The Looking Glass War


1h 48m 1969

Brief Synopsis

British Intelligence calls in a retired agent to investigate Soviet missiles near the German border.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1969
Premiere Information
New York opening: 4 Feb 1970
Production Company
Frankovich Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Looking Glass War by John Le Carré (London, 1965).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Lansen, a German airline pilot employed by the British secret service, obtains aerial photographs of Russian missile sites. In Finland, he passes the film to his British contact who is then murdered by counter-espionage agents, and the film canister falls unnoticed to the ground. Leclerc, the head of British Intelligence, recruits and hastily trains Leiser, a young Polish refugee, to enter East Germany and verify the missile sites. Dropped near the East German border, Leiser is forced to kill a guard who stops him. Unnerved by the killing, he becomes careless and remains on the radio transmitter too long, allowing the East Germans to trace his location. Close to being caught, he is picked up by a truckdriver who threatens to turn him in unless he submits to his homosexual desires; Leiser instead murders the driver and uses the vehicle to escape. He picks up a woman hitchhiker and her small son, and at a roadblock, they become embroiled in a fight with the guards but are eventually released. Arriving at a small town, Leiser rents a room and again attempts to transmit a radio message, but the Germans trace the signal, locate Leiser, and kill both him and the woman, whom they believe to be his accomplice. At the conclusion, Finn school children are seen playing with the film, destroying the results of a complicated espionage maneuver.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1969
Premiere Information
New York opening: 4 Feb 1970
Production Company
Frankovich Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Looking Glass War by John Le Carré (London, 1965).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Looking Glass War


The novels of John le Carré, the former British intelligence officer turned bestselling writer, are a response to the kiss kiss bang bang glamour of super spies, sexy women, high-tech gadgets, and thrilling missions created by the James Bond books and movies. The 1969 feature The Looking Glass War, based on John le Carré's fourth novel (which was published the same year that the film version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [1965] was released to great acclaim), was the third Le Carré adaption in as many years. It follows the same unglamorous portrait of intelligence gathering in the real world of Cold War espionage played out like an existential chess game with agents sacrificed like pieces on the board.

Frank Pierson, an Oscar®-nominated screenwriter (Cat Ballou [1965] and Cool Hand Luke [1967]) who made his feature directing debut on the film, makes a few changes to Le Carré's story, most notably in the identity of its protagonist, Leiser. In the book, he's a retired Polish spy coaxed back for a mission behind the Iron Curtain to gather intelligence on possible Soviet missiles in East Germany. Pierson transforms the veteran operative into a young Polish defector who jumps ship to join his girlfriend in London and is pressured by British Intelligence to "volunteer" for a mission in exchange for citizenship.

Christopher Jones, a handsome young American actor best known as the rock star messiah in the 1968 youthsploitation drama Wild in the Streets, plays this incarnation of Lesier. With an accent less Anton Chekhov than Enterprise officer Chekov and a mod haircut, he comes off more like a pop star than a working class sailor from communist Poland, and his method school approach put him at odds with the theater-trained British cast. Jones was reportedly arrogant and uncommunicative on the set, much to the frustration of co-star Anthony Hopkins and to the delight of Ralph Richardson, who took every opportunity to tweak the American actor. After making Ryan's Daughter [1970] a couple of years later, Jones -- at the height of his fame -- retired from acting.

While Jones is the star of The Looking Glass War, Ralph Richardson and Anthony Hopkins provide its strength, sensibility and gravitas. One of the greats of British theater and cinema, Richardson plays the section head with a cool, unemotional façade of detachment as he sends agents on fatal missions with the slimmest of evidence. While he appears heartless on the surface, Richardson plays the role with the conviction of a man who defended Britain against the Nazis in World War II and has resigned himself to the cost of continuing that level of vigilance in the face of the Russians.

Hopkins is his more ambivalent subordinate tasked with giving Leiser a crash course in spycraft and preparing the civilian for a potentially fatal mission, and he channels Le Carré's distaste for the brutal spy games and manipulations of such intelligence work. Hopkins, still a relative newcomer to film, had just finished The Lion in Winter [1968] and his career was on an upswing, but he was miserable through the production of the film. While Jones and others flew off to Spain, which doubled for East Germany and Finland, Hopkins remained confined to Shepperton Studios.

"It was a very strange film, not helped for me because it was a deeply unhappy period of my life with everything at home really going to pieces," he later recalled. "I enjoyed working with Richardson, though, and he made me laugh a great deal."

Pia Degermark, a Swedish actress who plays a young East German woman pulled in to the spy games when she hitches a ride with Leiser (she's identified simply as "The Girl" in the credits), made her fame in the international Swedish hit Elvira Madigan [1967] and retired from screen acting a few years later with only a handful of credits to her name. Susan George stands out in a pair of scenes as the London girlfriend. And if the Finnish policeman at the morgue looks familiar, you may recognize Peter Swanwick from his role as the unnamed Supervisor who remained a constant presence through the cult TV series The Prisoner.

The Looking Glass War was the last feature based on a John le Carré novel for almost two decades. The complex stories with their subtle complications and downbeat tone were far less appealing to audiences than the pulp thrills of James Bond and his ilk. But superb TV mini-series adaptations of his later novels Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People revived interest in his stories and his clear-eyed take on real-world spies, and the 2011 feature film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy promises to keep his work relevant for another generation.

