DATELINE: Graham Greene Spy Novel!
Based on a Graham Greene novel, this movie is the ultimate in dry British style. In some ways it is the antithesis of what you’d expect from James Bond or George Smiley. There is really no action, but it is hilarious in its microcosmic scenes.
The Human Factoris a far-cry from the action flicks Preminger gave us fromLaura to Stalag 17 to Bunny Lake is Missing,and on and on. Preminger’s list of credits is astounding. So, this may be a bit of a shock to fans who may think the old master had lost it in old age.
The cast is nothing short of dead-pan marvelous: Nicol Williamson, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Richard Attenborough, and Robert Morley in fine fettle.
It’s 1979 and there is a leak in security at the MI-5 HQ. Maybe it’s serious, and maybe they are just over-reacting—think of Kim Philby.
Preminger just lets the actors downplay. As for the plot, it has to do with Britain’s involvement in apartheid Africa, which is lost on most American audiences. Flashbacks a decade earlier show Williamson with his beautiful African wife, Imam. You know it’s a flashback because he doesn’t have a mustache.
In between the dull parts, you have Robert Morley mugging at the girls in a strip bar, most unconvincingly but comic for sure. It’s all veddy-veddy British.
It is almost quaint to see the simple tools of spying, dropped off messages, phone calls on land-lines, and simple codes.
Noted actress Ann Todd appears in a pivotal, harsh role as Williamsson’s mother toward the end—and the defector games seem almost like Edward Snowden modern.
Otto Preminger’s low-budget effort is in a minor key, but he stayed active and possibly relevant, even in his final movie directing.