Friday Film (52) now and again, you know, I persist in watching a film that I’m not enjoying simply because I am so amazed at how staggeringly unsuccessful is its attempt to create a viably tense and communicative experience. I stress that it’s only very occasionally that I am prepared to do this: life is too short and my free time too limited for things to be otherwise. On top of which, I’m not ‘a critic’, even psychologically: diagnosing ‘failure’ in a work of creativity doesn’t give me any kind of thrill. Quite the opposite, in fact.

As for the drab example I’m going to discuss here — purely in an attempt to learn whatever can be learned from its artistic inadequacies — the details are easily told. Yesterday I noticed that a certain ‘classic spy thriller’ from the mid-1960s was available on YouTube, and decided to give it a whirl: for one thing, I couldn’t remember ever having seen it before; for another, it had quite a few impressive names attached. Plus, I had a couple of hours free before I needed to be somewhere.

And after sitting all the way through it I decided I probably had seen it before … and simply hadn’t remembered anything about it. I expect to forget it all again very soon.

Okay, here’s a bit of information before we see some of it. It’s called The Quiller Memorandum; it’s from 1966; it’s mostly set in West Berlin; and it’s very obviously an attempt to site a ‘secret agent’ narrative in a mundane, gritty reality free from the Bondage of whizzy gadgets, secret super-villain hideaways, and pitifully basic plots centring upon ludicrously outlandish plots. Chronologically, it arrived four years after the first of the Bond films — that was Dr. No (1962) — and between the fourth and fifth — these being Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967). More significantly, perhaps, it also followed hard on the heels of The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (both 1965), and more or less coincided with Funeral in Berlin (1966): plainly, ‘mundane, gritty reality’ was ‘in’… Continue reading