Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Le Carre film The Deadly Affair (Call of the Dead novel)

This evening I enjoyed the 1966 film version of John Le Carré’s Call for the Dead, renamed The Deadly Affair in which for some reason it was decided to change George Smiley, played by James Mason, into Charles Dobbs but kept his wife as Ann played by Harriet Anderson, the Swedish Actress from the Bergman films Summer with Monika (1952) A Lesson in Love (1954) Through a Glass Darkly (1961)Cries and Whispers (1972) Fanny and Alexander (1982), which I have seen. Peter Guillam who featured in the book is renamed Bill Appleby and is played by a young and slightly camp Kenneth Haig. The book which I have now ordered has an opening chapter on Smiley’s History and other changes including the involvement of the East German Hans Dieter Mundt who we are to meet in again in the Spy Who Came In from the Cold.

The film begins with George Smiley having a new job clearance review chat with Foreign Office civil servant Samuel Fennan played by Robert Flemying in a brilliant cameo reminding of the chats between Smiley and Bland and with Bill Haydon in particular(Tinker Tailor) an where I looked forward and checking with the original text.

Fennan explains his involvement with the Communist Party at Oxford in the 1930’s and participation in Left Wing causes including fighting with the International Brigade in Spain in 1936 and then coming to terms with the reality. He communicates in an open and relaxed manner which Dobbs puts down to nervousness.

I hate calling him Dobbs although Charles is OK but will henceforth call him Smiley and George who feels Fennan’s manner is not one guilt, but suggests was due to a slight nervousness. George appears satisfied and apologetic for the interview arising from an anonymous typewritten letter which the Circus has worked out to be that of an Olivetti portable typewriter which looked one up from the basic Lettera 22 which I bought during by six months failure as an Olivetti salesman in the city of London, and more like the Lettera 32 which was designed for production in 1963. There is no reference to the Circus and the rest of the jargon which I suspect the production and writers felt could only be introduced during the two BBC Karla TV series. I am yet to find out the approach in the Perfect Spy and where the three disk video has now arrived.

That evening when George is home alone and in bed he is woken by Peter to get to the office to see the Adviser (not Control) where he learns that Fennan has committed suicide by shooting himself and left a note for the Foreign Secretary. There will be an internal inquiry but George rightly argues that there was nothing in the interview and his response to indicate he was troubled, in fact the opposite.

Ann arrives home as George leaves and their exchange reflects a younger George with the film set early 1950’s when he found his wife’s promiscuity more difficult to cope with and he cannot resist a barbed comment about her going back to bed. It is someone he knows which he also finds difficult rather than one of the athletic young men with whom she indulges her insatiable lust. Harriet Anderson fails to convey the character’s aristocratic country house background and the whole film has a seedy working class fifties feel to it although the couple do employ a cleaning lady help. which suggests something of their middle class lifestyle

George’s boss on behalf of the Minister insists that they should accept the suicide as a means of covering up their involvement (again in the spirit of his role in Smiley’s People) and that he should visit the widow a European Jewish woman with experience of the German Concentration camps called Elsa and played by that extraordinary special actress Simone Signoret in what should have been recognised as an Oscar winning supporting actress role. Again I hope to discover if her moving dialogue about the plight of women in war comes directly from Le Carré’s writing. She was rescued and brought to the UK by her husband immediately after the end of WWII and she confirms that her husband was distressed by the interview and felt he would not be trusted and his career finished and had taken his life while she was attending a play at the local Repertory Theatre where they lived in Surrey.

In the film the Adviser says he will ring Smiley at the home of the widow to check that everything is Ok so when the phone rings, albeit earlier than anticipated Smiley answers and finds it is a wake up call form the local exchange. This puzzles George because the widow has said that because of past experience she only sleeps a few hours a night but she says that she puts in the call as a reminder.

Smiley has been given the help of Inspector Mendel again a character assisting him in the Karla Trilogy and who is the local Inspector in charge of the alleged suicide, and who is coming up to retirement and who strikes a bond with the Spook and who becomes his Mr Fixit. He, at Smiley’s instigation checks with the phone exchange and finds out that the call was put in by the husband the previous evening before his death. George is then so incensed on being told to stick to the suicide despite the evidence to the contrary that he resigns his position to solve the murder.

