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Monday, December 2, 2013

THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM (1966)

Harold Pinter didn’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his commercial screenplays. They’re unhappy compromises that find his vaguely menacing signature dialogue, pregnant pauses and absurdist free-association (often weirdly comic) fancies fighting against the demands of whatever genre he’s tickling. Here, it’s the international spy game with Alec Guinness as George Segal’s ‘controller,’ tossing him into a tangled web of Berlin Neo-Nazis twenty years after the war. Max von Sydow is the main target, but Segal can only find his headquarters with the help of Senta Berger who holds a key to the underground world and becomes Segal’s latest conquest. If only something happened along the way or was being planned! Perhaps we’d take less notice of what’s missing if director Michael Anderson took charge on the spare action sequences, but not much happens in those either. (Or even looks convincing.) Meanwhile, Guinness, along with George Sanders, Robert Helpmann, Robert Flemyng and other supporting espionage players get almost nothing to do. No doubt, a sly, Pinteresque joke on the useless nature of the spy game, but dramatically unsatisfying. Much like the non-surprising, twisted-allegiance grace note finale.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The ending seems to have THE THIRD MAN/’49 on its brain. Vienna instead of Berlin, but still a good idea.

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