Saturday 23 May 2020

Movie Review: The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

A spy thriller, The Quiller Memorandum investigates a group of ultra nationalists in Germany. Compact and often intense, the film targets disposition and tension more than outright action.

After two British agents are killed, Agent Quiller (George Segal) is dispatched to Berlin to continue an investigation into a shadowy neo-Nazi group. He connects with his controller Pol (Alec Guinness) and shakes off his guard Hengel (Peter Carsten). Investigating reports that one of the neo-Nazis worked at a school Quiller meets teacher Inge Lindt (Senta Berger) and romances her to try and extract additional information.

Quiller antagonizes enough people to prompt the extremists into action: he is drugged, kidnapped and comes face to face with Oktober (Max von Sydow), the leader of a far-right group. At a secret location Oktober tries to extract from Quiller information about counterintelligence operations in Berlin, and a dangerous battle of wits and wills erupts between the two sides.

A Harold Pinter adaptation of the Elleston Trevor book directed by Michael Anderson, The Quiller Memorandum dives into the world of undercover spies poking around dangerous corners to uncover existential threats. Partially shot on location in Berlin, the film carries a British sensibility. The action is measured, talk is important, mindgames matter, and mood predominates.

But the film also skips past several gaps in logic. Quiller is an American seemingly working for the British, German authorities are nowhere to be found, and on more than one occasion Oktober and his men leave loose ends to better serve the script than their cause. Anderson allows some scenes to run too long, and most of the secondary characters, particularly Oktober's many henchmen, are statuesque in presence and stiff in character.

Max von Sydow and Alec Guinness add welcome gravitas, but both are marginally over the top and edge towards caricaturish representations of master villain and master spy respectively.

The central passionate relationship is handled better. Notwithstanding the speed with which Quiller connects with Inge, Anderson delicately weaves in the complex romance, with Senta Berger enigmatic in the pivotal role. When Oktober injects the spy with a truth serum Inge as a notional lover suddenly becomes vital for his survival; later her role seeps into the investigation, lapping on multiple shores of subtle danger.

More famous for comedic roles, George Segal is a revelation. He adds oodles of character, staying on the appropriate side of determined but pushing all the boundaries in an unconventional and acid-tongued pursuit of proven killers. Countering extreme nationalism is a dour mission, but Quiller brings individual swagger to the game of shadows.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.


  1. A boring movie with huge logical gaps and a very ambiguous ending. It can safely be skipped for something more intriguing.

    1. Thanks for the comment! The Quiller Memorandum is certainly not great, but it does offer some enjoyable elements.


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