He returns home to find a former agent from his wartime Europe experience, called Dieter Frey visiting. He receives a warm welcome and was already known tot hem both for what I believed heard said is seven years. Smiley recruited Dieter as an 18 year old in 1943 when Smiley was working underground in Europe. He refers to having enjoyed their wartime experience when perhaps this is something one should not have done, given the scale of the military and civilian deaths and the maiming, the rapes and the tortures and yet this is something I know of only two well indirectly, at first, when I was attached to a section of six men who had fought in the Great Wars, five in the second and one in the first and learned how they then viewed their position in life and their mixed reactions to the war experience which was such a contrast to their experience beforehand in Local Government and since.

It seems that Dieter was able to stay in the west despite his Communist background because of his wars service to the allies. They have not had contact for two year during which Dieter has branched out becoming an importer/ exporter. based in Switzerland He is in the UK for a few days and has taken the opportunity to call and they arrange to meet up again for lunch which is in a restaurant in a Park. However when Dieter leave Smiley works out that the man has become Ann’s new lover and was who she was with the previous evening and had returned to her as soon as Smiley had told her he was having to leave early to go off on the new case.

The two men have a difficult time together they meet for a meal stopping only for a drink because of the closeness of their past relationship and that which has developed between Dieter and Ann. I was fascinated by this development because it replicates that between Bill Haydon and Ann in Tinker Tailor and where we know Bill was told to make Ann his mistress in order to distract and destabilise Smiley’s interest in his professional role and also to ensure that if Smiley did question and suspect, their superiors would see this as vengeance. Therefore with the gift of hindsight, as the Karla trilogy was written a decade after the book and ore still since this film. I therefore followed up this interest and discovered that the there is no such relationship in the book and that Ann is involved with someone else and living in Switzerland, I think a Ski instructor or such athletic character. I do think the relationship adds to the film and clearly may have given Le Carré the idea to use again in the Karla Trilogy and regarding Bill Haydon written a decade later.

While Ann would willing ((rather than content because she hates this aspect of her personality, the lust, and the need the addiction which Smiley accept is less dangerous that drugs and drink (how naive everyone was in the pre HIV era)) to continue a physical relationship with Smiley (she wants needs his consent, approval, forgiveness) and the same time as wishing he would rage, beat her, throw her out because of how she behaves and feels unable to love in the way most people love, that is not the thrill and wonder of the first infatuation but the slow burning and developing attachment and commitment over time and see each other as one is, inside and out, Smiley is not.

Smiley feels and behaves as most women experiences as they are usual in his shoes, torn, confused, tortured and full of emotional extremes that sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, despair, loneliness, and love. He therefore takes off and finds a bed in the extraordinary home of Mendel whose main living area is filled with a menagerie of pets in cages, aquarium and other containers and who having retired is spending his nights observing the nocturnal habits of his creatures with the consequence that he falls to sleep whenever he sits down in the warm, something which I also discovered comes with age and the need to rise regularly throughout the night for a comfort stagger to the loo. This duo team is set to begin and last for another decade.

This effectively ends the first part of the film with the second having two strands. The first is the decision to check on Elsa’s statement that she attended a performance at a local theatre on the night of her husband’ death as she did regularly each month. The visit to the theatre provides the opportunity to see a rehearsal of the witches’ scene from Macbeth with Corin Redgrave as the director and Lynne Redgrave (Virgin) as an upper cack handed assistant stage manager dogsbody. What emerges is that she meets at the theatre on a regular basis a European gentlemen. They both bring music instrument cases which they place in the cloak room for the performance.

This discovery leads Smiley to speculate that it is the wife who was the spy and that the husband finding out or guessing what was happening had reported himself in order to gain the attention of the authorities because he could not bear to denounce his own wife directly. This is later confirmed when it is revealed that during the first months of his promotion he took home several highly classified files according to registry records and later these were of no significance and this change led directly to his death.

