The Spy Who Came In From the Cold


1h 52m 1965
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

Brief Synopsis

A British agent infiltrates the enemy by allowing himself to be disgraced at home.

Photos & Videos

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold - Movie Poster

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
Political
Spy
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1965
Premiere Information
Miami Beach, Florida, opening: 16 Dec 1965
Production Company
Salem Films
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Ireland; West Germany; Netherlands; England, United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carré (London, 1963).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 52m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Alec Leamas, the British intelligence officer in charge of espionage in Germany, is sent home after another British agent is killed at the Berlin Wall. The British service, led by Control, wants to eliminate Hans-Dieter Mundt, head of the East German organization. Leamas acts as an alcoholic to undertake the assignment. He obtains a job as an assistant librarian and slowly becomes involved with librarian Nan Perry, a Communist. Sent to jail for fighting, he is released and offered a sum of money to reveal his secrets. Leamas accepts and meets Fiedler, Mundt's assistant. Fiedler, a brilliant Jew who is eager to frame Mundt as a double agent, arranges a secret trubunal with Leamas as the star witness. At the tribunal, Nan Perry is called as a surprise witness, and Leamas realizes that the purpose of the plot was to eliminate Fiedler and strengthen Mundt, who is really a British agent. Mundt arranges for Nan and Leamas to escape over the Berlin Wall, but when Nan, a security risk, has to be shot, Leamas stays behind and is also killed.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
Political
Spy
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1965
Premiere Information
Miami Beach, Florida, opening: 16 Dec 1965
Production Company
Salem Films
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Ireland; West Germany; Netherlands; England, United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carré (London, 1963).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 52m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1966
Richard Burton

Best Art Direction

1966
Tambi Larsen

Articles

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold on Blu-ray


John le Carré's novels of national intelligence and international espionage during the Cold War arrived as an antidote to the Bond novels of the 1950s and spy fantasy movies of the 1960s and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, his third novel, perfected his morally ambivalent perspective. This is a culture where ordinary, drab men toil away unglamorously in the shadows while bureaucrats make calculated decisions and spin elaborate schemes that put men in harm's way. The book was published in 1963 and in 1965 it became the first of le Carré's novels adapted for the big screen.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is directed and produced by the versatile Martin Ritt, an American with a legacy of intelligent films and mature themes, including the somber, subdued, conflicted modern western Hud. He brings the same commitment to le Carre's vision. It's shot on location in Britain and Europe with a British screenwriter, crew, and cast, and it has a sensibility marinated in British restraint and Le Carre's ambivalence and mistrust of methods and motivations on both sides of the Cold War.

Richard Burton stars as Alec Leamas, a British agent with MI-6 who, in the first scene of the film, watches yet another undercover agent die while trying to cross over from East Germany to West Germany, shot while caught between checkpoints. It's enough to turn the once-sturdy agent into a disillusioned burn-out but there's a mole in the organization that needs flushing out or more agents are doomed to die. "I need you to stay in the cold a little longer," he's told after reporting back to Control, and so begins his decline into unemployment, private sector dreariness, the bottle, and possibly into high treason when a foreign agent comes shopping for secrets. It's a viciously clever and ruthlessly effective confidence game, emphasis on the ruthless.

Claire Bloom co-stars as Nan, an idealistic young woman who works at a strange lending library of books on magic and myth and supernatural topics and proudly serves at her local branch of the British Communist party. Her compassion for the wounded Alec (who tends to drink his lunches and keep his sardonic comments just barely civil) turns to romantic interest. She's the sole innocent in a world of double agents, ambitious officers, and cold, calculating spies, and Alec is genuinely moved by her commitment to an ideal that he knows very well has become a corrupted institution. Oskar Werner plays Alec's opposite, the brilliant young East German agent Fiedler, a true believer with a fierce commitment to service.

