THE KREMLIN LETTER. 20th Century Fox, 1970. Patrick O’Neal, Richard Boone, Max von Sydow, Bibi Anderssona, Barbara Parkins, George Sanders, Nigel Green, Orson Welles, Dean Jagger. Based on the novel by Noel Behm. Director: John Huston.

   There is no actual letter in this movie. Or maybe there is, but it’s not important. Such is the mystery – if not incoherence – of John Huston’s bleak spy thriller, The Kremlin Letter. As a movie in which atmosphere and mood count far more than plot, this somewhat neglected thriller features Patrick O’Neal (Castle Keep) as Charles Rone, a US Navy officer turned spy.

   On the behest of the enigmatic Highwayman (Dean Jagger) and his assistant, the jocular but devious Ward (Richard Boone), he is sent on a mission to Moscow to retrieve the eponymous Kremlin letter, a document signed by a high ranking US intelligence official promising American support to the Soviet Union should the Russians decide to wage war on Red China.

   Along for the ride are Janis (Nigel Green), a seedy pimp and drug pusher; “The Warlock” (George Sanders), an urbane homosexual and San Francisco drag queen who is willing to use his sexual proclivities to unlock secrets from closeted gay men in Moscovite society; and B.A. (Barbara Perkins of Valley of the Dolls fame), who has the uncanny ability to crack safes with her feet.

   Much of the movie is devoted to watching these unlikely spies do all sorts of things in Moscow. The movie shifts from one scene from another, but if it’s continuity you’re looking for, you’re not going to find it here. If you want a bleak portrayal of a cruel world where spies will do anything for their respective countries, The Kremlin Letter may be exactly what you’re looking for.

   There’s no James Bond glamour here, but there’s plenty of cruelty and manipulation. As for the Kremlin letter that the team is looking for, it turns out to be a McGuffin. But despite Huston in the director’s seat, The Kremlin Letter is far from being a prized black bird from Malta that’s worth killing for.