Sunday, June 7, 2009

John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the novel

Back in April, I posted some commentary on the film version of Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. At the end, I wondered if I would have given the film the maximum rating of Five Stars if I had read the book first. I've come to the conclusion that if I'm to rate a film fairly, as a film that is, I should probably see it before I read the novel. If I read the book first, in most cases I'm unhappy with the film, which I agree, is unfair to the film.

I have now finished Le Carre's novel, and while I don't know what I would have done if I had read it first, I will say that the Five Star rating for the movie still holds. Changes were made, as is necessary in many cases when going from the printed page to film, and in others, I had to wonder why; but overall I would rate the film as being very close to the book in all the important areas: plot, tone, characterizations.

The film's plot followed the novel quite closely with only a few changes and none that caught my attention sufficiently to make it very noticeable. The tone was the same: tense, bleak, and dark. Burton captured Le Carre's Alec Leamas perfectly: cynical, weary, resigned. Graham Greene's architect, Querry, in his A Burnt-Out Case would have found Leamas very compatible.

The only quibble I had, and it's one that I mentioned in the commentary on the film, was that of the characterization of George Smiley. Smiley's role, while minor in the book, was diminished somewhat, which really wasn't that much of a problem. What stood out most was the disparity between the way Smiley was played in the film and Le Carre's depiction of him in this book and also in the five "Smiley" novels, three of which were also transferred to film, with Alec Guinness in the role.

Both conveyed Le Carre's theme which parallels the following rather cynical cliche: "I can protect myself from my enemies, but only God can save me from my friends."

Overall rating: read the book and see the film. Both are great and well worth the time spent.

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