The Deadly Affair

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The Deadly Affair
movie poster
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by Sidney Lumet
Written by John le Carré (novel)
Paul Dehn
Starring James Mason
Harry Andrews
Simone Signoret
Maximilian Schell
Music by Quincy Jones
Cinematography Freddie Young
Edited by Thelma Connell
Distributed by British Lion-Columbia (UK)
Columbia Pictures (US)
Release date(s) October 1966 (UK)
26 January 1967 (US)
Running time 115 minutes (UK)
107 minutes (US)
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Deadly Affair is a 1966 British espionagethriller film, based on John le Carré's first novel Call for the Dead. The film stars James Mason, Harry Andrews, Simone Signoret and Maximilian Schell and was directed by Sidney Lumet from a script by Paul Dehn. In it George Smiley, the central character of the novel and many other of le Carré's books, is renamed Charles Dobbs as Paramount who owned the film rights of their recently filmed The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had the rights to the Smiley character.[1] The soundtrack was composed by Quincy Jones, and the bossa nova theme song, "Who Needs Forever", is performed by Astrud Gilberto.


In contemporary London, Charles Dobbs (James Mason) is a staid MI5 operative investigating Foreign Office official Samuel Fennan, a former Communist who apparently commits suicide. Dobbs becomes suspicious when a wake-up call is made to Fennan's home the next morning. While his widow Elsa (Simone Signoret) says it was for her, this is discovered to be a lie. Dobbs then suspects that Elsa, a survivor of an extermination camp, might have some clues, but other officials want Dobbs to drop the case. Dobbs privately links up with retired police inspector Mendel (Harry Andrews) to continue inquiries. As they uncover a network of Communist agents, Dobbs also discovers that his wife Ann (Harriet Andersson) is leaving him for a former wartime colleague in Switzerland, Dieter Frey (Maximilian Schell), who may have used access to her to gain knowledge of Dobbs' movements. Dobbs uses his knowledge of Dieter to set a trap, which proves that Elsa is the spy and Dieter is her control. In a final confrontation, Dieter strangles Elsa and shoots Mendel but is killed bare handed by the enraged Dobbs.


Cast notes
  • Director Sidney Lumet said of James Mason: "I always thought he was one of the best actors who ever lived. Whatever you gave him to do he would take it, assimilate it and then make it his own. The technique was rock solid, and I fell in love with him as an actor, so every time I came across a script I wanted to direct I would start to read it thinking is there anything here for James? He had no sense of stardom at all. He wanted good billing and the best money he could get, but then all he ever thought about was how to play the part. In that sense he reminded me more of an actor in a theatre repertory ensemble than a movie star, and it was what made him so good." Lumet also directed Mason in The Sea Gull (1968), Child's Play (1972) and The Verdict (1982).[2]
  • Corin Redgrave was the brother of Lynn Redgrave.
  • The play which is performed in the film is Edward II by Christopher Marlowe with the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Sir Peter Hall.[2] The play shown in rehearsal is Shakespeare's Macbeth.


Location shooting for The Deadly Affair took place in London, in St. James's Park, at the Balloon Tavern and the Chelsea Embankment in Chelsea, in Clapham and Barnes, and in Twickenham. The exterior of Dobbs' house is in St. George's Square, Pimlico.[3]

Director of photography Freddie Young's technique of pre-exposing the colour film negative to a small, controlled amount of light (known as "flashing" or "pre-fogging") in order to create a muted colour pallette was first used in this film.[4] Lumet called the result "colorless color" [2] and it proved influential, being used by other cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond on McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

Awards and honours[edit]

The Deadly Affair received five BAFTA Awards nominations, for Best British Film for Sidney Lumet, Best British Screenplay for Paul Dehn, Best British Cinematography (Colour) for Freddie Young, Best Foreign Actress for Simone Signoret, and for Best British Actor for James Mason, but did not win any of the awards.[5]


  1. ^ John le Carré at the NFT The Guardian 5 October 2002
  2. ^ a b c Steffen, James "The Deadly Affair" (TCM article)
  3. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  4. ^ TCM Misc. notes
  5. ^ IMDB Awards

External links[edit]