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Quiller Memorandum, The (1966)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Quiller Memorandum, The (1966)
Directed byMichael Anderson
Production CompanyIvan Foxwell Productions
Produced byIvan Foxwell
Screenplay byHarold Pinter
From the novel byAdam Hall
CinematographyErwin Hillier

Cast: George Segal (Quiller); Alec Guinness (Pol); Max Von Sydow (Oktober); Senta Berger (Inge Lindt); George Sanders (Gibbs); Robert Helpmann (Weng)

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An American secret agent breaks a neo-Nazi group operating in 1960s Berlin.

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Adam Hall's first spy novel The Berlin Memorandum was published in 1965, at the height of the 1960s spy movie boom. The same year saw the release of Thunderball (d. Terence Young) - the decade's most popular Bond film - The Ipcress File (d. Sidney J. Furie) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (d. Martin Ritt).

Released in 1966 as The Quiller Memorandum (d. Michael Anderson), the film stands out from most of its contemporaries for its dreamlike, ritualistic, almost fairytale atmosphere. This quality is particularly apparent when one contrasts the child-like simplicity of its plot with the ambiguity and complexity of its characters, which always appear to be speaking in code. This derives largely from the cryptic dialogue by Harold Pinter and the stylish imagery supplied by director Michael Anderson and cinematographer Erwin Hillier. This approach is seen at its best in the extended sequence towards the end of the film in which the villain in a castle holds the leading lady captive. Oktober has given Quiller until daybreak to decide whether to betray his side and save the girl, or be true to his mission and let her be killed. As the hours pass and night turns into day, Quiller is hounded throughout a deserted Berlin by the villain's henchmen.

Quiller is a quirky and unusual spy movie that eschews most of the genre's trappings. There are no gadgets (the hero doesn't even carry a gun), and although filmed on location in West Berlin, most of the city's obvious landmarks are avoided, with one exception. The first scene between Quiller and his boss Pol takes place at the Berlin Olympic stadium. As Pol recalls its use in the Nazi-backed Olympics of 1936, the sounds of thousands cheering is fleetingly and eerily heard on the soundtrack. This helps set up the film's theme of spying as a kind of endless game in which there can never be any winners, only losers.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. 'A bit out of hand in Berlin' (4:03)
2. In Oktober's lair (3:08)
3. Demonstration with cakes (4:33)
4. Pursued (3:31)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Ipcress File, The (1965)
Anderson, Michael (1920-)
Barry, John (1933-2011)
Guinness, Alec (1914-2000)
Helpmann, Robert (1909-1986)
Hillier, Erwin (1911-2005)
Pinter, Harold (1930-2008)
Sanders, George (1906-1972)