“ Genre: Crime & Thriller / Theatrical Release: 1966 / Parental Guidance / Director: Michael Anderson / Actors: George Segal, Alec Guinness, Max Von Sydow, Senta Berger, Robert Flemyng ... / DVD released 2006-05-08 at Network / Features of the DVD: Colour, PAL, Special Edition „
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This is an outstanding cold war espionage thriller, based upon a book called the Berlin Memorandum by Adam Hall. Though set in Berlin during the cold war, it's not actually focused on the cold war itself, but on the idea that even after then end of World War 2, there were still those who were Nazi sympathizers and were out to take control of Germany once more. This makes it a bit different from other cold war espionage thrillers such as The Spy who came in from the Cold, Funeral in Berlin and the James Bond films. It's also an interesting subject as well, and makes for compelling watching.
The film stars George Segal, Alec Guiness, Max Von Sydow and Senta Berger. It has a seriously fast paced and direct screenplay written by Harold Pinter, and was directed by Michael Anderson (best remembered for Logan's Run). It also boasts an almost hypnotic musical score by John Barry, who is best known for his espionage music.
At the beginning of the film, a man is walking down a road in the middle of the night. He sees a phone box and walks into it. Something worries him. Rightfully so, as the moment he tries to dial a number, he is shot dead.
Meanwhile, a spy called Quiller (Segal) is sent to Berlin by British SIS to meet with his superior known only as Pol (Guiness). He is told that the man who was shot was called Jones, and that he is the second man to have been shot whilst on the mission. Naturally, Quiller is a little reluctant to take over, but is ordered to anyway. Pol also informs him about the mission. He says that the war on the Nazi's isn't over. Though they are not in uniforms, there are still pockets of neo-Nazi's in Berlin who are hell bent on bringing back their ideals. Quiller is given the task of finding out who they are, and who the top man is. He has to take over the trail where Jones left off.
He leaves for his hotel, and soon finds himself being followed by a man he suspects could be a Nazi. Losing the man following him, he hides for a moment, then follows the man into a bar. It turns out that the man is an SIS minder who is out to protect Quiller. He gives Quiller all the information he has, and Quiller starts to investigate.
Eventually, Quiller is led to a school teacher called Inge (Berger), and the trail stops. She was apparently the last person to really see him. However, she seems like a good woman and helps him all she can, so he leaves it at that.
Outside, he really is being followed. And a little later, he suddenly finds that he has been drugged. That's where the mystery begins, and Quiller finds himself fighting for his life whilst trying to bring down the neo-Nazi's, leading to an eventful and clever conclusion.
This really is an outstanding spy thriller. And in fairness, it has to be said that a lot of the credit has to go to screenwriter Harold Pinter, who's no nonsense approach means that this film has such a fast pace. The dialogue is short, but meaningful, and the action well spaced out. Indeed, within twenty minutes Quiller is kidnapped and by 30 minutes you already know who the villain is. But if you think that takes the mystery or tension away, think again. It continues to move at a very fast pace throughout.
George Segal is perfect for the role of Quiller, and is almost a less insubordinate version of Harry Palmer. His relaxed approach to the role means that Quiller always seems to be in control, even when he's not, as a spy should be. Alec Guinness adds for some superb support as Pol, the SIS department head who always comes across as a pen pusher. Max Von Sydow is outstanding in his role as aristocrat Oktober, the head of the neo-Nazis. He is at times extremely compelling, and is in many ways just an evil version of Quiller with his smooth, relaxed style. Senta Berger also holds her own as the mysterious Inge, who seems to know more than she wants to let on.
Michael Anderson's direction of this is as relentless as the screenplay. There is always something happening in this film, and when the action gets going, it's always faced paced but never over the top that you don't believe what is happening on the screen. Genuinely, this is a brilliant film all the way.