The Quiller Memorandum Review
Quiller is an American spy, working for the British secret service in Berlin. Assigned by the head of Berlin Control to uncover the operations of a neo-Nazi organisation who have assassinated the previous investigator, Quiller soon finds that he is as much a target of their attentions, as they are of his. Lead by the softly menacing Oktober, the group kidnap and torture Quiller. Unsure of his exact purpose and role within the secret service and unable to extract any useful information, they release him and the race is then on to expose the group before they discover the location of Berlin headquarters.
Released in 1966, The Quiller Memorandum is an enjoyable, well-paced film, featuring a sharp script by Harold Pinter and strong direction by Michael Anderson. The use of locations is excellent and the Berlin of the mid-sixties, with its perfect blend of modern architecture and old-style Nazi grandeur, makes a very fitting backdrop to the clash of old and new politics and ideals. The cast all perform their roles with relish, from the understated, ironic George Segal in the lead role, through to Max von Sydow as Oktober, the blond-haired, blue-eyed leader of the new right. Alec Guinness pops up briefly for an amusingly campy turn as Quiller’s contact in Berlin and Senta Berger gives a nicely understated performance as the teacher who Quiller befriends and on whom his chance of successfully locating the group ultimately hinges.
Network release The Quiller Memorandum as part of its The British Film collection and present it in its original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio. The film is apparently “…featured here in a High Definition transfer made from original film elements…”. Now, I’m not the most prolific blu-ray viewer in the world and I’m sure there are far worse examples out there, but I can safely say that this is the worst looking transfer I have ever seen on blu-ray. Right from the opening titles, the low light and night scenes are smothered in digital noise, creating a snow effect over most dark areas. Throughout the film, brightness levels fluctuate within each scene, at times creating a flickering effect similar to watching an old silent movie and occasional bands of grain drift across the duller areas of some shots. Daylight scenes come off best and are sharp and clean, although possibly due to over-brightness, the colours appear a little flat and washed out.
The soundtrack is provided in a Linear PCM 2.0 mono form and is very clear, with dialogue and score both coming across well. Optional English subtitles are also available.
Extras amount to 34 minutes of interviews with the main cast, director and producer. Filmed on location in Berlin, these are black and white and both sound and picture are in a fairly rough state at times.
The opening and closing scenes of the movie are included without their title sequences and as these are both reasonably static shots, are as fascinating as one might expect. A trailer and a very comprehensive 24 minute roll of promotional and behind-the-scenes images rounds off the package.
The Quiller Memorandum is a fine example of the way thrillers used to be made. There’s no frenzied action or hyperkinetic camerawork. The pace is steady and barely changes throughout the course of the film, instead relying on the plot reveals and character development to drive the film along. All aspects of the production are first-class and the end result is a movie that offers a mature and thoughtful take on the spy genre. That, in itself, makes the film a definite recommendation.
What I can’t recommend is this home release. Why nobody at Network questioned the transfer is beyond me and it’s all the more disappointing that it was deemed acceptable to release it in this state. Hopefully at some point Network will realise the error of their ways and do justice to a film that still deserves to be seen nearly fifty years after its release. Until such a time, however, this release is one to avoid.
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