The Quiller Memorandum is by no means a great movie, Michael Anderson’s pedestrian direction often working in opposition to Pinter’s witty and clever writing. Nonetheless one is almost astounded that this film was made, given the fact that it is one of the few commercial movies of the period that has hardly any plot or even logical incident.
After witnessing the murder of a supposed British agent in a Berlin street that looks like it was filmed on a dramatically lit sound-stage—the small phone booth in which the agent is shot is as lit up from within as the glowingly poisonous cup of milk delivered up by Carey Grant to Joan Fontaine in Hitchcock’s Suspicion—we are quickly transferred to the London headquarters of the British Secret Service, where its director, Gibbs (George Sanders) is dining with head agent Pol (Alec Guinness), a scene which immediately reveals Pinter’s comic intentions: asked by Gibbs if the food is all right, Pol answers, “Rather good.”
Gibbs: What is it?
Gibbs: Well, that should be good.
And this film, indeed, is good, despite the director’s apparent incomprehension of what a radical work it truly is. Throughout this film, Pol is seen constantly eating or about to dine, a kind of perfect metaphor for the Secret Services’ apparent hunger for their enemies, and a hunger for all they might consume.
The enemy this time round is a group of resurgent Nazis, although of a new breed, far more dangerous than the brown shirts simply because they’re so very hard to recognize. An American-born agent has been asked (“I’ve been asked to say this is not an order, but a request,” says Pol, adding “I’ll give you five minutes.”) to replace the dead agent in the attempt to find out who they (the enemy) are, and where they are hiding.
You’re on a delicate mission. Let me put it this way. There are two opposing
armies drawn up on the field. There is a heavy fog between them. Of course
they want to see one another’s position very much. You are in the gap. Your
mission is to signal their position, but if in signaling that position you signal
our position they will gain a heavy advantage. That’s where you are, Quiller,
in the gap.
[Pol picks up the grape and puts it into his mouth.]
By the end of this tale, we truly no longer know who is good or who is bad, what is accidental or what is intentional. As the Nazis release him, holding the young teacher, Inge Lindt, as hostage, Quiller is followed down the same street we have seen in the first scene by a legion of other men. In one delirious moment, as the American agent crosses a small bridge, we see scores of others trailing behind, as if he were a pied-piper of spies leading them to—well there is only one direction go, to his death.
It is clear that she, herself, has been one of Nazi group.
Quiller: We got all of them. Well, not all of them perhaps. Most
And shortly after, we warns her of the future she must face: “If I ever get back to Berlin, I’ll look you up.”
Los Angeles, July 4, 2008