Jul 8, 2013

Upcoming Le Carre Blu-ray Titles

In the coming months, spy fans will be able to greatly expand their Blu-ray collections of John le Carré titles. In September, The Criterion Collection will issue The Spy Who Came In From the Cold on Blu, while this August Image will release The Tailor of Panama on BD and Acorn will release their long awaited Smiley's People Blu-ray.

Acorn's Blu-ray of the 1982 BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness (in my opinion the finest le Carré adaptation yet produced—despite some really tough competition!) will not only mark the high-definition debut of Smiley's People in any region; it will also be the first time American viewers are able to see the additional hour of material cut from the original U.S. broadcast and all subsequent home video editions in this country! Like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy before it, Smiley's People was reconfigured from seven episodes (as broadcast in Britain) to six for transmission on PBS's Masterpiece Theater. Since it would have been impossible to just drop an entire episode of this highly-complex spy story, this was done by shedding footage here and there from every episode. In the case of Tinker, Tailor, I feel that the trims actually streamlined the storytelling and improved the miniseries. (I would actually recommend the U.S. version over the British one.) However, in the case of Smiley's People, I feel that essential material was excised (including some of the miniseries' best scenes), and strongly prefer the UK broadcast version. The Blu-ray will not reinstate the missing footage into the narrative, but it will include all 62 minutes of it as deleted scenes, which is almost as good. These are deleted scenes well worth watching, and a special feature which will truly enhance the viewing experience! The Blu-ray will also include all of the extras from Acorn's previous DVD edition: a 20-minute interview with le Carré and text-based features like production notes, biographies and a useful glossary of the author's sometimes confusing spy jargon. This all-star sequel finds George Smiley (the incomparable Alec Guinness) once again coming out of retirement to take on his old Soviet nemesis Karla (Patrick Stewart) in a final battle of wits spanning Europe. It was filmed on location in London, Paris, Hamburg, and Bern, and co-stars Bernard Hepton (The Contract), Vladek Sheybal (From Russia With Love), Eileen Atkins (the Avengers movie), Michael Gough (the real Avengers) Anthony Bate (Game, Set and Match), Ingrid Pitt (Jason King), Andy Bradford (Octopussy), Curd Jürgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) Michael Lonsdale (Moonraker), Michael Byrne (Saracen), Lucy Fleming (Cold Warriorand, yes, that's Lucy Fleming as in niece of Ian, whose best scene can be found amongst that deleted material), and a scene-stealing Beryl Reid (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). It's absolutely essential viewing, and this Blu-ray will be a requirement in any spy collection worth its salt! Retail is $59.99, but luckily Amazon has it for pre-order for much less. It streets on August 6.

Also out in August (August 20 to be precise) is Image's new Blu-ray of John Boorman's vastly underrated 2001 film of The Tailor of Panama starring Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush. The film mines unusually (though naturally dark) comedic territory for le Carré, and does a damn fine job of it. (It's really the author's variation on Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana.) It also features my favorite Pierce Brosnan performance ever. Really, he's unmissable in this, making it a must for Bond fans as well as le Carré fans. The Blu-ray from Image will carry over all of the special features from Columbia's DVD, including a Boorman commentary track, an alternate ending with optional commentary, theatrical trailers, and the featurette "The Perfect Fit: A Conversation with Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush." Unfortunately, the Blu-ray utilizes the same slapdash cover art as the DVD instead of the film's fantastic illustrated poster, but that's to be expected these days. Retail is just $17.97, and you can pre-order it from Amazon for even less.

Meanwhile, Criterion's Spy Who Came in from the Cold Blu-ray includes a new, high-definition digital restoration of Martin Ritt's seminal 1965 Richard Burton movie with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack along with all the excellent special features found on the existing DVD edition: a wide-ranging video interview with le Carré (thoroughly engrossing, but beware of spoilers for some of his other works), a selected-scene commentary featuring director of photography Oswald Morris, the 2000 BBC documentary The Secret Center: John le Carré (while essential viewing for fans, this is also a bit spoilery, as it contains extensive clips from the BBC le Carré productions Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpySmiley's People [including the very end] and A Perfect Spy), a 1967 Richard Burton interview, an audio conversation from 1985 between director Martin Ritt and film historian Patrick McGilligan, a gallery of set designs, the trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Sragow. The gritty, black and white adaptation of le Carré's most famous novel reunited Burton with his Look Back in Anger co-star Claire Bloom and featured Rupert Davies as the screen's first Smiley. The disc is out September 10 and retail is $39.95, though again it's significantly less to pre-order on Amazon.

Since as of now The Deadly AffairThe Looking Glass War and The Little Drummer Girl are only available as MOD discs, I can't envision any of them becoming available in high-def editions any time soon. But for the time being, these three new titles should make excellent additions to any le Carré Blu-ray collection, and look great alongside your Blu-rays of the two versions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (BBC  and 2011 feature) and maybe your region-free import copy of The Constant Gardener.

Read my "Introduction to George Smiley" here.

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