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DEADLY AFFAIR, THE (director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriters: Paul Dehn/based on the novel Call for the Dead by John Le Carre; cinematographer: Freddie Young; editor: Thelma Connell; music: Quincy Jones; cast: James Mason (Charles Dobbs), Simone Signoret (Elsa Fennan), Maximilian Schell (Dieter Freey), Harriet Andersson (Ann Dobbs), Harry Andrews (Inspector Mendel), Kenneth Haigh (Bill Appleby), Roy Kinnear (Adam Scarr), Max Adrian (adviser), Lynn Redgrave (virgin), Robert Flemyng (Samuel Fennan), Corin Redgrave (Director), Les White (Karel Harek aka Blondie); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sidney Lumet; Columbia Pictures; 1966-UK)
Top-notch spy thriller for the thinking man.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Top-notch spy thriller for the thinking man. Adapted by writer Paul Dehn from the 1961 novel Call for the Dead by John Le Carré. Director Sidney Lumet (“The Wiz”/”Network”/”The Morning After”) is in fine form skillfully handling the action, intriguing plot developments and development of character. Le Carré’s web of intrigue and betrayal is in good hands in this gripping production.

Samuel Fennan (Robert Flemyng) is interviewed in the London park by Home Office investigator Charles Dobbs (James Mason) following his promotion in the Foreign Office, that calls for top security clearance. the interview is prompted by an anonymous letter that reports Fennan as a Communist spy. Fennan admits he joined the party during his student days at Oxford and impresses Dobbs with his guileless nature, who is moved to grant him a security clearance because he poses no threat. That night Fennan shoots himself and leaves a suicide note, which puzzles Dobbs since the interview seemingly went well on both sides. Dobbs’s pompous boss (Max Adrian) is certain it’s a suicide, and arranges for Dobbs to interview Fennan’s widow, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, Elsa (Simone Signoret), and to have the Jewish retired policeman, Inspector Mendel (Harry Andrews), act as liason with the widow. When Dobbs smells something fishy about the suicide and his snippy boss insists he drops the investigation, Dobbs quits in disgust and investigates on his own–getting help on the secret from one of his disgruntled Home Office colleagues Bill Appleby (Kenneth Haigh) and from the dogged facts only investigator Mendel.

The investigation leads to finding out things more deceptive than first thought, as a sophisticated spy ring is uncovered passing state secrets. Dobbs also learns that his nympho wife Ann (Harriet Andersson), whom he has forgiven for her past affairs, has embarked on a new affair with the handsome younger spy Dieter Freey (Maximilian Schell). He’s a Communist Dobbs mentored when they were allies during the war, and have remained friends though not seeing each other for the last two years.

Adding to the joys of the pic, is getting a look at snippets of the Christopher Marlowe play Edward II performed in the film by the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of Sir Peter Hall.

Mason as the vulnerable morally compromised spy is superb in his starring role, while it’s always a treat to watch Harry Andrews, Harriet Andersson, Maximilian Schell and Simone Signoret. The Cold War spy thriller is finely photographed to look atmospherically gloomy by British cinematographer Freddie Young (“Lawrence of Arabia”). It’s a refreshing spy chiller that doesn’t try to break new ground in its genre, but to only be efficiently presented.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”