Based on John le Carré‘s 1963 novel of the same name, director Martin Ritt‘s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a low-key character study set in the world of espionage. The 1965 film sees Richard Burton play Alec Leamas, an ageing spy on the verge of retirement who gets caught-up in a fake defection plot during the cold war. Claire Bloom plays a young member of the British Communist Party, who falls in love with Leamas and unwittingly gets caught-up one the plot.
Much in the way that John le Carré’s writing is very different from that of his cold war-era contemporary Ian Fleming, this 1965 film is poles apart from the James Bond films of the time. Released in the same year as the Bond adventure Thunderball, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a low key drama rather than a blockbusting action picture. Whereas Thunderball is Bond at its biggest, this Le Carré’ adaptation is an intimate affair, showing the smaller details of the spy game. It’s held together by a rather lowkey turn from Richard Burton, and the Welsh star gives Leamas an earthy and worn-out resignation – he won a BAFTA for his role in the film and an Academy Award nomination. The film’s black and white visual stylings, courtesy of cinematographer Oswald Morris give The Spy Who Came In From The Cold a noir quality that sees its downtrodden hero move through the grey streets of London and the equally bleak streets of post-war East Berlin.
A spy film for those who like things on the quiet side, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a well acted character study with a delicate pace – the perfect antidote to other 1960s espionage films which focused on fictionalised glamour rather than the mundane reality of the job.
With remastered visuals, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold comes with a strong audio commentary from film scholar Adrian Martin and a strangely captivating video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns.