Wednesday, 16 December 2020

der spion, der aus der kälte kam

As our faithful chronicler informs, this day in 1965 saw the US premiere of the cinematic adaptation of the eponymous debut spy novel of the recently departed John le Carré, whose realistic and unromantic portrayal of espionage was a welcome and resonant counterpoint to the cloak-and-dagger escapism of James Bond. Whereas the station chief of the West Berlin office of MI6 is seemingly facing redundancy after multiple failures and set-backs, the protagonist’s turning is one carefully orchestrated by Control to out suspected double-agents by transforming one of its own. A refutation of whatever idealism that drives the ideological struggle, the character played by Richard Burton deprecates himself and the profession, limning his kind as not some high-minded defenders of the faith but rather as “just a bunch of seedy squalid bastards like me—little men, drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like mons in a cell, weighing right against wrong? Yesterday I would have killed Mundt [suspected double-agent] because I thought him evil and an enemy. But not today—today he is evil and my friend.” The award-winning film further introduced the general public to some of the jargon of the profession, with honeypot, head-hunter and mole to become common-parlance.