The Spy Who Came In from the Cold – The Criterion Collection #452 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 23, 2013 by  


“The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” is an intelligent, well-written film featuring an impeccable performance by Richard Burton.  It’s also one of the most gritty, dark and tragic espionage films that one will ever see.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2013 Paramount Pictures.  2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold – The Criterion Collection #452


DURATION: 112 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Colors, 1:66:1 Aspect Ratio, Stereo, English SDH

COMPANY: Paramount/The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: September 17, 2013

Based on the novel “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” by John le Carre

Directed by Martin Ritt

Screenplay by Paul Dehn, Guy Trosper

Produced by Martin Ritt

Music by Solk Kaplan

Cinematography by Oswald Morris

Edited by Anthony Harvey

Production Design by Tambi Larsen

Art Direction by Ted Marshall

Set Decoration by Josie MacAvin

Costume Design by Sophie Devine


Richard Burton as Alec Leamas

Claire Bloom as Nan Perry

Oskar Werner as Fiedler

Sam Wanamaker as Peters

George Voskovec  as East German Defense Attorney

Rupert Davies as George Smiley

Cyril Cusack as Control

The acclaimed, best-selling novel by John le Carré, about a Cold War spy on one final dangerous mission in East Germany, is transmuted by director Martin Ritt into a film every bit as precise and ruthless as the book. Richard Burton is superb as Alec Leamas, whose relationship with the beautiful librarian Nan, played by Claire Bloom, puts his assignment in jeopardy. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a hard-edged and tragic thriller, suffused with the political and social consciousness that defined Ritt’s career.


Based on the 1963 novel “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” by John le Carre, the 1965 film adaptation directed by Martin Ritt (“Hud”, “Hombre”, “Norma Rae”) has won a number of awards including four BAFTA awards for “Best Film”, “Best Actor”, “Best Cinematography” and “Best Art Direction”.

The film was co-written by Paul Dehn (“Goldfinger”, “Murder on the Orient Express”) and Guy Trosper (“Jailhouse Rock”, “Birdman of Alcatraz”, “One-Eyed Jacks”) and would star Richard Burton (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, “Where Eagles Dare”, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”), Claire Bloom (“The King’s Speech”, “Clash of the Titans”, “The Haunting”), Oskar Wernr (“Jules and Jim”, “Fahrenheit 451”, “The Shoes of the Fisherman”) and Sam Wanamaker (“Private Benjamin”, “Raw Deal”).

Received well from critics worldwide including being named as one of the top ten films of 1966 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection in Sept. 2013.

“The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” begins at the West Berlin office of the Circus where administrator Alec Leamus (portrayed by Richard Burton) has been recalled to London after the death of an operative.  Alec is demoted to the banking section of the agency.  He begins to become bitter, depressed  and unhappy with his job and his life and is spotted by East German Intelligence as a potential defector from West Berlin.

He eventually meets a woman named Nan Perry (portrayed by Caire Bloom) who explains to him that she is a communist.  The two become closer together but Alec Leamus’ life appears to going downhill.

After getting out of jail after being involved in a fight, he is approached by Ashe (portrayed by Michael Hordern) who tries to help recently released prisoners and try to get him a job from “The Link”.

One day, Alec Leamus meets up with his group and we learn that his behavior, his drinking and his spiral downward has actually been planned and as an agent, the people he is reporting too are going after an East German intelligent officer named Mundt and that Alec must pretend as if he will defect. Meanwhile, using German communists, he tries to get British secrets for payment and he later gets caught an interrogated.

When he is moves to East Berlin, Alec has sensitive information that may implicate a powerful East German intelligence officer named Mundt as a paid informant of the British.  But during an East German tribunal, who is the guilty one…Mundt, Fielder?  It all comes down to the testimony of Alec who appears to be unwilling to give out any information…until they bring in Nan into the courtroom. In order to spare Nan from the questions, he makes a major decision to reveal that he is a British agent.

What will happen to Alex?  Nan? Mundt? or Fielder?


“The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” is presented in 1080p High Definition, 1:66:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is in black and white and well-contrast.  Having owned the 2008 DVD release from the Criterion Collection, the biggest difference from its DVD counterpart is the sharpness and the detail.   Considering the film is nearly 50-years-old, the Blu-ray release is crisp and clean with no damage, no white specks, scratches or any noticeable damage.  The film looks great on Blu-ray!

According to the Criterion Collection, “The high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine from a 35mm composite fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed suing MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.”


“The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” is presented in English LPCM 2.0.  The lossless soundtrack is in stereo and features good dynamic range.  Dialogue is clear, even scenes with gunshots and heard no hiss or pops during my viewing.

According the Criterion Collection, “The original stereo soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.


“The Spy Who Came In from the Cold″ comes with the following special features:

  • John Le Carre – (39:04) Interview with author John le Carre about his third novel “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”.  Recorded in 2008.
  • The Secret Centre: John Le Carre – (59:19) A BBC documentary from 2000 on the life and career of author John le Carre.
  • Martin Ritt– (3:26) Featuring 1986 audio interviews that were published in “Film Comment” featuring film historian Patrick McGilligan and Martin Ritt.
  • Oswald Morris – (39:25) Oscar-winning cinematographer Oswald Morris discuss working with Martin Ritt and more.
  • Set Designs – Featuring a collection of set designs for the film, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” from the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Martin Ritt Collection).
  • Acting in the 60’s: Richard Burton – (33:39) A 1967 interview featuring Richard Burton and Kenneth Tnan about his life as an actor for a BBC series.
  • Theatrical Trailer – The theatrical trailer for “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”.


“The Spy Who Came In from the Cold – The Criterion Collection #452″ comes with a 20-page booklet featuring the essays “True Ritt” by Michael Sragow (movie critic for the Orange County Register).

In today’s cinema where spy films are all about action and special effects, “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” represents a spy film that is complex, intelligent and also portrays spies in not the most positive light.

A man named Alec Leamus who is sent to do a duty to destroy a man named Mundt of East Germany and a transition of a man that has gotten worse as time goes on due to depression and not happy with his relocation of his current job.  The viewer believes this is a man who has been down and out but in truth, it’s part of his job to get close to people and obtain information.  As East German agents in London try to lure Alec but in truth, without Alec’s knowledge, his own employers are using him as a pawn for other means.

Richard Burton’s role as Alec Seamus is rather grim.  A character that appears to be down and disheveled, drunk and immoral, you wonder how much of it is a job and how much is it of a man who is not thrilled with life.  There is not one ounce of hope that you see in Alec’s eyes for the majority of the film.

But it’s what makes “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” such an amazing spy film.  The film is grim, the characters are grim and whatever ounce of hope that you hold out for a character becomes smaller and smaller that everyone is corrupt by the system, disillusioned and for Alec, he takes things in stride as he accepts that he’s just a pawn for both sides.

One watching this film should expect a film that focuses on complexity, no spy action nor a hopeful film or one with a happy ending, this is life for a spy during the Cold War and thus the film remains a classic.  Not many films can duplicate the style and efficacy of “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold”.  People in today’s modern society are too used to seeing action in conjunction with espionage and “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” is nothing like that.

As for the Blu-ray release, there is obvious differences from this Blu-ray release versus its DVD counterpart in look, detail and contrast.  The film looks magnificent on Blu-ray and is a definite improvement, while the special features and booklet content are the same from the Criterion Collection 2008 DVD release.

Overall, “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” is an intelligent, well-written film featuring an impeccable performance by Richard Burton.  It’s also one of the most gritty, dark and tragic espionage films that one will ever see.  Recommended!

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