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Published by: CinemaRetro | Lee Pfeiffer
"The Deadly Affair", directed by Sidney Lumet, is the 1967 film based on John Le Carre's 1961 novel "Call for the Dead". Le Carre was riding high during the Bond-inspired Bond phenomenon of the 1960s. Unlike the surrealistic world of 007, Le Carre's books formed the basis for gritty and gloomy espionage stories that were steeped in realism and cynicism. The film adaptation of Le Carre's "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" had been released the previous year to great acclaim. Lumet, who made "The Deadly Affair" for his own production company, rounded up top flight British talent including screenwriter Paul Dehn, who had written the film adaptation of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and co-wrote the screenplay for "Goldfinger".
As with all Le Carre film adaptations, the plot is complex to the point of being confusing. There are many intriguing characters of dubious allegiance to one another, a scarcity of violence in favor of people talking in back alleys and living rooms and a desire to paint the world of Cold War espionage as a tawdry environment in which the good guys are indistinguishable from the bad guys. James Mason plays Charles Dobbs, a veteran British Intelligence agent who takes a leisurely walk through St. James Park with a civil servant, Fennan (Robert Flemyng),who is aspiring to get a promotion to the Foreign Office. Dobbs informs him that there is a bit of concern about his security clearance because an anonymous person has tipped off MI6 through a letter that states Fennan's may have a dual allegiance to the communists. Dobbs considers the matter somewhat trivial and tries to assure Fennan that his name will probably be cleared. The men part on seemingly upbeat terms but the next day Dobbs is told by his superiors that Fennan has committed suicide. Dobbs is flabbergasted and insists the man showed no signs of instability. Nevertheless, Dobbs feels he is being made to be the fall guy for failing to see obvious weaknesses in Fennan's personality. That's not his only problem. Domestically, his young wife Ann (Harriett Andersson) is causing him great distress by taking on numerous lovers under his very nose. (Dobbs is even instructed to phone her before he comes home in case she has a bed mate in their house.) Dobbs is humiliated at playing the role of cuckold but can't bring himself to divorce Ann- even when it is revealed that his old friend Dieter (Maximilian Schell), a German Intelligence agent who is visiting London, has also been seduced by her.
Dobbs smells a rat at MI6 and doubts Fennan committed suicide. He starts his own investigation into who killed him and why. An interview with Fennan's widow (Simone Signoret) only makes matters more complex when he begins to suspect she might be a Soviet agent. Dobbs enlists the only two colleagues he can trust: agent Bill Appleby (Kenneth Haigh) and the semi-retired agent Mendel (Harry Andrews). The trio find that as they get closer to the truth, the trail is getting more dangerous with numerous murders occurring and their own lives in danger.
To bring Le Carre's novel to the screen, certain recurring characters from his books, such as legendary spy George Smiley, had to have their names changed because Paramount had the rights to "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and the characters appeared in the novel and screen version. Paul Dehn's screenplay is confusing but never boring and by the end you can pretty much figure out what is going on even if some of the peripheral characters' significance remains a bit vague. Sidney Lumet was the ultimate "actor's director" and could always be counted on to get top-rate performances from his cast. "The Deadly Game" is no exception, with James Mason in fine form as a man who has been disgraced professionally and personally but who still has enough pride to attempt to clear his name. Lumet hired two fine actors who appeared in his 1965 masterwork "The Hill"- Harry Andrews and Roy Kinnear- to reunite for this production and they have a great scene together. (Andrews must be one of the most under-rated actors of all time.) Maximilian Schell only appears sporadically but his role is pivotal and he is typically impressive, as is Simone Signoret as a woman of doubtful allegiance. Harriett Andersson, whose proficiency in English was limited, is occasionally difficult to understand (she was reportedly partially dubbed because of this). She accepted the role at the last minute when Candice Bergen had to back out of the film. She is suitably sultry and her character is quite interesting, professing to love her husband even as she revels in submitting him to sexual humiliation. The only humor in the film is provided by a very amusing Lynn Redgrave in a small role as Virgin Bumpus (!), an inept set designer for a Shakespearean theater production. Quincy Jones provides a fine jazz score that fits in well with the lounge music craze of the era and Freddie Young's cinematography depicts London as an ominous, rain-spattered place that adds to the chilling atmosphere of any Le Carre story.
"The Deadly Affair" was highly acclaimed in Britain, having been nominated for five BAFTA awards but it was largely overlooked amidst the tidal wave of other spy movies from the time period. It's a first-rate thriller and Mill Creek Entertainment has included it with five other Cold War films in a collection that features "Man on a String", "Otley", "Hammerhead", "The Executioner" and "A Dandy in Aspic". The DVD transfer is excellent but unfortunately there are no bonus features. Highly recommended.