The Deadly Affair (UK, 1967)

James Mason and Simone Signoret: where’s the glamour gone?

Coming two years after The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (UK), one of the best of many John le Carré adaptations, The Deadly Affair was a prestige production that wasn’t afraid to hit the downbeats essential to any portrayal of le Carré’s anti-hero Smiley (though the James Mason’s character is called Dobbs; Paramount had apparently copyrighted original). Unlike its predecessor, Smiley/Dobbs is the protagonist in The Deadly Affair, the title a double entendre about the suicide/murder that serves as the narrative disruption and the character’s strange relationship with his wife, Ann. She’s played by Harriet Andersson, made ‘famous’ in Bergman’s Summer with Monika (Sweden, 1953), and her casting was typical of British cinema of the time when female foreign actors were cast in sexually ‘loose’ roles.

As ever, Mason is brilliant; he moved from heart-throb roles, such as The Wicked Lady (UK, 1945), to a top Hollywood star, A Star is Born (1954), and a great Hitchcock villain in North by Northwest (1959), before returning to British cinema in the 1960s (see Georgy Girl). Contrast his dashing highwayman of 1945 with his sexually impotent Dobbs 20 years later and you see a fearless actor; similarly, Simone Signoret who was the sexy ‘other woman’ in Room At the Top (UK, 1959) here plays a concentration camp survivor that looks old beyond her years.

Grim is the tone of the film and so was its box office despite having an Astrud Gilberto song and a soundtrack written by Quincy Jones as well as the aforementioned stars. Cinematographer Freddie Young, according to Wikipedia, used a ‘technique of pre-exposing the colour film negative to a small, controlled amount of light (known as “flashing” or “pre-fogging”) in order to create a muted colour palette’; rarely has ‘Swinging London’ looked so glum. Director Sidney Lumet eschewed glamorous locations, except for the Serpentine Restaurant in Hyde Park, and stages the few action sequences superbly; Lumet had one of the more interesting careers in commercial cinema, he often looked beyond the box office.

The ending of the film is particularly good with its lack of sentiment. There’s humour too: Lynn Redgrave as a ditzy airhead and Harry Andrews forever snoozing whenever he sits down. One climactic scene is set during the performance of Marlowe’s Edward II, with David Warner on stage, in what looks like a particularly brutal RSC production by Peter Hall. The film was based on le Carré’s  first novel Call for the Dead (1961); I saw it on Talking Pictures.

2 Responses

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