American director and and actor, born in New York 1914. Began working as director in theatre and TV after WW2 until career interrrupted by McCarthy-ite blacklisting. Taught at Actors Studio, where his students included Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Rod Steiger and Lee Remick. Returned to directing in 1956 with the acclaimed Edge of the City with Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes.

Other films: an adaptation from a Faulkner novel The Long Hot Summer (1958); Hud (1963) with Paul Newman as the anti-hero; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965); the semi-autobiographical film about blacklisted writers The Front (1976); union organising Norma Rae (1979).


The Novel

John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) (London: Pan Books, 1965).

John Le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974); The Honourable Schoolboy (1977); Smiley's People (1979) (London: Octopus, 1988).


Meaning of the Title

To "come in from the cold" means to leave field operations as a spy during the Cold War and take a (presumably "warm") desk job, something which Leamus refuses to do. The final chapter of the novel is entitled "In from the Cold" in which Liz and Alec reach the wall from the East Berlin side.


  • Richard Burton - Alec Leamus, the British agent
  • Claire Bloom - Liz Gold, member of the British Communist party
  • Oskar Werner - Fiedler, an East German agent
  • ? - Mundt, another East German agent

A British secret agent, Alec Leamus, who served in Berlin from 1951-1961 cannot settle into civilian life and is recalled for a final mission behind the Iron Curtain - to help save a British double agent in East German intelligence.


Lars Ole Sauerberg, Secret Agents in Fiction: Ian Fleming, John Le Carré and Len Deighton (London: Mcmillan, 1984).

Spy Fiction, Spy Films and Real Intelligence, ed. Wesley K. Wark (London: Frank Cass, 1991). Alan R. Booth, "The Development of the Espionage Film," pp. 136-60.

Modern Critical Views: John Le Carré, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987).

Andrew Rutherford, The Literature of War: Studies in Heroic Virtue (Macmillan1989). Chap. 6 "The Spy as Hero: Le Carré and the Cold War"


1. Berlin and the wall which divided the city into "Free World" capitalist West and tyrannical communist East as the heart of the Cold War struggle between the US and USSR. The circular nature of the film and novel with the opening and ending set on opposite sides of the wall. In the novel Smiley's People (1979) Le Carré notes about divided Berlin:

He had known Berlin when it was the world capital of the cold war, when every crossing point from east to West had the tenseness of a major surgical operation. He remembered how on nights like these, clusters of Berlin policemen and Allied soldiers used to gather under the arc lights, stamping their feet, cursing the cold, fidgeting their rifles from shoulder to shoulder, puffing clouds of frosted breath into each other's faces. He remembered how the tanks waited, growling to keep their engines warm, their gun barrels picking targets on the other side, feigning strength. He remembered the sudden wail of the alarm klaxons, and the dash to the Bernauerstrasse or wherever the latest escape attempt might be. He remembered the fire brigade ladders going up; the orders to shoot back; the orders not to; the dead, some of them agents. But after tonight, he knew that he would remember it only like this: so dark you wanted to take a torch with you into the street, so still you could have heard the cocking of a rifle from across the river. (SP, p. 775)

2. Le Carré's concerns: the sense of hopelessness that the Cold War and its tensions are intractable, that nothing separates the moral behaviour of both sides (deception, ruthlessness, killing) (note the scene early in the film when Control tells Leamus and means and ends, and the false assumption that the West is never the aggressor), the decline of Britain to the rank of a second-rate power, that the British establishment is corrupt and inflexible. On Control's idea that although the ends remain quite different between East and West, the means are identical (compare the English liberal political economist John Stuart Mill's plea in Principles of Polticial economy (1848) that the ends of socialism needed to be compared with the ends of liberalism and the practice of socialism (not yet a reality in his time) had to be compared to the practice of liberalism):

"I want you to stay out in the cold a little longer." Leamus said nothing, so Control went on: "The ethic of our work, as I understand it, is based on a single assumption. That is, we are never going to be the aggressors. Do you think that's fair?"

Leamus nodded. Anything to avoid talking.

"Thus we do disagreeable things, but we are defensive. That, I think, is still fair. We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night. Is that too romantic? Of course, we occasionally do very wicked things": he grinned like a schoolboy. "And in weighing up the moralities, we rather go in for dishonest comparisons; after all, you can't compare the ideals of one side with the methods of the other, can you, now?"

Leamus was lost. He'd heard the man talked a lot of drivel before getting the knife in, but he'd never heard anything like this before.

"I mean you've got to compare method with method, and ideal with ideal. I would say that since the war (WW2), our methods -ours and those of the opposition - have become much the same. I mean you can't be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government's policy is benevolent, can you now?" He laughed quietly to himself: "That would never do," he said. (p. 20)

In the interrogation of Leamus by Fiedler there is a discussion about the philosophical beliefs of British and East German intelligence agents:

"... For us (Fielder) it is easy... The Abteilung and organisations like it are the natural extension of the (Social Unity or Communist) Party's arm. They are in the vanguard of the fight for Peace and Progress. They are to the party what the party is to socialism: they are the vanguard. Stalin said so" - he smiled drily, "it is not fashionable to quote Stalin (since 1956) - but he said once 'half a million liquidated is a statistic, and one man killed in a traffic accident is a national tragedy.' He was laughing, you see, at the bourgeois sensitivities of the mass. He was a great cynic. But what he meant is still true" a movement which protects itself against counter-revolution can hardly stop at the exploitation - or the elimination, Leamus - of a few individuals. It is all one, we have never pretended to be wholly just in the process of rationalising society. Some Roman said it, didn't he, in the Christian Bible - it is expedient that one man should die for the benefit of many."

"I expect so," Leamus replied wearily.

"Then what do you think? What is your philosophy?"

"I just think the whole lot of you are bastards," said Leamus savagely. (p. 134)

3. On the nature of the "war" being fought between two different worldviews. Liz and Alec have an angry exchange (about the death of innocent people) as they escape to West Berlin:

"What the hell are you complaining about," Leamus demanded roughly. "Your Party's always at war isn't it? Sacrificing the individual to the mass. That's what it says. Socialist reality: fighting day and night - the relentless battle - that's what they say isn't it? At least, you've survived. I never heard that Communists preached the sanctity of human life - perhaps I've got it wrong," he added sarcastically...

"There's only one law in this game," Leamus retorted... Leninism - the expediency of temporary alliances. What do you think spies are: priests, saints, martyrs? They're a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs? ...

"This is a war," Leamus replied. "It's graphic and unpleasant because it's fought on a tiny scale, at close range; fought with a wastage of innocent life sometimes, I admit. But it's nothing, nothing at all besides other wars - the last or the next."...

"Christ Almighty! Leamus cried (in response to Liz's charge that "they" "find the humanity in people" and turn it "like a weapon in their hands"). "What else have men done since the world began? I don't believe in anything, don't you see - not even destruction or anarchy. I'm sick, sick of killing but I don't see what else they can do. They don't proselytise; they don't stand in pulpits or on party platforms and tells us to fight for Peace or for God or whatever it is. They're the poor sods who try to keep the preachers from blowing each other sky high." pp. 229, 230, 231)

4. The brief climpse of a CND poster

5. Why does Rutherford regard Le Carré's Cold War spies as "heroes"?