Two things that myself and the esteemed author John le Carré have in common are, one, we both admire a good Cold War spy and espionage thriller. The other, is the fact that we lived only a 100 metres apart in the same home town of Parkstone, Poole. Yeah we were good chums back in the day. Actually there was three of us that formed a little gang and imaginatively played spy games. Our other friend was the wonderful Charles Gray. He lived not far away. Well the next town over, Bournemouth. Charles always insisted on bringing his fluffy white cat along. Man that furry thing looked right evil. John (we knew him as David at the time) and I played secret agents working for Queen and country. Whereas Charles and his cat always insisted on portraying the devious bad guy. He called himself Blofeld!
That summer was roasting hot and we’d often seek refuge in the woods of North Road. Spend hours building spy camps from logs, branches and twigs. We even created an interrogation hut. Charles loved sitting behind the makeshift desk stroking his cat in there. John would come out with all these fascinating ideas for espionage stories. Charles on the other hand kept informing us he wanted world domination and repeating some phrase about Diamonds Are Forever? Charles never failed to made us laugh. Three friends grabbing ice pops together at the shop on Constitution Hill. Cooling off on bench at the view-point over looking Poole harbor. No sooner had the ice pops gone we’d be back imagining being chased by Soviet agents. Running for our lives through the lush green woods, cutting across the road down the hill and hiding out in St Peter’s Church grave yard. It was that moment a giant hand grabbed me, “Oh no! chloroform!” I drift off as I’m thrown in the back of a rusty black Lada!
A weird whiff of ammonia enters my nostrils. “Smelling salts!” I’m trapped. Starting to freak out I bash hard against the wall. Hang on a minute the wall is cushioned! It dawns on me I’m strapped in a straight jacket! “Damn it Mikey not again!“. It’s not the first time I’ve been sanctioned for film lunacy. “Look I’m only trying to be funny!” I smile at the doctor. “I’m making up stories! It’s for a movie review site I do” “Yeah as a wolf” “Of course I’m a real wolf! What are you implying?“………….. Yep I was back as a resident at St Ann’s the local psychiatric hospital!
Ok! Ok! This is just all fantasy however we were really practically neighbours but on a very differing time scale. Lets say 40 years! But near enough to say we were good mates. Haha of course I’m larking about. We were both born in Poole, Dorset and lived at one point or another just one road apart. Yeah I know, I wasn’t even born when he wrote The Spy Who Came In from the Cold in 1963. I was still being brewed up, ready to pop out my full wolfiness eight years later. Only found out a few years a go that he was one of our town’s famous names. Spy related but yes I’m starting to go off topic. “The film Mikey, remember the film!“
Tagline – Brace yourself for the greatness the book world could not lay down is now a motion picture…
John le Carré was the pen name of David Cornwell. During the 50s and the 60s he was working with both the Security Service MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service MI6. He sounded like a proper James Bond. During some of this time he’d become a writer, coming up with the fictional character George Smiley. Smiley would appear in his first two novels Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962). It would be John le Carré’s third book The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) that would become a best seller. With that books success and the betrayal and aftermath of the infamous double agent Kim Philby he would leave his post as an intelligence officer to become a full-time author. This would later lead on to the TV series having George Smiley’s most famous face, Alec Guinness, in the adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and then Smiley’s People. Two stories featured around the spymaster trying to uncover a Soviet mole deeply embedded within MI6. Based in fact and fiction around the Kim Philby and Cambridge Five betrayals.
I have a confession to make. I adore all the John le Carré Cold War spy and espionage thrillers but you might be shocked to know I’m a fraud! I’ve never read any of the books, even though I have a few! I do however have the Smiley box-set. Also loved the Gary Oldman’s take on Smiley in the 2011 film version.
Tagline – It plunges you knife-deep into actual espionage. It gives you the dirt as well as the dazzle. Here is excitement sheer and naked and unforgettable.
Which brings me, at last some will say, to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. A real masterclass in espionage thrillers. The cold is felt through the stark black and white but mostly seen plastered on Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) face. Cold as steel at times, almost lost, filled with the bleakness of cold dread. He has his assignment. He’s done many before. The missions always sit perilously balanced on a knives edge. British agent Leamas has been asked to come in from the cold. To return from the concealment as a spy, to return home. But is it safe to? Paranoia and danger flicker around every dark corner.
The opening scene of Leamas standing, waiting at the Berlin East and West passport control station known as Checkpoint Charlie is an extremely tense scene. The brutal concrete of the Berlin Wall invokes fear. Your contact is expected any moment. You know deep down it’s not just you that knows of his arrival! It’s dark, silhouettes of soldiers patrol the area with guns from either side. Tensions are through the roof. Again you can see all the years of trauma across his face. He tries hard to conceal it. When he’s back home, London, he visits Control, known as the Circus. He’s instructed to stay “in the cold“. To defect to East Germany! Traumatic stress catches up with him. He drinks heavy, he’s wildly unpredictable.
Is agent Alec Leamas breaking apart? Is he a double agent? Have they got to him? Who can he trust? Is he part of the game or lost in the cold? The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is a perfectly told thriller that shines a light on the British intelligence organisation. Are it’s motives good or bad or are they simply always juggling to keep the upper hand during such heightened Cold War times? With the likes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold they all have an air of realness to them. Like chess pieces moved about in a deadly game of cat and mouse. A master plan slowly executed. No rushed out guns a blazing, over the top heroics. Just perfectly paced realistic drama that grips you to the core.
This superb spy thriller is directed by Martin Ritt with screenplay dues going to Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold features a fantastic cast with Claire Bloom (The Illustrated Man) playing Nancy Perry in a truly stunning performance. Oskar Werner (Decision Before Dawn) plays the mysterious character Fiedler. Also Sam Wanamaker joins the cast as another agent called Peters. And George Smiley has a small appearance, this time portrayed by Rupert Davies. Even James Bond’s boss M shows up! Well not really though Bernard Lee plays a small part as a shopkeeper. Everyone play’s their designated parts to perfection. It’s a perfect Cold War story from beginning to end!
Thanks for popping in for a read. I’ll apologise here for the beginning crazy. Yep I go off on a tangent at times. I try to take an unorthodox route to some of my reviews. Mix it up a bit. Sometimes it’s works, other times, well mostly, it’s an indecipherable drivel of nonsense with fun and tongue firmly positioned in cheek mode.
Keep it Smiley 🙂
All the best…. Mikey