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    Letter of Distrust

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    “Starting out as an all-star espionage saga with a state secret as the supposed Grail, this quickly reveals itself as a serpentine tale of treachery and double-dealing. What makes the film so powerful is that where before such films have generally titillated us with their stories of violence and sex in defense of one's country, [director John] Huston structures his film around such expectations, so forcing us to take account of his spies' actions. The resulting film is possibly the clearest statement of Huston's vision of a cruel and senseless world in operation.” That is Time Out Film Guide reviewer Chris Petit’s latter-day appraisal of the morally dark and brutal espionage thriller The Kremlin Letter (1970), which opened theatrically 46 years ago today to a largely negative critical and audience reception, despite a starry cast of Bibi Andersson, Richard Boone, Dean Jagger, Lila Kedrova, Patrick O’Neal, Barbara Parkins, Max von Sydow and Orson Welles and picturesque Panavision location lensing by Ted Scaife in Finland, Italy, Mexico and New York. Moviegoers more attuned to the screen secret agenting of the James Bond ~ Derek Flint ~ Napoleon Solo ~ Matt Helm variety were reluctant to face up to the more tawdry, mundane and merciless aspects of the spy game. Producer Carter De Haven’s fascination with the material, based on a novel by Noel Behn (Homicide: Life on the Street) focusing on the safe retrieval of the title communiqué which in the wrong hands could spark global conflict, was that “it showed a side of both Russia and America that I’d never really focused in on.” He told The Hustons author Lawrence Grobel: “The secrecy, the brutality, the cooperation and all the things that probably have gone on between major powers forever but are never publicized. It was one of the few pictures that I’ve ever been involved with where I wanted to make a statement and be critical of the way the world is.” Perhaps the picture’s failure was a matter of timing; only a few short years later, several conspiratorial thrillers obsessed with unraveling the underhanded machinations of corporations and governments were welcomed by moviegoers. The Kremlin Letter poster’s proclamation “Don’t trust anyone” became a decade’s watchcry. Current events became relevant to the capers it dramatized,and as often occurred in Huston’s fluctuating career, time caught up with his art. The Kremlin Letter has some deliciously sinister secrets to reveal on Twilight Time’s DVD, the company’s inaugural release in what will soon be a full five-year legacy of presenting quality discs of neglected, overlooked but always worthwhile movies. That’s where you can put your trust.