Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A reappraisal of 'The Quiller Memorandum' (1966)

George Seagal stars in The Quiller Memorandum as Quiller, experiencing danger in Berlin. 

What do they want of Quiller? What does Quiller want of them?

In the midst of the spy boom of 1966 -the only year where a James Bond film wasn't released since the EON Production series had begun- came the adaptation of Adam Hall's thriller The Berlin Memorandum to the big screen. American actor George Seagal starred this production opposite an international cast that included Alec Guinness, Senta Berger and Max Von Sydow, directed by Michael Anderson and with the unmistakable music of John Barry.

The Quiller Memorandum offers a less glamorous approach to the world of espionage than the James Bond films and is much closer to the Harry Palmer movies, but with less humor. The story focuses on a series of British agents being killed in Berlin while investigating Phoenix, a neo-nazi group in the region. Pol, the head of the British intelligence, sends an operative only known as Quiller to continue with these investigations.

Trusting no-one, Quiller poses as a journalist preparing an article on neo-nazi organizations linked to the arrest of a teacher with nazi ties. Inquiring about "a man named Jones" (the name of one of the dead agents), Quiller intentionally alerts his enemies to know more of them and expects to be taken to their leader. At the same time, he engages into a romance with Inge, the young woman who replaced the arrested teacher. Not much later, Quiller will be captured and taken to Oktober, leader of Pheonix, who constantly subjects him to heavy drugs in order to make him reveal where his base is. The experiment fails, but the agent is subject to an ultimatum: if he doesn't reveal the position of his control, Oktober will eliminate Inge who has also been captured by the organization.

While it may be a low-scaled production, The Quiller Memorandum has its very attractive points. First of all, the John Barry's music bringing thrills to every situation -there are very little fights and shootouts, but many chases- and romance with his "Wednesday's Child" song, used troughout the film as a romantic instrumental and with Matt Monro's vocal version making a "radio cameo" as Quiller enters an cheap-looking hotel in Berlin (in a From Russia With Love fashion). The music is what gives identity to the film and it's different to what Barry did for Palmer or Bond, with more hypnotic tunes and less percussion.

Then comes the protagonist, a very good performance of George Seagal. Unlike Bond's sartorial taste, Quiller uses the same clothes over and over in the film: a single breasted grey suit with a crimson tie, changing only to a very similar brown suit for the very last scene. Quiller refuses to use weapons, since he thinks it would be easier to be captured if he is spotted carrying one. Another good performance is given by the charismatic Max Von Sydow, whose Oktober is filled of charm and menace and -without recurring to violence to much- he can put our hero in a tight spot. Alec Guinnes makes a welcome performance as the stone-faced leader of the British intelligence, who appears rather cold towards the dangers Quiller has to face, and Senta Berger provides the beauty and fragility needed to make the protagonist fall for her.

In the end, The Quiller Memorandum is an enjoyable spy movie with not much action scenes but filled of suspenseful moments that succeeds in engaging the hard spy thrillers afficionados, where a hero can chase or evade his enemies with wits and bare hands.

Nicolás Suszczyk

1 comment:

  1. I like the movie too. Segal ought to have done more. The B.B.C. did a 'Quiller' television series in the mid-70's, starring Michael Jayston, but it was short lived.