Richard Burton spent too much of his career going through the motions or distracting himself with drink but he delivers one of his finest, most nuanced performances as Alec Leamus, an agent who has to play the career man gone sour, surly and angry. He plays it so well that you have to wonder if Alec is simply letting own history of frustration and disappointment rise to the surface. He lets his face fall with apathy and alcohol, a dull stupor that goes away only when he's talking to his fellow agents. Even in private with Nan, ostensibly at ease and being a normal guy with a girl, he's in character, the broken, cynical man. He's the double agent as method actor, with the real man somewhere in between the blur of the two roles. If he's resigned to the cold machinations of spycraft, he's still taken aback by the callous manipulations of his superior officers as they pull innocent bystanders into the plot as insurance. It earned Burton a well-deserved Academy Award nomination (he lost to Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou) and BAFTA and David di Donatello Awards for Best Actor.

If the machinations of the Circus (as they refer to MI-6) is coolly dispassionate, it is downright cold-blooded on the other side of the Iron Curtain and the film makes no bones about the crude aristocracy in this so-called classless society. As Alec is recruited and wooed by increasingly senior officers, we see an arrogance of power and authority flaunted with an attitude bordering on derision, from simple displays of authority over underlings to flamboyant pageants of power in meetings, always trying to take control or show dominance. If Nan's faith in Communism represents the ideal, this crude feudal hierarchy is the reality according to le Carré.

It remains one of the most intelligent spy dramas made, and one of the most disillusioned. Martin Ritt casts a spell through the film, creating a tension in subdued dialogue scenes by suggesting the power plays under the surface of edged remarks and prodding suggestions. He shoots in shabby apartments, tawdry clubs, and rooms devoid of warmth for personality, the better isolate Alec, in a handsome, unshowy style. Ritt and cinematographer Oswald Morris choose to avoid the shadowy film aesthetics of dark rooms and night scenes and slashes of light, instead choosing a cooler, more natural look, a heightened realism stripped of extraneous detail. Morris's camerawork is restrained yet fluid, carving out the scenes with a sure sense of space, and the black-and-white photography seems just right for a film where the players are measured in shades of gray. Criterion originally released the film on DVD in 2008 and upgrades the disc for this Blu-ray release with a new digital film restoration that showcases the handsome cinematography. It's unglamorous, to be sure, yet the overcast look (does the sun ever break through the clouds of ambiguity?) is full of evocative atmosphere and precise detail and the HD presentation preserves the cool film texture.

The new Blu-ray features the supplements of the previous Criterion DVD release: select scene commentary featuring director of photography Oswald Morris, a 40-minute interview with author John le Carré, the 2000 BBC documentary The Secret Centre: John le Carré, a 1967 interview with Richard Burton from the BBC series Acting in the '60s conducted by critic Kenneth Tynan, a 1985 audio-only interview with Martin Ritt conducted by film historian Patrick McGilligan, a gallery of set designs, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Sragow.

By Sean Axmaker
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold On Blu-Ray

