Russian Agents in The Serpent

DATELINE: Cold War Star Vehicle Still Resonates

the serpent

If deals with the Russians worries you, we found the perfect movie: The Serpent, a movie from the height of the Cold War that you may have missed. We are not sure it even played in American theatres.

We remain stunned by the stellar cast:  Henry Fonda, playing the head of the CIA, a version of Allen Dulles; his counterpart from England, in the person of Dirk Bogarde, and Farley Granger as Fonda’s aide-de-camp. Also around is 1940s star Robert Alda (yes, Alan’s father) as an interrogator of Russian defector Yul Brynner. Virna Lisi is around as  femme fatale. This concoction was directed by French master Henri Verneuil.

This is wishful John LeCarre, pulled from the bottom drawer of your spy genre. Yet, it is compelling to see the stars walking through the CIA headquarters in the age before computers.

We loved the scene of Brynner wired up for a lie detector test. He has more cables on him than an Xfinity technician, including a facial harness that Mr. Ed once wore.

We are shown the hard-working CIA agents at Langley—and it is hard work because they have to read stacks of newspapers and listen to radio broadcasts. There are computers in the CIA, but forget unobtrusiveness. These computers pre-date Marshall McLuhan. Not one is smaller than a two-story house.

Brynner plays one of the Kremlin bigwigs thrown out of power by Brezhnev in the mid-1960s—and he has plenty to tell the Americans, if they deign to trust him.

The Russians were pulling the wool over the eyes of Americans when Trump was a young entrepreneur without a thought of collusion.

By lending their considerable presence to the shenanigans, you have something more than a low-budget spy drama. We hesitate to call it a thriller. It could more rightly be labelled a sleeper. We certainly enjoyed it.

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Revamped and Rejuvenated Westworld Hits HBO

DATELINE: Move Over, Yul

ed-harris

If you liked Jonathan Nolan’s computer savvy approach to Person of Interest, you will thoroughly enjoy his latest foray into the technology of the future.

Nolan has sunk his teeth into the old Yul Brynner sci-fi classic by Michael Crichton, Westworld.  As producer, director, and writer, he is bringing his unique talents to a new fascinating project. It is hypnotic, chilling, and fascinating.

Bringing in Anthony Hopkins as the dubious owner and creator of Westworld and Jeffrey Wright as his technical expert left-hand, you have the behind-the-scenes string-pullers for android marionettes and martinets.

In the realm of the theme park itself, playing a version of Yul is Ed Harris as the Man in Black. This time he is not an android, but worse—a genuinely disturbing real person with an ugly penchant for violence.

 

Programmed not to hurt humans, the androids seem to be breaking down—or have been given a virus to send them into danger mode.

The opening episode on HBO sets up the premise of a handsome production with gripping ideas and smart cast (James Marsden is a robot, folks).

 

As in his highly successful Person of Interest, Nolan manages to make his anti-heroic theme park both a paradigm of evil and an homage to fantasy.

 

Though this may send you running to see the old 1973 flick with Richard Benjamin as the bumbling victim of Brynner’s obsessive robot, this new version is far subtler and has the luxury of weeks of exposition to make its point.

 

This has cable series mega-hit written all over it, and Nolan has managed to avoid the anti-intellectual CBS moguls whose appreciation for brainless entertainment has condemned them to pabulum TV and canceling Person of Interest.