Torn Curtain

Alfred Hitchcock’s Cold War thriller Torn Curtain (1966) stars Paul Newman and Julie and kept me engaged from start to finish. Newman plays nuclear physicist Michael Armstrong who’s at an academic conference with his assistant cum fiancée Sarah Sherman. Sarah keeps asking him to commit to a wedding date, but Michael brushes this away. He’s got something else on his mind.

Suddenly Michael tells her he’s going to Sweden and someone else can give his presentation. Sarah’s baffled and later learns that Michael’s going to Berlin. She follows him and he’s furious when he sees her on his plane.

Sarah’s arrival is a surprise to the East Germans who welcome Armstrong. They’re confused about what to do with her. They move forward with their plan and Armstrong announces at a news conference that he’s defecting. Sarah’s shocked.

Now what? She’s come to East Germany and discovered she knows nothing of her fiancé, who’s going to give American military secrets to the enemy.

Little does she know that Michael’s a double agent. Spies give him instructions on where to go to get information on his operation, which soon goes off track.

The film’s a fast-paced thriller which will keep you guessing. Reviewing some other blogs I’ve seen it’s gotten some criticism for not being emotionally convincing, but I was more than satisfied with the twists and turns of Sarah and Michael’s romance just as I was with those of the Cold War enemies’ chases. Great climatic scene in a theater.

Torn Curtain earned a thumbs up from me.

Swearing: None

Violence: A bit, but not so bloody.

Sex scenes: one, nothing too graphic.

 

Another Kingdom

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I don’t usually read adventure or fantasy novels, but I enjoyed Andrew Klavan’s The Good Great Thing, so I thought since he made his name writing adventurous thrillers, I’d give his latest book a chance. In Another Kingdom, twenty-something Austin Lively’s screenwriting career is tanking. His parents are highly successful as is his older brother and Austin dreads spending time with them. He’s close with his sister Riley, a fragile, imaginative girl who’s big into conspiracy theories and needs a Catcher in the Rye.

Austin doesn’t have the time to moan about dinner with his successful family members because out of the blue Austin mysteriously finds himself in some fantastic medieval-type world. It’s all the more puzzling because in this land, called Galiana, Austin is on trial for murder. Totally disoriented, Austin has no idea what to do to escape prison so he can avoid torture followed most assuredly by a slow, excruciating death. Boom, he’s back in Tinseltown at the local hipster coffeeshop or the studio. All’s not safe in L.A. though because soon some goons employed by a maniacal billionaire who’s after the novel Another Kingdom, that Austin’s studio wanted him to cover before his boss mysteriously recalled the assignment. Nothing makes sense. Everything’s over the top. Danger’s everywhere and Austin’s life is a series of volley’s from Galiana to L.A.

Klavan’s style is sly and witty, full of wisecracks. The plot is brisk, full of twists and turns to keep you guessing. All in all, it’s a fun summer read. I haven’t been sold on thrillers or fantasy, but Another Kingdom entertains.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

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Based on John le Carré’s novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold stars Richard Burton as a jaded, used, alcoholic spy, who’s seemingly put out to pasture then pulled back in when the blue bloods running MI-6 need him. It’s a trip back to the cold war. Michael Sragow’s essay for the Criterion Collection aptly captures the essence of the film:

Martin Ritt’s 1965 movie of John le Carré’s first great novel (and first best seller), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, declares “a plague on all your houses” to capitalists, Communists, and ruthless intelligence operatives. It’s one espionage movie that neither comes on like gangbusters nor sneaks up on you like a cat burglar. Instead, it creates an atmosphere of anguish, fear, and rage that intensifies each pause in the action and gesture of the actors, leaving viewers hanging on every word of the sometimes cryptic, sometimes eloquent dialogue.

Alec Leamas (Burton) is a middle-aged, run down spy. His boss called “Control” offers him a desk job, which he refuses leading to a scheme whereby Leamas is to take a boring, low paying clerk job at a library, where he meets the fetching Nan Perry (Claire Bloom, who at one time was romantically linked to Burton). The romance redeems Leamas, but that doesn’t matter to MI-6. They propose that Leamas return to the service posing as a double agent with East Germany.

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He goes along with the plan to be taken by the East Germans and cosy up to Fiedler, an East German Jewish intelligence officer who seeks to convict Mundt, a double agent who’s leaked secrets to the west. The counterpoint of the tender relationship with Nan and the sordid world of espionage add a compelling tension.  The plot twists and turns while engaging in incisive repartee. The unexpected ending chills to the bone.

The Criterion Collection extras include a candid interview with le Carré, who while he didn’t hate the film, didn’t think it was that great and a short documentary on le Carré’s biography focussing on the influence his duplicitous father had on his joining MI-6, illuminate the film.

Spies of Warsaw

spies warsaw It’s interesting seeing David Tennant in a role other than Doctor Who. He does a fine job as a French spy in Warsaw leading up to the outbreak of WWII. (Never mind that it would make more sense for a French spy to speak with a French accent, but I don’t blame Tennant for that.) Spies of Warsaw isn’t action packed, but it has its moments and kept me entertained. It’s got a bit of romance, betrayal, history and suspense. It’s not the greatest BBC production, but since it moves along and its set during an interesting time, I could forgive its flaws. Yeah, the romance didn’t seem to matter. None of the actors did anything spectacular, but the story wasn’t terrific, so they’re excused. Yeah, the last mission seemed rather out of the blue, but it was still better than a lot of what’s on the tube.

If a friend or relative really wanted to see this, it’s no big sacrifice to watch it with them.

Would I watch it again? Probably not. Do I regret watching it? No.

Mrs. Pollifax & the China Station

pollifax chinaI really like the idea of a woman who qualifies for a senior discount working undercover for the CIA, but Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station is a book that’s easy to put down. In fact, it took me months to read, though the prose is easy enough. The characters just didn’t grab me, nor did the plot.

Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station relates the story of CIA operative Mrs. Pollifax whom the CIA sends on a tour of China to work with another (unknown for much of the book) spy to help rescue an inmate of a Chinese labor camp. Like an Agatha Christie book, an assorted group is assembled and it’s all very gentile. Only the readers, Mrs. Pollifax and two others know that a big adventure is to come. It’s definitely a story Raymond Chandler would hate, as his essay “Simple Art of Murder” indicates. It’s got the tone of The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue. In other words, it’s old fashioned and stodgy. The ending has surprises, but they come out of the blue and the pacing of the end is off. It’s as if the author got tired or a deadline crept up on her and she had to end immediately so she could start the next such story.

A terrific movie I hadn’t heard a peep about.

Mixed Media

The Exam

A Hungarian film, that’s won some festival awards, The Exam(A Visgva in Hungarian) is a terrific thriller that’s hard to find. I saw it on my flight home from China. It’s not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. However, it’s captivating and well worth seeing.

Directed by Péter Bergendy and written by Hungary’s prolific, accomplished Norbert Köbli, The Exam is a spy thriller that shows the secret police spying on themselves, testing agent’s loyalty in 1957.

As Christmas approaches, Jung, an exemplary spy who interviews citizens from all walks of life to ferret out the counter revolutionaries, doesn’t realize that his mentor Marko is spying on him, recording his every move as part of a program to spy on the spies.

The film recreates Communist Hungary and all the distrust and suspicion inherent in that regime. It’s tense and keeps the audience guessing, much like The Lives of Others

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