissive of Carlton who is dismissive of Ashe.

The story can be a little difficult to follow if you don't pay attention, but that's because it's an intelligent story intended for adults, and if you give it the attention it deserves you'll be suitably rewarded.
Loved the book, really liked the film. Good adaptation!!
I loved Le Carré's novel. It felt like a realistic description of the cold war in divided Berlin, the game played between west and east, it also gave a thought about how people might have considered the whole thing in those times.

The film perfectly transfers the story to the new medium without loosing much. They really capture the gritty cold war era tone. This is the exact opposite to the dramatic, romantic, action filled James Bond spy thriller. Not that I have anything against the 007 films, but this feels like how it really was, even though I know nothing of that. The story i well told even if you have not read the book it's not that hard to follow. The film is old but it hasn't aged bad. Richard Burton is great in the lead, but the character Alec Leamas feels a bit different than in the book gloomy, but it's not a problem. Most of the other actors are well cast and mostly as I had imagined them. The plot takes several twists in the end where things are turned uppsidedown and it turns out not quite as one thought. The final scene is really thought-provoking. Great!

I think it's always interesting to see how story one's read turns out on the screen. Often I find myself somewhat disappointed, but this is film was one of the closest and well made adaptations I've seen. 8/10 Very satisfying.
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