Tinker, Tailor, Puzzle-maker

DATELINE: Cold Warriors

Hardy boy

 Hunky Hardy Boy!

If you want to be challenged by John LeCarre’s masterpiece of espionage during the Cold War, you might well take in the movie version of George Smiley’s hard work in finding a mole that caused the death of Control in the British secret service.

One kingfish at the agency seems to have a direct connection to the Kremlin. Though Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been forced out into retirement with his mentor, Control (John Hurt), he must work covertly to restore the integrity of the Circus.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is for those who enjoy armchair psychology and thought-provoking shades of gray.

Through complex flashbacks, and even more complex human relationships, you will find these are not pleasant men. The cast is stellar beyond compare: Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, are stand-outs.

The sexual peccadilloes are unspoken, but there is a strong scent of blackmail and unspoken ties among the men. It is nearly as much a guessing game about their bedtime bedmates as it is about their political bedmates.

The complexity and subtlety of the film probably makes it beyond the tolerance level of your standard James Bond satire fans. This is the low-key, grubby, office worker mentality of the Cold War. Oldman is particularly wooden to hide his tormented feelings.

Every spy ought to be brought in from this Cold War before their tedious work drives them to distraction.

Oldman plays much older, and the young men (Hardy and Cumberbatch) had better days ahead as superstars. They could not be more stunningly attractive in 2011 and quickly made a mark with this film.


Endeavour 5.5: Quartet

DATELINE:  Bond, Endeavour Bond

Endeavour as Bond Shaun Bond, or Smiley Evans?

The latest episode called “Quartet”, set in 1968, at the height of the James Bond and Spy Who Came in from the Cold, sent Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) into the world of foreign agents and double-crosses with Communists.

It’s not a far jump from an international festival murder at Oxford to the world of mysterious secret agents. A child is collateral damage during spy versus spy, which incenses Endeavour. Call this a kind of Bond meets John LeCarre!

As Inspector Thursday states, they are not “danger men” referring to the series starring Patrick McGoohan back then as a secret agent man. The police are ordered to back off the case, but Morse soon finds himself working undercover too with all those 00 types.

When members of the Special Branch ask to meet Morse and tell him to wear a dinner jacket, he shows up like Bond for a meeting with a couple of weasels that would make George Smiley smile.

The British have always had a spot for traitors and communists in the government and, in the words of one double agent, little people. The ones you don’t notice are the hired assassins.

They even try to garotte Morse, and they hijack murder victims to cover up the covert stuff.

Though there seems to be an unrelated case of domestic abuse going on in the mundane world of Thursday’s precinct, it may all tie in to billionaire perfume makers, East German dentures, and girlfriends who run off to take photos in Vietnam.

This season Endeavour offers two bonus episodes, and this high quality makes us wish they could make many more.

Yes, the series is already down for a sixth and likely final season.


House Meets Loki, Thanks to LeCarre

DATELINE: The Nighty Night Manager

House Meets Loki

Tom Hiddleston is auditioning to be the next James Bond by starring as Pine/Birch, the mysterious agent in John LeCarre’s The Night Manager.

This brilliantly produced miniseries features Loki versus House, for movie fans. Yes, Hugh Laurie has joined Hiddleston to produce the series in a fanfare of luscious locations and political hotspots.

From Egypt to a Swiss hideaway to Mallorca, the tantalizing scenery masks a hot-and-cold cat-and-mouse game.

Hiddleston’s hotel manager, coolly efficient, is allegedly recruited by MI6 to spy on a sociopathic arms dealer posing as a humanitarian billionaire. Enter House Laurie in an especially vile role. He shares executive producer status with Hiddleston—and they have given themselves prime cut roles.

Master espionage writer John LeCarre even appears in a cameo in this film, as a restaurant patron subjected to Hiddleston’s agent having his crotch grabbed in a rather brazen dinner scene.

If you like cloak and dagger, LeCarre does it with a Smiley face. You can’t tell if or when Hiddleston’s hero has turned from good guy to bad. However, the scenes between Laurie and him grow increasingly entertaining with menace and charm.

In today’s cartoon superhero market, there is scant room for intelligent characters and complex plots, but those who want room service from Tom Hiddleston may be the recipient of super-service. This actor has grown from his Wallendar second-banana status to second banana Viking god to first-banana spy.

Be forewarned: the 5-part series ends with a comebacker that requires a promised second-season of episodes.

Deion Branch: Defector and Defective



The original spy who came in from the cold, Bill Belichick, dismissed the information being sold by Deion Branch to the Indianapolis Colts.

The former Patriot and colleague of Tom Brady has gone to the highest bidder for one playoff game. Belichick scoffed at the action.

Without calling Deion’s microfiche and videotapes worthless, Belichick fairly much noted this kind of information is quickly out of date. As in baseball, Belichick will simply change the signs.

Tinkers, tailors, soldiers, and spies are painted with a smiley face only in John LeCarre stories, according to Coach Bill Belichick.

In some ways Belichick sounded a bit like President Obama talking about NSA leaker Edward Snowden. And, we all know how much info he has provided to the world. Some are now urging Obama give Snowden immunity and a medal.

Tom Brady may want to call Deion the spy who loved me, but his departure for the pastures of wherever Luck-would-have-it sounds like a thunderball out of the blue.

Branch lived across the street from Aaron Hernandez for several years, and he never saw anything suspicious. How much of the Patriots playbill did he really see?

Another turncoat named Bob Lazar left Area 51 and blabbed about back engineering captured saucers. Lazar was thoroughly discredited.

We presume that Belichick’s security is actually tighter than at Area 51—but the defection of Deion Branch to the enemy has rattled the Foxboro Security Forces, which is a branch of Mission: Impossible where Deion once toiled.

Belichick’s secret weapon is the denizens of the Weather Channel, not the ones with the underground Weathermen, but the meteorological cadre. An astute observer of weather in New England, Belichick’s strategy is always predicated on which way the wind is blowing.

And, he may as well have announced it on Twitter: Deion Branch is all wet and doesn’t have sense to come in out of the rain.



Page Eight Ought to Make Headlines


Leave it to David Hare to write and to direct an updated version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  It’s an old plot from John LeCarre—and Hare makes it seem fresh and original.

This brilliant contemporary spy drama outdoes George Smiley from a generation or two ago. The older generation of spies in Her Majesty’s Service is still fighting the cowboy mentality of the young bucks.

In this case, the old-boy network suffers usurping and threats by a new generation-type female spy chief.  At one point, in exasperation she asks the dissipated old second in command if he has chosen a time rather late in life to become a hero.

Actor Bill Nighy as Johnny is perfect with his laid-back gentle charm and ties to head of agency Michael Gambon who is the new Control. Spies cannot really trust anyone, not even next-door neighbors. Once the mentality sets in, you seem to look around everywhere for spooks.

Actors Tom Hughes and Rachel Weisz, always nice to look at, give superior accountings and add a touch of suspicion. Veteran actresss Judy Davis turns in a bitter and hard-edge character to her repertoire. Not to be missed is Ralph Fiennes as the dubious prime minister.

From the start we may realize there is something decidedly 1950s about the tale, from its nourish film score of jazz to the aging spies who have gone from cold warriors to corporate style.

Fortunately for us, Johnny has all the old skills and employs them to delight us.

This sleeper deserves more viewers, and writer/director David Hare should be wary of spies bearing gifts.

William Russo has penned many historical books about Hollywood and movies, including AUDIE MURPHY IN VIETNAM, RIDING JAMES KIRKWOOD’S PONY, and his movie review collection, MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE. All are available on Amazon.com both in e-book and softcover.