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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Thriller > Literature > Nazis > The Quiller Memorandum (DVD-Video)

The Quiller Memorandum (DVD-Video)

 

Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: A-

 

 

After the incredible international success of the early Bond sequels, the spy genre and spoofs of the spy genre became all the rage in the movie and television industries during the mid-to-late 1960s.  A much underrated serious entry in the genre to come out of that period is The Quiller Memorandum (1966), which ranks as one of the best spy thrillers of the '60s.

 

While most spy films of the time focused on the Cold War between the West (mainly America and Great Britain) and the Communist threat from the East (mainly the Soviet Union), The Quiller Memorandum went back to an old enemy for its villain -- the Nazis in Germany.

 

Based on a novel by Trevor Dudley Smith (of Flight Of The Phoenix fame), and adapted for the screen by acclaimed playwright Harold Pinter, The Quiller Memorandum takes place in mid-'60s Berlin, where some Nazis new and old are attempting to make a comeback two decades after the Third Reich was defeated.

 

The British Secret Service has already sent two agents undercover only to have them killed by the neo-Nazis they're after.  The double failure forces a British intelligence bigwig named Pol (Alec Guinness) to recruit an American secret agent named Quiller (George Segal).

 

Soon Quiller will find himself pursuing and being pursued around Berlin as he puts himself out as bait in order to get the Nazis to expose themselves.

 

Directed by the competent journeyman Michael Anderson (Operation Crossbow, Logan's Run, Orca: The Killer Whale) and beautifully shot by frequent Anderson cinematographer Erwin Hillier, The Quiller Memorandum isn't only a suspenseful spy thriller, but an unusually literate one as well.  Pinter's screenplay is full of great dialogue and juicy exchanges, and it's all smoothly delivered by leads at the top of their game.

 

Like The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Ipcress File, which preceded it, Quiller is one of the "anti-Bond" spy films at the time that disposed of the gadgets and tried to be more down to earth.  What helps it succeed on that level is the casting of the always underrated Segal as Quiller, a cynical, world-weary agent who's sharp, but hardly an infallible superhero.  In fact, Segal's Quiller is very much an Everyman with a quick wit, and we're with him all the way.

 

If anybody ever does an examination of underrated leading men of the '60s and '70s, Segal should be at or near the top of the list.  He was equally adept at doing comedy (1977's Fun With Dick and Jane), romance (A Touch of Class), drama (King Rat) or, as he often did, a winning combination of all three in films such as No Way to Treat a Lady, Born to Win and Blume in Love.

 

Segal's performance as Quiller is reminiscent of his work in another vastly underrated thriller, 1977's Rollercoaster.  In Quiller and Rollercoaster, he gives two of his best-ever performances as a smart, witty guy who's had too many disappointments and seen too many bad things, but somehow manages to keep plugging along through an ever-increasing slog of cynicism.  He's very human in both films, and that makes his characters all the more ingratiating and easy to identify with.

 

Quiller also benefits from excellent supporting turns from acting heavyweights Guinness and Max von Sydow.  It's a pure joy to watch Segal match wits with von Sydow's slick head Nazi, especially during one memorable interrogation scene.  The same goes with the scenes between Segal and Guinness, who manage to create an interesting subtle tension and unspoken dislike between their characters.  And as a German school teacher Quiller befriends and beds, the luscious Senta Berger is appropriately mysterious and poker-faced.

 

Other factors adding to the film's effectiveness include a wonderful score by legendary composer John Barry (of Bond-theme fame when he was in the thick of working for that series) and the terrific use of Berlin locations, which include the inside of a stadium Hitler had built for the 1936 Olympics, an empty indoor swimming pool and the high floors of an unfinished office building.

 

A couple of gaps in logic -- involving moments where the bad guys keep Quiller alive when it obviously would better suit their purposes to kill him -- are the film's only conspicuous flaws.

 

Fox's new DVD of The Quiller Memorandum is part of the studio's Cinema Classics Collection.  The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with picture quality that's quite good for a title that's 40-plus years old.  It was filmed in real anamorphic Panavision by Anderson and cinematographer Hillier, who make excellent use of the wide frame and depth the format can offer.  The larger your screen, the more impressive it looks.  The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0 English Mono that's passable, but more typical of a film this age.  Too bad they could not find Barry’s score, possibly in stereo, and do a stereo or 5.1 remix.  The two special features included are the original theatrical trailer and a very entertaining and insightful feature-length audio commentary by film historians Lee Pfeiffer & Eddie Friedfeld.

 

If you're a fan of well-written, intelligent thrillers, The Quiller Memorandum is a highly recommended must.

 

 

-   Chuck O'Leary


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