Another Country 1984 ***

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Julian Mitchell adapted his own theatrical hit for this thoughtful analysis of espionage and sexual politics. Based on the early life of Guy Burgess, Marek Kanieviska’s drama makes good use of a public school setting as Guy (Rupert Everett) and his room-mate Tommy (Colin Firth) set out to defy convention, but find their ideals compromised by the school system. Everett and Firth both deliver stellar turns, and although the flashback structure doesn’t add much, Another Country is far more than another Cold war thriller, instead looking at issues of class betrayal and brotherhood with a cool, sardonic wit.

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Billion Dollar Brain 1967 ***

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A third outing for Michael Caine’s supermarket-shopping spy Harry Palmer, Ken Russell’s 1967 thriller takes him away from the kitchen sink dramas of The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin and moves the action to a Bond-level extravagance. John McGrath adapts from Len Deighton’s book, and Russell brings his customary imagination to what is, for him, a fairly conventional narrative. Billion Dollar Brain’s notions of ‘super-computers’ are deliciously retro, and seeing Harry Palmer well out of his depth has a certain charm, as do the muscular images of General Midwinter (Ed Begley) commanding his army of trucks as they drive across the ice-floes in a neat reference to Eisenstein.

Telefon 1977 ***

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The title is the Russian word for telephone, and Don Siegel’s 1977 thriller makes good use of it; Charles Bronson plays a Russian agent who comes to the States to uncover a network of sleeper cells, activated by a voice on the phone that recites Robert Frost’s classic “and miles to go before I sleep’ poem, also featured in Tarantino’s Death Proof. Based on a novel by Walter Wager, who also provided the source material for Die Hard 2, Telefon features a reasonable context for Bronson’s trademark gruffness as Major Borzov, teaming him with double agent Barbara (Lee Remick) and a gallery of great support including Tyne Daly, Patrick McGee, Alan Badel and Donald Pleasance. Siegel knew how to make a tough, taut thriller, and Telefon is a cut above most cold war thrillers.

Codename: The Soldier 1982 ***

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Writer/director/producer James Glickenhaus was buoyed by the success of his Exterminator franchise when he made this rather cool espionage caper, with Ken Wahl as The Soldier, a super-spy pressed into service to stop terrorists blowing up the world’s oil supply. With a reasonable budget to play with Glickenhaus manages some excellent stunt-work, both in Alpine snow (complete with a glowering cameo from Klaus Kinski) and in urban shoot-outs, and a wonderful finale in which the Soldier jumps his Porsche over the Berlin wall, to the astonishment of downtrodden East Berliners.

 

Possession 1981 ***

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Andrzej Zulawski never made a normal film, and the closest he got to the mainstream was 1981’s Possession, which won Isabelle Adjani a best actress award at Cannes, back in the days when copulating with a tentacled monster designed by Carlo Rimbaldi (Alien, ET) in an East German basement was considered awards bait. Sam Neill and Adjani inhabit a strangely deserted Berlin circa the Cold War, and what looks like a spy movie lurches towards domestic drama and then horror as the affair he suspects her of turns out to be with a truly bizarre creature. A psychosexual nightmare of ambiguous political intent, Possession rises to several unforgettable sequences, including Adjani’s meltdown on the underground and a distressing scene in which the couple appear to mutilate themselves with electric knives during an argument.