From Saul Bass' incredible opening title to the final heartbreaking moment of love lost in the midst of espionage and bureaucracy, Preminger is at his utmost brilliance. He juxtaposes so skillfully from the hazardous pyrotechnics of spying and lying to the domestic side of the men he documents, never succumbing to mundane action, chases or shootouts. Sure, the subject matter may have been covered before, but not ever with such precision. Talky? Maybe. Psychological? Definitely, and that is the overall point. This is what Preminger was trying to do. Not glamorize spies by putting them in elaborate action setpieces, but really delving into the utter domesticity of the business. Some critics have called it "routine." On the contrary, there is great filmmaking to be had here, and the acting is on target all the way. Iman, in her movie debut, was a little cardboard at times, but that is to be expected. It is fair to say from an audience point of view that there is always an ambience at work in Preminger films to suggest something deeper than whatever onscreen tactics are occupying the foreground.
I have never had the privelege of reading the source novel, but intend to very soon. It tells the story of the forced defection of British government desk clerk Castle (Nicol Williamson). This is a man stuck precariously in a complex struggle between the fight for the happy, Calvinistic life and the loyalty to king and country. Castle fell in love with an African woman and called upon a Socialist friend to smuggle her back to England to lead a family. Now that he is settled, the friend asks for a favor in return, and this includes leaking information. It is also notable that the narrative does not limit itself to the daunting world of international intrigue. For instance, the scene where Richard Attenborough invites Williamson to his daughter's wedding because he does not want his wife to think that he has no friends, or the scene in the strip club with Morley, in an excellent performance, looking on at the cautious stripper. Incidentally, why is this film rated R? The strip club scene was handled with great discretion and there is no profanity or sexual matter to merit its rating. Otto's ROSEBUD was more worthy of the R-rating than this film.
The detailed flashbacks, which shows the audience why Williamson's character was forced to leak information to the Russians, are tainted with strange aphrodisia. This element makes takes these scenes to the hilt.
Internal conflict is at play here as Williamson awaits the point to where the struggle between domesticity and loyalty push him beyond good and evil (no, this is not a reference to Nietschze). Preminger had a firm handle on Graham Greene's original novel and he had something to say. The problem is that most critics are so impatient to watch the next movie to actually pinpoint purpose and excellence. In any case, it is worth whatever it takes to see it. Either that, or being a Preminger nut has forced me to think that his films cannot be touched with a ten-foot pole. And don't get me wrong, he deserves the acclaim.