The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

A part of this view­ing listCri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #452: Mar­tin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

If only all spy movies were along these lines. Expert­ly act­ed, with a tight plot and tighter script, the intri­ca­cies inex­orably unwind through­out the movie. Lay­ers with­in lay­ers with lay­ers of plot­ting, no giz­mos, no flash­bang fight sequences, just long-term, excep­tion­al plan­ning and gut­sy hard work. Richard Bur­ton steals the show as the epony­mous spy, Alec Lea­mas, and the inten­si­ty with which he engages in the char­ac­ter he plays car­ries the film through the few scenes that aren’t quite up to snuff with the rest of the film.

The most impor­tant and most chal­leng­ing test for Burton’s act­ing is the way in which he must simul­ta­ne­ous­ly hide and con­vey Leamas’s grow­ing love for a com­mie librar­i­an and main­tain the ruse of dis­grun­tled spy in order to attract his com­mie ene­mies. As the film plays out, the ram­pant sus­pi­cions of the East Ger­mans slow­ly dis­in­te­grate this facade until the house of cards seem­ing­ly col­laps­es, mixaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing. The ensu­ing escape sequence fair­ly seethes with the des­per­a­tion of a cor­nered ani­mal, and the con­fronta­tion at the Berlin Wall frankly admits to a belief that cyn­i­cal amoral­i­ty trumps authen­tic emo­tion. For Lea­mas, how­ev­er, com­ing in from the cold is less about retire­ment, and more about the thaw­ing of emo­tion that takes place with­in his own soul.