20 February 2009

DVD: "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold"

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
Produced and Directed by Martin Ritt
Screenplay by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper
Based upon the novel "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold" by John le Carre
Starring: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner
DVD Release Date: 13 July 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $9.99
Cinescopes Personality Types: Chosen Adventurer, Passionate Maverick

The Film
Released in 1965 at the height of spy-mania and Cold War tensions, and based upon what is arguably the greatest spy novel ever written, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold follows career British operative Alec Leamus.  In a plot similar to The Departed, Leamus accepts an off-the-books assignment in which he is disgraced in order to infiltrate the Communist party operating in East Germany.  If he plays his cards right, he can strike a hefty retaliatory blow against Mundt; if he fails, he will forfeit his own life.  This film is in black and white, it is entirely faithful to the novel and a masterpiece in itself.

The DVD
The bad news: There are no features whatsoever to be found on this DVD.  The good news: Last year, a two-disc edition was released as part of the Criterion Collection chock-full of features.  It will, of course, cost thrice as much as this earlier release, meaning that this is the now the default purchase for casual fans.

The Recommendation
This is not a spy film in the James Bond tradition, so don't expect gadget-laden car chases or a slew of scantily clad women throwing themselves across the screen at the protagonist.  This is the gritty side of a spy's life, filled with paranoia, alcoholism and a nearly sociopathic inability to sustain relationships.  This  film won't make you feel good, but you will feel that you've just witnessed a very human story about an almost inhuman time of our recent past.  I would advise anyone interested to read not only the book, but le Carre's first novel, Call for the Dead, beforehand.  You mustn't read either to appreciate the film adaptation, but I found it far more rewarding to have read them first.

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