|The Spy Who Came In from the Cold|
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
|Directed by||Martin Ritt|
|Produced by||Martin Ritt|
|Based on||The Spy Who Came In from the Cold|
by John le Carré
|Music by||Sol Kaplan|
|Edited by||Anthony Harvey|
Salem Films Limited
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Based on the 1963 John le Carré novel of the same name, the film depicts British agent Alec Leamas' mission as a faux defector to East Germany who is tasked with sowing damaging disinformation about a powerful East German intelligence officer. As part of a charade, Leamas pretends to quit British intelligence and live as an embittered alcoholic. He allows himself to be recruited by East German agents in England and is taken to continental Europe to sell his secrets for money. His mission seems almost complete when his charade crumbles and he is revealed to still be working for British intelligence, a revelation that achieves the real objectives of the mission, much to his surprise.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was a box-office success, receiving positive reviews, and several awards, including four BAFTA Awards for Best British Film, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction. For his performance, Richard Burton received the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actor, the Golden Laurel Award, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The film was named one of the top ten films of 1966 by the National Board of Review in the United States. The screenplay was written by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper.
The West Berlin office of "The Circus", under station chief Alec Leamas, has suffered from reduced effectiveness. He is recalled to London shortly after the death of one of his operatives and is seemingly drummed out of the agency. In reality, a carefully staged transformation of Leamas has been arranged by Control, the agency's chief. Appearing to be depressed, embittered, and alcoholic, Leamas takes work as an assistant at a local library. There, he begins a relationship with co-worker Nan Perry, a young and idealistic member of the English Communist Party. Leamas spends most of his small salary on alcohol, leaving him constantly low on funds. He drunkenly assaults a shopkeeper who refuses him credit and is briefly jailed. His predicament draws the attention of the East German Intelligence Service, who sees him as a potential defector.
Leamas is approached by a series of operatives, each one passing him up the chain of the East German intelligence service, and he expresses a willingness to sell British secrets for money. He eventually flies to the Netherlands to meet an agent named Peters, who decides that his information is important enough to send him on to East Germany. At a German country house, Leamas is introduced to Fiedler, who becomes his main interrogator. Leamas then begins to carry out his secret mission, which is to share information that suggests a high-ranking East German intelligence officer named Mundt is a paid informant of the British. The evidence is circumstantial, and Leamas repeatedly claims that Mundt could not have been a British agent without his knowledge. However, Fiedler is able to independently confirm and expand upon on Leamas' information and comes to the conclusion that Mundt, his supervisor, has indeed been a secret asset of British intelligence for many years.
Mundt unexpectedly arrives at the compound and has both Leamas and Fiedler arrested for plotting against him. Once Fiedler explains his findings to his superiors, the tables are turned and Mundt is arrested. A secret tribunal is convened to try Mundt, with Leamas compelled to testify. Fiedler presents a strong case for Mundt being a paid double agent. However, Mundt's attorney uncovers several discrepancies in Leamas' transformation into an informant, suggesting that Leamas is a faux defector. Leamas' credibility collapses when Nan, who has been brought to East Germany for what she thought was a cultural exchange visit, is forced to testify at the tribunal and unwittingly reveals that she has been receiving payments from British intelligence. Leamas reluctantly admits that he is still a British agent, Fiedler is arrested as a complicit dupe, and Mundt is vindicated.
Leamas initially believes he has failed in his mission and fears severe retribution from Mundt. However, in the middle of the night, Mundt releases Leamas from his cell and provides an escape plan for him and Nan, who was also being held prisoner. Mundt explains that Leamas' real mission has succeeded; Mundt actually is a British agent, and Fiedler had been the target of the operation all along, as he had grown too suspicious of his supervisor. This comes as a shock to Leamas, and the complex web he has been drawn into and the risk he has been placed in by his own superiors become painfully clear. He explains the entire plot to still-idealistic Nan as they drive their borrowed car toward the border, and she berates him for being involved in what amounts to the murder of a man, Fiedler, who was only doing his job. Leamas, agitated by her naiveté, erupts in an angry, self-loathing confession:
What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They're not. They're just a bunch of seedy squalid bastards like me, little men, drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands, civil servants playing "Cowboys and Indians" to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong? Yesterday I would have killed Mundt because I thought him evil and an enemy. But not today. Today he is evil and my friend.
Leamas and Nan arrive at the Berlin Wall and are given instructions to climb over to West Germany on emergency climbing irons while a searchlight is intentionally turned away. While Leamas is atop the wall pulling Nan behind him, the searchlight suddenly shines directly on them, alarms sound, and Nan is shot dead by Mundt's operatives, silencing the only civilian witness to the operation. Leamas freezes in shock and horror, and is urged by agents on both sides to return to the West. Instead, he climbs back down towards Nan's body on the eastern side of the wall and is shot dead.
The film closely follows the plot of the original source text. One exception is that the name of the principal female character in the novel, Liz Gold, is changed to Nan Perry in the film, reputedly because the producers were worried about the potential confusion in the media with Burton's then wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold took in $7,600,000 at the box office.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "After all the spy and mystery movies of a romantic and implausible nature that we have seen, it is great to see one as realistic, and believable too, as 'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold.'"Variety called the film "an excellent contemporary espionage drama of the Cold War which achieves solid impact via emphasis on human values, total absence of mechanical spy gimmickry, and perfectly controlled underplaying." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "It is not an easy, certainly not a pleasant, picture to sit through; too impersonal, too objective, to move us to weep, so that its ending can only leave us tremendously depressed."Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post declared, "Not having shared the evidently widespread admiration for 'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold' in its original form as a novel, I nonetheless find it a wholly absorbing picture."Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called it "in every respect an admirable translation [to] the screen of the fantastically popular thriller by Jean [sic] le Carré."The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Concentration is demanded; and earned by the tension and accuracy of the dialogue and the high level of performance ... [the cast] all give performances of a kind which instantly engage attention, even if the characters scarcely develop beyond the point at which we first meet them."
|Academy Awards, 1966||Best Actor||Richard Burton||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction||Hal Pereira, Tambi Larsen, Ted Marshall, Josie MacAvin||Nominated|
|BAFTA Awards, 1966||Best British Actor||Richard Burton||Won|
|Best British Art Direction||Tambi Larsen||Won|
|Best British Cinematography||Oswald Morris||Won|
|Best British Film||Martin Ritt||Won|
|Best Film from any Source||Martin Ritt||Nominated|
|Best Foreign Actor||Oskar Werner||Nominated|
|British Society of Cinematographers, 1966||Best Cinematography Award||Oswald Morris||Won|
|David di Donatello Awards, 1966||Best Foreign Actor||Richard Burton||Won|
|Edgar Allan Poe Awards, 1966||Best Motion Picture||Paul Dehn, Guy Trosper||Won|
|Golden Globe Awards, 1966||Best Supporting Actor||Oskar Werner||Won|
|Laurel Awards, 1966||Dramatic Performance, Male||Richard Burton||Won|
|National Board of Review, 1966||Top Ten Film||Won|
|Writers Guild of America Awards, 1966||Best Written American Drama||Paul Dehn, Guy Trosper||Nominated|
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was released by The Criterion Collection as a Region 1 DVD on 25 November 2008 and on Blu-ray on 10 September 2013. Extras for this version include: digitally restored picture and sound; an interview with John le Carré; scene-specific commentary by director of photography Oswald Morris; a BBC documentary titled The Secret Center: John le Carré (2000); an interview with Richard Burton from a 1967 episode of the BBC series Acting in the '60s; a 1985 audio interview with director Martin Ritt; a gallery of set designs; the film's theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Sragow.