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold on Blu-ray

John le Carré's novels of national intelligence and international espionage during the Cold War arrived as an antidote to the Bond novels of the 1950s and spy fantasy movies of the 1960s and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, his third novel, perfected his morally ambivalent perspective. This is a culture where ordinary, drab men toil away unglamorously in the shadows while bureaucrats make calculated decisions and spin elaborate schemes that put men in harm's way. The book was published in 1963 and in 1965 it became the first of le Carré's novels adapted for the big screen. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is directed and produced by the versatile Martin Ritt, an American with a legacy of intelligent films and mature themes, including the somber, subdued, conflicted modern western Hud. He brings the same commitment to le Carre's vision. It's shot on location in Britain and Europe with a British screenwriter, crew, and cast, and it has a sensibility marinated in British restraint and Le Carre's ambivalence and mistrust of methods and motivations on both sides of the Cold War. Richard Burton stars as Alec Leamas, a British agent with MI-6 who, in the first scene of the film, watches yet another undercover agent die while trying to cross over from East Germany to West Germany, shot while caught between checkpoints. It's enough to turn the once-sturdy agent into a disillusioned burn-out but there's a mole in the organization that needs flushing out or more agents are doomed to die. "I need you to stay in the cold a little longer," he's told after reporting back to Control, and so begins his decline into unemployment, private sector dreariness, the bottle, and possibly into high treason when a foreign agent comes shopping for secrets. It's a viciously clever and ruthlessly effective confidence game, emphasis on the ruthless. Claire Bloom co-stars as Nan, an idealistic young woman who works at a strange lending library of books on magic and myth and supernatural topics and proudly serves at her local branch of the British Communist party. Her compassion for the wounded Alec (who tends to drink his lunches and keep his sardonic comments just barely civil) turns to romantic interest. She's the sole innocent in a world of double agents, ambitious officers, and cold, calculating spies, and Alec is genuinely moved by her commitment to an ideal that he knows very well has become a corrupted institution. Oskar Werner plays Alec's opposite, the brilliant young East German agent Fiedler, a true believer with a fierce commitment to service. Richard Burton spent too much of his career going through the motions or distracting himself with drink but he delivers one of his finest, most nuanced performances as Alec Leamus, an agent who has to play the career man gone sour, surly and angry. He plays it so well that you have to wonder if Alec is simply letting own history of frustration and disappointment rise to the surface. He lets his face fall with apathy and alcohol, a dull stupor that goes away only when he's talking to his fellow agents. Even in private with Nan, ostensibly at ease and being a normal guy with a girl, he's in character, the broken, cynical man. He's the double agent as method actor, with the real man somewhere in between the blur of the two roles. If he's resigned to the cold machinations of spycraft, he's still taken aback by the callous manipulations of his superior officers as they pull innocent bystanders into the plot as insurance. It earned Burton a well-deserved Academy Award nomination (he lost to Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou) and BAFTA and David di Donatello Awards for Best Actor. If the machinations of the Circus (as they refer to MI-6) is coolly dispassionate, it is downright cold-blooded on the other side of the Iron Curtain and the film makes no bones about the crude aristocracy in this so-called classless society. As Alec is recruited and wooed by increasingly senior officers, we see an arrogance of power and authority flaunted with an attitude bordering on derision, from simple displays of authority over underlings to flamboyant pageants of power in meetings, always trying to take control or show dominance. If Nan's faith in Communism represents the ideal, this crude feudal hierarchy is the reality according to le Carré. It remains one of the most intelligent spy dramas made, and one of the most disillusioned. Martin Ritt casts a spell through the film, creating a tension in subdued dialogue scenes by suggesting the power plays under the surface of edged remarks and prodding suggestions. He shoots in shabby apartments, tawdry clubs, and rooms devoid of warmth for personality, the better isolate Alec, in a handsome, unshowy style. Ritt and cinematographer Oswald Morris choose to avoid the shadowy film aesthetics of dark rooms and night scenes and slashes of light, instead choosing a cooler, more natural look, a heightened realism stripped of extraneous detail. Morris's camerawork is restrained yet fluid, carving out the scenes with a sure sense of space, and the black-and-white photography seems just right for a film where the players are measured in shades of gray. Criterion originally released the film on DVD in 2008 and upgrades the disc for this Blu-ray release with a new digital film restoration that showcases the handsome cinematography. It's unglamorous, to be sure, yet the overcast look (does the sun ever break through the clouds of ambiguity?) is full of evocative atmosphere and precise detail and the HD presentation preserves the cool film texture. The new Blu-ray features the supplements of the previous Criterion DVD release: select scene commentary featuring director of photography Oswald Morris, a 40-minute interview with author John le Carré, the 2000 BBC documentary The Secret Centre: John le Carré, a 1967 interview with Richard Burton from the BBC series Acting in the '60s conducted by critic Kenneth Tynan, a 1985 audio-only interview with Martin Ritt conducted by film historian Patrick McGilligan, a gallery of set designs, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Sragow. By Sean Axmaker

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold


Of all the novelists who specialize in espionage and spy thrillers, John Le Carre is probably the most acclaimed within literary circles for his distinctive prose and realistic, often unflattering portrayals of counter-intelligence agencies. While his books didn't win him many friends at the British Secret Service or the C.I.A., readers were fascinated with his stories which often presented all-too-human characters toiling away in morally dubious assignments amid bleak or less than glamorous surroundings. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) is generally regarded as one of Le Carre's finest works and the film version, directed by Martin Ritt, is a remarkably faithful adaptation, capturing all the disillusionment and despair of the novel, a mood that was perfectly in keeping with its setting - East Berlin during the Cold War era.

