“The Quiller Memorandum” (1966) is an excellent, low-key spy film.
Morally ironic, almost eerie at times, this film’s protagonist splits the difference between James Bond and Alec Leamus. Quiller is the ultimate professional, a “shadow executive” featured in a series of top-rank thrillers by Elleston Trevor (a/k/a Adam Hall).
George Segal plays an Americanized Quiller here, with Max von Sydow as his perfectly chilling neo-Nazi “German gentleman” adversary. Alec Guinness didn’t think much of the film, but he’s good in it as Quiller's sinister contact Pol (watch the scene in which he uses a raisin to describe Quiller’s ambiguous position, and then pops it in his mouth). The John Barry score is icing on the thrill cake.
Elleston himself, who was my late friend and mentor, didn’t like the film, and we argued about that. He said George Segal was “for the girls and comedies and so on,” and that screenwriter Harold Pinter was “obviously a very fine writer” but “hadn’t got the knack of adapting.” Specifically, Elleston thought Pinter had changed the character of the main female character too much.
I argued that the movie retained much of the book’s suspense and innovation, including the fact that Quiller is presented as a secret agent who thinks carrying a gun is a mistake. Seeing Quiller invade the enemy headquarters unarmed impressed me with his courage, even when I was 12.
I always thought that the box office had something to do with Elleston’s opinion of the film. He had a much higher opinion of the 1965 film adaptation of his novel “The Flight of the Phoenix,” which was a hit.
However, the star of “Quiller Memorandum,” George Segal, noted that the film had been lavishly praised by director Quentin Tarantino as one of the best spy films of the era.
|Scenes from 'The Quiller Memorandum' (1966)|