Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Defector (1966)

Original title: L'espion

Director: Raoul Levy

Writers: Robert Guenette, Raoul Levy, Paul Thomas, Montgomery Clift, Peter Francke

Composer: Serge Gainsbourg

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Hardy Kruger, Roddy McDowall, Macha Meril, David Opatoshu, Christine Delaroche, Hannes Messemer, Karl Lieffen, Uta Levka

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Slowly, fantastic shapes begin to appear on walls.  Then strange sounds - water dripping - muffled sobs and then a beautiful woman moves towards Bower's bed.  And then a voice..."kill Bower!"

Plot: American scientist James Bower (Clift) is approached by CIA agent Adam (McDowall) who wants him to perform an official mission while visiting East Germany. A Russian scientist who has defected to Germany has brought with him a cache of top-secret material on microfilm, and Adam wants James to retrieve it from one Dr. Saltzer (Messemer). However, James's secret plan is discovered by Peter Heinzman (Kruger), a Russian intelligence agent determined to keep the microfilm out of American hands and turn James against his American comrades.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

There was a point halfway or so in where I was ready for this to end but I always stick it out and I'm glad I did.  The final act beginning with Bower's (Clift) escape is fantastic.  The dialogue is considerably less than the rest of the film and it's exciting and suspenseful.  Then there's the turn of events for Heinzmann (Kruger).  This French/West German spy flick has a lot more going for it than against it.  The performances are very good and whenever Roddy McDowall is on screen he's a breath of fresh air.  His voice brings warmth to a cold story.  No exaggeration.  Montgomery was looking pretty rough for a man of 45 but he had a reason.  He was sick and would be dead three months after shooting the picture.  The director would follow a few months later but by his own hand.  As I mentioned the acting is very good.  For as much as I like the fantastical Bond picture, I really enjoy the more realistic side of spying like the excellent THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1965).  East Germany during this period feels like it was a very bleak place and THE DEFECTOR plays on that.  The locations used are very grey and similar giving it a cold look and feel.  When you add that kind of environment to a slow-paced film it's a good recipe for boredom and that happens a bit here but it sure picks up with that last twenty minutes.  Oh, boy!  The Warner Bros. Archive Collection DVD has a great looking anamorphic widescreen print with no extras. 

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