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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

TELEFON (1977)

Considered something of a dud when released, this Don Siegel/Charles Bronson espionage thriller now looks considerably better. As director-for-hire, Siegel can’t do much to camouflage the farfetched ‘sleeper-agent’ plot (very MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE/’62), but there’s a lot of pleasure in getting reacquainted with his clean, direct, all but styleless efficiency that has him parsing action & exposition without a wasted move. Bronson’s natural reserve as an actor is very effective as a Russian agent who’s sent Stateside to stop Donald Pleasance’s rogue KGB officer from activating middle-aged sleeper-agents after a couple of decades hibernation. (Amazingly, their ammo’s right on hand, and their suicide pills still potent 20 yrs after their expiration date!) As an age-appropriate partner, Lee Remick works surprisingly well with Bronson, watch their body language in a tight plane interior, but not even Don Siegel can make anything but hash out of a C.I.A. manhunt that plays like an afterthought. Fun ‘70s-era computers, though. Michael Butler’s sharp lensing comes up pretty soft in the current DVD transfer, but don’t hold your breath for an upgrade.

DOUBLE-BILL: Siegel’s next was his last big success, an exceptional reunion with Clint Eastwood on ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ/’79.

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