Cold Warrior Spy: Richard Burton

DATELINE: Don’t Make’em Like This Anymore

 Dazzling Burton!

The extraordinary 1965 film of John le Carré’s classic,The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, has been listed on Prime as an action thriller. Of course, it is neither. It is a bleak, sober, cold and dreary film about moral turpitude among the espionage community.

John le Carré himself was an agent of MI-6 who turned into a novelist.

This was a seminal Richard Burton performance: and no one ever, even today, can convey the dissipation and ennui as he can. To watch him staggering around (as a double agent) in rainstorms and walking around bleak streets, avoiding a tail is in itself remarkable. We even see him in a Volkswagen, as an M-6 agent pretending to defect to the East.

George Smiley, the most famous of all the LeCarre agents, is here in the form of an unimpressive figure (actor Rupert Davies) working for Control. We believe it is the first Smiley appearance in a movie, as he later became known for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spyin several movie incarnations (Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman, notably). Here he is a plot key, but mostly as a spoken name.

Claire Bloom is the female lead. It was one of the few movies that Elizabeth Taylor simply could not play with her then husband. She would not make a convincing demure librarian—and had to pass on the role when director Martin Ritt put his foot down and said, “NO!”  Bloom is perfect. Burton was peeved and Taylor hung around the set causing mischief.

Oskar Werner has the other smallish but central part as the nemesis to the British secret agent. He is the elusive and dangerous East German spy that has hamstrung MI-6—and must be discredited to the Soviets.

That’s Burton’s job: not glamourous or exciting, but could mean his life is up for Cold War grabs.

Climax is at the Berlin Wall where double-crossing takes on a double meaning.

 

Burton’s angry speech near the end is worth the entire film.

 

 

Brotherhood, Pre-Godfather Family

DATELINE: Mechanics Unionized 

Back in 1968, Lewis John Carlino wrote another in a bravura series of movie scripts. This time, after an intellectual horror thriller called Seconds,and a Lesbian love story called The Fox, he tackled an Organized crime story called The Brotherhood. 

It was years before Brando played Don Corleone, but many of the set-ups of the Godfather turned up before hand in a movie produced by Kirk Douglas—and he took the lead role as the Sicilian mobster.

He might seem to be miscast, but he was in charge: he also spoke perfect Italian in many scenes (and the film did not have subtitles to help audiences understand the dialogue).

Carlino’s mob features a theme he liked to explore: older gangster and younger acolyte. In this film, the older brother Frank (Douglas) has reluctantly taken his younger brother Vinnie, a war hero and college man, into the mob. If it sounds like Michael Corleone, it likely is.

Alex Cord (big things were expected) had the big role as the foil to Kirk Douglas. The film featured marriages and dancing to “Moon River” no less. There is a family compound too.

The faces of the old mob included Eduardo Cinannelli and Luther Adler, and new character stars like Murray Hamilton.

Douglas is a witty and violent man, and such men are dangerous. When they make him and offer he can’t refuse, he does—and violence follows.

With all location shots, there seem to be few studio scenes, if any. And, the streets of Palermo, Sicily, are exactly the atmosphere for your climax. One brother is sent after another. The infamous advertisement of the betrayal kiss is your pinnacle of drama.

We saw that too in the Godfather movies: mechanics sent to Sicily to dispatch people. And this movie features one of Carlino’s favorite devices: the abrupt violent end to the story and curtain black. They claimed this movie was a box-office failure—and almost caused the studios to decline Puzo’s Godfather. It certainly caused Kirk Douglas to decline an option on Carlino’s next gangster movie—The Mechanic, which eventually went to Charles Bronson.