In the central role, Richard Burton plays Alec Leamas, a burnt-out officer in the British Intelligence who is given a final assignment before his retirement: to find and expose the "mole" in their own organization who is operating within a communist cell in East Berlin. Leamas is given a new identity - as a hard-drinking, political dissident who wants to defect from West Germany - and, as part of his cover, finds work at a library where he meets Nan Perry (Claire Bloom), a Communist Party member. Eventually, Leamas manages to infiltrate the secret organization run by former Nazi Hans-Dieter Mundt (Peter van Eyck) but quickly learns that his own role in the affair is a convenient smoke screen for his superiors; he is actually a pawn in an elaborate double-cross.

Prior to filming The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Richard Burton had just completed The Sandpiper (1965) with his wife Elizabeth Taylor, and was ready to take on more challenging material after the soap opera histrionics of the latter film. The role of Leamas was unlike any previous character Burton had played: he was depressive, non-communicative and spoke in monosyllables. There were no grand speeches or passionate explosions of emotion. Burton told an on-set interviewer, "The others do all the acting. As Leamus, I just react." Interestingly enough, Burton, who was playing a habitual drinker in the film, was a well-known imbiber off the set but the director discouraged his bad habits with the exception of one scene. Burton recalled, "I had to knock back a large whiskey. It was the last shot of the day, and I decided to use the real hard stuff. We did 47 takes. Imagine it, luv, 47 whiskies." Despite his flippant remark, Burton gave one of his most memorable performances in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, winning himself a Best Actor Oscar nomination (he lost to Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou). But during production, the actor was miserable. His immersion in the gloomy character he was playing began to affect him deeply as well as those around him. He drank more heavily and he found the various film locations - Shepperton Studios outside London, Dublin, Ireland, and Bavaria - cold and depressing.

Burton's co-star, Claire Bloom, also found the actor unfriendly and distant. Years before, during the making of Look Back in Anger (1958), they had been lovers but upon their first meeting on the set of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Burton snubbed her. In retaliation, Bloom needled him on the set by doing wicked imitations of Elizabeth Taylor. Later she would mock him to the press as well, remarking on his career arc: "It was obvious that he was going to be a huge star, which is not the same as being a great actor. He has confused them." Yet, in spite of her feelings about Burton, Bloom would later cite The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as one of the few films she was actually proud of; the others being Limelight (1952), Richard III (1954) and Look Back in Anger.

Critics were likewise impressed with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and lavished praise on everything from the ensemble acting to the atmospheric art direction (It was also nominated for an Oscar) and Martin Ritt's skills as a producer-director. The New York Times wrote that "it looks as though Mr. Ritt has slipped in with a handheld camera and started recording the movements of a British secret agent at the Berlin wall." Probably the most accurate assessment of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is this review by Geoff Andrew in the TimeOut Film Guide: "John Le Carre's novel about betrayal and disillusionment in the world of East/West espionage is treated with intelligence and a disarming lack of sentimentality or moralizing....What finally impresses, however, is the sheer seediness of so much of the film, with characters, buildings, and landscapes lent convincingly grubby life by Oswald Morris' excellent monochrome camera work."

Producer/Director: Martin Ritt
Screenplay: Paul Dehn, Guy Troper, based on the novel by John Le Carre
Production Design: Tambi Larsen, Ted Marshall, Hal Pereira
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Costume Design: Motley
Film Editing: Anthony Harvey
Original Music: Sol Kaplan
Principal Cast: Richard Burton (Alec Leamas), Claire Bloom (Nan Perry), Oskar Werner (Fiedler).
BW-113m.

