Telefon (film)

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Telefon poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by James B. Harris
Screenplay by Peter Hyams
Stirling Silliphant
Based on the novel by
Walter Wager
Starring Charles Bronson
Lee Remick
Donald Pleasence
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Michael Butler
Edited by Douglas Stewart
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • December 16, 1977 (1977-12-16) (U.S.)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Telefon is a 1977 spy film directed by Don Siegel and starring Charles Bronson, Lee Remick and Donald Pleasence.[1] The screenplay by Peter Hyams and Stirling Silliphant was based on the 1975 novel by Walter Wager.


After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union planted a number of long-term, deep-cover sleeper agents all over the United States, spies so thoroughly brainwashed that even they did not know they were agents and can be activated only by a special code phrase. (The phrase is a line from the Robert Frost poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", followed by the agent's real first name.) Their mission was to sabotage crucial parts of the civil and military infrastructure in the event of conflict.

More than 20 years pass, and the Cold War gradually gives way to détente. Narrowly escaping a relentless purge of old Stalinism loyalists, Nikolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence), a rogue KGB headquarters clerk, travels to America, taking with him the Telefon Book which contains the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the sleeper agents. He starts activating them, one by one. American counterintelligence is thrown into confusion when seemingly ordinary citizens blow up what were formerly top secret facilities that have since become relatively inconsequential, and then commit suicide.

The KGB dares not tell its political leaders, much less the Americans, about its negligence in not deactivating the spy network. KGB Major Grigori Borzov (Charles Bronson), who is selected for his photographic memory, memorizes the contents of the only other copy of the Telefon Book. He is then sent to find and stop Dalchimsky quietly, before either side learns what is happening, which would greatly embarrasses the KGB and possibly even start a war between the powers. Borzov is given the assistance of only a single agent, Barbara (Lee Remick), planted in America years before.

Eventually Borzov realizes the method behind Dalchimsky's pattern of attacks: he has chosen the agents by the first letters of their American hometowns, "writing" his own name in sabotage across America. Using that information, Borzov is able to anticipate Dalchimsky's next chosen sleeper agent, and locate and kill Dalchimsky.

However, there are a number of twists. Barbara has orders from the KGB to assassinate Borzov once he succeeds, to get rid of a dangerous loose end. In addition, she is a double agent actually working for America. When she informs her American superior, Sandburg (Frank Marth), he also tells her to kill Borzov, so she will retain the confidence of the KGB. However, Barbara has fallen in love with her would-be target. She informs Borzov, and together they blackmail both sides into leaving them alone, holding the threat of the remaining Telefon agents over their heads.



Principal photography began in January 1977.

The city skyline depicting Houston, where part of the story line occurred, is actually that of Great Falls, Montana, where the majority of the film was shot. During filming, the crew had to order two truckloads of snow needed for one of the scenes, because the chinook winds in the area took away snow they had. They were trucked from the mountains. Filming in downtown Great Falls was also included. The exploding building in one scene is actually the controlled demolition of the old Paris Gibson Junior High School. The explosion scene was filmed on February 20, 1977. The present day Paris Gibson square was undamaged, but the explosion started roof fires on a couple of nearby houses that were quickly extinguished by city firefighters hired by the movie company on stand by.

The Houston scenes were shot on a Hollywood backlot, while the interior of the Houston Hyatt Regency was portrayed by 5 Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, California - the location which was also used in The Towering Inferno.

The scenes with fires and explosions at a rocket engine test site were filmed at Rocketdyne's Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

According to director Siegel, actress Lee Remick was terrified of Charles Bronson, and when asked to touch his face during a scene, responded, "I don't dare. He'll bite me!"[2]

As parts of the film were shot in Finland, there are several cameo appearances by Finnish movie stars, most notably Ansa Ikonen.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Variety film review; December 14, 1977, page 12.
  2. ^ Siegel, Don (1993). A Siegel Film. Faber & Faber. pp. 419–433. ISBN 0-571-16270-3. 
  3. ^ Saarikoski, Tuula. Ikonen, Ansa: Tähtiaika. Helsinki: Weilin+Göös. p. 19. ISBN 951-35223-1-8.  (in Finnish)

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