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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Criterion Collection release of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is so immaculate that the previous Paramount release is rendered unwatchable. Paramount’s presentation turns out to be extensively speckled-white speckles in the black areas of the screen and black speckles in the white areas of the screen-as well as being grainy and having a fairly noisy soundtrack. The black-and-white picture on the Criterion release is slick, smooth and spotless, and the monophonic sound is vivid. Since Martin Ritt’s 1964 spy thriller is dependent upon mood and atmosphere to sustain its appeal as it lays the foundation of its narrative, Criterion’s version is far more involving and far more effective. It isn’t just that the movie looks and sound nicer. It’s a better movie.

Richard Burton stars as a British agent who pretends to defect in order to discredit a counterpart in East Berlin, but even that is giving away too much of the clever plot. Claire Bloom is an innocent love interest who becomes ensnared in the ruse. Running 112 minutes, the film has a casual pace, but it builds upon it effectively, so that the long conversational scenes never feel inert or aimless. It should also be noted that there is a scene set in a strip club, but unlike countless other scenes in spy movies and crime films that are set in strip clubs, the characters are truly peeling off layers of truth and teasing one another during their meeting as the stripper does her thing behind them.

The film appears on the first platter and is accompanied by optional English subtitles and a trailer. The picture is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:l and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.

The second platter contains an outstanding 2008 interview with author John Le Carré about both the book and the film. He was actually called to the set by Ritt to act as a buffer between the director and Burton, and is full of marvelous gossip about the shoot and what went on behind the scenes. But he also provides an incisive, detailed analysis of the film’s plusses and minuses, as well as the aspects of it that reflect reality and the aspects that do not. It is rare that you get to hear an author speak both intelligently and without pretense about a film adaptation of his work, and the segment is spellbinding.

Before watching the interview, however, it is best to drop down a notch on the Menu and select the 2000 BBC profile of the author, which runs 59 minutes and is a more generalized look at his life and career. There is also an excellent 39-minute recollection of the film and its strategies by cinematographer Oswald Morris that plays over sequences from the film, a nice collection of production sketches, a terrific 1967 interview with Burton by Kenneth Tynan that runs 33 minutes and discusses both his roles and his craft (he also recites several literary passages, including Hamlet’s ‘What a piece of work is Man’ soliloquy), and a good 1985 audio-only interview with Ritt, who talks about his work and speaks extensively about using film to explore social and progressive topics. The one drawback to the 49-minute segment is that it only has three chapters and cannot otherwise be paused or interrupted.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon