The Kremlin Letter

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Kremlin Letter at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 5, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
Genre: Convoluted Spy Thriller
Director: John Huston
Starring: Patrick O'Neal, Richard Boone, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, George Sanders, Orson Welles
Rated: PG

John Huston’s The Kremlin Letter (1970) didn’t make much of anyone happy on its original release. The critics didn’t like it and the audience, expecting some kind of James Bond movie, were baffled and/or bored by it. For years, it’s been dismissed as one of Huston’s (many) misfires, but in reality it’s less a misfire than a seriously misunderstood one. It’s complex and morally ambiguous like Sidney J. Furie’s The Ipcress File (1965) and Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain (1967)—both of which featured Michael Caine as Harry Palmer and were promoted as James Bond “for the thinking man.” But with Huston at the helm, none of those film’s stylistic flourishes are in evidence, so you’re left with a somewhat flatly directed, complex spy yarn centered around a letter (that, of course, turns out to be totally beside the point, if it exists at all) which everyone wants to get their hands on. Still, the film exerts a weird fascination in its utter complexity and duplicity, performed by a cast that makes it consistently watchable. Beyond that, there’s George Sanders as an aging drag queen—which makes it close to irresistible.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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