The second development is that Smiley realises he is being followed on his travels and manages to obtain the registration details and which leads to the ownership of a small time inner London (Battersea) crook played by Roy Kinnear (Adam Scarr is the name of the role) who has a daughter with two mothers who we find drinking with Roy at a well known pub. Scarr initially gives Mendel a Cock and Bull story which the former Inspector beats out the truth after he claims the vehicle was hired by someone a Scotsman with a false address. Mendel loses his temper when he sees the vehicle parked locally and sees an envelope inside with money from Blondie.

The clue which Kinnear then provides is that the man worked for an east European trading company. Kinnear is warned that he is involved in a dangerous situation and at some point in the film he is killed by Blondie. At this point Peter Guillam (Appleby in the film) is involved unofficially, again a feature of the Tinker Tailor getting information from Smiley’s former employers. The three break into the trading company and find it is a shell company with no record of conducting any business. They leave but take cover when they hear the lift coming and then there is a body on its roof and this is of Blondie who from the official Circus records is a foreign agent with diplomatic status thus confirming what they thought about the involvement of the wife rather than the husband.

In the final part of the film they set a trap arising from Smiley making a further visit to Elsa where she show her abilities as an award winning actress. She maintains that her husband was a spy and she his unwilling accomplice because he had rescued and loves her after what she had experienced under the Nazi’s in the camps. It is my understanding that in the book Blondie is Hans Dieter Mundt who is a key figure in The Spy who came in from the Cold written after the Deadly Affair and the book and subsequently film which brought Le Carré to international fame and fortune and which led to his resignation as a member of MI6 and serving also for MI5.

I am not clear at what point Smiley suspects and then know who the alleged controller of Elsa’s husband but he sends Elsa a post card requesting an urgent meeting. Mendel follows her movements which involve catching a coach type bus to Victoria coach station which I knew well from the 1970’s through to this day and which has changed little except for the quality of the transport and which now has the one livery of National Express coaches. Was it a bus station then? Using a car he is able to arrive before her and join the same bus from outside Victoria station to a theatre where Peter Hall is Director of a Royal Shakespeare production of Marlowe’s Edward II. She buys two tickets close to the front of stage which Mendel notes and then purchases two tickets for Smiley and Guillam at the front of the Circle and one for him at the side of the stalls. Before this he has witnessed Elsa post one of the tickets in an envelope with a 4 penny stamp in the London and overseas post box which means the individual is already in London.

Smiley is shocked sick when he realises that the contact who arrives late in the second half of the performance is none other than his friend and trained spy Dieter Frey. There is a brief moment when Mendel places himself outside the theatre to trail one of the two while Guillam attends to Smiley in the washroom that we witness the growing awareness between Elsa and Dieter that they have participated in a trap. They arrive back into the auditorium for the end of play and to witness the collapse and death of Elsa killed by Dieter who escape with the exit crush resulting.

Mendel is able to follow Dieter to the Thames embankment to which Smiley is also called. There Dieter shoots Mendel in the leg and threatens to shoot Smiley who refuses to let him get out of the country to safety. Smiley who had his arm/ wrist in plaster from the attack on him by Blondie use this as a forceful weapon on Dieter who he knocks over the embankment and Dieter (Maximilian Schell) clings for his life by his finger tips. Smiley goes to help his former friend p but the man loses his grip and crushed between the embankment and a craft and disappears below the waterline to Smiley’s distress.

In the final scene Smiley is being accompanied to Heathrow by Peter G as he is about to board a plane to Switzerland where he is to break the news of Dieter’s death and his role to his Anne. He is also on the way to being drunk with a glass of scotch in his hand. Guillam says he is wanted back at Circus but Smiley ignores this and we see him at Swiss airport meeting Anne who recognises that he is drunk before he breaks the news. As in Tinker Tailor, the spy, in this instance Dieter explains that he had been following Fennan to see him with George in the Park. He had then determined to make a play for Anne in order to find out what Smiley was up to.

There is a 90 mins play of the nook in the BBC audio Complete Smiley which continues on my wish list.

No comments:

Post a Comment