Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Defector

A few weeks back, TCM ran what would turn out to be Montgomery Clift's final movie, The Defector. Not having done a post on it here before, I decided to record and watch it.

Clift plays James Bower, an American physicist who has flown to Germany with the intention of going to Esat Germany to see a few museums and how some art restoration is going on, fine art being his hobby. In Germany, he's met by Adams (Roddy McDowall), an agent for the CIA. It wasn't Bower's idea to meet with Adams, and when he finds out why Adams wants to meet him, he's really unhappy.

Apparently, prominent Soviet physicist Groschek is in East Germany, and he has some important information about the Soviet space program that he wants to transfer to the west. Since Bower is going to East Germany anyway, and since he translated Groschek's books into English, Adams would seemingly be a natural person to meet with Groschek in the East and bring that information back to the West. Bower isn't a spy (and indeed, that's part of the reason why his being the one to get the information from Groschek is a plus), and doesn't want to do spy work. But Adams blackmails him, saying that if Adams doesn't do it, his government funding for research will dry up. (This is one of the many reasons government shouldn't be in the business of funding science.) So Bower reluctantly accepts.

The Communists already know that Bower is coming, and that he's going to be getting this information from Groschek. Commander Orlovsky (David Opatoshu) is nominally in charge of the operation, but he's given a lot of responsibility to one of Bower's fellow scientists, Peter Heinzmann (Hardy Kruger). Heinzmann's job is not only to prevent Bower from getting that information from Groschek, but to try to get Bower to defect to the East.

To do this, there's both physical violence brought to bear against the people Bower meets, as well as mental violence against Bower, who is subjected to some sort of psychedelic-looking trip in his hotel room. Bower eventually decides that he wants to get back to the west, but trying to get there is going to be extremely dangerous.

I stated above that The Defector was Montgomery Clift's last movie; it was four years after his previous work and released four months after he died. That is probably the biggest reason why the movie is still known today. To be honest, it's not particularly memorable for any other reason. The Defector came across to me as a very formulaic movie in the 1960s spy genre, with absolutely nothing to make it stand out against any of the other movies. It's not bad, mind you, even though it does have a few flaws in its slow pacing. It's much more that there's nothing memorable about it other than the trivia surrounding Clift.

Still, The Defector is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, and the vintage cinematography of 1960s Germany is mildly worth mentioning. So watch and judge for yourself.

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