John le Carre reinvented the spy genre with his 1963 novel on which this film was based. Its view of Western agents, not as infallible defenders of all that is right and moral, but as flawed and cruel agents – willing to make the same heartless sacrifices as their Eastern counter parts was shocking at the time, and still is today.
Don't expect any heroes in this film and definitely don't hold your breath for a happy ending. The novel has been named the best spy novel of all time by Publisher's Weekly, and the film adaptation of this gritty, intelligent triple agent story is beautifully and faithfully captured in crisp black in white by director Martin Ritt.
The flawless Richard Burton plays the flawed secret agent Alec Leamas who becomes involved in an elaborate plot of double crossing, triple crossing, lies and danger. To give away too much of the plot would be a disservice to those who haven't seen it. I will say that when the final scenes unravel and secrets are revealed you will be left speechless and stunned.
Our favorite le Carre character, George Smiley (see Call for the Dead, Tinker,Tailor,Soldier, Spy, and Smiley's People – all of which I have raved about repeatedly) plays a small but integral role in this film.
I know I have had a hard time convincing people my age to give anything by le Carre a try, but this classic film is a perfect place for any sceptic to start.