THE RUSSIA HOUSE. 1990. Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Scheider, James Fox, Klaus Maria Brandauer, John Mahoney, Michael Kitchen, J.T. Walsh, Ken Russell. Based on the novel by John le Carré. Director: Fred Schepisi.

   I haven’t read the novel, and if I hadn’t recently seen the movie, I probably never would have. For one reason or another, none good, spy fiction hasn’t been a major portion of my reading diet for some time. But there is a chance I’ll read it now, if only to find out what was in the book that wasn’t in the movie.

   There’s no way, the way I see it, that a long book (which I assume le Carré’s book was) could be condensed down into a film that was less than two hours long.


   Or at least that’s how I felt as we were leaving the theater. Something was missing. And the something that was missing was the feeling that something had happened during the course of the movie, other than (I grant you) a successful romance between Sean Connery (playing a disheveled semi-idealistic British publisher) and Michelle Pfeiffer, as a Russian go-between delivering him a manuscript from a dissident Soviet scientist (Blandauer).

   As one of the various British or American agents who get caught up in the story says, somewhere close to the end, “Well, we’re back to square one.”


   As a spy or espionage novel, rather than a romance, there’s a moderate amount of suspense that builds up before the ending, but none of the edge-of-the-seat variety. Curiously, a number of incidents occur that appear to be of major significance, but nothing seems to happen as a result. Actions, whether performed under duress or not, never appear to have consequences.

   There are scenes in which Sean Connery’s characters is wired for sound. There are others, especially when it would have counted the most — or that is to say, when the plot counts on it — he is not. What a clunky way to run an intelligence operation.

   The acting is uniformly terrific. Michelle Pfeiffer never looked lovelier. The scenery — apparently the movie was filmed in Russia — is even better. The story is what needed some help.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
       February 1991 (moderately revised).

[UPDATE] 05-12-12. Of course there is the possibility that I missed something subtle, or even not so subtle. And if so, I am sure that someone reading this will tell me what it was. I only vaguely remember the details of the movie itself — it was over 20 years ago — but strangely enough, I do remember the theater Judy and I went to see it in, and I do remember how well-filmed it was.