by Jeff Stafford

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

Of all the novelists who specialize in espionage and spy thrillers, John Le Carre is probably the most acclaimed within literary circles for his distinctive prose and realistic, often unflattering portrayals of counter-intelligence agencies. While his books didn't win him many friends at the British Secret Service or the C.I.A., readers were fascinated with his stories which often presented all-too-human characters toiling away in morally dubious assignments amid bleak or less than glamorous surroundings. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) is generally regarded as one of Le Carre's finest works and the film version, directed by Martin Ritt, is a remarkably faithful adaptation, capturing all the disillusionment and despair of the novel, a mood that was perfectly in keeping with its setting - East Berlin during the Cold War era. In the central role, Richard Burton plays Alec Leamas, a burnt-out officer in the British Intelligence who is given a final assignment before his retirement: to find and expose the "mole" in their own organization who is operating within a communist cell in East Berlin. Leamas is given a new identity - as a hard-drinking, political dissident who wants to defect from West Germany - and, as part of his cover, finds work at a library where he meets Nan Perry (Claire Bloom), a Communist Party member. Eventually, Leamas manages to infiltrate the secret organization run by former Nazi Hans-Dieter Mundt (Peter van Eyck) but quickly learns that his own role in the affair is a convenient smoke screen for his superiors; he is actually a pawn in an elaborate double-cross. Prior to filming The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Richard Burton had just completed The Sandpiper (1965) with his wife Elizabeth Taylor, and was ready to take on more challenging material after the soap opera histrionics of the latter film. The role of Leamas was unlike any previous character Burton had played: he was depressive, non-communicative and spoke in monosyllables. There were no grand speeches or passionate explosions of emotion. Burton told an on-set interviewer, "The others do all the acting. As Leamus, I just react." Interestingly enough, Burton, who was playing a habitual drinker in the film, was a well-known imbiber off the set but the director discouraged his bad habits with the exception of one scene. Burton recalled, "I had to knock back a large whiskey. It was the last shot of the day, and I decided to use the real hard stuff. We did 47 takes. Imagine it, luv, 47 whiskies." Despite his flippant remark, Burton gave one of his most memorable performances in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, winning himself a Best Actor Oscar nomination (he lost to Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou). But during production, the actor was miserable. His immersion in the gloomy character he was playing began to affect him deeply as well as those around him. He drank more heavily and he found the various film locations - Shepperton Studios outside London, Dublin, Ireland, and Bavaria - cold and depressing. Burton's co-star, Claire Bloom, also found the actor unfriendly and distant. Years before, during the making of Look Back in Anger (1958), they had been lovers but upon their first meeting on the set of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Burton snubbed her. In retaliation, Bloom needled him on the set by doing wicked imitations of Elizabeth Taylor. Later she would mock him to the press as well, remarking on his career arc: "It was obvious that he was going to be a huge star, which is not the same as being a great actor. He has confused them." Yet, in spite of her feelings about Burton, Bloom would later cite The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as one of the few films she was actually proud of; the others being Limelight (1952), Richard III (1954) and Look Back in Anger. Critics were likewise impressed with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and lavished praise on everything from the ensemble acting to the atmospheric art direction (It was also nominated for an Oscar) and Martin Ritt's skills as a producer-director. The New York Times wrote that "it looks as though Mr. Ritt has slipped in with a handheld camera and started recording the movements of a British secret agent at the Berlin wall." Probably the most accurate assessment of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is this review by Geoff Andrew in the TimeOut Film Guide: "John Le Carre's novel about betrayal and disillusionment in the world of East/West espionage is treated with intelligence and a disarming lack of sentimentality or moralizing....What finally impresses, however, is the sheer seediness of so much of the film, with characters, buildings, and landscapes lent convincingly grubby life by Oswald Morris' excellent monochrome camera work." Producer/Director: Martin Ritt Screenplay: Paul Dehn, Guy Troper, based on the novel by John Le Carre Production Design: Tambi Larsen, Ted Marshall, Hal Pereira Cinematography: Oswald Morris Costume Design: Motley Film Editing: Anthony Harvey Original Music: Sol Kaplan Principal Cast: Richard Burton (Alec Leamas), Claire Bloom (Nan Perry), Oskar Werner (Fiedler). BW-113m. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

She offered me free love. At the time, that was all I could afford.
- Alec Leamas

Trivia

Notes

Filmed in England, Ireland, Holland, and West Germany. Opened in London in January 1966.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1965 National Board of Review.

Released in United States on Video October 12, 1988

Released in United States Winter December 16, 1965

Released in United States Winter December 16, 1965

Released in United States on Video October 12, 1988