Monday, 23 February 2009

233: "The Kremlin Letter" with George Sanders

“The Kremlin Letter” (1970)
Directed by John Huston
Screenplay by Gladys Hill, and John Huston, adapted from the novel by Noel Behn
George Sanders as “The Warlock”

John Huston’s films are usually a particular type of worldly, cynical entertainment. His films are made for a mature audience, and since here Huston takes advantage of the then recent loosening up of screen classification codes, “mature” can also mean a certain amount of “sexing things up”.
If you’re going to have a gay spy then it’s probably going to be a lot more credible to have a gay English spy. Particularly, as later in the film he’s having a relationship with a Russian. Other than showing him in a clinch, what more dramatic way of proving he’s homosexual than performing in drag in a gay bar? Otherwise “The Warlock” is a perfectly capable spy, so no sissy insinuations of incapability. It’s not played harshly for laughs, although Saunders is a rather bulky woman, and the big cigar avidly stuck in an older and partially de-dragged face makes for a deliberately grotesque contrast. I think you’d be hard-pressed, other than the twitching of the lips when he sights his prey in the museum, to argue that it’s a stereotypically gay performance, that Sanders plays it more queeny than any of his other roles. I’ve read one or two reviews that argue that playing in drag is a humiliation for sanders, to which the only reply is, “Have you seen the poor man in ‘Psychomania’?”

Should we see anything special in the bar being situated in San Francisco, in 1969? Probably not too much. It’s a very stylish brittle crowd (haughty faces and flapping hands), looking as though they’ve all escaped from “I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet” (circa 1966) – so maybe not that au courant actually.

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