I became a John Le Carre fan in my early teens, devouring his first three books with a great deal of enthusiasm. Then I read The Looking Glass War, and simply didn't "get" it. With hindsight, that was probably due, at least in large measure, to my tender years. Le Carre has said that he aimed to write a satire about spying, but I think it's fair to say that it's a long way short of his best work. I thought about giving it another go, and then the film version, made in 1970, turned up on Talking Pictures TV so I decided to take a look at it.
The film has a strong and varied cast, although today, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that the young son of Avery (Anthony Hopkins) is played by Russell Lewis, who is now renowned as the creator and sole writer of the excellent Endeavour and has written many other crime scripts for television.
The story begins with the murder in Finland of a British spy (Timothy West). Back home, a motley crew of secret service men, including Hopkins and Sir Ralph Richardson, persuade Leiser, a good-looking young Polish man (an oddly cast American actor, Christopher Jones) to undertake a mission at considerable risk to himself. So far, so good. Unfortunately, at this point Frank Pierson's screenplay begins to drag. And it continues to drag, apart from one or two interesting moments, right to the end. By that time, I really didn't care about the outcome. It's not nearly as good as another Le Carre film, The Deadly Affair, which I reviewed recently, far less the superb and much more recent TV series The Night Manager.
So the cast - including such stars as Susan George, Ray McAnally, Maxine Audley, and Anna Massey, as well as Pia Degermark (whose later life has apparently seen as much unhappiness as did the unfortunate Jones') - is largely wasted. The soundtrack by Wally Stott is a kind of poundshop Bacharach effort that simply isn't strong enough; Wally Stott (who later became Angela Morley) was talented, but he was neither Bacharach nor John Barry. Given Le Carre's fame and brilliance, I wonder if there is scope for a remake of this film. Perhaps. But if there is, it will need a much sharper script.