Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The poofery of the circus, British Intelligence, against what odds.

Against the genius of counterintelligence on the Soviet side, to be precise.

The Czecho affair, Merlin, Operation Witchcraft, the regular ops at London Station, strictly under authority and tightly controlled.

Such effects as the scalphunter in Lisbon (From Russia with Love) and the mole dazzled by sunlight at last are a function of the vast proportions achieved in this television film.


The Dogs of War

Filmed for the emotional content in every shot, rather than for audience appeal. Several writers have claimed it’s all been seen before, yet didn’t notice the finale especially an open-handed tribute to The Wild Bunch.

The significance of Irvin’s grasp of filmmaking here is that it has or reveals a perception of the cinema complete in itself. Rather than exciting the emotions of the audience, it portrays the drama. Generally, this is seen as through the main character. Jack Cardiff and Geoffrey Burgon participate directly, a scene is tediously edited like the customs inspection because it might go either way, then the airport exterior with a chord has the bland shock of recognition in its decay, and finally a harmoniously-composed shot or two conveys, with Walken’s wide-open consideration, the relief of a mercenary in action, be it only on reconnaissance. This is why the battle scene is so admirable (and variously described as “documentary-style” or “underplayed”), because the sequence of shots gives all the degrees of action in its various stages, which permits a perfectly calm understanding of what is entailed.

As sometimes happens (with Kotcheff’s Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?, for instance), a unique style with  a subtle, honest application has been missed by many observers.

The power of analysis is keen enough for all comers, however, and the corporate agent for a regime change actually resembles Donald Rumsfeld a little, though the abiding honesty of the soldier of fortune has something of a say in the matter.

In the end, one is obliged to demur when faced with the critical opinions of several in the big press or small who say it is “no masterpiece”.


Turtle Diary

The bookshop clerk and the authoress, a kind of “sequel to the one before”, making with Betrayal and 84 Charing Cross Road a comprehensive picture of the book trade from author to market.

Shakespeare never had to deal with publishers, Mrs. Woolf did it all herself, the one is mentioned and the other indicated.

Visconti’s La terra trema not so figuratively eliminates the middleman, but that is a plan, this a dream.


Raw Deal

Irvin plays fair with his actors, here his flair is called upon to sink the eight-ball on a full table, McGavin, Wanamaker, Harrold and Hill in full cry, Schwarzenegger the Olympian and even Mozartean Mr. Universe, ten years on the screen, a loyal devoted actor, loses his craft to the exigencies of cinema in a single film, exactly as the title suggests. An element of monstrosity is introduced by the costuming and the undercover work, he wins favor by handling a rival mobster, suddenly the pocket looms, voilą, in black leather the character appears, shaped somehow into the essential form, a vintage after so much labor and a side of Irvin little noticed by casual observers, the patient craft of a really able director.


Hamburger Hill

Hamburger Hill has the appearance of being studied from every war film that went before, beginning with The Big Red One and so on to footage of World War One, furthermore of a careful perusal of war photographs back to Mathew Brady. This is no more than you would expect, if a more diligent view than the run of the mill is taken, but there is more.

What accomplishes this piece couldn’t have been attempted before in this way, it gives the impression of being derived from a peculiar examination of combat artists’ work to achieve a particular synthesis of photographic realism and the actual incarnations of fighting experience in a most satisfying way, so that every aspect is covered that pertains to military action, or nearly, from its fine madness to its sheer madness, succeeding in a raw depiction of its true tragedy in the most bitter, hysterical and authentic compositions, and this surprisingly generates an objective view by a paradox of artistic representation, crowned with the self-awareness of a soldier’s tear in the final frames.

The measure of its eloquence (and this is a benchmark) can be regarded in its effect on Hinson and Canby, the one solemnized into a juvenile apperception, the other addled into incoherence by so much cogency.


Robin Hood

Irvin’s defence of the realm opens with a fox hunt at dawn and a poacher pursued for his life, he scrambles to the feet of Robin Hood in the climactic shot from Lord of the Flies.

Robin and Marian are similarly pursued, they leap from a cliff exactly as Butch Cassidy and Sundance did. The realm is cinema, Henri Langlois was a great champion thereof.

The evil wedding is attended by the Green Man and archers come to Dunsinane. The fight to the finish has the rapid tracking shots of Ross’s King David account, Footloose.

All is well, the sun emerges gladly from grey skies, as in Stevens’ Swing Time and Lean’s Doctor Zhivago.



One might imagine Irvin relaxing at a London club with a snifter of brandy under his nose, idly reflecting on the wager he has been proposed, hardly hearing. There you have the financing, he is being told, and one will give you a shot at making actors look human whom no-one has been able to before. What actors? Jeff Fahey, of course. Eric Roberts. Hel—Jodie Foster. Agreed. But Foster is unavailable.

Therefore Pamela Gidley is badly made-up and coiffed, but filmed napping briefly, and passes. In his penultimate scene, Fahey is held at gunpoint and tied to a chair, success. Roberts is divided between a torso of strong muscularity early on, and an arguable close-up at the finish. And Irvin’s bettor buys the next round.

It is to be noted that Irvin’s danger is having the story and the cast blot out his locations, and that he prevents this with a long shot giving the sublimity of nature its due.


City of Industry

It sets out with a complete analysis of Sternberg’s late unrecognized masterpiece Jet Pilot given as an anagram, Russian mob diamonds are dumped in Palm Springs each April, four men rob the joint, a posh shop.

One of the four makes a play for the loot, kills two of the others but misses the last, who hunts him down. The perfidious gunman’s name is Skip, he makes deals with black and Chinese gangs and an L.A. mobster for protection.

The squalor of the city is effectively portrayed, masked with turgid cinematography until the end, two kids playing on the beach, a tinkle of wind-chimes.


Noah’s Ark

You can see at once the problem faced by Peter Barnes, and successfully addressed by him so that Jon Voight is able to extend the vision of this patriarch into something rather more even than Huston was able to do in The Bible, on which this film firmly rests.

Barnes employs odd dislocations to achieve his result. Especially striking are his anachronisms, such as the Hasidic tale of the deaf man and the dancers. One gathers, however, that Christian Spotlight on the Movies was incensed by the comedy more than anything else, unless it simply took the occasion to snub the writer of The Ruling Class.

Irvin seconds him in all this, with some odd angles and colored gels on the town at night, the idea being not to explain but to achieve the symbolism of the work.

“I’m not a builder,” Noah says, and God replies, “you’re not a farmer, either.” Voight plays the man successful by grace, utterly bereft of power, who takes up a stick on the order to “draw”, and follows it like a dowsing wand to lay out the plan of the ark on the dry earth. He’s naturally fearful after the Flood, and the covenant is presented to him in reassuring, conciliatory terms.

Mary Steenburgen, Carol Kane, James Coburn and a great cast of English actors enjoy themselves rather more than the critics did, who perhaps felt just a bit left out, as it were. Surely in the ark there is provision made for horse manure, and as a matter of fact Noah’s sons shovel it distastefully.