Winter Project: Richard Burton, Spy

richard burton

My choice for this winter’s project to educate myself on the films and story behind an actor whose filmography I know little about is Richard Burton. I am reading Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s novel Furious Love and watching a lot of Richard Burton films based on recommendations from my great blogging buddies.

I chose to group them by genre than by chronological order. Here’s the first pair to talk about.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Directed by Martin Ritt

Starring Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack

Won the BAFTA for Best British Film

Synopsis:

At the height of the Cold War, British spy Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) is nearly ready to retire, but first, he has to take on one last dangerous assignment. Going deep undercover, he poses as a drunken, disgraced former MI5 agent in East Germany to gain information about colleagues who have been captured. When he is thrown in jail and interrogated, Leamas finds himself caught in a sinister labyrinth of plots and counter-plots unlike anything in his long career.

Image result for the spy who came in from the cold images of burton

The picture starts slowly but gains rapid momentum after the love interest and job assignment is established. When Leamas decides to infiltrate behind enemy lines to retrieve information, the movie became interesting. What did I like best about the film? The plot twists, the trial, the overall setting, and cinematography. I predicted Claire Bloom‘s character Nan Perry would show up at the fortress. When Nan entered the trial room, I felt her bewilderment.  The subtle emotion from Leamas as he realizes her life is in his hands was moving. It’s the ending that got to me. I was surprised at how sad and right his final decision was.  It was the perfect way to end the movie. 4/5

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Directed by Brian G. Hutton

Screenplay by Alistair MacLean

Starring Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure 

Synopsis:

A crack team of Allied soldiers stages a daring rescue during World War II. A U.S. general is being held captive in an imposing castle fort, high in the Bavarian Alps. The plan calls for Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), Maj. Smith (Richard Burton) and other operatives to parachute down wearing Nazi disguises. They’ll penetrate the mountain outpost while undercover operatives aid them from within. But their mission changes when they discover that there’s a traitor in their midst.

There’s a lot to like and laugh about with this film. The best part is the commendable cinematography set in the winter landscape in Bavaria. I enjoyed Eastwood and Burton marching around the snow and the filming location in Werfen, Austria was breathtaking. I thought it unlikely that their secret plan was to invade Hohenwerfen Castle, and their special ops team march right into the hornet’s nest as the only soldiers in the entire town wearing white parkas. Can’t say I approved of the decision for all actors to speak English, as well as the other German officers, but then the low ranking soldiers speak German when they were on their smoke breaks and talking among themselves seemed like a mistake to me.

Burton and Eastwood steal a ride on top of a cable car as it ascends the castle. That was clever. No one notices them. This happens throughout the film. I thought Burton was miscast in the film. He looked dazed and puffy standing next to Clint Eastwood. Clint looked out of place with his angry stare. Burton lacked chemistry with his sex kitten partner in crime, Mary (Mary Ure) who lay down every time he barked at her to spread her legs. She had an interesting spot in the film as a female special forces soldier. She parachutes down from the plane. She shoots the gun and saves the dynamic duo with a rope strategically place for them to climb up a vertical wall. But her character lacked any personality. Too bad.

The escape scene was impractical and staged. There’s enough dynamite to blow up the Alps, so for those who like action and machine gun fights, there’s a lot here to like. I enjoyed the plot twist in the great chamber when Burton’s character changes it up and confuses the Gestapo and the German officers before Clint blows them away.  The film has a long running time of almost two and a half hours. I think director Hutton should have cut out a few scenes to keep it the narrative tighter. Despite the holes, I enjoyed the action overall. 3.5/5.

15 thoughts on “Winter Project: Richard Burton, Spy

Add yours

  1. I’m glad you started with the Cold war thriller, I thought it was one of his better roles. ‘Where Eagles Dare’ is nonsense, but fun nonsense. The best bit about it is to laugh at how implausibly impossible it all is. I agree that Burton looked out of place, and too old. But suspend belief, and knowledge of the time period, and it’s an easy watch. It also gave us the famous catchphrase “Broadsword Calling Danny Boy”. That is something spoofed on many ambulance and police radios in London.
    I think your 3.5 mark is generous for the film, but I might have given 5/5 to the first one. I haven’t seen it in decades though, so may be suffering a case of ‘fond memory’. 🙂
    I’m now looking forward to your take on his ‘sword and sandal’ films, like ‘The Robe’, and ‘Cleopatra’.
    (And one you may not know about, the British crime thriller ‘Villain’ with Ian McShane, from 1971)
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Broadsword Calling Danny Boy – HA love the backstory. What a silly catch phrase!
      Fun nonsense is the best way to describe it.
      I liked “The Spy Who Came out of the Cold” but I didn’t love it, but I do understand it was awesome for the time coming about after a great book and capturing the height of the Cold War very well.
      Glad as always for your thoughts, Pete. 🙂

  2. This is a great adaptation of an excellent book. (BTW, this is the book I read during my European tour — I bought it in London and finished it by the time I hit Monaco! 🙂 ). In my opinion, Spy contains Burton’s best screen performance. It was meant to be an antidote to the Bond craze. Director Ritt wanted to show the ugly side of espionage. It’s a really downbeat movie/book. Where Eagles Dare is entertaining if unmemorable. Eastwood (allegedly) was very upset with Burton getting top billing. Anyhow, this is around the time Burton’s lifestyle is beginning to catch up with him. He is in his early 40s but looks much older.

    1. Hi Eric. I think the book would be better than film. while I liked Burton’s performance, and I know everyone loved the movie and his performance, it didn’t knock me off my feet. I’m in the middle of this Burton journey and so far I like him energized and young.
      I totally agree Wherre Eagles Dare was unforgettable–but I did like the cinematography.

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