The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

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 façade 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.