I read John Le Carre's novel Call for the Dead a very long time ago, but I've only just caught up with the film made of it by Sidney Lumet, a director of distinction. It was retitled The Deadly Affair and stars James Mason as Charles Dobbs - the same character as George Smiley in the novel, but renamed for legal reasons as the naming rights were tied up by someone else. (I always tend to think, by the way, that a mutually sensible approach to negotiation could resolve these oddities, but alas, people don't always negotiate sensibly...)
The cast is excellent, starting with the ever-reliable Mason, who really was a good actor. Harry Andrews is a highly believable retired cop, while Simone Signoret, in a less than glamorous role, is terrific. So is Harriet Andersson as Anne, Mason's wife, who loves him but torments him with her affairs. Roy Kinnear, Kenneth Haigh, and Lynn and Corin Redgrave also make telling appearances. The script is by Paul Dehn, who had worked on Goldfinger and later teamed up with Lumet again on Murder on the Orient Express. The soundtrack is by Quincy Jones, and there's a decent title song, "Who Needs Forever" by Astrud Gilberto; the music isn't quite in the John Barry class, but it's still high-calibre 60s easy listening.
With so much talent involved, the film is very watchable, even if the story seems slightly stretched out and a bit predictable. The legendary Freddie Young was responsible for the cinematography and he gives the movie a distinctly dark look, with several very well-chosen London locations. It's quite a modern-seeming look, even if the Hyde Park restaurant in which one scene was shot was demolished about thirty years ago. The visual style of the film coupled with the performances contribute to a downbeat mood which works well, even if it lacks the pace and melodrama of, say, the James Bond movies. It wasn't a box office hit, and I can see why, but it's stood the test of time pretty well.
The premise is simple. After a tip-off, Dobbs interviews an agent who may be a spy. The agent promptly commits suicide - but did he really kill himself, or were dark forces at work? The answer to that question is easily guessed, but Lumet and his collaborators still kept me engaged from start to finish.