The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (DVD, 2008, 2-Disc Set, Criterion Collection) Reviews
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The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (DVD, 2008, 2-Disc Set, Criterion Collection)

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Mar 6, 2000 (Updated Jan 22, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Richard Burton, Story, Direction, Score

Cons:There should be more spy dramas as good as this, unfortunately, not many are

The Bottom Line: The greatest spy movie and Richard Burton's greatest performance. See "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold!"

Richard Burton's finest vehicle was Director Martin Ritt's 1966 drama "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold." This movie documented the cold war as it existed twenty years after World War II. It is perhaps fitting that Ritt chose to film the movie in black and white, as it emphasized the colorless personalities of the times, including "cold warriors" on both sides.

Burton stars as Alec Leamas, a middle-aged, alcoholic bureau chief for British MI6, stationed in Berlin. When a member of his spy ring is identified and shot by the East Germans while crossing at "Checkpoint Charlie," Leamas is recalled to London. Leamas offers to retire when offered a desk job, but Control (Cyril Cusack) needs him "to stay out in the cold, a little bit longer."

Following this opening, Leamas begins a masquerade that leads the viewer into the seamy life of espionage, quite different than we see in 007 films. Leamas, now ostensibly retired, takes a job and finds a love interest, a young idealistic British communist played by lovely Claire Bloom. To further the deception, Leamas, in a drunken rage strikes a shopkeeper and is thrown into prison. After release, Leamas, now discredited, is contacted by the communists urging his defection to the Eastern bloc. He tentatively agrees, and through a complicated deception succeeds in preserving Control's double agent, the East Bloc bureau chief who was under suspicion by superiors, while destroying his rival, the most dangerous spy on the communist side. Alas, the communists brought Claire Bloom behind the Iron Curtain to serve as a witness, also! Leamas, has regrettably fallen in love and must take her along on his escape. This is aided by the double agent, who has been restored to his former rank of bureau chief on the communist side.

The ending leaves a bitter taste in your mouth as Leamas and the girl scale the Berlin wall at night. Leamas climbs to the top and reaches down to help the girl; a shot rings out and the girl falls dead. The shooter cries out for Leamas to escape, they couldn't let the girl go, but Leamas instead climbs back down on the Eastern side and is shot dead, alongside the girl. Evidently, Leamas weighed the balance between the girl's life and the preserving of British spy ring integrity, and found it wanting.

Supported by a stellar British cast, Burton is at his best as the disillusioned secret agent Alec Leamas. I recommend this movie to all espionage and thriller fans, and fans of Black and White dramas, as well.

More spy films I highly recommend include -

Spy Game


Russia House


Enjoy a good film tonight. Thanks for reading!

Recommend this product? Yes

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