Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Another forgotten '60s movie: The Kremlin Letter

The Sixties was that great era for Cold War thrillers, from the deadly serious (THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM (scripted by Pinter, it was on tv again yesterday), THE IPCRESS FILE and its sequels (though Ken Russell's BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN was rather too over the top), Hitch's TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ, and Huston's THE KREMLIN LETTER in 1969) to the farcical - those Dean Martin Matt Helm and IN LIKE FLINT capers, to the stylish Losey MODESTY BLAISE and lesser jokey items like SEBASTIAN, OTLEY et al... (the '70s paranoia thrillers were a different matter - see Thrillers label).

One could say too that John Huston's last great era peaked in the mid''60s (after NIGHT OF THE IGUANA), he then tried various other genres: costume dramas A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH, SINFUL DAVY, the genial western THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (with Ava Gardner as Lily Langtry) and had a late hit with FAT CITY in 1972 (when I saw him in conversation at London's National Film Theatre) - then more films of varying quality followed until that last final THE DEAD in 1987  (reviews at Huston label) ...
I saw THE KREMLIN LETTER on general release, but it quicky vanished from sight. It is the standard espionage drama, with some suspense, as we follow that international polyglot cast around Moscow. The preposterous plot involves a network of older spies from the West who recruit a young intelligence officer with a photographic memory to accompany them on a mission inside Russia. They must recover a letter written by the CIA that promises American assistance to Russia if China gets the atomic bomb - but here the cast is the thing: 
Oh George !
Orson Welles and Micheal MacLiammoir (old pals from Orson's Irish days), Max Von Sydow and Bibi Andersson from Ingmar Bergman land; Richard Boone, Patrick O'Neal and Barbara Parkins - a job lot from America. Also involved are Italy's Raf Vallone, England's Nigel Greene, Lila Kedrova, Dean Jagger, and most astounding of all - George Sanders, in drag, as he entertains in a gay club. Huston himself puts in an appearance too. (This was the time when he was acting a lot in items as diverse as THE CARDINAL, DE SADE, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and of course, terrific in CHINATOWN).

It is an intense study of intrigue, double-crossing, revenge, sudden deadly action, plot twists and several nasty guys, no wonder there is that atmosphere of fear as it depicts the  callousness of the spy business... the Cold War never seemed colder. Sanders as ever acquits himself well, and Parkins is lovely. Max as ever is grimly efficient - just as he was in that 1975 THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. THE KREMLIN LETTER deserves to be better known and certainly keeps one watching. Above: George and John have fun.

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