Posts Tagged ‘Tinker Tailor’

Eugene At the Movies

Posted in General on January 1st, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 6 Comments

It is only a matter of time before “The Forsyte Saga” is made into a two-hour action epic set in outer space.  (Princess Irene is unhappily married to Soames Vader and runs off with his cousin Jolyon Vader.)  I recently saw “Moll Flanders” relocated to the Red Neck South.  Yes, that does seem like a clever idea;  but that was the limit of its wit.  The updated “Jolene” kept all the hapless heroine’s sexual misadventures but none of Dafoe’s bawdiness.  It was more anthropological than fun.  I gave up after 20 minutes, although that was enough for two nude scenes by Jessica Chastain.  (This film is recommended for teenage boys.)

So you can imagine my dread in viewing “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”  How do you condense the complexities of a John Le Carre espionage novel into two hours?  Worse, now that the Cold War is ancient history, how do you edify an audience that watched “Lincoln” thinking the Civil War was fought against the Germans.  (That was only true in Wisconsin.)  Some 30 years ago, film makers considered the challenge of “Tinker, Tailor…” and resigned themselves into producing a six hour mini-series.  It starred Alec Guinness as the sly, subtle George Smiley.

Now, the story has been remade as a two-hour movie with Gary Oldman as the understated hero.  (I must compliment any Oldman performance where he doesn’t seem like Sid Vicious.)  Let’s see if I can describe the plot.  There is a Soviet double-agent in one of the top positions of British intelligence, and George Smiley has to find him.  No, don’t congratulate me for that succinct explanation; I only know it because I saw the six-hour miniseries.  There are four suspects; of course, the traitor turns out to be the only one who is likable.  Even his rationale for treason is somewhat endearing:  he didn’t think that he was betraying Britain but rather annoying America.

Of course, we annoying Americans might not appreciate that explanation, so the two-hour film chose to condense the answer from “those appalling Yanks”  into more of an existential shrug.  Somebody has to be a traitor; why not me.  That may be tactful but not satisfactory.  So I am offering an alternate script.

Smiley:  I do have a slight question.

Traitor (who also is the handsomest of the four suspects–but you’d expect that):  The Soviets do have a better national anthem than the Americans.

Smiley: Yes, the tune is much better, but the lyrics are absurd.  “Land of happy tractors, heroic beets…”

Traitor (who isn’t feigning a stutter in this role, and so won’t win an Academy Award):  There is an advantage to not speaking Russian.

Smiley:  If you determine your treason by the best national anthem, why aren’t you spying for the French?

Traitor (who you still picture as Mr. Darcy):  I did offer.  But French intelligence only wanted nude photos of Petula Clark.  I offered some pornography with Princess Margaret, but everyone has that.

Smiley:  At least, the Soviets respect Petula Clark.

Traitor (who really resents being confused with Colin Farrell):  It is not Russian morals so much as aesthetics.  They want nude photos of Margaret Rutherford.


p.s.  And here is the Soviet anthem: