Thursday, March 21, 2013


When a British agent investigating a neo-Nazi group is killed, American secret agent Quiller (George Segal) is sent into Berlin by his handler Pol (Alec Guinness) to continue his work. He makes contact with Inge (Senta Berger), a teacher at a school where another teacher was exposed as a war criminal and killed himself. Soon Quiller is drugged, kidnapped, and taken to an unknown location to meet Oktober (Max Von Sydow), the neo-Nazi big shot, who tries to get information out of Quiller about his bosses, but despite torture and more drugs, Quiller doesn't break.  Oktober orders him killed, but he wakes up in a canal--apparently Oktober changed his mind and released Quiller, assuming he'd lead them to his handler. Instead, Quiller goes to Inge who knows someone who knows someone, etc., and they soon find Oktober's headquarters in a dilapidated mansion.  This time both Quiller and Inge are caught, and Oktober may be not be so willing to let anyone go this time.

Filmed at the height of spy-movie mania, this isn't quite the near-campy James Bond, nor is it quite the somber dread-fest of John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, filmed the year before. With a screenplay by Harold Pinter, it's not surprising that the film's primary tone is that of ambiguity: Pol seems a bit sinister, even though he's a good guy; Oktober is the most interesting figure in the movie, even though he’s a 2-dimensional bad guy; and we're never quite sure what Inge's motivations are. As spy thrillers go, it's not a shoot-'em-up, but a tense atmosphere is kept throughout, even though Segal feels a bit lightweight for a spy—there are moments when I expected things to veer off to comedy, but it never really does—but Segal generally holds his own with Von Sydow (with whom he is pictured above) and Guinness. There are several fine setpieces: Segal's first meeting with Guinness in a stadium that had been the site of Nazi pomp; the torture scene; and a nicely set-up sequence involving a car bomb in which Segal is trying to throw the bad guys off of his track.  [FMC]

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