The Spy Who Came In from the Cold


The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

Critics Consensus

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Total Count: 15


Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,400
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Movie Info

Based on the novel by John Le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold stars Richard Burton as a dispirited, end-of-tether British secret agent. He comes in from "the cold" (meaning he is pulled out of field operations) to act as a undercover man behind the Iron Curtain. To make his staged defection seem genuine, Burton goes on an alcoholic toot and is imprisoned and publicly humiliated. Once he has been accepted into East German espionage circles, Burton discovers that what he thought was his mission was a mere subterfuge--and that he's been set up as a pawn for an entirely different operation. Though Ireland and England "stand in" for East Berlin, Spy Who Came In From the Cold has the air of authenticity throughout, thanks in great part to the bleak black and white photography by Oswald Morris. The film was condemned as incomprehensible by those filmgoers accustomed to the simplistic melodramatics of James Bond; seen today, the double-crosses and double-double crosses seem all too clear and credible.

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Richard Burton
as Alec Leamas
Claire Bloom
as Nan Perry
Oskar Werner
as Fiedler
Cyril Cusack
as Control
Peter van Eyck
as Hans-Dieter Mundt
George Voskovec
as East German Defense Attorney
Robert Hardy
as Carlton
Bernard Lee
as Patmore
Beatrix Lehmann
as President of Tribunal
Esmond Knight
as Old Judge
Tom Stern
as CIA Agent
Niall MacGinnis
as German Checkpoint Guard
George Mikell
as German Checkpoint Guard
Scot Finch
as German Guide
Marianne Deeming
as Frau Floerdke
Michael Ripper
as Lofthouse
Henk Mobenberg
as Passport Officer
Richard Marner
as Vopo Captain
David Bauer
as Young Judge
Steve Plytas
as East German Judge
Anne Blake
as Miss Crail
Michael Ritterman
as Security Officer
Edward Harvey
as Man in the Shop
Nancy Nevinson
as Mrs. Zanfrello
Warren Mitchell
as Mr. Zanfrello
Philip Badoc
as Young German Officer
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Critic Reviews for The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

All Critics (15) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (13) | Rotten (2)

  • An excellent contemporary espionage drama of the Cold War which achieves solid impact via emphasis on human values, total absence of mechanical spy gimmickry, and perfectly controlled underplaying.

    Dec 26, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • What finally impresses, however, is the sheer seediness of so much of the film, with characters, buildings, and landscapes lent convincingly grubby life by Oswald Morris' excellent monochrome camera-work.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The film makes you believe it could have happened. And that's the remarkable thing.

    May 9, 2005 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Grim, monotonous, and rather facile, though Richard Burton's aging agent has some honest poignancy.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…
  • A brilliant screenplay crisp, muted, funny, never pushing its points, and acting of the unobtrusively perfect sort you aren't asked to notice. Goes a long way towards bolstering this excitement.

    Jul 20, 2018 | Full Review…
  • This pitch-perfect adaptation of John le Carré's best-seller captures the Cold War in all its chilly complexity ... Burton delivers a towering performance that's second only to his turn in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the finest of his career.

    Sep 21, 2013 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

  • Apr 02, 2014
    In comparison to many films made about the Cold War after the Cold War, this stands out as a wonderful spy film at the height of the tension. Richard Burton is fantastic in the lead.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 17, 2013
    Being a John le Carre adaptation, you can expect that "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" will be two things: grim and unexciting. There's no doubting that events like this did happen during the Cold War, but that doesn't make it any more of a compelling watch. The pace is unrelenting in its slowness, the plot doesn't take any interesting turns, and it's just not involving or likable. Richard Burton's understated acting, Oswald Morris' gloomy black-and-white photography and a morally ambiguous tone are really all that the film has going for it.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer
  • Sep 06, 2012
    This film's entire existence is merely as an real world answer to the James Bond craze prevalent in its day and then simply to say: "that's not true." Well what is the truth then? Sad little men sulking in shadows, lying to everyone, especially themselves. Burton is really good as one of the men, a guy who hates himself playing a guy who hates himself playing a guy who hates himself. Its really grim but good.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Jul 04, 2012
    Although the build up (first 30 minutes) is a bit slow, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold quickly becomes a trhilling adventure. The plot is original and exciting and the acting was beyond my expectations. Altogether, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a daring thriller. Favorite Scene: The end when he decides not to climb the wall
    Anthony L Super Reviewer

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