The Kremlin Letter Reviews
The plot: 5 Americans sent out to infiltrate the Moscow sex-and-drugs underworld to retrieve an incriminating document.
Try not to pay too much attention to the fate of the letter itself; that's just the McGuffin. I think an over-concentration on the letter is what turned off many reviewers when the movie was released. Let it go. It isn't really about the letter; it's about personal betrayal.
Stories are told about the old days of espionage, of people and incidents. It's great to have a film with a rich sense of history, and this works well to provide context and atmosphere, but it's actually more than that; try to pay close attention. It'll pay off.
OK, some of it's hokey around the edges; again, let it go.
It's closely based on a novel by Noel Behn--descendant of Aphra Behn (d. 1698), the first woman in history to make a living playwriting. She was also a foreign spy for Charles II. Perhaps it's ironic (or genetic) that, as Wikipedia says,
"[B]iographer Janet Todd noted that Behn 'has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks'".
What a cast list(!) They all give sterling performances, there are no star turns here. Using all their considerable talents, they completely inhabit their characters. But you have to give it up for the star turn by the spectacular and wonderful Richard Boone.
It also has one of the best abduction scenes ever--dynamic, surprising and excruciatingly suspenseful, worthy of the best Hitchcock.
To be fair, "The Kremlin Letter" is certainly a product of its time, not only in its Cold War intrigue but also in its changing social mores and generation gap, expressed in the underground scenes in both Moscow and New York that include positive portrayals of both gay men and women.(You have not lived until you have seen George Sanders in drag.) What separates this movie from the pack is not only Richard Boone hitting all the right notes and a heck of a kicker but also in its refreshingly cynical attitude towards espionage. The only difference between the Soviets and the Americans here is that the Soviets torture and the American agents perversely resort to blackmailing, pimping and drug dealing. That allows for the movie to deftly subvert expectations with Rome being the closest to a traditional hero on hand.
The plot has something to do with a letter which implicates America in an Anti Russian plot and the problems this letter is causing.
What follows is cross and double cross,mysterious agents,with very odd codenames and loads of talking in very cold rooms.
Thats not to say the film is boring ,far from it, Huston has a excellent cast who all give top grade performances including George Sanders Richard Boone and Nigel Green as part of the same spy network and Orson Welles and Max Von Sydow as rival Russian spies
the film would make interesting viewing alongside The Quiller Memorandum and the Ipcress File as its one of those films which one is grateful that someone decided to give it a DVD release.
I wish they'd reissue it on DVD.
Patrick O'Neal is effective as Charles Rone, who is accepted as a spy due to his photographic memory. Also notable are Richard Boone as the genial mentor to Rone, Bibi Andersson as the desperate wife of a Soviet spy chief Kosnov and Barbara Parkins as an enchanting fellow agent. Orson Welles is solid in a minor role as a Soviet official. Veteran actor Max von Sydow has a good turn as Colonel Kosnov, a determined man with a brutal record, who organizes a "third section" of Soviet agents.
This is the seediest spy story I have seen to date. Harsh tactics are used by both the Americans and Soviets and agents are expected to compromise themselves to the fullest extent in the service of their country. The story remains interesting throughout with intrigue, duplicity and twists. The pace is slow, so this film is not recommend for those looking for a James Bond style spy thriller, but rather those looking for a John le Carré type spy story in the vein of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold".
One of these (cold war) films where Helsinki is Russia.