John le Carre's classic spy yarn gets a suitably brisk, unromanticized telling in this quintessential Cold War movie. A British agent (Richard Burton) sets up an elaborate cover story for being lured into defecting to the Communists, but he hardly needs to manufacture his disgust and cynicism over spying. The grim business of point-counterpoint espionage has rarely been depicted with less glamour; Burton's great climactic speech on the subject is the definitive take on sinking to the level of the enemy. Claire Bloom is an offbeat love interest, and a bearded Oskar Werner is an East German investigator on Burton's case (the pecking order in the Communist spy hierarchy is a source of black humor). Director Martin Ritt extends his unvarnished approach to the movie's stripped-down look, which means that Richard Burton is constantly in a harsh, unflattering light. He looks terrible, but it's in the service of a fine performance. --Robert Horton
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