Producer: John Box
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Screenplay: Frank R. Pierson (written for the screen by); John le Carré (novel)
Cinematography: Austin Dempster
Art Direction: Terence Marsh
Music: Wally Stott
Film Editing: Willy Kemplen
Cast: Christopher Jones (Leiser), Pia Degermark (The Girl), Ralph Richardson (LeClerc), Paul Rogers (Haldane), Anthony Hopkins (John Avery), Susan George (Susan), Ray McAnally (Undersecretary of State), Robert Urquhart (Johnson), Anna Massey (Avery's Wife), Vivian Pickles (Mrs. King).
C-107m. Letterboxed.

by Sean Axmaker

Sources:
"Anthony Hopkins: The Unauthorized Biography," Michael Feeney Callan. 1993, Charles Scribner's Sons
"Anthony Hopkins: Too Good to Waste," Quentin Falk. 1989, Columbus Books, Ltd.
IMDb
The Looking Glass War

The Looking Glass War

The novels of John le Carré, the former British intelligence officer turned bestselling writer, are a response to the kiss kiss bang bang glamour of super spies, sexy women, high-tech gadgets, and thrilling missions created by the James Bond books and movies. The 1969 feature The Looking Glass War, based on John le Carré's fourth novel (which was published the same year that the film version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [1965] was released to great acclaim), was the third Le Carré adaption in as many years. It follows the same unglamorous portrait of intelligence gathering in the real world of Cold War espionage played out like an existential chess game with agents sacrificed like pieces on the board. Frank Pierson, an Oscar®-nominated screenwriter (Cat Ballou [1965] and Cool Hand Luke [1967]) who made his feature directing debut on the film, makes a few changes to Le Carré's story, most notably in the identity of its protagonist, Leiser. In the book, he's a retired Polish spy coaxed back for a mission behind the Iron Curtain to gather intelligence on possible Soviet missiles in East Germany. Pierson transforms the veteran operative into a young Polish defector who jumps ship to join his girlfriend in London and is pressured by British Intelligence to "volunteer" for a mission in exchange for citizenship. Christopher Jones, a handsome young American actor best known as the rock star messiah in the 1968 youthsploitation drama Wild in the Streets, plays this incarnation of Lesier. With an accent less Anton Chekhov than Enterprise officer Chekov and a mod haircut, he comes off more like a pop star than a working class sailor from communist Poland, and his method school approach put him at odds with the theater-trained British cast. Jones was reportedly arrogant and uncommunicative on the set, much to the frustration of co-star Anthony Hopkins and to the delight of Ralph Richardson, who took every opportunity to tweak the American actor. After making Ryan's Daughter [1970] a couple of years later, Jones -- at the height of his fame -- retired from acting. While Jones is the star of The Looking Glass War, Ralph Richardson and Anthony Hopkins provide its strength, sensibility and gravitas. One of the greats of British theater and cinema, Richardson plays the section head with a cool, unemotional façade of detachment as he sends agents on fatal missions with the slimmest of evidence. While he appears heartless on the surface, Richardson plays the role with the conviction of a man who defended Britain against the Nazis in World War II and has resigned himself to the cost of continuing that level of vigilance in the face of the Russians. Hopkins is his more ambivalent subordinate tasked with giving Leiser a crash course in spycraft and preparing the civilian for a potentially fatal mission, and he channels Le Carré's distaste for the brutal spy games and manipulations of such intelligence work. Hopkins, still a relative newcomer to film, had just finished The Lion in Winter [1968] and his career was on an upswing, but he was miserable through the production of the film. While Jones and others flew off to Spain, which doubled for East Germany and Finland, Hopkins remained confined to Shepperton Studios. "It was a very strange film, not helped for me because it was a deeply unhappy period of my life with everything at home really going to pieces," he later recalled. "I enjoyed working with Richardson, though, and he made me laugh a great deal." Pia Degermark, a Swedish actress who plays a young East German woman pulled in to the spy games when she hitches a ride with Leiser (she's identified simply as "The Girl" in the credits), made her fame in the international Swedish hit Elvira Madigan [1967] and retired from screen acting a few years later with only a handful of credits to her name. Susan George stands out in a pair of scenes as the London girlfriend. And if the Finnish policeman at the morgue looks familiar, you may recognize Peter Swanwick from his role as the unnamed Supervisor who remained a constant presence through the cult TV series The Prisoner. The Looking Glass War was the last feature based on a John le Carré novel for almost two decades. The complex stories with their subtle complications and downbeat tone were far less appealing to audiences than the pulp thrills of James Bond and his ilk. But superb TV mini-series adaptations of his later novels Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People revived interest in his stories and his clear-eyed take on real-world spies, and the 2011 feature film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy promises to keep his work relevant for another generation. Producer: John Box Director: Frank R. Pierson Screenplay: Frank R. Pierson (written for the screen by); John le Carré (novel) Cinematography: Austin Dempster Art Direction: Terence Marsh Music: Wally Stott Film Editing: Willy Kemplen Cast: Christopher Jones (Leiser), Pia Degermark (The Girl), Ralph Richardson (LeClerc), Paul Rogers (Haldane), Anthony Hopkins (John Avery), Susan George (Susan), Ray McAnally (Undersecretary of State), Robert Urquhart (Johnson), Anna Massey (Avery's Wife), Vivian Pickles (Mrs. King). C-107m. Letterboxed. by Sean Axmaker Sources: "Anthony Hopkins: The Unauthorized Biography," Michael Feeney Callan. 1993, Charles Scribner's Sons "Anthony Hopkins: Too Good to Waste," Quentin Falk. 1989, Columbus Books, Ltd. IMDb

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Opened in London in January 1970.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1970

Released in United States 1970